The Year of the What? 2009 Cinema in Review

In terms of cinema, what will 2009 be remembered as? There are many possiblities, but it is kind of hard to tell right now. One such possibility is that it will be remembered as the year of the woman, as many are already calling it. And yes, there have been many instances that can help it be looked back as such. The biggest one, is the fact that Kathryn Bigelow made history by being the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker and to be the first woman to direct a Best Picture winner, both being very deserved. Then there are the box office stories. Sandra Bullock had two box office hits in 2009: The Proposal and The Blind Side, with the latter being the first movie to cross the 200 million dollar mark with a woman getting sole billing on the posters. Meanwhile, Meryl Streep showed with Julie & Julia and It’s Complicated that actresses don’t have to be young to drive movies towards making more than 100 million dollars. Also, both of those movies were written and directed by women. Then there are the not-so-financially-successful but acclaimed movies that were focused on female character and/or were made by women such as An Education, Precious, Julia, Drag Me to Hell, and others.

It is also possible that the year will be remembered for its great animation. Pixar scored yet another home-run with Up. It may not be quite up to par with other Pixar movies, but it is still pretty great, and it became the company’s second highest grossing film. It also became the second animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. It probably wouldn’t have gotten in were there still five nominees, but even with ten, they could have been easily ignored it. Disney returned to hand drawn animation with a bang thanks to The Princess and the Frog, the fun and breathtakingly beautiful musical. With Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson pushed his boundaries as a director and he delivered one of the sharpest and mature animated movies in recent memory. Focus Features joined the animation game with Coraline and 9 and they succeeded, as evidenced by the former’s box office success, critical acclaim, and its Oscar nomination. Mary & Max’s acclaim and The  Secret of Kells‘ surprise Oscar nomination showed that there is still room for independent animation. Also, the master Hayao Miyasaki returned with yet another great movie in the shape of Ponyo. Dreamworks and Blue Sky were up to their usual shtick with Monsters VS Aliens and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, but even those were better than expected.

Or the year could be remembered as the year when James Cameron once again made audiences flock to theaters to enjoy another once-in-a-lifetime experience with Avatar. Therefore, capping a great year for sci-fi where audiences, critics, and awards bodies embraced the genre thanks to Neil Blomkamp’s District 9, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, Alex Proyas’ Knowing, and Duncan Jones’ Moon.

So, I don’t know what history will see in 2009 cinema. For all I know people will grown dumber and historic records will disappear and it will become the year when the world learned that Adolf Hitler actually died in a theater after being gunned to death by two soldier from a group called “the inglourious basterds”. What I do know is that it was a great year to be a movie lover.

With that in mind,  today I will review 2009’s cinematic output (it has changed from my original post on the best and worst of the year). In the list, I have 11 Also-rans, which are movies that I enjoyed but never had a chance at being in the top 10 (in alphabetical order), The Honorable Mentions, or a 15-way tie for number 11 (in alphabetical order as well), and then the top 10. Following that, I break down my top 5 or 3 choices in specific categories like Best Actor and Best Cinematography. Then I have my one choice for categories like Most Surprising Film and Best Soundtrack. And to top it off, I list my choices for the 10 worst films of the year. Let’s get started:


(500) Days of Summer by Mark Webb Sometimes the direction and the script makes it seem to precious, but thanks to two fantastic lead performances, this is one of the better romantic comedies in years.

Adventureland by Greg Mottola One of the very few films that captures what it feels like to be stuck in between being young and free and becoming a responsible adult. Plus, it is very funny.

Coco Before Chanel by Anne Fontaine Although it follows the path of a regular biopic, for some reason I felt like this was a very refreshing movie. Most of the greatness comes from Audre Tautou’s commanding performance.

An Education by Lone Sherfing The story starts out interesting, but in the end it suffers from its real-life anti climatic ending. However, the entire ensemble cast, especially Carrey Mulligan, and Sherfin’s direction it is one of the most satisfying movies of the year.

Food, Inc. by Robert Kenner You always hear that certain food can give you a certain disease, but it was not until I saw this that I got to think about what I put in my mouth. A movie that should be seen by everyone.

Broken Embraces by Pedro Almodovar I’m no Almodovar expert, so I couldn’t tell you if this is one of his weaker efforts, but I do know that I loved everything from the gorgeous cinematography to the performances.

The Hangover by Todd Phillips This kind of movie could have been horrible despite its rather original premise, but because of the great chemistry and inventive script, this rises above other comedies of its kind.

I Love You, Man by John Hamburg Like The Hangover, this succeeds because of the chemistry between its leads plus I guess that the fact that I can relate helped me like it even more.

Julie & Julia by Norah Ephron Julie Powell is a horrible person, but I can’t hate Amy Adams. The Julia Child/ Meryl Streep portions alone makes this worth watching. Definitely Ephron’s best movie.

