In a year filled with cinematic hits and misses, our story explores the extraordinary eclectic mix of movies from 2009. Delving into the world of animation, drama, and indie film productions, this narrative takes you on a journey through the highlights and low points of a pivotal cinematic period. It unfolds not only the must-see masterpieces that captured viewers’ hearts worldwide but also the cringe-worthy disasters that were best left forgotten.
As we traverse the carefully curated selections, we celebrate storylines that challenge the norm and redefine the boundaries of what movies can be. We explore how Pixar’s ‘Up’ brought us to tears with its heartfelt montage, how the intensity and realism of ‘(500) Days of Summer’ captured our hearts, and even how an unconventional zombie movie like ‘Pontypool’ challenged the foundations of horror.
Parallel to these triumphs, the year also saw some films that missed the mark, as our narrator navigates the dustbin-worthy attempts that flopped straight out of the gate. Throughout this adventure, we’ll salute great independent works and thought-provoking documentaries, shedding light on the work of filmmakers who dared to make a difference.
So join us in this captivating journey through the contrasting elements of 2009’s silver screen as we reminisce on the successes and failures that marked the final year of the first decade of the 21st century.
The 10 Best Movies
Not just the year’s best but Pixar’s best was a surprise because the sheer hodgepodge of the various story elements just shouldn’t have worked at all. You have the balloon suspended house, the giant dodo bird, and talking dogs and the heroes are a crotchety old man and an annoyingly eager Boy Scout. But then you see the film and witness the beautiful montage chronicling the love found and love lost between Carl Fredrickson and his darling Ellie, and I defy anyone not to have to wipe away a tear.
Director Pete Doctor gets you hook, line and sinker from the first reel, and you’ll follow him anywhere he wants to take you. With Up, WALL-E and Ratatouille Pixar’s showing some real chutzpah in challenging what we normally consider “kids’ stuff.” It’s enough to make you wish Pixar wasn’t returning to the well for Toy Story 3, but we’ll reserve judgment.
2) The Hurt Locker
Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq War drama is perhaps the most expertly subversive war film since Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H. The film focuses not on the geopolitics on the homefront or the dedication of those on the battlefield. Instead, it dissects the psychology of those pressed to the mental and physical limits of their military service, in this case, a US Army bomb squad.
And not enough can be said about Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of Sgt. William James and the way he makes his almost cavalier attitude about his job seem like the sanest way of approaching it. The recent Golden Globe nominations criminally overlooked Renner.
3) (500) Days of Summer
A great summer movie romance for a beautiful summer night, (500) Days of Summer was timed perfectly. From the chemistry between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel to the fragmented narrative style of the film’s story, to the clinical narration by Richard McGonagle, was there any aspect of this film that didn’t work? All movie romances should be this raw, this real and this uncomfortably funny… But, unfortunately, they’re not. See the 10 Worst lists for examples.
4) Fantastic Mr. Fox
While most animated movies keep pushing for ever greater degrees of realism and technological prowess, Wes Anderson went decidedly old school with his adaptation of the Roald Dahl book. Like the productions of Rankin and Bass, Mr Fox appears charming and nostalgic, but the quick-witted script gives more to the adults in the audience than the kids.
Bruce MacDonald masterfully creates a zombie movie with extraordinary tension and foreboding and does it by only ever showing one zombie through the whole darn thing. Once again, a talented filmmaker proves that the most potent scare tactic of all is one’s imagination, as the silhouette of clawed hands against glass or the sound of the traffic guy getting eaten sends the average audience member into fits of fear and pessimism. And as a bonus, the film is anchored by the talented, real-life couple Stephen McHattie and Lisa Houle. A zombie movie with acting? Go figure.
6) A Serious Man
The Coen Brothers confound again with this semi-autobiographical, semi-comedy about life in Minnesota in the 60s. I’m not sure what exactly the Coens were trying to say here, but I know that Michael Schulbarg deserves a lot of credit for making this film one of the most wonderfully dry and skilfully awkward comedies of this or any year. It has to be seen to be believed.
