My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2009

28 Sep

When I made my Top 10 of 2010 list a few weeks ago, there was a good reason for it. I had just watched Scott Pilgrim vs The World, which was the last of my major must-see films for the year. At that point, I felt confident in making a list I could get behind to an acceptable degree. So even though it came more than 8 months after 2010 ended, it felt warranted.

Justifying a Top Ten of 2009 list when we’re fast approaching 2012 is trickier. In fact, there’s always a certain degree of guilt involved in making any list. They’re “easy”, both to write and to digest. The blogging world is swamped by them. They’re not worthwhile content. Why rank movies at all? And so on and so forth. The reason for me doing this is that I think yearly top ten lists are a good way to get a feel for what a person’s taste in film looks like. When I come across a blog that’s been active for a few years, I often check to see if they have any lists of this sort. I enjoy seeing what people have picked, and sometimes I’ll get alerted to films I haven’t heard of before, or am pursuaded by someone’s enthusiasm to check out a movie I might have dismissed earlier. For me, reading them serves a purpose. And thus, me writing them might provide some of you similar benefits.

Since this blog isn’t very old, there hasn’t been time to provide any yearly lists like this. So I’m doing them retroactively, one year at a time, moving back through the years. I don’t intend to drown you in them, mind you. Maybe one every couple of weeks or so, when I feel like updates have been a bit slow and I can’t come up with anything more interesting to write about. Regardless, I hope you’ll enjoy them in one way or another.

So. 2009. Not my favorite year in terms of movies. Plenty of films “very good” but not “great”, a whole bunch of let-downs and a couple of real stinkers (supreme bore-fest 2012 and painfully unfunny Year One chiefs among them). The real highlights were scarce compared to other recent years. Nonetheless, the ten films listed below all endeared themselves to me in one way or another. I can look at this list and really like what I see.

This is 2009 strictly as listed on IMDB, by the way. And please do keep in mind that these are my favorite movies of the year and nothing more.

10 – THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE (Steven Soderbergh)

“If they wanted you to be yourself, they wouldn’t be paying you.”

This one I wrote about in my post on overlooked films of the 2000s. While it didn’t quite hold up to my first impressions when I rewatched it, it still remains a fascinating look at the life of an upscale call girl (played by porn star Sasha Grey) during the financial crisis of the late aughts. Steven Soderbergh, never one to settle for a defined personal style, here opts for a bare-bone realistic tone, with long static distant shots as if the camera is spying on the proceedings. Perhaps a bit too sterile for some, but I found The Girlfriend Experience very captivating. It’s one of my favorite Soderberghs. Bonus: Watch it with friends and giggle when one of them goes “Who is that actress? What else has she been in? I know I reognize her from somewhere!”

9 – AN EDUCATION (Lone Scherfig)

“It’s funny though, isn’t it? All that poetry and all those songs, about something that lasts no time at all.”

Every year, there seems to be one bright new young starlet who arrives on the scene from out of nowhere. In 2009, that actress was Carey Mulligan. She’s thoroughly convincing in the touching coming-of-age drama An Education, playing 16 year-old Jenny in 1960’s England, a girl tired of the world she’s in who finds herself whisked away to a life of romance and glamor by a charming stranger (Peter Sarsgaard). Not the most unique of stories, but one told exceedingly well. Also features a great supporting turn by Alfred Molina as Jenny’s father.

8 – FISH TANK (Andrea Arnold)

“I hate you!”

Another British drama about a teenage girl who finds herself attracted to an older man, but that’s where the similarities to An Education ends. Fish Tank‘s Mia (Katie Jarvis) is an aggressive and angry 15 year-old in a low-income home. She fights with her mother and sister all the time and seems to take pleasure in nothing but dancing. Enter mum’s new boyfriend Connor (Michael Fassbender) who might present a new light in Mia’s life, but nothing’s ever easy. This film is raw and gritty, showing an unpleasant view of the life of one volatile girl. Jarvis and Fassbender are teriffic, but the run-down settings and atmosphere of the film takes center stage almost as much as the characters.

7 – ADVENTURELAND (Greg Mottola)

“We pay little Malaysian kids 10 cents a day to make these toys, we can’t just give them away.”

