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[Pre-Oscar Season] Top 20 Films of 2009

Written by on September 9, 2009 

The calm before the pending Oscar storm is trembling in front of us. Here at TFS we asked each writer to give their Top 20 so far. I then gave 1 point to their #20 pick and 20 points to their #1 pick and everything in between. I added up points for all the films and here is the order leading up to the film with the most points. Let’s take a look at some of the best films of the year so far.

Honorable Mentions: Coraline, State of Play, Thirst, World’s Greatest Dad, Duplicity, Bruno, and Away We Go

20. The Girlfriend Experience (Soderbergh, May 22nd)


By Miles Trahan (#6)

Steven Soderbergh’s follow-up to last year’s magnificent Che put a unique spin on the usual “Belle du Jour” yawn, by tackling the story of a young “girlfriend” (read: a prostitute with benefits) played by adult film star Sasha Grey whose clients are seemingly more concerned with the current state of the economy (read: dire) than with anything even approaching casual sex. Shot on the cheap in and around New York City, Soderbergh’s film feels like a modern riff on Godard’s Vivre sa Vie — mixing unfulfilling sex with weighty conversation and editing the whole thing like an avant-garde oddity, Soderbergh’s film feels both remarkably fresh, remarkably kitschy and surprisingly relevant. Only time will tell if it holds up once the market dusts itself off.

19. Drag Me To Hell (Raimi, May 29th)


by Merrill Barr (#10)

After Spider-Man 3 many wondered what Sam Raimi could possibly follow up with. Well he decided to return to the thing that made him what he is, horror, and he did so in a big way with Drag Me To Hell. The film is everything we love about Raimi, campy horror, humor, some action, and a great story to hold it all together. Not to mention an ending that will leave any horror fan giddy with excitement and disbelief. It didn’t put The Evil Dead series to shame but deserves just as much praise. The only thing missing was a cameo by the Bruce man himself.

18. Anvil!: The Story of Anvil (Gervasi, Feb 8th)


By Addam Hardy (#7)

Reality TV, or commonly known as Shit TV in my house, has been on the rise for a long time now. Relentless in its pursuit to rot our minds and convince us that watching someone else’s shitty life is somehow more entertaining than trying to fix our own shitty lives. We shouldn’t forget about the screen reality that was there long before Big Brother and American Who Gives A Shit Idol — the documentary. An interesting story finely crafted by a skilled documentarian can bring to light things about our world and the nature of the human condition that no ABC hit could ever dream of achieving. Anvil!: The Story of Anvil is so inspiring and heartbreaking that you feel like you actually know Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner personally. How many of you want something so bad you would fight 30 years for it? I wish that I had that level of passion for anything. The doc follows the band through an unexpected European tour that could have possibly revitalized their careers and sent them barreling through the success they have dreamed of. The reality is much like the reality they had been painfully aware of since their 15 minutes of fame in the 1980s. While lacking in whatever arbitrary and minuscule detail that makes the difference between a winner and a loser in the music industry they are abound with heart and you’ll quickly realize that heart is what really matters.

17. I Love You, Man (Hamburg, March 20th)


by Nick Newman (#7)

I am astounded I enjoyed this movie as much as I did.  I thought the trailers looked pretty weak, like a forgettable comedy that would only contain only a few laughs.  Not only was the movie extremely funny, but it presents an interesting look at modern male relations, in one of the best ways a film that is ostensibly a buddy comedy could.  One of the best kinds of comedies: one that months later, you find yourself laughing at random moments thinking back on specific scenes from.

16. In The Loop (Iannucci, July 24th)

in the loop 002

By Mark Mitchell (#3)

I imagine a nation’s march to war is usually less a noble undertaking and more the inevitable outcome of inter-office skirmishes and petty personal politics. I imagine the process shares a lot in common with Armando Iannucci’s satirical movie about the run-up to war in the Middle East. One prays it is satire. It’s all incredibly funny, yes, but the film is built around one central truth: governments function just like any other workplace, but with more at stake.

15. Observe and Report (Hill, April 10th)


By Mark Mitchell (#8)

Ronnie Barnhardt is a loser. He’s a rent-a-cop at the local mall, he lives with his mom, he’s selfish and he’s mean. But we root for him anyway. None of us is perfect, we’re all a little bit racist. Deep down, we all want a little bit of fame. We could show the world just how talented and special we are, if only we were given the chance. And besides, who among us, when reaching for that big brass ring, hasn’t come face to face with a well formed micro-penis?

