Five Favorite Movies of 2009 … and My Top 25 picks of the Decade

I realize I might be rather late in posting this kind of list, but I figure since it’s technically still the first month of the year, I think I can get away with it. No? Oh well, I don’t live by your rules! 🙂

I can’t judge whether 2009 is a good or bad year for movies, as I haven’t really been paying so close attention to previous years prior to this blog. However, I think it’s safe to say that though it’s not exactly the ‘most stellar’ year in movie history, quite a few movies released last year made 2009 a pretty memorable one.

Anyhoo, I titled this post ‘favorite’ because this kind of list is personal in nature, so I didn’t want to say ‘best of’ because these might not necessarily be the most excellent quality or ‘perfect’ cinematic pieces, but for one reason or another, they either made a big impression on me or were hugely entertaining despite their flaws.

So with that in mind, I give you my Top Five Favorites of 2009:

  1. Avatar
    The movie that dethroned Cameron’s previously unbeatable Titanic is still going strong in its seventh straight week. I’m in the camp that totally dig this movie, though when I first saw it at Avatar day, I wasn’t sure how successful it was going to be given the somewhat poor reactions to its first trailer. But Avatar lives up to the hype in a big way. Its visuals is so mind-blowing spectacular it gave me such an immersive cinematic ride like no other, and it’s one of those rare movies that’s still rewarding in its second viewing, which is really no small feat. As for the story? Well, it’s not as ‘original’ as one expect, but it’s quite an engaging one. As to those criticism that call the storyline ‘loathsome,’ MadHatter says it best: hogwash! I guess it’s easy to criticize other people’s work, but seriously, those naysayers should ask themselves, given the opportunity, would they actually be able to top this one?
    ….
  2. District 9
    Looking back, I’m still quite surprised how much I enjoyed this movie and the impression it left me days after. Truthfully, I wasn’t anticipating to see this movie, I only saw one trailer and didn’t know much about it, but the highly-favorable reviews intrigued me and so I went. Suffice to say, I was impressed by the innovative way this story was told, and especially by newcomer Sharlto Copley’s bravura performance. Despite being quite squeamish, I wasn’t too disturbed by the gritty and stomach-churning scenes as they served the story and the payoff was worthwhile. This was by far one of the most memorable movies I’ve seen in a while and the ending left me wanting more. As I said in my review, it’s such a distinctly moving, poignant and provocative film that makes you ponder long after the end credits roll.
  3. (500) Days of Summer
    This movie was embraced by critics and average moviegoers alike and it’s easy to see why. I’ve long believed that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a fantastic young actor, but his performance here again reached a pinnacle in his already impressive body of work. The credit doesn’t belong entirely to Gordon-Levitt though, as first-time director Marc Webb is also to be praised for making an anti rom-com with such an innovative and refreshing story-telling style. The clever and witty script, combined with memorably quirky and vividly surreal scenes, makes the love story of a regular guy so deeply affecting and real. Though I said in my review that I wasn’t as excited about Zooey Deschanel, I still have to commend her for portraying Summer with a certain depth and novelty that’s as far away from a caricature desirable ‘it’ girl that’s ubiquitous in Hollywood.
  4. Watchmen
    I’m a sucker for superhero movies and am a fan of Zack Snyder’s style ever since 300, but Watchmen is not your typical superhero ‘good guys’ with savior-complex. Sure they wear costumes, but these ‘heroes’ are as flawed as they are vulnerable (well except for Dr. Manhattan with his god-like powers), and definitely not the kind of characters kids should aspire to. Despite being too violent and raunchy for my taste — not to mention bizarre (or even retarded as one of my friends call it) — this movie is memorable for its spectacular visuals, as well as terrific performances from the cast, most notably Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s The Comedian, Patrick Wilson as Night Owl Jr. and Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. Snyder jam-packed it with breathtaking and edgy scenes, creative camera angles, and one of the coolest opening sequences ever. Beneath the wildly exhilarating madness though, the story is thought-provoking and surprisingly deep. As this article says, “Who watches the watchmen?  In this sense, this is less a theoretical pondering and more a deeply profound political philosophical question… [it] is not about the super heroes at all.  It is about us.  Can our self governance actually work?  Has it worked?  Does it work?” It perhaps raises more questions than it answers, especially for someone like me who isn’t familiar with Alan Moore’s graphic novel it’s based on, but it’s still a bold and inspired piece of work that makes for an extraordinary and riveting movie-going experience.
    ….
  5. Up in the Air
    A gem of a movie, director Jason Reitman takes a subject so pertinent in today’s society and creates a story that’s deeply engaging and wonderful to watch. The movie’s ‘CGI’ comes in the form of kudos-worthy performances of his three main actors: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. I feel even more compelled to say that the two female characters are as instrumental in the movie’s success as Clooney’s was. The incredibly smart script spits out witty dialog that offers a perfect blend between tragic and humor, whilst the quieter moments still speak volumes. The opening scenes where we see Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham’s travel routine (packing, going through security, etc.) are fascinating and takes the audience in who this man is and what matters to him. I overheard someone explaining the plot of this movie recently where he said ‘it’s a movie about someone who goes on firing people‘ and I winced at such oversimplification. This movie is definitely much more than that, and much deeper than even its marketing campaign makes it out to be (as a romantic comedy of sorts). I like movies that make me ponder about them long after it’s over. Up in the Air unquestionably delivers in that regard, and then some.

Honorable mentions:

  • The Young Victoria
  • Law Abiding Citizen
  • The Blindside

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And looking back, here are Twenty-Five Favorites of the Decade (2000 – 20009, in order of release):

  1. Chicken Run (2000)
  2. Moulin Rouge (2001)
  3. Finding Nemo (2003)
  4. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
  5. Phantom of the Opera (2004)
  6. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
  7. Unbreakable (2004)
  8. Batman Begins (2005)
  9. Casino Royale (2006)
  10. Dear Frankie (2005)
  11. Gladiator (2005)
  12. Children of Men (2006)
  13. The Painted Veil (2006)
  14. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
  15. Stranger than Fiction (2006)
  16. 300 (2007)
  17. Atonement (2007)
  18. Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
  19. The Visitor (2007)
  20. 3:10 to Yuma (2007)
  21. Bella (2008)
  22. The Dark Knight (2008)
  23. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
  24. District 9 (2009)
  25. Avatar (2009)