Knowing by Alex Proyas People hate it because “God did it” but I love it because it took the courage to end it like that, as well as to actually do what just about every other disaster movie promises. The plane crash is still one of my favorite sequences of the year.

The Last Station by Michael Hoffman While it goes on for too long, and it loses some steam near the end, the chemistry between Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, and James McAvoy makes this movie fun and worth at least one watch.

Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak by Lance Bangs and Spike Jonze Although it only lasts for about 30 minutes, this short documentary manages to make a fascinating and powerful portrait of one of the greatest writers to have lived.

Honorable Mentions

James Cameron’s Avatar The highest grossing movie of all time is an amazing visual spectacle with what easily are the best visual effects of all time. Sure, the story is unoriginal, but who cares when you have this visual treat.

Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans Crazy Nicolas Cage and crazy Werner Herzog are a match made in heaven. It shows as they make something great out of a somewhat lacking script. Also featuring Eva Mendez’ best performance

Henry Selick’s Coraline A very good adaptation of an amazing novel. Coraline is filled with creativity and is visually outstanding. I sure hope that Henry Selick will make movies more often because animation needs him.

Neil Blomkamp’s District 9 This shows that no big budget is needed to tell an epic story. Neil Blomkam’s directorial debut is one of the best debut’s of the decade and it features an outstanding performance from Sharlto Copley.

David Yates’ Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince It is flawed in that there were a lot of key point that were cut from the movie that will likely be explored in the final two. However, it is still the best Potter yet.

Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus Gilliam’s best movie in years is wildly imaginative and a good swan song for Heath Ledger, although he didn’t get to tackle the meaty scenes in the film. However, Andrew Garfield and Christopher Plummer are the true stand-outs

Erick Zonca’s Julia Proof that one performance can elevate a movie with a rather unoriginal plot. Tilda Swinton gives the best performance of the year as the title character. She should have gotten an Oscar nomination and a win, but alas, it was Bullock’s year.

Oren Moverman’s The Messenger An Iraq movie unlike any I had seen. The movie shines thanks to the performances from Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, and Samantha Morton, but it would not have been possible without the script and Oren Moverman’s fantastic direction

Duncan Jones’ MoonLike D9, the imagination of Duncan Jones did not need a big budget in order to be brought to fruition. Sam Rockwell gives the best performance of the year, and is well supported by Kevin Spacey as the voice of Gerty.

Hayao Miyasaki’s Ponyo Miyasaki’s loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid overflows with imagination and has a nice message about caring for our planet. As is the case with every one of his films, the animation is amazing, but this one is quite special (just look at the backgrounds).

Tom Ford’s A Single Man Colin Firth performance leads a fantastic movie about the last day in the life of a man who though that it was better to be dead that to be suffering. Everything about it is beautiful

Cary Fukunaga’s Sin Nombre A very disturbing look into the journey of four people that are trying to make their way to the United States in search of a better life and to escape the demons from their past. One of the few movies that left me thinking about it for days.

J.J. Abrams’ Star TrekI was never a Star Trek fan but Abrams’ reboot of the franchise is fun and extremely well made. While it did not make me seek out the original series, I now look forward to the sequel.

Pete Docter’s Up Although it doesn’t live up to the extremely high standard set by WALL-E, Pixar’s first Best Picture nominee is still an exciting adventure featuring one of the greatest love stories of all time, even though it only lasts about 9 minutes

Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air A very timely look into what businesses recur to in order to fire their employees, and how this can affect those whose jobs are to do so. It is also very funny and touching.

Top 10

10. The Lovely Bones

Directed by Peter Jackson

It has some huge problems, such as poor character development and the characterization of Mr. Harvey is a bit too on the nose. However, Jackson still managed to pull out an emotionally powerful film out of the weak script written by him and his co-writers. His interpretation of Susie’s heaven is just the way I pictured it when I was reading the book and none of the visual effects feel gratuitous. Yet, as great as this is, Saoirse Ronan’s performance is the heart of it all and makes it as good as it is.

9. Drag Me to Hell

Directed by Sam Raimi

This was one of the first movies I saw last year. As the year progressed I saw more that I thought I liked better, but then every time I re-watched it I found my self enjoying it more than the last. Raimi’s return to horror is not just a standout in the horror genre, but it is better than most movies that were supposed to be prestigious. Definitely one of the movies I look forward to watching the most in the coming years.

