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The Films of 2009

Posted on December 28, 2009 at 5:01 PM

The Films of 2009

This year, I found, was full of really great movies, really bad movies (as in on all time), disappointments and total surprises. Even a few right out of left field. All this more than in past years, as strange as that sounds. It seems the dynamics of 2009 were all over the map. The biggest movies of the year were some of the worst reviewed, a legendary director returned and reminded us how fun movies can really be, another took his shtick and did wonders with World War II, smaller films seemed to be more widely recognized and some of the year's best animated films probably found their audience in adults more than children.

2009 also was a year I will remember for some fantastic performances. Alfred Molina, George Clooney, Mo'nique, Stanley Tucci, Christopher Plummer, Christoph Waltz, Carey Mulligan, Jeremy Renner and Colin Firth just to name a few . Newcomer directors also made an impact, notably Armando Iannucci (making a great transition from television), Tom Ford, Duncan Jones and even Drew Barrymore. 2009 wasn't quite up to what a great year 2008 was, or what 2010 even seems to be, but it was a solid year through and through.

Best Actor

Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker - I've been a fan of Renner for a while and to see him really shine in this epic tale of warfare is a perfect fit for his abilities. He gives us a character that is both incredibly vulnerable but so hardened by war he blocks it out, enjoys the rush and soon realizes all he has is war itself.

George Clooney - Up in the Air - Clooney is always a charmer, and this movie fits him perfectly. It's the defining role of his career, as far as I'm concerned.

Colin Firth - A Single Man - A difficult role that Firth handles eloquently. It's as classy a performance as the film itself.

Michael Stuhlbarg - A Serious Man - Stuhlbarg fits perfectly into the Coen Brothers style. Paranoid, dysfunctional...yet really likable.

Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart - This could very well be the best role Bridges has ever done. Bad Blake is a terrific character and he's so fully realized that you forget it's even Bridges (Rourke did it in similar fashion in last year's The Wrestler)

Matt Damon - The Informant! - The film itself may have some issues, but Damon's quirky performance is just endearing...which turns to tragic once you realize it's based on a true story.


Best Actress

Carey Mulligan - An Education - Jenny was simply a fantastic character. Smart yet nieve to the world, Mulligan handles it as though she had been acting for decades.

Helen Mirren - The Last Station - Her scenes with Christopher Plummer, equally as great, are the highlight as a woman who is half doing the right thing, half losing her mind.

Sadly...those are the only two that really stuck out for me. There were solid others, such as Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Penelope Cruz (Broken Embraces, not that awful Nine film)  and Michelle Monaghan, but I honestly think it's down to these two.


Best Supporting Performance

Chrstoph Waltz - Inglorious Basterds - Easily the best villain on film in years. Tarantino knows how to write bad guys, in fact that's all he writes, and Waltz shines as probably his best ever which is saying quite a bit.

Mo'Nique - Precious - If Mo'Nique doesn't win every best supporting actress award, it will be a crime. No other actress comes close this year. Her performance is astounding and heartbreaking.

Alfred Molina - An Education - Molina has always been a great actor, here as Mulligan's father, uptight but with good intentions and with a final bit of dialogue to show he truly loves his daughter.

Christian McKay - Me and Orson Welles - He has to play Welles. That's difficult enough and he does it perfectly...but he has to also play Shakespeare as Welles would have played Shakespeare, dipping in and out of both styles seamlessly. Damn he's good and criminally overlooked.

Best Director

Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker - Bigelow, aka ex Mrs. Cameron, is finally getting her due as a director this year. Every scene of the Hurt Locker is tense, intimate and real.

Jason Reitman - Up in the Air - Instead of dipping on his career path, Reitman has been excelling.

 Quentin Tarantino - Inglorious Basterds - Tarantino just knows how to construct a scene. He brings tension, artistry, inventiveness to everything he does. Basterds was just a polished film from him that looked great and moved smoothly.

James Cameron - Avatar - You don't just accidentally make a film as entertaining as Avatar. It's the sci-fi/fantasy epic he promised and delivered.

Spike Jonze - Where the Wild Things Are - Handled maturely and uniquely, Jonze made a one-of-a-kind movie. Period.


