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Laramie Movie Scope:
Top, bottom films, etc. of 2009

Best, worst and ruminations on 2009 films

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
[Strip of film rule]

January 10, 2010 -- Here is my list of the best and worst films, best actors, etc. from the year of 2009, with the usual caveats. There are a few Oscar contenders I have not seen for various reasons, and I have definitely missed (on purpose) most of the year's worst films. My picks for the best and worst films and many other categories, such as best actor, director, etc. are listed below.

Among the films missing from my “best of” lists are “Inglourious Basterds” and “A Serious Man.” These are directed, respectively by critic darlings Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers. Since I am not into butt smooching, they aren't on my list. “Inglourious Basterds” suffers from too many pace-killing conversations I have labeled “My Dinner With Fritz” (apologies to the film “My Dinner With Andre”) because Nazis tend to do most of the talking and the conversations seem to drag on forever. It also reminds me too much of the decade of 2000-2009, which I'd just as soon forget. In fact, it may be the film which best embodies that lost decade. More on that in this article about the decade in film.

“A Serious Man” is a funny film, but it's sum is less than its parts. There are some funny segments, but they don't fit together or add up to anything. The fact is, the Coen brothers didn't even try to make a coherent movie. That is the whole point of the movie. It is just the usual nonsense of the Coen brothers thumbing their noses at the world. They obviously don't care, so why should I? Both of these are entertaining, enjoyable films, but not a great ones. If you reward this kind of nonsense with statuettes, they will make more.

Below the list of top films are a list of honorable mentions, followed by lists of my picks for top director, top actor, top foreign film, etc. Those lists are followed by lists of the worst films, overrated films, funniest, saddest, etc. I've added a couple of Dubious Distinction awards as a satirical comment on certain awards that seem to be based on factors that are literally skin deep. My top 10 lists include more comedy and films starring black actors, two varieties of movies absent from most top 10 lists. Drama is easy, but comedy is tough to get right. This is a good year for animated films. I've got three in my top 10 list and there are some others I haven't mentioned, like “Sita Sings the Blues” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” that are nearly as good.

Page navigation: Honorable mention Best of by category Funniest movie,   Saddest movie Overrated movies,   Best movies you haven't heard of,   Worst movies, Dubious Distinctions.

Best 10 films of 2009

1. The Hurt Locker[4 stars]

This flawless film puts most other war movies to shame. It not only is loaded with suspense, it has plenty of action, some fascinating characters, plus it has some thought-provoking things to say about men in war.

2. Crazy Heart[4 stars]

This is a heartfelt movie about a country-western singer whose life and career are sliding away. Love gives him a reason to live and to become a better man. Great music (and I don't like country-western music) and a great performance by Jeff Bridges.

3. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire[4 stars]

This movie is both inspiring and filled with gritty, powerful realism. Well-written, directed and featuring perhaps the best ensemble acting group of any film released in 2009, this low-budget independent movie is considered a lock for a best picture nomination and Mo'Nique is considered a lock for best supporting actress Oscar.

4. Coraline[4 stars]

This stop-motion animated feature is bound to become a classic. It is too intense for some children, but the story is just like a classic Grimm's tale. It has humor, suspense, and some genuinely chilling moments when a young girl is forced to confront pure evil. She needs all her courage to save her family.

5. Up in the Air[4 stars]

A perfectly crafted film with a great script, direction and performances. It captures the uncertainty of modern life in America after the recent financial meltdown.

6. Anvil: The Story of Anvil[4 stars]

The year's best documentary film captures the humanity of a big time rock band that is now a small time band. It captures the conflict and friendship between the band's two primary members as they try to come back from obscurity. It is a fascinating portrayal and makes you wonder what will happen to them next.

7. Avatar[4 stars]

One of the most popular films ever made, this is a movie with a message, but it is also very entertaining. More than any other film in a long time, it creates a convincing alien world and immerses the viewer in it so deeply it seems like home.

8. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince[4 stars]

This may be the best of the very popular Harry Potter series. It is also the first film in which the child-age characters actually get to act like children once in a while. It is also the darkest of all the films in terms of dramatic developments.

9. Ponyo (Gake no ue no Ponyo)[4 stars]

One of the year's best animated films, this is another masterpiece from the master of Japanese animation, Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke”). The colors are rich and vibrant and the story has the haunting power of a classic fairy tale.

