Josh’s Favorite Films of 2009

I’ll remember it as a landmark year for animation. I’ll remember it as a watershed for children’s literary adaptations. I’ll remember it as the year we finally got a good Iraq war film. I’ll remember 2009 fondly, and vividly, thanks in no small part to these ten films.

10. The Princess and the Frog (Ron Clements and John Musker). It’s not a throwback; it’s a modernization, an era-transcending re-imagining of vintage Disney animation that leaves no doubt as to the style’s relevance in 2009. With its deft balance of starry-eyed romance and hard-work realism, this is a film I’d be thrilled to show to my (hypothetical) kids. The bright colors and Naw’lins spirit make it a joy for grown-ups, too.

09. Adventureland (Greg Mottola). A coming-of-age story that somehow transcends nostalgia with an undercurrent of something deeper; it’s a summer rememberance that leaves lasting scars. Its darkly comic undertow makes it one of the most seductive and surprising pictures of the year, and the soundtrack nails the 1980s like no other movie I’ve seen.

08. The Class (Laurent Cantet). “Based on a true story” fiction has never seemed more like a documentary than in this compelling classroom drama, which sidesteps the usual Dead Poets schmaltz in favor of hard choices, brutal consequences, and a remarkably keen eye for inner-city dynamics.

07. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Phil Lord and Chris Miller). An utter delight. Deliriously funny, brimming with imagination, and full of heart, this is as close to Pixar levels of excellence as any other studio has come in the past several years.

06. The Brothers Bloom (Rian Johnson). The Brick director moves from high-school noir to a brilliantly funny and creative caper that toys with storytelling structure but pulls the postmodern rug right out from under us by keeping the focus on the characters. Does the con represent cinema’s central illusions, or the narrative of life itself? The answer is surprisingly deep.

05. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow). In Dr. Strangelove, war was sex; here, war is addiction. Bigelow’s film deserves every kudo it gets, not just for being the most suspenseful and white-knuckled terrifying film of the year, but for transcending politics in favor of exploring violence and human nature on a much deeper level.

04. Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas). A film about art, aging, family, the passage of time… you know, the important things. Assayas has made here the most poetic and lingering cinematic meditation of the year, a film that doesn’t dazzle you with glitz and glamour but stays with you longer than you expect it to.

03. Up (Pete Docter). Pixar’s movies are becoming almost alarmingly sophisticated. This one is part slapstick comedy, part B-movie adventure, and part reflection on the pains and joys of marriage. Indeed, the marriage montage at the beginning of the movie stays with me as the most moving scene of the year, and the central metaphor of the house dazzles me still.

02. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson). If you think you’ve seen everything an animated movie can do, you haven’t seen Mr. Fox, the wildest and most original animated film of the year. Anderson has paid tribute to Roald Dahl in corduroy and fur, in deadpan humor and surprising warmth. The themes are rich, the laughs real, and visuals one homespun delight after another. This is Anderson’s masterpiece thus far.

01. A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen). The Book of Job as pitch-black comedy– because really, how else would you film it? The Coens‘ great Jewish epic is their most personal film, a labor of love in which the object of desire isn’t in easy answers, but the right to ask prickly questions. A rich, layered masterpiece.

And, some more honors:

A film that I loved in theaters but ultimately found to be morally wearying: Inglorious Basterds.

A film I deeply admired but couldn’t quite love: Where the Wild Things Are.

A very good movie that has been blown way out of proportion: Up in the Air.

Two more animated films that were thisclose to making the list: Coraline and Ponyo.

Still need to see: Seraphine, The Road, The White Ribbon, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, so many others.

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3 responses to “Josh’s Favorite Films of 2009”

  1. anchors says :

    Nice to see that someone gave Adventureland some credit, and thankfully didn’t try to compare Jesse Eisenberg as a poor man’s Michael Cera…

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