The Ten Best Movies of 2009
- This Side of the Truth
Directors: Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson
Writers: Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Jason Bateman, Christopher Guest, Tina Fey, Louis C.K, Jonah Hill, Jeffrey Tambor
Why It Will Rule: In case you're not familiar with the man's work, you need to know that Ricky Gervais is very, very funny. (Obviously.) The creator of the original Office and Extras has starred in a few middling Hollywood comedies (Ghost Town, For Your Consideration), but This Side of the Truth is the first film that he's had a hand in writing and directing, which should definitely put it on your radar. Want more convincing?
He's assembled one of the most impressive comedy ensembles in YEARS, and the concept of the movie is BRILLIANT comedy fodder - in a world where lying never existed, a man tells the first lie ever and begins using his new ability to fib for his own gains. Judd Apatow's Funny People is getting all the big-ticket comedy attention for '09, but we're convinced that This Side of the Truth could be something really special.
Why It Might Suck: Gervais has never written/directed a full-length feature before and, if the 30-minute Extras was sometimes too cringe-worthy to sit through, can he really keep us engaged for 90 minutes?
- State of Play
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Peter Morgan
Cast: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Jason Bateman
Why It Will Rule: If you haven't already seen the BBC miniseries that State of Play is based on, you really should, if only to watch some brilliant performances by Kelly Macdonald, Bill Nighy, and James McAvoy (among others) and finally understand why Warner Bros. was so comfortable handing over the keys to the Harry Potter franchise to director David Yates. Thankfully, the inevitable American redo of State of Play has a pretty damn good director too (Last King of Scotland's Kevin McDonald) and a script adapted by some Hollywood heavyweights (The Kingdom's Carnahan and Michael Clayton's Gilroy). The cast is nothing to sneeze at either, packed with award-winners and pretty faces. (We'll leave it up to you to decide if we're talking about McAdams or Affleck.) The plot, about a high-profile senator with presidential hopes (Affleck) who finds himself assaulted by reporters (Crowe) and political enemies after his mistress turns up dead, feels like a perfect fit for today's political climate - part Obama, part Blagojevich. Could be an All the President's Men for our times.
Why It Might Suck: It's a bit worrisome that both Brad Pitt and Edward Norton bailed on the project at the 11th hour due to scheduling and script issues, only to be hastily replaced by Crowe and Affleck. Here's hoping that the script issues were resolved and that the Fight Club boys made a big mistake.
Directors: Pete Docter and Bob Peterson
Writer: Bob Peterson
Cast: (voices of) Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, John Ratzenberger
Why It Will Rule: Seems odd to tell you that one of the best movies of 2009 will be starring Ed Asner in the lead role, but this is Pixar we're talking about. They could make an Oscar-worthy movie about freakin' Chuckles the Clown if they wanted to. The greatest animation studio since the golden age of Walt Disney brings their tenth film to the big screen in 2009 and, thanks to their unprecedented track record of critical and popular hits, they've (so far) only been selling Up on a single beautiful image of a small house flying through the sky tethered to thousands of balloons. The story revolves around 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen who avoids being sent to a nursing home and keeps a promise to his late wife to see the world with the help of a tenacious Wilderness Ranger and lots and lots of helium. Might be too sentimental in less skilled hands, but, at this point, it's safe to say that Pixar deserves the benefit of the doubt. (Plus it's the first Pixar movie to be filmed in Disney Digital 3D, so you know it's going to be gorgeous.)
Why It Might Suck: The storyline might be a hard sell to kids - Come watch your grandpa have an adventure! - and critics everywhere (not us) are hungry for Pixar to finally produce a dud.
Director: Rob Marshall
Writer: Michael Tolkin
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, Kate Hudson, Stacy Ferguson, Judi Dench, Sophia Loren
Why It Will Rule: The last time that director Rob Marshall was paired with a musical - 2002's Chicago - it resulted in 13 Oscar nominations. There's no reason to think that the same thing can't happen again with Nine, a lavish movie adaptation of the 1982 Tony-winning musical based on Federico Fellini's classic film 8 1/2. Even if you don't consider Marshall's Chicago experience, you can't ignore the appeal of a script by The Player's Michael Tolkin and a cast that makes your eyes water. ANYTHING starring Daniel Day-Lewis is probably going to be great - he really is probably the best actor of his generation - and the pedigree of his female supporting cast is impeccable. We're most excited to see La Vie en Rose's Marion Cotillard again, and the idea of watching Judi Dench and Sophia Loren belt out showtunes makes Nine almost impossible to ignore or resist.