10. Up[4 stars]

This animated feature from Pixar is the odds on favorite to win an Academy Award for best animated film. Pixar very seldom loses when it comes to this kind of competition, and this is one of the best films ever made by Pixar.

Honorable Mention

The Cove[4 stars]

This is the second best documentary film of the year. It is set up like an exciting caper movie as a team of documentary filmmakers work to outwit the forces of a small Japanese town who are trying to keep them from filming a secret slaughter of dolphins in a well-guarded, secluded cove.

Away We Go[3.5 stars]

This offbeat road movie about a young couple looking for love in all the wrong places. What they are really looking for is security and a reaffirmation of their love in the face of an uncertain future. Like “Up in the Air” it effectively captures the uncertainty of the time we live in.

An Education[3.5 stars]

This film about a young girl's affair with an older man is set in the 1960s in London. It features great acting performances and an interesting story. Most of life's valuable lessons are not learned in school.

Blood Equity[3.5 stars]

This documentary film about the heartless treatment of some former NFL players by the NFL and the NFL Player's Association is a real eye-opener. It should make you very angry.

Brothers[3.5 stars]

This drama about two brothers, one returning from prison, the other from war boasts the most powerful dramatic scene of any film I've seen this year.

The Burning Plain[3.5 stars]

This drama about damaging secrets from the past is told in several interlocking segments that fit together nicely at the end. It is powered by very strong performances from a capable cast.

Terminator Salvation[3.5 stars]

This big budget sci-fi movie tackles some tough questions about what it really means to be human, in addition to providing plenty of action.

Trucker[3.5 stars]

This very good small budget independent film was seen by few outside the film community. It is another film that shares this year's most common theme among new films, uncertainty about the future. A great cast performs at top level in this drama.

Zombieland[3.5 stars]

There is nothing new or unusual about this zombie action comedy. It is just really well written, directed and acted. This is the best zombie comedy since “Shawn of the Dead.”

More lists below

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Links to reviews of all the films below are indexed in the following web pages:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through L
M through Q   R through S   T through Z

Best director

1. Kathryn Bigelow -- The Hurt Locker
2. Scott Cooper -- Crazy Heart
3. Lee Daniels -- Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
4. Henry Selick -- Coraline
5. Jason Reitman -- Up in the Air

Best actor

1. George Clooney - Up in the Air
2. Tom Hardy - Bronson
3. Jeff Bridges -- Crazy Heart
4. Sam Rockwell -- Moon
5. Jeremy Renner -- The Hurt Locker

Best actress

1. Sandra Bullock -- The Blind Side
2. Michelle Monaghan -- Trucker
3. Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe -- Precious
4. Amy Adams -- Julie and Julia
5. Amy Adams -- Sunshine Cleaning

Best supporting actor

1. Liev Schreiber -- X-Men Origins: Wolverine
2. Chris Messina -- Julie and Julia
3. Zachary Quinto -- Star Trek
4. Stanley Tucci -- Julie & Julia
5. Woody Harrelson -- The Messenger

Best supporting actress

1. Mo'Nique -- Precious
2. Meryl Streep - Julie and Julia
3. Emily Blunt -- Sunshine Cleaning
4. Natalie Portman -- Brothers
5. Zoe Saldana -- Star Trek

Best adapted screenplay

1. Henry Selick - Coraline
2. Scott Cooper - Crazy Heart
3. Geoffrey Fletcher -- Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
4. Harold P. Manning and Jesse Armstrong -- In the Loop
5. Nick Hornby -- An Education

Best original screenplay

1. Mark Boal -- The Hurt Locker
2. Bob Peterson -- Up
3. Hayao Miyazaki -- Ponyo
4. James Cameron -- Avatar
5. James Mottern -- Trucker

Best documentary feature

1. Anvil!: The Story of Anvil
2. The Cove
3. Under Our Skin
4. Food, Inc.
5. Blood Equity

Best animated feature

1. Coraline
2. Ponyo
3. Up
4. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
5. Astro Boy

Links to reviews of all films on this site are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through L
M through Q   R through S   T through Z

Funniest film of the year

Zombieland[3.5 stars]

Saddest film of the year

Blood Equity[3.5 stars]

The year's most overrated films

Inglourious Basterds[2.5 stars] (also worst spelling)
A Serious Man[3 stars]
Fantastic Mr. Fox[3 stars]
Sita Sings the Blues[3 stars]
Police Adjective (Politist, adj.)[1 star]

