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My Top Ten Movies of 2009

If all goes according to plan, the last four posts of the decade (I’m one of those contrary folk who start my decades with the ought year) will be top ten lists. Because there’s nothing more interesting than some random person’s idea of what constitutes the best, right?

My inaugural post will focus on movies. I can only choose from the movies that I’ve seen, obviously, so here is the list of the 52 theatrical releases from 2009 that I saw, in the theaters, with On Demand, or on Blu Ray (in alphabetical order):

  1. 2012
  2. (500) Days of Summer
  3. Adventureland
  4. Avatar
  5. The Blind Side
  6. Bruno
  7. District 9
  8. Drag Me To Hell
  9. Duplicity
  10. Extract
  11. Fame
  12. Fanboys
  13. Fantastic Mr. Fox
  14. Fast and Furious
  15. The Final Destination: 3D
  16. Funny People
  17. GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra
  18. The Hangover
  19. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  20. He’s Just Not That Into You
  21. I Love You, Man
  22. Inglourious Basterds
  23. Jennifer’s Body
  24. Julie & Julia
  25. The Last House on the Left
  26. My Bloody Valentine 3D
  27. Observe and Report
  28. Orphan
  29. Pandorum
  30. Paranormal Activity
  31. Post Grad
  32. The Proposal
  33. Public Enemies
  34. Push
  35. Sherlock Holmes
  36. Star Trek
  37. State of Play
  38. Surrogates
  39. The Taking of Pelham 123
  40. Taken
  41. Terminator Salvation
  42. The Time Traveler’s Wife
  43. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
  44. The Twilight Saga: New Moon
  45. The Ugly Truth
  46. Up
  47. Watchmen
  48. Where the Wild Things Are
  49. Whip It
  50. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
  51. Year One
  52. Zombieland

And here are the 16 movies that I haven’t seen yet but plan to in the next year:

  1. 9
  2. Antichrist
  3. Away We Go
  4. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call new Orleans
  5. The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day
  6. The Brothers Bloom
  7. Everybody’s Fine
  8. The Hurt Locker
  9. The International
  10. Invictus
  11. It’s Complicated
  12. Me and Orson Welles
  13. Moon
  14. Nine
  15. Precious
  16. Up in the Air

So, without further ado, gauging primarily by rewatachability and sheer entertainment value, here are the movies that I’ve seen that I consider to be the best theatrical releases of 2009:

10. Observe and Report: This darkly humorous look at the pathetic life of a security guard with an inferiority complex is equal parts disturbing to watch and completely compelling. Anyone who went into the theater expecting a riff on “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” was in for a rude surprise, as Seth Rogen manages to transform himself from a lovable comic foil into a sad, angry, pathetic man. If the humor in this movie was only about schadenfreude, it wouldn’t be nearly as good – instead, the writer/director managed to make us root for this despicable character at the same time that we despise him.

9. Funny People: Another Seth Rogen movie that wasn’t quite a comedy makes my top ten list. This bittersweet take on the dark and sad life of a stand up comedian cum movie star, played by Adam Sandler in his best role since Punch Drunk Love, was a movie that I wish was even better. It was a bit uneven and needed some editing – I could see a director’s cut or, alternatively an unedited longer version being one of my favorite movies of all time.

8. Zombieland: It’s funny, gory, fast-paced, and has the best unbilled cameo of the last few years. Every actor, from Woody Harrelson to Jesse Eisenberg (playing the Michael Cera role better than Cera could have) to Emma Stone to Abigail Breslin, seemed perfect for their roles, and given the zombie nature of the film, the fact that none of the characters seemed safe made it a more enjoyable ride. I’m looking forward to watching this one again once it comes out on DVD/Blu Ray in February.

7. Inglourious Basterds: This movie might be Quentin Tarantino’s best to date. It would be higher on my list if it weren’t for a few elements that jarred me so badly – the Samuel L. Jackson’s fourth-wall breaking narratives, which were completely unnecessary, and the introductions of a few of the Basterds in a completely anachronistic and stupid way. Other than these few occurrences, Tarantino’s maturation as a creative force is highly evident, and I can’t wait to see what he could do if he stopped with some of the amateurish flourishes that he is prone to use. Even if you’re not a Tarantino fan, you should watch this movie. The opening scene will take your breath away.

6. Sherlock Holmes: I’m conflicted about how low this movie is on my list, but the fact is that it didn’t make my jaw drop like the top 5 did. I still want to go see it again in the next week or so to give myself a chance to take it all in, because there were times when Robert Downey, Jr.’s Holmes spoke so quickly that I know I missed some of the excellent dialogue. Since I just reviewed it on Saturday, there’s not much else I can say.

