While I have not come close to seeing everything of note from the year, I think I've seen enough to make a good stab at a Top 10 list, followed by some of my own movie awards. To start, here is a list of the movies I've seen this year, grouped alphabetically by grade.
Yes, some of these grades have changed since I first saw the movie. I've been reflecting a lot on the elusive quality of "rewatchability." Do I want to watch the movie again?? If the answer is no, I can't really justify giving it a B+ (For example, Avatar, which has been downgraded). There are also a couple movies I've upgraded since I've first seen them. They have grown and expanded in my minds, and I've found it easy to upgrade their minor faults. Here's what I've seen from 2009 (41 films!).
Goodbye Solo, The Hurt Locker , A Serious Man, Up in the Air
A- (Highly Recomended)
Bright Star, Coraline, District 9, An Education, Moon, Precious
Broken Embraces, Crazy Heart, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Humpday, In the Loop, Sugar, Two Lovers, Up, Where the Wild Things Are
B (Recommended with Reservations)
Avatar, Drag Me to Hell, Duplicity, Every Little Step, I Love You Man, Inglorious Basterds, Julia, Star Trek, Summer Hours
B- (Probably Worth a View)
Adventureland, Away We Go, (500) Days of Summer, The Garden, Invictus, Julie & Julia, Lorna's Silence
The Hangover, Sin Nombre, Sunshine Cleaning
C (Don't Bother)
Medicine for Melancholy, Whip It
As you'll probably notice, I didn't give any grades lower than a C, and I have quite a large clump in the B/B+ range. I think this is for a couple of reasons. I love movies, but not all movies. If I did see Old Dogs or All About Steve or Transformers, you'd probably see some Ds and Fs in my list. They would have also taken many hours from my life. I tend to see movies that interest me, and I tend to, for the most part, enjoy these movies, even those that I find major faults with. So, without further ado, here are my thoughts on the Best of the Year:
The Best Movies of 2009
Runners-Up (I wish I had the room for....):
Broken Embraces: Pedro Almodvar's melodrama is full of the trademark beauty and style that we've come to expect from the master. Penelope Cruz remains a wonderful muse for the director. While this is not my favorite Almodvar, I really enjoyed the movie the whole way through.
In the Loop: This satire is the funniest comedy of the year. Profane, perceptive, and very quotable. I'd love to watch it again. You may not love the characters, but you'll definitely laugh.
Up: The first 10 minutes alone are a work of genius. If the rest of the movie doesn't quite live up to them (or, in my opinion, to Wall-E or Ratatouille), it's still another undeniable success from Pixar, and I salute it's animated place in the Best Picture race.
10. Bright Star: Avatar be damned. For my money, 19th century England as shown by director Jane Campion and her team was the most beautiful world of the year. Some might call the story slow, but it's filled with passion, beauty, and boasts a wonderful perfomance by Abbie Cornish at its center.
9. District 9: A movie I went into not knowing much about, and I'm glad. This South African sci-fi film is fast-paced, disturbing, and haunting. An allegory that doesn't hit you over the head.
8. Moon: Proof number 2 that a gripping sci-fi film does not need a $500 million dollar budget, it needs great ideas and a great story. This one stars (almost solely) Sam Rockwell as a man on a strange mission to (you guessed it) the Moon. Gripping the whole way through.
7. Coraline: 2009 was a great year for "kids" movies that played just as well (if not better) to adults, and this was my favorite. While I appreciate the uplift of Pixar, it was also nice to see a movie about childhood that plays with the subconscious fears of children. This is about a preteen thrust into an alternate universe. The visual world that Henry Selick creates is absolutely astonishing.
6. Precious: Precious has been controversial, and I think that's because it's hit a nerve. While I won't deny there are a few moments of excess in the film I wish would have been curbed, this is strong, visceral, in-your-face filmmaking that packs a serious punch. Mo'nique and Gabourey Sidibe deliver performances straight from the soul in this domestic drama about a young woman's struggle for survival.
5. An Education: Newcomer Carey Mulligan absolutely shines as a young British woman in the 1960s who learns lessons about life and love. Mulligan isn't the only draw, though. A Nick Hornby script, terrific supporting cast, and a brisk pace, and an almost perfect tone make this perhaps the most enjoyable of this year's films.
4. Goodbye Solo: Undoubtably the least-seen movie on my list. Director Ramin Bahrani made my last year's list with Chop Shop. This one is even better. It's about an unlikely friendship between a Senegalese cab driver and an elderly Southern man at the end of his life. See it now. If you have Netflix, it's even on Watch Now!
3. Up in the Air: The rare proof that, at times, Hollywood can still make grown-up movies full of smart dialogue, social commentary, and great acting. George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick could not be better in this film, and they all create fully relatable (albeit flawed) human beings.
2. The Hurt Locker: What can I add to the most heralded movie of the year? A great action film, a great suspense film, and a great war movie. The direction (by Kathryn Bigelow) and the acting (particulalry by Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie) are brilliant. A movie for the ages.
1. A Serious Man: Has a movie ever laid out a vision so dark while being so hilariously funny? This movie is the Coen Brothers at their absolute finest. They've mined their own midwestern Jewish childhood to explore serious existential themes. Absolute brilliance.
I hope you enjoyed the list! Agree? Disagree? Have it in the comments!