Who knows if I will ever finish the movie reviews themselves, but here is the list of awards I would bestow if I had an awards show, which I don't, but seriously, maybe I should:
Best movies that are like jeweled artifacts: Duplicity and A Serious Man. These movies, because of their formal ingenuity and deft, crafty plotting, are entirely pleasurable, whether or not they are meaningful or important. Although, as it happens, I think that A Serious Man is both.
Best movies that are like a perfect day: Bright Star, Eternal Moments, Summer Hours. As it turns out, each of these films has a quality of pathos as well, but they are all full of life and what would ordinarily be unobserved moments, making them feel open and unforced and utterly beautiful.
Best movies that include covers of Cheap Trick songs: Rudo y Cursi. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the moment when Gael Garcia Bernal sings "I Want You to Want Me" in his video-within-the-movie is perfection. But there are other covers of the song, most of them in Spanish, and the movie, which sometimes seems a little facile, hits an unexpected emotional note as it ends. It's a movie about love and it is lovely. Not quite as amazing as Y Tu Mama Tambien, but worthy nonetheless.
Best movies that have the suffix -land in the title: Adventureland, Zombieland. Fortunately for movielovers everywhere, both films feature Jesse Eisenberg, with his chemistry with Woody Harrelson in the latter a joy forever (see also: thing of beauty). Zombieland isn't quite Shaun of the Dead, but it is in the same class, which is a very good class indeed.
Best character studies: Goodbye Solo, Sugar, Big Fan. Goodbye Solo is about an African immigrant living in Winston-Salem; Sugar is about a Dominican baseball player who comes to the U.S.; Big Fan is about a guy who's a rabid New York Giants fan. Each is closely observed and surprising and absorbing. Of the three, I think Goodbye Solo is the most haunting, but all of them are worth your time.
Best voiceover: The Informant! I thought that Matt Damon was very good in this, an odd and not entirely satisfying film, but I thought he was especially good in the very well-written voiceovers. To me, they were the best thing in the movie. Except Scott Bakula, who was also brilliant, frankly.
Best little performance: Jason Bateman in State of Play. This movie also underwhelmed while simultaneously being quite entertaining--it just should have been better, is all, given Russell Crowe and Helen Mirren and whatsername, Rachel MacAdams and Robin Wright Penn and even Ben Affleck. You kept catching a little glimpse of--is that Jason Bateman? you'd ask yourself, as the movie tried to reconstruct the ins and outs of the twisty-wannabe plot. But when you finally get to have the awesome scene, and you confirm that it is indeed Jason Bateman, you are in for a treat. A treat and a half. Too bad the scene's so short, but maybe that's part of why it's so good. (and speaking of underwhelming, and Jason Bateman--two terms I have never linked, and hope never again to link--why was Extract not more wonderful? Why?)
Best animation: Ponyo, mainly for the underwater life. Also, Up, for everything. Maybe the two should be reversed? (Also, Coraline--just like "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah"--spooky! scary!)
Quietest movie: Wendy and Lucy. This movie was so minimal it was on the verge of hardly being a movie. But it stayed on the good side of that verge.
Movies that shook me up, shook me down, spun me all around: Sin Nombre, Hurt Locker. Sin Nombre is much more straightforward, narratively speaking, more workmanlike than brilliant--but its representation of its subject matter, the conditions under which Central Americans come north to the U.S., was brutal and frank and, for me, unforgettable. Hurt Locker is really quite unbelievably good. It is brainy, emotional, and kinetic. One of the very best things I have seen this year, and maybe in any year.
Most romantic and tragic at the same time: Two Lovers, Bright Star. Are "tragic" and "romantic" redundant terms? I will leave that to the literary critics among you to discuss. Each was close to perfect.
Funny: The Hangover, Zombieland. All I ask of a comedy is that it make me laugh. I prefer it if it doesn't also make me feel bad about myself for having laughed. I can't really say, truthfully, that the latter criterion can be said to describe The Hangover, but reader, I did laugh, boy howdy how I laughed.
Best movie with George Clooney in it so far this year: The Men Who Stare at Goats. Somehow, I feel it is my responsibility to defend George Clooney against all comers, because you know, a handsome guy like that, with piles of money, who's worked with a ton of good directors and has enough industry clout to direct and produce, and who's won an Oscar--a guy like that just doesn't get enough respect. Haters, desist! George Clooney was good in this sort-of-a-trifle of a movie, and still to come are Up in the Air, not to mention The Fantastic Mr. Fox. In conclusion, George Clooney is a very good actor. Also, handsome. The end.
Movies that wasted my precious, precious time: The Time Traveler's Wife, The Ugly Truth, He's Just Not That Into You, Easy Virtue. Go ahead, see these movies, but don't say I didn't warn you. (Not to say that I didn't enjoy seeing these with, respectively, my daughters, my daughter, Dr. Write, and the historian.)
Best music movie: It Might Get Loud. Kind of a modest thing, but I found it deeply pleasurable and also moving.
Best dance movie: I am sorry to report that there is no best dance movie, at least not so far, in 2009. My daughter and I saw Fame, and I won't say that there wasn't some enjoyment there, and popcorn, but dancing? not really.
Best movies overall: Bright Star, Eternal Moments, Summer Hours, Hurt Locker, A Serious Man. You will not go wrong with any one of these.