Why It Might Suck: Nicole Kidman and Kate Hudson have developed a reputation as box-office poison lately and Fergie? They cast Fergie opposite Daniel Day-Lewis? Really?
- The Informant
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Cast: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey
Why It Will Rule: You probably knew that Steven Soderbergh had a movie coming out in 2009, but you probably thought it was Che, his Cuban revolutionary biopic starring Benicio Del Toro. And while that movie is getting all the attention at the moment, Soderbergh actually has ANOTHER movie coming out later in 2009 and it's not one of his hand-held, no-stars, Bubble-esque experiments either. It's a big dark comic thriller starring Matt Damon that's based on Kurt Eichenwald's 2000 nonfiction book about price-fixing in the agri-business industry. Damon stars as Mark Whitacre, an executive who works with the FBI to blow the whistle on his corrupt employers and falls prey to his own fraudulent dealings and a wicked bi-polar disorder. (You may have seen pictures of him in People with a mustache and gut for the role.) In this economy, a wicked, corporate-skewing black comedy could do HUGE business, and Soderbergh's last industry expose, Erin Brockovich, was one of his best.
Why It Might Suck: Can even Soderbergh make price-fixing of food additives that interesting?
- Shutter Island
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Laeta Kalogridis
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley
Why It Will Rule: It's safe to say that the partnership between Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese has been a productive one for the famed director - Gangs of New York got 10 Oscar nominations, The Aviator got 11 nods (and 5 wins), and The Departed got 5 nominations and won 4, including Best Picture and Marty's long-coveted Best Director Oscar. So ANY news that Scorsese and DiCaprio are re-teaming should raise the blood pressure of any true film fan. And when they re-team to adapt a crime novel by the great Dennis Lehane (author of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone), you should start betting on it in your local Oscar pool as soon as possible. Shutter Island (or Ashecliffe, as it's rumored to be re-titled) follows two U.S. Marshalls (DiCaprio and Ruffalo) trapped by a hurricane on a Massachusetts island as they hunt for a mental patient with a violent past who escaped from a nearby asylum with an equally violent past. It sounds like perfect thriller material, straight out of the third act of Scorsese's Cape Fear remake, and an ideal fit for the legendary filmmaker.
Why It Might Suck: The last movies written by Shutter Island's screenwriter, Laeta Kalogridis, were the lame Viking action movie Pathfinder and Oliver Stone's flop Alexander. Let's hope Lehane's genius shines through regardless.
- The Lovely Bones
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon
Why It Will Rule: It's impossible not to take notice when the team behind the Lord of the Rings movies - writer/director Peter Jackson and screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens - reunites for a new film project, particularly when it's a project as interesting and atypical as this one. Alice Sebold's 2002 novel, The Lovely Bones, was an unlikely candidate to be a blockbuster publishing success story, but Sebold's sad, sweet story of Susie Salmon, a 14-year-old girl who was raped and murdered by a neighbor, who watches her family (and her killer) from Heaven as they try to move on following her death, was one of the best-selling novels of the past decade. It's no surprise that Hollywood was quick to adapt the novel, but it was surprising that a director best known for Hobbits and Orcs got the job. However, anyone familiar with Jackson's 1994 drama Heavenly Creatures (a true story of teen obsession and murder starring Kate Winslet) would immediately recognize Jackson as an eerily perfect choice to direct The Lovely Bones. Heavenly Creatures proved that Jackson and Fran Walsh know how to write teenage girls, and the more fantastic elements of the novel couldn't be in better hands.
