This year I made it a little early through the movies of five years ago for the 2009 Hindsight Awards. This is my project to watch through the movies from five and ten years ago to see what held up, what passed me by at the time and what grew stale. I’ve made a top everything over on Letterboxd but this list is of the top twenty plus a few awards. Here are the actual Academy Award nominees and winners from the 2010 Oscars for reference. Instead of deciding between lead and supporting actors and actresses I have awarded two outstanding actors and two outstanding actresses as well as a best ensemble casting. 2009 was a year that was top heavy with prestige films from great directors, even as the two Best Picture favorites, Avatar and Hurt Locker underwhelmed on revisit. It was the return of well made sci-fi movies for the first time in a decade, and there were just a couple of them hitting theaters. It was a year of some really fun movies that subverted their genres.
1. A Serious Man
Best Picture, Best Director: The Coen Brothers, Best Actor: Michael Stuhlbarg, Best Music, Best Writing: The Coen Brothers
This is a movie that sticks with you. It’s hard to place what it is really about until the movie is over, and even then it is a mystery what the opening sequence from the old country is doing in the movie. A beautiful movie with fascinating characters.
2. Fantastic Mr Fox
Best Animated Movie, Best Ensemble Cast (tie)
Wes Anderson’s debut with stop motion animation highlights his focus on detail. This is a nostalgic movie even if you aren’t familiar with the source material. All of the voices were recorded outside, while actors moved around, instead of in a sound booth and so the movie feels natural and lived in. It's precise in it's details and a great movie for grown up indie film.goers as well as kids looking for talking foxes and badgers. I cuss you not.
3. Star Trek
Best Ensemble Cast (tie), Best Cinematography: Dan Mindel
Yes this movie creates a strange time loop and it alters the tone of Star Trek away from its origins and toward the action of Star Wars. It’s a fun movie as long as you’re okay that the future is so bright that it’s creating lens flares. The casting is pitch perfect to rehash the team from the ‘60’s without falling into impersonations.
Best actress: Kim Hye-Ja, Best Foreign Film
Bong Joon-Ho has two kinds of movies, social science fiction and crime thrillers. Until this year he was maybe more known for his sci-fi work, but the crime thrillers might just be a bit more compelling than his great genre films. Mother is a whodunnit that was a complete mystery to me, satisfying at every turn. He lays on the suspense but never forgets to hit the beats needed for a laugh.
5. The Beaches of Agnes
This is a bit of an autobiography of Agnes Varda’s career ten years before she died and covers movies from her decade going back to the ‘50’s. It’s not strictly a doc of her movies and life, as it is cemented together with art pieces she makes in 2009. Her artistic voice is as creative and playful as ever.
6. District 9
Best stunts and special effects
When I saw this in theaters the guys in the row behind me said “we should have seen G.I. Joe instead,” as the audience filed out of the theater. I think the stong negative reaction only made me like it more. I am not a fan of body horror, but something about the everyman main character and the special effects that still hold up quite well have me appreciate that the story an alien slum in South Africa can only go in that direction.
7. A Single Man
It’s pretty mind blowing that the fashion designer Tom Ford could make his film directing debut with such a moving and beautifully shot movie. The colors are so soft, the score is haunting and the story is gut-wrenching.
8. In the Loop
Director Armando Iannucci is a guy that I never really noticed until last year despite the success of Veep, yet everything I see from him crams in dozens of the funniest moments seen on film. This political thriller is no exception, and the level of humor does not take away from the complexity of drama and political commentary. Keep this away from your kids until they’re ready for every swear in the book.
This is a Denis Villenueve movie about a mass shooting at a college in Montreal carried out by a guy who felt rejected by all women. The shooter is explained but not justified and the victims are not sensationalized. It’s never treated as an action movie, shot in black and white and the timeline of events is sometimes out of order, Polytechnique is a challenging and touching film.
10. Up in the Air
This was a movie I was really glad to revisit. Jason Reitman has been in a critical decline in the last ten years so I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy this like I did when it came out. It still is quite funny and dramatic. When this came out this resonated with me because I had been laid off in the fallout of the ‘08 economic collapse and this shows a human, but still optimistic, look at life and career transition. It was interesting to see how my life has changed in those ten years and that the laid off characters show optimism for that kind of change at the end of the movie.
11. Youth in Revolt
This story of a high school aged boy who embraces his bad boy alter ego to win over the girl of his dreams and harass his mother’s boyfriend also features a brief cameo from Michael Collins, the one guy on the Apollo 11 crew that didn’t go down to the moon. His appearance has nothing to do with his NASA background, adding one more little joke on the audience in an especially funny movie.
