My Picks For The Best Films of 2009

My Picks For The Best Films of 2009... and late-2008


Ok, people, this year I'm making two separate lists. Rather than mixing the Best Films of 2009 together with all the great films that were released in late-2008 that I never had a chance to see before posting my Best Films of 2008 list, I'm simply dividing them into two different lists: "Best of 2009" and "Best of Late-2008".

And of course, as is the case every year, there are a few late-2009 releases that I have yet to see that could very well have made this list had I had a chance to see them, most prominently Up In The Air, A Serious Man, An Education, Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire, The White Ribbon, Broken Embraces, Bad Lieutenant, and Crazy Heart.

So, here they are, my picks for the best films of the past year:


TOP 15 FILMS OF 2009

#15. Hunger
Hard to watch at times, but this mesmerizing tale about the final few weeks in the life of Irish republican hunger striker Bobby Sands, who died in prison in 1981, is a must-see film for anyone who likes their movies small, intimate and starkly realistic. An astonishing debut from writer-director Steve McQueen (no, not that Steve McQueen, he of course died in 1980).

#14. Up

Pixar does it again. Not quite as great as last year's incredible Wall-E, but with this sad, funny, thrilling and quite moving animated film, Pixar once again transcends the "children's film" genre to make a truly remarkable film for movie fans of all ages.

#13. State of Play
Featuring an outstanding cast, this terrific political thriller from director Kevin Macdonald (One Day in September, The Last King of Scotland) is based on the acclaimed BBC television series of the same name. Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman and Helen Mirren are all great here.

#12. The Hangover
Best straight-out comedy of the year. Nowhere near as groundbreaking as Borat, but almost as funny. I always get some people reacting negatively to my inclusion of comedies on these lists, but this was not just my favorite comedy of the year, it was also one of the more enjoyable films of the year. Featuring great performances all around, particularly from the four leads playing four real-life-type guys rather than the cartoonish comical characters who normally inhabit your typical comedy. And, yeah, the guy with the beard is real life, I've got a buddy who used to be just like that.

#11. Funny People
This film was written-off by a lot of people, seemingly for not being funny enough. However, unlike director Judd Apatow's previous two films (The 40 Year Old Virgin, and Knocked Up), this film wasn't simply intended to be a comedy. Although it's certainly funny in parts, it's really a story about coming to grips with mortality, friendship, the self-obsessed giant inflated egos of certain extremely successful people, and all sorts of other not-necessarily-all-that-funny stuff. It may have its weaknesses here and there, but overall it's still a pretty damn good film. And, surprisingly, Adam Sandler, who normally plays variations of the exact same character, actually acts here and, along with Seth Rogen, puts in a pretty admirable performance.

#10. Away We Go
A quiet little film from the always-great Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, Jarhead, Road to Perdition), featuring surprisingly subtle, moving dramatic performances from comedians John Krasinski (the U.S. version of The Office) and Maya Rudolph (Saturday Night Live).

#9. (500) Days of Summer
Far removed from your typical romantic comedy shenanigans (take your pick of any Hugh Grant film), director Marc Webb creates a romantic comedy that isn't. Or perhaps it's a non-cliched romantic comedy (if that's not an oxymoron) - a romantic tale that's not actually a love story. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are absolutely outstanding as the two leads.

#8. District 9
This relatively low budget (especially compared to Avatar, which cost ten times more to complete) South African sci-fi, action, suspense, drama, thriller from first-time director Neill Blomkamp is unlike any alien film you've ever seen. And not just for the underlying anti-segregation message, great plot twists, and documentary feel (shot mainly using hand-held cameras). Wholly original and completely riveting. Quite moving too.

#7. Summer Hours (L'heure d'été)
Another one of those small, masterful French films. Nothing explodes, no car chases, no shoot-outs, just lots of cigarettes, coffee and real human drama. The story is simple: Three adult siblings try to come to grips with life and family relations after the death of their elderly mother. A simple story, yes, but extremely poignant. Written and directed by Olivier Assayas and featuring wonderful, subtle performances from Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling and Jérémie Renier, among others.

