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Movies of the Year

Movies, Year-End | By The Top 13 on January 11, 2010

As the awards season ramps up, we take a look today at the Top 13 Movies of 2009. The best offerings from the past year are all over the map and include releases from some of Hollywood's best and brightest creative forces - Pixar, the Coen Brothers, Spike Jonze, Quentin Tarantino, and James Cameron - as well as breakthrough films from rising stars like Kathryn Bigelow, Jason Reitman, and Neill Blomkamp. The Oscars have expanded the Best Picture category this year to ten nominees, but if we were in charge, these thirteen films would be in the running.

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Inglourious Basterds

1

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino is a master of the build-up, and Inglourious Basterds is his finest-tuned picture to date. You probably know the story - an alternate-reality World War II where Hitler gets taken out by the Allies - but it is the suspense and perfect climax to this story of ultimate revenge that make this the best film of the year. Christoph Walz will likely bring home an Oscar for his chilling role as Col. Hans Landa, but the whole cast delivers in this one. Tarantino even managed to make his signature foot fetish shot a key plot device in this one.

Up

2

Up

Did you cry at the beginning? No? We're not sure we believe you. Not only is Up a shoe-in for a Best Animated Feature win in this year's Oscar race, it even is getting some Best Picture buzz. If it did land that nomination, more likely this year because of the expanded field, it would be only the second animated film nominated in the category (the first being Beauty and the Beast nearly 20 years ago in 1992).

The Hurt Locker

3

The Hurt Locker

An intense war film about a bomb disposal unit in Iraq, The Hurt Locker was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who, with the buzz of this film, is joining the ranks of high-profile female directors like Penny Marshall and Sofia Coppola. The film has swept most critics' awards for best picture and director, including the National Society of Film Critics, and has a good chance of winning the top prize at the Oscars.

Drag Me to Hell

4

Drag Me to Hell

Drag Me to Hell, which ranked sixth in our Top 13 Horror Movies of the Decade, is a return to form to kick off the post-Spiderman career of camp horror master Sam Raimi. This film weaves together a thrilling supernatural horror tale with Raimi's trademark humor - there are numerous hilarious gross-out moments here as a perfectly-cast Alison Lohman attempts to erase a gypsy curse. This one will make you jump in your seat, make you laugh, and delivers an immensely satisfying and disturbing payoff in the end.

A Serious Man

5

A Serious Man

The fourteenth film by Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man has no A-list actors, no romantic love interest, and no happy ending. The Top 13 still loves this loose retelling of the biblical story of Job in modern America. Indeed, this film placed seventh on our list of Top 13 Coen Brothers Films, and its preview made our Movie Trailers list, as well.

Up in the Air

6

Up in the Air

Based on the 2001 novel by Walter Kirn and directed by Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, Juno), Up in the Air is about a man who flies all over the country and fires people for a living. Ryan Bingham is played with depth and charm by George Clooney, who is supported by stellar performances by Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman and Anna Kendrick, as well as appearances by two of our favorite comedic actors, Danny McBride and Zach Galifianakis.

The Road

7

The Road

Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road, while richly evocative, leaves it to the reader's imagination to fill in many of the details of its apocalyptic hellscape. This film succeeds because it fully brings McCarthy's nightmarish vision to life. The casting is perfect, particularly in the case of Viggo Mortenson as the Man, and it's essential given how much of this story about the tenacity of love and hope is conveyed through silence and expression.

An Education

8

An Education

This British coming-of-age tale about a teenage girl in early-1960s suburban London might be the least well-known film on The Top 13. That should change. Starring a soon-to-be very famous Carey Mulligan (she'll next appear in Oliver Stone's sequel to his classic, Wall Street) in an Oscar-worthy break-out performance, An Education also features a terrific ensemble cast, including Peter Saarsgard, who deliciously plays the charming conman with whom Mulligan's character begins an inappropriate relationship.

Where the Wild Things Are

9

Where the Wild Things Are

Spike Jonze's visionary adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are would have been fascinating as a Hollywood industry tale alone even if it had failed to faithfully recreate Max's dreamworld. Taking on the nearly impossible task of turning a beloved and brief children's book into a full-length feature, Jonze unquestionably succeeded in capturing the spirit of the book and delivering a film that vividly conveys a child's spirit, imagination, and emotions.

The Hangover

10

The Hangover

Few films in recent years have elicited as many gut-busting laughs as Todd Phillips' The Hangover, and that's why we ranked it ninth on our Top 13 Comedies of the Decade. This film was a star-maker for the trio of Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and the divine Zach Galifianakis, and a money-maker for its studio, pulling in nearly $300 million on a $35 million budget.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

11

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Yes, it was based on a novel by Sapphire. And yes, the title is a mouthful (it was changed at the last second from Push to avoid confusion with the Dakota Fanning action film of the same title). Nevertheless, the film itself is excellent. Driven by surprising performances from Mo'Nique, Mariah Carey, and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, Precious won the Grand Jury Prize for best drama at Sundance and is sure to have some power in the approaching awards season, with Mo'Nique building powerful buzz for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

District 9

12

District 9

District 9 is one of the rarest kinds of films - a sci-fi action blockbuster made on a modest (for the type of film and its scale) budget of $30 million. Other than the interspersed documentary-style sequences, you'd never guess this movie was made on the cheap. It still delivers dazzling special effects and an unexpectedly action-packed third act in telling its compelling parable about the evils of racism and oppression.

