Favorites of the Year: Movies

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Updated to include all choices

After Retrospective, our best-of-the-decade issue, we decided that we were really tired of numbers. (As humanities majors, counting beyond 10 hurts our heads.) That's why we decided to take a less rigid approach with our annual best-of-the-year lists. Here, we present some of our favorite movies of the year thus far in an unranked, unrestricted fashion, with even more choices online. Quite simply, these works are the ones we loved in 2009.

-Rajesh Srinivasan

A Serious Man, dir. Ethan and Joel Coen

With an opening jab at Yiddish folklore and a staggeringly ambiguous ending, "A Serious Man" is among the best of the Coen Brothers' films. Like "Burn After Reading" or "Fargo," dark clouds (literally) descend on "A Serious Man" as stupidity begets more stupidity. A mid-20th century retelling of the Book of Job set in the Midwest, "Man" is an absurd take on the ennui-in-suburbia story. The seriously perfect Michael Stuhlbarg stars as a professor mired in the muck of divorce, blackmail and other Coen Brothers tomfoolery. Richard Kind plays his philistine brother, lending the film its funniest moments.

-Ryan Lattanzio

Star Trek, dir. J.J. Abrams

All people, regardless of how "cool" they are, have deep within them a Trekkie waiting to be released. For some people, the Trekkie is discovered very young, leading to a childhood of conventions and ridicule. For most, however, it was 2009's series reboot, "Star Trek," that coaxed that inner Trekkie to play. From the oddly emasculating intelligence of Spock (Zachary Quinto) to the over-the-top visual stylings that J. J. Abrams has claimed as his trademark, "Star Trek" was one of the most exciting and compelling films of the year.

-Daniel Kronovet

Inglourious Basterds, dir. Quentin Tarantino

Brad Pitt's accent is terrible. He has a scar straight out of anime and steps garishly into the camera for close-ups. But, pep-talking his squadron about "killin' Nattzies," he sounds real: "And when their subconscious tortures them for the evil they've done, it will be with thoughts of us that it tortures them with." It's not just a misplaced preposition. It's writer-director Quentin Tarantino's attention to mundane detail that makes you believe this ridiculous character. Apply that to a gory, anachronistic WWII comedy. Voila-"Inglourious Basterds" is a triumph.

-Travis Korte

The House of the Devil, dir. Ti West

"The House of the Devil" stands tall in a year of terrific throwback horror films. Both a mockery and a chilling reworking of '80s teen slasher films, Ti West's hilarious and taut thriller stars Jocelin Donahue as a naive college student who gets the babysitting job from hell. Though most of the film's short running time is devoted to building suspense, the last 20 minutes are pure balls-to-the-walls horror. The performances are both cheesy and stellar, with an equally great soundtrack to match, and the direction is note-for-note genius.

-Ryan Lattanzio

District 9, dir. Neill Blomkamp

What makes "District 9" such weird viewing is that it starts out as a comedy. Aliens come to earth! And visit ... Johannesburg. Human politicos' opinions on the subject are poorly informed and idiotic. Even reading the hero's nametag is funny.

But protagonist Wikus van de Merwe gets less and less funny as the film progresses, and we wind up with all sorts of feelings about incompetent officials, race relations and giant mechanical kill-suits. A sci-fi film is only realistic if life in its world gets as silly as life in ours, and director Neill Blomkamp teaches an important lesson: Deep issues are best discussed using aliens.

-Travis Korte

The Hurt Locker, dir. Kathryn Bigelow

"War is a drug," a title card proclaims in the opening of Kathryn Bigelow's astounding film about US soldiers dismantling bombs in Iraq. Initially, this comes across as an odd notion, but the film is all about the real-life dangers that soldiers face on a daily basis. These experiences, Staff Sergeant William James discovers, can be simultaneously exhilarating and utterly terrifying. So it is for viewers, who become so caught up in the film's frenetic energy that the politics behind the war are placed in the background; for the soldiers on the ground, their fight is one of self-preservation.

-Max Siegel

Goodbye Solo, dir. Ramin Bahrani

Ramin Bahrani further establishes himself in the pantheon of American directors with this study of two men and their friendship as they journey toward an uneasy destination. Taking place in and around the filmmaker's hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C., "Goodbye Solo" coaxes transcendent performances from Souleymane Sy Savane as Solo, a Senegalese-born taxi driver, and Red West as William, a laconic man whose battered countenance masks a lifetime of sadness. Juxtaposing William's desperation with Solo's humanism, Bahrani's snapshot of the American Dream is at once fleeting and regenerative.

-David Liu

Fantastic Mr. Fox, dir. Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson has taken Roald Dahl's "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and re-envisioned it to achieve refreshing results: From the Welsh-born-Norwegian-by-descent Dahl's children's novel, Anderson has created a film that is quintessentially American and adult. You may have more in common with a dapper fox surviving in the wild than you think. Anderson has made a fox's life wholly relevant to the current economic climate in which gluttony may not be viable, but survival is. Clever animation and heart-pounding percussive elements make for a film that's smart as a whip and-perhaps the best way to describe it-wily as a fox.

-Sara Hayden

The White Ribbon, dir. Michael Haneke

Draped in stark chiaroscuro, Michael Haneke's latest masterstroke feels like a waking nightmare. His portrait of a village in Northern Germany unfolds with the richness of a period novel, probing the darkest depths of the community dynamic through a hypnotic medley of beauty and perversity. Their harmony fractured by a series of disturbing occurrences, families slowly disintegrate into forces at odds with one another, while a world-weary narrator recalls the horror of it all. Backed by a superb ensemble cast, Haneke allegorizes modern history in brilliant, uncompromising fashion.

-David Liu

Up, dir. Bob Peterson and Pete Doctor

The narrative of "Up" is simple compared to the grand, eco-friendly message driving Pixar's previous film, "Wall-E." But in some ways, "Up" has the more touching story because it is grounded to more earthly concerns-except when recently widowed octogenarian, Carl, floats to South America in his balloon-outfitted house. "Up" opens our eyes to the vitality that can be discovered in mundane and extraordinary moments; everyone, no matter his or her age, has a spirit for adventure. And who could forget the extraordinary opening sequence, a wordless, four-minute-long encapsulation of a couple's joys and disappointments over a lifetime?

-Max Siegel

Tags: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, A SERIOUS MAN, DISTRICT 9, STAR TREK, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL


Contact the arts staff of The Daily Californian at [email protected]



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