2009 was a great year for films in general, particularly if you’re a fan of the sci-fi genre. The year also saw the return of a beloved franchise to the big screen as well as the latest film by one of our best modern directors. And even with the current condition of the country and the economy, audiences still managed to fill theaters and the movies enjoyed record breaking successes that hopefully will continue on into the new year.
Even with all the great movies in 2009, there were also some not so great ones. Sadly, there will always be some real bombs, but that’s to be expected. Fortunately, there were also quite a few standouts that helped keep us entertained, enthralled and excited about going to the movies in 2009.
As usual with lists of this type, I need to disclaim and say this is my list of what I felt were the best films of 2009. Nobody can see everything and opinions vary. Your list may be different.
Differing opinions and the freedom to express them are one of the things that make this country great. There’s always something new and different to see and do and we all get to choose what’s best for us. What movies we watch and enjoy is no exception.
That said, here then is my list, in no particular order, of the films I feel were the best of 2009.
Inglourious Basterds — 2009 saw the return of director Quentin Tarantino and the release of this amazing film. Some might consider it overlong or self-indulgent, but it showcases Tarantino’s filmmmaking skills at their finest and serves as an example of one filmmaker’s singular vision and immense storytelling craft.
This film provides the audience with something they never got from real life: closure. To finally see the Nazis, and in particular Hitler, get the ending they deserve is a testament to the power of this film and to its creator.
Star Trek — Coming along just when we needed it, director J.J. Abrams reboot of the franchise shows us that you can make a new movie based on an old, beloved franchise and manage to thrill new and old fans alike. The casting of Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock and Karl Urban as McCoy helped catapult this film into the stratosphere of great entertainment. Truly one of the best “popcorn” movies of 2009 and the last decade.
A Single Man — Fashion designer and now director Tom Ford shows that talent in one arena can often mean talent in another. His story of a gay man coming to terms with the death of his longtime companion features a moving performance by Colin Firth, with deft support by Julianne Moore, and gives us a glimpse into how people deal with loss and the emptiness of being alone — even among other people.
Drag Me to Hell — Sam Raimi returned to form with this terrific horror film which shows why he’s considered by many to be one of the masters. Sadly, there was no Bruce Campbell appearance, but the movie still managed to thrill, chill and scare the crap out of audiences without resorting to extensive, and unnecessary, blood and gore. It was great to see Raimi do a film like this that he, and everyone involved, so obviously enjoyed making.
The Hurt Locker — Director Katherine Bigelow shows why she’s one of the best working today with her look at the Iraq war from the perspective of a bomb disposal squad. With a standout performance by actor-to-watch Jeremy Renner as the thrill-seeking William James, this film eschewed the political agenda and gave us a “boots on the ground” look at the horrors of modern war.
The Road — Even though it performed poorly at the box office, director John Hillcoat’s adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel ranks among the years best films. With brilliant performances by Viggo Motensen and newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Road is at times shocking, frightening, touching, harrowing and thought provoking. It shows us what humanity is capable of at its worst and at its best and reminds us, even with all the evil things that happen in the world, that love is the most important thing of all.
Up In the Air — This testament to doing what you do best and doing it with others only further showcased the immensely appealing talents of George Clooney. This funny, intelligent film serves to remind us of the importance other people can play in our daily lives. Sure, its nice to be on your own sometimes, but life is usually better when you live it with someone else.
District 9 — Director Neill Blomkamp showed that you don’t need a studio or a big budget to make edgy, though provoking, sci-fi entertainment. This standout film combines all that’s best about movies into one entertaining and visually impressive package. Even with the film’s thinly disguised political message, its inventive style, writing, direction and standout performances, particularly by Sharlto Copley, helped elevate this modestly budgeted, yet highly ambitions, film into the top echelon this year.
A Serious Man — The Coen brothers tale of Jewish guilt and sacrifice took me by surprise this year and over time has worked its way onto my list. This tale of a man’s struggle against his oppressive life resonates even if you’re lack of Jewish knowledge hinders you and occasionally prevents you from figuring out what all the fuss is about. Fortunately, this film explores themes and problems universal to the human condition that most anyone can relate to, which is one of the things that makes it such a great film.
Zombieland — This was one of the great surprises of the year. You’re with the movie and the characters from the first moments all the way to the end. You instantly like them, root for them and when the end does finally come, you’re sad to see them go. Zombieland offers a great time at the movies and though it doesn’t give us much of anything new to chew on in the zombie genre, its just so damn much fun and the cast is so enjoyable, you don’t mind one bit.
Special Mention: Avatar — Say what you will about James Cameron and his movies (and I have) but he knows how to deliver entertainment. Sure, it may not have the most original story and has some cringe-worthy dialog, but there’s no denying that Avatar packs more visual punch than ten normal movies. While it may not change the face of entertainment as we know it, it certainly is worth seeing and ranks among the most interesting and visually compelling movies of all time.
Other films I thought were very impressive this year but didn’t quite make the cut include The Hangover, Precious, Moon, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, The Informant!, Watchmen, The Invention of Lying and Paranormal Activity.