Best Script

(500) Days of Summer - How do you make a romance movie without falling into romance-movie cliches? I don't know, but this film did it and offered something fresh as a result.

In the Loop - Satire is difficult to write, but it seems every person involved with in the Loop simply "got it." Just a clever script from beginning to end.

Up in the Air - It could have been broad. It could have been predictable and easy for audiences to like. Instead we got something far narrower, far wittier and far smarter than many expected.

Inglorious Basterds - This just embodies everything that defines Tarantino and a dialogue-heavy story that, as always with his films, flows and moves naturally despite the unnatural nature and is always engaging.

The Road - After reading the script, captivated by its poetry, I can't help be but moved.


Most Surprising Film

Zombieland - Everyone expected a fun zombie comedy, but I don't think anyone expected a story with a lot of meat behind it, characters to really care about and a script as witty and sharp as it ended up being.

Fantastic Mr. Fox - Wes Anderson and animation fit hand in paw (bad pun...don't judge me) as far as I'm concerned. It's his best movie in years and distinctly Wes Anderson from beginning to end.

Where the Wild Things Are - Leave it to Spike Jonze to come out of left field with a brilliant movie about childhood.

Me and Orson Welles - Probably written off as a Zak Efron vehicle by some, this Richard Linklater film is one of his best thanks to a solid script and amazing acting by Christian McKay. Even Efron comes across as charming.

Sherlock Holmes - I'd be lying if I said this didn't exceed my expectations, although I didn't really know what to expect exactly. I should know better than to doubt Robert Downey Jr...and I pray there will be more Holmes movies to come. A franchise in the making.


Most Dissapointing Film

Terminator Salvation - Although the action sequences are exquisite, the heart of what defined the Terminator films is long gone here. You have two great lead actors with nothing to work with and the story seems to have no direction on where to go or what to do.

The Lovely Bones - Simply put, a lighter hand needed to handle this movie. Visually it looks fantastic, but there's no weight to the movie outside those visuals. You soon find yourself spending more time with the villain, concerned with him, than giving a damn about our lead. The problems during production showed in the final product.

Invictus - The Pedigree is there across the board, but there was something about Invictus that made it an utter bore.  Not a bad film, but underwhelming considering the people involved.

Bruno - Only after seeing Bruno do we realize why we liked Borat so much: Borat is a likeable character whereas Bruno is a complete annoyance and, as it turns out, not a character we can sympathize with or even care about.

More Categories and Stuff


Best Romance

(500) Days of Summer - Two amazing leads and a fantastic script brings back memories of old Richard Linklater romance movies. This is one of the best romance movies in years.

Best Horror

Drag Me To Hell - Leave it to Raimi to remind us how fun a horror movie can be, not to mention actually scary without having to be cheap in doing so.

Best Animated Film

Fantastic Mr. Fox - Egad, how could I not choose Up? The animated films this year were fantastic, it was a tough choice, but I found Mr. Fox just magical.

Best Science Fiction

Moon - In a year full of science fiction, Moon stands apart as one of the most classically-inspired films. Sci-fi is always derivative, Moon drawing from numerous sources including Outlander, Arthur C. Clarke, Solaris and even a little David Lynch, but the acting and presentation is so top-notch you don't even notice.

Best Drama

Up in the Air - A film about human connections and how the little moments define us. It's hard to base an entire story on that notion, but Up in the Air surely does.

Best Comedy

The Hangover - A comedy that will undoubtedly stand the test of time, The Hangover is hilarious, memorable and classic. It came from nowhere to be a big hit and rightfully so.

Best Documentary

Anvil! The Story of Anvil! - A documentary that is great thanks to the two main subjects, which are better characters than some spend years actually writing. There were some really good documentaries this year, this one I found the most memorable.

Most Depressing Movie

The Road - The word "bleak" is an understatement. It's even more saddening because, most likely, that would be how the world would end up should that scenario take place. The White Ribbon is a close second.

Most Uplifting Movie

I'm willing to take suggestions here. I want to say Fantastic Mr. Fox or maybe Up, but none were gleefully life-affirming and really put you in a good mood. A lot of drama and pessimism in films this year, many bittersweet.

