Before I begin, I forgot to mention two movies which I neither hated nor considered to be "Honorable Mentions": The Invention of Lying and Watchmen. Neither of them really did anything for me, but to be honest I didn't care enough about them to knock them down a peg two days ago. So there you have it.
Without exception, you should see all 14 of these movies as soon as possible.
In no particular order, and absolutely not numbered, My Favorite Films of 2009:
Moon - I've been counting down the days until I can watch Moon again on Blu-Ray. Only a few weeks left, and it can't come soon enough. Duncan Jones, Sam Rockwell, and Kevin Spacey did something very special with this film, one that ought to owe heavily from Silent Running and 2001, but manages to live and breathe all its own. The theatre we saw Moon in had horrible sound, and frequently cut out during important conversations, but I still think the world of this movie, the first of two great science fiction films on this list.
Inglourious Basterds - Somebody's going to have to explain to me why you didn't like this movie. There's so much animosity out there for Inglourious Basterds, and if it's just because Quentin Tarantino promised a "men on a mission" movie and then gave you a film with greater scope and considerably more depth, then boo hoo. If Christoph Waltz isn't nominated for Best Supporting Actor come Oscar time, I'll be shocked. Mélanie Laurent should also be considered, although I fear she won't in favor of better known Americans.
No part of this film was boring to me. No beat went too long, no flourish was unnecessary. Quentin Tarantino took all of his favorite film fetishes and put them to service a narrative that sweeps over you and I, for one, was enthralled from the opening moments. Each game of "cat and mouse", where it's clear that nothing good can come from what's happening on screen, had my rapt attention. There's no way this movie is two and-a-half hours. I don't believe it.
On a total side note: if there's nothing else you watch Inglourious Basterds for, see it for Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt)'s stunningly awful Italian accent. It's hilarious.
The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans - I completely and totally understand why critics are crazy for this movie. The trailers sell you a film that doesn't exist; a complete trainwreck from beginning to end, capped off by Nicolas Cage's batshit Mega Acting. And yes, those are all scenes in The Bad Lieutenant: Unfortunately Long Subtitle That's Totally Appropriate, but Werner Herzog's mad genius constructs a bafflingly wonderful film out of such disparate elements. What you see SHOULD NOT work, but I'll be damned, it does.
Because it's not easy to see, I'll have to recommend you buy or rent it when it arrives on dvd. You'll hear no derision from the Cap'n for doing so.
The Men Who Stare at Goats - Not at all what I was expecting. That's the long and the short of my reaction to Grant Heslov's The Men Who Stare at Goats. You go in expecting something goofy that maybe goes nowhere, but come out on the other side quite pleased at the film. Ewan McGregor is a wonderful comic foil for George Clooney, who in turn gets to pal around with Jeff Bridges' "The Dude" and Kevin Spacey. The secret to this movie, one I continually forget to mention, is that Jedi powers are attainable only with a mustache. Watch The Men Who Stare at Goats and disagree.
Up - If the first fifteen minutes, which set up the story of Carl and Ellie Fredrickson, doesn't tug at your heartstrings, I can't help you. You might even be more of a heartless robot than the Cap'n is, because Up had me from minute one. To its credit, the film quickly turns from tearjerker to adventure and whisks you along for the ride. I have the distinct impression that Coraline will probably take the Best Animated Film award from Up because it's not Pixar, but I cannot agree with that decision. Between Up, Wall-E, and Ratatouille, Pixar is on such a roll that I just don't think that Coraline, as good as it is, is the better film.
Drag Me to Hell - Sam Raimi made me eat crow, and I've never been happier to do it. I hate, HATE Ghost House movies like The Grudge and Boogeyman, and I loathe PG13 horror films that rely on cheap shocks in lieu of good, lasting chills. It turns out that so does Sam Raimi, because he took Ghost House and PG13 horror back to school to show us how it's done. Drag Me to Hell is funny, it's scary, it's cleverly manipulative in scares, and Alison Lohman brings a sense of sympathy that Bruce Campbell could not have (no slight on Bruce, but at this point we revel in Raimi torturing him). The running gags involving horrible liquids going into Lohman's mouth, or the gypsy woman ripping her hair out, to the twisted seance or the anvil!
