Top 5 Films of 2009

It’s that time of the year. Hollywood is releasing all of their biggest blockbusters and front runners for February’s Academy Awards ceremony, and critics everywhere are compiling their “best of” and “worst of” the year lists. While December looks like it’s going to be a month full of good films, including the drama Brothers, the musical Nine, the animated The Princess And The Frog, and the action packed Sherlock Holmes, I’ve decided to make a list of my top 5 must-see films of the year thus far. Who knows: maybe by the time Christmas rolls around that list will have changed. But for now, add the following to your Netflix queue. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

5. Adam

New York love stories have the tendency to be very cliché. They usually consist of a small-town boy or girl trying to make his or her way in the big city, and after a series of setbacks, obstacles, and culture shock due to hanging out with a series of Carrie Bradshaws, the newcomers reign over Manhattan as successful Upper West Siders with happy jobs and happy relationships. In Adam, we see a romance unfold between two young, steady working, semi-struggling, artistically tortured New Yorkers. Within the walls of their tiny apartments (unlike the multi-million dollar places depicted on “Friends” or “Gossip Girl”), we see the evolution of a tender romance. These two learn to love one another and deal with the hardships of everything from New York living to handling Adam’s Asperger’s Syndrome and Beth’s emotionally damaged heart. It’s an unusual tale that shows how unconventional love really is. It also offers the more conventional message that loving someone means being able to get through the best and worst times together, with feelings intact and continuously growing stronger, and overcoming the greatest of obstacles, even something as serious as a disorder. This film was not distributed nearly as widely as it should have been, but it is an inspiring and endearing movie that is guaranteed to melt even hearts of stone.

4. Away We Go

It is very rare that a film comes along that manages to evoke hysterical laughter and a tear-jerking response all within its allotted time frame. In Away We Go, John Krasinski (yes, that lanky guy from “The Office”) and Maya Rudolph (of “Saturday Night Live” fame) star as Burt and Verona, a couple in their mid-30’s with a baby on the way and no direction in life. The film follows them as they travel from city to city, trying to find a place to settle down to raise a family. Along the way, they encounter a large ensemble of brilliantly exaggerated characters, including Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels as Burt’s parents, Allison Janney as Verona’s old boss (playing her most hilarious role since 1999’s Drop Dead Gorgeous), Melanie Lynskey and Chris Messina as old college friends who are raising their own adopted family, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as a woman so Zen and free, that she breast feeds her colleague’s five-year-old children. The couple’s journey from place to place teaches them about life, love, each other, and what it takes for them to find their own inner peace as a family. At the end, when they find what their personal definition of “home” is, the couple stirs an undeniable sense of hope and happiness in their audience. Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) and written by Dave Eggers (Where The Wild Things Are), this is an indie gem that truly exemplifies the art of a road trip film done masterfully and tastefully.

3. Sunshine Cleaning

This phenomenal indie dram-edy tells the story of two sisters (played by Amy Adams and Emily Blunt), who go into business together cleaning up after crime scenes. The film centers on the struggles which these two women face and their personal journeys, including dealing with single parenthood, sexuality, suicide, nostalgia, and self- discovery, all while trying to remain a happy, functioning family. Supported by a terrific ensemble including Alan Arkin, Steve Zahn, and Cliflton Collins Jr., Sunshine Cleaning exemplifies all the qualities that so much of contemporary cinema lacks, particularly a sense of realism. Everything from the character development to the plot to the dialogue is more than relatable, creating a story that I guarantee you will remember for a long time.

