Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews
 

John Topping's Movie List of 2009 US Releases
published March 7, 2010

 

 

Fun fact:  The year 2009 brought us the movies 9, Nine, District 9, Cloud 9, and $9.99.

 

Categories are listed semi-randomly.  Films are listed alphabetically within each category.

 

 

FILMS THAT ARE EXCELLENT, BUT ARE NOT SO MUCH TO BE "ENJOYED" AS TO BE THOUGHT-PROVOKING AND CONVERSATION-STARTING AND DISCUSSION-CREATING

I'm putting this category first, since every year the "films I most enjoyed" get misinterprested as "best films of the year," which isn't necessarily so.  Since the mistake seems to be inevitable, I'm putting these "important" and "highbrow" films first. 

Food Inc.food inc

If we could designate some films to be required viewing, this is definitely the one film that every American citizen should see.  It is extremely well made, with slick graphics to make it palatable to those who normally wouldn't watch a documentary.  And you will never look at your food the same way again (ultimately, this is a good thing, though it will be shocking if you're learning this information for the first time).

Under Our Skinunder our skin

We know that there are Holocaust deniers and Global Warming deniers, but I never knew before that there were Lyme Disease deniers.  Though it's a cliché to use the phrase, this is a "shocking exposé" about the plight of Americans who have been stricken with Lyme disease, the little-known debilitating and deteriorating effects it has, and the – again it's a cliché to say it, but I don't know what other word to use – "conspiracy" to downplay its seriousness as a legitimate disease.

The White Ribbonwhite ribbon

If you could calculate a way to keep American audiences away from a film, this movie has it all:  it's in a foreign language (mostly German) with subtitles; it's in black and white; it's somber and dark; it's slow and unconventional and challenging.  Yet, for those of us who don't let such "obstacles" get in the way of a cinematic experience, it's riveting and fascinating and brilliant, making director Michael Haneke sort of the independent/foreign equivalent of James Cameron – that is, I tend to love or hate his films.




THE FILMS I MOST ENJOYED

I'm talking about pure entertainment here, or perhaps it would be better to say pure absorption.  They're not all necessarily "great" films, but I loved the experience of watching them.

Adventurelandadventureland

How do you market a film that looks like an ordinary dumb teen flick but is actually several cuts above?

Avatar:  An IMAX 3D Experienceavatar

Please note that I did not see Avatar or Avatar in ordinary 3D, but Avatar in IMAX 3D.  What's with the "liked it but it was too long" crowd?  It's an epic – epics should be long.  James Cameron is a hit-or-miss director with me.  Hated Titanic, Terminator, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.  Neutral to The Abyss.  Loved Aliens and Avatar.  Dammit, why won't he let me love him or hate him entirely? 

 

This is one of the 10 nominees for best picture.

Brunobruno

Unquestionably the funniest film of the year.  No, it's not as good or as funny as Borat: Cultural Teachings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, but Sacha Baron Cohen really put his life at risk more than once in order to bring us this reality satire of American attitudes toward homosexuality.  Why it was so rejected by both the gay and straight public is baffling.

Disney's A Christmas Carolchristmas carol

It is hard to say if I would have enjoyed this as much had I not seen it in IMAX 3D.

I Love You, Mani love you man

Not only one of the most enjoyable films of the year, but also – and I'm aware that I'm the only person in the world saying this – one of the best films of the year.  It makes a lot of important points through the veneer of comedy … which is what comedy does at its very best.

The Informant!the informant!

One of those films that you don't realize are among the best of the year until you see the whole list.

Julie & Julia julie and julia

Like many others, I would have been happy with just the Meryl Streep sections and skipping the Amy Adams sections.  But hey, the dual story just happens to be the catalyst for the golden performance by Meryl Streep, so ya gotta take the good with the medicocre.

Ponyoponyo

It's very hard to "sell" people on this film, because it really is a movie made for children.  Like, young children; you know, pre-teenagers, watchers of Barney and Romper Room or whatever the hot kids show is these days.  And technically, it's not startlingly advanced animation – it is (or at least is made to look like) old-fashioned hand-drawn animation.  And that's refreshing – does access to CGI technology mean you have to use it?  What it's got that other animated movies don't always have is imagination and beauty of an extremely high order.

Up In The Air up in the air

Excellent from the first frame to the last, including the beautiful title sequence.  Why aren't more movies this good?

 

This is one of the 10 nominees for best picture.

Zombielandzombieland

Okay, I need to remind you that this list is the "most enjoyable" – NOT the "best" – of the year.  This is sheer fun.  It would be a great double bill with Shaun of the Dead.  Did you notice that Jesse Eisenberg was in both Adventureland and Zombieland?

