Unlike many years past, 2009 was overwrought with a tremendous amount of great cinema. Not as good as 1999, but I’d argue the best we’ve seen in at least three years. That said, there were plenty of films I missed I wish I wouldn’t have as I’m sure they would have had a lot of bearing on this list. At the very least, it would have made for a good top-15 list. Unfortunately, my views of films like The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Hurt Locker and Moon weren’t in time for this list. As it stands, submitted is a fully-realized list of my favorites films of 2009.
What the latest film may have done the best this time around is make it feel most like the book. It’s rare in film series where seven films in, the production is still improving on the last film. In a series of great films, it’s saying something when the latest outdoes the last. Such is Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince.
Though the movie does lack some of the source material I would have liked to see included, the film manages to deliver strong performances out of its actors and really delivers on that development the series needed to continue thriving. In fact, it may have actually done a BETTER job than the book did. I love the little love triangles and brooding director David Yates creates with great sweeping pans across the castle. And just like the characters Yates really captures what makes Hogwarts so enchanting.
I’m stoked to see what Yates is going to do with two two-hour epic parts for the Deathly Hallows. It’s fitting he should have the reign on the final chapter. In my opinion he’s three-for-four right now.
Reasons to see it: Inside Yates’ film is a lean script screenwriter Steve Kloves gets from the source. I must admit, Kloves could have spared on the Lavender/Ron/Hermione love triangle and given more focus to some of the lacking background provided by the book. Voldemort is all but nonexistent in this film. However, there’s still plenty to enjoy and some of the best performances this set of actors have given so far. At this point, does anyone even remember Richard Harris playing Dumbledore? I’m not sure Harris could’ve given Dumbledore the necessary nuances Michael Gambon brings to the character. The film also is great at revealing new parts of the castlle. Bruno Delbonnel’s sweeps and pans reveal familiar landmarks while still breathing life into them in new ways.
On a personal note: Jim Broadbent’s Slughorn is hilarious. I’ve seen this film three times now and every time I catch a new vexation or eye brow twitch that cracks me up. It’ll be great seeing him in the last two.
God bless Sam Raimi.
The man’s still got it. Raimi is still improving on the genre he helped define better than the imitators. I’m not even going to try to hide my bias on the subject. Also the timeliness on this subject has me respecting the man more than ever. In a town full of empty shells and bottom lines, Raimi shows that he still has artistic creativity and integrity.
Drag Me To Hell returns to where Raimi is most at home: In the world of horror and dark gross-out humor he pioneered back with his Evil Dead trilogy. The amount of slime and mucus flying and gagging is cringe-worthy comedic grosness. The barf scene is simply breathtaking to behold. Drag Me To Hell also returns the patented Deadite dance.
Despite the comedy, Raimi delivers on the scares. In fact, he’s downright unforgiving about taking characters out in pretty amazing ways. I won’t give away too many details, but there’s not even a height and age requirement on who’s getting taken out here. It just makes for some great scenes and great replay points.
Raimi’s not reinventing the horror picture here, but he reminds us all why he’s the master of the scary, gross, horror flick. I for one welcome him back with excitement for what he’ll do in a post-Spider-Man world. Talk has him jumping on the world creation band wagon ala Avatar with a big-screen version of Warcraft. I’m not sure how certain this is with the bad taste Sony’s mismanagement of Raimi’s last franchise. I’d love to see him innovate more on passion projects like Drag Me To Hell and bring us a prestige gross-out great than a foray into another fantasy epic.
Reasons to see it: This movie showed it’ll appeal to a certain demographic with its poor showing in the theaters. WHICH IS TRAGIC. Because this is great cinema. You’re going to love this stuff or not. I say if you’re unfamiliar with Raimi’s kind of horror, give this or the original Evil Dead a try.