#6. Moon
In this debut film from Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie), Sam Rockwell (Choke, Frost/Nixon, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Matchstick Men) is, as always, amazing, but in this film he gives the performance(s) of a lifetime. I don't want to give any of the story away, but it's a brilliant film that'll have you thinking long and hard long after the final credits roll.

#5. Avatar
Four words: Visually absolutely f*cking awesome!!!

Action-packed, a great ride, and a pretty damn good story too. Sure, it may be a bit black and white when it comes to the whole good guys/bad guys storyline, but the same thing is true with Star Wars, many Kurosawa classics, and many other great films.

If you're going to go see a blockbuster, what more could you want than this amazing piece of entertainment from James Cameron?

#4. Fantastic Mr. Fox
A stop-action kids film that is probably a much more thrilling viewing experience for adults (though still great fun for the kids). Coming from the brilliant mind of writer-director Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeling Limited), there was never really any chance it would be anything less than pure cinematic magic. And the stars - George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Jason Schwartzman, in particular - all shine brightly.

#3. Where The Wild Things Are
Spike Jonze's first film in seven years is as great as his first two (Being John Malkovich, and Adaptation). Based on Maurice Sendak's children's book, but not really a children's film at all. Rather it's an incredibly moving, occasionally heartbreaking story for adults about childhood. A must-see.

#2. The Hurt Locker

Director Kathryn Bigelow (Strange Days, Point Break) inspires her cast of relative unknowns to greatness in this riveting, suspense-filled film about life in a U.S. Army bomb disposal unit in Iraq circa 2004. One of the best war films of all time.

#1. Inglourious Basterds
Tarantino does it again! An absolutely awesome film! Kicking Nazi ass has never been so much fun. Morally reprehensible perhaps (what with the killing of surrendered soldiers and all), but as a revenge fantasy (Jews killing Nazis), it was one hell of a fun ride. And, like with any Tarantino film, the greatest scenes are actually the quietest ones, where Tarantino's gift for brilliant dialogue gets its chance to shine. In this case, the opening 20-minute farmhouse scene. Who else this past year created a scene anywhere near as amazing as that?



#1. The Cove
#2. Food Inc.
#3. Tyson
#4. Anvil! The Story of Anvil
#5. It Might Get Loud



More scandalous, zany brilliance from the mind of Sacha Baron Cohen. Not one of the best films of the year, but certainly the most daring and outrageous. Borat was the hilarious one, this is the more provocative one. Which, as anyone who has seen Borat will know, is saying a lot.

And now for those 2008 films I mentioned above:



#15. Man On Wire
Fantastic documentary about the thrilling (and highly illegal) stunt performed by French daredevil Philippe Petit in 1974 when he walked a tightrope between the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center. Plays out more like a suspense film than a documentary.

#14. Happy Go-Lucky
The great writer-director Mike Leigh never disappoints (Secrets and Lies, Vera Drake, Topsy-Turvy, Naked). And neither does Sally Hawkins, at least not in this classy little English film, where she's absolutely perfect in the lead role of Poppy.

#13. Frost/Nixon
A historical drama that is as fascinating as it sounds boring. How can a film about a reporter/entertainer (David Frost) interviewing an ex-president (Richard Nixon) be anything other than boring? Well, Ron Howard (directing), Peter Morgan (screenplay), and Frank Langella (as Nixon) and Michael Sheen (as Frost) somehow pull it off.

#12. Revolutionary Road
Sam Mendes directs and Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are reunited in this terrific 1950s period piece. Two actors at the top of their game.

#11. Choke
This 2008 black comedy from writer-director Clark Gregg - based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk of Fight Club fame - simply slipped under the radar and never got a real release until it came out on DVD in early-2009. An often-hilarious and at times quite moving look at the life of a sex addict coming to terms with the rapid dementia of his mother. An offbeat film that's a must-see for those who enjoy their films, and human stories, with a twist of the abnormal and bizarre. Sam Rockwell (Moon, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Matchstick Men) is truly magnificent in the lead role and, playing his mother, Anjelica Huston is her regular sublime self.

#10. Changeling
Clint Eastwood directs yet another outstanding film (man, is this guy ever on a roll!). And Angelina Jolie gives perhaps her greatest performance yet as a mother desperately searching for her missing son.

