THE YEAR THAT WAS 2009: Leading Up to the Top Ten Films of the Year
LAST UPDATE: 4/2/11
Since the beginning of the decade, I've tried to seek out as many movies as possible, preferably by seeing them in theatres (DVDs can't compare to the big screen and surround sound multiplexes offer).
Two things happened in 2009 that haven't occurred in a while: I didn't see any films I thought were awful, and I have my top ten list ready before the Academy Awards. That's kind of rare, considering how good films are hard to see before the year ends due to limited release showings.
Although I'm pretty confident the ten I picked will stay as they are, there are still a number of pictures I'd like to see in the not-too-distant-future. As I see them, I'll adjust my list accordingly. Some of the titles I'm hoping to see soon include: Brothers, Invictus, Mary & Max, A Prophet and The White Ribbon, among others.
So, below are all the titles I saw this year, ranked, leading up to what I consider to be the top ten films from 2009.
Total Films Seen: 36
Films Seen in Theatres: 32 (89%)
36. X-Men Origins: Wolverine - as it stands, the worst film I saw from the year 2009, which isn't too bad, considering the grade. Even though the trailers pretty much prepared you for the fact that this wasn't exactly going to be The Dark Knight, it was still disappointing to see Marvel's most interesting mutant handed such a shabby script. I did like Friday Night Lights' Taylor Kitsch as Gambit, but his screentime was way too short. (C)
35. Orphan - it's an obvious The Good Son rip-off, and it does lose a lot of momentum after a while, but when it was all said and done, this wasn't a bad film. It was quite watchable, in fact, thanks in large part to Vera Farmiga in the lead role as Kate. The child actors were also very good as well, but the movie as a whole, unfortunately, felt very conventional after the first half. (C)
34. Terminator Salvation - what a wasted opportunity this was. It had an interesting direction it was heading in, but it just didn't get there in one piece. Like Rise of the Machines, it's a decent enough summer action picture that's instantly forgettable when it's done. Some of the effects were pretty cool, though, and Sam Worthington was the main reason to watch. (C+)
33. The Blind Side - I saw this pretty late in the game, and only because it got nominated for Best Picture (I had already seen the other nine nominees). I've always liked Sandra Bullock, and this is probably the best performance she's ever given. If not for her, this very Disney-like sports movie would have been much harder to sit through. Its BP nomination is on par with something like The Mighty Ducks or The Big Green getting nominated for the top prize. Think about that for a minute. . . (B-)
32. Watchmen - you really did yourself a disservice if you walked into this film cold (i.e. not reading the novel first). Things would have made much more sense, and the seemingly daunting running time would have flown by. Even so, the novel wasn't perfect, and neither is the film. It's a worthy adaptation of the novel, yet it lacks that special something. Watch for Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. (B-)
31. State of Play - the trailer may have done this film up to look like a political Crash, but don't be fooled: this was probably much better than you thought. It's intricate, yes, but it isn't ridiculous or overly complicated. It boasts some enjoyable performances from some very good actors, and it serves as one of the decade's best films about journalism. (B)
30. The Taking of Pelham 123 - I never saw the original, so I have nothing to compare this to (which is probably a good thing), but on its own, this was, overall, an enjoyable, intense movie-going experience. Washington and Travolta were nicely matched opposite each other, so it made their interactions even more fun. But I have to ask, what was with that ludicrous car chase scene with the paramedics? (B)
Entry #29 at the very bottom.
28. The Hangover - I didn't enjoy this nearly as much as everyone else did, but I will admit that this was a surprise. It's much smarter than it appears to be, though I would argue about it being incredibly funny (it isn't). I did, however, enjoy Ken Jeong as Mr. Chow. His scenes, particularly those taking place in the desert, actually did have me struggling not to laugh out loud. (B)
27. Drag Me To Hell - it's campy and incredibly, incredibly crazy (see the talking possessed goat), but it was a lot of fun, too. It's less interested in delivering thrills than it is in delivering laughs, and it doesn't take itself too seriously, and if you go in with the same attitude, you're likely to enjoy it even more. I prefer Sam Raimi doing this over superhero films. (B)
26. Bruno - as it turns out, I actually saw this film on the same day as The Hangover, and even though I thought that film benefited from a much more intelligent script, I thought this was much, much funnier. It wasn't Borat-funny, as everyone will probably agree, but it definitely had its moments. The highlights are the television show pitch meeting and the camping trip. (B)
Entry #25 at the very bottom.