 

A FILM I ONLY SAW HALF OF, BUT ENJOYED IMMENSELEY

 

The September Issuethe september issue

Attempting to watch Bright Star with my companion, I was both bored out of my mind by the film and maddeningly distracted by the extremely bright exit sign just below the bottom left corner of the screen.  Fortunately, it was an art house multiplex, so I was able to switch theaters and enjoy this engaging documentary about Anna Wintour, the editor of Vanity Fair.  As those who know me know, fashion is as foreign to me as heart-healthy meals are to McDonald's, and I'd always wondered if the fashion world were inhabited by actual human beings.  Unfortunately, after the film ended, I had no choice but to watch but the considerable remainder of Bright Star.




FILMS I LIKED OR ENJOYED, BUT NOT ENOUGH TO PUT IN THE TOP TIER

An Educationan education

Lovely, just lovely.  But it's always distracting to watch a scene that takes place in the rain while the sun is shining bright.  What's interesting is that, while there is an uproar over Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire perpetuating black stereotypes, I haven't heard a peep about Peter Sarsgaard's Jewish character being a deceitful, money-hungry shyster. 

 

This is one of the 10 nominees for best picture.

The Hurt Lockerthe hurt locker

Does anyone know what the title means?  Please, anyone?  I don't recall seeing any lockers at all, damaged or otherwise.  Is the main character someone who hurts locks?  Or does he lock up hurts?

 

This is one of the 10 nominees for best picture.

Inglourious Basterdsinglourious basterds

Whatever else you think of the film, I have to say that if Quentin Tarantino's screenplay wins an Oscar, it will not be undeserved.  Although chock full of spelling errors and grammar gone wrong, the images that were conjured for me from reading it were astoundingly close to the ultimate realization.  The motherfucker can write, even if I'm not always satisfied with what he writes.  In the case of this film, it was just fun, and not to be taken as anything more serious than that.

 

This is one of the 10 nominees for best picture.

La Danse - Le ballet de l'Opéra de Parisla danse

Master documentary filmmaker and weirdly-shaped-head owner Frederick Wiseman is still going at it after all these years! This one is about every conceivable angle of the building that the Paris Opera Ballet is housed in.  Although the Ballet organization and dances are the primary focus, it also touches on the men painting or repairing the building and a beekeeper who happens to keep his bees on the roof.  Mostly, it's so absorbing that I would have expected it to be on my very best of the year, but some very lengthy boring sections kept me from putting it there – even with the knowledge that it is a three-hour snapshot of life, and sometimes life itself is boring.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphireprecious

If only the almost-entirely-forgotten movie Push had not been released earlier in the year, we would not have had to deal with a title as cumbersome as Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.  Love it or hate it, there is no denying that Mo'Nique gives an amazing performance, and fully deserves the Oscar she is certain to win tonight.  I'm afraid I'm much too white to know whether or not it is a fair portrayal of Harlem life in the 80s, or if it perpetuates stereotypes.

 

This is one of the 10 nominees for best picture.

Séraphineseraphine

A fascinating biography of a French artist.  A largely overlooked film, unfortunately.

Whatever Workswhatever works

It's standard Woody Allen fare of the good kind, and that's okay with me.



 

 

 

FILMS I WAS FAIRLY NEUTRAL TO

The Blind Sidethe blind side

I saw this only and I do mean ONLY because it was nominated for best picture, and I was surprised by how thoroughly I was enjoying it for a long while.  Then came all the football scenes and – call me a gay boy – I just didn't get what was going on anymore.

 

This is one of the 10 nominees for best picture.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballscloudy with a chance of meatballs

Have you ever seen a comedy that seems half the time to be brilliant and the other half to be tiresome?  That's what Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs was to me, like being jerked around, as if half of it were made by Pixar and the other half by Dreamworks Animation.  Schizophrenic entertainment, if you will. 

Coralinecoraline

Unfortunately, I saw this before I knew that IMAX 3D was the only way to watch 3D. 

Fantastic Mr. Foxfantastic mr fox

It might have been the state of mind I was in that kept me from enjoying this more.  I'll give it another chance soon.

Ninenine

My expectations for Nine were so low that it was not able to match the badness I'd anticipated.  If only I'd been able to see it with high expectations, I might have properly categorized this among the worst of the year.  But, seriously, nine (or however many) Golden Globe nominations including best picture?  It seems to be evidence that those people nominate films without actually seeing them.

Silent Lightsilent light

Not so much forgotten as barely known about in the first place.  A very early and extremely limited January release.  Very slow, beautiful, meditative, and intriguing.  A real treat if you're looking for something far from mainstream.

Taking Woodstocktaking woodstock

Though chock full of wonderful performances – particularly Henry Goodman, Imelda Staunton, Eugene Levy, and Liev Schreiber – it's enjoyable in a "yeah, whatever" kind of way.  Is there anyone out there who will agree with me that Ang Lee is an overrated director?

