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My Top 10 Movies of 2009

We’ve known this was coming for a while. From the moment I ran through the Irish Times’ Top 20 Films of the Decade through to my own Top 50 Films of the Decade (why stop at 20?) and even on my Top 10 TV Shows of the Decade. It seems only fair and natural to offer a top ten countdown of my favourite movies from the past twelve months. I make no apologies for how populist or anti-populist the list may seem, and I hope that it doesn’t offend anyone – I’m just a nerd on the interweb afterall. If you think I missed something, or overpraised something, just let me know in the comments below. Cheers. Now enjoy.

The Rules

In fairness, these are mostly carried over from my top 50 of the decade, but they are words to live by. Or at least keep in mind.

I live in Ireland: so films released outside the year here (for example, The Road), can’t make the cut, unfortunately. But they are just early contenders for the next decade’s collection. So, you’ll likely find last year’s Oscar contenders here (if they are any good).

This is MY list: I’m an idiot. I’ll concede that. Some of these choices looked weird even to me when I wrote my first draft, but the ones that remained on the list remained there because I liked them. Not because they were objectively “good cinema” (how can you objectively measure that?), but because they stuck with me after watching them. I’m sure I’ve made a few stupid choices, feel free to let me know below.

I haven’t seen everything: aka the list will be dynamic; I would love to set this in stone – but I haven’t seen every film this decade yet and some of them might be better than some (or all) of the films on this list. If that happens, I will add them, bumping off whatever is number 10.) at the time. However, since most of my crazy choices are near the top, that shouldn’t bother too many people. That and the fact I’ll keep an audit trail down the bottom of the article, stated what was added and what was removed. This is to take account of the fact that I am not a professional.

10.) The Hangover

This film makes the list be virtue of being a successful family Christmas film. It might sound like an easy requirement, but you are looking at a vast demographic difference between audience members and a huge diverenge in comedic taste. Still, eight of us sat in the cramped sitting room and watched it on Christmas night – we even had to stop the movie when Dad went into a laughing fit during the taser scene. It’s a well put together film with three charismatic leading performances and a whole rake of memorable supporting ones. Most comedies are lucky to have one lingering supporting character – here we have camp Korean gangsters, pole-dancing wives, Mike Tyson and an intense Las Vegas police officer (“in the face!”). Easily the comedy of the year.

09.) Star Trek

I thought it would be at least a decade before Star Trek returned – but then J.J. Abrams proved me wrong. He must be jealous of Joss Whedon’s geek cred or something. Anyway, what we got was a massive summer tentpole pisture which actually succeeded not only as blockbuster fare – a minimum requirement that most movies fell sort of this year – but also as a stunning character examination. Juxtaposing the formulative years of Spock and Kirk was a fantastic choice and – aided by strong casting – it helped give the film a heart that the more recent entries in the franchise lacked. And all this from an odd-numbered Star Trek film? I can’t wait for Abram’s first even-numbered film.

08.) Up

Pixar are amazing. Really, those guys can do anything. They are the reason that I haven’t given up on ‘family’ entertainment – because they don’t mean ‘children with accompanying parent’ entertainment. They famously state that they make movies for themselves, and I can believe that. There’s nothing condescending here, nothing mocking, nothing simplistic. Take this story of a widower weighed down by the memories of his dearly departed wife. If you were to say to me that the best-performing animated film of 2009 would be about a silver-haired widower, I would have laughed. If you’d then informed me that Pixar are doing it, I would have stopped laughing. And started queuing for tickets.

07.) The Good, The Bad & The Weird

A Chinese Western. It’s a brilliant concept, you must admit. And it manages to pay fitting tribute to Sergio Leone, the master. It looks stunning in high definition, but it also features a clever deconstruction of the standard deconstructionist Western. Ever wondered what a real quick-draw contest would look like? Or how a real Mexican stand-off would resolve itself? Look no further.

06.) Coraline

This is the first year in quite some time that Pixar haven’t offered the best animated feature. Neil Gaiman is a magical writer and Henry Sellick is a magical director. It’s only logical that combining the two would offer a touch of magic. The fact that the dark and twisted fairytale offered the best use of 3D which I had seen before Avatar only seals the deal.

