The Top 10 movies of the year are ... -

The Top 10 movies of the year are …

Our critic includes ‘Up in the Air,’ ‘Avatar,’ and ‘Bright Star.’ You may want to disagree.


What a strange year it’s been at the multiplex. In real life, the biggest celebrity stories in 2009 were calamities that struck two black superstars: the King of Pop and the King of Golf. But onscreen, African-Americans played inspirational heroes defying vast odds—the abused teen saved by literacy in Precious; the homeless musician saved by a newspaperman in The Soloist; the homeless football player adopted by a white family in The Blind Side; and Nelson Mandela using a rugby team to heal the wounds of apartheid in Invictus. These Oscar-buzzed titles are all rousing tales trafficking in the triumph of the human spirit. Yet oddly enough, for all their powerful performances and heavy themes, these earnest dramas lacked weight. And, as it turns out, none of them has landed on my Top 10 list.

I was, however, wowed by the most earnest spectacle of all—Avatar’s rainforest fable of blue-skinned aboriginal aliens. Any Top 10 list is subjective, and it’s an uneven playing field. Some titles I saw nine months ago, some last week. Until you see a film twice, you can never be sure. But here are the movies that made the deepest impression at the time, and that I’d be happy to see again. The order is whimsical, but the list happens to begin and end with movies directed by Canadians.

1. Up in the Air.The movie of the year. Jason Reitman (Juno) wrote it for George Clooney six years ago, but it captures the zeitgeist with uncanny precision. As a high-flying commitment-phobe who fires folks for a living, Hollywood’s primo bachelor plays himself and drops his guard. Both Reitman and Clooney go beyond their default glibness to find emotional maturity. As the dames who throw our anti-hero off balance, Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga are dead-on.

2. Fantastic Mr. Fox. I guess I’m on a Clooney kick. In comedies, George usually plays it dumb and deadpan. But as the voice of Mr. Fox—family man as compulsive bandit—he lets fly with a wild, rambunctious wit. The stop-motion animation is a retro delight. In adapting Roald Dahl, director Wes Anderson crafts sophisticated wit with the handmade charm of a Rushmore school project..

3. An Education. Hailed as the new Audrey Hepburn, Carey Mulligan shines in a star-making role as an impressionable teen in pre-Beatles London who is seduced by art, jazz, Paris—and a silver-tongued lech (an oddly sympathetic Peter Saarsgard). Nick Hornby’s script nails the naive excitement of Britain on the cusp of the swinging sixties.

4. The Road. Viggo Mortensen deserves the Oscar for his role as a desperate father in a harrowing adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic saga, and Kodi Smit-McPhee is just as good as his son. This painterly vision of a destroyed America has the austere beauty of Edward Burtynsky’s photography.

5. Bright Star. Jane Campion bounces back with a pure story of young love nipped in the bud, starring Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish as poet John Keats and the girl next door. This lush, literate picture embraces romantic love and Romantic poetry in the same sweet, tragic breath.

6. A Serious Man. But if it’s irony you want, no one does it better than the Coen brothers, who are in classic form with a suburban gothic comedy that’s seriously bleak and deliciously black. Energized by the Jefferson Airplane, this tale of a square Jewish dad in 1967 Minnesota is as close as the Coens get to memoir.

7. Inglourious Basterds. It’s big and sloppy and far from perfect, but you have to admire Quentin Tarantino for getting away with a multi-language blockbuster that’s mostly dialogue. His Holocaust revenge fantasy is a flamboyant feat of audacity, galvanized by the amazing Christopher Waltz, who is funny and scary in three languages.

8. The Hurt Locker. Director Kathryn Bigelow’s story of a U.S. bomb-disposal unit in Iraq couldn’t unlock the curse that hurts war-on-terror flicks at the box office, but it’s the year’s most riveting suspense thriller. It has swept the major U.S. film critics awards.

