The Top 10 Best Movies of 2009

The 10 Best Movies of 20092009 was an interesting year. There were a slew of really good movies, but none – no, not even The Hurt Locker – that were absolute awe-inspiring. In past years, there are usually two or three movies that are so good that they make the rest of the list look pathetic; this time around, none of the movies on this list truly deserve the title of “amazing.” Nonetheless, the ten movies on this list are excellent films and deserving of recognition.

Without further ado, here are the top ten movies of 2009…

10. Up / The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Ties are such a cop-out, I know. Up, the latest Pixar masterpiece, succeeds on so many levels – not only is it one of the most dramatic Pixar films, but it’s also their funniest – that it is easily one of the best movies of the year, but is it the best animated film of the year? That title, by a narrow margin, goes to The Fantastic Mr. Fox, the Wes Anderson comedy that few people saw. Pixar may be a victim of its own success, as we’ve come to expect excellent animated films from the Disney division, but The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which stars George Clooney and Meryl Streep, was a complete wildcard. Great voice acting combined with a witty screenplay and clever, B-grade stop-motion animation make it one of the best of the year. Up, meanwhile, doesn’t need any explanation.

9. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

From Oscar-winning director Warner Herzog, this Bad Lieutenant quasi-sequel is a seriously messed up and yet thoroughly entertaining drama-thriller. Nicolas Cage turns in his best performance since Adaptation, playing a horribly corrupt cop who spends just as much time taking drugs as he does investigating the brutal execution-style killings he’s meant to solve.

The movie is entertaining for all the right reasons and is a reminder that Nicolas Cage, when given the right material, can actually act incredibly well. Full of sexually explicit material, drug use and more, Bad Lieutenant‘s hard R-rating isn’t for everyone, but it is one of the best movies of 2009.

8. State of Play

Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck and Helen Mirren star in the surprisingly excellent drama-thriller that tackles everything from murder to political cover-up and the degradation of the journalism industry. It’s also funny. Crowe plays an old school journalist who teams with an online blogger (McAdams) to investigate the apparent suicide of an aide to a Congressman (Affleck), who also happens to be Crowe’s college roommate. It soon becomes clear that her death is a part of a larger conspiracy that could impact the entire country.

Though not a gritty drama, State of Play succeeds thanks to a compelling screenplay, superb acting and an entertaining story.

7. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

As evidenced by the title, Precious is based on the novel “Push.” Had the disturbingly depressing movie been based on a true story, it probably would have been higher on the list, simply because otherwise it’s hard to fathom that so many bad things (rape, abuse, obesity, etc.) could happen to one teenage girl.

Precious is about a large teenage girl (Gabourey Sidibe) who is pregnant with her second child (conceived by her own father) and lives with a horribly abusive mother (Mo’Nique). She can’t read or write, but is given a second chance when she is accepted into a special school for people like her.

Precious was originally a frontrunner for best picture of 2009 in both my eyes and other critics, but has slowly faded from its top spot for one reason or another. Nevertheless, it is still a well-made, powerfully acted drama deserving of recognition. Mo’Nique is especially deserving.

6. The Messenger

The Iraq war is going on its sixth year, and in that time there have been several movies that have attempted to capture the emotion and intensity of the United States’ most recent conflict. They have all been, more or less, failures. The tides finally turned in 2009. The Messenger, one of two movies about the Iraq war on this list, doesn’t take place in another country. It doesn’t include a single action scene, but the film ripples with emotional intensity.

In the movie, Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson (what a year Woody has had!) star as soldiers whose job it is to drive around and inform parents and loved ones that their sons, daughters and significant others have been killed in combat. Not a fun job. Both Foster and Harrelson turn in top-notch performances that, sadly, will likely be overlooked come the Oscars.

5. Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie, the long-anticipated WWII thriller, is not your granddaddy’s war movie. The movie, a collection of loosely connected story arcs, focuses on a team of American Jews who go undercover in Germany to kill, torture and strike fear into the heart of Nazis. By no means historically accurate, Inglourious Basterds, thanks to an absurdly intense screenplay and the direction to match it, is wondrously captivating, despite few action scenes.

Brad Pitt turns in a deliciously hammy performance, but it’s little-known Melanie Laurent and Christoph Waltz who steal the show. Ultimately, though, it’s Tarantino’s mastery behind the camera that makes this dialogue-heavy film so exciting. When I first walked out of the theater, I shrugged my shoulders and called it “good,” but since then Basterds has slowly boiled its way farther and farther up the list of the best movies of 2009.

4. Away We Go

How many people have heard of Away We Go? It’s shocking that this drama-comedy, helmed by American Beauty director Sam Mendes, has been so thoroughly overlooked by critics and audiences alike. Focus Features should be blamed for giving this funny, heartwarming movie a limited June release rather than a December platform pattern that would have turned the movie, which stars John Krasinski (“The Office”) and Maya Rudolph (“SNL”), into a box office hit and legitimate awards contender.

The movie’s plot is simple: a lonely, pregnant couple decide to travel around the country to meet with friends and family to determine in which city would be best to raise their child, and along the way they realize every place is just as weird and off-putting as the next. Krasinski and Rudolph are excellent, though it’s Maggie Gyllenhaal who steals attention with her portrayal as a New Age, stroller-hating mother.

3. (500) Days of Summer

If (500) Days of Summer doesn’t win the Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy, and it probably won’t, it will once again cement my belief that the category has gone horribly awry. One of the funniest, engaging and heartwarming movies of the year, (500) Days of Summer stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young man who has fallen in love with his coworker, Summer. They begin a relationship, but there’s only one problem: Summer isn’t in love with him.

The movie, which masterfully blends drama, comedy and even a musical number together into a seamless, sincere and realistic portrayal of a modern relationship, is easily one of the best of the year.

2 The Hurt Locker

The other Iraq war movie on this list, The Hurt Locker is the best movie of 2009. A gritty, extremely intense action-drama, The Hurt Locker follows fearless soldier William James (Jeremy Renner) as he drives around Baghdad and disables roadside bombs, all the while under threat of snipers and other wartime distractions.

Kathryn Bigelow, my pick for director of the year, has created an absolutely stunning and beautiful film that takes full advantage of the powerful script by Mark Boal. Also thanks to Renner’s star-turning performance, The Hurt Locker provides audiences with a visceral, emotional journey into the mind of a soldier. The movie also features some of the best and most exciting action sequences of the year.

1. Up in the Air

Not quite a full-out comedy or a full-out drama, Up in the Air shouldn’t work as well as it does. The follow-up to Juno from director Jason Reitman, Up in the Air stars George Clooney as a man whose entire life it is to travel around the country and fire employees for employers who don’t want to do it themselves. Teamed with a young and ambitious woman (Anna Kendrick) who is planning on changing the business model to a virtual, travel-free environment, Clooney finds himself on a journey of self discovery.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes Up in the Air so good, other than that all the pieces seem to click in perfect synergy. The screenplay is superb, but so is the acting: Clooney is fabulous, while Kendrick shows she is a legitimate actress with big things to come. As with several other movies on this list, Up in the Air blends comedy and drama into a mix that works oh so well. Up in the Air is the best movie of 2009.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Hurt Locker was originally listed as #1. Upon further review, I decided Up in the Air was the best movie of 2009. It was a tough decision, but the right one.

The next 10 (in no particular order):

View more 2009 movie ratings.

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Top 10 Movie Lists
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