Film I never Want to Watch Again and Can't Decide if It's Good or Bad

Antichrist - If you've seen it, you're probably in agreement.  If you're not in agreement...what is wrong with you?


Best Films Not many Saw

Trucker - Michelle Monaghan carries this indie film on her shoulders and gives a great performance.

In the Loop - A Satire in the vein of Dr. Strangelove or The UK The Office. That alone should get any film fan to the local theater. One of the best scripts of the year. I haven't seen the show it's based on, I might have to now.

The White Ribbon - As much as I'd like to say people would know Michael Haneke by heart after seeing this, nobody went to see it. Nobody saw Cache either, but those of you who did should know the man knows how to make a movie.

Moon - Rockwell's performance is astounding in a smart sci-fi thriller.

House of the Devil - Encompasses 80s horror on every facet. The music, the directing, the style not to mention the story itself. Ti West is a filmmaker to watch, folks.

The Last Station - Every actor gives his all in this film, with Mirren and Plummer being the highlights. Giamatti plays a nice sinister role himself.


Good Films that Came and Went

Public Enemies - Michael Mann did a solid job here, and the action and shootouts are spectacular. It's a slower film than some might have liked, but those who know Mann probably were expecting that.

Watchmen - Although mixed in reaction, visually the movie is astounding and the characters great as a look into what makes "heroes" tick. It didn't blow up the world like many predicted, although I ended up liking it quite a bit.

Extract - Like all of Mike Judge's other movies, I expect the home video market to take off with this one, ala Office Space and Idiocracy. It's not as good as either of those, but still really funny. It's hard to not enjoy Bateman.

Taken - Just a well-crafted action thriller from an upcoming director that is going to be heading up in the world. Plus Neeson was just awesome.


Most Fun I had at the Theater

Star Trek - Just a great ride with action, special effects and a hint of comedy, not to mention some solid homages to the older Trek. Maybe not as brainy as some might like, but every bit as adventurous as the old Trek we know and love.

Zombieland - Zombies and comedy go together like Ben Affleck and bad acting.

Avatar - The most fun you could ever ask for, Avatar is an experience that demands a movie ticket. I wanted to see it again as I left the theater.


Best "Welcome Back" Genre

Science Fiction: Knowing, Avatar, Star Trek, District 9, Moon, Terminator Salvation, Surrogates, Pandorum, Gamer... Sci-fi ran the gamut this year and delivered. While the movies might have ranged from amazing to mediocre, they also spanned various styles of science fiction, from the intelligent, to the frightening, to the adventurous and action-packed.

Horror is a close second, with movies like Thirst,  the Twilight-Zone inspired The Box, Drag Me to Hell, A Perfect Getaway, Orphan, Last House on the Left, The Collector and House of the Devil all solid horror/thrillers to enjoy. Then there's Trick R Treat and Paranormal Activity, both older films but were finally released in 2009. Horror is always around, this was just a better year than most for it. Science Fiction is usually abscent.

The "Screw You Hollywood" award

Paranormal Activity and District 9. You know the story. Made for minuscule budgets, both were insane successes, without star power and proved that with smart marketing and a product people find appealing, you can make anything a success.

Worst Hollywood Story

"The Summer of Death" - Well, it wasn't pretty seeing so many famous people die this past year. Celebrities die every year, but the total in 2009 was pretty significant considering who died as well and especially over the summer.

"Maguire buys a Nomination" - Well, technically Tobey's friend Leonardo DiCaprio did by hosting a Hollywood Foreign Press private party in Maguire's name and giving out gifts including Blu-Ray players. The HFPA has always been under scrutiny regarding its ethics, and when they finally seem to be emerging from that shadow, this happens. Supposedly those that attended gave them back, but they still went to the party and Maguire still was nominated. This brings up the old questions: what is a legitimate nomination and what was influenced as a nomination?

"WME Formed" - It's hard to know how this will play out in the long run, but two of the town's biggest agencies merging to form one seemed more reactionary (in that both were getting their asses kicked by CAA) than needed. A lot of people lost jobs in a crappy job climate and with boutique agency closings and others cutting costs, more mergers may happen out of fear rather than necessity.

A Final Top Ten is being compiled as we speak, expect the finals later this week.

Signing Off


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