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Top 10 Movies of 2009

The Best Films of 209

By

Up until December 10th, my Top 10 list of the best movies released in 2009 was topped by (500) Days of Summer. And then I saw Avatar, a film that I'll admit I wasn't really looking forward to seeing. I'm not into 3-D, performance capture, or action films with overwhelming special effects. But Avatar made me a believer in all of the aforementioned items. While most of the so-called 'award' caliber year-end releases disappointed, Avatar delivered on every promise.

Keep in mind these are my personal favorites. You're free to disagree with any or all of them.

Honorable Mentions: Star Trek, Brothers, and The Messenger.

'Avatar'

© 20th Century Fox
James Cameron's passion project, Avatar, is the most expensive movie in 20th Century Fox's history. And, if the official figures are ever released, it could possibly be the most expensive movie in film history. But Cameron knows a thing or two about delivering movies that sell, having created the biggest grossing movie of all time. Titanic brought in $1.8 billion worldwide, a figure most people believe will never be surpassed. But those people haven't seen Avatar.

Avatar is the event movie of the decade, a film you absolutely must see in theaters - in digital 3-D - to believe. Cameron employed technology created just for Avatar, and the end result is a groundbreaking, spellbinding, brilliant piece of art.

'(500) Days of Summer'

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in 500 Days of Summer
© Fox Searchlight
(500) Days of Summer is one of the smartest romantic comedies in quite some time. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, a greeting card writer who totally supports the theory that there's one person out there for each of us and that you'll recognize the person you're fated to be with as soon as you meet them. The adorable Zooey Deschanel is Summer, the girl Tom thinks is meant to be his one and only. The nonlinear storytelling takes audiences back and forth throughout 500 days in the life of Tom as he falls in love with a girl who tells him straight out she's not looking to settle down in a steady relationship. It's a simple tale, but a witty, well-acted and thoroughly enjoyable one.

'Up'

A scene from Up
© Disney/Pixar
Pixar continued on its winning streak with Up, another absolutely gorgeous, genuinely entertaining animated comedy. What Pixar does so well is they have the ability to create animated films that engage audiences of all ages. They understand that it doesn't matter how beautiful a film is to look at if the story lacks substance. Up isn't just a comedy or a coming-of-age tale or a...SQUIRREL!...story about love, loss, and living life. It's about following your dreams, about opening yourself up to new adventures, and it's about never giving up. And if that isn't enough to draw in audiences, Pixar included a talking dog as one of the main characters. What more could you ask for?

'An Education'

Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard in An Education
© Sony Pictures Classics
An Education is in a class by itself. Carey Mulligan tops my Top 10 Actresses of 2009 list with her breakthrough performance as a 16 year old English schoolgirl who becomes involved in a romantic relationship with a man in his 30s.

Jenny (Mulligan) is an intelligent, extroverted high school student who can't wait for her life to expand beyond the borders of her suburban London neighborhood. When a wealthy and socially connected gentlemen takes an interest in her, introducing her to his glamorous lifestyle, Jenny feels her sheltered life opening up. Watching Mulligan as Jenny go through a full spectrum of emotions is simply fascinating, and An Education is one of the more memorable movies of 2009 thanks in large part to her performance.

'Inglourious Basterds'

Eli Roth and Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds
© The Weinstein Company
Quentin Tarantino's back, baby, and he returns with a vengeance. Inglourious Basterds is his best work since 1994's Pulp Fiction. Quoting from my review, Inglourious Basterds is "crazy, nasty fun, and pure, unadulterated Tarantino. It's also a glorious love letter to film that goes as far as to literally use film stock as a means to try and wipe out Hitler and his high command."

Brad Pitt does a bizarre Tennessee-ish accent and Hostel director Eli Roth steps in front of the camera to play a baseball bat-wielding killer of Nazis. But the most audacious aspect of Inglourious Basterds is how Tarantino plays with history. He kills off the leaders of the Third Reich in one fantastic frenzy of bullets and fire. What's not to like about that?

'The Hurt Locker'

Guy Pearce and Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker
© Summit Entertainment
Moviegoers are opting for comedies over dramas, and anything to do with any war is being pretty much ignored altogether. We're all looking for a little escape from real life at the movies in this rocky time in history. And, really, you can't argue with that. I'm right there with the majority of ticket buyers; I'd much rather laugh right now (although studios seem to believe December is the time to release depressing films). But the problem is that a lot of truly decent films deserving an audience are getting passed by. The Hurt Locker's one of those overlooked gems. For those reluctant to check it out due to the subject matter, try to think of it as a great character-driven film that just happens to have the Iraq war as its backdrop.

'The Road'

Kodi Smit-McPhee and Viggo Mortensen in The Road
© Dimension Films
If you've read Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road, then you realize how extremely difficult it was to adapt into a feature film. Thankfully for fans of McCarthy's work, The Road made the transition to the big screen with its spirit - and a lot of McCarthy's dialogue - completely intact. McCarthy's The Road is probably his least cinematic work, but somehow under John Hillcoat's direction, the film is as spectacular as the book.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, The Road follows The Man (Viggo Mortensen) and The Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they struggle to stay alive one day at a time. It's a beautiful story, depressing though ultimately uplifting, and one you'll be talking about for days after the credits roll.

'Zombieland'

Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg in Zombieland
© Columbia Pictures
Zombieland was the most laugh-out-loud fun I had at the movies all year. An R-rated comedy about a geek (Jesse Eisenberg), a bad ass (Woody Harrelson), and two gun-toting sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) who team up to kill as many zombies as they can is not the most obvious choice for a spot on this best movies of 2009 list. But it is, in fact, one of the most entertaining, well-written, surprisingly witty, and absolutely hysterical movies of 2009. And it's got a cameo appearance you have to see to believe.

'Up in the Air'

George Clooney and Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air
© Paramount Pictures
Jason Reitman's batting three for three as a director. His Thank You for Smoking topped my Top 10 Movies of 2006 list and Juno was number one on my Top 10 Movies of 2007 list. While Up in the Air didn't earn the top spot this year, it's still one of my favorite films of the year. Reitman knows how to write strong female characters, and in Up in the Air he delivers two incredibly complex and relatable women (played by Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga). Plus, George Clooney is the best he's ever been as a lifelong bachelor racking up frequent flyer miles while dispersing pink slips across the US.

'District 9'

Sharlto Copley in District 9
© TriStar Pictures
District 9 isn't even in the same ballpark budget-wise as any of the year's big action releases. Yet in a year jam-packed with action films, District 9 stands apart from the pack because of its originality, incredibly complex CGI characters, and first-rate acting. First-time feature film writer/director Neill Blomkamp directs first-time feature film actor Sharlto Copley and together the twosome (who hail from South Africa and are friends) created a spectacular aliens-stranded-on-Earth movie that's unbelievably realistic and entertaining. For just $30 million, Blomkamp was able to make a sci-fi/action movie with heart and with CGI characters that seem as real as any flesh and blood actor.


Also check out the Top 10 Movies of 2010
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