Best Movies Of 2009 – The Wishlist Version

So, there goes another year, and here comes the list for best movies of 2009. It was a surprisingly good year for films actually, no matter how you look at it. There were hugely deep, dramatic offerings if that’s what you’re after, and there were solid efforts of popcorn fare. If it were all thrown at you at once, you’d be spoiled for choice whatever your mood.

It’s been a long time since I was so positive looking back at an entire year, and I actually have too many movies I want to mention. Usually, it comes down to figuring out what I’m going to put in as numbers 9 and 10 that probably don’t really deserve it.

You’ve seen the list (hopefully) of the Best of the Decade, and know that 2009 films were not qualified. Naturally, you now want to add some things to that list and set your Netflix queue on fire.

First, there are a few things I have to get out of the way. A few movies that is.

I should get right to the biggest one, Avatar . Avatar is not on this list. I suppose, you could call it one of the honorable mentions. I don’t hate it, but it isn’t that good. Sure, it just won the Golden Globe, which caused Roger Ebert to have a Twitter coronary (rightly so), but it didn’t remotely deserve it. Chew on that.

Is it a good movie? Yes. Call it, I guess, the best movie of the year that shouldn’t be considered in the running for best movie of the year.

Never before has there been a movie where so many critics were heard to say things very similar to, “Sure, the story is sort of boring and overdone, and the characters are kind of a joke, but… Best Movie of the Year!” Yeah, listen, go sell crazy somewhere else. I know… it’s all frickin shiny. Goodie.

But, somewhat more seriously… it could be on this list, especially insofar as the Honorable Mentions (it wouldn’t make it to my top ten though), but it’s on enough lists, and I’m over it.

Nine . Now, conveniently this one has dropped out of the spotlight a little, what with taking home no CCMAs despite a lot of noms, but I have to mention it. It was just boring and awful. Sorry.

Precious . Yeah, not that great. Liked some things about it, but it’s just not ultimately one of the best of the year. There are those that disagree with me about such things. I get that. Some people do not like My Dinner with Andre. Whatever.

On to the list –

Check the title links for reviews, trailers, and so forth.

Honorable Mentions

In completely random order –

The Road

 

A completely bizarre experience, the movie is filled with emotion and hard to watch at times. Solid acting carries the thing. The end of the world and/or catastrophes were popular this year, but The Road is probably the only one that really did something with the idea.

Bright Star

 

The life and love of John Keats is probably not calling people into theaters by the truckload, but this film, brilliantly written and directed by Jane Campion, is the kind of thing that instantly becomes a treasured experience. Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish are superb.

Disney’s A Christmas Carol

 

Ultimately worth the mention simply for being the translation that most closely resembles the original effort (at least for a long time) in spirit. It’s dark and creepy. It’s fun and silly. It actually makes interesting use of 3D as well.

The White Ribbon

 

A bizarre series of events lead to more questions than can be answered, and more tension than you can stand. A haunting story that is, in the end, about people and society in general, and that is bizarre and creepy stuff. The should win choice for foreign film awards everywhere… except like Germany or whatever.

Public Enemies

 

By the time it ends, something has gone wrong with Public Enemies, the gangster/agent chase adventure starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, but up until that end you’re treated to great acting and an intriguing plot.

Watchmen

 

There are strong points to be made on the negative here, especially if you’ve read the graphic novel, but it’s fun, inventive, and tries like hell. The strange choice of change with regard to the ultimate conspiracy at the end throws everything about the story out of whack, and doesn’t actually make any sense, but it’s a cool ride.

Coraline

 

Any other year, and this would have been the movie to beat. Unfortunately, it had the bad luck to come out during the one year in decades that actually saw several top-notch animated films released. The imagination and wonder of a small girl, delivered excellently, as though straight from Neil Gaiman’s imagination (even if things had to be toned down a smidge from the source).

Julie & Julia

 

It’s possible that this is most worthy of mention simply for being the chick-flickiest thing I’ve thoroughly enjoyed in quite some time. Cute and quirky, without going too far, it’s a treat of entertainment know-how, and actually has a point.

Whip It

 

Goofy fun meets cute coming-of-age story in this odd little number about Roller Derby. It stumbles like someone getting used to skates after a long hiatus from the banked circle, but there’s a lot to recommend.

Up in the Air

 

I really liked it, and I think in a screenplay category I like it even more, but it just wasn’t the top tier of the best of the best. It had great moments, it was supremely watchable, but at the end of the day it didn’t blow me away. It’s cute and fun, and has something interesting to say, but it thinks it’s saying something more interesting and original than it is, and in a couple of years I won’t really care much about it.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

 

Again, any other year maybe. In this case however, the thing was so overlooked that the year might not have mattered. Bizarrely better than it was given credit for, this is a serious treat of the family film genre, and it should definitely get a lot more attention.

Sherlock Holmes

 

A very fun bit of high-energy wackness, this is a solid piece of entertainment with a good (but unusual) mix of complexity and adventure. Great turns by the actors, and a fun story.

9

 

It didn’t quite translate, I suspect because we could have taken a little more time to go from ten minute short to feature film, but it’s still a great adventure with a strangely interesting story.

The Invention of Lying

 

I admit I’m just a huge Gervais fan, but the comedy was great, and the story was fun. Plus, there was a lot more to it than just running through the obvious.

A Serious Man

 

For some reason, even from way back when I was just getting sent promotional pictures and so forth, I just love this picture (I mean picture as in that image there). I love that this would be an image that would be sent to me, and would be part of posters, etc. I mean, what the hell is this picture supposed to tell me?

