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Alamo programmers’ Top 10 of ‘09…plus Top 20 of the Decade!

young love to the maxThe picture to the left has nothing to do with anything released in the last ten years, but it is from a movie.

Here in the Alamo programming office, movies are a big deal. We each watch approximately 215 movies per day, seven days a week, no holidays.

It's a tough job...especially when it comes time to narrow down our favorites at the end of each year. It's even more difficult to figure out what the best 20 films were in the past decade. But we do it all for you.

The lists below represent the most powerful and/or entertaining films of 2009, plus the finest we've seen since Y2K destroyed civilization. Take a look, disagree, get furious and attack us on the street.

WARNING: We've got switchblades.

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1) MOTHER - I saw MOTHER at Cannes this year and it blew me out of the water. First with THE HOST and now again, Bong Joon Ho proves that he can regularly produce a "total package" movie with great characters, subtle comedy and innovative story all beautifully intertwined with effective genre elements. He's one of my favorite directors working today and I will see everything he makes. MOTHER should be hitting theaters in early 2010 and I will throw a tantrum if we can't get it at the Alamo.

2) ANTICHRIST - I also saw ANTICHRIST at Cannes. We later played it at Fantastic Fest and then released it at the Alamo. At the now infamous Cannes premiere, about 200 people left halfway through the film. At the final credits, half of the audience was standing and cheering, the other half was shouting expletives about Von Trier's mother. That's the kind of reaction that will almost always catapult a film to my personal Top Ten.

3) BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS - Zack and Lars were the big champions of this film and I'm 100% on that bandwagon too. Breakdancing ghosts, lucky crack pipes and my favorite Nicolas Cage screen performance EVER (and that includes heavy-hitters MOONSTRUCK and RAISING ARIZONA, mind you). More movies need to combine the creative powers of cocaine, Herzog, Cage and reptiles.

4) LOVE EXPOSURE - Sion Sono's 4.5 hour epic deftly swirls tales of Christian guilt, peek-a-panty photography, religious cults and the plot to control the world. Sono is a amazingly creative and daring filmmaker and certainly one to watch. He makes his English language debut in 2010 with a Black-Metal-themed drama shot in Norway starring that sparkly-faced TWILIGHT vampire (Robert Pattinson).

5) A TOWN CALLED PANIC - I've now watched A TOWN CALLED PANIC three times, which is a rarity for me. The manic energy and bizarre surrealism brings a gigantic smile to my face every time. PANIC opens at Alamo South Lamar at the end of January and I can't wait for a fourth tab of the candy-coated Belgian acid.

6) INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS - Half subtitled and nearly 3 hours long, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS was poised to be a disastrous death-blow to Quentin Tarantino's career. Stripping away his cultural reference crutches and pop-music cues, however, he was able to truly flex his powerful writing and directing chops. Fun enough for the fanboys and artful enough for the stuffier critics, Tarantino scored a direct hit with a very wide audience. If Christoph Waltz doesn't win best supporting actor at the Oscars, I'm gonna have to start carving forehead swastikas on the Academy members.

7) MOON - Duncan Jones' (David Bowie's son!!!) debut feature knocked my socks off with a subtle, smart, haunting and touching film. This movie feels every bit the sci-fi classic as 2001, and I hope people are watching this in equal measure 30 years from now.

8 ) WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE - A lot of older folks and a hell of a lot of kids didn't really care for the depressing tone of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, but I fell for it completely. The visual world was obviously a stunner, but what was more amazing for me was how Spike Jonze crafted a poignant backstory for my childhood favorite antihero Max and expanded on subtle themes lurking behind the surface of Maurice Sendak's meager 140 WORD text. Three months later and I'm still musing on this film, ergo it makes the Top Ten.

9) DISTRICT 9 - For me, DISTRICT 9 came out of nowhere. I knew nothing about it and frankly was a little concerned that it would be a giant turd when I went in cold to the AICN sponsored sneak preview screening. I was dead wrong. On a micro-budget for a movie of this scale, director Neill Blomkamp built an incredible mythology/universe of brutish drone aliens who find themselves stranded in the slums of Johanasburg. The story was phenomenal and kept me guessing until the final scenes, the acting performance by Wikus Van De Merwe is worthy of Academy Award consideration. Even more unexpectedly, however, in amidst the social commentary and drama was some truly freaky Nigerian cannibalism voodoo and some of the best exploding torsos since STREET TRASH. With MOON, STAR TREK (probably my #11 film) and DISTRICT 9, 2009 was a phenomenal year for sci-fi.

10) CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE - I can't tell you how happy I was to see this on Austin's daily news critic Chris Garcia's 2009 top 10 list. He called it "Stupid, obnoxious, indefensible. An orgy of psychotic movie love bordering on the avant-garde" and I concur 100%. This movie and BAD LIEUTENANT are the rightful heirs to the exploitation legends of the 1970s. I'm happy to have my quality "trash" cinema back with an unexpected layer of emotional heft (in the case of BAD LIEUTENANT) and reckless depravity (in the case of CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE). Viva 2009!

Tim's Top 20 of the Decade: 1) The Wrestler 2) Let the Right One In 3) Pan's Labyrinth 4) There Will Be Blood 5) Adam's Apples 6) The Good, The Bad and the Weird 7) Mother 8 ) Oldboy/Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (I can't decide!) 9) Antichrist 10) The Host 11) Martyrs 12) Ex-Drummer 13) Children of Men 14) No Country For Old Men 15) Bad Lieutenant 16) Dai Nippon Jin 17) Spirited Away 18) Kung Fu Hustle 19) Audition 20) Borat

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(listed in no particular order)

A TOWN CALLED PANIC - Totally ingenious construction of sound, color, movement and some of the best-timed gags I've seen in an animated film since Chuck Jones walked the earth. At Fantastic Fest I saw it with two different audiences and they were both weeping with laughter. So watch it with an audience for the full effect. Opens at the Alamo South Lamar on January 15.

MORPHINE - Unbearably depressing story of a dope-addicted doctor in a remote, snowbound Russian hospital during the Russian Revolution. Has the scope and fatalistic humor of a big Russian novel. With some of the most shocking blood and gore ever presented (supposedly real), all part of the doctor's usual daily routine.

FANTASTIC MR. FOX - I agree with my colleague Brad that this movie almost makes you want to have kids just to take them to this movie. Intensively designed and visually airtight in the Anderson manner (there's not a paisley cravat out of place), it gets its vitality from the great cast of voice actors. Tough to beat George Clooney as the poster-fox of self-confidence and Meryl Streep is brilliant again (yawn)... a national treasure... zzzzz...

ANVIL - Not the place most of us would have looked for an uplifting, inspirational story but here it is. It's about the music but it's also about how as we grow older, life tends to boil down to the things that really matter. The Eastern European tour is one of the saddest, funniest things I've ever seen.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS - Not perfect, true. But there's some great acting here, and not just from Cristoph Waltz. Even Brad Pitt does some great "star acting" (not exactly the same as acting-acting). And I'm a sucker for the "film-as-weapon" climax.

WORLD'S GREATEST DAD - Who would have thought that Bobcat Goldthwait, of all people, would become an important filmmaker? This movie says volumes about our culture's odd cross-streams of fame and death. Goldthwait really does express some new ideas here, which actually doesn't happen in many films. He may prove to be the film satirist we richly deserve. And Robin Williams is great again, in a sympathetic/unsympathetic role.

COLLAPSE - Just one guy, sitting in a room without a lot of light, proving empirically that we're all doomed. I can't reconstruct his argument, but it has something to do with oil depletion and credit. And it's really bad. We're so fucked. I brooded about it for days after seeing it. This is definitely the scariest movie I saw all year. Playing at the Ritz on January 10 and 11.

WE LIVE IN PUBLIC - Documentary about an insufferable billionaire artist-manque who created a hugely expensive art project in Manhattan where dozens of volunteers lived in an electronic panopticon with no privacy at all and a huge arsenal of weapons in the basement. Not surprisingly, the cops broke it up as a suspected Y2K cult and the would-be conceptual artist started a website with his wife called "We Live In Public," where viewers could watch every second of their domestic life. At the same time, he loses all his money in the tech-stock bust and goes completely insane. On camera. Pretty fascinating.

BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS - The first time I saw this, I was totally overjoyed at how unhinged the whole thing was. It was like a fairly conventional jazz orchestra with a wild soloist who takes over, playing insane, inventive chorus after chorus, until the rest of the band starts getting weird too. The second time I saw it, I looked at the shape of Cage's performance and admired the overall conception of the character by the actor and his director Werner Herzog. The third time I thought, "Hey, I want to see this a fourth time." For me, this was the movie of the year and I seriously think Nicolas Cage should get the Oscar for it.

BEST WORST MOVIE - What could have been a facile DVD extra about an amazing no-budget horror film called TROLL 2 becomes much more as we get to know the star of the film, a dentist named George Hardy. He's the beating heart of this movie. As the film is rediscovered, he's thrust into a (fairly dim) spotlight along with the other members of the cast and crew. The other unforgettable character is the irascible director of TROLL 2, Claudio Fragasso, who's not down with everyone talking about how bad the movie is. BEST WORST MOVIE was directed by Michael Stephenson, who played the young lead in TROLL 2.


