Top 10 from 2009 – a year of Film in Review

Once again, we’ve reached the end of a year.

2009 ended with a bang in theatres. Oscar buzz and holiday party noise also announces the massive proliferation of “lists” from Film to Music, TV and Technology, and so on. Since the decade is officially over as well, there are even more lists being made and passed around the internet like the latest viral video.

This is the list for 2009. I may attempt a “Best of the Decade” list, but that would take some time. I know for a fact I haven’t seen enough of the early 2000’s film to make a good judgement. For the time being, a single year will just have to do.

Excluded from the list –

I see a bunch of movies, but I can’t see all of them. These are the ones I wanted to see, but couldn’t.
The Cove, Bad Leiutenant: Port of Call-New Orleans, In The Loop, The Messenger, Paper Heart, 35 Shots of Rum, Red Cliff, Revanche, Bright Star, The Young Victoria, A Serious Man, A Single Man, Precious, Broken Embraces, Me and Orson Welles, Crazy Heart, The Lovely Bones, The Last Station

So, as you can see, you may exclude those from any comments about my list by knowing I haven’t seen them and wanted to. Beyond that, in the words of Heath Ledger’s Joker, “And here we go….”

Honorable Mentions – Alphabetically

Adam – Shamefully, this movie came out with very little fanfare or marketing initiative. The story of a young man living alone in NYC with Asberger Syndrome isn’t a feel-good hit on the surface. However, I really liked this one. I don’t think I know anyone personally that lives with Asberger’s and I felt like this film painted an excellent picture of what it would be like to live in that frame of mind.

Adventureland – A couple of observations. I personally think Jesse Eisenberg is the actor that studios choose to call when they can’t get Michael Cera. His mannerisms and delivery are so similar in my mind. I can see the producer on the phone saying “We couldn’t get Michael. Someone call Jesse.” Even still, he’s great as the college graduate searching for direction in life without a “real” job. And, I cannot tell a lie. I love Kristen Stewart (exception – vampire movies). I don’t mind the fingers-running-through-the-hair acting she does, nor her eternal gloomy nature. I rather dig it.

Avatar – James Cameron took years to finally bring this film to theatres, and I’ve mixed feelings about it. The technological advances from the prior ten years (or more) made this film visually stunning. It is truly something to behold, especially in 3-D. All that said, I am officially weary with Hollywood and its continual propoganda related to environment and American imperialism. We get it: you think we’re killing the earth and ruining every other country. Enough is enough.

Bronson – Holy Moses. The story about Britain’s most infamous inmate. A violent criminal with a flair for the extreme is the main character and Tom Hardy plays him all too well. Not for everyone, but a great performance to say the least.

Brothers – This remake of Susanne Bier’s (Denmark) 2004 film by the same name is a window into the lives of a family directly affected by the war in Afghanistan. Natalie Portman, Tobey MacGuire and Jaky Gyllenhaal bring this odd family story to life. It is hard to watch at times and the conclusion left me wondering if families are ever really the same when someone comes home, dead or alive. This film was as good as the original.

The Brothers Bloom – I really like Adrian Brody and Mark Ruffalo. They’re both great in general but were great together playing con-men brothers in this one. This movie was poorly marketed in my opinion. It has a great cast, excellent characters, a great story and fairly decent cinematography. I think it just got lost among the spring/summer push for the major films. I would call it a heist-movie, or something similar to it.

Coco before Chanel – A French film starring Audrey Tautou as a young Coco Chanel before she changed the fashion world. A really cool look into her early life about where she came from and how it helped define her life as a designer.

Cold Souls – Paul Giamatti portrays himself trying to find a way to unburden his sould in order to perform in a play. The solution is to temporarily remove his soul so that he can work free from his soul’s weight. Really interesting idea, and a great movie for the acting.

Coraline – A 3-D stop-motion film that was visually awesome. A young girl splits life between real life and a bizzare-mirrored world where everything living around her has button eyes.

Food Inc. – If you care at all about eating healthy or knowing that the food you consume isn’t littered with chemicals of all sorts, this is a movie you should see. It might make you sick, but you’ll immediately wonder if all those Organic food nuts have been right all along. A must-see for the documentary lover.

Funny People – Adam Sandler continues his ascent into movies I never thought he was capable of doing. Maybe I just didn’t think he’d want to do them. Either way “Funny People” is probably one of his best ever. An easily believable role as a comedian who discovers he has a potentially life-threatening illness is a dive into the pain and heartache associated with the loneliness and lifestyle of a hollywood star.

The Girlfriend Experience – Steven Soderbergh brings in an adult film star to play the role of a NYC female escort in the vein of the BBC Series “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” except that its not much of a secret. Sasha Grey in her first legit(?) acting performance was marginal for the most part. The story was the interesting thing in this film…. and that Soderbergh would take a chance like this.

The Hangover – This was the best comedy of the year. When you can make a movie about a wild night in Vegas and never actually show what happened (until the credits roll) and it is still hilarious, I’d call that a successful comedy. Todd Phillips (Old School, Starsky & Hutch) is a master of the frat-humor genre, and the hangover is his Sistine Chapel. Add in Bradley Cooper (who is the new awesome in Hollywood), Zack Galifinakis and Ed Helms and it’s a great movie.