8. A Serious Man

Directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

A religious film unlike any other I have ever seen. As told through the eyes of the Coens, this Book of Job-like story is full of hilarious dark humor and quirk yet it manages to be extremely thought provoking. Like every other Coen film, it is meticulously crafted, extremely well written (well, not every Coen film has a good script), and has outstanding performances. If you watch it, don’t give up on it if you don’t like it. Give it another chance and you might find something special

7. Mary & Max

Directed by Adam Elliot

This was such an amazing year for animation and this is easily the most mature of them all. Philip Seymore Hoffman shines in this movie that covers just about every topic imaginable, from sex, to chocolate hot dogs, that is beautifully told and doesn’t try to shock us with its subjects. I wish that American animation companies would have the courage to take on stories like this. This movie shows that just about every subject can be told through animation and it won’t seem childish.

6. Fantastic Mr. Fox

Directed by Wes Anderson

No other movie grew on me quite as much as this one. At first I thought this was a cute movie with some amazing production values. But every time I watched it I realized how brilliant this actually is. After the first time, I was able to focus more on the little things that was going on such as the body language of the characters and how the actors portrayed that through their voices. Also, the jokes became funnier because I was now able to pay more attention to the dialogue, which is what Wes Anderson excels at. At risk of sounding cheesy, I’ll say this: It’s cussin’ fantastic.

5. The Hurt Locker

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

I saw this early in the year, and I liked it a lot, but it was not until my second viewing of this film that I grasped what this movie is trying to tell. On one side, this is an incredibly tense action movie. On the other this is a movie that applauds the soldiers for doing what they do, while making its case about why war is bad (a drug). It mostly succeeds because of Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning direction and Mark Boal’s Oscar-winning script, but I must also mention the work of Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty. Without them, this movie would not have been as good.

4. Inglourious Basterds

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece is truly unlike any other movie I have ever seen. This love letter to cinema/ revenge fantasy is immensely entertaining and thought provoking, mostly because of the Tarantino’s signature dialogue. From the moment that the conversation between Hans Landa and Monsieur Lapadite starte, I was completely drawn in and could not think of anything else until the movie was over. And that finale is among the best that I have ever seen.

3. The Cove

Directed by Louis Psihoyos

Is this movie propaganda? Probably, but that doesn’t take away from the power of it subject. This movie takes on the slaughter of dolphins that is going on in Japan, where they are led into a cove and they are killed in cruel ways in order to sell the meat to people as whale meat as well as selling them to aquariums. Although this is a documentary, it plays like a spy thriller and it offers some of the greatest and most haunting scenes of the decade. This is a movie that everyone who remotely likes animals should watch.

2. The Princess and the Frog

Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker

It had been a while since Disney had released a hand-drawn animated movie (the last one was the awful Home on the Range), so I was eagerly anticipating their return to it with a princess story, and they did not disappoint. Like the cover of the Blu-ray proclaims, this is the best Disney movie since The Lion King. The animation is among the best I have ever seen, every part is perfectly cast, the songs are catchy, there are some moments that got me teary-eyed, and it is just plain fun. I hope the art of hand-drawn animated movie doesn’t die out, because no other animation medium is quite as great.

1. Where the Wild Things Are

Directed by Spike Jonze

Ever since I saw this for the first time, and since I last wrote about my favorite film of the year, I have seen many other films. Some of them I thought would take over the number one spot. However, every time I re-watched this, it still got to me. The way Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers took a 400-word book and turned it into a coming-of-age drama still amazes me. And Jonze’s work as a director perfectly captures the time when we stop being kids and find our selves being forced to grow-up and having to abandon all the things we love about childhood. Sadly, it did not find the audience that it deserved, but hopefully as the years go by, people will find this amazing film and love it as much as I do.

The Superlatives

1. Spike Jonze, Where the Wild Things Are

2. Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

3. Neil Blomkamp, District 9

4. Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

5. James Cameron, Avatar

1. Colin Firth as George in A Single Man

3. Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell in Moon

3. Ben Foster as Sgt. William Montgomery in  The Messenger

4. Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake in Crazy Heart

5. Nicolas Cage as Lt. Terence McDonagh in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

1. Tilda Swinton as Julia Harris in Julia

2. Gabourey Sidibe as Precious Jones in Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire

3. Meryl Streep as Julia Child in Julie & Julia

4.  Helen Mirren as Countess Sofya Tolstaya in The Last Station

5. Saoirse Ronan as Susy Salmon in The Lovely Bones

1. Woody Harrelson as Capt. Tony Stone in The Messenger

2. Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds

3. Peter Capaldi as Malcom Tucker in In the Loop

4. Stanley Tucci as Paul Child in Julie & Julia

5. Paul Schneider as Charles Armitage Brown  in Bright Star

1. Marion Cotillard as Billie Frenchette in Public Enemies and as Luisa Contini in Nine

2. Samantha Morton as Olivia Pitterson in The Messenger

3. Diane Kruger as Bridget von Hammersmark in Inglourious Basterds

4. Vera Farmiga as Alex Goran in Up in the Air

5. Mo’Nique as Mary Jones in Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire

1. Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino

2. The Messenger, Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman

3.  A Serious Man, Joel & Ethan Coen

4. The Hurt Locker, Mark Boal

5. Mary & Max, Adam Elliot

1. Where the Wild Things Are, Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers (Based on the book by Maurice Sendak)

2. Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach (Based on the book by Roald Dahl)

3. Up in the Air, Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner (Based on the book by Walter Kirn)

4. District 9, Neil Blomkamp and Teri Thatchell (Based on the short film Alive in Joburg by Neil Blomkamp)

5. A Single Man, Tom Ford and David Scearce (Based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood)

1. The Princess and the Frog

2. Fantastic Mr. Fox

3. Mary & Max

4. Ponyo

5. Up

1. Sin Nombre

2. The White Ribbon

3. Coco Before Chanel

4. Ponyo

1. The Cove

2. Food, Inc.

3. Michael Jackson’s This is It

1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Bruno Delbonnel

2. Where the Wild Things Are, Lance Acord

3. A Single Man, Eduard Grau

4. Sin Nombre, Adriano Goldman

5. Inglourious Basterds, Robert Richardson

1. Where the Wild Things Are, Karen O & Carter Burwell (Best Track: Food is Still Hot)

2. Star Trek, Michael Giacchino (Best Track: Enterprising Young Men)

3. Coraline, Bruno Coulais (Best Track: End Credits)

4. Fantastic Mr. Fox, Alexandre Desplat (Best Track: Stunt Expo 2004)

5. A Single Man, Abel Korzeniowski (Best Track: Stillness of the Mind)

1. “Hideaway” from Where the Wild Thing Are

2. “The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart

3. “All is Love” from Where the Wild Thing Are

4. “Dig a Little Deeper” from The Princess and the Frog

5. “I Never Knew I Needed” from The Princess and the Frog

1. Where the Wild Things Are

2. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

3. A Single Man

4. Where the Wild Things Are

5. Bright Star

1. Bright Star

2. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

3. A Single Man

4. Coco Before Chanel

5. Nine

1. District 9

2. Drag Me to Hell

3. Star Trek

4. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

1. Avatar

2. The Hurt Locker

3. Inglourious Basterds

4. District 9

5. Up in the Air

1. Avatar

2. Drag Me to Hell

3. The Hurt Locker

4. District 9

5. Star Trek

1. Avatar

2. District 9

3. Star Trek

4. The Lovely Bones

5. Where the Wild Things Are

1. The Messenger

2. Inglourious Basterds

3. In the Loop

4. Fantastic Mr. Fox

5. Up in the Air

1. Neil Blomkamp, District 9

2. Oren Moverman, The Messenger

3. Tom Ford, A Single Man

4. Adam Elliot, Mary & Max

5. Duncan Jones, Moon

Other Categories

Favorite Characters

1. Col. Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds)

2. Kylie Opossum (Fantastic Mr. Fox)

3. Dug (Up)

4. Mrs. Ganush (Drag Me to Hell)

5. Raymond (The Princess and the Frog)

Biggest Surprise

Adventureland and Orphan

Biggest Disappointment

The Invention of Lying

Most Overrated

Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire

Most Underrated

The Lovely Bones

Most Interesting Failure

Away We Go

Best Scene

1. “Revenge of the Giant Face” from Inglourious Basterds

2. The final battle of Avatar

3. The end of Drag Me to Hell

4. Setting up the cameras in The Cove

5. The airplane crash in Knowing

Best Single Costume

Best Poster

Best Trailer

Best Soundtrack

(500) Days of Summer

Worst Movies of the Year

1. Adam (Max Mayer) I’m not easily offended, but this just made me mad, and It was supposed to make me feel warm and fuzzy

2.Obsessed (Steve Shill) “I’ll show you crazy!” Worst cat fight ever.

3. The Pink Panther 2 (Harold Zwart) I’ve said this many times, but what a waste of an awesome cast.

4. The Ugly Truth (Rober Luketic) I’m not a woman and I was offended. Disgusting.

5. Jennifer’s Body (Karyn Kusama) I don’t hate Diablo Cody and I think Megan Fox has potential, but there’s no excuse for this.

6. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (Tony Scott) Should have been a character and dialogue driven drama, but instead we get an awful attempt at an action-thriller.

7. Terminator Salvation (McG) Quoting my self: “pointless and unnecessary”

8. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (Mark Waters) Matthew McCounaghey had potential, but he’s wasting it on this crap. However, I mostly feel sorry for Jennifer Garner, but someone in their household has to put dinner on the table.

9. Thirst (Chan-wook Park) I’ve not seen the director’s famous Revenge Trilogy, but this was so boring and pointless that I’m not sure I want to watch them anymore.

10. It’s Complicated (Nancy Meyers) A waste of good performances.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment about this entry and share some of your own choices.


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