Describing World’s Greatest Dad as a dark comedy wouldn’t be right. There’s dark and then there’s black. This one should be firmly placed in the latter category. The basic premise alone of this film could be enough to turn most viewers completely off to it. In my opinion, said viewer would be depriving itself of two great talents, both bringing a welcome return to great comedy. Director Bobcat Goldwait manages to channel one of the best Robin Williams performances since The Fisher King. It’s been 19 years, Robin, welcome back. Now some are going to make a worthy argument for Miss Doubtfire. World’s Greatest returns Williams to the comic mind made famous in the 80′s while he was still a cocaine-fueled hurricane of a comedic force, not the studio-watered-down PG version. Now, I’m not going to call Doubtfire a bad film. It’s just a completely different breed of comedian on display here. Williams uses a more understated mind here. Williams’ performance is nuanced and layered. On first watch it’s going to make you laugh and cheer by the end. I hope the turns Williams makes given a good script and a comedy-focused director like Goldwait inspires him again back to these kinds of roles.
Goldwait shows a lot of talent as a director with this one. He manages to bring a solid comedic performance out of just about every character he builds from in his script. Hopefully it’s the sign of more great things to come.
Reasons to see it: Like I said, there is a tremendous amount of great talent on display here, but a stand out is Williams’ character’s son, Kyle, played by Spy Kids‘ kid Daryl Sabara. This character has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Hilarious, but I’ll be damned if it made me second guess ever making children in fear of producing this little piece of shit.
Hear me out.
Before everyone leaves, it needs to be said: James Cameron can still make a blockbuster film. All cockblockery aside, this is still a film that works and nearly delivers on just about what it sets forth to do. It deserves credit for about 90 percent of what it really gets right.
James Cameron is a world wide household name. $1.God-only-knows-how many billions worldwide at this point?
I read something in the news about psychiatrists prescribing more medications for depression-related patient diagnoses after seeing Avatar. Their reason? They didn’t want to live on an Earth they knew they’d never get to experience Pandora in real life.
Cameron has created a living, breathing world. He’ inhabited it with creatures, that although may be derivative or exaggerated versions of Earthly ones and may not necessarily break new ground, are still improvements through sheer attention to detail. For me, that’s what will set this film aside and make people like George Lucas chomp at the bit for another go-round at the Star Wars universe. The story is fraught with familiarities (Dances With Wolves and Pocahontas obviously come to mind). Let’s face it, though, the precedent was set and I’d rather see this than another remake or reboot. All allegory and white man’s guilt symbolism aside, there are socially relevant issues at the heart of this film that kids will get. Kids, who like myself once viewed Star Wars with a similar kind of reverence, WILL understand. At least there’s still a level of creativity on display here. In the end, Avatar is a lot of fun and worth a view. It’s replay value, however, will be greatly diminished by home viewing as the same affect found in the theater just really can’t be replaced.
Reasons to see it: The effects. Plain and simple. You’re not going for the story and you know it.
I’m really fine with lens flares. Really, it’s not that big of a deal.
The year of 2009 will be known as the year fans finally stopped giving a shit about Star Wars and embraced the rebirth of Star Trek. As the new Star Wars.
Here’s a film I had pretty low expectations for, and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t more than just pleasantly surprised with what a directing J.J. Abrams managed to get up on screen. Abrams takes a sub-par script and really makes it fire. The guy recruited a pretty decent roster of talent to fill the iconic shoes the movie requires. By the end of the film when Chris Pine dawns the yellow tunic for the first time, he IS Kirk. Everyone fits and in the cases of roles like Simon Pegg’s Scotty and John Cho’s Sulu, I feel have been improved upon. The dark horse for me here was Zachary Quinto’s take on Spock. Quinto takes the Leonard Nimoy zen-like Spock and turns him into a borderline sociopath.
Everything in Star Trek feels larger than any of the shows or movies could ever achieve. The worlds are more fully realized as is the Enterprise. For once, I don’t feel like I’m just watching a bunch of characters on a stage. Abrams breathes life into his characters as he does his star ship and it’s great.