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Okay, so to start with, there are a lot of movies that are going to be on my Favorite Movies I've Rented in 2010 list but I haven't seen and can't even consider for my list. Many of those movies are on lots of other Top Ten lists online right now, so you can assume that once I see these critically acclaimed films they'll push off a few of the ones I'm listing here. But yeah, I haven't seen A SERIOUS MAN, THE ROAD, MOON, THE HURT LOCKER, FANTASTIC MR. FOX, ANVIL, THE COVE, 500 DAYS OF SUMMER or MADEA GOES TO JAIL. I know, I shouldn't stop myself from enjoying all that amazingness, and I promise to rent them all and check them out just as soon as JERSEY SHORE is over and I have some free time with my TV again.

As for my Top Ten movies of the year, one more caveat - these are my Top Ten movie experiences in the theater. No rentals allowed.

10) TERMINATOR SALVATION - Hell yeah, that movie sucks. But I had my first D-Box experience to that shit storm, and before the credits rolled I was convinced that it was actually good. Then I thought about it and realized how many parts of it I hated. But still... D-Box for that was amazing. D-Box for THE FINAL DESTINATION soured me on the whole D-Box thing, though, because at one point they wanted me to feel like I was a floating piece of paper, and that's just dumb.

9) THIS IS IT - Even if I wasn't in charge of the Action Pack Sing-Along shows at the theater, Michael Jackson's death last year would have hit me hard, like it hit most of us who grew up with MTV. THIS IS IT captured everything I loved about him but also showed the side that I always wished would go away. The full portrait and realistic look at the process of putting his show together let me wish I could have see him live and also say goodbye to the part of me that died with him.

8 ) ADVENTURELAND - Man I hate Bella, but ADVENTURELAND made me like Kristen Stewart enough to put up with seeing her on every magazine cover for the next three years.

7) JULIE & JULIA - I have no idea if this movie is legitimately any good or not. Trish Eichelberger's feast doped me up so much that I was in heaven for the full two hours, though.

6) THE HANGOVER - I have no idea if this movie is legitimately funny or not. But from now on I'm having a shot of Jager before every crazy comedy I see.

5) STAR TREK - Usually I get to know a little bit about the big surprises Tim is planning before they hit the screen, but even when the WRATH OF KHAN print got bubbly the same way we used to burn film for Spike and Mike intros and it became clear to me that something was up, I had NO IDEA that Leonard Nimoy was going to walk in and bring the full print of the new movie. It was impossible not to love that movie if you watched it with that crowd of super fans. I'm still iffy about J.J. Abrams in general, though. I'll tell you why 46 hours earlier and destroy the tension of you asking me about it.

4) 2012 - Yeah, that's right; I went there. Because John Cusack OUTRUNS AN EARTHQUAKE IN A LIMOUSINE.

3) UP IN THE AIR - I can't wait until that's playing on airplanes and leads to a huge surge in membership to the Mile High Club. And did you know that most of the interviews with people being laid off were people actually being fired? Because damn that made those scenes more intense to watch.

2) UP - The guy behind me started openly sobbing during the aging montage in a way that made me wonder if we needed to enact a No Crying Too Loud rule at the theater. At first it annoyed me, but then it sucked me in. Now I think maybe TV dramas should have had a sobbing track back when sitcoms had a laugh track.

1) ZOMBIELAND - Yes! Zombies were fun again! I would never have believed it if you'd told me that back in 2006. Also, according to Entertainment Weekly, watching that premiere with us at Fantastic Fest was also one of Woody Harrelson's two favorite moments of his entire year. Awesome!

Of course, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS was great as well. It would totally be on this list if Brad Pitt had at any time outrun some sort of natural disaster while driving a limo.

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10) HUMAN CENTIPEDE: FIRST SEQUENCE - Yep, this is the movie where three people are sewn together front-to-back, lips-to-rump. But the incredible thing about it is that there's nothing gory or gratuitous about it. The mad scientist lead is played in overdrive by the truly terrifying Dieter Laser, and writer/director/producer Tom Six provided one of the most hilarious Q&A's I've ever seen at Fantastic Fest. The man seemed completely unconcerned with the potentially offensive content of the film and instead became extremely excited to inform us that "all the surgical processes in the film were 100% medically accurate!" Also, his next film is the sequel that will feature a human centipede FOUR TIMES THE SIZE of the one in this film.Lastly, Tom Six dresses like a Miami Vice druglord. What a wildman!