The Hurt Locker – Movies showing American at war are everywhere these days. This was one I enjoyed enough to include in this post. Bomb-diffusing technicians operating in Iraq make up the story in this film. A little bit brave and a lot of crazy seems to be the recipie for these men working with IED’s and roadside bombs. A really intense look, but not my favorite war movie of the year by a longshot.

I Love You, Man – Paul Rudd and Jason Segel have developed into one of the better duos in the bromance movies as of late. Just off the top of my head, they’ve recently been in 3 movies together where they had at least one scene together; Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and now this one. I like the others better, but it made sense to get them some more screen time together. Lots of laughs for sure. Not as many as another movie that came out this year.

The Informant – I was a little disappointed with this movie. However, I will always love Matt Damon (his cameo on Entourage didn’t hurt him) and Joel McHale is a new favorite (Community on NBC), so this one gets a pass. It felt long, and I wasn’t sure where it was going half the time… Regardless, the story was interesting enough.

Invictus – A great story retold by Clint Eastwood about the 1995 South African rugby team and their quest to win the world cup and unite the country in the process. Eastwood teamed up with Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon for a movie that brought together old Hollywood with new Hollywood in the director and young actor. I didn’t check, but I would bet there are no less than 20 major nominations among these three men since they’ve been working in film.

It Might Get Loud – As a music lover, this was the documentary I was most interested in for 2009. What would happen when you had Jimmy Page of Zepplin, The Edge of U2, and Jack White of 1,539 bands join one another on a set and talk about their journey through music and specifically through conquering the guitar. What we got as viewers was a history lesson in rock from 3 different generations and when all was said and done, they sat down and jammed to a country song. Appropriate, no?

New York, I Love You – This sequel/remake of the film Paris, je’Taime from a couple of years ago is good, but not better than the original. Lots of great short stories including some of the better stars from the past few years. Worth a look if you love New York City, short film, or just a cool idea for a movie.

Nine – I was able to see this movie and Fellini’s 8 1/2 (the film “Nine” was based upon) within a week of each other. I wasn’t a huge fan of either, but I loved the music from this film. The ladies that perform in this film are also the best of the past 4 years. Cruz, Cotillard, Kidman, Dench, etc. Hard to hate that. And Daniel Day-Lewis was ok too. A good recreation of 8 1/2, and way easier to follow.

Public Enemies – Johnny Depp and Christian Bale in a gangster movie set in the roaring 30’s? Sure thing. Fairly accurate representation of John Dillinger’s life as a bank robber? I’m in. It was a very interesting movie directed by Michael Mann and I really liked it. You may or may not, but I did.

Sherlock Holmes – This was a fun movie with lots of good acting, writing, etc. Downey Jr, Law, McAdams all make their mark on this film. I think the budget almost hurt Guy Ritchie in directing it. I feel like it lost its “Ritchie” feel, which may not matter at all since it’s already made quite a few Pounds.

The Soloist – A movie that started out garnering lots of Oscar buzz in 2008 ended up being released in 2009, and for good reason. It was a good film, but not Oscar cailber for sure. Robert Downey Jr. may be the most bankable male actor of the past two years. His work has only been improving and I liked him a lot in this film. It’s hard not to like Jamie Foxx as well. A feel-good story about music and friendship and just doing the right thing.

Star Trek – The ressurection of this franchise made a lot of trekkies and fanboys mad. Until they saw the movie. The movie by J.J. Abrams of “Lost” fame was pretty awesome. Lots of great performances by young actors, namely Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana. Fun to watch and not a bad story to go along with it.

State of Play – Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Jason Bateman, Ben Affleck & Robin Wright Penn all shine through the dark of this one. A thrilling political film about a reporter and his new sidekick as they struggle to uncover the story behind some very strange activity in Washington D.C.

Sunshine Cleaning – It’s hard not to like a movie with Amy Adams, Emily Bluny and Alan Arkin as the stars. I love their talent more and more as I continue to see them in more films. It feels a little like “Little Miss Sunshine” all over again, but the performances are awesome.

Taken – This film released in 2008 everywhere BUT the USA was a surprise hit in my opinion. Liam Neeson as the unlikely CIA operative that makes revenge his mission after his daughter is abducted in Paris makes it hard to believe, but it’s not unwatchable. A very entertaining film for the action junkie in every guy I know.

Tetro – One of my friends really loved this one. I am a fan of Coppola and his prior work, and this was no exception. Shot in black and white, the story of a young boy meeting up with his older brother after years apart is a fantastic story told through the eyes of Coppola. The best part is the performance of Vincent Gallo as Tetro. His real life persona is so similar to that of the character that it wasn’t a huge stretch (similar to Ben Affleck playing a Boston native), but the performance was amazing.

Two Lovers – The most recent offering from Joaquin Phoenix and Gwenyth Paltrow was not the average New York City love story. A mentally disturbed Phoenix is torn between emotions for two women and his own demons. His (supposed) last film ever before his retirement is actually a really good one.