05.) Frost/Nixon

I am a history nerd. That’s really the only way to justify the inclusion of this film on the list. It isn’t the best cinematic depiction of Richard Nixon, nor is it the best exploration of Watergate. But – like Doubt – it uses a modest scope to offer an examination of a shared cultural moment. In a year when many of the ‘big’ films failed to deliver the goods – I’m not just about blockbusters like Transformers 2 or G.I. Joe but epics like Avatar and awards fare like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – it’s nice to see so many modest films succeeding. Two fantastic lead performances and a great deal of craft help Ron Howard make a memorable film from a historic footnote. The final interview is a moment of American cultural history, but I wonder how many people in America remember Frost at all? Or how many of us Europeans remember Frost for that interview. It’s a beautifully and classically crafted film which doesn’t show off in any real way – it offers a simple story in a straightforward manner, but with enough care and skill to elevate the final product above that. 

04.) Doubt

Meryl Streep. Where have you been? I mean, at your age you’ve earned a vacation doing simply ‘entertaining’ movies like Mamma Mia or It’s Complicated, and there’s nothing wrong with that (I mean, you could be doing worse – look at Robert deNiro or Al Pacino), but surely a woman of your talent could be doing so much more? Doubt demonstrates this principle exactly. Mainly on this list for the fantastic central performances (all four leads were nominated for Oscars), it’s an interesting moral quandry framed around an investigation into a priest at a small Boston school. It’s a small film – an intimate one – but it’s effective. It pulls the audience in. Shanley has grown as a director since Joe Versus The Volcano and – having seen that film – we are thankful for it.

03.) Moon

I think 2009 was a landmark year for science-fiction. I think we’ll look back and be proud of the climax to the decade of the geek. As well we should. There are two other heavy-hitters this year which didn’t make my list which I imagine that most other film nerds will also think of when considering science-fiction in 2009 – the stunningly beautiful but incredibly infuriating Avatar and the superbly put together District 9 – that also deserve to be considered. Duncan Jones demonstrates that off-centre genius is indeed genetic in composing his own space oddity – a story of identity and isolation on the moon. It doesn’t need to be repeated here – but I’ll do it anyway – that Sam Rockwell turns in the leading performance of the year. It’s a sad irony that – unline Christoph Waltz’s equally deserving supporting turn – Rockwell is unlikely to see any awards love in the early part of next year. Still, an incredibly movie.

02.) (500) Days of Summer

I am a sap at heart. I will confess that. (500) Days of Summer is that rarest of cinematic treats – a romance with honesty and soul. Maybe the characters aren’t meant to be together. Maybe she can’t be tamed or he can’t be loosened up. Maybe a relationship covered in celluloid doesn’t have to invole wedding bells or commitment or a third-act hurdle overcome by the power of love – maybe the fact that the love affair is a journey for both parties is enough. Maybe they grow from it – not into the moulds of “leading man/husband” or “leading woman/wife” which most romantic comedies seem to demand, but in a very real way. This is the year Hollywood gave us The Ugly Truth and The Proposal, but this is the kind of movie they should look at offering us more often. Yes, it’s funny (and actually funny – not ‘ha, she’s wearing vibrating underwear and he has the remote’ funny, but actually funny) and it doesn’t take itself too seriously – but it’s also a lot more thoughtful than grandiose poe-faced examinations of love. I could fall in love with this movie.

01.) Inglourious Basterds

The “marmite” film of 2009 – you either love it or you hate it. There seems to be very little middle ground on opinion. It’s either a wonderful post-modern deconstruction of historical cinema or a weighed-down-by-its-own-ego self-indulgent and overlong effort by a director who ceased to be interesting about a decade ago. I’m firmly in the former camp, if only because I’m willing to embrace the glee with which Tarantino brings his vision to life. His climax is a brave and open question to the film and its viewers, one perhaps easily misinterpretted as a statement. I was a fan of Kill Bill, but I strongly believe that this is Tarantino’s treatise on vengeance and retribution – it is by far a more considered and mature reflection upon the numbing effect of violence revisited upon violence. Throw in the performance of the year from Christoph Waltz and you have a classic on your hands. It’s unfair to compare Inglourious Basterds to the early work of Tarantino, unless you wish to examine his evolution as a filmmaker. The enfant terrible has grown up and maybe it’s best that he has not emerged as an undesputed champion of the modern school of direction – that would be too tame and boring. This is much more exciting.

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One Response

  1. Up is such a great movie…have never seen a animated film quite like this

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