9) GIT GOB (short) - So it's only 2.5 minutes long, but this semi-two-dimensional short was the funniest movie of the year. Admittedly, I still haven't seen A TOWN CALLED PANIC yet. But I'm just sayin', if you want to see a lil' brown guy mistake a hole in the ground for his hat, then this is a good movie for you to watch.

8 ) HOUSE OF THE DEVIL - Horror-fueled filmmaking young'n Ti West really did a number on the audience with this incredibly legit '80s genre homage. It's not just that he captured the aesthetic of the era...Mr. West also thumbs his nose at the public's current lack of attention span and unwinds his terror tale at Mrs. Butterworth speed, which makes the payoff all the more effective. Even more impressive was the performance from towering character actor Tom Noonan.

7) THAT EVENING SUN - This was a fairly simple story of a cantankerous Southern man (Hal Holbrook) at war with his alcoholic garbage dump of a neighbor. It featured some of the best dialogue I've seen in years and the SXSW audience seemed to eat it up. Afterwards, screen legend Holbrook peed at the urinal next to me. That dude is really tall! I did not look at his penis.

6) STAR TREK - I liked this movie.

5) WORLD'S GREATEST DAD - Bobcat Goldthwait -- who looks a lot like Billy Wilder these days -- wrote and directed this vicious, heartless, brutal comedy that somehow gave me hope for humanity. Everything shitty about mankind (and that's a lot) gets punched right in the guts by the script. If you hate people (and who doesn't?), this movie is your bible.

4) BEST WORST MOVIE - Few movies are more entertaining as 1990's perfect wreck TROLL 2. This documentary on the people involved in that film's production is as enjoyable as its subject, but in the complete opposite way. Smart, hilarious, human, deeply genuine.

3) THE HORSEMAN - A beautiful, sad, simply shot Australian revenge movie. TENDER MERCIES meets Paul Schrader's HARDCORE. Not a wasted second, and a truly perfect performance from the impotent, middle-aged lead.

2) ANVIL! - Since I'm not religious and I hate my mother, few things matter more to me than Friendship and Heavy Metal. This documentary is an unflinching testament to both, as the two founding members of unpaid Canadian rock institution Anvil struggle to find their place in the world. It's a heartbreaker at points, and most people I know who saw it cry at least once. Not me, though. I listen to Manowar. I probably don't even have tear ducts.

1) BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS - "'Til the breakaDAWWWN!!" See every other movie-lover's Top Ten of 2009 list. If you don't like this movie, you're just taking up space. Please lay down and go to sleep forever.

Zack's Top 20 of the Decade: 20) THE HORSEMAN (2009) 19) PUNISHER WAR ZONE (2008) - Seriously. 18) POOTIE TANG (2001) 17) I THINK WE'RE ALONE NOW (2008) - An objective documentary on two mentally ill people obsessed with former pop sensation Tiffany. One of them has chosen to alter his gender to be more like his idol, the other has severe Asperger's syndrome. Enjoy their wild night in Las Vegas. 16) TAXIDERMIA (2006) - This unclassifiable Hungarian film was the most ambitious independent movie I saw all decade. Somehow combines giant cats, competitive eating and bestiality without ever feeling zany. 15) TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER (2000) - The most beautiful, violent gay spaghetti Western in Thai cinema history. 14) DREAMER: INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY (2005) - The best family-friendly drama in decades. Kurt Russell will make you cry. No shit. 13) ROCKY BALBOA (2006) 12) ANVIL! (2009) 11) THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001) - Kind of embarrassed to include this one now that Mr. Anderson has chosen expensive clothing over solid storytelling, but there's no denying I saw it seven times on the big screen when it was released. 10) Werner Herzog's BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (2009) -- tied with -- Herzog's GRIZZLY MAN (2005) 9) TALK TO HER (2002) 8 ) MAN WITHOUT A PAST (2002) - Finnish genius Aki Kaurismaki's last great movie. He says he's going to stop making films now and "maybe open a taxi company." 7) IT IS FINE...EVERYTHING IS FINE (2007) - Crispin Glover's weird-for-weird's-sake schtick is shattered by this staggering work of real live goddamn genius. Everyone should watch this, unless they don't like seeing the genitals of the severely disabled. 6) BIRTH (2004) - Incredible to the max, Nicole Kidman or not. Really an incredible attack on the pathetic nature of human need and longing. 5) KUNG FU HUSTLE (2004) 4) THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE (2001) - The best ghost story made in my lifetime. Waaaaay more chilling and beautiful than PAN'S LABYRINTH. 3) THE KING OF KONG (2007) - Mandatory documentary viewing. 2) NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) 1) LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) - Get me some CGI-cat remover and this shit will be 100% perfect.