A truer, more solidly black, more Coen comedy you will hardly meet, and this one was very close to the top ten. A great performance, and a standout moment in the career of two movie legends who have plenty of them to choose from.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

 

Yada yada yada, any other year. This one is the closest to unseating Up. Wildly fabulous, and frankly, if you can give the source material a fair shake, you’re on solid ground.

The Messenger

 

Another one that is pretty close to the top ten, so maybe this isn’t as random as I thought. Great performances, and in a non-Christoph year Woody might have had some hope. It might have missed the top ten based purely on… Oh my God, who could watch it again?

Jennifer’s Body

 

Yes. Seriously. Okay, we’re not in the category of close to the top ten anymore, but this was wild and crazy, dipped in awesome sauce fantasticness. You thought it was stupid? Of course it was! Brilliantly so. But, not in that nonsense “so bad it was good” way. It was just good and inherently stupid… and cool and crazy. It was a little like if John Hughes and The Bloggess got together and made a teen angst horror movie with nerds and hot chicks, but the nerds were hot chicks dressed up like they weren’t hot.

(500) Days of Summer

 

Back to close calls, this screwy, quirky romantic comedy was not only great fun, it’s the sort of movie that will last a while. The thing missing from most romantic comedies is comedy.  The genre itself somehow doesn’t even really mean “comedy” in any serious sense, but this one is funny. I’ll go back to this one again and again for years.

Adventureland

 

These last two are not in the top ten by the slimmest of margins. Adventureland is rock solid, youngish angst… well, it’s not adventure really. It’s the opposite of adventure maybe. Surprisingly on target performances, and a nice dance card of characters.

District 9

 

Equal parts action spectacular and gooey (literally) political statement, it may splash its sub-text all over the front page, but it was fun and had a message without trivializing itself (like some things…).

Ok! The Top Ten!

10. Sunshine Cleaning

 

I’ll spoil it if you like. Emily Blunt is on here twice. A crazy tale of life, and though there is one obvious point, a wide-ranging spin on how your choices change everyone else’s life. And yet, without bogging down in the sap.

9. Inglourious Basterds

 

Old School war meets New School sensibilities with a great cast and an alternate universe. The kind of film that, as a theory, makes you think, “That’s just crazy enough to work,” and it did.

8. A Single Man

 

An insightful character study of a curiously non-insightful character. Curious, because he seems so insightful. An almost random struggle that questions the idea of “everyman” and is wonderfully not about its character’s sexuality to exactly the degree that stories about heterosexuals aren’t about theirs. The power of simplicity is stunning.

7. Moon

A heaping helping of what is best about movies, storytelling in general, and science-fiction. Rockwell is amazing, and the film can hardly receive too much praise. A man, alone on a three-year stint on the moon begins to doubt his sanity. There is more discussion on humanity here than you get out of most sets of a dozen films. And, it’s just wicked cool.

6. In the Loop

 

I recall someone once saying of a film that it was, “so funny I wanted to kill myself.” That’s the sort of thing that sticks in your mind, mostly because I can’t imagine what point someone might be trying to get at by saying it. I feel like I’m somewhere closer to understanding the curious turn of phrase now that I’ve seen In the Loop. It’s funny in a way that leaves you not wanting to describe it as funny, because somehow the word “funny” just isn’t clever enough to figure this movie out at all. “Funny” is something for the masses, who watch “films” like Scary Movie (or Saw, if you’re of the right frame of mind, because that crap is funny) and casually slap the word around. It’s a movie that is witty, sharp as a tack, and it’s a movie that wears a rather smart coat, and if you called it “funny” to its face, it would ask you to step outside.

5. The Young Victoria

 

Here is a movie that is unfathomably entertaining given its subject matter, and is moreover so far to the good side of watchable that it might have gone on for another hour and you’d never notice. But, most importantly, this is a film that is simply a work of fine craftsmanship. Everything is just so, and it’s a truly difficult task. Sure, blow enough crap up and it’s bound to look pretty cool, but keep me interested in this bunch of rot (well, that’s how it looks on paper) and you’ve done something. Emily Blunt gives a performance that should be studied.

4. (Untitled)

 

There are a lot of ways to describe a film. Funny. Dramatic. Suspenseful. Looking at just about anything you can think of, there is solid competition among this year’s crop of entries… except, if you just stick with “Real.” No movie this year, and for many years besides, has been more real than (Untitled). I know three or four big movies that are popping into your mind as you read this, because you think of them as really zeroing in on “reality,” and you can’t imagine what I could be talking about (though in fairness to me, you didn’t see this film). That movie you’re thinking of is miles from real in its own hope to express reality. (Untitled) displays things that are more real than you might think (you can walk right into that art gallery, believe me), but it’s a bizarrely unreal reality… and baby, that’s real.

Adam Goldberg (and one might have at least a passable claim to the idea that he is playing Adam Goldberg here) is the perfection of his character, and if you really know anything about acting, you’ll know that this is the hardest sort of character to play. It isn’t just that he’s “real,” but that he’s indescribable. Aren’t we all? It’s the kind of part where you ask who the character is, and there’s no way to answer, except to tell you that you have to read the whole script. You could break it down maybe, though it would still be a longer description than most, but the genius of the film and the performance is that that just isn’t who this character is.

3. The Hurt Locker

 

Feh. Go read some reviews. What? I’m going to suddenly convince you?

2. Up

 

It’s good and junk.

1. An Education

 

The idea that something else is the year’s best film, or that someone else is the year’s best actress, is even a worse idea than that someone else might have been a better supporting actor than Christoph Waltz. It’s just laughable. Come back to me when I revise the decade list in a few years, and I have little doubt this will be the best film there as well.

There you have it.

Don’t bother to complain about the list. I concede the incredible awesomeness, and general DUDE!?! of Avatar. I know, it’s really good, and the visually breathtaking scenes and the biology of the SQUIRREL!

RU?

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Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.