You’ve been waiting a week. You haven’t slept. You’ve constantly refreshed this blog, refusing to so much as vacate your bowels. And now the moment is here.
But I’d suggest you finish reading the post before you poop. 2009 Junkies after the jumpie. Haha. So clever.
Let’s review. Here are our contenders:
- Patton Oswalt, Big Fan – Oswalt is exceptional as an obsessive Giants fan that’s torn between doing what’s best for himself and doing what’s best for the team after he is attacked by a Giants linebacker who surmises that Oswalt’s character might be stalking him. Oswalt shows great range in this role, which is darkly humorous in some parts and completely tragic in others. It’s hard to pull off deranged and not look bad in the process. Oswalt balances it all perfectly.
- Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker – Renner has been waiting to break through for a while now, now he’s finally been given his chance. In the film, he plays a bomb technician with a rogue mentality, a man who not only loves the thrill of war but needs it, consumes it like a drug. Like Oswalt, Renner makes crazy believable and human. Even when we probably should hate him, we can’t.
- Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds – Waltz turns in one of the more memorable villain performances of the decade, perhaps of all-time when we’re a few more decades distanced. His Col. Hans Landa is a ruthless Nazi who enjoys philosophizing and hunting Jews in the same breath. Tarantino writes the role perfectly, but still, Waltz hits it out of the park in his first-ever English-speaking part. Like Heath Ledger’s Joker last year, Landa is a villain that proves far more interesting than the film’s protagonist.
- Sam Rockwell, Moon – Rockwell is pretty much the only actor in this movie, unless you count Kevin Spacey’s voice. He has to carry the entire film by himself, and he absolutely does. As an astronaut marooned on the moon, Rockwell deals with dementia and upsetting revelations about his employer’s true intentions, and masterfully plays out the breakdown of a man disconnected from humanity.
- Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man – Stuhlbarg plays a Jewish family everyman in post-WW2 suburbia who just can’t win for losing. A deathly serious – with pinched tongue in parts – role, Stuhlbarg gives us something we may not have necessarily expected from the Coen brothers, but will certainly enjoy.
And the winner is…Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds. Landa was by far the best character of the year. The writing was perfect, the delivery was even better.
- Amy Adams, Sunshine Cleaning – Adams plays a struggling single mother who stumbles across the crime scene cleaning business and sets out to stake her name in the industry, in junction (and often contrast) with her free-spirited sister. Adams makes the working class believable without pandering, exploiting or parodying. Her character just feels infinitely more real than most economically-challenged cardboard cut-outs that populate the typical “down on his/her luck” film.
- Carey Mulligan, An Education – Mulligan stars opposite the always-underrated Peter Skarsgaard as a teenage girl who falls in love with an older man. A familiar storyline perhaps, but Mulligan makes the coming-of-age tale work, remaining graceful through the pitfalls and showing us how love can lead us toward some fairly stupid mistakes that seem completely acceptable at the time.
- Michelle Monaghan, Trucker – Monaghan plays a hard-scrabbled, heavy-drinking trucker who is forced to take in her 12-year-old son when his father falls ill and, for the first time in their lives, be a mother to him. Monaghan’s character is crass and jaded, bitter and biting and seemingly stuck in the 1970s feminist movement. It’s a testament to Monaghan’s acting that, though the character evolves, she always remains true to her definitive qualities, never compromising her core for the conventional.
- Tilda Swinton, Julia – Swinton’s Julia is an alcoholic on the surface, but by the end of the film, we realize that she’s something far more dangerous: a pathological liar. Her lies are so convincing that even she begins to believe them, leading everyone around her into dark territory. Swinton is both funny and terrifying as a desperate woman driven to kidnapping, extortion and even murder. Somehow, she always has a rationalization for these acts, and somehow the audience always understands how everyone else could believe her.
- Brittany Snow, The Vicious Kind – Snow is gorgeous in this film, no doubt about it. Beyond the looks, though, she expertly handles a character who is both threatened and intrigued by her boyfriend’s brother, treading scandalous territory for the duration. The character seems as confused by her fixation as we are, and Snow makes the affair believable, an unsure girl heading into unfamiliar territory.
