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Top 10 Movies of 2009  

January 2010

10.     Fantastic Mr. Fox    

Adapted from the beloved children's book by Roald Dahl, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a marvelously witty and whimsical animated adventure. The story follows the life of a wild, young fox, who seeks one last adventure before settling down into family life and adult responsibility. Unfortunately, this last hurrah consists of three raids against some of the meanest farmers in town: Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. And eventually sucks all of Mr. Fox's friends and family into the fray, willing or not. Directed by Wes Anderson, who crafted such quirky films as The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic, Fantastic Mr. Fox represents a milestone in animation. Incorporating well over 530 puppets with stop-motion capture and high resolution cinematography, the film is a wonder to behold - an imaginative, fanciful tale for the whole family to enjoy.

9.     Star Trek    

Boldly going where no Star Trek film has gone before, director J.J. Abrams, known for thrilling episodic television series like Lost, Fringe, and Alias, revives the classic science fiction franchise on the big screen with origins of the original crew. The early days at Starfleet. Kirk's tumultuous relationship with Spock. And the assembly of the Enterprise crew. Tormenting and testing the rookie crew this go around is Nero, a Romulan captain who travels back in time to destroy the United Federation of Planets. Although plot and logistics frequently get muddied, the casting is near perfection. In particular, Zachary Quinto, who effortlessly juggles between emotion and logic as Spock, the half human, half Vulcan First Officer. And it makes this Trek, mixing warp speed action with tongue in cheek humor, beam brighter than a supernova.

8.     Avatar    

Nearly 12 years after the worldwide success of Titanic comes Avatar, the latest technological masterpiece from James Cameron. Incorporating 3D, IMAX, and cutting edge CGI, the film transports viewers to the world of Pandora, inhabited by the 10 foot tall blue natives known as the Na'vi. And the Earthlings and marines who find themselves at odds with the Na'vi over the planet's natural resources. Although the story itself is nothing new, a tried and true formula about the conquest of civilizations, the impact of technology, and the importance of environmentalism, the presentation is a glorious immersion into a fantastic and exciting new world. With breathtaking dragon flights, floating islands in the clouds, and a series of new creatures and new life, the film is an exploration and "experience" unlike any other.

7.     An Education    

From the director of Italian for Beginners and Just Like Home comes a carefully nuanced tale of a sixteen year old Londoner in pursuit of a higher education at Oxford. While finishing up her final year of high school studies, she encounters David Goldman, a man twice her age, who takes her on a slight detour - a lesson in real life. Starring breakout sensation, Carrie Mulligan, and a delightful supporting cast in Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, and Olivia Williams, An Education is subtle and sophisticated. Set in 1960's London, the film incorporates beautiful aesthetics in production design and wardrobe with a seductive score. Written cleverly for screen by Nick Hornby, the film is a charming, dramatic escape.

6.     This Is It    

Forget what you know about Michael Jackson's personal troubles - his addiction to pain medication, the peter pan complex, allegations of child abuse, etc. This film is not an inquisition; but rather, a celebration of one of the greatest entertainers of our time. Pieced together by Kenny Ortega, the film is a behind the scenes look at what was to be Jackson's final tour - 30 sold out concerts in London over the summer of 2009. Sadly, Michael passed away the week before the first show. And it makes This Is It! all the more bittersweet - a fitting tribute to the King of Pop, from the dance rehearsals to the stage designs and wardrobe to the musical performances. A truly remarkable documentary that shows Michael Jackson as the world ambassador and masterful showman we most want to remember.

5.     Up    

Everyone always gripes about how Pixar dominates animated features year after year. But the fact of the matter is that Pixar dominates because they are master storytellers first and master animators second - a secret that very few studios realize. Up exemplifies this point precisely. Forced to surrender his home to a development group, retired salesman Carl Fredrickson usurps authorities by using thousands of balloons to lift his house upward and float to South America, where his longtime love, Ellie, always dreamed of going. In addition to colorful animation and uplifting cinematic moments, the film nurtures its characters; in particular, the blossoming relationship between a widowed old man and a young boy scout. But it's the story that really hooks you - a personal tale of love and loss that will go straight to your heart.

4.     Crazy Heart    

"This ain't no place for the weary kind," writes Bad Blake, the central character in Crazy Heart. In what many are calling this year's version of The Wrestler, Jeff Bridges delivers an Oscar worthy performance as a washed up musician trying to get it right. And there are no smoke and mirrors here. As a lifelong musician in real life, Bridges sings and plays each of the songs flawlessly. It's the role he was meant to play. Along for the ride are Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, and Robert Duvall - all wonderfully supportive in this beautiful ballad about life, love, and musicianship.

3.     Inglourious Basterds    

World War II history according to Quentin Tarantino. And what a glorious lesson it is! After watching her family gunned down by Gestapo police in Nazi occupied France, Jewish born escapee Shosanna Dreyfus plots revenge against those responsible by hosting a German movie premiere. The premiere entices the 'Basterds,' a group of Jewish-American guerillas led by the vindictive Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), who are hell bent on exterminating the Nazi attendees. A cumulative effort of everything Tarantino, the film exudes an exquisite attention to detail, a delicious repartee between characters, cultish music and mayhem, unexpected plot twists, and a splash of violence. While the cast is equally superb, it is relative unknown, Christoph Waltz, who steals the show as Colonel Hans Landa, the devilishly sadistic German investigator.

2.     The Hurt Locker    

The opening quote says it all: "War is a drug." While many soldiers see war as a means to an end, others like Sergeant James, played by Jeremy Renner, see it as an addiction. Working in one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, James is part of an elite and highly trained bomb disposal unit, venturing off into the middle of combat zones and defusing any number of charges left in vehicles, villages, and urban landscapes. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker is an extremely well crafted thriller. Full of heart pounding action and situational drama, Bigelow amps up the intensity meter with some of the most realistic combat scenes imaginable. All in an effort to show the varying degrees of heroism in the line of fire. This is one of the finest war films in recent memory.

1.     Precious    

Precious is the most powerful and most poignant film of the year. With a terrific ensemble performance from Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, and others, the film delivers its coming-of-age story tenfold. Executive produced by Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, this film might be mistaken for a cheerful fairy tale. Or a Madea family picnic. But it's neither. Under the meticulous direction of Lee Daniels, the film drops us into the hard knock life of Claireece "Precious" Jones, a Harlem teenager who is abused by her mother, raped by her father, and forced to live her life virtually unnoticed. Through music and nuance, Daniels sets the tone, letting the truth and inner beauty of his characters shine. After all, this is life at its most honest, most cruel, most vulnerable, and most imperfect states. So pure is it that by the film's end, we realize what is most precious.

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