While it should come as no surprise that Adams is fabulous in her heart-wrenching role as a single mother seeking to better her life for the sake of her child, the real star of the film is Blunt. I’ve been a huge supporter of Blunt ever since she captivated me with her charmingly devilish role in The Devil Wears Prada. Many would eagerly burn me at the stake for writing this, but I firmly believe that her performance as the sassily bitchy assistant easily outshone Meryl Streep’s in that film. In the coming months, Blunt will be starring as the heroine in the eagerly anticipated horror re-make The Wolfman alongside Benicio del Torro, and will also be taking on the lead in Young Victoria, a biopic (which is already garnering a significant amount of Oscar buzz) chronicling the love story between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. iIt’s only a matter of time before Blunt explodes into a household name, and it is refreshing to see a young actress whose talent transcends genres and has allowed her to tackle so many different types of characters nearly flawlessly. In Sunshine Cleaning, she proves that not only does she have an incredible range of versatility as an actress, but that she is also truly a driving force who, if given the right opportunities, will be a threat to all the Kate Winslets, Sally Fields, and Meryl Streeps out there for years to come.

2. An Education

Written by Nick Hornby–the genius behind High Fidelity, About A Boy, and the gorgeously written page-turning new novel Juliet, Naked— this quirky little British film is one Hollywood should be very afraid of come time for the Academy Awards. Newcomer Carey Mulligan stars as Jenny, a properly raised bookworm in 1960s suburban London. At sixteen, Jenny sets her sights on being accepted to Oxford University, a dream spoon-fed to her by her father (played splendidly by Alfred Molina). But when one day she meets David Goldman (played by Peter Sarsgaard), a playboy over twice her age, her life is turned inside out. Their love affair takes Jenny on a journey that exposes her to culture, art, good food and alcohol, traveling, and adventure – all forms of vivacity that her suppressed, prim lifestyle never showed her. Now, with a new view of the world, Jenny must decide between the life she has always worked for and the life she learns to love that she never dreamed she could have. While this film could easily rely on clichés to inspire its plot, it has surprising twists that are not only refreshing, but incredibly intelligent and enthralling as well. Featuring a spectacular supporting cast including Emma Thompson, Dominic Cooper, and Rosamund Pike, An Education is easily the best European film export of the year, and one that will make you cheer, laugh, and cry all at the same time.

1. 500 Days of Summer

Finally, Hollywood! Thank you for creating a love story without the same recycled plot! I’m so tired of the same old boy meets girl, boy betrays girl, girl forgives boy, boy and girl live happily ever after formula. It’s been done. We’ve all seen How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days. Changing the actors and setting and turning Kate Hudson’s journalist into Sandra Bullock’s book publisher doesn’t mean that you can use the exact same story board and call it The Proposal, marketing it as if it were a different movie.

In 500 Days Of Summer, we know right off the bat that the film’s main couple, Tom and Summer, don’t have a happy ending. In fact, the film circles around Tom’s obsession with the breakup and how he retraces his steps to see what went wrong in the relationship. Tom, the hopeless romantic, believes that Summer, the non-commitment oriented loner with emotional baggage, is the one. The use of flashbacks between “then” and “now,” from when he and Summer were a happy couple to how the breakup effects his life, is a brilliant technique that not only keeps the audience interested and invested, but allows us to fairly see both sides of the story. There is not a single person who can walk out of the movie theater and not strongly relate to either Summer or Tom (or sometimes, due to given circumstances, both). Despite the fact that I’m a gay man, I haven’t had a bigger crush on anyone than Zooey Deschanel in this film in God knows how long. Her sultry voice, intoxicating smile, stunning eyes, hair as dark as Snow White’s, cute hipster-y dresses, and nonchalant attitude about life make it impossible for the audience not to see her through Tom’s eyes and fall completely head over heels for her. And just like it was the ultimate selling point for Tom, when Zooey sings The Smiths’ “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” in that already famous elevator scene, my heart skipped a beat and I was ready to propose. Overall, this film is one of the rawest and most honest films about love that has ever come out of Hollywood, because it shows how brutal love can really be– and that, sometimes, people are just not meant to be together, despite all the glitz, glamor and magic they feel. This is a work of art not to be missed, and is by far the best film of 2009, perhaps even of the last few years.

Films that almost made the Top 5:

Where The Wild Things Are

Directed by Spike Jonze, this big screen adaptation of the beloved children’s book is one of the most beautifully written and shot films of the year. By no means is it your traditional children’s film because it goes for realism rather than a happy ending. The movie shows that creating scenarios to avoid one’s problems doesn’t in fact solve anything, and instead can often times be harder than dealing with things head on. It’s a message not often depicted on screen for children – which initially turned many critics off to the film. However, it truly is a gorgeous film that is sure to become an instant classic.

