FILM: Year in Review: Best Movies of 2009

Written by Jordan Petersen on . Posted in Film

The Brothers Bloom

You’ve seen “Best Of” lists for the past few weeks. I have to say I get a little confused when top ten lists are published in the middle of December. What about the prestige films that aren’t released until the last few weekends of the year?

Clearly, I waited.

And so now, finally, here are the best films of 2009 — in gloriously ascending order.

10. 17 Again
This was a film that didn’t have to be good. It was riding on Zach Efron’s fabulous success in the High School Musical movies, and that’s what drove the bulk of its success. But it was good — very good. Clever, well-written, touching, and featuring a Zach Efron who turns out to be a pretty remarkable actor. I reviewed it on my humble little blog after I saw it for the first time (I’ve now seen it thrice) and you can go read that review here.

9. Coraline
In the category of animation, Pixar usually takes almost the whole cake every year. However, a gorgeous study in stop-motion, Coraline is very definitely not from that camp. And not so much for kids, either, if they’re faint of heart. But it was an impressive film that I enjoyed even more the second time around, which is a great litmus test for whether a film has any real value.

8. Where the Wild Things Are
A whole lot of people didn’t like this film, and I understand that completely. But the fact is that this film accomplished something I’ve never really seen. It was a children’s film to a degree and in a way that no other film has been. You can read a longer version of my thoughts here.

7. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Up is not on this list. Let me say that up front, before I talk about yet another animated film that showed Pixar doesn’t completely rule the world. And then instead of talking about it, I’ll just direct you to my review, written during the Thanksgiving season, a holiday into which this delightful film fits rather snugly.

6. Up in the Air
Remember when I talked about the top ten lists that fail to include the late-comers? This film is one of the reasons I waited until now to compile this list. Jason Reitman is now three-for-three. He started with Thank You for Smoking, before moving on to Juno, and now Up in the Air. He has a way of capturing issues facing society that are very poignant and presenting them in a way that sinks down into audiences, brings them together, and helps them figure stuff out. Expect a lengthier review soon.

5. Star Trek
The fact that I didn’t slot this at number one proves that this was a pretty good year. Better than expected. Anyway, I don’t think I need to say anything more than I’ve already said. You’ve seen it, and loved it (and if you haven’t, well, I don’t know what else I can do for you.)

4. Gentlemen Broncos
I adored this film, but you already knew that. If you didn’t, go read this.

3. (500) Days of Summer
Roger Ebert has a problem with the formatting of the title of this film. He thinks the parentheses are pretentious. I don’t. I love them — but nowhere near as much as I loved the film itself. I think this is the romantic comedy of my generation. It was one of those films I couldn’t stop thinking about. I still can’t stop thinking about it. And this may not make sense, but I’m somehow proud of this film — as though I had something to do with its creation, which is absurd, but revealing. Here’s a link to my actual review.

2. The Hurt Locker
Easily the best film about the Iraq War thus far, The Hurt Locker is also the second best film of 2009 — and perhaps among the top ten of the decade. This movie deserves every scrap of hype it’s gotten. It’s probably the leading contender in the race for Best Picture and I’d say that position is justified. You can find more of my thoughts about this powerful entry in the cinema of war here.

1. The Brothers Bloom
I don’t say this about very many films, but this was almost a perfect film. Going back to watch it the second time was absolutely essential — not to fully understand the film (it manages to maintain clarity despite the startlingly complex plot), but to appreciate how unceasingly brilliant the script was. Every tiny element of the story turns out to matter so very much and I was in tears by the end of the second viewing. This is one of those few movies that I will watch over and over and over. It is astonishingly brilliant, but in a way that is understated enough to miss the first time through.

Just for fun, I put together a few other lists in the process of compiling the “Best Of” list. First off, here are the runner-ups — all of which were fantastic, and most of which would have ended up vying for the number 11 slot if it existed:


And then I decided to make a list of the most unremarkable films of 2009. The so-so films that probably don’t belong on any kind of “Best Of” list, but are good enough to recommend for a movie night if you’ve already burned through the best:


And here (I know you’ve been waiting for it) is the backwash cinema of 2009. These films were so bad that they become worth mentioning on that merit alone (in order from bad to worst):


Don’t see those films. Save yourself. If you really want to waste your time, well, I’m pretty sure that’s why they invented YouTube.

Being only one person, of limited time and funding, I was not able to see all of the films I wanted to see from 2009. This is obvious to the point of being annoying, but I want it to be clear that I am fully aware there are films I haven’t mentioned that probably deserve a top spot (District 9 comes immediately to mind). So don’t be mad if you don’t see your favorite film of last year in this post. It’s likely I haven’t seen it, or at least possible — there’s always the chance I just think you just have poor taste.

And with that, I’ll end. Like I said, it was a good year. Wonderfully, it looks like 2010 might be just as good or even better. Let’s all go to the movies and find out.

Jordan Petersen is a film correspondent for Rhombus.

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