Best of 2009

2009 marked the year of The Hurt Locker.  Kathryn Bigelow’s film topped over 60% of critics’ top 10 lists, which was 10% more than any other film.  It also went on to win the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards.

The Academy also nominated eight of the nine other top 10 films for their top prize, making it the best class of nominees in years.

50. Tokyo Sonata (24 lists; 1 top spot)

Known for distinctive horror movies like Cure and Pulse, inventive Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa finds just the right melancholy tone to suit a new and all too familiar kind of horror: economic downsizing. — Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

49. Broken Embraces (25 lists; 2 top spots)

While the movie as a whole is thoroughly engrossing and all the movie references and subplots involving the cinema world undoubtedly enrich his story, this is a pretty minor film from the filmmaker. — Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter

48. The Limits of Control (25 lists; 3 top spots)

Jim Jarmusch’s latest – his best since Dead Man (1995) – practically begs for dissection and analysis, but it’s better, perhaps, to read the film’s many repeated symbols, sayings and actions as mood enhancers rather than intellect stimulators — Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York

47. Lorna’s Silence (26 lists)


From the outstanding Belgian filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (Rosetta), here’s another closely observed, sociologically astute, and amazingly naturalistic drama about moral compromise as a by-product of economic need. — Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

45. Goodbye Solo (27 lists)


Goodbye Solo is the sort of film that truly defies categorization, and that may pose a challenge to some moviegoers. But there are certain works of art to which the rules do not apply. This is one of them. — Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

45. Zombieland (27 lists)

Though both female characters are underwritten and the movie ends too soon, after a routinely action-packed final act that isn’t as fresh as the rest, Zombieland is still the funniest broad comedy since The Hangover. — Kyle Smith, New York Post

44. Funny People (27 lists; 1 top spot)


It could have easily been a formula film, and the trailer shamelessly tries to misrepresent it as one, but George Simmons learns and changes during his ordeal, and we empathize. — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

42. Invictus (28 lists; 2 top spots)

Eastwood, tackling a sports movie very different from Million Dollar Baby, paces the action beautifully, right up to one white-knuckle moment late in the film (involving a plane) when you suddenly realized how invested in the story you’ve become. — Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times

42. Watchmen (28 lists; 2 top spots)

This movie will shake your windows and rattle your walls. At least it will for a couple of hours, before 40-odd minutes of draggy, comic-book exposition smother the wild, subversive superhero business that came before. — Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

41. Hunger (28 lists; 6 top spots)

Imagine how most filmmakers would tell this story and then see ‘Hunger’: the differences are bold and powerful and restore faith in cinema’s ability to cover history free from the bounds of texts and personalities. — Dave Calhoun, Time Out

40. The Sun (30 lists, 1 top spot)

“First shown at the Berlin Film Festival four years ago, The Sun is finally receiving its welcome American theatrical release, which means that one of the best movies of 2005 is now also one of the best of 2009.” — Manohla Dargis, New York Times

39. Sin Nombre (30 lists, 1 top spot)

“The actors, particularly Flores, have a documentary reality about them. Their reactions to most of their predicaments, even the ones given away too easily by the script, are real in the most human sense.” — Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel

38. Sugar (33 lists)

“Sugar is a departure from movies of its kind in quietly observing that life is often a series of base hits rather than grand-slam homers. The film has few moments of high drama and the games played matter only in how they shape Soto’s character.” — Peter Howell, Toronto Star

37. Drag Me to Hell (34 lists)

“The biggest howls involve the delicate heroine helplessly ingesting or inhaling bugs, worms, and bile–physical equivalents of her destructive emotions–and Raimi ends the story with the sort of black punch line that’s become his signature.” — J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader

36. The Informant! (37 lists)

“The film’s casting is spot on. Damon is delightful playing someone who is a terrible actor. Wearing a ghastly muffin-shaped hairdo, an ill-advised mustache and 30 extra pounds around his waist, he’s hardly recognizable as lethal Jason Bourne.” — Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune

35. Still Walking (41 lists, 2 top spots)

“The tone is perfect; this is one of those rare films that, despite being rooted firmly in the world around us, is utterly absorbing and capable of reducing the immediacies of life into abstract thoughts in the back of one’s mind.” — James Berardinelli, ReelViews

34. Antichrist (42 lists, 5 top spots)

“I’m inclined to agree with a colleague who told me he could swing with Antichrist when it was simply unstable but couldn’t go with it when it turned insane. It’s a useful distinction. And yet the first hour…is pretty stunning.” — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

