The Top 10 Films of 2009: Part I — No. 10 to No. 6

— by CAM SMITH —

It seems somewhat crazy in retrospect, but, sitting at the tail end of last year — a period which produced some of the most noteworthy films of the decade — the approaching movie year of 2009 was awaited by many with a combination of trepidation and ambivalence.

We were warned for months prior that, due to the lingering after effects of the WGA strike, we would be bombarded with a considerable amount of shoddily-written tent-poles and hastily-assembled projects green-lit solely to fulfill the economic needs of the business.

Indeed, there was definite cause for concern.

However, though there were certainly a few clumsy high-profile black marks (such as “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “Year One”), 2009 proved, intriguingly, to be the anti-hype year, with the majority of the best film-going experiences thriving on the buzz of discovery, as opposed to pre-sold satisfaction.

While massively-marketed blockbusters (like “Terminator: Salvation” and “Angels and Demons”) and prestige awards-bait (“Nine,” “Invictus” and “The Informant!,” to name a few) disappointed, startling word-of-mouth hits such as “District 9,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Precious,” “Paranormal Activity” and “Star Trek” thrilled and moved ticket-buyers the world over.

Looking over my list, I’m inspired by the staggering originality and craftsmanship of the films on it, and I treasure the unforgettable trips each and every one took me on. These 10 — and the honorable mentions, of course — exemplify the intense excitement and stunning artistry of a wonderfully rich year of movie-watching; an ideal close to an often turbulent cinematic decade.

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10. “Drag Me to Hell”

Francois Truffaut’s oft-quoted statement on the filmic medium was that “cinema should express either the joy of making cinema or the anguish of making cinema.” Well, sir, Sam Raimi’s return to the spook-a-blast genre of his youth falls, goofy and grinning ear-to-ear, into the former; a slime-soaked tribute to the gloriously bonkers world of gypsy curses, moonlit séances and cackling possessed farm-stock. Aided by on-screen co-conspirator Alison Lohman — a good sport if ever there was one — the director unleashes one of the decade’s greatest fright-fest extravaganzas, a goofball exploration of the macabre that delivers jack-in-the-box scares with irresistibly impish glee.

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9. “Star Trek”

Jubilantly breaking free from 40 years of suffocating continuity, J.J. Abrams whizz-bang reboot of Gene Roddenberry’s iconic science-fiction universe is a truly astonishing sight to behold. Soaring higher than it has in eons, this Enterprise — now staffed by a brilliantly-cast new crew of space voyagers, led by the ultra-charismatic Chris Pine — takes audiences on an exhilarating and massively entertaining flight into the heart of popcorn blockbuster nirvana. Now, with a rejuvenated life-force and infinite opportunities ahead, the future has never been brighter for “Star Trek.”

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8. “Up in the Air”

Jason Reitman’s revelatory third effort — a standout in a weak year for studio-produced prestige projects — is a refreshingly adult meditation on the complexities of human connection and corporate culture. Riding confidently on the broad shoulders of George Clooney’s Ryan Bingham, a traveling professional free of personal ties, who takes on a naive protégé (Anna Kendrick) and begins a playful relationship with a similarly-spirited mystery woman (Vera Farmiga), “Up in the Air” expertly walks a fine line between cynism and optimism, offering plenty of truthfulness and good-natured humour. It further proves that wunderkind Reitman may just be his generation’s answer to Billy Wilder.

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7. “Fantastic Mr. Fox”

After a string of lukewarm disappointments, it was a dazzling, hysterical treat to witness hipster auteur Wes Anderson rediscover the beauty of his own idiosyncratic cinematic language through stop-motion technology and the sneaky, miraculous spirit of Roald Dahl. In detailing how George Clooney’s wily animal thief extraordinaire leads a trio of callous farmers on a wild goose chase, the gifted director delivers a sumptuously detailed visual banquet of a fable, replete with sharp ironic zingers, warmth and — evidenced best during a poignant encounter with a majestic lone wolf — unadulterated, entrancing wonder.

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6. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”

Silly me, I was becoming convinced that Harry Potter was beginning to run out of magic dust, following the rather lackluster “Order of the Phoenix.” So it now feels pretty terrific to be eating crow, as this summer’s “Half-Blood Prince” proved to be the very finest of the cinematic literary adaptations. Directed with a true storyteller’s zeal by David Yates, and featuring stunning cinematography and a crackerjack performance by Jim Broadbent, the world of Hogwarts has never been as exciting, perilous or sublimely gorgeous as it is here.

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Click here to read The Top 10 Films of 2009: Part II — No. 5 to No. 1

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