Where the Wild Things Are – Spike Jonze, you became one of my favorites this year. Making a film from a 30 page children’s book with little to no dialogue was a huge effort. But this movie is awesome. I loved this movie. I would put it in my top ten except I don’t think it was better than any of the movies I have in the top ten.

Dishonorable Mentions –

District 9 – Maybe I just didn’t get it. I didn’t like this movie very much at all. It felt like 2 movies to me. The first half was almost documentary-like, and the second-half felt like a news program. Blah. South Africans can be proud of an idea that got Peter Jackson’s attention, but I just won’t recommend it. There was a better Apartheid related movie than this one.

Fast and Furious – Hopefully the 4th installment will be the last of them. Hopefully. Please, let it be the last.

Transformers 2 – Revenge of the Fallen – I shouldn’t have to say anything. It was an explosion-fest that had no story. A friend tried to tell me that a movie about robots probably won’t be very good, but I liked “Wall-E” last year… Regardless, it was trash.

Wolverine – The X-Men franchise is a valuable one. The original trilogy made quite a bit of money, and it makes sense to try and extend it somehow. I don’t think making a movie about Wolverine was the way to go. What about Cyclops & Jean Grey? Professor X? Let’s learn about them instead… oh well. Crap movie.

After all of that, here is my Top Ten List for 2009. Again, I missed a lot of the independent films that were released.

10. (tie) (500)Days of Summer & Away We Go
It’s hard to decide which of these was better. I liked them both so much because they weren’t obviously romantic movies. In fact, they were both almost un-romantic. Because of that, I guess I felt like they were more realistic versions of life in relationships today. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has come a long way since his Angels in the Outfield days, no? Zooey Deschanel is easy to love as the eternal hipster in love with the Smiths and cotton. In the same way, John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph represent the worry about raising a child in our world. Where WOULD be the best place to do it? Both of these were not just good, they were great.

9. Fantastic Mr. Fox – Wes Anderson’s stop-motion masterpiece was great. Not because it is so much like his other films, but because it reaches out to a totally different audience this time. Kids could love the movie and understand what was going on and adults could love the little humor that Anderson is so great at providing. A must see for sure.

8. Sin Nombre – You have to see this. A really sad story about immigration, gangs and violence. Director Fukunaga’s first film cuts deep and is hard to ignore. It’s not getting a lot of Oscar love, but it may as we get closer. I won’t ruin any of it for you. You just need to see it.

7. An Education – I’m a sucker for Peter Saarsgaard and his love interest in this film, Carey Mulligan. She steals the show from him and really does a fabulous job expressing the rebellion of a teenager with a future to lose. Mulligan was excellent in this film and her other role from 2009 (an army wife in “Brothers”). Set in the 60’s and shot very well, this movie could be the launching pad of Mulligan. Rent or go see it if you can.

6. Zombieland – I’m a sucker for ridiculous zombie movies. This may be my favorite of all time. Woody Harrelson, Jesse (Cera) Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigal Breslin are great in this survival movie with a heavy comedic bent. It also features the best cameo by an SNL alum of all time in my opinion. It gets pretty cliche toward the end, but it’s still worth checking out.

5. Summer Hours – What does a family do when the matriarch passes away and leaves a home of treasures for her children? It raises a lot of big questions about how life-busy children are forced to handle the deaths of parents along with potentially valuable estates. A great cast moves through the motions of dividing up the estate just the way you envision, but the sadness associated with it came through the camera in a big way.

4. Moon – If you missed this movie, you need to see it. This is the best performance of the year. Sam Rockwell is a man stationed on the moon for a contracted timeframe and soon he’ll head home. What happens next will blow your mind. I won’t reveal anything, you have to see it. It’s classified as Sci-Fi, but it’s not aliens or anything like that. Just rent it.

3. Up in the Air – Shocker. George Clooney is in the running for Best Picture. I would never have guessed. Yet again, he performs his role better than anyone else could have. Jason Reitman directs Clooney very well and the reward is an awesome film about the class of business travellers and what happens in a bad economy, even to the people who make a living by firing other people.

2. Up – I will get lots of grief for this one (I already have from a few people). I think this is the best Pixar film ever made. Yes, better than Incredibles, Toy Story, Wall-E… all of them. For the first 5 minutes, you get to live an entire lifetime and experience the joy and heartbreak of life. That was enough to win me over. Then the movie just got better. What if you could just attach thousands of ballons to your house and fly away to a distant location to live out the rest of your days or pursue your dream? Up answers the question in perfect form.

1. Inglorious Basterds – No movie suprised me more than this one. The opening scene was amazing and set the tone for the entire film. Tarantino showed me that he had the skill and vision to create a movie that could be his best ever. I know people love Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and the Kill Bill’s and all of his others, but in my opinion this is his most complete film ever. If you see one movie from this past year, see Inglorious.

So, that’s it. I may make edits as I see the other movies I wanted to from 2009. Happy viewing.


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