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Year’s Best of Movies

Jordan Gamble | Thursday, May 14, 2009

Whether it was in the theater, on DVD or in DeBartolo 101, the past twelve months have given college students new sources of procrastination, catch-phrases, and fodder for dorm room posters. Here are the top 10 movies of the past year, in no particular order:

1. Slumdog MillionaireThis Oscar-winner for Best Picture deftly balances gritty, tragic realism with fantasy in a modern-day fairy tale about a poor orphan teenager from the slums of Mumbai who improbably wins the jackpot on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

2. The Dark KnightBefore it even got to theaters, the latest installment in the revamped Batman franchise was a hit of hype. In one of the last roles before his death, Heath Ledger delivers an amazingly transformative, Oscar-winning performance as the creepy and morbidly funny Joker. Director Christopher Nolan keeps the movie tight and tense for most of its two-and-a-half hour run time, building suspense to a crescendo that nonetheless keeps the path open for another sequel.

3. The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonIt’s like Forrest Gump: set in the South (here, primarily Louisiana), with a protagonist always bumping into the requisite major events of history (the end of World War I, Hurricane Katrina), and holding out for that one girl (a red-headed Cate Blanchett). Of course, in “Benjamin Button,” the lead character just happens to age in reverse. The visual effects are stunning, effectively transforming Pitt’s character into a hobbled, gray-haired, wrinkly child and the eerie teenaged-looking old man Benjamin becomes by the end of the film.

4. Pineapple ExpressIn another product from the Judd Apatow factory of raunch and romance (here it’s more of a bromance), a stoner (Seth Rogan) and his pot dealer (James Franco) aren’t just paranoid – they really are on the run from corrupt cops and violent gangsters. It all ends in a fiery inferno of a showdown at a hydroponic weed factory. With a lot of blood, profanity, and nerdy white guys wielding guns, this might be a very clever PSA about how your life can actually go to pot if you get high. Or it’s just hilarious.

5. TwilightTraditional vampire enthusiasts probably didn’t know what hit them. It didn’t have the best script (“This is the skin of a killer, Bella!”) or the best special effects (that skin sparkling rather harmlessly in the sunlight), but fans of the book series, stalkers of Robert Pattinson and unsuspecting boyfriends made this movie a huge success at the box office and on DVD.

6. Revolutionary RoadKate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio return to the screen together in a film decidedly less epic than “Titanic” but nonetheless tragically hopeless. The duo play April and Frank Wheeler, a couple trying to break out of the monotony and apathy of suburban 1950s Connecticut, but never able to attain their dreams. It is certainly not a happy, fun time at the movies. Still, DiCaprio and Winslet deliver fantastic performances worth seeing.

7. Wall-EWho knew a trash compactor and a flying iPod could induce such heart-melting cuteness? Wall-E and E.V.E. have more chemistry as computer-animated robots than quite a few live-action, human screen couples do. For a movie that goes its first 45 minutes without any dialogue, Pixar’s latest endeavor sure packs a lot of messages – love, perseverance and environmentalism, to name a few.

8. The HappeningThis is yet another nuanced, subtle film about environmentalism. With gripping performances and flawless plot execution, this thriller – ha, just kidding! This was easily the biggest “what the heck?” movie of 2008. Director and writer M. Night Shyamalan grasps for anything resembling logic or suspense, and ends up with not much of either. Mark Walhberg and the rest of the cast routinely looked confused or bored, and their characters tend to make ridiculous decisions at just the right time to move the plot along. Spoiler: Plants did it! They made everybody kill themselves, to get back at humanity for spilling noxious fumes into the atmosphere. Duh! So it is a film about environmentalism – in a way.

9. Step BrothersWill Ferrell and John C. Reilly team up again in yet another dumb-buddies flick, this time playing middle-aged stepbrothers Brennan and Dale. This is all the cohesion the film needs as it veers around from one ridiculous situation to the next, which are little more than showcases for Ferrell and Reilly’s outrageous physical comedy and dialogue.

10. Iron ManRobert Downey, Jr. returns to Hollywood in another new comic book franchise. Jon Favreau, the same director behind comedies like “Elf,” makes the movie a slick and fun origin story that nicely toes the line between exposition and action. As Tony Stark, the playboy genius who becomes a superhero, Downey uses copious amounts of charisma to pull the whole persona together. With such a great response from audiences, a sequel is in the works for 2010.