33. Anvil! The Story of Anvil (43 lists, 1 top spot)

“Anvil! The Story of Anvil can’t help but evoke This Is Spinal Tap, the classic 1984 mockumentary directed by the other Rob Reiner, in terms of both sheer hair-metal ludicrousness and indignities suffered by a not-so-successful rock band on the road.” — Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer

32. Public Enemies (44 lists, 2 top spot)

“Mann and co-screenwriters Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman faithfully adapt the Dillinger portion of Bryan Burrough’s absorbing 2004 book by the same name, using the same locations where famous breakouts and shootouts occurred.” — Peter Howell, Toronto Star

30. The Cove (47 lists, 1 top spot)

“The Cove is a thriller in a classical sense. It’s the first of these movies to tell a story with more than stock footage and on-camera interviews. It also smartly refracts a major ethical, ecological problem through the prism of guerrilla events.” — Wesley Morris, Boston Globe

30. The Road (47 lists, 1 top spot)

“You hang on to yourself for dear life, resisting belief as best you can in the face of powerful acting, persuasive filmmaking and the perversely compelling certainty that nothing will turn out all right.” — Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal

29. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (48 lists, 3 top spots)

“It’s a rare and precious thing when a filmmaker gets funding for a script that features a coked-out, OxyContined-out, sleep-deprived Cage with a .44 Magnum in his waistband, spewing lines like “Shoot him again … his soul is still dancing.” — Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle

28. The Beaches of Agnes (48 lists, 5 top spots)

“Intensely personal and universally adaptable, The Beaches of Agnès is at once Varda’s gift to posterity, and to a world that that undervalues the small and seemingly insignificant events through which we drift unconsciously, but which leave a mark.” — Greg Quill, Toronto Star

27. Police, Adjective (49 lists, 6 top spots)

“It’s a surprisingly compelling way to build a sense of encroaching dread, delving into a banal, deceptively featureless world where the slightest bureaucratic blip or slip could change someone’s life forever.” — Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

26. Moon (50 lists, 2 top spots)

“In the end, Moon raises disturbing ethical questions about science and bioengineering, but it’s the emotional questions the film poses — about memory, about family, about identity — that really resonate.” — Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

25. Adventureland (51 lists, 3 top spots)

“One of Mottola’s best jokes involves Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus”…. [I]t’s hard to imagine a better use of nostalgia: to remind us of the many things we miss from a particular time, and the one reason we would never, ever want to go back.” — Christopher Orr, New Republic

24. The Hangover (54 lists, 1 top spot)

“Phillips, with a script credited to Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (and with loads of loose-limbed interpretations from the cast), captures the amity among a group of grown men set loose without spouses, girlfriends, or sobriety to hinder them. (Or help.)” — Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

23.  Two Lovers (54 lists, 6 top spots)

“Very little is explicit. The audience is left to infer much from spotty information, and yet a full and specific picture emerges. We are never in doubt of the truth of the characters and the absolute solidity of the world being depicted.” — Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

22. A Single Man (56 lists, 3 top spots)

“Colin Firth finally leaves Mr. Darcy behind — and will likely net an Oscar nomination — with his deeply moving, career-redefining performance as a ’60s gay man struggling with death and isolation in A Single Man.” — Lou Lumenick, New York Post

21. The Headless Woman (59 lists, 13 top spots)

“Martel’s vision is so visually rich and complex it borders on the impressionistic, but The Headless Woman would be nowhere without the precise tour de force performance by Onetto.” — G. Allen Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle

20. The Messenger (63 lists, 1 top spot)

“Some jobs are dirtier than others, and after seeing director and co-writer Oren Moverman’s beautifully acted new film The Messenger, you’ll be better acquainted with some of the most grueling work a human being can be called upon to perform.” — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

19. Bright Star (67 lists, 10 top spots)

“Bright Star shines brightly indeed, not only on the strength of a couple of powerhouse performances, but also as a look back at a time when poets were rock stars, with all the skinny British attitude that implies.” — Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic

18. Coraline (68 lists, 2 top spots)

“Selick puts his real faith not in the gimmickry that Coraline’s audiences will think they’ve shown up for, but in the stronger virtues that they’d likely view as old-fashioned: character, and story, and so on.” — Bob Mondello, NPR.org

17. The White Ribbon (65 lists, 8 top spots)

“Writer-director Michael Haneke doesn’t pull any punches, but then he doesn’t throw any wild ones, either. His filmmaking shows precisely the sort of obsession with control that the movie itself is denouncing. Interesting, you’ve got to admit.” — Tom Long, Detroit News