9. The Cove. As much as I loved Michael Moore’s Capitalism: a Love Story, Louie Psihoyos, with his super-spy exposé of Japan’s secret dolphin slaughter, made the year’s most stunning investigative documentary.

10. Avatar. I approached James Cameron’s opus as a skeptic and emerged a convert. The dialogue is wooden, the Dances With Aliens plot clichéd, but who cares? No one directs action like JC. And his rainforest fantasia is 3-D on every level—a mix of tree-hugging and testosterone, flora and fireballs.


The Top 10 movies of the year are …

  1. I haven't seen "Up in the Air" but I fully expect to like it when I do from everything I hear. I'll be looking for Clooney to go past his "default glibness" because I've seen him basically play the same character since his days on E.R. He has what I call, Cary Grant syndrome, whereby he never varies from the expected and is loved for it. "Fantastic Mr. Fox" must really be good to overcome what looks like figures I might find getting slightly ratty in my attic for this stop motion project. LOVED "Bright Star" for the beauty in the details and the outstanding performances. I wish it was being more recognized at awards time. There is no one working today like Jane Campion. As for "Avatar," you know what they say about converts, don't you? [I notice no "Precious." ]

  2. The Damned United is conspicuously absent from this list.

  3. Some to most of your choices are really boring and stiff, how about getting a critic that has a more diverse taste. Do you like reading tech manuals before bedtime, lighten up!

  4. Viggo Mortensen was amazing! You missed 500 days of summer, it was light and refreshing!

  5. Avatar: no such thing as wooden dialogue, just wooden delivery. Plot not cliche, when did u last see an epic pic blast at multinationals committing genocide against native peoples?
    The story is positive, involving, and the characters feel real.

  6. I loved The Road. I was really scared when I first heard that they were making a movie version of it because I thought it would be sensationalized. I wasn't disappointed. Also, Avatar in 3D was one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen. If you don't mind paying $17.50 to see the IMAX version, I'd highly recommend it.

  7. Sadly, I haven't seen any of these, but you are usually bang on with your reviews. However, I have a good suspicion that due to the critical hype surrounding Up In the Air, I will probably be disappointed. However, if you can suggest a drinking game with the movie, I am sure that the movie experience will be enhanced.

  8. Viggo Mortensen is the Man. What a fantastic performance to which he gives his all (as usual) There is none better.
    So give him the Oscar already. He is way way over due for the honor.

    the movie, the Road, is extremely true to the Cormac MacCarthy book considering transition of mediums. Bring lots of tissue when you see it. The movie will break your heart.

  9. What about the Star Trek re-boot? JJ Abrams brought it back to life with just enough of the old to make you feel like you'd just witnessed a ressurrection. I can't help but think Roddenberry would have been impressed if not flattered.

  10. "Any Top 10 list is subjective" indeed, Brian D. Johnson. Well said.

    So you'd think that a writer for Canada's national magazine would at least attempt then to promote our own film industry rather than focussing so intently on foreign Hollywood films just like everyone else.

    Barely mentioning "Canadian" directors like James Cameron is weak.

    Even the fully US magazine Slate chose Pontypool as one of 2009's best. Written and directed by Bruce McDonald from Ontario set in Ontario. Fantastic movie.

    Besides that, Quebec regularly produces the best movies in the French language. They made over 20 last year, including the excellent film Polytechnique. How about educating us in some of those, instead of simply doing what everyone else does and blindly follow the US?

    Obviously the US makes the most movies, but there's tonnes of media to promote those films. I buy Maclean's so I can for once read about Canadian stuff. Otherwise, why not just buy Time?

  11. You missed new moon i think this is also a great movie

  12. In any logical universe, there would be a simple solution to this. In that universe, the broadcasters could charge a fee for their signals if they wished — but cable companies would be under no obligation to carry them. Cable companies could pass on these fees to consumers — but consumers would not be forced to subscribe to channels they didn't want. Instead of forbidding broadcasters to charge for signals the cable companies are obliged to carry that consumers are then forced to pay for, nobody would be forced or forbidden to do anything.