New York, I Love You

I’ve always been a sucker for movies consisting of various slightly interwoven stories about groups of unrelated characters going through similar experiences. When Paris, Jet’aime was released a few years ago, I completely fell in love with each of the short films inside of that movie – yes, even the bizarre vampire one. There was no word to describe them other than just simply “beautiful.” So when I heard that the people who made that glorious film were making an American version of it centered in New York, I eagerly checked IMDB weekly to find out when the movie would finally be released. While this film also has some substantial and gorgeous stories, there were a few that dragged, making the overall product far inferior to its’ French predecessor. Standouts include a storyline about a girl in a wheelchair attending a high school prom, and an old couple going on their annual trip to Coney Island to celebrate their anniversary. The film is a crowd pleaser, but it is not one you need to rush to the theater to see.

Julie And Julia

Anyone who walked out of the theater saying they didn’t like this movie was a dirty, rotten liar. There is no way that the combination of Meryl Streep’s elegance and determination as Julia Child and Amy Adams’ charm as the humble Queens inhabitant looking to pursuing her passion—actually, her obsession– for cooking can leave someone unmoved. And anyone who says they felt nothing after this movie is certainly not telling the truth, even if it’s only for the reason that there’s no possibly human way anyone can watch this movie and not get hungry. I know that I went out to Whole Foods the next day and got all the ingredients I needed to attempt to make my own beef bourguignon. If anything, this film is a guaranteed feel-good, fun film that will make both your hearts and your stomachs hungry for more.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Finally, Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book hits the big screen. Directed and adapted to screen by Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums), this stop motion film is a clear work of genius. Featuring the vocal talents of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Willem Dafoe, this film version of the adored novel brings the story into the twenty-first century with a perfect ratio of humor and emotion. Just as in Where The Wild Things Are, the movie takes the structure of its short book, and expands on it to create a fantastical world that both stays true to and gives new life to the original text. Because it’s an Anderson film, it’s obviously incredibly quirky, with sharp dialogue and moments of extreme satiric melodrama. The “indie” spin on this tale makes it enjoyable for both children and adults alike, adding structured layers of intellect and wit. Since the entire film is about three farmers trying to kill a chicken-slaughtering fox, many parents have already dubbed the film too dark for their children. However, it’s a gorgeously shot, artistically brilliant, and truly hilarious film that years from now will have people saying “remember when they used to make kid’s movies as well as that?”


November 23rd: A Fight To The Death

Image Hosted by

November promises to be the most musically heavy and aurally pleasing month of the year. With new albums by industry heavyweights such as John Mayer, Norah Jones, Leona Lewis, OneRepublic, Janet Jackson, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Bon Jovi, The Killers, Weezer, Dashboard Confessional, and Tori Amos, it seems as though every major record label will be handing out bonus checks with all the money they’ll be making. While most of these records are spread out across various release dates throughout the month, there is one date where the most likely front runners of who will be crowned the Billboard chart champion of 2009 will all be releasing their heavily anticipated new releases: November 23rd.

Earlier this year, we saw a race to the finish when divas Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Madonna all released new albums in September. Reminiscent to the infamous Kanye West/50 Cent album release day battle of a few years ago, fans everywhere held their breaths to see which of these three female powerhouses would reign above the other two on the charts. Well, apparently this marketing gimmick is one the music industry is trying to explore further, as on November 23rd, an even more intense battle will be fought. With new releases by pop icons Britney Spears, Lady GaGa, Rihanna, and Shakira, and the debut album of crowd pleasing pop star/glam rocker Adam Lambert, who will reign the new victor of the mainstream charts?

Britney Spears, The Singles Collection

In the past decade, Britney Spears has become the definitive symbol of the word “superstar.” Her music redefined what pop music was, and still to this day, her successors cite her as a major influence they aspire to be ranked on par with. After Britney’s personal life took a major downfall and she became more known for her tabloid worthy antics than her controversial performances and sexy lyrics, she pulled herself back together and had one of the greatest comebacks in music history with her 2008 release Circus.