14. Watchmen (Snyder, March 6th)


By Jack Giroux (#3)

Zack Snyder didn’t only make a faithful adaptation, he made a genuinely great film. While many are still mixed on Snyder’s take on the material it is nonetheless an original marvel to behold. I’m confident this film will be looked upon more fondly in the years to come, especially considering there’s a superior Director’s Cut out there.

12. (tie) Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince (Yates, July 13th)

harry potter

By Josephine Mangani (#3)

If by some strange circumstance you have not seen a Harry Potter movie, take the chance to do so with the sixth installment, The Half-Blood Prince. The acting abilities of its traditional cast have clearly improved with the movies, culminating in a highly comedic and romantic adaptation of a popular text. For frequent movie-goers the film will please in its visually appetizing effects and particularly stunning sets. Its fast pace and beautiful score add to the magic that only a Harry Potter film can produce.

12. (tie) Funny People (Apatow, July 31st)


By Mark Maurer (#3)

Judd Apatow made a great dramedy about comedians facing their own mortality like a fatal punchline. Funny People is a textured film that’s certainly an achievement for Apatow who has dutifully crossed over to the realm of James L. Brooks and Cameron Crowe-style storytelling. Aside from an assortment of single-minded scatological jokes, the character dynamics are genuinely affecting. The first half’s behind-the-scenes look at the joke telling profession is so engaging that you’re willing to forgive it when Ira (Seth Rogen) and George (Adam Sandler) hang out with Apatow’s real-life wife and kids for 45 minutes.

11. Public Enemies (Mann, July 1st)


By Dan Mecca (#5)

Director Michael Mann offers one of the most visceral, character-driven period pieces in a long time, featuring a (yet again) flawless Johnny Depp as the notorious Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger and Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis, the ambitious FBI agent bent on taking Dillinger down. The digital camera works despite the initial concern. Mann is able to capture a different kind of lush life with the digital technology, one shrouded in both the real and the fantastical. Consider the nighttime shootout sequence in the woods – the only thing viewers can see is the bullets expelling from the guns and the only thing they can hear is the bullets ripping through whatever gets in their way. Brilliant.

10. Adventureland (Mottolla, April 3rd)


By Mark Maurer (#2)

Despite the authenticity of the decade-appropriate styles and trends, Adventureland transcends time. An inspired rumination on post-college confusion, it can be viewed as nostalgic for those who lived it but also relatable for those going through it. Adventureland – starring Jesse Eisenberg, the muse for neurotic youths everywhere – balances laughs and drama without boring the audience with clichés or relying on excess crudeness. It’s acceptable if the film follows a fairly predictable rhythm in its third act because the pain and satisfaction of the events both naturally click.

8. (tie) 500 Days of Summer (Webb, July 17th)


By Addam Hardy (#2)

Everyone has been in this position. Loving someone to an extent that makes no sense. Your friends don’t understand it. You don’t understand it. It is what it is and you don’t want to question it. You just want to live in it. We don’t live in movies though and happy endings are rare at best. There is not always — is there ever? — a clean cut resolution to something as raw as human emotion. Strip away formula, throw in real life emotion and ridiculousness, add Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and you have one of the most refreshing and true-to-life depictions of lost love, not found love, that will not just entertain you but speak to you on a very personal and visceral level. Its very indie and its very hipster but it has more heart and reality than any romantic comedy released in recent memory. Walking out of this film you will question all of your lost relationships and wonder what happened and what could have been different. There are hundreds of formulaic love filled happily ever after stories a year to propagate your false sense of reality anytime you would like some white noise to fill the void. (500) Days of Summer is about real life, real love and the real pain that is obligatory to living in this world. You can’t feel love without feeling pain. Anyone who has lost someone needs to see this film.

8. (tie) The Hangover (Phillips, June 5th)


By Dan Mecca (#6)

Just plain funny this comedy is. Sticking to a fail-proof premise and pushing the levels of raunchy up until the over-the-credits slideshow (which may be the funniest part of the whole film), director Todd Phillips finds the punchlines he’s been missing since Old School. This is mostly thanks to his magnificent comedy trio – Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper – who play off each other and each other’s character traits perfectly, never once pausing to take the film too seriously or steal the spotlight from one another. That’s what I call teamwork.

7. The Brothers Bloom (Johnson, May 15th)


By Mickey Kelly (#1)

Brick Director Rian Johnson has made another masterpiece.The Brother’s Bloom, influenced by Paper Moon, stars the conman duo of Adrien Brody & Mark Ruffalo. Assisted by Rinko Kikuchi, this is my #1 pick for picture of the year. Rachel Weisz is stunning and dopey in which she plays an 33-year-old epileptic “hobby collector” and brings so much class to the screen. Combining elements of romance and good ol’ fashioned adventure make this a film whole-hearted fun.