24. Coraline - not nearly as good as the classic Nightmare Before Christmas, but much more entertaining than Corpse Bride. The combination of stop-motion animation and eye-popping effects keep you interested in the film, and the story isn't too bad either. Enjoyable voiceover work from Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman, Ian McShane and, of course, Keith David. (B)
23. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - I don't agree with the reviewers and fans of the book calling this the worst in the series, but it does feel longer than it is, and the overflow of teenage angst gets old after a while. However, this is definitely the best looking of the Potter films, and the Tom Riddle segments, along with Nicholas Hooper's score and Jim Broadbent's turn as Slughorn, keep things interesting. (B)
22. Where the Wild Things Are - the trailers for this film were awesome, but the movie itself was incredibly depressing. I wonder how many other kids daydream about living on an island with a bunch of semi-suicidal giant beasts. And yet, this was never boring, and even when you knew you were in store for more drooping faces, you stuck with it. (B)
21. District 9 - I apparently didn't drink from the same jug of Kool-Aid as everyone else, thinking of this film as a modern sci-fi masterpiece that deserves serious awards contention. On the contrary, while I thought the film was good and had moments of potential greatness, it felt more like two hours of buildup, never actually delivering a satisfactory payoff. (B)
20. Paranormal Activity - like the film above it, this didn't exactly live up to its enormous hype (it's not the scariest movie you'll ever see). But this was otherwise very well orchestrated, playing out like an actual real-life crisis between two real-life people. It may not scare the crap out of you when you see it, but it will leave an impression on you after you've left the theatre. (B+)
19. (500) Days of Summer - Indie king and queen Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel work as well onscreen as a couple as you would imagine. They're both very likable, and they get to showcase their respective talents courtesy of an original script. It starts out a little shaky, but the film gets better as it goes along. Nice music selections. (B+)
18. Ponyo - I'm a little disappointed in the lack of awards recognition this film got (and most disappointed in its failure to receive an Oscar nomination). As are all of Hayao Miyazaki's films, this is a thoroughly enjoyable, extremely imaginative kids film that utilizes some A-list stars to help spread its message about environmental awareness. It's not the best or my favorite Miyazaki picture, but it's still good. (B+)
17. The Princess and the Frog - this was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. Disney, a company not known for its favorable representations of all races, finally delivered unto us its first black lead in a film that was alive with gorgeous animation and catchy songs. The studio still doesn't completely have a handle on how to depict minorities (the lead is a frog most of the film, and the villain is a witch doctor), but it is, as the song says, almost there. (B+)
Entry #16 at the very bottom.
15. Up in the Air - though I didn't quite fall in love with this film as I had hoped, I couldn't deny its quality. George Clooney was essentially Michael Clayton in the air, but that was okay by me. Besides, it was the women (Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga) who really sold the film. And while I definitely wouldn't go so far as to label this film a masterpiece, it is a prime example of what Jason Reitman can do as a screenwriter and director. (B+)
14. Fantastic Mr. Fox - I was highly skeptical of this when I saw the previews. I actually enjoy the majority of Wes Anderson's films (save for The Life Aquatic), but I couldn't get excited by the idea of all these stars doing a claymation film about a fox who constantly whistles and does that thing with his mouth. To my surprise (and enjoyment), this was a lot of fun. It's like your typical Wallace & Gromit feature, only better. (B+)
13. Bright Star - romantic costume dramas are usually not my scene, neither are films about poetry. But this was engaging from start to finish. It's probably not Jane Campion's best film, but it may be her most entertaining. The score and the cinematography are excellent, and the cast is very good, but the star attraction is Abbie Cornish, who turns in her best performance to date as Fanny Brawne. (B+)
12. Two Lovers - when Joaquin Phoenix and director James Gray last paired up, they came up with the predictable, uninspired cop drama We Own the Night. Thankfully, the results are different this time around. Phoenix reminds everyone that, while he may be an eccentric, he's a very talented actor who has the capacity to surprise you with each new role. Definitely one of the most underrated performances in one of the year's underrated films. (B+)
11. Star Trek - I didn't have high hopes for this at all, but I was more than happy to have my preconceived expectations handed to me when I saw this in theatres. Twice. It's becoming harder and harder for me to doubt what Abrams can do. True fans will love it, and novices will question why they never followed the series in the first place. (B+)
10. AVATAR - you may have heard the same story before (John Smith and Pocahontas; Dances with Wolves), but trust me, you've never seen anything like this. James Cameron has really raised the bar, technologically-speaking. The movie isn't perfect, but it's good enough not to matter. This feels more like an interactive journey than it does a regular viewing experience, assuming you watch it in 3D. Helpful advice: watch it in 3D. (B+)
Entry #9 at very bottom.
