The films that rocked 2009: Janet Smith

It was a year of outer-space spectacles and inner-city dramas, animated delights and sombre period pieces. Critical acclaim may yet swirl around flicks like Crazy Heart and The Messenger, but they won’t hit local screens until 2010. Thus, the following is how the best of this year’s celluloid lot stacked up for our movie reviewers. The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, and Up in the Air scored the most accolades with our critics, with An Education and District 9 coming in a close second.

Hair-metal has-beens, supersized pregnant teens, and crustaceanlike aliens: it was a weird cast of characters in the year’s best films. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Watch the trailer for Sin Nombre.

Sin Nombre
A mind-blowing mashup that’s equal parts chase movie, tragic love story, and politicized documentary, amped up by lush Latin American scenery and Mexican gangsters so bad-ass they make the Crips and the Bloods look like grade-school wannabes. The rail ride to El Norte has never been more heartbreaking or sangre-spattered.

Precious: Based On The Novel “Push” By Sapphire
If there is a hell, it must look something like the title character’s dank Harlem flat. Disturbing yet exhilarating, Precious also has hope, whether it’s in the Beyoncé-video-styled fantasies or one overweight teen’s lumbering escape from the darkness.

Sunshine Cleaning
A failed cheerleader who cleans up gory crime scenes, a one-armed janitorial-supply salesman, and an eight-year-old who hawks popcorn with his hustler grandad: out of this ragtag crew of characters comes something close to the perfect comment on our tough times.

Inglourious Basterds
Never mind the epic odes to old war movies and over-the-top flights into bloody revenge against the Nazis, the most reviled targets of the last century. Only a master like Quentin Tarantino could build the kind of tension in the year’s two most harrowing scenes: one in a cramped French farmhouse, the other in a basement soldiers’ bar.

The September Issue
Breezy and engrossing, The September Issue is a lot like losing yourself in that fat fall edition of Vogue. Keep your The Devil Wears Prada; the battle of wills between Anna “Nuclear” Wintour and her equally passionate art director, Grace Coddington, is the real deal.

Anvil! The Story Of Anvil
From the icy suburban wasteland of Mississauga to the basement European bars where metalheads go to die, Sacha Gervasi’s doc rocks. You start out thinking 50-year-old Steve “Lips” Kudlow is a pathetic loser who’s more Spinal Tap than Spinal Tap, and suddenly you’re rooting for his return to his spandexed glory days.

The Necessities Of Life
Benoí®t Pilon’s aching ode to cultural divides is almost unbearably moving. An Inuk man is ripped from his family and shipped to Quebec for tuberculosis treatment in the 1950s. Imagine being sent to the ice floes and you’ll get a sense of his loneliness.

The Hurt Locker
War is insane, but Kathryn Bigelow makes it seem even more twisted than usual, zeroing in on the lunacy of roadside bombs in Iraq. The enemy is invisible, and the job is bleaker than anything Franz Kafka could have concocted.

Up In The Air
George Clooney finds the ideal vehicle for what’s normally his downfall: sleek insincerity. The brilliance is in playing his Teflon axe man off an equally driven upstart (Anna Kendrick)—with a bunch of enraged and depressed schmoes thrown in for colour.

District 9
An FX–pumped science-fiction movie with a scathing social message about segregation, all set in South Africa? Not only is District 9 provocative and thrilling, but you actually feel empathy for an alien that looks like the mutant child of a cockroach and a lobster.

View all critic's picks on a single page.

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Andrew Turnbull

Dec 31, 2009 at 1:56pm

Janet Smith, I'm a new fan. I like the precise, humorous descriptions:

' overweight teen's lumbering escape from the darkness'
'...icy suburban wasteland of Mississauga..'
'George Clooney finds the ideal vehicle for what's normally his downfall: sleek insincerity.'
'....with a bunch of enraged and and depressed schmoes thrown in for colour.'

I chuckled out loud (col) at that last one. Thanks for that!

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