The movie is not without its faults, though. This script is maybe one of the worst I’ve seen put to film in some time (Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull comes to mind), but unlike Spielberg, Abrams manages to fill it with enough energy to make even the worst aspects of this script serviceable. Much of that lies in the choice casting and Abrams’ ability to really go big with his film.
Personal note: I was never a fan of anything Star Trek, but my father was. As a kid, he’d take us to all the films and there were those days where no amount of coercing could make him change the channel, so in many ways I’ve been a Trekkie by default my whole life. I’ll also admit that it was because of this film that I can admit that now. And I’m okay with that.
Reasons to see it: This film has a lot of replay value. There’s just too many things to take in on the first viewing and you’ll be really want to go back and revisit these worlds and characters just to take it all in.
This may be one of the most complete comedy ensemble casts ever assembled.
I said it.
Director Todd Phillips fills his latest film with characters that all get a chance to grab at least one good laugh and I’m not just talking about a chuckle. You will laugh and you will laugh hard.
There’s just so much going on in this film. Phillips layers his film jokes upon jokes; a new one that emerges after nearly each viewing. You’ll be quoting this film for months. Then you’ll want to see it again just to quote them along with the movie and chuckle to yourself.
It starts with Zach Galifianakis. This film has put the great comic on Hollywood’s A-list and it’s well-deserved. Finally the man is getting the attention he deserves and I hope he doesn’t squander it.
Phillips also makes leading men out of both Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper. Their contributions I fear could be overshadowed by Galifianakis and it would be a shame. For me Cooper really sells it with his character Phil. On the surface Phil is a real douchebag (something I can’t help but think Phillips had to have wanted back from Cooper’s Wedding Crashers role), but the guy shows he’s more than just a couple quick quips and gives him a lot of class amongst Galifianakis’ man-child Allan and Helms’ about-to-explode Stu when it gets tense or bizarre. It will be Cooper that brings you back for multiple viewings.
Personal note: My Halloween costume this year was Allan Garner complete with sunglasses, baby carrier and baby with sunglasses.
Reasons to see it: And you will want to again, and again. There’s just so much to enjoy here. Go for Galifianakis, stay for Cooper. And elevator oral.
Yeah, I cried.
I cried the first time I saw it and I’ve cried on each subsequent viewing. I’ll probably cry the next time I watch it, too. It’s cool.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Pixar and director Pete Docter have captured more emotional depth and character development in the first 10 minutes of this film than many films get in their entire run-time.
I can now say after multiple viewings Up is the very best film in the Pixar library. And that is really saying something.
This film’s greatest element is its understated depiction of the very best in people. The film relies very little on spectacle and undersells the emotional weight with some unbelievably captured performances by its actors.
Docter captures so much beauty in this film it’s easy to get emotional watching it. It’s rare a film continues to inspire after multiple viewings, but it holds its emotional value well with that understated brilliance.
The film explores some very adult themes for a children film. And make no mistake this is no kids movie, this is film at its finest. Disney gets credit here, too. They showed a lot of balls letting this film go the directions it steers and show children the very real challenges that may await them later in life.
Reasons to see it: The standout performance for me is Dug the dog voiced by Bob Peterson. Never before have I had such an emotional reaction to a cartoon character, let alone a cartoon character dog, but Dug is that character. He’s selfless even for a dog.
This is high-art Sci-Fi, make no mistake. Director Neill Blomkamp takes us to his native South Africa and creates a powerful allegorical Sci-Fi masterpiece.
This movie hit me in a similar way that the original Matrix film did years ago. Like that film, D9 is that breath of fresh air with social resonance that not only works.
I’d like to be confident enough to say that Blomkamp and his fellow South African director-turned-actor friend Sharlto Copley are going to be able to follow up on this supercharged film, I think the bar is set too high. Copley will be seen next in Joe Carnahan’s (Smokin’ Aces) A-Team and it looks okay. Blomkamp rumors swirl about what he’ll do next with many speculating either a sequel or prequel to D9. Hopefully he’ll continue to move forward in the story than having to backtrack into an unnecessary prequel. I’m ready to return to this world any time soon.
