Saturday, January 2, 2010

2009 is Up, Up and Away.

Happy New Year and welcome to 2010.  Before 2009 becomes a distant memory, I wanted to share my thoughts on my favorite movies from the last year before such thoughts lose all relevancy.  I won't do a proper Top 10 list because I don't think I've seen enough of the year's movies (nor did I truly love enough of the movies I did see) to make such a list.

Without question, I can tell you that my two favorite movies of 2009 were "Up" and "Up In the Air."  Beyond the titular similarities, the two films are thematically linked as well, as both are fundamentally concerned with the critical importance of authentic relationships to a life worth living.  Carl Fredricksen, the focus of Pixar's "Up," re-discovers that adventure isn't found in exotic locations or fanciful quests, but in sharing life, even the simplest, most mundane aspects of life, with someone else.  After grieving the loss of his beloved wife Ellie, Carl finds that someone in Russell, a little boy in desperate need of a father figure (he also finds a stray talking dog who wants nothing more than a loving master to take care of him).  As Russell wistfully says about his memories of his absentee dad, "It's the boring stuff I miss the most."  The story is whimsical, the image of a house flying under a bundle of colorful balloons is instantly iconic, but the characters and emotions are true and powerful.  Nothing I've seen this year is as beautiful and heart-breaking as the short, wordless montage at the beginning of the film that perfectly captures Carl and Ellie's life together.

In "Up in the Air," Ryan Bingham (played by George Clooney) has built his life around isolation but through a series of circumstances -- a one-night stand that becomes something more, a new coworker, a family wedding, and the lamentations of the people he has to fire for a living -- he gradually, poignantly, comprehends all that he has missed as a result of that isolation.  It is a simple film, but what it reveals about human nature is real and honest.  Relationships give meaning to life's successes and provide comfort during life's sorrows. 

Other movies that I really enjoyed this year:

"The Princess and the Frog" -- I discussed this film a few days ago, but it really is a gem.  It is a sweet, nearly note-perfect return to form for Disney animation.  I really think the animation is among the most beautiful that the studio has ever produced.  Randy Newman's songs wonderfully incorporate the rich heritage of Louisiana music -- jazz, gospel, zydeco, etc.  In fact, I am still slightly in awe of the extreme attention to detail employed to evoke the 1920s New Orleans setting.  I am still hopeful that positive word-of-mouth will sustain the film into a bona fide success.

"Star Trek" -- The more you think about the plot, the less it makes sense, but the movie is so much fun and the characters are re-created so well that it doesn't really matter.  I'm looking forward to more of these.

"The Hangover" -- It had been a few years since a movie made me laugh so hard that tears came to my eyes.  This one did.

I haven't seen "Avatar," which is a blindspot I hope to remedy soon.  And I will be posting my thoughts on my favorite films of the decade in the near future.

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