2009: Best Films

on Monday, December 28, 2009
I think 2009 was a strong year for film, culminating in the technological progress of 'Avatar'. Admittedly, I've missed a quadrillion films including 'Avatar', 'An Education', 'Anvil' etc etc but I've seen some goodies too. So I figured I'd talk a little bit about some of my favourite films of the year. First though, I'm going to mention my disappointments of 2009 (working from most disappointing down) in some mini-reviews:

Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen - Just a massive WTF, after the fun first film. Inexplicable. But I wouldn't call it racist, as some have labelled it.

Slumdog Millionaire - I honestly don't understand why people love this film. Danny Boyle is a fantastic director but I think this might be his worst film. Perhaps having seen the visual destitution of Indian slums in person, I share a different perspective than other critics and film goers.

Up - A second so-so animated feature in a row from Pixar, 'Up' devolved into a mess and wasn't even the tear jerker that people claimed it to be. And I cry at everything. Seriously, I even cried during 'Star Trek'. There are touches of brilliance however, none more so than 'Meet Dug'.

Terminator Salvation - Oh, McG. I genuinely wanted to love this film. But it just wasn't good enough and failed to realise the darker vision that was promised. It would have been worth carrying through the leaked storyline as the replacement felt timid in comparison.

Fantastic Mr Fox - I enjoy Wes Anderson films and I love Roald Dahl books. But this didn't connect with me as much as I'd hoped and Anderson's stamps (Jason Schwartzman's character is exactly the same as his one in 'Rushmore', British villains, the substitution of swearwords with 'cuss' etc) proved more irritatingly savvy than charming.

Okay, enough with the overt negativity and back with the enjoyment. Before I go through ten of my favourite films of the year (only the top three are ranked, with the other entries in alphabetical order), I thought I'd give some honourable mentions: 'Away We Go', 'Bolt', 'Bruno', 'Funny People', 'Observe And Report', 'The Damned United', 'The Informant' and 'Zombieland' all have my seal of approval. I may even review them properly at some point.

Anyways, my ten favourite films of 2009 are below. The usual disclaimer that these aren't really the "best" films of 2009, just personal favourites. Which may even change when I get round to watching some of the other releases from this year.


District 9

In 2009, Neil Blomkamp arrived. Aided by Peter Jackson as producer, director Blomkamp delivered one of the most interesting science fiction action films for many years. The CGI work to produce such believable and anthropomorphic alien creatures was astounding, only to be overshadowed by the staggering central performance by Sharlto Copley, especially when considering that this was his first major acting role.

It's a shame that the juxtaposition of aliens and apartheid gave way too soon to a melée of Michael Bay proportions, albeit fantastically produced on a fraction of a blockbuster budget.


Tremendous credit must go to Peter Morgan for managing to script a successful film based around an interview. All the more from such widely known material. The famous David Frost-Richard Nixon exchanges are portrayed as a battle of wits by director Ron Howard, with Frank Langella's turn as Nixon being of particular delight and wonder.

Let The Right One In

The saturation of vampire narratives on both the big and the small screen lately ('Twilight', 'Tru Blood', 'Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant', 'Thirst', 'Being Human' AND SO ON AND SO ON) meant that this dark Swedish drama was somewhat overlooked by audiences in 2009. Less a story about vampires (yet still adhering to certain genre conventions) and more focused on the relationship between the young central characters of the film, Oskar and Eli.

An (unnecessary) English-language remake is due out in 2011. Watch the original instead.


'Moon', directed by first time director and son of David Bowie, Duncan Jones demonstrated that smart sci-fi could be done on a small budget. Aided by Clint Mansell's typically tremendous score, Jones manifests an intensely atmospheric world. Much of the film however is carried by Sam Rockwell. While his push for an Oscar nomination may not be getting very far, 'Moon' firmly establishes his credentials as one of the finest actors working today.

As with 'District 9', 'Moon' centred around themes of humanity and identity culminating in a remarkable sci-fi film, made for only $4 million. The nods to '2001: A Space Odyssey' are there but 'Moon' deserves to be put on its own pedestal.