Folks, you just don't know what you missed by skipping this. I nearly skipped it, and the Cap'n is sure glad he didn't. This is the kind of horror that gets an audience behind it, one that doles out the guffaws and the screams in equal measure.
Thirst - It wasn't until I watched Lady Vengeance several weeks later that Chan-wook Park's Thirst really made sense. I thought the jump from Oldboy to Thirst was a bit odd, even if I really enjoyed Thirst, but all of the black comedy that Park's vampire film carries is evident in Lady Vengeance: the music choices, the bizarre dream sequences, the nochalant approach to violence. I realize that people are pretty "vampired" out right now, but just as seriously as I advocated Let the Right One In, so too must I insist you watch Thirst. It's funnier, for what that's worth.
Anvil: The Story of Anvil - Both hilarious and pathetic. Hilarious, because Anvil has the worst luck in the history of metal bands: This is Spinal Tap couldn't make up half of the shitty things that Anvil have to put up with while on tour. Pathetic, because Lipps and Robb Reiner really want the band to work out. They never got there, when so many others did, and the sense of hope tainted by disappointment really moves Anvil: The Story of Anvil from Behind the Music to something greater.
District 9 - I'm still in awe of how well put together the Johannesburg of District 9 is. Of how the film is not afraid to let characters behave selfishly and betray others for their own benefit. I'm intrigued at the ways the story can continue, and how well Neill Blomkamp toys with your expectations about the "found footage", or the documentary that frames the entire narrative. Like Moon, District 9 is science fiction that's willing to be more than silly "kid's" stuff, one where the violence is disturbing rather than merely gratuitous, and that invites you to go back and follow the details from opening to closing. Bravo.
The Hangover - The sense of impending doom from Bradley Cooper's "we fucked up." at the opening promises you a dangerous experience, and with the three man squad of Cooper, Helms, and Galifianakis, I'm ready to travel down that road again with them any time. There's no real redeeming message about film here, just a ride of pure fun with some true howlers of plot twists.
Observe and Report - After my review, which I feel people took as negative, I stepped back to think about Observe and Report. Normally, something I feel so conflicted about would make it to the "Honorable Mentions" category, but for Observe and Report to affect me the way it did, there's something greater at work in the mind of Jody Hill. I'll be revisiting this film again soon...
Tyson - Mike Tyson, in this documentary, is more than simply the beating machine or the washed up tabloid punchline; he is, at times, an awkward philosopher of his own life. There are very few things he won't talk about, and the portrait he paints is seldom flattering or self serving. Nevertheless, Tyson is the kind of documentary you put on and can't pull your eyes away for one moment, even if you know the "greatest hits".
Zombieland - Like The Hangover, Zombieland makes no pretenses about being "high art". It is a film of pure, unadulterated fun, a zombie film that realizes the survivors of any apocalypse are likely to be just as bent and out of shape as their undead counterparts. Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg are a team that could carry another Zombieland or a dozen other kinds of movies. I love the way Zombieland's opening credits spoof Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead titles, while all the time reminding you that this is a horror-comedy. Sure, it may lack much in the way of deep social commentary, but dammit: Zombieland is fun!
and a special "Finally!" exception for Trick R Treat, my new favorite Halloween movie! - I realize that Trick R Treat was made in 2007, and that it's been traveling around as a "Roadshow" attraction since then, but when the Blu Ray finally arrived in time for Halloween, I understood what the hoopla was about. It is a criminal shame to withhold this film from audiences, when Michael Dougherty so clearly gets and loves what's scary about Halloween and horror films. Plus, it's a great anthology film, something we get so few of any more. I really hope that the success of the dvd and Blu Ray sales (which sold out widely on the day of release) push Warner Brothers to green light another Trick R Treat anthology, but at the very least I now have one movie that's guaranteed for every Horror Fest from here on out.
I wish I'd seen's for 2009: Big Fan, The Road, Up in the Air, The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man, Where the Wild Things Are, Antichrist, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Best Worst Movie, and The Informant!