7) Precious, Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
It was not exactly the most heartfelt movie of the year, but it was raw and powerful. Probably more real than we’d like to admit, the film’s story about an obese teen abused physically and emotionally by her mother and sexually by her father will push your empathy to the limit. At the same time, the title character’s hopefulness gives the story some small measure of grace—powerful performances by Gabourey Sidibe as Precious and Mo’Nique as her mother deserve serious award consideration.
8) (tie) Anvil: The Story of Anvil and The Cove
Two documentaries; one highly uplifting, the other downright chilling. Anvil, the unlikely true story of a heavy metal band still trying to make it big 30 years later, won hearts and minds everywhere and sold out vinyl copies of Metal on Metal at record stores for the first time since 1982. The Cove, meanwhile made you want to punch someone out with the disgusting wholesale secret slaughter of dolphins in Japan and the dedicated activists trying to expose it. Both do what all good documentaries do: tell deeply personal stories with a polite detachment.
9) (tie) Big Fan and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Both of these films are about fanatical men on the fringes of their obsession; for Big Fan’s Paul Aufiero it’s the New York Giants he’s crazy for, but for the Bad Lieutenant, Terence McDonagh, he’s just cuckoo for cocaine. Both men are extremists. While Paul tears himself to pieces while trying to avoid fingering his hero, Giants’ quarterback Quantrell Bishop, for the assault that landed him in a coma, McDonagh struggles with covering up the numerous holes he’s digging himself in a while covering his drug problem.
Big Fan may hit you with a bizarre kind of pathos for its main character. Still, Lieutenant will have you laughing your socks off thanks to a gonzo performance by Nicolas Cage, who handily casts off recent disgraces like The Wicker Man and Bangkok Dangerous.
10) Star Trek
Star Trek deserves to be acknowledged for being the rare popcorn movie that stands up as an indulging and thoughtful drama and an awesome space adventure. A pitch-perfect cast re-energizes the stolid franchise by creating characters that are at once familiar and new. And J.J. Abrams proved that what Trek’s been missing these last few years is a person with a big and bold vision and the brass to make it a reality. Bring on Part 2!
The 10 Runners-Up
11) Up in the Air
Jason Reitman once again proves ably that he is the modern master of relationship comedy. George Clooney’s rarely been better, the direction is sublime, it’s got timeliness and relevance, and the script by Reitman and Sheldon Turner is both witty and surprising. Unfortunately, though, competition for the Top 10 was just too tight.
Perhaps the greatest literate sci-fi space drama since 2001, filmmaker Duncan Jones proved that you don’t need hundreds of millions to craft a compelling space opera. But the film was by far too indebted to 2001, including a creepy computer voiced by Kevin Spacey, to stand on its own to make the Top 10.
13) District 9
This was another sci-fi movie done on the (relatively) cheap, filmed in South Africa, and helped make 2009 a veritable renaissance of the genre. Although the film gets silly in the end, one cannot deny its plentiful and painful allegories in regard to the crawfish-looking aliens stranded on Earth.
14) The Loved Ones
This was torture porn done right. This Midnight Madness offering from TIFF was by far its best by taking the Saw formula in an entirely new direction: making you care about the characters.
Sure, Twilight made the bank, but Canadian-made Suck had comedy, rock, actual vampire biting and some awesome musician cameos. Let sex, blood and rock and roll be the new rebel musicians’ mantra.
16) The Jones
I walked into this movie knowing nothing, and that’s probably the best way to see it. A truly inspired satire of the engine that drove the recent credit crisis with great performance from a cast that includes David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Gary Cole and Lauren Hutton.
17) The Informant!
Steven Soderburgh’s dramedy may have been trying a little hard to replicate a Coen Brothers vibe, but one cannot deny the tour de force performance by Matt Damon as the bipolar corporate snitch Mark Whitacre.
