Top 5: Movies I Saw in 2009

As 2009 drew to a close I started thinking about my favorite movies of this year. All in all I saw a total of eighteen movies that were released in 2009, seeing about half of those in the theater and half after they were released on DVD. All in all, I thought it was a decent year for the silver screen; the big-budget blockbusters were out in force and were a mixed bag as usual even if it was the year of the sequel. As I looked back on all of the movies that I saw during the year, I was surprised that I only saw 18, and there are several that I have yet to see. So, while my 2009 movie viewing wishlist is incomplete, I present you with the Top Five Movies That Were Made in 2009 That I Saw in 2009 list!

Note: My rankings are a product my own whim and subject to change. This list is based purely on my own subjective enjoyment of these particular movies and is not a reflection on the films’ artistic quality or pedigree. No animals were harmed during the making of this list.

5. Avatar
This one deserves a mention simply for the sheer scale of the film and the excellence of its visual effects. Avatar’s effects were so grand and were so prolific that the two visual effects juggernauts in the industry (ILM and Weta) both worked on it. While I’ve since learned that others have compared it to Dances With Wolves, in my post-screening conversation with the Mrs., I said that it was Fern Gully meets Dances With Wolves with Really Amazing Visual Effects. The plot itself was both pro-environment and anti-war with a dash of “We hate everything human” thrown in for good measure, but don’t let any of that get in the way of the amazing effects. They’re really that good. I saw this movie in 3D, and I was simply amazed at how the movie was brought to life by the technology. This wasn’t the gimmicky sort of “spear-gets-thrown-at-the-audience” type of 3D effects, it simply added depth and perspective to the movie. There is still work to be done on the technology, but for me, it really added life to the film. I don’t know that I would have appreciated the scale of the movie without it.

4. Zombieland
This one took me a bit by surprise. I saw it in November after a two-final day. I planned on seeing it alone, but JT, BLS’s resident Zombie Laureate, joined me about ten minutes in, making us the only two people in the theater. I knew I wanted to see it, but I didn’t realize how much fun it would actually be. The presentation of the movie creates numerous laugh-out-loud moments, the protagonist is endearing, it has quite possibly the best cameo of all time, and Woody Harrelson in top form as the Dale Earnhardt-loving redneck zombie slayer. The movie goes a little bit into the origins and motivations of each of the main characters, just enough to satisfy but not enough to get bogged down by too much “serious stuff.” This movie is all ghouls, guns, and gore; and it’s just plain fun.

3. Star Trek
The origin of Kirk and Spock on the big screen? Nerdgasm! In a year filled with sequels this is the only one that makes my list. It’s pure origin story with a Star Trek twist-alternate realities! J.J. Abrams and crew couldn’t be bogged down in the vast amounts of canon created by five television shows and ten movies, so they went back to the beginning, threw in some science stuff, and created an alternate reality where they could explore the foundations of Kirk and Spock’s friendship free of constraint. It worked on several levels: both my wife (non-fan) and I (definitely fan) loved the movie. The actors chosen for each role had enough similarities with their predecessors that each was believable but brought distinctiveness so that no one was just a wooden copy of the original. While Zachary Quinto gave an amazing turn as Spock, I felt that Karl Urban’s Bones absolutely stole the show. His opening scene is simply classic. While the movie does suffer from an over-abundance of lens flare, it gives the movie a raw quality that has been curiously absent from the entire series up to this point. All-in-all, it was a great reimagining of the series, and I can’t wait to see where they take the crew next.

2. Up
Easily Pixar’s most emotional film to date, Up tugs on the heartstrings early and often. I found my eyes misting over not ten minutes into the movie, a condition that was a frequent companion during the film’s 96 minutes. The movie speaks to love, loss, unfulfilled dreams, friendship, and talking dogs. The bond formed between the protagonist and the boy scout-esque “Wilderness Explorer” is both funny and touching, and the Dug absolutely steals the show the moment appears and says, “My name is Dug. I have just met you, and I love you.” It’s definitely the most mature-themed of the Pixar movies in that the reality of the protagonist’s loss is ever-present throughout the movie. We see him struggle with that loss and find solace in his adventure and new friends. It’s both heart-wrenching and warming, and well worth the price of admission.

1. District 9
The summer of 2009 sported enormous sci-fi blockbusters. We had Star Trek, Terminator: Salvation, and Transformers: Revenge of Michael Bay to name just a few. For all the hype of these big-named, big-budget films, a relatively unknown and underhyped movie stole the show: District 9. Produced by Peter Jackson and directed by Neill Blomkamp, the film takes a wholly different approach to the well-worn alien invasion set piece. District 9’s aliens don’t arrive en masse over New York, London, Paris, or Tokyo. They don’t appear as conquering invaders or saviors from above. Rather, they arrive over Johannesburg as refugees and are treated by the city’s residents as such, with obvious parallels to apartheid. The aliens don’t want earth’s natural resources, its water, or its humans for food; they just want to go home. The film succeeds in portraying the alien refugees as flawed which, I think, goes a long way in making them believable and sympathetic. It is not without its flaws and it does require some suspension of disbelief, which is to be expected (I mean, c’mon, it’s an alien invasion movie). But in the end, this movie stuck with me for several days after seeing it, which for me is the hallmark of a movie that truly engaged me. None other in 2009 did quite like District 9.

There you have it! Feel free to disagree with me, and I would love to hear your Top 5 of 2009!

Other Movies worth noting:
Biggest disappointment: Public Enemies
Surprisingly enjoyable: State of Play
Sad I missed it: The Hurt Locker
Most Inspiring: American Violet
Guilty Pleasure: G.I. Joe


3 Responses to “Top 5: Movies I Saw in 2009”

  1. 1 Micah January 4, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    If I were you, I would have maybe switched up Star Trek and Avatar, but, for the ones that I saw, I pretty much agree with you.

    And, regarding the Avatar comment: it involves gigantic blue alien guys, telepathy, 3D, and involves FLOATING MOUNTAINS. THEY ARE MOUNTAINS. AND THEY ARE FREAKING FLOATING ONES! What’s not to like (besides the plot)?

  2. 2 Mark Davidson January 6, 2010 at 5:50 am

    I think your list shows just how good a year it’s been for sci-fi: District 9; Star Trek; and Avatar, it’s hard to think of another year where 3 just as strong titles came out in a year. Add to that Sam Rockwell’s performance in Moon and I think we’ve been really fortunate this year in that regard.

    My Top 5 would be the following:
    5. Avatar
    4. Inglorious Basterds
    3. Up
    2. The Wrestler (released in 2009 in the UK, where I live)
    1. A Serious Man

  3. 3 pbpope January 6, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Ooh, Moon is another one of those that I want to see. Thanks for the reminder! I enjoyed Inglorious Basterds, but I was surprised at how little of the movie actually focused on the exploits of the Basterds. For some reason I expected more, but I wasn’t disappointed overall with the film. I haven’t seen A Serious Man, but it’s another one for the Netflix queue.

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