Not many other artists can say that they’ve had five albums debut at the #1 spot of the Billboard Top 100 albums chart, had twenty-three Top 40 hits, sold out stadium arena concerts and sold over 63 million albums worldwide. Now, celebrating her 10 year anniversary as the name and voice behind a pop dynasty, Britney is releasing The Singles Collection, a collection of her greatest and legendary hits, including her brand new #1 single, “3.”

With all of the tracks digitally re-mastered for the crispest quality sound, fans will be able to play all of Britney’s chart topping hits back to back. Ranging from the opening lines of “… Baby One More Time” to the sultry dance number “Toxic,” to the deliciously addictive chorus of “Womanizer,” this collection of songs not only is a catalog of the best of Britney’s career, but is a culmination of tracks that show the evolution of pop music in the past decade. Starting with bubble gum cheeriness and ending with techno infused dance numbers, the songs Spears provides us are a primary source of how our tastes, as a music consuming society, have morphed from one end of the pop spectrum to the other. If history really does repeat itself, nobody has a chance against the phenomenon that is Britney Spears.

Lady GaGa, The Fame Monster

After the release of her debut album The Fame, Lady GaGa skyrocketed from a new up-and-coming New York singer to one of the biggest names in the industry. In the past year, GaGa has made Billboard chart history by being the only artist to ever have four consecutive #1 singles from their debut album.

The Fame Monster is a re-release of her epic pop extravaganza debut, but featuring eight new and additional tracks. With the lead single “Bad Romance” debuting at #9 on the charts and making it her fifth Top 10 track, it is safe to predict that another #1 song is in the very near future for our favorite fashionista pop-star. After hearing the Latin-infused “Alejandro” and dark-electronica track “Dance In The Dark,” two newly leaked songs from the album, it is clear that in the past year GaGa has evolved her already signature sound and is quickly growing into “the Madonna of our generation,” as Kanye West labeled her.

Rihanna, Rated R

At only 21-years-old, Barbados native Rihanna returns with her first new studio release since her 2007 smash Good Girl Gone Bad, which contained the chart topping, Grammy Award winning hit “Umbrella,” as well as #1 singles “Take A Bow,” “Disturbia,” and Top 10 hits “Shut Up And Drive,” “Hate That I Love You,” and “Don’t Stop The Music.” According to her label, the album “spent 98 total weeks on the Soundscan chart, and earned cumulative sales of more than 36-times platinum in at least 20 territories around the world.”

With an album like that, one would think a follow up would be a bonafide shoe-in for success. However, everything leading up to the release of Rated R is signaling it to be very meek in comparison to its predecessor. Lead single “Russian Roulette” was panned by critics, with most citing it as dull, boring, forgettable, and not worthy of triggering a comeback. In response, it is rumored that Rihanna’s label was responsible for leaking two other tracks from the album, “Wait Your Turn” and “Hard.” Both tracks were cited by bloggers and message boards as superior to “Russian Roulette,” yet still incredibly lackluster in comparison to anything off of Good Girl Gone Bad. Therefore, despite heavy promotion and a loyal fan base, the lukewarm reception of her new material seems to ensure that although she’ll secure a spot in the top five, she will not be polishing her trophy amongst the competition facing the release of Rated R.

Shakira, She Wolf

While one cannot argue that Shakira is not an incredibly talented performer with jaw-dropping dance skill, she has never seemed to be much of a vocalist. Despite the fact that her singing sounds like the slaughtering of a constipated goat, for some reason, Forbes Magazine has declared her the 4th richest woman in the music industry – behind Madonna, Barbra Streisand, and Celine Dion.

After being crowned the highest-selling Colombian artist of all time by having sold more than 50 million albums worldwide, Shakira’s newest release She Wolf does not have the same driving force behind it as have her older efforts. While previous songs like “Hips Don’t Lie,” “Whenever, Wherever,” and “La Tortura” remained on the top of the charts gaining hype for their respective albums, lead single “She Wolf” has failed to have much impact. Currently, it holds the #46 spot on the iTunes Top 100 charts, proving the track does not have much gusto to support it.

