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David’s Top Ten Films of 2009

January 29, 2010

Since we’re in the middle of awards season and we’ve caught up with most films, it is now list time. Top Ten lists are never easy for me but the challenge is often fun and revealing. This list has two animated films, two films about soldiers, two sci-fi films along with some captivating dramas. There will always be crappy films playing at any given moment but this list proves that greatness can still be found….

Read my list after the jump (“

10. The Messenger

Ben Foster plays an emotionally detached U.S. Army officer, recently returned home from Iraq who finds himself assigned to the Army’s Casualty Notification service. He’s assigned a partner, played by Woody Harrelson, and their job is to bear the bad news to the loved ones of fallen soldiers. While facing this challenging task, both begin to realize the healing needed, not just for the next of kin, but for themselves. Samantha Morton stands out as a widower Foster befriends after delivering the news, a subplot that is handled with a great amount of respect and realism. It’s a very moving and human portrait of grief, friendship and survival.
9. Five Minutes of Heaven

More healing needed….a story about two men haunted and forever changed by tragic violence that took place thirty years ago in Belfast, Ireland. Liam Neeson plays a man who, as a teen, shot and killed the older brother of a boy who witnessed the cold-blooded act. James Nesbitt plays the man that was the boy who’s live was destroyed at the scene of the crime.  A local TV show wants to get the two in the same room in an effort to find truth and reconciliation. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel (“Downfall”) delivers an absolutely riveting film that has the two leads literally seething with regret, revenge and remorse. It premiered last year on Sundance and never really found much of an audience in the states.
8. (500) Days of Summer

I was smitten by the storytelling, the music and the two leads but when Joseph Gordon-Levitt sees Han Solo circa 1977 as his reflection during a Hall and Oates musical bit….I was sold. It’s refreshing to see a film take a guy’s perspective in a sweet, real and humorous manner.
7. District 9

It was a good year for sci-fi breakthroughs and for and directorial debuts such as this one by Neil Blomkamp. An extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions in Johannesburg suddenly find a kindred spirit in a government agent that is exposed to their biotechnology. Sharlto Copley also makes a great debut as the smug pencil-pusher who has one of the worst bad work days ever. A smart film that satisfies on man levels. Not for the queasy viewers out there.
6. Up

I’d have to sit in the corner wearing the cone of shame if I didn’t have this on my list. I enjoyed everything about the story of an old man who flies the skies with his sidekick (sounds like my number seven) who both find their place in life. For those who couldn’t buy talking dogs that fly planes, just remember, there’s a house flying in the air via balloons. Pixar can’t disappoint.
5. A Serious Man
Coen brothers deliver yet again as they take us to their suburban Minnesota roots . A black comedy set in 1967 that centers on Larry Gopnik (a superb Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor who watches his life unravel as his wife prepares to leave him because his inept brother won’t move out of the house. I was surprised to find myself laughing as much as I was at this Job tale that demands repeated viewing.
4. Fantastic Mr. Fox

Writer/director Wes Anderson shows a creative fondness for author Roald Dahl’s classic book and it turns out not only to be a whimsical romp but a fine addition to the rest of his films. A crafty fox finds himself and his family targeted for termination by the three dumb, plug-ugly farmers who are fed up with of sharing their crops with the critter. The cast, lead by George Clooney, is having a blast and you will too in this stop-motion animated tale. A touching and hilarious adult film for kids that will be a Thanksgiving staple from now on.
3. Inglorious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s tribute to his favorite foreign films. In German-occupied France, Shosanna Dreyfus witnesses the execution of her family at the hand of Nazi Colonel Hans Landa. Shosanna narrowly escapes and flees to Paris, where she forges a new identity as the owner and operator of a cinema. Elsewhere in Europe, Lt. Aldo Raine organizes a group of Jewish soldiers, The Basterds, to engage in targeted acts of retribution. Tarantino’s joyous alternate WWII world culminates when Raine’s squad join a German actress and undercover British agent on a mission to take down the leaders of The Third Reich.  Count on this film winning Best Supporting Actor come March 7th.
2. The Hurt Locker

