HONORABLE MENTIONS, SCREENWRITING
500 Days of Summer - A much needed breath of fresh air in the romantic comedy genre, and a movie that isn't afraid to break your heart a little.
Brothers Bloom - Such great twists and turns, but more importantly, a fantastic relationship between the titular brothers.
Bright Star - Not an easy feat to make an interesting and sexy film about poetry, but this one certainly is, and it's at least partially thanks to Campion's script.
The Informant! - (pictured above) I can't believe this script is not on the Oscar short lists, or at least any that I've seen. It's really amazing structure-wise, peeling away layer after layer of its protagonists lies, and gives Matt Damon some epic stream-of-consciousness monologues.
Me and Orson Welles - Spectacular coming-of-age movie from the king of conversational pictures. Another heartbreaker, but not really because of the romance. Oh Welles, you heartless bastard!
HONORABLE MENTIONS, PERFORMANCES
Sam Rockwell in Moon - It is CRIMINAL that the studio has given up on trying to get Sam Rockwell some awards love, because his performance in this dual role was truly stellar.
Mya Rudolph in Away We Go - I love John Krasinski, but he's basically a bearded Jim Halpert here. Mya Rudolph is the one who really shines, and she gets bonus points for singing a Bob Dylan lullaby.
Stanley Tucci in Julie & Julia and The Lovely Bones - His Bones character is definitely the showier part, and it will probably be the one that gets him to the Oscars, but as wonderful as Meryl Streep was in Julie & Julia, Tucci was the heart of that film.
Marion Cotillard in Public Enemies and Nine - She was the best thing about both these movies, and that's no small feat, considering the company she kept in both.
Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air - People seem to be in either the Vera Farmiga camp or the Anna Kendrick camp with this movie. I definitely think Anna was the standout in this film. I would love to have seen an entire movie centered around her character.
Colin Firth in A Single Man - A career best at this point. I love Darcy as much as the next gal, but this is the most nuanced and elegant performance I've ever seen from him. And oh my, heartbreaking.
Paul Schneider in Bright Star - The absolute best thing about this movie. His admission to failing his best friend was one of the greatest acting moments this year. Period.
Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart - I say this as someone who *HATES* when people overdo the Oscar buzz and jinx whoever they're setting up as an inevitability ... Jeff, meet Oscar. Seriously. The role he was made for.
Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker - Renner's adrenaline-junkie bomb dismantler is the real juice of this film, in my opinion.
Viggo Mortensen in The Road - Not everyone likes this performance, but it takes guts to play someone who's starting to lose his humanity, thereby making him less relatable to audiences.
Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side - The main thing that made this movie a hit and an above average sports-themed inspirational film. Possibly her shot at an Oscar nomination.
Tilda Swinton in Julia - (pictured above) A tragically overlooked gift of a performance and why Tilda is one of the gutsiest actors working right now.
Matt Damon in The Informant! - One of the more complex characters he's ever played and the definition of an unreliable narrator. I loved watching this guy unravel.
VERY GOOD, LIKED A LOT, BUT DIDN'T LOVE AND AM BORDERLINE SICK OF HEARING ABOUT:
The Hurt Locker - (pictured above) A fantastic movie, no doubt. But, and I'm just going to say it, I wonder if it would be on so many top 10 lists if it hadn't been directed by a woman. Jeremy Renner gives an amazing performance, and it's refreshing to see a movie about the Iraq war with zero political agenda. But for some reason it feels a bit empty to me, and it's a bit baffling that it's the one film that is most consistently appearing on everyone's top 10 list (except, God bless them, Harry Knowles and Drew McWeeny).
Up in the Air - Festival audiences and many, many critics fell hard for this movie, but I just ... didn't feel it. It's a great bit of writing and has a lot of heart, and I can't tell you how great it is to see Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga treated as George Clooney's equals instead of "the girl"s. But I don't relate to this movie at all. Maybe because I don't travel for work, I almost always travel to see other people, so I don't get the alienation of frequent travel. I do love the scene where Clooney and Farmiga console Kendrick over her breakup, but I'm not sure what the movie is trying to tell me that I'd be an utter failure as a human being for not already knowing.