This one gets better the more I think about. What might seem like a typical humorous tale of boy-meets-girl is elevated by the very human and believable nature of its story and characters. James (Jessie Eisenberg) isn’t the standard cripplingly awkward virgin. He’s an intelligent young man who just hasn’t found The One yet. And love interest Em (Kristen Stewart in an eye-opening performance) isn’t just there to be the object of James’ desire. She’s a fully rounded character with her own issues and traits. It’s a sweet story with players it’s easy to care about, so well-developed that when the (actually quite funny) comedy bits pop up now and then they almost feel out of place.

6 – THE ROAD (John Hillcoat)

“All I know is the child is my warrant, and if he is not the word of God, then God never spoke.”

One of the bleakest visions of post-apocalypse in recent memory, The Road follows a nameless man and his boy (Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they traverse the remains of recently destroyed America in pursuit of the ocean where salvation might be found. It’s a remarkable bond we witness between parent and child. Yes, the father loves the boy and the boy loves the father, but the grim surroundings forces it to manifest in unusual ways. There are enough thrills to keep a sense of danger always lurking, but it’s in the gorgeously ugly vistas and the superb acting that the film’s real strengths lie. Based on an equally great Cormac McCarthy novel, which I compared with the film in a blog post a while ago.

5 – AVATAR (James Cameron)

“Maybe I was sick of doctors telling me what I couldn’t do.”

A mindblowing experience in theater. Haven’t seen it since. Don’t particularly want to until the same experience can be replicated at home. This doesn’t diminish the film’s qualities: action, design and spectacular visuals. Avatar is the kind of movie that only comes around once a decade or so. For better or worse.

4 – THE COVE (Louie Psihoyos)

“All because dolphins naturally smile all the time doesn’t mean they’re happy all the time.”

God knows I don’t always agree with the Academy members when it comes to their Oscars voting, but they do tend to hand out their Best Documentary Feature award to worthy recipients. Louise Psihoyos‘ great dolphin documentary The Cove is no exception, taking a harsh look at the lives of the creatures in captivity. We get some backstory on the dolphin seen in Flipper and are educated on how others of his species are treated in places like Sea World, but the brunt of the film concerns the going-ons at Japanese coastal town Taiji where the animals are hunted for food in shady fashion. Powerful stuff, culminating in a scene that had me grimacing with repulsion.

3 – UP IN THE AIR (Jason Reitman)

“Make no mistake: your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets, the compromises.”

I recently rewatched and reviewed this one, and I’m glad I did as it really grew on me. Tremendously funny and thoughtful film with wonderful performances by Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick and of course George Clooney in the lead. Check out my review for more detailed thoughts.

2 – CORALINE (Henry Selick)

“She wants something to love, I think. Something that isn’t her. Or maybe she’d just love something to eat.”

Oh what a great film this is. Playfully dark in its design, with a story likely to seem scarier for grown-ups than for kids. As the titular girl struggles with resentment towards her parents and explores a parallel world of foreboding wonders, we’re treated to gorgeous visuals of painstaking detail (definitely check out the making-of features on the DVD if you can). Stop-motion animation has never looked better. A thrilling ride from start to finish, Coraline is the best American animated film in years.

1 – IN THE LOOP (Armando Iannucci)

“The intelligence we’ve got is so deep, so fucking hard, it’ll fucking puncture your kidneys.”

Political satire at its finest, showing the twisting and ridiculous going-ons behind the scenes of British and American governments in a fictional lead-up to an Iraq-like situation. Rather than picking a side (no party is ever mentioned by name and could be of any political leanings), In the Loop embraces the futility of it all as some people pursue war, some seek to avoid it, and it all ends up in a clusterfuck of plotting and scheming. Stalking around in corridors hunting for secret committees, PR nightmares springing forth when people use the wrong kind of vague response in interviews, and unpleasant reports surfacing at inopportune moments. But more than just about politics, this is above all a superbly funny film filled to the brim with sharp dialogue, dry wit and some of the greatest cursing known to man. MVP: Peter Capaldi as foul-mouthed spin doctor Malcolm. Don’t miss this one.

