Friday, January 8, 2010

The Best Movies of 2009

In the spirit of every movie critic who has put out a top ten list of the best movies of the year, I too shall put out a list of the best movies of the year.  Mine, however, will be different, as I only saw twelve movies this year (actually, as far as movies go, that's not too bad).  So, I will only be listing my top five, as well as two Honorable Mentions and a Special Jury Award.  My best of the decade list will follow (and to those who say that the decade ends at midnight on December 31, 2010, I say that's only if you follow a calendar with an arbitrary start date tied to a religion, in which case, that calendar is off by four years, anyway).  So, here we go!

Best Picture: Precious

Gabby Sibide and Mo'Nique give amazing performances in this gasp-inducing movie about a girl (Sibide), pregnant with her second child, living in poverty with her abusive mother (Mo'Nique).  Mariah Carey is also a standout as a social worker at the welfare office.  As the movie ended, I sat there, stunned.  To find a comparable experience in the theater, I'd have to go back to Shine--which came out in 1996.

Most Innovative: Sita Sings the Blues

The great thing about my pick for the second best movie of last year is that anyone with an Internet connection can see it for free, either streamed through the website (, or via youtube.  Another great thing is how good it is...and it was made by one woman on her home computer!  Nina Paley should be honored at the Oscars for her achievement in weaving together the Ramayana, the songs of Annette Hanshaw, and her own breakup into one gloriously animated feature film.  Instead, she will be ignored, as copyright laws prevent her from releasing the film commercially.  In some ways, this movie faces the same problems that faced Killer of Sheep.  In that case, at least, UCLA (or someone else?) eventually paid for the use of the copyrighted music.  Hopefully some big studio will do the same in this case.  Not that it matters to us, since we can pay for copies online.

Best Animated Film (in theaters): Up

Some critics thought Wall-E should have won the Oscar for best picture.  What, then, do they think of this film, which moved me almost as much as Precious did, and with animation?  As with Wall-E, there is a part of the movie that is dialogue-free, and while it's not as long a montage as that used in the former film, it is used just as effectively.  In fact, the most effective parts of this film (the tear-jerking scenes) use no words to make their point, and I have yet to see a scene in a movie where a young boy and a young girl meet told as honestly as the scene near the beginning of this movie, when Ellie and Carl meet for the first time.

Best Film About the Economy: Up in the Air

While not as good as Juno, Jason Reitman continues to prove that he is a great director and great at spotting good material with this movie about a man (George Clooney) who is paid to fly across the country and fire people.  Great acting from Clooney (as Ryan Bingham, a man who loves his job because it allows him to avoid any personal attachments), Vera Farmiga (as Alex Goran, his female foil and frequent flier fuck buddy), and Anna Kendrick (as Natalie Keener, a young and ambitious worker whose plans to save the company money run counter to Bingham's wishes), plus a nice turn by Jason Bateman as Bingham and Keener's boss.  One warning: while this movie is funny, it is also sad and poignant, so if you're expecting a feel-good movie, stick to It's a Wonderful Life.

Cutest Film: (500) Days of Summer

More uplifting than Up in the Air, but not all light and airy (it begins with a breakup).  Some interesting stylistic choices (I particulary like the song and dance routine after the first night Summer and Tom sleep together, and the split screen showing Tom's expectations versus reality when he is invited to a party by Summer late in the film) in a film that is not a love story (as the audience is informed at the beginning of this picture).  Rather, this is a movie about relationships, and why some work, and some don't--or, to be more accurate, the fact that some work, and some don't, and no rational explanation exists as to why.

Honorable Mentions: Me and Orson Welles, An Education

Both of these films feature standout performances.  In the case of the delightful Me and Orson Welles, it is the memorable Christian McKay as a young Orson Welles.  In equal measure, we are able to recognize two things about Welles: he was a genius, and he was a pain in the ass to work for.  Not an easy thing for an actor or a director to pull off, but McKay and the director, Richard Linklater, are more than up to the task.  In addition, this is a fine movie about the theater, and makes one wish he or she had been in the audience the night that Welles's version of Julius Caesar opened at the Mercury Theatre.

In An Education, we have a breakout performance from Carey Mulligan as Jenny, a British schoolgirl who enters into a relationship with a much older man.  Another treat in this movie is Alfred Molina as Jenny's father, stealing every scene he's in, while Mulligan steals every scene that he's not in.

Special Jury Award: Avatar

Let's admit, up front, that the dialogue is cliched, the (human) characters are, for the most part, stereotypes, and the story is nothing new in the world of science fiction (or in any movie where an oppressor decides to join forces with the oppressed).  I am giving Avatar the Special Jury Award because it looks so damn cool, and because James Cameron knows how to film an action sequence in which the special effects (including the 3D) enhance what is happening onscreen, rather than feeling like a gimmick.  Oh, and the 3D is superb, and used the way it should be used: to create the illusion of depth, instead of just using it so that objects pop out of the screen and scare people.


  1. First:
    2 out of 8 (Up and (500) Days of Summer). The reason I hate lists. (Avatar tickets are booked for Monday, so then it will be three.)

    Second: Paley's bought the rights (can't remember where I read this, probably somewhere on her blog), she's just not doing anything out of principle.

    Third: Have you watched The Hurt Locker?

    Third: Now I know I've OD'd on lists, now that I saw nothing I haven't seen on other lists (not to detract from your taste, that).

  2. Sita Sings the Blues is a great watch on DVD. It's available on Amazon and Netflix.

  3. The only one of these I've seen is "Up". (I usually don't see most movies until they've been out for 5 or 10 years!) I love the first bit of the movie with Carl and Ellie too! My mum said that part alone was worth the price of admission. :)

  4. @ Ronak
    First: Have you seen Ebert's lists? I have many more movies to watch, myself.

    Second: The copyrights on the recordings have run out, but not on the sheet music. When she made the movie, she only looked at the copyrights on the recordings. She can't afford to pay for the copyrights on the compositions themselves, since that would cost her over $5000 for 5000 or more DVDs sold (

    Third: No, but I really REALLY want to. It was playing in Seattle, but by the time I got around to going to the place where it was playing, it was gone. I'll have to rent the DVD, I guess.

  5. Update: Saw The Hurt Locker last night. If I were making this list today, it would occupy the top slot, with Precious falling to "Best Film About Overwhelming Odds."


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