MOVIES THAT I WISH I COULD PUT ON THIS YEAR'S LIST BUT WILL HAVE TO WAIT FOR 2010:
Shutter Island - Some have called this lesser Scorsese, but I think it's one of his strongest. Wonderful puzzle of a film, and if you weren't an admirer of DiCaprio's work already, you will be after this film.
Kick-Ass - (pictured above) You are not ready for this level of awesome, especially in the form of little Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl. I cannot WAIT for April.
MOVIES I THOROUGHLY ENJOYED, BUT CAN'T IN GOOD CONSCIENCE PUT ON A TOP 10 LIST:
The Hangover - (pictured above) Maybe my low expectations helped, but this was the most purely frothy fun movie of the summer for me.
My Bloody Valentine 3-D - A horror movie that (*gasp*) actually gave me characters to care about. Loads of horror movie cliches, but also loads of great kills. And my love, Tom Atkins.
MY ALMOSTS, OR, IF I WERE DOING A TOP 15 INSTEAD OF 10:
15. Star Trek - I know a few purists who feel that their Trek canon was totally raped with this movie, and I obviously can't really argue much with that as I was never terribly familiar with any incarnation of the series to begin with. But this film did what I feel any franchise film should do - first and foremost, entertain, and secondly, make the brand accessible to the huge swaths of potential viewers who aren't a part of the rabid fanbase, while still paying as much respect as you can to the original canon. This film succeeds on all three of those points, I think, and while watching it, I could literally feel the affection for the series dripping off the screen. Loved Zoe Saldana (who, between this and Avatar, will surely be the new icon of fanboy lust). Loved Zachary Quinto. Loved Chris Pine and his swaggering Kirk. And above all, LOVED Karl Urban as Bones. One of the great character reveals in any movie ever.
14. Drag Me to Hell - It's not entirely original (it bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1957 film Night of the Demon), but it's not a franchise horror film and is Sam Raimi doing what Raimi does best - scaring and grossing the crap out of you. And he manages to do it with a PG-13 rating. This is an ENORMOUS amount of fun, a great movie to watch with a group, and there's an inevitability about the whole story that just adds an extra layer of terror on the whole business. In addition, having the main character be an anorexic and hallucinating about her food calls the reliability of her POV into question - is this really happening or is she having delusions brought on by her body-hatred?
13. House of the Devil - I have never been more terrified of more nothing than I was during the first hour of this movie. One of the most genuinely scary movies I've seen in a long, long time. No gimmicky scares - zero - just a well-crafted film and a setup that brings its own dread without all the bells and whistles. It's because of this movie that I'm afraid to wear headphones in my apartment. And the attention to detail in setting this film in 1981 is pretty impressive. You could literally be watching a fright flick that was made in that year, it's that well done.
12. Adventureland - This movie hit a lot of my nostalgia buttons. Between the eighties fashions and music and the memories of working in a theme park with some awesomely quirky characters, I connected with this movie much more than most films this year, even many in my Top 10. Jesse Eisenberg has that thing people used to love about Woody Allen, and thank goodness someone gave Kristen Stewart an actual character to prove she's more than the pale face of a dull, vampire-obsessed teen (harsh, but true).
11. The Princess and the Frog - (pictured above) Better than anything Disney has done without Pixar since their 2D heyday. A medium that looks more like a storybook than a video game, songs (oh, how I've missed Disney songs!) that lift your heart, and a heroine whose dreams don't revolve around falling in love. And some of the best supporting characters you could ask for (Ray + Evangeline 4EVA!). This absolutely belongs in the pantheon with Snow White, Cinderella, Bambi, and Pinocchio. It is that good, and kids will be falling in love with it for generations to come.