I love the book The Watchmen, and the movie is so true to the book in many ways that Zach Snyder has been criticized for a lack of creativity. The musical choices come straight from a music list in the book and shots in the movie have identical compositions. Normally this could be disappointing in an adaptation, but Alan Moore’s graphic novels deserve this kind of respect. The ending is changed to be a bit more palatable to a broad audience in a way that works better, although the new TV show plays with the book’s ending in very interesting ways.
I didn’t really have any interest in Precious until I saw the video clip at the Oscars ten years ago and was quite intrigued. It’s really well shot and the Precious character is both funny and tragic. Over the years, this is still as good as it was hyped, and hits just as hard as ever.
This shouldn’t be a good movie but it’s such an odd mixture of biblical mythology, science fiction and Nicolas Cage. It should be a disaster. Somehow, this is a movie that is both “so bad it’s good” and “kind of good” at the same time. This remained one of those movies that had to be talked about after seeing it for its imagination and audacity.
15. The Road
Best actor: Viggo Mortensen
This is the second instance of adaptation of one of my favorite books to make it to this list. The movie of The Road is as faithful to its source material as Watchmen, and as bleak as both stories are, The Road is a bit darker. It doesn’t quite have the spark of the writing of the book but the story is quite strong and the world fully realized.
One of the most impacting opening sequences of any movie, if it hits right, every time the old man says “Ellie” the rest of the movie. The second half of the movie isn’t particularly strong but the characters maintain the entertainment of a house floating on a massive bouquet of balloons.
17. Limits of Control
One of Jim Jarmusch’s lesser known movies, but still not a lesser work of art. This is one of Jarmusch’s strange takes on genre films creates an African James Bond using his imagination to navigate through spy games in Europe. A poetic and mysterious take on the spy genre, it doesn’t rush and gives the international spy a new kind of coolness.
18. Inglorious Basterds
I have some problems with this Tarantino film. We live out a viewer fantasy of seeing Hitler killed in a mass killing of Nazis. It’s shot as a horror film, the Basterds are seen as mutilating maniacs, and they sink to the level of the bad guys in order to get the revenge the viewer froths for. Because the movie is shot like a horror film, the cackling French girl as the theater burns, the swelling music while Brad Pitt carves up a man’s face, it seems aware that it is making monsters out of cheering viewers that it is making more than a point about the relief of fantastical revenge. Is that a good thing? Maybe, but it is a good movie.
19. Wild Grass
One of the final films from French director Alain Resnais and he didn’t get less weird late in life. This is a movie about an old man who is a stalker who ends up somehow gaining a relationship with the woman he is stalking… It’s a strange and unrealistic plot with the strangest ending to a movie of all 2009 where he accidentally kills all of the main characters because he left his fly down in an airplane. It plays out like a massive joke for the audience at the expense of all romcoms.
20. I Love You Man
This was when Paul Rudd’s was in everything and I Love You Man was one of the most coherent and funniest comedies of his 2000’s run. It seems like a simple enough movie of a grown man looking to make a male friend as an adult. It doesn’t veer off into unrealistic nonsense yet does allow for the characters to fixate on silly running jokes and over the top outbursts. Funny stuff.
Julie and Julia best actress Meryl Streep
Streep manages to make a real life character that seemed very cartoonish in real life a very real and rounded person without ever dropping the silly voice.
Best Worst Movie
The “likable” subjects grow annoying and uncomfortable. This really seems like it was a project put together through force rather than an especially good story and the quality looks like shit.
This was a really weird year at the movies. It was the year before the MCU and there was just one Marvel movie of any sort that made my full list, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It’s not a good movie, although it has its moments, including a great opening sequence of Wolverine and Sabertooth fighting wars through the years. It was intended to be the first of a series of Origins movies that was scrapped when this bombed. It wasn’t totally scrapped because Fox seems to have transitioned its Magneto Origins into X-Men First Class and its sequels. It was a hard year to find any documentaries good enough to get near the top 20 before tracking down a copy of The Beaches of Agnes. We Live in Public is good, about a performance art tech piece with a lot of weird fascist stuff going on, but nothing else was on the level of these two docs. It seems like documentaries really took off with streaming services the next year. Of the biggest Oscar movies, The Blindside was better than expected but not great and The Hurt Locker and Avatar did not age well in their own disappointing ways. Werner Herzog had two interesting, um, bad but entertaing, movies with Bad Lieutenant Port of Call New Orleans and My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done. There were a lot of smaller movies that were really good even if they didn’t crack the top 20, The Informant, Dogtooth, Observe and Report, and The Box are all worth note as decent movies that are worth note.