Richard Clark – Where the Wild Things Are
In the months leading up to the opening of Where the Wild Things Are, we heard about the darkness that was prevalent in this film, the uneasiness that it might inspire in the audience, and the battles the director had with the studio in the midst of the film being made. It’s not those things that caught me by surprise, but instead the simple fact that this film, despite my expectations, brought me back to my childhood in a way that no Pixar film or nostalgic indulgence can. While those things can remind one of aspects or instances of childhood, this film threw me headfirst into the mind-set of being 9 years old again, and reminded me that sin can rear its’ ugly head in our lives no matter how young or old we are.
Adam Carrington – Up
Pixar continued to please this past summer with a fun story, charming characters, and subtle, witty dialogue. It is also, dare I admit, the first movie I ever saw in 3-D. “Up” is a children’s film addressing the questions and problems of old age and a particular form of idolatry. The main character grows old with his wife, a childhood friend and love of his life. But he becomes purposeless and angry when she passes. Life’s lost meaning is only regained through the re-invigoration of friendship brought on by his small companion in the film’s adventures.
For the Christian, we can find an encouragement and a warning. Marriage and all human relationships are joyful gifts but can become debilitating idols. The core of our worth, of our purpose must be cemented in Christ. He must be the core of our marriages, jobs, our dreams, so when the outer layers of them crumble, we can cling to the ever-present, ever-faithful Center.
Carissa Smith – The Road
The Road is one of the few movies I saw in 2009 that didn’t disappoint. Likely Oscar nominations like Bright Star and Precious left me with little lasting impact, and while I enjoyed Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, it’s dependent upon the other films in the series. The Road can stand on its own staggering, mud-encrusted feet. It’s bleak, yes, but it achieves a portrayal of human nature in line with Christian anthropology. McCarthy purists may complain, but I found the film satisfying in its own right. The acting is powerful, the music appropriately restrained, and the script manages to convey McCarthy’s themes while still sounding like natural speech.
Ryan Holmes – Avatar in 3D
My vote goes to Avatar 3D. I’ve seen 3D movies before and wrote the enhancement off mostly as a gimmick that Hollywood was hoping could save the film industry. And let’s be honest, 3D isn’t going to save Hollywood (better stories…start there). It’s pretty dorky wearing those 3D glasses and at times it can give you a headache as you try to get used to the change in perspective. Avatar 3D changed my mind (at least about 3D being merely a gimmick). It’s the first movie I’ve seen in 3D where 3D actually adds to the story. The environments become immersive and vast. The visual depth of the Pandora landscape draws you further into the story. Say what you will about the story (cross between Star Wars, Pocahontas, and the Matrix), but seeing it in 3D actually adds more texture and depth (no pun intended) to this movie. So if you haven’t gotten out to see it, I recommend the 3D experience. It’s well worth the few extra bucks at the theater.
Chase Livingston – (500) Days of Summer
Was (500) Days of Summer the best movie of 2009? It’s likely that answer is no. I didn’t make it out to the pictures as often as is typical. That being said, this was the best of what I did see. While that may sound a bit hesitant, I assure you it is a grand endorsement. How so? Well, I didn’t go to the movies because we spent most of the year pent up unable to get out on account of providing care for my wife’s mom. We don’t like to get out longer than it takes to pick up meds and groceries but when we are able to get out to the theater, it had better be brilliant. (500) Days did not disappoint.
We watched its trailer a couple months in advance late one night via IMDb. The trailer featured neurotic dream visuals, an exuberant song and dance bit, an older Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the always fabulous Zooey Deschanel, the intro of Regina Spektor’s “Us” and the stern warning that “this is not a love story.” That advisory aside, it bore similar markings to films I love including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Say Anything and thus I was relatively stoked. Spektor’s swirling “Us” launched the movie and the momentum didn’t let up until after we were back in the car for home. And then we were left to piece together the how and why of what became of (or didn’t become of) Tom and Summer.
Whether or not it was a love story, it was delightful and in a sense not exhausting, it felt quite like 500 days. For me, that was a vacation.
Ben Bartlett – Sunshine Cleaning
2009 was a less than great movie year for me. It’s not the fault of Hollywood (in this case), it’s just that I didn’t watch many movies. However, I did see a little gem that I wish I had known about in 2008 called Sunshine Cleaning. It portrays a family of weak people struggling to find hope and come to terms with the curves life has thrown them. Their big break comes when they manage to start a crime-scene cleanup business. The dialogue is thoughtful, the acting is excellent, and the story has a grace and beauty all its own.