My days of loving the obscure art house film is over. I am also through with the totally depressing, and “realistic” films about some social cause. These generally make up the bulk of most film critics lists – not mine. No Precious or Up in the Air on my list – which are both well executed films. Only one “small” film made my list for 2009, and it actually broke out a bit, doing over 30 million at the box office. Not sure there are many academy award winners here (although I do suspect a few nominees).

I would also add that my bias is that movies, which had their biggest total box office in history, ideally provide an opportunity to escape the troubles of the world while transporting the viewer somewhere else. These are not documentaries.

Finally, I would add that Television continues to produce drama and comedy that rivals anything on the big screen. With a Blu Ray DVD player, High Definition big screen, and a little discretion – television series on DVD remain my favorite entertainment medium. Best of 2009 TV to follow.

Here they are in no particular order:

Taken – Over-the-top non-stop action, set in Paris against the backdrop of human trafficking was a big surprise at the box office and the video store. Liam Neeson in role that was a long way from Alfred Kinsey, kicked some serious ass playing a reel rival to Jason Bourne. Not stop, ridiculous action. Made me want to buy an Audi.

I Love You Man – One of two great comedies this year. Paul Rudd continues to infuse any film he’s in with that everyman quality that appeals to both sexes. Any movie that features a “man cave” and a befuddled Rashida Jones watching her fiance “slappin the bass” – is alright by me. It also manages to be sweet.

Star Trek – JJ Abrams is still smokin’ hot and since Alias has had some real home runs – Lost, Cloverfield,  and Fringe being the best. Who expected this reboot of the wrung out Star Trek franchise would be so entertaining? I sure didn’t. Just when you least expect it a certain pointy eared friend appears – a most welcome surprise. Great fun. A real popcorn movie and great turn by newcomer Chris Pine as Captain Kirk.

Inglorious Basterds – Reviewed in full here. Not Tarantino’s best – but a great return to form and a not to missed supporting actor turn by Christoph Walz.

500 Days of Summer – A small movie that gets everything right about the ups and downs of a youthful romance. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a real star in the making who effortlessly shoulders his schlub role that owes much to Swingers in terms of tone. We wince with him as he missteps his way to a peaceful resolution. Director Marc Webb throws in the cinematic kitchen sink with split screens, animation, captioning, and a dance number that will make you break out your Hall and Oates CD’s.

The Hangover – May be the funniest movie of the year. So wrong, and so funny. Great ensemble cast – too bad the academy doesn’t recognize that category. Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis are hilarious, and the movie uses the element of surprise to pile one preposterous situation upon another. Wonderfully eccentric characters like Ken Jeong’s Mr. Chow, Rob Riggle’s Officer Franklin, and Mike Tyson as Mike Tyson keep the comedic heat coming.

The Blind Side – Precious with a happy ending. Sandra Bullock reminds us why she’s a star in her role as tight skirted, southern, card-carrying NRA member, who won’t tolerate any BS as she tries to help someone who actually responds to the help given. Another great ensemble performance with particularly fine turns by Quinton Aaron and Jae Head.  Another surprise at the box office – which really is no surprise as the film really grabs you. Not a single cheap emotional note. Writer/Director John Lee Hancock, who wrote the overlooked emotionally charged Perfect World, does a great job of telling the story without crossing the line to saccharine bathos. Great story, great film. A lesson for all of us.

Avatar – I liked this so much I reviewed it two times. With a billion at the box office and counting, this is one remarkable achievement for the movie business. Not based on a novel, short story, or sequel – Avatar is wholly original – incubated and birthed from the mind of James Cameron. In the words of my seven year old, “best movie I have seen in my life!” At 162 minutes, keeping a seven year old transfixed with 3D glasses on, is really something. Naysayers who complain about various narrative deficiencies, should get a life. This is a great film.

There you have it. All great pieces of entertainment. Please comment if you are inclined to agree or disagree.

I didn’t screen the Hurt Locker or An Education – on many top 10’s. My bad and will see them soon.

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