1. THE HURT LOCKER
2. THE LAST STATION
5. STAR TREK
6. CRAZY HEART
7. DISTRICT 9
9. UP IN THE AIR
10. AWAY WE GO
And for the annotated version:
1. THE HURT LOCKER is a war movie without the usual bloody war movie ballistics, although its central character is a bomb expert. Kathryn Bigelow shows us the war in Iraq as it’s experienced by our soldiers, how the mundane details of life go on even in a war zone, and she makes us feel the almost unbearable tension of death as a possibility in every scene.
2. UP IN THE AIR with George Clooney as a professional corporate downsizer. In other words, he fires people for a living. Directed by Jason Reitman, it addresses the sorrow and frustration of unemployment while it’s telling the story of an man who recognizes the emptiness of his uncommitted life when he meets Vera Farmiga.
3.THE LAST STATION — a period piece about Leo Tolstoy — the celebrated author of “War and Peace” .. whose last years were mostly war and very little peace. This is a showcase of flawless acting, but the movie’s emotional core is the battle between Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy and Helen Mirren playing his slightly unbalanced but very powerful wife of 48 years.
4. PRECIOUS is a not for sissies. It’s a painful movie to watch and certainly the boldest movie of the year. Gabourney Sidibe is an overweight, illiterate teenager who’s been brutalized by everyone in her life .. until a teacher offers her a chance to turn her life around in an alternative school. Several performances are jaw-droppingly brave– most notably, Mo’nique as the mother of Precious. Lots of images I wish I didn’t have to carry around in my head.
5. UP — a beautifully animated film that would have been equally funny and profound if it were live action with real actors: A lonely old widower carries his house away with a conflagration of balloons – on an adventure he’s been postponing all his life – accidentally bringing with him a 7 year old boy. Pete Docter wrote and directed the movie, which is funny and poignant and will leave you feeling better than you felt before.
6. STAR TREK was a chronicle of the early days of James T Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise Even Trekkers were surprised at how much fun it was – AND sexy .. AND exuberant, as well as true to Gene Roddenberry’s original vision. It was directed by LOST creator JJ Abrams, who had never seen an episode of Star Trek before he made the movie. Which just proves that Resistence is futile.
7. CRAZY HEART is an unexpected little movie shot mostly in New Mexico, with Jeff Bridges’ in a performance that could win him his long overdue Oscar. He’s a washed up alcoholic country and western singer named Bad Blake who gets a another chance at life when he meets Maggie Gyllenhall in a motel in Santa Fe. There’s an arc to this character that’s similar to last year’s WRESTLER, but CRAZY HEART is kinder and gentler and much more satisfying
8. DISTRICT 9 — I have top include this movie here because it had such a powerful impact on me. It’s in the form of a mockumentary about aliens stranded in Johannesburg South Africa. The aliens, as someone says, look like something the cat threw up, and they’re treated with fear and cruelty by the South Africans. This isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s one of the most inventive films of the year.
9. NINE is another unanticipated Rob Marshal musical with the same force. The story is fashioned on the inner turmoil of Italian director Frederico Fellini’s life; the acting ensemble features interational actresses like Judi Densch, Penelope Cruz, Kate Hudson, and most spectacularly, Fergie. Glorious choreography, editing, soundtrack, staging, screenplay – you name it. NINE has it.
10. AWAY WE GO came out so long ago it’s almost been forgotten, but it’s worth remembering. A little movie about the big questions that confound us in daily life: who are we? who will employ us? what do we believe in? where shall we live? who do we love? John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph in funny, heartbreakingly honest roles.