The 10 Best Movies of Summer 2009

Star Trek SpockSummer isn’t officially over quite yet, but the summer movie season (May to August) is, as evidenced by The Final Destination 3D winning its second weekend in a row with a paltry $12 million. This summer made more money for studios than any other summer in history, though such records hardly mean much when the important variable – money – keeps inflating every year. After all, movie tickets are more expensive than ever (I no longer balk at paying $10.50 for a ticket) and with the resurgence of 3D bringing ticket prices up to $14 – $17, a record-breaking summer means diddly squat.

Enough for tirades, though. The summer was host to some surprising hits (Star Trek, The Hangover, The Proposal) and some shocking failures (Land of the Lost, Terminator: Salvation) and a few major disappointments (again, Terminator: Salvation and X-Men Origins: Wolverine), so it’s only fitting that we look back on the last four months and praise the movies that were actually worth the price of admission. The best movies of the summer were:

  1. (500) Days of Summer
    This unique “romantic comedy” defied its genre and delivered something truly… well, unique. Funny, edgy, dramatic, lighthearted and believable all at once (even though it includes a dance number with cartoon blue birds and marching bands), (500) Days of Summer is the perfect date movie: guys will love it just as much as women, if not more so, and yet it doesn’t rely on raunchy comedy at all. There were a lot of great films this summer, but this movie’s ability to exceed expectations and do it so effortlessly makes this one the best movie of the summer.
  2. Up
    Pixar can do no wrong, apparently. Though DreamWorks has been able to match them financially for a couple years now, their chances at Oscar gold are no better off than they’ve ever been as Pixar continues to make engaging, emotional and entertaining films that could just as easily compete with live-action dramas. For a studio to constantly appeal to children and adults alike so effortlessly is a feat. Up is one of the best movies ever created by the studio that continues to “up” its game each and every year.
  3. The Hurt Locker
    We’ve seen a resurgence in war movies over the last year with the likes of Valkyrie and Defiance, but modern-day films set in Iraq have yet to click with audiences. Financially that is. The Hurt Locker struggled to make much money this summer, but it did what few other Iraqi-focused films have done in recent years: it confirmed that it was undeniably good. This incredibly tense war film, about a team of bomb-defusing specialists, is exceptional and should find a solid audience on DVD.
  4. Away We Go
    Sam Mendes should never be underestimated. One of the best directors of the decade, Mendes turns his attention to indie comedy for the first time. Away We Go looks and feels nothing like his other films (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Jarhead, Revolutionary Road); the movie skips from one segment to the next, enveloped in sincere, laugh-out-loud humor and heartfelt emotion. Johsn Krasinski (“The Office”) and Maya Rudolph both turn in exceptional performances, and the supporting cast (which includes Maggie Gyllenhaal as a psychotic hippie who has sex with her husband while her children are in the room and believes strollers are evil) is pitch perfect. The movie itself is consistently entertaining, funny and surprisingly emotional.
  5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
    The latest Harry Potter is one of the best of the franchise, a series that has, by and large, been critically successful anyway. The Half-Blood Prince is the darkest yet, but the filmmakers still managed to fill it with teen love and plenty of laughs. The movie is legitimately entertaining, even if it barely has a plot. OK, that may be unfair, but for a movie that is essentially designed to set up the battle that is to come, it is nearly pitch perfect.
  6. Star Trek
    This May, J.J. Abrams did what few thought was possible: he made Star Trek popular again. Never before had I seen my female friends wanting to see a Trek film, nor the general excitement toward the picture. This film is proof that if you make a good movie and promote it effectively, good things will happen: it’s one of the summer’s biggest films, despite the fact the previous entry in the franchise opened to a paltry $10 million a few years earlier. Star Trek wasn’t a perfect film, but it was highly entertaining, and whenever the sequel rolls around, the sky is definitely not the limit.
  7. The Hangover
    The biggest success story of the summer, this $35-million film with no major stars opened huge and went on to make over $250 million. The movie, while not the funniest film in recent years, is still more than funny enough; The Hangover has a great blend of memorable scenes, hilarious moments and an engaging concept, all of which evoked strong word of mouth. A sequel is already in the works.
  8. Inglourious Basterds
    The long-awaited Quentin Tarantino WWII film turned out to be worth the wait. Though it offers up little action, which was a bit disappointing, Tarantino once again delivers on the dialogue. Scene after drawn-out scene are crammed with delicious, nail-biting dialogue and excellent performances from the eclectic cast. Even non-Tarantino fans may find something to like here.
  9. District 9
    Another film to benefit from word-of-mouth was the $30-million sci-fi action film District 9, about aliens in an apartheid-esque situation in South Africa. Though it wasn’t everything I was expecting it to be, it’s still a slick, well-made picture with an explosive finish. Once again, the question is raised: why do some films costs $200 million to make when you can make a comparable film for only a fraction of the price?
  10. Drag Me to Hell
    Sam Raimi, best known for directing the three Spider-Man films, returned to his roots with the absurdly funny horror flick Drag Me to Hell, about a bank employee who finds herself cursed by a gypsie woman and doomed to eternal burning in the pits of hell. The movie has its scary moments, but it succeeds by being pure entertainment; it’s fast-paced, funny and delicious. If you didn’t catch it in theaters – and judging by its box office performance you probably didn’t – definitely pick up a copy on DVD.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to see the documentary The Cove yet, awell-reviewed film that more than likely would have made this list if… well, if it was available to see around here.

[NOTE: this article had been modified since it was first published. Having just seen Away We Go, I removed Public Enemies from the list. I also moved Inglorious Basterds up from tenth place to 8th place]

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Movies, Top 10 Movie Lists