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The Best Films of '09
by Stephen Becker 31 Dec 2009

As I looked back over the 75 or so films I saw this year, a common theme emerged: disappointment. Could it be that I didn’t see the right ones? Did I build up the ones I did see so highly in my mind that they couldn’t possibly deliver? Perhaps. But time after time this year […]


As I looked back over the 75 or so films I saw this year, a common theme emerged: disappointment. Could it be that I didn’t see the right ones? Did I build up the ones I did see so highly in my mind that they couldn’t possibly deliver? Perhaps.

But time after time this year I found myself walking into a theater with high hopes (I’m looking at you Public Enemies, Nine, Bruno, Invictus and Capitalism: A Love Story, among others) only to walk out deflated by thoughts of what might have been.

So a common theme among the movies that made my list this year is that with most of them I went in not really knowing what to expect and was ultimately pleasantly surprised (thrilled, even, in the case of No. 1). This year won’t go down as a milestone of filmmaking – I would rank my top four from last year ahead of anything from this year. Still, there is a select group of movies that I truly did enjoy, some of which I even look forward to watching again soon.

In honor of this being the Year of Twitter, here is my list – tweet style – with each analysis no longer than 140 characters:

Photo: Warner Bros.

Photo: Warner Bros.

1. Where the Wild Things Are – Simple story lets mother and child walk in each other’s shoes. Final scene is wordless, yet it’s clear that everyone at the table has grown.

2. Precious – Toughest character of 09 is a teen girl. Never wanted to reach through screen and hug someone more. This film stuck with me more than any.

3. Up – Montage of Carl/Ellie’s life = best 5 min. of film this year. Pixar proves again toons can enthrall kids & adults. And Kevin is a girl – ha!

4. It Might Get Loud – Jimmy + Jack + Edge + empty room w/ guitars = electric. Fun to see Page get giddy hearing Link Wray & Jack build ax w/ wood and coke bottle.

5. Every Little Step — Behind-the-scenes doc on casting Broadway revival of A Chorus Line had killer access. As dancers win roles/get cut, you feel their pain/joy.

6. Up in the Air – A movie of our times. Clooney/Farmiga/Kendrick have chemistry to spare. Each player makes literal and figurative journey by end, as do we.

7. (500) Days of Summer – We know they fall in love; we know they break up. But why? The way 500 Days works toward that question makes it 1 of 09’s most innovative.

8. A Single Man – Tom Ford trades fashion for film and proves he has a future. If not for Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, Colin Firth would take home the Oscar.

9. Inglorious Basterds – Quentin quits genres (finally) to make film about what he knows best: film. Christoph Waltz joins ranks of all-time bad guys. Pitt’s funny.

10. The Eyes of Me — SXSW/AFI-Dallas doc tracks 4 teens in year @ TX School for the Blind. Heartbreaking and inspiring. Handicapped are just like everyone else.

Honorable mentions: Crazy Heart, The Cove, The Hangover, It’s Complicated, Adventureland, Away We Go, The Informant!

  • Betsy

    My problem with Where the Wild Things Are was the wild thing voices. James Gandolfini and Catherine O’Hara were too cartoony and identifiable. The kid was perfection, I give you that.

    Justin Martin is protesting the absence of Avatar from your list.

    • Stephen Becker

      Yes, I worried that this list would draw Justin’s ire. My main problem with Avatar was that the craft was certainly top notch – I saw things on screen I’ve never seen before.But all the glowing flowers and flying spaceships couldn’t cover up a story that was always predictable and occasionally offensive (You could practically head the blue guys saying, “If we just had a white guy to come show us poor natives how to do things, we would be so much better off!”) I’ve heard it described as Pocahontas in Space. That sounds about right.

  • Jennifer

    Great list! I agree that 2009 was not a great year for movies, but these were all worth watching. Here’s hoping that 2010 raises the bar just a little bit higher…

  • Julie in Bogota!

    I have yet to see many of these, so thanks for the great list. I must maintain that Avatar deserves a place in it for all its cleverness and beauty, your take on the “natives” notwithstanding. And I differ there too… The indigenous blue people struggle for their land and lose, not because of the Earthmen’s intrinsic superiority (or their “primitiveness”), but ‘a la Jared Diamond (i.e., the availability of Guns, Germs, and Steel). It makes one ponder once again what’s so good about our techno life. I was happy to see them sending the colonialists packing for once!

    • Stephen Becker

      Julie – I should clarify my stance a bit. My main problem with the movie was that it took 2.5 hours to tell a story that you could have mapped out in the first 20 minutes if you really thought about it. So for me, it ended up being a (very impressive looking) slog toward the inevitable. If the story matched the visuals, then we’d really be talking…

  • Very nice. What were your thoughts on ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’? I was a little bored at some points during the screening, but I definitely want to watch it again to pay more attention to all the beautiful details…

  • Mohau

    I really enjoyed reading the list and thought your idea of writing review tweet style ingenious. Every Little Step was a wonderful surprise of 2009. You made no mention of Goodbye Solo, Hurt Locker. How about the two big science fiction District 9 and Avatar of the year. And I agree with Julie in Bogota of about Cameroon’s Avatar.

  • Writer’s Strike = Blah 2009 Movies!