Not even averaging one film per week represents an all-time low for me as an adult. While I certainly could have forced myself to engage more, the year was oddly uninspiring for long stretches, although there were some really compelling movies released this year, as well as some highly encouraging commercial success stories.
As for the movies themselves...
The Informant!: Steven Soderbergh is probably one of the most talented artists on the planet, writing, producing, shooting and editing more than 20 films since his stunning arrival with Sex, Lies and Videotape back in 1989. As iconoclastic as they come, Soderbergh seems equally at home crafting crowd-pleasing major-studio fare, experimenting with no-budget digital productions and also trying to find that elusive middle: making films within the studio system that challenge audiences and bear the distinctive stamp of a substantive artist at work. I don't always find myself loving what he delivers, but I never want to miss one of his effots. The Informant! is, at once, many things: a biting satire about corporate greed, a dark comedy about human nature, and -- in Soderbergh's hands -- a whopper of a bizarre tale about a quasi-whistleblower at agricultural giant Archer Daniels Midland. I'm still not convinced this movie works on all levels, and the story is so bizarre as to be completely unbelievable at times (although most of it, apparently, is true), but Matt Damon is priceless as crook/hero/villain Mark Whitacre. Not everyone will care for this, and if you're expecting a straightforward take akin to Michael Mann's incredible The Insider, look elsewhere. But if offbeat and lacerating is your taste, this might be for you.
Up: I confess to seeing only half of Pixar's theatrical output over the years, even though I fully understand the argument that while their movies are kid- and family-friendly, they also offer rich rewards for adults. I'm not philosophically opposed to animated features -- trust me, I've been waiting in vain for more than 20 years for Warner Bros., Disney, Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis to make a sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit -- but they aren't normally top of my list. That said, I finally saw Up in its third or fourth week of release, and it was wonderful. Now, did I completely love all of it? No. But that opening half-hour was truly heartbreaking, as was the ending. Damn you, Pixar!
Whatever Works: Larry David is great in the Woody Allen role in this comic farce also starring Evan Rachel Wood and Patricia Clarkson. This continues a nice run of form by writer/director Allen, including Vicki Cristina Barcelona, my favorite movie of 2008; Cassandra’s Dream, a highly underrated 2007 thriller; and Match Point, from 2005. (Feel free to overlook 2006’s Scoop.)
Art & Copy: A more inspiring movie about creativity and expression (with not just a little dollop of message manipulation and image manufacturing thrown in) you will not find. If you work in media or communications -- in any fashion -- this is a must-see film.
It Might Get Loud: Jack White, U2’s the
The Way We Get By: A group of citizens in Maine gather at all hours of the day and night at Bangor International Airport to make sure that members of our armed services who are either (1) flying out to duty overseas or are (2) returning to the United States from serving abroad always have someone there to wish them good luck or welcome them home. Selfless, beautiful stuff.
Next up ... some day ... my 10 favorites of 2009 ... to be continued ...