Why It Might Suck: More than any movie on this list, Lovely Bones has the most potential to be the surprise trainwreck of 2009. The material is difficult (to say the least), and it doesn't help that the original male lead, Ryan Gosling, was replaced by Jackson at the last minute (rumors say that Jackson thought Gosling was, irony of ironies, too fat for the role); that Susan Sarandon has publically complained about Jackson's directorial style; or that the release date has been pushed back multiple times. Pray for Susie Salmon, kids.
- The Road
Director: John Hillcoat
Writer: Joe Penhall
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce
Why It Will Rule: Throughout his decades-long career, author Cormac McCarthy has developed a reputation as a virtuoso writer, famed for his tough, brutal imagery and absolute mastery of the English language, so many were shocked that his 2006 post-apocalyptic novel, The Road, became such a mainstream success. Even while America was trying to cope with the image of McCarthy palling around with Oprah, Hollywood was trying to figure out how to turn the best-selling book into a best-selling movie. Thankfully, they found the ideal director for the material - Australian director John Hillcoat, whose 2005 movie, The Proposition, was one of the best, most underrated Westerns in years. The Proposition did an amazing job at finding beauty and grace in the bleakest of environments - both physical and emotional - and that's EXACTLY the aesthetic that any movie version of The Road needs. McCarthy's sublimely simple story of a father and son letting their mutual love sustain each other at the end of the world touched a nerve in millions of readers, and, hopefully, Hillcoat (and the perfectly cast Viggo Mortensen) will be able to translate that effect to the big screen.
Why It Might Suck: The release date has been pushed back a few times and, if Hillcoat botches the balance of bleakness and hope, it could fall flat with audiences.
Director: Zack Snyder
Writer: David Hayter and Alex Tse
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Matthew Goode, Stephen McHattie, Carla Gugino
Why It Will Rule: Because if we say otherwise, millions of frenzied, drooling fanboys will smother us in our sleep. Kidding aside, it's no exaggeration to say that Watchmen is, perhaps, THE most anticipated film of 2009. It's a movie version of the most critically beloved graphic novel of all time in an era where superhero movies rule the box office. It's riding a wave of strong pre-release buzz, it's Zack Snyder's first movie since his popular smash 300, and the first two trailers have been AMAZING. Thanks to Iron Man and Dark Knight, audiences are finally taking comic book movies seriously, and Watchmen seems like the next evolutionary step in the genre, acting as both a meta-commentary on superheroes in general and an adult, world-spanning murder mystery. If people dug the bleak, gritty vibe of Dark Knight, then they're going to LOVE Watchmen.
Why It Might Suck: Aside from Lovely Bones, Watchmen is the riskiest bet on this list. 300 wasn't exactly the greatest movie ever (unless you're really into slow-motion homo-erotica), Alan Moore comic book movie adaptations have a bad history (still trying to forget League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), expectations are insanely high, and rumors have it that Snyder - who's spent two years selling the movie to fans as a religiously faithful adaptation - changed the ending. Could either be epic or an epic fail.
Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Stephen Lang
Why It Will Rule: Watchmen might be the 2009 movie that everyone's talking about now, but make no mistake - Avatar is the BIGGEST movie of 2009. There is literally NO other movie that in any way, shape, or form that could conceivably be bigger. Why? First, it's the first theatrical movie written and directed by James Cameron since Titanic, i.e. the highest grossing movie EVER. Second, by all reports, Cameron has spent the better part of a decade prepping for Avatar and has alleged completely reinvented 3D technology to make a blow-you-through-the-back-of-your-seat experience that will remind you why watching DVDs will NEVER replace the glory of seeing a movie up on the big screen. Third, it's a massive scope sci-fi epic, a genre that Cameron does extremely well (i.e., Terminator 2 and Aliens). Though the project has been shrouded in secrecy, we know that the film follows a paralyzed war veteran far in the future who is brought to the planet Pandora and finds himself trapped in the middle of a conflict for the fate of the planet between his fellow Earthlings and the planet's native Na'vi population. It's a fun concept, but it's the reverence with which Hollywood FX technicians have been speaking about Avatar that has us really, really excited to plop down ten bucks at our local multiplex and take a ride.
Why It Might Suck: The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Titanic has some BIG shoes to fill.
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