Rather than tell you what I think I should, I decided to come clean on this list. For instance, I am aware that A Serious Man might technically and artistically be a cut above some of these, but I just didn’t enjoy it as much. I’ll also preface this by saying since I was covering most of the main-stream movies this year, there were a lot of independent movies I didn’t see, so they may not appear on the list. The film title links to a review when applicable.
Up In The Air – Buoyed by a trio of fantastic actors, I found this movie to be utterly charming. Directed by Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking, Juno), the movie is touching, prescient, original, and funny. Vera Farmiga, George Clooney and Anna Kendrick all received Golden Globe acting nominations. George Clooney’s depiction of a traveling man who keeps any type of human interaction at arm’s length is effortless, and is a joy to watch.
A Single Man – This film is still in limited release, so many people have not seen it, but I was absolutely blown away by designer Tom Ford’s directorial debut. He brings an artistic eye to the story of a gay man in 1962 who has recently lost a live-in companion. Heavy stuff, and Colin Firth gives a truly amazing performance that will break your heart.
Julianne is a stunning aging beauty who longs to have a relationship with the emotionally unavailable George. Universally relatable to anyone who has ever been in love, or experienced unrequited love. Seamlessly shifting from sepia, black and white, and color, the film is gorgeous. Beautifully scored by Abel Korzeniowsky as well.
Inglourious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to movies is a movie lover’s dream. The Nazi revenge tale is smart, fun, and satisfying. The dialogue will be studied for years to come, especially for an opening sequence that ratchets up the suspense with mere words. Breakthrough performances from Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, and Diane Kruger. The film unfolds as individual vignettes that all comprise the overall story.
The Hurt Locker – Director Kathryn Bigelow forgoes the heavy handed political statements, and focuses on a group of men in Iraq who disarm roadside bombs. It is uncomfortable l to watch, gritty and thought provoking. Jeremy Renner gives a star-making performance as a man who is addicted to the danger of the job. Bigelow impressed me with her ability to convey the grueling physical conditions of the Iraqi desert, and the daily hardships the troops endure.
500 Days of Summer – Yes, I know I am a cliché. I loved the music, the clothes, and Joseph-Gordon Levitt’s dance scene. This light confection of first love and all the messy complications that accompany it is the perfect movie for men and women. It is the anti-chick flick, because it is told from the male point of view, which hasn’t been done this well since 2000’s High Fidelity.
The Road – It’s a true shame that this performed so poorly, because it truly was one of the best movies I saw this year. It was frightening and beautiful, and Viggo Mortenson has never been better. The post-apocalyptic vision of our future was just believable enough to scare the crap out of me, and one scene in particular (in a certain house) haunted me for weeks.
Adventureland – Kristen Stewart actually can act, as evidenced here. Jesse Eisenberg manages to play awkwardly adorable better than Michael Cera. This was a sweet coming of age movie set in an amusement park that hit all the right notes. It also had a great soundtrack.
Drag Me To Hell – Sam Raimi finally returned home to the horror genre after taking a leave of absence to work on the Spider-man franchise. It was well worth the wait. In the same vein as The Evil Dead 2, this film skillfully shifts from comedy to horror to camp for an experience unlike any other in the theater this year. The film is scary, shocking and funny (as hell). The film was also timely, as it dealt with a bank loan officer (Alison Lohman) who denies an old gypsy an extension on her mortgage, and there is hell to pay when the woman places a curse on her.
Funny People – Judd Apatow’s misunderstood movie was a fascinating look behind the scenes of a comedian’s lifestyle. Comic all-stars Adam Sandler, Seth Rogan, Leslie Mann, Jonah Hill, Aziz Ansari and Jason Schwartzman appear in the semi-autobiographical account of Apatow’s early years as a comedian, when he was actually roommates with Adam Sandler. Adam Sandler plays a successful comedian who finds out he is dying.
He takes Seth Rogan’s Ira under his wing as an assistant and starts revisiting old acquaintances to make amends prior to his death. Leslie Mann is the ex-girlfriend, who is married to adulterer Clarke, a fact that makes it awful tempting to rekindle her romance with her old flame. The movie is about thirty minutes too long, but I still really enjoyed it.
Star Trek – I can’t help but feel a bit sentimental about this film, because it marked a milestone in my life. It was the first movie I attended as an actual member of the press. You never forget your first, or so they say. It also happened to be a great adventure film. It starts off with a literal bang and never lets up until the closing credits.
It was wholly original, but tipped its hat generously to its source material. It introduced exciting new talent Chris Pine, and showed that Zachary Quinto is not pigeon-holed into the Sylar character from Heroes. Zoe Saldana , Simon Pegg, Leonard Nimoy, and Eric Bana also appeared. Fun, Fun, Fun! The perfect summer popcorn movie.
Also in the running: Moon, Zombieland, District 9, The Cove, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, The Informant!, Watchmen, The Invention of Lying, Paranormal Activity, Precious, Observe and Report, Up,Avatar, Nine and Whip It.