What was you favorite film of 2009? What do you think of the movies on this list? Would you like more yearly Top 10 lists like this one from me?


Posted by on 28 September, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year


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15 responses to “My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2009

  1. NeverTooEarlyMP

    28 September, 2011 at 02:12

    Great list. I’ve only seen three of these (Avatar, Up In The Air and An Education), but will definitely check out some of the rest based on your recommendations!

    • Emil

      28 September, 2011 at 08:32

      Thank you! You’re in for a treat, then. I hope you’ll enjoy them.

  2. Jessica

    28 September, 2011 at 11:28

    Of your listed movies I’ve seen Avatar, The Road, Fish Tank and An Education. There are several of your movies that are on my to-watch-list, such as Up in the air.

    I love The Road and An Education. I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about Fish Tank as everyone else. Avatar was ok until the final 30 minute helicopter chase which was ridiculous and misplaced. That military boss should be sent back to the vietnam movie he had escaped from. So I’m afraid it wouldn’t make my top 10 after all.

    Movies you didn’t mention that I would include on my top 10 list: Dogtooth (I watched it in 2011, but it’s listed as 2009 in imdb), 500 days of summer, Sherlock Holmes, I love you Philip Morris, Whatever works. Maybe Star Trek.

    • Emil

      28 September, 2011 at 11:37

      500 Days of Summer was very good, I agree. That split-screen part with expectations vs reality was spot-on. Lovely film that almost made my list. Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek were both quite impressive, and I liked them more than I had thought I would. I Love You Phillip Morris was solid with a great Jim Carrey performance, but the story never really grabbed me overtly. Don’t get me started on Dogtooth. I really didn’t like that one. Whatever Works is still on my watch-list.

      Thanks for chiming in, Jessica!

      • Jessica

        28 September, 2011 at 11:46

        Hehe, Dogtooth is quite special indeed. I can understand why not everyone like it. It’s like certain food. Some people just can’t stand matured cheese. Others (including me) love it.

        What I loved so much about I Love you Philip Morris was how unpredictable it was. It took turns every now and then and I had no idea where it would end until the very end of it.

        • Emil

          28 September, 2011 at 12:26

          True, it was quite unpredictable. Have you seen Catch Me If You Can? It’s somewhat similar to I Love You Philip Morris, in that it’s also based on a real-life story of a conman. Very fun film, and I’d say I liked it better than ILYPM.

          • Jessica

            28 September, 2011 at 13:04

            Oh, that’s the one with DiCaprio. Yes, I remember it as very enjoyable, but it’s been longer since I watched it so I don’t remember it too well anymore. I suppose it was the kind of movie that are good fun while they last but don’t leave that much trace after them.

  3. Movies - Noir

    28 September, 2011 at 16:27

    Another fine list, Emil. Always interesting reading and fun to see what others like. I won’t post links to all my reviews, but here’s my list of my favorite 2009 films.

    A quick rundown on the films on your list:

    10. I actually saw The Girlfriend Experience after seeing it on your list on most overlooked films. I never really got into the films mood, but I’m glad it works for others ;)

    9. I wasn’t overly pleased with An Education and Carey Mulligan nominated for best actress ? Not in my books. Still watchable, but not near my top ten.

    8. Fish Tank wasn’t in my top ten either, but I liked it. As you noted Jarvis and Fassbender worked really well and I liked what I saw.

    7. I haven’t seen Adventureland, but not sure I’d like it. Doesn’t feel like a film I’d like and I’m not too keen on Jesse Eisenberg.

    6. What a letdown The Road was to me. Very bleak and, hmm boring. I don’t mind it being bleak, it’s the way it should be with the story. But even though I’ve watched it twice it didn’t really do much for me. I liked Viggo Mortensen a lot in it (should’ve been an Oscar nomination), but the kid was pretty poor.

    5. It was a treat to see Avatar in the cinema, but just like a previous poster noted, the final 30 minutes or so the story went downhill. I liked the experience, but the story was far too mainstream.