Avatar

13

Avatar

This film has a lot in common with District 9 - aliens-as-metaphor for an oppressed minority, a protagonist that works his way into the alien society, and breakneck action. We gave D9 the nod over it because Avatar occasionally drifts into the Jar Jar Binks zone, but its special effects, especially in IMAX 3D, are truly the most incredible of any film released to date. Given its box office haul so far, the viewing public might disagree. Avatar is in many ways a modern Star Wars, taking a relatively basic good vs. evil story and making it unforgettable with its groundbreaking visual effects.

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Comments Leave a comment

stillathreat ★★

Missing 500 Days of Summer, Star Trek and The Messenger. Precious is horribly overrated, too.

10:49 AM   Jan 11, 2010

Travelin_Jack 

I understand Avatar as a token nod but it still irks me that it's on there. Take an equally overblown, overpromoted movie, such as, say Watchmen. The latter beats Avatar in every catagory. D9 is a much better film than Avatar, one that goes a long way in establishing Science Fiction as a credible film genre, without condescending to the audience.

Drag me to Hell, while excellent, is sort of standard Raimi fare, so I'm puzzled by its high placement.

WTWTA pleased me beyond my wildest dreams. Happy to see it make the list.

Up was visually stunning, as Pixar movies always are. To be completely honest with myself, though, Fantastic Mr. Fox wowed me in a more fundamental way. Seeing stop motion stretched to its limits and pushed in unexplored avenues really was a more impressive show than the customary Pixar offering. And if we're all honest with ourselves, Wall-E was a better movie than Up...by a lot.

An Education was a really unexpected pick, first because I wasn't aware of it, and second, because it rates so high on the list.

I like the balance of the picks. There's something for everybody here.

10:58 AM   Jan 11, 2010

jason ★★

To each his own, I guess. I thought Watchmen was simply awful, and I read (and liked) the book. The best aspect of the graphic novel is how the different stories (including the pirate story) are interspersed, and it just didn't work in the movie. For me. I also thought that Avatar was better than D9, despite the smurfiness and lack of indie cred. Neither of them really demanded a lot of sophistication from the audience, and Avatar brought the more amazing experience (for me).

Still need to see Fantastic Mr. Fox.

4:27 PM   Jan 11, 2010

Travelin_Jack 

Would it be possible to include paragraph formatting in the comments field?

11:00 AM   Jan 11, 2010

TheTop13 

T-J: That is an upgrade we are working on and will be implemented soon. Thanks for the comments.

11:02 AM   Jan 11, 2010

KungFuJay ★★

I saw less movies this year than any year since I was in middle school I think. As a result, I saw exactly 1 of these movies. On the other hand, I saw more live music this year than ever so there's that.

11:08 AM   Jan 11, 2010

holmessss 

Summer Hours. It was a small foreign language film with limited release, but one of the best movies of the year. It is about three adult siblings and the death of their mother, and is a contemplation on death, loss, family, and the role of objects and places in our lives. A quietly powerful film.

11:08 AM   Jan 11, 2010

PulpAffliction ★★

Summer Hours was not absent from the discussion in the making of this list, it's my number five of the year.

11:58 AM   Jan 11, 2010

tloveisready ★★

I like this list. I think Up is a bit overrated even though I did really enjoy it, and I agree with TJ that Fantastic Mr. Fox has to belong somewhere on this list. It was absolute excellent in EVERY catagory. The only other problem I have with the list is the omission of Watchmen. I LOVED District 9, but I thought Watchmen was a superior film. I didn't see Avatar, but I have a hard time believing it could be better than Watchmen or even Star Trek for that matter. But I do love that y'all ranked Inglorious Basterds #1. Not my choice for #1, but a very nice choice indeed. It was a wonderful film.

1:24 PM   Jan 11, 2010

jason ★★

See Avatar in IMAX 3D. You'll have more fun than you did with Watchmen. As to whether you'll have more fun than Star Trek, depends on how big a Trekkie you are I guess (I thought both were quite entertaining).

4:29 PM   Jan 11, 2010

ajay ★★

I agree with stillathreat, I wish (500) Days of Summer was on the list.
Watchmen was disappointing the first time I saw it, having just read the graphic novel. When I was less biased on the second and third viewings, it got even worse. Only Jackie Earle Haley scenes remain enjoyable.

9:53 PM   Jan 11, 2010

BelgianManders 

Funny People was the funniest movie this year. Up was the best cartoon and Crank: High Voltage was one of the best action-comedy's of his kind.

5:59 PM   Jan 12, 2010

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