As the Oscars approach on March 7, I find myself reflecting on the films I would most like to see again. The films below resonated with me and ultimately found a place on my top-ten list. In their own way, each contributed to my cinematic pleasure this past year.
10. “Avatar” – Breathtakingly beautiful. Stunning effects. And incredible advancements in filmmaking. All of these warrant the recognition of the most successful film of the year. Is the story familiar and predictable? Yes (see “Dances with Wolves” and “Pocahontas”). Is it also politically heavy-handed? Yes. But no film this year will take you to a place this far removed from our own world and entertain you this much.
9. “The Messenger” – There are two Iraq War films on my list. The other one will most likely win Best Picture at the Oscars. However, I almost view them as companion pieces. Since 2002, Hollywood has tried to contribute to the conversation about the second war in Iraq. “The Messenger,” unlike any film I have seen, reminds us of the high cost of this or any war. The last third of the film is not as strong as the early scenes, but overall, this is an emotional ride well worth taking.
8. “The Hurt Locker” – Beautifully executed. Deeply emotional. Tension only surpassed by the opening of my sixth favorite film. Never mind the fact that “The Hurt Locker” is the front-runner for the Oscar and could become the smallest-grossing film to win the top prize in history. “The Hurt Locker’s” strength is that it tells a story of those risking their lives on our behalf. No politics, just smart and effective storytelling. As with “The Messenger,” “The Hurt Locker” reminds us that the cost of war is far greater than monetary expenses.
7. “An Education” – I have recommended this movie to many people with teenagers. Is there value in traditional education? Traditional morals and values? Value in truth, honesty and integrity? Boasting the finest acting performance I saw this year with Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of Jenny, this is a small gem worth seeking over any of the blockbusters currently at a theater near you.
6. “Inglourious Basterds” – No film in 2009 offered a tenser scene or chilling villain than Quentin Tarantino’s latest work. Often a beautiful film to behold; sometimes so violent you want to look away; consistently amusing and moving, but always posing challenging questions about vengeance and standing against evil.
5. “Up” – Just the montage of a marriage in the first 20 minutes makes this one of the best five films of the year. Pixar never sacrifices story when it creates a new project, and this strange, fascinating family film delivers laughs, tears and pure cinematic joy. One need not take a balloon ride to South America to rediscover what matters in life; one only has to see “Up.”
4. “A Serious Man” – Perhaps the Coen Brothers’ finest work. Certainly equal to but totally different from the Oscar-winning “No Country for Old Men.” There are so many questions here about faith, family, evil and the justice of the universe that this film deserves repeated viewing. And even with all that, there are some of the funniest counseling scenes ever included in a film. “A Serious Man” and “An Education” are the two smallest films nominated for Best Picture, but both deserve the recognition.
3. “Away We Go” – No film this year moved me more emotionally. It is one of the best films about parenting ever made. The humor is continuous and the moments of sentiment, sadness and regret are acute. Few films this year have achieved such a balance.
2. “500 Days of Summer” – I have called it the best romantic comedy since “When Harry Met Sally” and certainly the best one of the 21st century. I stand by these claims, and I believe that as time goes on, the jokes will remain hilarious, and the truths about relationships revealed in this film will only become more and more accurate to all who watch.
1. “Up in the Air” – Articles and reviews keep reminding us that this film captures the attitudes and situations of our country at this moment in time. Will people watch “Up in the Air” in 50 years and see it as great social commentary? I think they probably will. But even if they do not, the future audience will still encounter smart dialogue, passionate storytelling and insight into the human condition, which is timeless.
A few other fine films could have made the list: “District 9,” “Invictus,” “A Christmas Carol,” “The Road” and “The Young Victoria.” Here’s to hoping that 2010 offers a collection as good as these.
Roger Thomas is pastor of First Baptist Church in Albemarle, N.C.