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Top 5 Movies of 2009

SHANE STEINBERG | Thursday, March 4, 2010

1. “The White Ribbon”
Michael Haneke (“Cache,” “The Piano Teacher”) creates a simple tale chronicling the strange atrocities committed in a seemingly quaint, innocent German town before World War I. A trip into the heart of darkness, “White Ribbon” is an inquiry into a certain kind of evil bred by a society left stagnant by its own strict moral code and Protestant teachings — the same society that no less than two decades later would commit atrocities that would kill millions of people. One of the most intriguing character and cultural studies ever made, “White Ribbon” succeeds for its insight into a society and culture where facades bottle up the inescapable human capacity for evil, only to unleash it in the worst of ways. This is the year’s best film and the first since “There Will Be Blood” deserving of being called a masterpiece.

2. “Antichrist”
Costars Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe give their entire selves and then some unto director Lars von Trier’s bare-as-bones, uncompromisingly bleak view of human nature. The self-proclaimed “best director in the world” admitted to having suffered from chronic depression during the filming of the movie, and the film undoubtedly benefits from it, as it crosses into rare territory of being truly affecting art. Art that at once will horrify his audience, abandon it, but ultimately, attest to the true visceral power of film and its ability to not only unnerve but leave permanent scars.

3. “Inglorious Basterds”
The most fun I had at the movies this year, Quentin Tarantino’s history-bending, tongue-in-cheek World War II flick about a band of bloodthirsty Jewish Americans known only as “The Basterds” is pitch-perfect. It loses some of its gusto towards it harrowing end, and it often borders on offensive, but Tarantino and his cast — led by sure-fire Oscar winner Christopher Waltz and a brilliant Brad Pitt — “might just make this his masterpiece.” Or, since we’re speaking about Tarantino, just another masterpiece to put on his ever-growing mantel.

4. “Up in the Air”
What makes “Up in the Air” a deserving candidate for Best Picture is not only George Clooney’s unassumingly great performance or Jason Reitman’s “breath of fresh air” directing, but also the fact that the movie turns out to be something that we don’t expect it to be. It’s truly a movie for this time. A moving story made for all of us as we move through the recession, and in many ways, life itself.

5. “The Hurt Locker”
Director Kathryn Bigelow’s muscle-flexing, full-throttle portrayal of a special unit of bomb disarming soldiers in Iraq, “The Hurt Locker” stands as a king among men in the small but growing group of Iraqi War films. What’s different here is that the movie is neither action-driven, nor overly story driven, and it avoids the thus far unsuccessful pitfall of trying to pass itself off as a psychological analysis of soldiers in the heat of the current war. Instead, “The Hurt Locker” is a beautiful marriage of a bare bones portrayal of human nature when the line between life and death is so thin and momentary, and a classic tension-ridden portrayal of the heat of combat.

Films that just missed the cut: “The Prophet,” “Goodbye Solo,” “A Serious Man,” “Hunger,” “The Cove”