16. 35 Shots of Rum (78 lists, 11 top spots)

“I liked these characters, and suddenly not having them in my life anymore, simply because Denis has decided to start the closing credits, devastated me.” — Wesley Morris, Boston Globe

15. Where the Wild Things Are (103 lists, 12 top spots)

“In an era glutted with sanitized, prefabricated, computer-generated kids’ stuff, this is an experience of sophisticated cross-generational appeal. It digs deep into childhood’s bright, manic exuberance and also its confusion and gloom.” – Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune

14. In the Loop (106 lists, 6 top spots)

“[It’s] that rare film utterly without heroes; instead, it amasses a group of boobs, users, and charlatans on both sides of the Atlantic and asks us to recognize our duly elected and appointed officials. You’ll laugh until you bleed, or vice versa.” — Ty Burr, Boston Globe

13. 500 Days of Summer (116 lists, 9 top spots)

“Thanks to two wonderful, offbeat performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, this movie has charm to spare. It looks you right in the eye and tells the truth.” — Rex Reed, New York Observer

12. Summer Hours (119 lists, 16 top spots)

“Where a Hollywood film of a family feuding over a fabulous estate would surely end with a slapped face and an infantry charge of lawyers, Assayas’s work concludes with a smile and a shrug. Life goes on. What else can it do?” — Stephen Cole, Globe and Mail

11. Star Trek (123 lists, 4 top spots)

“In going back to tell the Enterprise story from the beginning, Star Trek presses collective emotional buttons people didn’t even know they had. At its best, the effect is like seeing life panoramically, past and future, simultaneous and magnificent.” — Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

10. An Education (124 lists, 8 top spots)

“[Mulligan] makes the role luminous when it could have been sad or awkward. She has such lightness and grace, you’re pretty sure this is the birth of a star.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

9. Precious (134 lists, 11 top spots)

“The real star of this show is director Lee Daniels. He’s the one who conjures the film’s eerie mix of kitchen-sink realism and gothic symbolism, its deft back-and-forth between the horrific and the sublime.” — Chad Vognar, Dallas Morning News

8. Avatar (140 lists, 20 top spots)

“Avatar is an entertainment to be not just seen but absorbed on a molecular level; it’s as close to a full-body experience as we’ll get until they invent the holo-suits. Cameron aims for sheer wonderment, and he delivers.”  — Ty Burr, Boston Globe

7. District 9 (147 lists, 6 top spots)

“If you’re looking for the late-summer special-effects action fantasy with big franchise potential, forget about G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. (You already forgot? Fine.) Instead, proceed directly to District 9.” — Richard Corliss, Time Magazine

6. Fantastic Mr. Fox (194 lists, 10 top spots)

“Children, especially, will find things they don’t understand, and things that scare them. Excellent. A good story for children should suggest a hidden dimension, and that dimension of course is the lifetime still ahead of them.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

5. A Serious Man (217 lists, 22 top spots)

“Mostly, A Serious Man succeeds because it engages questions worth asking. What is integrity? Does our atavistic need for stories illuminate the meaning of life or further obfuscate it? What does it mean to be good and how are we to achieve it?” — Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

4. Up in the Air (234 lists, 62 top spots)

“The film glides to a perfect landing, leaving several characters changed, one coldly untouched and nothing up in the air at all — except, perhaps, the question of what this very talented crew is going to do next.” — Stephen Whitty, Newark Star-Ledger

3. Up (256 lists, 32 top spots)

“It propels the viewer up, up and away in an experience combining smart, imaginative storytelling with dazzling dreamlike visuals, creating an experience that is the special province of animation — at once utterly convincing and completely impossible.”  — Tom Maurstad, Dallas Morning News

2. Inglourious Basterds (272 lists, 36 top spots)

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a revenge fantasy so willfully messed up, sometimes offensively so, that still manages to be worthwhile for whole sections of its 2 1/2 hours. The opening is as good a sequence as Tarantino has ever created.”  — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

1. The Hurt Locker (351 lists, 72 top spots)

“The Hurt Locker is about Iraq in the same way that Paths of Glory was about World War I or Full Metal Jacket was about Vietnam — which is to say, utterly and not at all. The Hurt Locker is a great movie, period.” — Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

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2 responses to “Best of 2009

  1. FrustatedTim

    Wasn’t Zombieland at Number 41 on this list? If so, can you please put it back? It was one of 2009’s most acclaimed pictures and on a lot of lists, and it needs some recongition from the amount of Top 10s it was placed on.

  2. Melvanoate

    Does Up In The Air really have 62 top spots?

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