I didn’t see everything 2009 had to offer, but I feel pretty good about this list of the ten best films of 2009. I think most people, at least of my age demographic of 18 – 28, will agree.
I gave a lot of films 4.5/5 stars this year, which I was pretty surprised at when I looked back to create this list. I didn’t include a film here that had any lesser of a rating.
Although Oscar season has been fairly underwhelming, a lot of films surprised me at different points of the year. Five of these were summer films, one spring, two fall and two winter. As I mentioned yesterday in my Genre Awards, there were also more great genre films than straight dramas, which is why I think the quality of 2009 snuck up on me a bit.
In comparing my list to others around the net, I think I need to address that Inglourious Basterds is nowhere near my Top 10. I bring this up because rarely do I go against mainstream opinion and in not including this film, I probably am. If you’d like to know why, this is my review, and it puts it fairly well. Sometimes in my reviews I never perfectly say what I want to, but I did here. In hindsight I ultimately think it was a matter of expectation. The filmmaking and scene writing is spectacular, but I was intent on a message and a point, to which “Basterds” wasn’t aiming for one of significance, at least as far as serious points go. Just shows yet again how expectations are a film’s worst enemy and single greatest ally.
With that off my chest, here is the Top 10 how I see it. I really encourage you to share your thoughts. Agree? Disagree? I’d love to know what you think.
My Top 10 Films of 2009
Since 2007, comedies have been in decline because we’re seeing so much of the same style. Adventureland director Greg Mottola came from that last wave of good executions of that style in Superbad so the expectation is he would dip into that humor yet again before the water gets cold. Yet he follows it up with something a bit more fresh: an ‘80s period comedy with a post-college coming-of-age spin. Adventureland belongs up there with Juno in terms of funny movies with something real and valuable to say. The humor is natural and doesn’t resort to heavy doses of gross-out aka drugs/sex/partying humor. I might be biased as a recent grad not totally unlike Jesse Eisenberg’s character, but this was one of the surprisingly better comedies of 2009. (Read my review)
9. Where the Wild Things Are
I love a film that explores imagination and childhood and that’s why this fantastic Spike Jonze adaptation won me over and made my Top 10. This was far and away a children’s film for adults, so the points don’t come for being a family film, but I was totally onboard with Jonze’s vision anyway. In addition to splendid visuals, I thought this was simply a one-of-a-kind film, easily the standout mainstream picture of the fall season. It might have rubbed some people the wrong way, but you won’t find a more honest story about what it’s like to be a child. Of all the films on this list, “Wild Things” is the only one you just can’t compare to anything else. (Read my review)
8. Star Trek
2009’s first big hit kicked off an incredible year for science fiction films. The only reason Star Trek is in the lower half of my list is because it’s not an original work unlike the other sci-fi hits of the year. As a series revamp, however, this is Grade-A stuff. Star Trek desperately needed something to escape the clutches of dork-dom and reach out to a new generation that could’ve ended up dismissing it as fanboy junk. What a savior J.J Abrahms (even just his reputation alone) was for this franchise. With a handful of burgeoning actors, he not only made Star Trek cool again, but also established the ground work for a whole new generation of Star Trek films. Mission a-frickn’-ccomplished. (Read my review)
7. The Hangover
I’ve already sung the praises of The Hangover, but as the year’s best straight-up comedy, it earns a place on this list. A little higher than usual only because of what I described earlier as feeling so fresh compared to all other offerings in the genre the last couple of years. The film made director Todd Phillips a hot commodity – he’s working currently with Robert Downey Jr. and Galifianakis in a Planes, Trains and Automobiles-style comedy called Due Date which I believe will hit next year. Bradley Cooper has pretty much become a star and Galfianakis is now the “it” funny guy. Comedies deserve to land on this list when they stir up Hollywood as much as this film has. (Read my review)
As I wrote in my review, Avatar is an undeniable game changer, a film that will usher in a new decade of filmmaking unlike anything we’ve ever imagined. At the least, it would be a shame for it to end up otherwise. James Cameron makes an incredible return to film with a project that frankly, blew audiences away. Despite traditional storytelling done just adequately, Avatar soared on the imagination of Cameron and the way it rubbed off on the film’s audience. Maybe in another ten years we can say “it only got better after Avatar,” but for now we revel in this landmark achievement and incredible addition to the science-fiction archives of film history. (Read my review)
An indisputable Top 5 film, Up was the final bit of evidence needed to show animation as an equally important form of filmmaking. In the expanded ten-film Best Picture category this year, you can bet Up will make the list and become the first notable film to put animation and live action on the same pedestal. In a digital and 3D age, this is an incredibly important first step because the line between real and animated will only grow more ambiguous as we plunge into a decade that will surely be dominated by digital film technique. Heartwarming stories can come in all shapes, sizes and dimensions and can reach all ages. And that’s just the short list for this new Pixar classic. (Read my review)
4. A Serious Man
This is really where the bias comes into play on my Top 10 list. A Serious Man was the only film I gave 5/5 stars to this year and as such it at least deserves No. 3 despite factoring in the broad scheme of things. A lot of people might not get this film, or might have been left dumbfounded when the credits rolled, but I thought this was not only quintessential Coen brothers humor/drama but it was also rich with big questions of the “where do we humans fit in the cosmos?” variety and “what’s life really about?” With a low-profile cast, the Coens still hit hard with A Serious Man and no film of 2009 will be discussed in more depth than this one, the clear intellectual film of year. (Read my review)
3. District 9
No film deserves more praise than Neil Blomkamp’s District 9. Riding on nothing but the large-type endorsement of “Peter Jackson presents,” the low-budget fictional documentary sci-fi action flick embodies the spirit of creative, original filmmaking and how it can be just as worthwhile as that cozy $200 million epic based on a book or a comic or a graphic novel. Operating on the tiniest of budgets, District 9 still did some top-notch computer graphics with the Prawns as well as make-up and other effects. No movie better used the resources at its disposal to tell a compelling story while simultaneously delivering the thrills of the genre as District 9. It’s an absolute inspiration to aspiring filmmakers that wildly creative ideas can come to fruition and find support in Hollywood from even the littlest of guys like Blomkamp. (Read my review)
It’s a rarity when an older festival-circuit film that finally gets a wide release in the summer stays so fresh come Oscar season. The Hurt Locker is deservedly one of those films. Even with a barely recognizable cast, “Locker” managed to shift our perspective on war and affect us deeply – show us something new about it – when a majority of us have never experienced it firsthand. As a war film it’s completely atypical, focusing on a smooth blend of drama, action and gripping suspense considering it follows a team that disarms explosives. It’s just a bonus come awards season when a director such as Kathryn Bigelow can raise her hand and say she was in charge. It’s also wonderful that we can celebrate a film like The Hurt Locker this year without getting lost in a competitive drama-filled December. (Read my review)
1. Up in the Air
This is the year’s best picture in my eyes for several reasons, but the one standout reason is this: relatable. Find me a person that won’t connect with Jason Reitman’s film in some way. Incredibly timely as it deals with layoffs in a tough and realistic way, “Air” will make everyone who sees it think about their lives if not evaluate them entirely. This is just one of those excellent movies that establishes quick and beautiful connections with its audience. It will take you to places of wit and laughter then quickly yet gently bring you to touching drama. It’s a truly wonderful story and a great way to remember 2009. This year was a tough one for a lot of people and “Air” reminds us how it is we get through these tough times while also reminding us the role film plays in that: romantic escapism that speaks great truths about the human condition to its audience at the same time. (Read my review)
Look for my final recap of the year tomorrow — the last day of ’09 — to send the year off in style.