When She Wolf was released in the U.K. last month, it failed to bode well in comparison to her last albums. Debuting at #4, it is apparent that the rest of the world is beginning to realize that even though she can put on a good show, Shakira does not have the capability to produce good music.

The American release of the album will feature a song not included on the U.K. release. The Timbaland produced track, “Give It Up To Me” features rapper Lil’ Wayne, and is a boring, repetitive upbeat “dance” song that sounds like it was scrapped from Timbaland’s first compilation album, Shock Value. Also on the American release will be the Kid Cudi remix of second single “Did It Again.” While this remix takes a bland song and makes it remotely listenable, it still doesn’t exude enough caliber or force to have Shakira reclaim her spot at the top of the charts. While for some reason this woman still has fans which will ensure her a successful first week of release, there is no plausible way that She Wolf will eat up its competition.

Adam Lambert, For Your Entertainment

Although he was only the runner-up of this past season of American Idol, Adam Lambert has one of the most devoted fan bases since the creation of the show. Just because he didn’t win the show, doesn’t mean he won’t win in long term revenue sales. Take the mega successful former losing contestants Chris Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson, and Clay Aiken, for instance. Does anybody even remember who won the seasons they were on? Better yet, does anyone even care?

While winner Kris Allen’s first single “Live Like We’re Dying” has gone rather unnoticed, Lambert’s debut “For Your Entertainment” has slowly but steadily been creating quite an impact since its release last week. After unveiling the ultra campy cover art for his album and appearing in controversial photo shoots that landed him on the covers of Details and Rolling Stone magazines, Lambert has gained far more press than Allen. Additionally, he will be sharing the stage with Lady GaGa and fellow Idol alums Kelly Clarkson, Daughtry, and Carrie Underwood, when he performs at the American Music Awards on November 22nd.

The production team behind Lambert’s debut has all the makings of a smash success. The Sam Sparro-inspired noir electronica fused mashing of pop and glam-rock is certainly not the typical type of release one would initially expect from the debut of an Idol contestant. Enlisting the help of various titans of the industry, Lambert’s debut promises to be thoroughly satisfying. Amongst many of the album credits, Lady GaGa penned the track “Fever,” Christina Aguilera’s hit-making songwriter Linda Perry wrote “A Loaded Smile,” rock band Muse contributed the track “Soaked,” and Pink wrote “Whataya Want From Me” with Max Martin, the man behind Britney Spears’ #1 hits. In addition, Ryan Tedder, the lead singer of OneRepublic who is also responsible for writing huge hits for Leona Lewis (“Bleeding Love”), Beyonce (“Halo”), and Kelly Clarkson (“Already Gone,”), contributes the track “Sleepwalker.” With a team of experienced and profitable producers and songwriters like this, Lambert’s album is one of the most hotly anticipated albums of the year, strongly threatening his competing musical veterans for the chance for his debut to hit #1.

So which of these five musical superstars will come out on top? Will nostalgia of a decade of pop hits give Britney her sixth #1 album? Or will GaGa prove that she is indeed dethroning Britney as the princess of pop? Will the success of Rihanna’s previous efforts cover up the critical backlash of her new material to give her another chart topper? Will the allure of Shakira’s mind blowing performances mask the fact that she doesn’t have anything else going for her? Or will the boy from American Idol trump over all of his female competition and reign as the victor? Only time will tell.

Personally? My money’s on GaGa. While Britney should gain the coveted #1 spot as an homage to everything she has done for pop music, the lack of new material on her release won’t have people rushing to CD stores to purchase music they most likely already own. Instead, the appeal lies with GaGa, whose consistent dominance of the charts since her arrival on the scene last year secure her as the most likely winning candidate. However, despite who receives the highest honor in this battle to the top, one thing is for sure: the intense desire for entertainment and music never dies – even in a crumbling economy.