8. UP - the same exact thing happened last year. I saw the trailer for WALL-E, didn't see much about it that looked promising, and I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. While it's not as good, Up proved to be much more than it appeared to be on the surface. Balancing humor with some pretty heavy sadness, the movie falls in line with Pixar's current standard of animation excellence. (A-)
7. AN EDUCATION - the majority of the acclaim right now is directed at Carey Mulligan for her performance as Jenny, and she is terrific, but the film itself is very good, too. The supporting cast members (particularly Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike and Emma Thompson) turn in some fine work, and Nick Hornby's adapted script of the book, while not without its predictabilities, is still very much among the year's best. (A-)
6. THE DAMNED UNITED - every year, it seems, there's one film I absolutely love that, for whatever reason, is unfairly overlooked by critics and awards shows. This year, that film is definitely The Damned United. Michael Sheen, in a perfect world, would be a Best Actor nominee lock for his performance as cocky soccer coach Brian Clough, along with his co-star Timothy Spall as Peter Taylor. You don't have to like soccer to love this. (A-)
5. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS - I expected Quentin Taratino's latest film to be fun to sit through. I didn't expect for it to be this good. Running at a little over two and a half hours, this feels shorter than that, never boring you, despite the many long takes of conversations it utilizes. Christoph Waltz plays one of the best villains you'll see in a long time, and Brad Pitt clearly had a good time playing Aldo Raines. It's not the most historically accurate movie, but I don't hear too many complaints about the artistic liberties the film takes with history, or the Nazis. (A-)
4. A SERIOUS MAN - with me, the Coens are very hit-or-miss. I tend to either love what they do (No Country for Old Men, Fargo) or I vehemently hate it (Burn After Reading, The Ladykillers). In this case, thankfully, I loved it. Even though the intro and the final scene were a little random (and when isn't it with them?), the movie was thoroughly enjoyable, thanks to a quirky script and some fine, funny performances, particularly from Fred Melamed as Sy Ableman. (A-)
3. THE MESSENGER - this was probably the biggest surprise of the year for me. Having seen Woody Harrelson's name appear on several best-of lists, I expected great things from him here, and he didn't disappoint. But the film as a whole was much more than a vehicle for a single performance: it was an ensemble piece that included great turns from Ben Foster and Samantha Morton as well. With high-profile films like Nine and The Lovely Bones underwhelming, the film should find itself among the Oscar's ten nominees for Best Picture come February, though it would deserve recognition regardless of how other films performed. (A)
2. PRECIOUS - this film was so effective in its depiction of a low-class, overweight African-American girl struggling to find her place in society, I don't think I could stand to see it twice in one year. It's pretty relentless when it comes to showcasing hardship, but that shouldn't take away from the quality of the picture, or the amazing performances from all of its key cast members. Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'Nique deserve all the acclaim they've accumulated, though supporting players Paula Patton, Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz deliver as well. (A)
1. THE HURT LOCKER - there were a lot of worthy competitors from different months throughout the year, but when it came down to it, I just never found anything quite as good as The Hurt Locker. Next to romantic comedies and horror films, war pictures, especially in this day and age, are almost automatic failures. They preach at you, or they just don't grab you and pull you into the story. Director Kathryn Bigelow, writer Mark Boal and the film's actors (especially the always-engaging Jeremy Renner) managed to break that code and produce the best film about the Iraq war I think I've ever seen. (A)
LATE ADDITIONS (movies from 2009 seen after 2009):
#29. Sherlock Holmes - it was entertaining and fun (thanks mostly to Robert Downey, Jr. in the lead role), but the movie felt too long. Had it been under two hours, or even 90 minutes, it would have made for a much better viewing experience. Still, overall, it was a good movie. There were a few surprises and twists here and there that were unexpected but very much welcomed. (B)
#25. Crazy Heart - I like Jeff Bridges. I like Maggie Gyllenhaal. I liked the two of them together, but overall, I thought the movie itself was pretty bland and unoriginal. The songs were good, and Bridges did well in the lead role, but I doubt he'd be the frontrunner any other year. Gyllenhaal was fine, but I have no idea why she was nominated for this. (B)
#16. In the Loop - it seems a lot of the buzz and word-of-mouth for this film turned out to be true. This was a political satire that, to me, felt like it had just the right amount of subtle humor and laugh-out-loud moments to keep you interested and satisfied. Peter Capaldi rightfully received the majority of the credit for keeping things funny, but for my part, I thought James Gandolfini was equally hilarious. (B+)
#9. A Single Man - I don't mind Bridges winning Best Actor, but if I had a vote for that category, I'd give it to either Jeremy Renner or Colin Firth, the latter of which was completely engaging, even when all he did was just look at something. And how did the cinematography and the music score NOT earn Oscar nominations? (B+)
UPDATED LIST (4/2/11):
50. Antichrist 49. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li 48. The Informers 47. X-Men Origins: Wolverine 46. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans 45. Orphan 44. 9 43. The Lovely Bones 42. Terminator Salvation 41. Watchmen 40. The Blind Side 39. Bruno 38. Bronson 37. The Proposal 36. State of Play 35. Big Fan 34. Invictus 33. The Taking of Pelham 123 32. Sherlock Holmes 31. The Hangover 30. Black Dynamite 29. Where the Wild Things Are 28. Drag Me To Hell 27. Moon 26. Coraline 25. Crazy Heart 24. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 23. (500) Days of Summer 22. Paranormal Activity 21. Bright Star 20. In the Loop 19. District 9 18. Fantastic Mr. Fox 17. A Single Man 16. Up in the Air 15. Adventureland 14. Ponyo 13. The Princess and the Frog 12. Two Lovers 11. Zombieland
Re-Adjusted Top Ten: 10. Avatar 9. Star Trek 8. Up 7. An Education 6. The Damned United 5. A Serious Man 4. Inglourious Basterds 3. The Messenger 2. Precious 1. The Hurt Locker
There's a YouTube poster who makes end-of-the-year film highlight videos. They're always very well made, and I thought I'd add it here at the end. Enjoy:
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