The Ten Best and Five Worst Films of 2009 (So Far)

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2009’s Ten Best and Five Worst Films (So Far)

We’re technically over halfway through 2009, but a disproportionately large number of great films tend to spring up in the latter months of the year, so let’s call it halfway for the sake of our collective sanity. It hasn’t been a terrific year for filmgoing so far this year, but there have been enough films worth celebrating to justify a roundup. Keep in mind that these rankings are tentative – they’re largely based on single viewings, and my estimates of their relative worth may vary over the course of the year. My principal question when ranking new film is: “which films am I most eager to watch again?” With that in mind, my top ten films of the year so far, in descending order:

star_trek_2009_movie_poster_210. Star Trek

If someone had told you back in January that the summer of 2009’a only satisfying blockbuster would be JJ Abrams’ “reboot” of the long-suffering Star Trek franchise, would you believe them? I certainly wouldn’t be inclined to, but that’s precisely what happened, as Abrams and co. slyly retooled the series’ universe without changing the fundamentals of its characters, making for a bold new take on Trek that alienated some fans but struck a nerve with both moviegoers and critics (and me).

9. Summer Hours

I didn’t care for Olivier Assayas’ previous feature, the Asia Argento vehicle Boarding Gate, but I’m definitely a fan of his latest venture, which saw him do a complete 180 from that film’s thriller conventions to something approaching a more reserved take on Arnaud Desplechin’s Conte de Noël (one of my favorite films of last year.) Beautifully shot, thoughtfully written and frequently touching, though its pacing will frustrate less patient filmgoers.

8. Two Lovers

No one believes me when I tell them that this very dour-looking James Gray drama is one of the year’s best films, but no one who’s actually seen it has disputed that fact with me thus far. Two Lovers is a serious, acutely drawn portrait of adult love and loss, and deserves to be seen by a wider audience. It’s unfortunate that Joaquin Phoenix’s ridiculous extracurricular activities completely derailed any public interest in the film, since it contains what is most likely his best performance. People, overcome any prejudices you may have and check this one out on DVD.

drag-me-to-hell-poster27. Drag Me To Hell

Though it’s marred by some occasionally dodgy CGI, it’s difficult to deny that Sam Raimi’s return to genre filmmaking provided us with some of the year’s most giddily satisfying pleasures, from its many scenes of animal endangerment, to its delicious occult slant, to its rare use of a legitimately believable female lead (a strong Alison Lohman). Drag Me to Hell struck some viewers as too slight or not unsettling enough, but I was taken with its thrill-ride approach, carefully engineered editing, and black humor. Let’s hope he doesn’t take quite so long to get back in the ring next time.

6. Adventureland (podcast review)
Greg Mottola sticks to what he knows for his debut as both writer and director after helming 2007’s smash hit Superbad, and comes up aces with a coming-of-age tale that’s both funny and sweet, with just the right alchemy to make for a memorable trip to his 80s heyday. Littered with great era-specific songs from both the worlds of indie rock (The Replacements, Hüsker Dü) and pop (Crowded House) and bolstered by a terrific young cast, including Kristen Stewart, who seems positively elated to be in a film where she doesn’t have to preen endlessly over a sickly, pale man-child. In fact, here the man-child gets to do the fawning, but luckily Jesse Eisenberg is charming rather than grating as he pursues the woman of his dreams.
up-movie-poster-carl5. Up

Pixar strikes gold again – did anyone doubt it? – with this fanciful, Miyazaki-esque tale of a man, his house and a long-lost dream. Though some younger viewers were audibly distressed by the film’s very dark, very sad opening montage, there’s the unshakable feeling that the studio has produced another family-friendly classic that will resonate with viewers of all ages long after Ice Age: Medieval Mayhem plops glumly into multiplexes.

4. Moon

Duncan Jones’ directorial debut hits so many of my pleasure centers all at once – low-budget wizardry, hard sci-fi, Sam Rockwell – that it was destined to find a place here. Nevertheless, Moon is a startlingly good stab at thinking-man’s sci-fi that contorts its seemingly simple plot in several different and pleasantly surprising directions, and leaves just enough questions unanswered to preserve a healthy sense of mystery. Rockwell proves he can anchor a (good) film and delivers a performance to hang a career on.

inglorious_basterds_empire133. Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds closed off this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, and unlike many film fest big-ticket items, Tarantino’s latest delivered in spades, offering up 150 minutes of great dialogue, a handful of very memorable scenes and performances, and a final reel that will audiences squealing with delight – that is, if they’ve coped with Brad Pitt’s very small amount of screentime, as well as a whole lot of talking. Regardless of how audiences and Tarantino fans will take to the film, Basterds is destined to eventually be accepted as one of Tarantino’s best films, and certainly his purest since Jackie Brown.

2. The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle
A remarkable Fantasia film that thankfully picked up a Best Director award from the Jury, James Russo’s feature debut juggles so many ideas and plot elements that it’s remarkable that it works at all. It functions equally well as stoner comedy, social satire, tender coming-of-age tale, and unadulterated, 80s-style mindfuck, and it’s one of the most kinetically exciting films I’ve seen in ages, as well as being very, very funny. Psychotropic snacks, subliminal clothing, male pregnancies and corporate misconduct are only a few of the plot threads on offer here, but the film stays remarkably grounded throughout thanks to a very strong set of performances from its appealing young cast. Here’s hoping this gets a distributor soon.

in-the-loop-0051. In The Loop

At first I balked at giving this riotous UK comedy the top spot due to its humble TV roots, but then I realized that no other film this year has so thoroughly summed up the zeitgeist while also being incredibly entertaining. Armando Iannuci’s relentlessly funny look at US-UK politics works equally well as a straight comedy and as an angry indictment of the comprehensive failure of government in the face of global disaster. Peter Capaldi’s vulgar, wicked turn as British Communications Director Malcolm Tucker makes the film a must-see all by its lonesome, but he’s also supported by some very funny turns from unexpected performers, including but not limited to James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), David Rasche (United 93) and Anna Chlumsky (My Girl[!]). When you’re too busy laughing to even notice that it’s a film about the world going to shit, you know everyone involved has done their jobs.

