A Look Back at the 2009 Year in Film

I thought I would make an attempt at a 2009 top ten list. When I counted how many films I saw in 09 that were actually released in 09, I was surprised: Only fourteen. And I have barely begun to view the films of 09 that were actually worth seeing.

I learned a lot about myself by looking at my actual viewing habits last year. It seems that I am almost exclusively a science-fiction-film viewer unless my wife or a friend lure me into watching the great films like Julie and Julia, or Duplicity. Though I was familiar with the art house and foreign releases of the year, I apparently chose to go to the movies for entertainment. Not that I poo-poo entertainment or escapism for its own sake. Lots of my favorite filmmakers are in the entertainment business.

But… I have my DVD-viewing work cut out for me in 2010. I will include below a list of the top 59 films from 2009 that I hope to get to sometime in the coming decade. I’ve listed them in the order of my current level of excitement about them.

So here are my humble lists of 2009 movies:

Top 10 Best Films

1 Up

Both deeply sad and amazingly transcendent. This movie got under my skin and stayed there. Though the antagonist was a bit too antagonistic, the story is entertaining and deeply thoughtful. It seems like it has been some time since I have seen a film so timeless, and one that appeals to just about anyone at any age.

2 Avatar

I’ve never entered into a movie quite like this. Indeed, I find it hard to think of this as a movie. It is possible to make infinite choices about where to focus your attention in the landscape of this film. Even my memories are in 3D. I saw this movie twice and each viewing was wildly different. I found it possible to enter the unfamiliar setting, focusing on the highly tactile surroundings, and largely ignoring the characters in favor of the landscape itself. The terrible dialogue often drifted to the edges of my awareness, since there was so much else worth attending to.

3 Up in the Air

I was deeply moved by this movie, and challenged. It is rare to see a film explore such familiar questions without devolving into sermonizing or self-importance. What kind of a life have we made for ourselves? How have we held others at bay? What can or can’t be done about it? The ironic twists in the movie draw us into the pains and joys of the characters rather than holding us at bay. Very nicely done.

4 The Road

This movie’s bleakness is its strength. It looks unflinchingly into the face of chaos, and in so doing, makes its tiny flickers of hope all the brighter. Vincent Van Gogh once said “One of the greatest things to do is to paint darkness which nevertheless has light in it.” The lingering, poetic moments of this film are what stick with me: the way light falls on broken, discarded objects, wrinkled skin, cloth. The movie stays a little too close to the novel by Cormac Mccarthy, and so there were no real surprises for me, as if I had been prepared or cautioned going into it. Indeed, I found the novel to be much more haunting and cathartic; interesting how the imagination can run with stark, cryptic suggestions when compared to the passive reception of images attempting to display all there is to see. Robert Duvall makes a welcome appearance in The Road. I couldn’t get enough of his performance as the wise, blind wanderer. All this being said, I can recommend this movie to almost no one. It is very dark and horrifying.

5 Julie and Julia

Two movies in one. Two stories that don’t really work well together. Two time-periods. Two idealized, supportive men. Two words: Meryl Streep!!!

6 Star Trek

J.J. Abrams’ re-visioning of Star Trek has breathed new life into the entire franchise. It would have been great if it was just OK, but this film was entertaining from first to last. The actors sometimes border on charicatures of the originals, but they are having such fun, and that fun is more than a little bit contagious.

7 District 9

Sharlto Copley’s performance in this picture is a stunning one, and it carried me through an otherwise disjointed film. Although the fascinating psuedo-documentary feel of the film breaks down halfway through, the story is original enough to keep you engaged. There are truckloads of gore slung around during battle scenes, which some viewers will find a bit overbearing.

8 Moon

This movie is amazingly tense for a film involving (mostly) one actor (Sam Rockwell) who is stuck by himself on the moon. It is good, but not as smart as it wants to be. I felt like I was set up for a revelation about the main character’s psyche rather than a plot resolution: a resolution that dug no deeper than dust on the moon’s surface. The credits started rolling, and I lifted my hands in surprise: this was not the kind movie I thought I was watching. It was good, but not great. It is worth watching for Sam Rockwell’s performance.

9 State of Play

I loved diving headlong into the newly ancient newspaper reporting business. This movie moved from scene to scene with a light touch. The closing credits roll with a montage of shots that take you from the submission of a news story through the printing process, to the delivery of the final product.

10 Duplicity
This romantic, corporate-spy movie is delightful. The two main characters are smart, and slick, and very, very distrustful of each other. They are too much alike, and that is a big problem. It is very entertaining to watch Clive Owen and Julia Roberts drive each other crazy.
Top 4 Least Favorite Films

1 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – Mulligan stew never looked so cool.

2 Xmen Origins: Wolverine – This movie had too many people in it. And explosions.

Terminator Salvation – This movie was too earnest…about…itself…or something. Spoiler alert: the Batman voice makes a guest appearance…more than once.

4 The Soloist – This agenda-driven movie seemed more like a long infomercial for a non-profit organization than a movie. The soundtrack was very rich, though.

Films from 2009 I Would Like to See Someday
(Checklist updated with X on 7/2011)

1 Where the Wild Things Are (X)
2 The White Ribbon
3 The Beaches of Agnes (X)
5 The Hurt Locker
6 Inglourious Basterds (X)
7 Summer Hours
8 Hunger
9 Fantastic Mr. Fox
10 A Serious Man (X)
11 Bright Star (X)
12 An Education (X)
13 A Single Man
14 Of Time and the City
15 Me and Orson Welles
16 Red Cliff
17 Public Enemies (X)
18 Precious
19 Silent Light
20 Tetro (X)
21 The Informant
22 The September Issue
23 The Young Victoria
24 Two Lovers
25 Treeless Mountain
26 Sin Nombre
27 The Class
28 Julia
29 The International (X)
30 White on Rice
31 9
32 (500) Days of Summer (X)
32 Coraline
34 In the Loop (X)
35 It Might Get Loud
36 Monsters Vs. Aliens
37 Munyurangabo
38 Ponyo
39 Surrogates
40 The Girlfriend Experience
41 The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
42 The Maid
43 The Sun
44 The Lovely Bones
45 Seraphine
46 Phoebe in Wonderland
47 Lorna’s Silence
48 Lake Tahoe
49 The Cove (X)
50 Gomorra
51 Goodbye Solo
52 Disgrace
53 Crazy Heart
54 Broken Embraces
55 Anvil: The Story of Anvil
56 Adventureland
57 Everlasting Moments
58 Departures
59 2012


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