Recently, a friend asked me if I was going to provide a mid-year Top 10 list as has been my habit in recent years. "After all," he remarked, "Can you even find ten films worth being on the list?" A good point, although anyone who has seen ten or more films can make such a list (keeping in mind, of course, that all such lists are relative). How it might compare to past years' lists is another matter altogether. The relative strength or weakness of a "halftime" Top 10 list says little or nothing about the end-year list, since the studios hold back the preponderance of their prestige films until the fourth quarter.
My gut reaction is that the first half of 2009 has been weaker than the first halves of 2008, 2007, and 2006, although the numbers do not necessarily support this view. ***1/2 films have been few and far between this winter and spring, but that's nothing new. In 2009, there were six of these, but 2006 and 2008 boasted only five. By comparison, 2007 was a standout with eight. So 2009 hasn't been as disappointing a year as my innate pessimism wants to color it.
All entries in the halftime Top 10 garner a recommendation from me, with the most enthusiastic cheers reserved for those at the top. Although it's hard to guess how many of the halftime Top 10 titles will end up on the end-of-the-year list, the cutoff will likely be around #3 (either right before or right after). So here they are, in reverse order.
10. The Uninvited: My general disdain for English-language remakes of Asian horror films is well documented, so this may be the first time I have found myself cheerleading for one. More a psychological thriller than a supernatural tale, this movie succeeded at the near-impossible: it surprised me.
9. Star Trek: Old guard Trekkie that I am, I felt it necessary to place the new Star Trek - one of the year's best reviewed films per Rotten Tomatoes - on this list. Although not an unqualified triumph, the film once again made Trek not only relevant, but actually cool.
8. Up: Not Pixar's strongest, but the first quarter-hour ranks as the best animated short ever made. The movie as a whole is still a damn sight better than any other 2009 animated film, considering both those in the rear view mirror and on the road ahead.
7. The Brothers Bloom: Sometimes a little too clever for its own good, the film disarms and charms its way through a twisty two hours. Sadly, it never got the distribution necessary for widespread viewing. Should do well on DVD.
6. My Sister's Keeper: For those who think this is manipulative, here's my advice: watch Terms of Endearment if you want to see manipulation on a grand scale - and that won the Oscar. Yes, My Sister's Keeper is a three-hankie weeper, but it's well acted and includes some intriguing moral conundrums.
5. The Class: Real classroom drama, not the Hollywood manufactured type. Took me right back to high school and reminded me why graduation was one of the happiest days of those four years.
4. Sin Nombre: A grim, gritty road trip that shows why the mandate in Mexico to stop crime is more easily issued than accomplished.
3. Moon: Real science fiction, not the space opera variant that has dominated multiplexes for decades. Once again, dodgy distribution practices may make this difficult to locate at a theater near you.
2. The Hurt Locker: Technically, this is a war movie, but it's pure adrenaline. Easily the most tense film of the year. Packs more of a wallop than a gaggle of Transformers and a Terminator or two.
1. Adventureland: The best, most honest romantic comedy in years. It's hard to find anyone who has seen this and hasn't been surprised and impressed by it. Unfortunately, due in large part to a dreadful marketing campaign that made this look like something it's not, box office receipts were weak. Hopefully, the film will find its audience once it reaches the video stores late in the summer.