Ten Best Movies of 2009. And Then Some.

By at January 5, 2010 | 12:33 am | Print

Now that we movie reviewers have crammed in the final films of the year, I’m happy to deliver my 2009 Top Ten Movies (And Then Some). This is my 10th year making said list (I’ll share a decade of #1s sometime soon.) If you’d like to see how my list compares with those of my esteemed colleagues, I urge you to check out our filmcritic.com’s The Year In Film – 2009. As for my opinions, the best film of 2009 is…

Ben Foster in The Messenger1. The Messenger
Oren Moverman directed his own script with poise, sadness and a touch of danger. Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster (right) deliver two of the great performances of the year, as a pair of soldiers serving casualty notification duty, being the first to tell military families that a loved one has been lost overseas. Moverman effectively uses a variety of pacing and camera styles to draw you in and let his oustanding cast (including Samantha Morton) do the rest. The Messenger is one of ten films listed by the American Film Institute as standout movies of the year. Check out my full review of The Messenger.

2. Up In the Air
A strong contender for #1, with all the fixin’s for a great American film: A thoughtful performance from a major star; a story that reflects our times with humility; a timely, spot-on script. Oh yeah, and it’s hugely entertaining.

3. Brothers
Check out my review of Brothers on filmcritic.com.

Inglourious Basterds Movie Poster4. Inglourious Basterds
The wonderful ‘what-if’ world of Quentin Tarantino continues with his misspelled, rewritten WWII fantasy, a cinematic special where Jews scalp the enemy and everything revolves around movies. As usual for Tarantino, the dialogue is carefully crafted and brimming with energy. Austrian Christoph Waltz and German Daniel Brühl are expectional as a brilliant Nazi ringleader and Goebells’ star propagandist soldier.

5. The Hurt Locker
Kathryn Bigelow’s career of attitude and machismo (Point Break, Strange Days, K-19) continues with a more dramatic study of the male mind that’s also an exercise in unbearable tension. Jeremy Renner is the cock of the walk as a devil-may-care bomb specialist making Iraqi streets safe for soldiers and citizens. What begins as a visually electrifying alpha-male story becomes something surprisingly deeper.

6. Winnebago Man
Jack Rebney is the man. Winnebago Man. A guy who starred in corporate videos for Winnebago and cursed his brains out like a mad drunk in between takes. Twenty years pass. Enter YouTube, and a level of fame Jack Rebney never imagined. What a sweet old guy. Or is he? A riotous documentary.

Joaquin Phoenix and Vinessa Shaw in Two Lovers7. Two Lovers
Sometimes, we’re not the only ones with control over our decisions. That’s the insight from director James Gray, who sticks with his favorite actor (Joaquin Phoenix) for his most delicate, carefully plotted film yet. Phoenix delivers a masterful mix of charm and hesitation as a guy just rehabbed from a suicide attempt, caught between two women: one is volatile and self-loathing (Gwyneth Paltrow); the other, sweet and stable (Vinessa Shaw). Check out my full review of Two Lovers on filmcritic.com.

8. Up
For the first act of Up, I felt I was witnessing one of the greatest films ever made. In that short period of time, Pixar filmmakers tell of a couple’s life, from childhood to old age, with more grace, elegance and beauty than 100 hard-working romantic comedies. It’s cinematic genius, made with an endearing respect for its audience and characters. For all its wonder, creativity and fun, Up can’t sustain that level of magic throughout the film; nevertheless, it stands as a superior movie, as do nearly all of Pixar’s features. Check out my full review of Up.

9. Adventureland
Greg Mottola realizes his Superbad potential with this smart comedy about an overachieving student’s summer after high school graduation. Jesse Eisenberg skillfully avoids all coming-of-age stereotypes as a kid falling in love while sensing the insecurities of adulthood coming around the bend. Ryan Reynolds is great as the town’s cool-but-cautionary tale. Satisfying from beginning to end.

James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson in Five Minutes of Heaven10. Five Minutes of Heaven
James Nesbitt and Liam Nesson star in this tight drama about a troubled man who gets a chance to go on TV and face the killer of his IRA-member brother. Based on actual men — but not an actual event. A shame this one didn’t get more visibility.

And then some… 11. I Love You, Man; 12. Knowing; 13. Grace; 14. Pontypool; 15. Fifty Dead Men Walking; 16. Humpday

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  1. […] Moverman’s first film (and our choice for the best movie of 2009), The Messenger, feels like a classic American independent. His follow-up, the corrupt cop drama, […]


  1. Scott, 8 years ago Reply

    Thanks for the “movies I wished I’d seen but didn’t” compilation Norm. Netflix queue updated! I’ll be the judge or your Year’s Best list.

  2. Jim Daddona, 8 years ago Reply

    Great list Norm….agree with pretty much all the movies if not in the same order…I never heard of the doc for Winnebago Man but have been a HUGE fan of his for years on You Tube…

  3. elswick, 8 years ago Reply

    tabbing back and forth between this and my netflix queue as we speak. and i couldnt agree more about up in the air. i think its a testament for just how damned likable george clooney is on screen.

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