5. Avatar: Yet another movie that I’ve reviewed in the last week, so there’s not much more to add. With fifteen years of planning, this movie could have not only blown me away with the immersive 3D graphics, but also wowed me with a complex, fascinating plot that avoided cliches and standard movie conventions. And while I’m willing to enjoy the journey, even when I know where the story’s destination, what I heard about the original script’s morally conflicted characters and gray areas explored leads me to wish for just a little more. The top four movies all demonstrated that you can have an amazing visual experience without sacrificing a great story, but maybe James Cameron needed another 15 years for that.

4. District 9: A great concept, a great story, and amazing graphics on a minuscule budget, District 9 managed to entertain me and make me think. It devolved in the third act a little, relying more on melodrama and blunt hammers of emotion instead of subtlety, but I was along for the whole ride and loved every minute of it.

3. Where The Wild Things Are: With the exception of a slow beginning that had me looking at my watch, I spent the rest of my time in the theater with a huge grin on my face. This movie took me back almost 30 years, remembering seeing this book for the first time. The illustrations quite adeptly came to life on the screen, and the voice acting, which I thought was all wrong when I walked into the theater, was absolutely pitch perfect. Here is an excellent example, only surpassed by the next movie on the list, of how a film can be for adults and kids at the same time. It’s not hard to make a movie that doesn’t talk down to kids, but also has enough subtext, beauty, and intelligence for adults to enjoy it, too, yet so many studios decide to go the stupid route because it’s easier (See Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel).

2. Fantastic Mr. Fox: There’s just something about the combination of the jerky stop-motion animation, the voice acting, and the delightful story that made me beam throughout the entire movie. This is Wes Anderson’s version of Ocean’s Eleven, and it works perfectly. I can’t think of a single element of the movie that I disliked or thought should be changed. The only reason that this movie is not my number one movie of the year is that my other choice marginally came ahead in the category of repeat viewings.

1. Star Trek: I am not a fan of Star Trek. I’ve never seen any of the series, and the only movie I’ve seen is the one where they went back in time to save the blue whales. And yet the revamp of Star Trek is my favorite movie of 2009 – not something I would have predicted last year! Sure, I knew that it was likely going to be enjoyable, due to the director and writers, but I never thought it would be so good. I saw it three times in the theater and have seen it an additional three times since buying it for home viewing. And it is just as good every single time. In fact, the second time I saw it, I enjoyed it more than the first time. I rarely look forward to sequels, but this is one movie where I cannot wait until they come out with a sequel, something that still at least a year or two off.

Honorable Mentions: (500) Days of Summer, The Blind Side, Paranormal Activity, Taken, and The Time Traveler’s Wife.

And here are the five worst movies of 2009:

5. Year One – What the fuck was Harold Ramis thinking? Or Jack Black? Or Michael Cera? This could have been hysterical yet it missed the mark so badly. So, so badly.
4. The Ugly Truth – Hearing Gerard Butler do an American accent was painful, because apparently he feels the need to talk like he has a mouth full of marbles. The predictable story and the flat emotion between Butler and Katherine Heigl just made this hard to sit through without getting frustrated at missed opportunities for smart writing or cliche avoidance.
3. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – From the hour-long run through the desert to the racist ghetto bots to the humanoid Transformer to fucking robot heaven, this movie was so far from the fun romp of the original that Michael Bay should be ashamed of himself as he rolls around naked in his big fat piles of money.
2. X-Men Origins: Wolverine – If you’re going to make a movie about a mutant who pops fucking metal claws out of his hands, which causes him extreme pain, makes him very cranky, and his origin is that he killed a lot of people, make it an R-rated movie.
1. Post Grad – Oh, Rory.

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69 Replies to “My Top Ten Movies of 2009”

  1. Dave2

    I haven’t seen Sherlock Holmes or Avatar yet, so this is good news! Right now, my number one is a fight between Inglourious Basterds and Star Trek. They were both such excellent films. I’m pretty sure my Top Ten will also include The Hangover and Up.

    The Hurt Locker, Moon, and Up In The Air are worth seeing. I wanted so badly to like 9, but found it severely lacking in everything but visuals.

  2. B.E. Earl

    District 9 wasn’t as high on my list as it was on a bunch of other geek’s lists, present company included.

    I just thought the first act was much too absurd. I know that the buffoonery of the bureaucracy was supposed to lend a bit more power to the rest of the film, but for me it was just too ridiculous. Evictions notices…c’mon!

  3. Hilly

    I haven’t seen any of your “worst movies” and am about to take Year One off of my Netflix queue. I can only tolerate Jack Black in certain instances and if someone that usually likes his antics thinks it stinks, well uh yeah.