    4. The Cove strikes you in the heart, doesn’t it ? Effective and touching. Still, didn’t make it to my top ten list.

    3. I was pretty upset when I saw Up in the Air at the Stockholm Film Festival. Not because I didn’t like the film, which I did, but because the audience laughed out loud throughout the film, even though a lot of it wasn’t supposed to be funny, at least to me. I found a lot of it tragic, but I couldn’t enjoy the film as much as I know I would’ve otherwise. A second viewing didn’t help much as my first experience ruined it for good, haha. But it’s a good movie for sure.

    2. I haven’t seen Coraline, but heard positive things about it when it came out. Might have to check it out one of these days.

    1. Ah yes, In the Loop was in my top five and I really enjoyed it both times I’ve seen it. Really funny, witty and clever. Malcolm Tucker was brilliantly played by Peter Capaldi. A must see !

    The ten that made my list were: Inglourious Basterds, Un prophète, District 9, In the Loop, Sin nombre, Polytechnique, Moon, City Island, A Single Man and Harry Brown. Again, my list can be found here.

    Would be fun to hear your thoughts on it ;)

    • Emil

      28 September, 2011 at 17:33

      Thank you for the comment! I stopped by your blog to offer my thoughts on your list. In general, I liked what I saw.

      I won’t try to persuade you to watch Adventureland. It’s far from your average quirky romantice comedy, but there are traces of it there and they might be hard to look past. And if you’re not a fan of Eisenberg, this role isn’t likely to chaneg your mind. It’s a very good performance, but it’s not far removed from the roles he often plays.

      Definitely agree with you on Viggo Mortensen. I can’t say I’ve ever seen him do better. Shame you didn’t like the film, though.

      I know what you mean about Up in the Air. There are many things that can affect our enjoyment of a film that are outside the film’s control. The people you see it with, their reactions, the mood you’re in, etcetera. I have had similar experiences myself. Often my opinions clear up if I rewatch the films, but every now and then they stick. It’s unfortunate, but there’s not much to do about it.

      Glad to see I’m not the only oen who loved In the Loop. That film made me laugh harder than any other movie in years.

      • Movies - Noir

        30 September, 2011 at 15:48

        I didn’t dislike Up in the Air, and there’s something that makes me want to watch it again even though I’ve seen it twice. So I’m sure I’ll watch it again one day and perhaps see it in a different way.

        And thanks for stopping by and giving me your thoughts, always welcomed and interesting to hear what you have to say. Hopefully you found a couple of movies to add to your “to see list”.

        • Emil

          1 October, 2011 at 13:36

          I definitely did. Thank you.

  4. Dave

    28 September, 2011 at 23:52

    Fantastic list, Emil. I’ve seen all but three (Girlfriend Experience, Coraline, and The Road), and I really liked/loved the rest of the batch. Like yourself, my blog is fairly new and I’m posting my Best of the Year lists retroactively (in random order, no less). And, of course, I just posted my 2010 a few weeks ago (see, it’s never too late!).

    I like your taste. You’ve got a new follower. :-)

    • Emil

      29 September, 2011 at 01:05

      Thank you for the kind words, Dave! Glad you enjoyed the list. I had a quick log at your blog and I liked what I saw. I’ll definitely look through it more tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing what you’ve put out so far.

  5. Tyler

    29 September, 2011 at 07:55

    Great list. My favourite movie from 2009 is one of my favourite movies ever made: Michael Haneke’s THE WHITE RIBBON. Haneke is my favourite living director and every movie he’s ever made is brilliant. I recommend THE PIANO TEACHER to pretty much everyone I meet but THE WHITE RIBBON is amazing also. I could ramble about him for ages but I’ll restrict myself.

    On your list, I have seen AN EDUCATION, FISH TANK, THE ROAD, AVATAR and UP IN THE AIR.

    While AVATAR was visually stunning, it was absolutely RIDDEN with awful cliches and I despised the tiresome plot. But still fun to watch.

    • Emil

      29 September, 2011 at 08:24

      I quite like what little Haneke I’ve seen so far. He’s an interesting filmmaker for sure, and I have a number of hs films on my to-watch list, including White Ribbon. The Piano Teacher is certainly very potent stuff.

      Avatar definitely has its fair share of issues, and you touch on a couple of them in your comment, ones I agree with in essence if not measure. But there are few movies that have made me look past its flaws as easily as that one did.


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