An elite Army bomb disposal unit has to work together in an environment where practically anyone could be a potential enemy and every object could be a deadly bomb. Jeremy Renner stands out as an expert (and possibly crazy) who continuously puts his life and others in peril. A war movie that takes no overtly political stance but simply chooses the precarious and unpredictable nature of war. It’s about time director Kathryn Bigelow (“Near Dark”& “Point Break”) received the appropriate attention she deserves. No other director has been able to provide such intense scenes of war while balancing the appropriate amount of characterization for three soldiers. Not merely a nail-biting action film but a look at how soldiers interact with those around them while dealing with one death zone after another.
1. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Probably the most difficult film to watch on the list. The harrowing story of Precious, an obese and illiterate Harlem teen who finds support from a teacher and a social worker while enduring the horrible abusive by her mother. An amazing debut by Gabourey Sadibe who gives a real and brave performance and an Oscar-winning one from Mo’Nique as her mother. It’s been months since I’ve seen it but I still can’t stop thinking of the dark and troubling places these two had to go as actors. Fantastic work by both. Equally solid supporting work by Mariah Carey, Paula Patton and Sherri Shepherd make this the rare film that gives us excellent female roles. It may not have been the most original subject matter but director Lee Daniels gives viewers a much needed escape with Precious from hell to hope. No other film had moved me like this one.
Honorable Mentions:

  • Star Trek – Not a reboot but an adrenalized reimagining that brings us to an alternate Trek universe with new familiar characters. A good time for those who miss fun at the movies.
  • The Hangover – The funniest film of the year included a tiger, a chicken, Mike Tyson and a baby. Yes, there is still originality on the screen.
  • The Road – A bleak and desperate story of life on a post-apocalyptic road for a boy and his father in a dangerous, ashen world based on Cormac McCarthy’s book.
  • Moon – Sam Rockwell can do anything and here he is the sole man on the moon in this psychological thriller.  Another great directorial debut that plays out like a cross between classic intellectual sci-fi classics and the best Twilight Zone episodes.
  • Zombieland –  A hilarious and at times touching take on one of my favorite genres. More great work from Woody Harrelson. Filled with helpful survival tips and creative kills of the day.

Well, there we have it. I still have a handful of Honorable Mentions but I had to go with the program and stick with just five. Here is a list of films from last year I have yet to see….

  • An Education
  • A Single Man
  • Crazy Heart
  • In The Loop
  • The Cove

So, how bout you?

What 2009 films made your list?




5 Comments leave one →
  1. windi permalink
    January 29, 2010 3:47 pm

    You both mentioned A Serious Man, so it’s definitely going in my queue….. I’ll probably skip the war movies (I’ve never been able to get into that genre at all) but I suppose I’ll add The Hangover and 500 Days of Summer to my list of movies to watch as well. I’m still wondering how The Hangover could possibly be funny–it sure doesn’t look like anything more than crass, juvenile humor to me….. I’m gonna take your word on this one……


    Star Trek would definitely be on my top 10 list, along with Zombieland and of course UP! 🙂

    • January 29, 2010 3:53 pm

      I must say though, these “war movies” have little or no war actually in them. They’re great dramas. We’re not talking “Saving Private Ryan”, here.

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      January 29, 2010 5:29 pm

      Don’t discount the “war movies”….that’s why I mentioned above that I had two films about “soldiers” on my list. They’re just two films with great characterization that happen to take place during the current war. In fact, “The Messenger” takes place on U.S. soil.

      As for “The Hangover”, watch it with Matt and then tell me that Zack Galianakis (did I spell that right, Paul?) wasn’t hilarious.

  2. windi permalink
    February 14, 2010 12:05 am

    Ok, I just got done watching A Serious Man, and I just don’t get it! What the heck with the ending??? I didn’t like the movie, sorry. Oh well, I guess we can’t all like the same stuff, right?

    On the other hand, I did watch The Hangover, and it was hilarious. But I didn’t watch it with Matt, I should have; instead I made him suffer through A Serious Man, and I know he disliked it a lot more than I did! Poor guy, he’s such a trooper!

    I almost picked up Hurt Locker….still thinking about it, but I think I’m going to rent Moon first…..

    • February 14, 2010 7:47 pm

      Windi- sorry you felt that way about A Serious Man! I think that there’s so much to dig into and talk about after watching this movie. After seeing it, I immediately wanted to watch it again!

      As for The Hangover… well, of course!

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