6. Star Trek (Abrams, May 8th)


By Josephine Mangani (#1)

I had never seen the other Star Trek movies, nor the television series and quite simply had no interest in doing so. It is therefore with much respect for J.J Abrams that I put Star Trek as my favourite movie for 2009. I was immediately sucked into the world of the USS Enterprise, its engaging characters and a clever but still coherent plot. With some of the greatest capabilities of filmmaking being showcased through the action scenes, Star Trek was as visually engaging as it was entertaining. Clearly not just a movie for the die-hard fans.

5. Moon (Jones, June 12th)


By Miles Trahan (#3)

Just when you thought modern sci-fi was nothing but Star Wars clones, a film like Moon comes along and gives the genre a much-needed shot in the arm. First-time director Duncan Jones (son of rock legend David Bowie) has crafted a thoughtful, intelligent and beautiful “space oddity” that’s virtually The Sam Rockwell Show, without once slipping up or losing track of his story; Moon is tight, well-crafted and has so much soul you can’t help but walk away feeling like you’ve experienced something great and otherworldly.

4. District 9 (Blomkamp, August 14th)


By Jordan Raup (#1)

We had to wait until the end of the summer but Neil Blomkamp and Peter Jackson finally delivered the action blockbuster of the season. This thought-provoking and surprising sci-fi adventure had more excitement and better CG than anything else released this year. The debut performance by Sharlto Copley was mesmerizing and this story goes to places one can only dream of. The fact that this budget was only $30 million dollars and as the success of the film continues it gives us all hope that this isn’t the last time we visit this district .

3. The Hurt Locker (Bigelow, July 26th)


By Merrill Barr (#1)

It is very rare when a war film today makes you focus on the effect of war itself like the Platoon and Full Metal Jacket did back in the day. The Hurt Locker does just that and is perhaps one of the greatest war films ever made. No political agenda behind it, no Hollywood-esce glorification, no cheesy performances by huge names, just a group of guys out doing the only thing they know how. We also get to see the story of one of the unsung heroes of today’s warfare, bomb techs. The guys who put their lives (literally) in harm’s way to protect others. The Hurt Locker doesn’t push its action by any means but when action occurs it is swift and perfectly mirrors real war combat. If this film isn’t nominated for a major Oscar I will lose faith (of which there is very little) in everything they claim to represent.

2. Up (Docter, May 29th)


By Nick Newman (#1)

My favorite movie of the year.  At the same time a touching character story, an adventure film, and a movie about letting go and finding what you’re looking for is right in front of you.  Did I mention it’s an animated movie for kids, too?  The film also uses 3D to strong effect, adding depth to the scenes and a wonderful score by Michael Giacchino which can make me tear up on cue.  Also contains the most emotionally stirring montage of perhaps the decade., telling a relationship between two people more effectively than any romance movie could even try.  If you don’t love this movie, I can’t see how you love movies.

1. Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino, August 21st)

basterds 004

By Addam Hardy (#1)

Quentin Tarantino’s seventh full length film is in your face, abrasive and shocking to say the least but rewriting history that is rarely subject to tampering with the flair and bravado that only Tarantino could supply is bound to leave an impression. On the surface it is a World War II movie about a ragtag crew of ultra violent Jewish-American soldiers, a super sleuth Nazi SS officer and, of course, the girl built from the ground up like a classic Sergio Leone spaghetti western. Under the skin it is ripe with appreciation for detail, incredible acting performances and film references honoring the greats of Tarantino’s endless encyclopedia of film knowledge that cannot be swallowed in one viewing. Tarantino film love grows as you think back on it. The level of detail and care for story telling requires multiple viewings for it to reach its full potential. Tarantino skillfully uses his classic dialog driven structure soaked with wit and subtle references to iconic film history that will make any film nerd giddy with anticipation for what gem Uncle Quentin will lay on the audience next — par for the course for Tarantino’s thus far incredible, albeit kleptomaniacal, filmography. Inglourious Basterds is clearly self-indulgent and highly insensitive but isn’t that we’ve come to know and love about Quentin Tarantino extravagance? He makes what he likes and we are just along for the ride. Relentless, unapologetic and gloriously bad-ass it is a spectacle without rival this year.

Do you agree with this list? What has been your favorite films this year? What are you looking forward to?

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