The year's best films you've never heard of

The Hurt Locker[4 stars]
Anvil: The Story of Anvil[4 stars]
Crazy Heart[4 stars]
Ponyo (Gake no ue no Ponyo)[4 stars]
The Cove[4 stars]
Blood Equity[3.5 stars]
The Burning Plain[3.5 stars]
An Education[3.5 stars]

The Worst Films of 2009

While I saw most of the best films of the year, I purposefully missed nearly all of the reportedly bad films, including The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Miss March, The Unborn, Jennifer’s Body, Confessions of a Shopaholic, Fighting, Obsessed, Year One, I Love You Beth Cooper, Orphan, The Ugly Truth, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, The Final Destination, Sorority Row, Couples Retreat, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, All About Steve, The Fourth Kind, Antichrist, Chandni Chowk to China, My Life in Ruins, Amelia, Aliens in the Attic, Dance Flick, Fired Up, Post Grad, Bride Wars, Old Dogs, After Last Season, Halloween II, The Stepfather, Gamer, Dragonball Evolution, Transylmania, Did You Hear About the Morgans?, Crank: High Voltage, It’s Complicated, New York, I Love You, Last House on the Left, Pink Panther 2, Whiteout, Fame, Law Abiding Citizen, among many others, so this is not in any way a list of the worst of the worst films, just the worst of the films I saw. After all, I don't get into the movies for free, and I don't like to waste my money, but I got fooled into watching the following films anyway:

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen[1 star]

This film is tied with “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” as the worst film of the year to make an obscene amount of money at the box office. Sadly, this means they will make more. I blame myself as much as anyone else for that. I really liked the first Transformers movie, but this was awful.

Observe and Report[1 star]

This film was so bad, it made “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” look not so bad by comparison.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop[1 star]

Well, it was bad too, but not offensively bad.

Police Adjective (Politist, adj.)[1 star]

The worst “art” film of the year. Boring beyond belief. The most exciting part of the movie is when the hero reads a Romanian dictionary aloud. This is also one of the year's most overrated films.

Humpday[1 star]

This is a sort of wannabe art film that fell miles short of making the grade.

Hannah Montana: The Movie[1 star]

What was I thinking, actually going to a theater to see this piece of crap?

Dubious Distinctions

The honorary Roman Polanski Juicy Jailbait Award, also known as the “Breakthrough Actor” award or the “Newcomer” award (insert Beavis and Butthead snickering here) is the first dubious distinction. The second dubious distinction is the Marilyn Chambers Memorial Nudity Award.

The jailbait award is usually won by very attractive, very young women, or girls, some of whom are prepubescent, or at who least look like they might be. Why is this you ask? Because most film critics are men and most men (especially older men) have trouble remembering actors at the end of the year for awards purposes unless they are very young and pretty. O.K., so they are dirty old men.

Past winners are Saoirse Ronan for “Atonement,” Anna Paquin for “The Piano,” Ziyi Zhang for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” of course Polanski's old flame, Natasha Kinski for “Tess” and most of the cast of “Thirteen.”

The award this year goes to Carey Mulligan for “An Education”. She is very pretty and plays the part of a 16-year-old statutory rape victim. She has an affair with an older man. Carey Mulligan, is actually 24 years old, but looks the part of a teenager. I'm sure many male viewers were disappointed to find out she really isn't jailbait after all. But I know what you were thinking. Shame on you!

The second dubious distinction is the Marilyn Chambers Memorial Nudity Award (If I have to take my clothes off to win an award, then so be it):

Malin Akerman wins the 2009 nudity award for her naked performance in “Watchmen.” Nobody could keep abreast of her performance (insert additional adolescent snickering here) this year. In the same movie we also see the biggest, longest schlong in the history of movies when Doctor Manhattan goes both giant and nude. Some special effect! There is even a blue bush in there somewhere. Past winners of the nudity award include, Kate Winslet for “The Reader,” Rinko Kikuchi for “Babel,” and Maria Bello for “A History of Violence.”

Links to reviews of all the films are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through I
J through L   M through N   O through Q   R through S   T through Z

Page navigation: Honorable mention Best of by category Funniest movie,   Saddest movie Overrated movies Best movies you haven't heard of,   Worst movies, Dubious Distinctions.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2010 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)