    I really need to see Avatar in 3D IMAX and then my life will be complete-ish.

  4. Karen

    I have to agree that Post Grad was one of the worst movies of all time. And I loved Funny People – although most people I know disliked it. I certainly don’t get to the movies as often as you, but I do keep my Netflix circulating pretty quickly. A list like this always helps me remember movies that I’d like to see.

  5. Janelle

    Our plan is to go see Avatar on New Years Eve… I haven’t heard one bad thing about it. But I have failed to ask, is it kid friendly? Last year we went and saw Marley and Me on New Years Eve and decieded then that going to the movies would be our thing on New Years Eve. However, there aren’t any movies out there right now that really interest me other than Avatar.

  6. Lisa

    I hated District 9, absolutely hated it. It may have had something to do with the flashbacks it induced for hubs, since we actually had to leave the theater, but I found nothing redeeming about that movie at all.

    I can’t wait to see Sherlock Holmes! Maybe this weekend we’ll make it.

    I loved the Star Trek movie too, but I’ve loved all of the Star Trek movies.

    • Avitable

      @Lisa, I think it was definitely social commentary examining a “what if instead of humans, it was aliens being herded into camps” question. So if that was uncomfortable for him, I can understand why it wouldn’t be enjoyable.

      • Lisa

        @Avitable, No, it was much more basic than that. We got the social commentary, but for us it was lost in the visuals. Hubs was a marine in Somalia, so the movie put him right back there because the house-to-house combat was so realistic. For me, I got the premise of the movie right off, but felt it was way over the top, like we were being slapped in the face with remedial lessons on humanities past wrongs and the fact that we haven’t changed. In that way I didn’t find it disturbing as much as I found it gratuitously grotesque. But that was probably in part because I knew early into the movie that it wasn’t going to go well for hubs and I was more concerned about that.

  7. bo

    I wanted to like Funny People, but it was at least twenty minutes too long. I don’t mean the last twenty minutes, but cutting that out of the first and second act would have made the third act much more effective.

    Currently I’m debating seeing Avatar. I probably should, since it’s the ONE movie out right now that won’t be the same when viewed at home.

  8. Elizabeth Kaylene

    I loved, loved, LOVED Taken. And Inglourious Basterds — fucking AWESOME!

    I think the cheesy stuff you described was done on purpose. I didn’t mind it, personally, but I guess I can see how it would be annoying.

    Up was another one of my favorites. I should do my own 2009 movie list! Actually, I think I will.

  9. Grant

    I saw the last Star Trek movie and feared this year’s was going to be another turd. Now I’m sorry I missed it in IMAX. I thought it was funny how many people were forced to admit it was good despite being staunchly anti-geek. So many blog posts began with “Now I’m not a Star Trek fan, but…”

  10. martymankins

    So let’s see… you saw a movie a week (52). And I mostly know this because you post a Flickr photo of your feet at each one.

    Seriously, your top 10 list is good. I’ve seen 4 of the movies (Avatar, Star Trek, Inglorious Basterds and Where The Wild Things Are), but need to get out and see the others. Looking forward to seeing Up In The Air.

    I never saw Year One, but am avoiding it because it just looks horrible. On the other hand, the second Transformers movie wasn’t horrible. It wasn’t as good as the first one, but the special effects made for a decent viewing.

  11. Mocha

    I’ve not seen any of the worst movies on your list either. I don’t want to be disappointed in Rory like you are. But I have to admit to hating “The Proposal” because it was so. stinking. sloooow. I wanted to like it and tried to, but in the end I couldn’t. I was really pissed at myself, too, because I had gone by myself and wanted to savor some alone time.

  12. DangerAmy

    What you said about “Observe and Report” … right on. I thought the movie was very well done, and will never see it again. As a person who lived with a bipolar individual for many years, I’m sure I’m in good company with that sentiment . Seth Rogan nailed it.
    Not Lurking today,

  13. thefinestkindofpork

    Hey Av…did you see R2D2 in the Star Trek movie? If not, go to the 47:40 second mark of the movie…as Enterprise enters debris field around Vulcan…and R2D2 goes flying past the ship (see him on the viewscreen above Sulu’s head) as part of the debris field. George Lucas’ FX company did the effects for Star Trek.

    I saw 11 of the movies on your list of 50. Big fan of Zombieland, Star Trek, and Avatar. Inglorious Bastereds…didn’t do it for me. I like Tarantino, but this one just felt flat to me.

    A movie to look for…if you like documentaries is “The Way We Get By”, about 3 elderly Maine residents who show up for every arriving/departing flight of US Troops at the Bangor (Maine) International Airport.

    Happy New Year!


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