The Hurt Locker

'The Hurt Locker' manages to be an Iraq war film, without aggressive politial overtones. An achievement in itself. Instead, the notion that "war is a drug" is examined, following a US Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit, with Jeremy Renner starring as a maverick bomb disposal expert. Overwhelmingly however, this is an action film, and one that is supremely captured by Kathryn Bigelow.

The Wrestler

For some, The Wrestler was all about Mickey Rourke's near autobiographical role as a has-been trying to reclaim past glories. For me, The Wrestler was more about how the wrestling industry can tear lives apart. The nods to wrestling fans were all there, with references to Hulk Hogan vs The Iron Shiek, blading, Ring Of Honor and appearances from the likes of Necro Butcher and Ernest "The Cat" Miller.

However, the film's wider appeal came in its emotional heart. While the relationship between Marissa Tomei's character and Rourke's character Randy was more prominent, it was the relationship (or lack thereof) between Randy and his daughter that felt most affecting. Its reflection of the cautionary tale of Jake "The Snake" Roberts (last seen on the big screen in the fantastic behind-the-scenes documentary 'Beyond The Mat') was truly melancholic.

Opening Credits Sequence

To put it politely, 'Watchmen' received mixed reviews and left audiences fairly unimpressed. A superhero film that is by no means a traditional superhero film.

From the outset, when Zack Snyder skilfully creates a magnificent opening credits sequence to establish the alternate universe of 'Watchmen', I was enraptured. As someone who'd managed to digest the graphic novel prior to seeing the film, I sat through the 162 minutes in utter amazement as comic panels were seamlessly transported from page to screen.

Certainly, I can echo some of the problems that others had with the film, problems with pacing, character vagaries, plot issues and "the blue penis" but ultimately, 'Watchmen' is brave, uncompromising and visually glorious. A nod too to Jackie Earle Haley for his performance as Rorschach.

#3 Inglourious Basterds
Trailer // Photo credit: Flicks and Bits

Five scenes. Two intertwining plotlines. One masterpiece? Characterised by his now customary motifs of visceral gore and compelling dialogue, Quentin Tarantino returned in 2009 with his spaghetti western set in WWII Germany, over a decade after he first started writing the script.

It is the dialogue and Tarantino's willingness to allow scenes to slowly unfold that captivates. More so than the not-so-subtle transmogrification of Jewish allied soldiers into inhumane Nazis with their disturbing penchant for heavy violence or the relatively simple vengeance story that forms the other part of the intertwining storyline.

Oh and if Christoph Waltz doesn't win an Oscar then something will have gone very, very wrong. Maybe some sort of punishment for having Eli Roth as a co-actor.

#2 Star Trek

It took a non-Trekkie to make 'Star Trek' culturally relevant once more. JJ Abrams took on the reins for the reboot that no-one really wanted but everyone ended up enjoying.

Credit must also go to Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman for writing a script that contained action beat after action beat after action beat, while still retaining fanboy elements like the Kobayashi Maru and "I have been and always shall be your friend". Which I'd have missed had I not seen (the somewhat hilarious) 'Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan' just before seeing the Abrams film.

The film works successfully as an origin story and with fine performances all round, a sequel doesn't just makes sense, we deserve it.

#1 (500) Days Of Summer

This is not a love story. This is a story about love. The ever fantastic Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the doe eyed Zooey Deschanel take the lead roles, with accomplished direction provided by first timer Marc Webb. And despite a tagline reminiscent of those sexy Marks & Spencer ads, '(500) Days Of Summer' was my favourite film of 2009.

Not a traditional romantic comedy, more a post-modern take on the twists and turns of a broken relationship. With its non-linear narrative and stylistic centrepieces, '(500) Days Of Summer' successfully combined the wonderfully clever writing with Marc Webb's music video background. What resulted was charming and witty while still retaining that necessary maturity. This film has single handedly stolen the genre term 'romantic comedy' and transformed it into something with legitimate feeling.

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