#9. Frozen River
First-time director Courtney Hunt directs her own screenplay and Melissa Leo and Misty Upham mesmerize.

#8. Elegy
Spanish director Isabel Coixet (The Secret Life of Words, My Life Without Me) makes perhaps her best film yet. Pitch perfect performances from the always-stellar Penélope Cruz and Ben Kingsley.

#7. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Woody Allen's best film in years. Read my full rave here.

#6. Waltz With Bashir (Vals Im Bashir)
This animated war documentary is unlike anything you've ever seen. Israeli director Ari Folman interviews fellow veterans of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, trying to recover blacked-out memories from the massacre at Beirut's Sabra and Shatila camps. A fascinating, and ultimately heartbreaking, road to the truth.

#5. The Wrestler
The always great Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) directs the recently-washed-up Mickey Rourke in a story of a washed-up wrestler. And Mickey gives the performance of a lifetime.

#4. Rachel Getting Married
Jonathan Demme (Melvin and Howard, Something Wild, Philadelphia, and The Silence of the Lambs) directs with a subtle hand, incorporating many of the film techniques he's obviously developed making documentaries in recent years. Anne Hathaway triumphs in the lead role.

#3. I've Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t'aime)
Writer/director Philippe Claudel's first feature film is a stunning debut. And Kristin Scott Thomas gives the finest performance of her long career in this magical French film.

#2. Slumdog Millionaire
Director Danny Boyle (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary, The Beach, 28 Days Later..., Sunshine) conjures up his greatest film yet, a movie set in the slums of Mumbai (Bombay) that has it all: action, suspense, love, hope, misery, brutality, degradation, pain, suffering, and, eventually, triumph. Epic, breathtaking filmmaking from a master.

Read my full review here: The Slumdog Millionaire and Danny Boyle Rave

#1. Milk
Sean Penn is as good as he's ever been (and he's been one of the greatest actors alive for years now) playing gay activist Harvey Milk in this masterpiece from director Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, Good Will Hunting, Elephant).

Read my full review here: The Milk Rave: Harvey Milk, Little Baby River and The Missing Scene

So, there you have 'em: 15 great films from 2009 and 15 more from late-2008, plus five fantastic docs and one honorable mention.

Now check out My Picks For The Top 100 Films of The Decade.

Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Monday, January 18th, 2010


POSTSCRIPT:  Thursday, January 21st, 2010: Last night I saw Goodbye Solo (by American independent filmmaker Ramin Bahrani) and it's a beautiful little film that I highly recommend. Had I seen it in time, it certainly would have made the list above. Ivorian actor Souleymane Sy Savane is truly magnificent in the lead role.


POSTSCRIPT #2:  Friday, January 22nd, 2010: Tonight I saw Jason Reitman's Up In The Air and it was terrific, as were all three leads: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick. I don't know exactly where it would have fit on my Best Films of 2009 list, but it would definitely have ranked pretty damn high. Great film!


POSTSCRIPT #3 (February 2010): I just saw the Coen Brothers terrific late-2009 dark comedy, A Serious Man, and I absolutely loved it... and it 100% would have made this list - near the top - had I seen it in time.

And here are my picks for the best music of 2009: The Top 15 Albums and 25 Songs of 2009


And my picks for the best music of the past ten years: The Top Albums, Songs and Artists of the Decade


And here are My Picks For The Best 25 Films of 2008


And My Picks For The Best Films of 2007


For more on film click here: MikesAndDislikes Film: Home


Or here: Film: General


Or here: Film: Raves & Reviews


MikesAndDislikes Home

interesting list

Hi Mike, I have only seen about half of the films you have listed. Good descriptions. On my list to still see, from your faves: Inglorious Bastards. Slumdog Millionaire. Food Inc. Moon. The Hurt Locker. We also rented Bruno and were stunned by it - it's so over the top, we couldn't turn it off - it's just ridiculous and also so true. Recently we saw Up in The Air and Avatar. Really liked both of them, but didn't LOVE either. Didn't love Rachel Getting Married. Really liked Changeling. Loved Milk. Loved The Cove. Loved Where the Wild Things Are. Loved Hunger. Those are my thoughts, for now. Your sis Liz

best films

Interesting commentary on many outstanding films; and a better review than the film critics!