A Town Called Panica town called panic

Sometimes you need to be familiar with the French animation TV series before you subject yourself to the feature film.  Which is not to say that it's not without charm.

Upup

Again, sadly, I didn't know that IMAX 3D was the only way to go with 3D; would have enjoyed it more in 2D rather than Real D.  But shouldn't this Best Film nominee have been nominated instead for Best First 10 Minutes?

 

This is one of the 10 nominees for best picture.



 

 

 

FILMS I EITHER RESPECTED OR WAS GLAD TO SEE THE SUBJECT MATTER BEING HANDLED, BUT DIDN'T PARTICULARLY LIKE THE FILM ITSELF

The Messengerthe messenger

Well acted, well intentioned, and way boring.

The Stoning Of Soraya M.the stoning of soraya m

Schizophrenic editing, though masterful in terms of continuity.  Really, really bizarre when the traveling circus shows up just as Soraya M. is about to be stoned.  I was going to throw together a faux-poster called The Stoning of SethRoge N., but never got around to it.



 

 

 

TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH, I DON'T REMEMBER WHAT I THOUGHT OF THESE FILMS:

Lorna's Silencelorna's silence

Okay, I recall that it wasn't nearly as good as their previous film, L'enfant, which I remember vividly.  And the same dude was in this film; as a drug addict, right?  Totally forgot why Lorna was silent.  Can't remember any of the rest.

Two Loverstwo lovers

Really good acting, I remember.  Did I like it?  Damn!  I think maybe not, but I don't know for sure.



 

 

 

FILMS THAT WERE, IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, TOO PERPLEXING TO CAST AN OPINION

Bronsonbronson

The true story of the most famous criminal in England, with lots of cinematic liberties taken.  Excellent acting and lovely foreskin from the lead, but perhaps the strangest film of the year.

The Roadthe road

So bleak and Armageddony! [he says as he files his nails]  But the kid gets a dog in the end.  That was nice.



 

 

 

 

 

 

THE FILMS THAT MOST DISAPPOINTED ME

Black Dynamiteblack dynamite

Extremely enjoyable for a while, then it quickly wears out its welcome.

Humpdayhumpday

Two straight guys rise to the challenge to have sex with each other.  A very matter of fact, natural, and believeable style of filmmaking.  SPOILER ALERT:  They don't do it, so it was all kind of, like, so what?  Plus, I could have told them that the challenge should have been to have sex with another man, not each other.  Would you have sex with any friend you've known for umpteen years?  (Okay, I would, but the question is aimed at everyone else.)

The Princess And The Frogthe princess and the frog

Boring.

Public Enemiespublic enemies

Whatever.



 

 

 

FILMS I DIDN'T LIKE AND AM ASTOUNDED AT HOW MANY PEOPLE, INCLUDING SEVERAL WHOSE OPINIONS I RESPECT, FLIPPED OVER THEM

I purposely did not say "worst films of the year."

Bright Starbright star

Did no one but me think this was like watching paint dry?

District 9district 9

I'm glad to say that I've met others who were not enthralled by this noise machine.  I'm baffled as to why so many people loved it.  But come on, seriously – best picture nomination?  I really don't think so.

 

This is one of the 10 nominees for best picture.

A Serious Mana serious man

What am I missing in this film?  I'd like to say that it's because I'm not Jewish enough, but then plenty of goyim are thrilled with this – as it seems to me – pointless exercise.

 

This is one of the 10 nominees for best picture.

A Single Mana single man

It's shocking how many people are taken with this amateur filmmaking.

Where The Wild Things Arewhere the wild things are

It's a bunch of bummed out monsters who don't change.  What am I missing here? 



 

 

FILMS I DIDN'T LIKE WHICH ARE NOT AS DIFFICULT TO FIND A CONSENSUS OF LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE

Funny Peoplefunny people

It's altogether possible that this was so unenjoyable because it was such an accurate portrayal of Hollywood movie stars.  So unpleasant and icky.  It will make you glad you're not famous.

The Hangoverthe hangover

I won't say that I never laughed, but I will say that whenever I laughed, it was because of something funny the actors did, not because anything in the story was funny.

It's Complicatedit's complicated

Now this was a weird experience:  I saw it on a DVD screener and watched it over two days.  Watching the first half, I was appalled at the low quality of writing and filmmaking.  The second day, with the shock of its badness behind me, I was able to thoroughly enjoy it.  Oh, but make no mistake – it sucked.

The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3the taking of pelham 1 2 3

No one is arguing that this is anything more than mediocre fare at best, right?

Thirstthirst

Enough with the fucking vampires already!

Year Oneyear one

Please, just don't.  And Manohla Dargis, you owe me $12 for recommending this.



johntopping @ stageandcinema.com

 

Harvey Perr's 2009 Movie List

Kevin Bowen's Top 10 Films of 2009

 

 
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