And the winner is…Tilda Swinton, Julia. Swinton alternates between (darkly) hilarious and deathly serious, but she never deviates from the skewed reality of her character and she takes us along for a fucked-up ride in the process. She kept me off guard for the duration, always something sure to score high in Junkie points.
Best Film You Never Saw.
- Trucker – A simple tale of a boy who needs a mother and a mother who never wanted a son. It plays a lot better than it should because of terrific turns by Monaghan and Jimmy Bennett (‘Star Trek’, ‘Orphan’) and a few nice scenes with Benjamin Bratt (‘The Cleaner.’) Definitely a character development story, but a well-acted one.
- Big Fan – An interrogation of fandom, Director Robert Siegel (writer of ‘The Wrestler’) takes us through unsettling territory as Oswalt gives us a ‘Taxi Driver’-esque performance as a man that is rationally irrational. Critics like to use paradoxes, so there you go, I just did.
- Julia – A mislabeled thriller about a woman who can’t stop lying and all the damage she does in the process. ‘Julia’ feels like two movies: the first half a classic American abduction thriller and the second half a lost-in-the-Mexican-underworld thriller, but Swinton makes them work.
- The Vicious Kind – A slow-moving story of a misogynist (Adam Scott), his brother, their father and his brother’s girlfriend, all of whom struggle with aspects of loyalty, letdowns, temptation and reconciliation. Terrific performances by Scott (‘Step Brothers’, ‘Party Down’) and Snow (‘Prom Night’, ‘Hairspray’) make the movie work.
- Coraline – Maybe the biggest stretch on this list, but nevertheless a stunningly beautiful stop-motion cautionary tale about the price of perfection. ‘Coraline’ can just as easily give you nightmares as amaze you. Godforbid you watch it on ‘shrooms (not suggesting this, am I?)
And the winner is…Julia. Thoroughly engaging throughout, the film – powered by Swinton’s performance – rarely stops to take a breath. By the second act, it’s anyone’s guess who survives Julia’s construct of lies.
Best Film Where Female Snips off Clitoris and Male Ejaculates Blood After Being Savagely Beaten in Groin.
- Anti-Christ – Probably the most striking example this year of a film in which the female lead (appropriately named “Woman”) bashes the male lead’s (appropriately named “Man”) exposed junk in with a 2×4 and proceeds to use a pair of scissors to clip off her own clitoris. When the male awakens after the attack, he proceeds to masturbate (and Director Lars Von Trier wouldn’t have it any other way but to actually show it) until he spooges blood. I think it was a metaphor for, like, human nature or something. Art films. Woo.
And the winner is…Anti-Christ. ‘High School Musical 3’ was a close second.
Unabashed Guilty Pleasure.
- Observe and Report – Jody Hill has become a master of manipulating and mocking genres. Watching the movie for the third time, I realized that Hill is actually a cinematic genius. His abrupt cuts, angle shifts and awkward dialogue constantly call into question common conventions, then promptly shit all over them. Even if all that stuff is over your head, the movie is just hilarious. Funniest of the year.
- Taken – Liam Neeson kicks a ton of ass. Hardcore. I was amused for the entirety.
- Zombieland – Woody Harrelson, zombies. Bill Murray. Stylish kills. Rollercoasters. I thought it was a bit over-hyped, but those are pretty much the key things that I look for in film.
- Dead Snow – Another convention-challenger, this time with a bunch of Swedish college kids killing zombies with hammers, chainsaws and gattling gun-equipped snowmobiles. But not just any zombies. Nazi zombies. Yeah, it’s pretty epic.
- World’s Greatest Dad – The director’s name is Bobcat Goldthwait, and the movie is even more fucked-up than that. I don’t know if it says much that this, to me, was Robin Williams’ best career performance (considering I don’t think Williams has had a spectacular career by any means), but it probably does say something that it’s still the most offensive movie I’ve ever seen. And by that, of course, I mean hilariously offensive. Maybe you had to be in my high school and witness some of the same things, but damn, the message about fandom for the deceased is absolutely brilliant.
And the winner is…World’s Greatest Dad. I hate to place anything above ‘Observe and Report’, but Jody Hill still hasn’t created his masterpiece. He has time. For now, WGD was the most shocking, enjoyable, hilarious guilty pleasure of 2009.
- Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds – Tarantino is almost always an easy nomination, but for good reason given what he did with the Basterds. Few films can get away with proposing alternate historical timelines and still making the audience care about what happens. Tarantino pulls it off with great style, comedy, action and most importantly, dialogue.
- Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker – Bigelow (‘K19: The Widowmaker) shows that war movies aren’t solely guy territory. We’re treated to some absolutely incredible shots: a slow-motion bomb detonation at the beginning, a simple (but endless) aisle of groceries toward the end, that bring us into a world threatening to explode at any moment. All the action is expertly handled by Bigelow, who crafts a different sort of Iraq War message than we’ve seen before.
- Spike Jonze, Where the Wild Things Are – This was the first film to grace my HDTV and I was consistently amazed. The direction is bold and beautiful. Shots of the island are wide and with no scenic end in sight. A specific shot of a model village might be one of the more incredible things recently captured on film. Jonze took a lot of risks in making this movie and should be commended for them, even if the film’s ideas were a bit muddled. Jonze still made the movie his definitive own.
- John Hillcoat, The Road – Who would have though gray skies and downed powerlines could look so magnificent? Hillcoat takes a novel in which nothing really happens and translates it to a compelling drama in a world that is consuming itself. Obliterated forests occupy the screen and ash still sits in the sky. One scene in particular involving a storage cellar will stay with you for days. Like Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was largely considered to be inapplicable to the big screen. Yet, somehow, Hillcoat pulled it off.
- James Cameron, Avatar – Hate on the movie all you want, and yes, it’s just another noble savage take. But the direction revolutionized cinematic technology. Cameron created – and populated – a stunning world. We won’t hold it against him that he populated it with stock characters. It just looks so damn cool!
And the winner is…Spike Jonze, Where the Wild Things Are. I still can’t get over how amazing this movie looks. I don’t care that it got whored out to Urban Outfitters or if a bunch of hipsters who had never seen ‘Being John Malkovich’ or ‘Adaptation’ prior to 2009 suddenly claimed they were huge Jonze fans. Jonze didn’t back down from studio demands and crafted an original film that should be revered for decades to come as a piece of cinematic art.
- Inglourious Basterds – A genre masterpiece that proposes an alternate timeline in which a group of soldiers and a Jewish girl bent on revenge join forces to take down Hitler. Equally full of action and humor, the film’s most interesting quality is perhaps its own self-awareness in regards to cinema, Tarantino’s role as a film historian. It’s a film that teaches us about film. If you’re a nerd, you find that cool. If not, the Bear Jew’s baseball bat will do.
- A Serious Man – A different style of film for the guys most famous for ‘Fargo’ and ‘No Country for Old Men’, this film is an unflinching examination of life in 1960s Jewish suburbia.
- The Road – The story of a father and child navigating the post-apocalyptic wasteland in hopes of finding a better future on the coast. Mostly a not-at-all subtle metaphor about becoming a man, though I have to wonder if the ending (which is true to the book) challenges the lessons that are learned.
- Up – Ostensibly, a story about an old man and a boy scout who float away by way of a balloon-tethered house to South America in order to fulfill a promise the man made to his deceased wife. It’s more a story of letting go, though, and finding the adventures and love in life that the departed would want you to have. The first ten minutes rival the last ten minutes of ‘The Iron Giant’ in terms of animated films testing your ability to not cry like a bitch.
- Julia – Story of a pathological liar who abducts an 8-year-old boy and inadvertently takes him to Mexico, hoping to extort a million-dollar ransom out of his wealthy grandfather. An engaging thriller that ends on a perfectly ambiguous note.
And the winner is…Up. There was never a dull moment in Pixar’s latest flick, and of the five films, it was probably the most effective from a humanist standpoint. For me, it was an easy choice. Great visuals, great story, great message and wholly entertaining. ‘Up’ was probably that movie you wanted to dismiss as childish, but ended up gleaming a great deal from. If you haven’t begun to appreciate what Pixar is doing for not just animated film, but film in general, then obviously you don’t know how to watch movies.
Well, that’s it for this year, kids. Overall, I felt it was a weak year for movies. That wasn’t to say, though, that there weren’t any standouts. Most of what was listed above deserves to be commended for one reason or another.
I’ll check back the same time next year, hopefully with more challenges in narrowing the field. For now, check out my look at 2010 movies, through July at least. Peace out, you Sublime listening fagots.