And the year’s bottom five…so far:

5. Terminator Salvation
Adding precisely nothing to the Terminator mythos while simultaneously supplying us with a relentlessly dingy, oppressively uninteresting look and feel, Salvation is ultimately still most notable for inadvertently bringing us the Christian Bale freakout, which has been a much more consistent source of entertainment than the film turned out to be.
4. The Limits of Control

Its incredible score, courtesy of Boris and SUNN O))), keeps Jim Jarmusch’s maddening, incredibly dull pseudo-political mess from being a total loss, but it’s still unfortunate that the man, who used to impart his philosophies through carefully wrought character studies and wonderfully oblique storytelling methods, has now entered the realm of unadulterated asshattery.

3. Friday the 13th

This remarkably lifeless franchise reboot is among the least imaginative horror films ever made, which has me worried as to what exactly the studio has planned for the forthcoming Elm Street do-over. Be afraid.

2. Knowing

AKA Left Behind 7: Still Burnin’, this incredibly disingenuous would-be “sci-fi” “thriller” serves both as Nic Cage career nadir and an epitaph for our lasting, collective hopes that Dark City helmer Alex Proyas might again someday make a great film.

1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Was there ever any doubt? Michael “Nickelback Riff” Bay (thanks Al) returns on a wave of testosterone and other assorted male bodily fluids to deliver (nay, slam) his latest technicolor crapfest. Almost completely unwatchable on a basic, aesthetic level, and is so incredibly racist, sexist and idiotically plotted that even the toys are tired of rolling their eyes at this point.

Simon Howell

  1. Noah R. says

    I completely disagree with putting The Limits of Control on par with Terminator: Salvation and Transformers 2. I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but you can’t deny that it’s Jarmusch’s most confident film to date. He understands the power of every cut, every shot, and every music cue. It’s not his best film — that honor goes to Dead Man — but I still found it an enthralling and hypnotic experience. But you loved In the Loop so you are forgiven. ;-)

    My Top 5:

    1. The Hurt Locker
    2. In the Loop
    3. The Limits of Control
    4. Up
    5. Star Trek

  2. Daniel says

    I’m suprised Coraline hasn’t been included.

  3. Parker says

    Why does everyone keep insisting that Transformers 2 was racist, a little bit of good clean fun, that’s all folks. It’s not because in the last half hour some people might have had the knack to go a bit epilleptic (I’ll give you that) that it has to be broken down as sexist and racist.

  4. Márcio says

    I have no beef with your list, except that I would put “Knowing” at #1, Transformers was really bad but at least it had Megan Fox as eye candy, “Knowing” I couldn’t even finish, gave up after 40 minutes and I’ll never get those 40 minutes back.

    I really didn’t see that many movies released this year but here’s the ones I think are worth mentioning:

    1- Bronson
    2- The Girlfriend Experience
    3- In the Loop

    1. Rick says

      I said this on our review on the podcast for Knowing and I will say it again. Bad movie but an awesome score which really picks up at the end. Fantastic new composer who hopefully will get better work in the future.

    2. Rick says

      What the HELL is Bronson and also Marcio, check out our interview with Sasha Grey.

      1. Márcio says

        I’ve heard the interview already, good stuff.
        “Bronson” is the new film by Nicolas Winding Refn, it’s very kubrickian and has a great performance by Tom Hardy. Check it out if you can it’s well worth the watch.

        1. Márcio says
  5. christopher says

    Oh cmon dude… only a guy who barely watch movies can call Transformers 2 a good film…. I admit it’s great on effects, probably the greatest effects i have ever seen. but, the film was too much… it feels like 5 hours, and i’m not even exagerrating. before Transformers 2, Michael Bay didn’t really bother me, but after watching Transformers 2 i understood the hate. i’m not one of those Bay haters before. I love Armageddon when i was a kid(i was 7 when it came out). i was okay with Pearl Harbour because i barely watch good movies at that time. i liked the Rock alot because of Sean Connery(my childhood hero, 007, i always watch him when i was a kid). and i even had a good time watching Bad Boys 2(well, i saw it on TV, switching channels, i probably saw only 1/4 of it). Transformers was a good movie because it was SHORT and the nonsense Jokes didnt really bother me. i’d even say it is Bay’s best film. i’m older when i saw it so i can honestly say that the Bay films that i liked, SUCKED, and the film that i think was a good film of his, not great, was his best. but Transformers 2 is such a pain to watch. calling it the best action film saddens me. what will happen to the film industry if people are like you. c’mon man? even Norton’s Hulk was WAY superrior than Transformers 2. i won’t use TDK as a comparison. TDK don’t deserve to be compared with that garbage

    1. Rob says

      Transformers 2 is not the best movie, but the review above is totally biast. Taking the piss out of someones spelling because they don’t agree with you is a sign of insecurity and nothing to do with movie reviews. Plus in foreign countries they have their own languages and have learnt English because its widely spoken. Inglourious Basterds is a great movie mind you. But having seen most of the original Star Trek as they were actually released in the good old days, I was deeply disappointed by the new one. “Knowing” sux!

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