18) Playing Columbine
A very astute and challenging documentary from Fantasia Festival that challenged perceptions of video games as art and the impact of media violence on real life violent acts. Filmmaker Danny LeDonne captured something here, and what that is may not be fully appreciated until a few years.
19) State of Play
Like many films of 2009, there was a timely aspect to State of Play as a newspaper reporter fights to clear his friend’s name of murder. The death of print hangs like a pale cloud over the film as you wonder if you’re witnessing the last great example of a newspaperman as hero.
20) Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Undead
Yep, it’s still here. Jordan Galland’s tale of Shakespeare as cover for feuding vampires was a rare gem with an unrivalled energy and inventiveness, even amongst big “I” Independent films. I really hope to see it again sometime soon.
The 10 Worst
1) Bride Wars
This year has been filled with a lot of mainstream movie comedies that have collectively sent women’s lib backwards by about 50 years. Seeing quality actresses like Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway, especially after Hathaway’s stellar turn in Rachel Getting Married, going all bridezilla on each other made the news footage of would-be-brides climbing over each other for wedding dress deals seem restrained by comparison. Burn the negatives, bury the ashes and salt the earth.
2) Dragonball: Evolution
Kudos to director James Wong for trying to translate the look and hairstyles of the anime characters, but I haven’t seen a bunch of people look this uncomfortable with the film they were in since Super Mario Bros. the movie.
3) S. Darko
Who in their right mind greenlit this? A sequel to the biggest cult movie of the decade with a storyline so incomprehensible it makes particle physics as explained by Mushmouth from Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids seem understandable. This film is the very epitome of trash.
4) Old Dogs
It would be nice if John Travolta and Robin Williams tried to age with a bit of dignity. But you know that things are off the rails when even the other characters in the film have a hard time believing that Williams could be the father of two little kids, much less getting Kelly Preston to marry him.
5) Confessions of a Shopoholic
As the recession and the credit crisis were at their worst, we get this little keeper about a girl that spends, spends, spends herself into a credit card debt the size of Rhode Island. But it’s okay because she easily BSes her way into a job writing financial advice, which makes her seem no where near the bobblehead as she actually is. Why she even gets out of debt so easily that it barely takes five minutes of film to show how. Who needs credit counselling?
6) Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li
“M. Bison in a suit,” is all I have to say about this failure to relaunch of a franchise. That and Kristen Kreuk has about as much right to be the lead in a Street Fighter movie that Jen Claude Van Damme has being the object of Clark Kent`s affection on Smallville.
7) Pink Panther 2
What wasn’t funny the first time isn’t going to be any funnier the second time, especially when you add insult to injury by compounding one nation stereotype with many. Memo to Steve Martin: Just because they drive a dump truck full of money up to your house, it doesn’t mean you have to accept the role. CC that to Jean Reno, John Cleese, Alfred Molina, Andy Garcia and Jeremy Irons as well.
Filled with more logical fallacies than the Federal government’s climate change policy, Surrogates proved that there’s a limit to the good grace that Bruce Willis engenders, and that not all graphic novels are cut from the same creatively fertile cloth.
9) The Ugly Truth
At least the film was adequately named because it does not have an alibi. It’s ugly, ugly and more ugly as the once cute and engaging Katherine Heigl debases herself as the butt of sexist pig Gerard Butler’s jokes. Actually, this whole movie is an exercise is sexism, which is why it’s so hard to believe that it was written by three women.
10) (tie) Whiteout and Sorority Row
In a bit of cosmic irony both these pathetic excuses for thrillers were released on the same weekend in September, as if there truly was a race to the bottom at our nation’s multiplexes. One film was an I-already-know-whodunit based on a graphic novel that was as cold and distant as its Antarctic setting, the other was slasher film where if anyone walked away alive at the end of the film you were bound to be disappointed. At least Hollywood thought enough of us to get them both over with fast.