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Top 10 Of 2009:

BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS - Most fun I've had since my seventh birthday party, which also involved guns and iguanas.

A SERIOUS MAN - The last shot is beautiful and terrifying, just like the two hours prior.

IN THE LOOP - Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult.

THE HANGOVER - Laughed harder than any other movie this year. That's gotta be worth something.

ANTICHRIST - Atmospheric masterpiece.

FANTASTIC MR. FOX - Just so mother-cussing good.

WORLD'S GREATEST DAD - Bobcat Goldthwait slammed my funnybone against the most genuinely disturbing story of the year.

DISTRICT 9 - Shit, man, shit.

BRONSON - Thomas Hardy's performance lifts an otherwise terrestrial movie to great heights.

SYMBOL - Not released in the US...counting it anyway. Mexican wrestler story meets Japanese-man-trapped-in-white-space-with-tiny-angel-penis-levers in the best way imaginable. From the director of BIG MAN JAPAN.


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THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE - One of three films by Soderbergh to be released in 2009, this modest gem surprised me. The story, about a high-class prostitute having boyfriend troubles in 2008 New York, is weak but got some buzz because lead actress Sasha Grey is actually a star of pornographic films. The real treasures of this film, however, are the cinematic elements that make it a surreal adventure of time and space. There is so much subtly in expression and in narrative economy that the film exists in a vacuum of time, passing through and around and past all moments of understanding. At about the halfway point, I realized that I had no idea how long I had been watching, and I didn't really care either; this is true cinema, a movie that puts its fingers into your brain and never lets go.

A TOWN CALLED PANIC - A joyful and imaginative animated film from Belgium that captured my heart at an 11 AM screening at Fantastic Fest. The film is creative and wacky and demonstrates the wit and the life that all films aspire to have. It is clear that this is a true labor of love, and that is all that matters.

OBSERVE AND REPORT - An awkward and brutal feature by the most important comedy director working today, Jody Hill. Its hilarious sequences of terror and discomfort are matched by horrifying images of violent fighting so beautifully choreographed that you sometimes mistake it for a 1950s musical.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE - Finally, a children's film that isn't condescending, dull and full of cheap jokes. Coming in the midst of an cycle of auteur-made children's films, this is sure to be the most imaginative, visually striking and, frankly, adult.

MY SON, MY SON, WHAT HAVE YE DONE - A collaboration of two of the greatest cinema artists of our time, Werner Herzog and David Lynch, that tempers madness with weirdness into a beautiful story of a man whose mind is lost. A brilliant use of digital photography that proved to me, without a shadow of a doubt, that this shift to HD video cameras won't be all bad.

A SINGLE MAN - First-time filmmaker Tom Ford has crafted a unique love story with the precision and aesthetic eye that made him one of the most famous fashion designers of the past century. Every suit, accessory, piece of furniture and body in this film is breathtaking to view. All of this glamour creates a strange, nearly surreal feeling for the film; it is steeped in surface pleasures, but underneath these delights is a horrifying sadness.

BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS - There's a reason this is on almost every one of our lists this year. Nicolas Cage. I don't even need to say more.

WHATEVER WORKS - Woody Allen's most mature work to date deals with the same themes he has been working through since the middle 1970s. Here, in a loose remake of his ANNIE HALL, Allen's surrogate, played by Larry David, is shown for the repulsive and vile misantrhope that Allen has been sugar coating with charming anxiety for his entire career. He must be making great progress in analysis lately.

THE LIMITS OF CONTROL - Jim Jarmusch has decided to drop all pretenses of plot and to focus entirely on the calm and careful capturing of beautiful images and beautiful meetings. It works well here, and it proves that purely visual filmmaking is still alive. While I wish he would return to his earlier filmmaking style, I am willing to support his further experiments in cinematography.

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER - Another ANNIE HALL remake rocked the summer indie world with a little help from the ever-charming Zooey Deschanel. While her beautiful punim (look it up, gentiles) pleased every skinny kid in town, it was the film's generally light treatment of the rules of the cinema that made this film great. A series of cinematic experiments (the musical number, expectation vs. reality split screen, tangential ordering of scenes, etc.) made this truly a contemporary revisioning of Allen's greatest film. It also featured the greatest Han Solo joke thus far in the 21st century. One comment, though: stop wearing tennis shoes with suits and ties. It looks stupid.


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...If your eyes haven't fallen out yet, feel free to enjoy our picks from 2008, 2007 and 2006!

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