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  • Don’s Top 10 of 2009

    By | January 3, 2010

    The most difficult part of creating Top 10 lists for me is the top and the bottom of the list. For a majority of the calendar year, Sam Rockwell and Moon were alone in solitary seclusion safely at the top of my list and I really didn’t expect anything, not even the latest Wes Anderson vehicle, to dislodge it. But then I saw Fantastic Mr. Fox and I immediately realized that there was no longer any chance for Moon to remain at the top of my list. (Sam Rockwell still deserves to be awarded Best Actor for his transcendental performance in Moon though.) Toward the bottom of the list, it was difficult to not have any space left for other fantastic 2009 films such as Goodbye Solo, The Road and Paper Heart. It is worth nothing that I purposely did not include films that were not released theatrically in Austin, Texas during 2009 (The White Ribbon, The Wedding Song and Youth in Revolt will have to wait for consideration for my 2010 list) and three films that I am very disappointed to report that I neglected to see in 2009 are: An Education, The Hurt Locker and Nine.

    10. The Box

    Speaking of complex narratives with a lot of curveballs and unresolved issues, The Box bares an uncanny resemblance to David Lynch’s Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. Those are two of my favorite films by Lynch – I’m also one of the few people who really liked Kelly’s Southland Tales – I like challenging films, what can I say? And the The Box offers innumerable challenges. It’s also infinitely complex, scary, thought-provoking and I really like the moral of the tale. – Don Simpson

    9. The Messenger

    First-time director Oren Moverman’s (co-writer of Jesus’ Son and I’m Not There) The Messenger is like the bastardized lovechild of In the Valley of Elah and Wendy and Lucy. The actors have an infinite amount of time to play out their scenes, with seemingly no limits and definitely no rush. Morton, especially, seems to hijack the camera as it repeatedly lingers on her while she does nothing and says very little. Essentially, The Messenger is about the space in between the lines of dialogue (co-written by Moverman and Alessandro Camon) rather than the words which serve to form more of a frame than a picture. – Don Simpson

    8. Humpday

    Shelton’s handling of the material is masterful. It is mature and emotionally riveting, it is also incredibly and undeniably real (real is something you would probably never label a Levine or Apatow production). As with the rest of the mumblecore oeuvre, don’t expect any bells and whistles; Humpday is what I like to call “an actor’s film” – with strong performances, and not much else. Best of all (at least in my humble opinion), nothing is done solely for laughs yet Humpday is an incredibly funny film nonetheless. – Don Simpson

    7. The Informant!

    Despite all the jibber-jabber, Whitacre is a perfectly likable fellow and it’s very difficult not to feel sorry for him (Soderbergh pretty much follows Eichenwald’s lead in casting Whitacre in a mostly favorable scapegoat-ish light – Whitacre’s wrongs pale in comparison to the corporate corruption around him). It’s also very difficult not to laugh at him…until you realize that Whitacre suffers from bipolar disorder, then you go back to feeling sorry for the poor guy again. Whitacre is also the perfect example of the Peter Principle – he is a brilliant researcher, but not a brilliant executive. His promotion to the executive offices of ADM was truly his greatest downfall. – Don Simpson

    6. UP

    Pixar is the studio that can’t seem to go wrong. Everything they do is hailed by critics and ticket holders alike. Eye candy and great story telling are a staple of Pixar Animation Studios, and something that they have built their solid reputation on. This time they strike more emotional chords than ever. With UP we are given a standard of what films for the whole family should be. They give us something more touching and with more character depth than most of the live-action dramas of recent memory. This successful Pixar formula of quality continues and excels with the tale of UP. – Dave Campbell

    5. Bronson

    Hardy’s transcendental performance is reason enough to see Bronson – there are few performances will ever top this one. The real Michael Peterson should be proud. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, Bronson can be read as a scathing indictment of celebrity culture and glorification of violence in the media; or perhaps a critique of the prison system’s inability to rehabilitate criminals; or maybe an example of how a downtrodden economy makes some people want to go to prison for free room and board… – Don Simpson

    4. Where The Wild Things Are

    Developed from author Maurice Sendak’s cherished 1963 book, writer/director Spike Jonze leads a creative team to conceive a beautifully cute, instant classic, that will be among the childhood greats that a kid of the 70’s & 80’s (like myself) have waited to see again. Not since the great days of the legend Jim Henson (The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth) have we seen something so magical and artistic, lacking the clichés of typical family throw away films. – Dave Campbell

    3. Ponyo

    At age 68, Miyazaki is still able to channel the playful, curious and fantastical mental acrobats of children better that any other living storyteller. If you want to know what your five year-old child is daydreaming about while you’re vacationing on the coast this summer – I bet they are dreaming about a world that is eerily similar to Ponyo. – Don Simpson

    2. Moon

    Moon is the most compelling piece of classic science-fiction added to the genre in over a decade. Director Duncan Jones (son of a one David Bowie), has exploded onto the scene with his first feature film. An incredibly amazing feat that was accomplished at an unheard of $5 million dollar price tag.The film is as much a look into the human psyche as it is a look at corporate deception and conspiracy. Moon is complex in the most satisfying of ways and poses a host of questions about humanity. – Dave Campbell

    1. Fantastic Mr. Fox

    Fantastic Mr. Fox finds director Wes Anderson (who also co-wrote the script with Noah Baumbach) doing exactly what he does best – plans. Anderson has a knack for developing elaborate plans for his characters that would put Wile E. Coyote to shame (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore). It seems like almost every scene in Fantastic Mr. Fox involves some sort of intricate (and comical) plan with lots of mapping and sketching – including Coach Skip’s (voiced by Owen Wilson) explanation of the inexplicable game “whack-bat” (okay, it’s not a plan per se, but it sure plays out like one). – Don Simpson

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