I wasn’t sure this film wold hold up on subsequent viewings and it surprises me how much more I find each time I watch it. There’s a lot going on here and it’s hard to catch it all the first time. Trent Opaloch’s cinematography is dense. Opaloch captures Johannesburg, a city swarming and bursting with life. He captures the filth in a way that’s virtually gag inducing.
Reasons to see it: Christopher Johnson. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more alien…..alien. Avatar garnered a lot of praise for its CGI when I think not enough is given to the creature effects on display in D9. Christopher Johnson is just as alive if not more so as the creatures in Avatar. What Gollum did for Lord of The Rings, Johnson will become the new standard by which CGI characters are based.
I think it’s funny that three of the films on this list were geared toward children and really weren’t all that children-oriented.
It might as well be cliché at this point, but like many of us, Maurice Sendak’s children’s book came into my life at a very turbulent time in my childhood. I think my mom gave me my first copy of the book when I was five or six.The book functions like a children’s book and it does it well. For me it captured a child’s desire to want to be a child and be imaginative. As a kid I understood that.
Spike Jonze does something incredibly brave, honest and reflective of an artist with what is surely his masterpiece. Where The Wild Things Are made me remember what it was to be a child. It makes sense why Warner Bros. was scared to release this film. Many children really weren’t ready to understand many of the themes the film explores. They’re still growing and won’t have hindsight to see that this film for what it is.
As much as WTWTA is about being a child it’s about remembering one’s childhood. And as much as I wanted to related with Max as a child, it’s more than clear now that I unconsciously was Max through my childhood – a shy, imaginative and awkward kid that didn’t quite know how to handle the realities of childhood.
The film explores many of the anxieties and fears all of do as children and are represented to Max by each of the wild things. Jonze takes the nine sentences Sendak penned and goes beyond them fully exploring the simple ideas as Max now an adult.
Reasons to see it: There are many iconic moments in WTWTA, and right up there at the top of the list is James Gandolfini’s portrayal of Carol. Gandolfini gives a heavy breathing, heavy hearted dose of shy, angry love to his wild thing and it’s the most honestly heart wrenching and heart warming role of the year.
I’m not sure it could have been anything other than Basterds.
I may have known this would be my favorite film of 2009 before I even saw it. I remember reading Tarantino’s script for Basterds months before it came out and I knew this was going to be the movie of the year. After I saw it I didn’t have any doubts. I’ve seen this film at least six times now and it just keeps getting better. I’m not sure what I like most, because I’m not sure there’s something I dislike about it, either.
It’s definitely Tarantino’s finest film to date. Yes, I think it bests Pulp Fiction. I don’t even think Pulp Fiction is Tarantino’s second-best film, but that’s a story for another day. It’s Tarantino’s most fully-realized film utilizing every one of his talents. His ability to structure dialogue should have never been disputed, but if it existed it should be put to rest hereafter. He’s always been known for his knack to construct a well said sentence, but here he puts it to excruciatingly tense greatness.
There are many spaghetti western elements going on here that I can’t believe weren’t intentional. I swear the opening of the film is paying homage to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It was a shame Tarantino couldn’t get Ennio Morricone to write new music for this. At least he managed to get some of the great composer’s existing work in there anyway.
Basterds is a masterpiece, a film I will return to over and over again. Every time I watch it, I see a new nuance in Christoph Waltz’s charismatic bad guy Colonel Hans Landa that I find devilishly hilarious; or a perfectly cast Brad Pitt delivering his lines with a snide charm that is just plain badass. Tarantino’s World War II fantasy epic roars with tense bloody glory.
Reasons to see it: Landa’s facial tick when asked about his uniform.
“That’s what I thought.”
Remember: There’s only one way to get to Carnegie Hall.
Here are a few films I love that just barely missed the list.