« This is not a review of ''Avatar'' | Main | Boston Film Critics feel ''The Hurt Locker'' »

The ten best movies of 2009

This morning, I had to send in my first of several year-end ballots for the critics' groups I belong to, which meant nailing down my top 10 list for 2009. Only one foreign-language film made the list and no documentaries. But the first four movies on the list are pretty much interchangeable: I liked them all equally and might have ranked them differently if I was compiling the list tomorrow. I wouldn't say it was a great year for movies, but the good ones were really good.


1) Up in the Air: The miraculous thing about writer-director Jason Reitman's third feature is that it is a timeless, classy Hollywood entertainment that also happens to be a precise snapshot of the mood and concerns of present-day America.


2) The Hurt Locker: Director Kathryn Bigelow's nerve-jangling drama about a squad of bomb-defusing soldiers in Iraq isn't only the best movie to date about that war: It's one of the best war pictures ever made, period.


3) Inglourious Basterds: Quentin Tarantino definitively proved he's much more than a walking repository of junk-movie references with this playful and outrageous reworking of world history that exudes a profound love for and command of filmmaking in every frame.


4) A Serious Man: The always-ironic Joel and Ethan Coen got personal, wrote their first autobiographical screenplay and came up with what is arguably their best film to date: The story of a man who doesn't understand why God won't answer the eternal questions - a man who hasn't yet grasped that God is in the questions. Also: The stunning final shot deserves some kind of special Oscar.


5) (500) Days of Summer: The best movie romance since Brokeback Mountain, a potentially generic rom-com about two twentysomethings that captured the exhilarating highs - and soul-crushing, life-changing lows - of falling in love for the first time. Bonus: The best musical number of the year (sorry, Nine).


6) Public Enemies: Director Michael Mann finished what he started with his Miami Vice film adaptation by distilling the crime-drama genre - this one the story of the hunt for the notorious 1930s criminal John Dillinger - down to its purest, barest essence. An impressionistic cops-and-robbers story - a cold, hard diamond of a movie.


7) In the Loop: The funniest movie of the year, director Armando Iannucci's riotous political satire about U.S. and British diplomats maneuvering over an unnamed war took the old-fashioned route: Conjured up a large cast of characters - each with their own selfish agenda - and then set them loose on each other. The incredibly profane, rat-tat-tat dialogue had the speed and rhythm of Ernst Lubistch, reimagined by George Carlin.


8) Up: The geniuses at Pixar hooked you in the first ten minutes, with that long, dialogue-free sequence depicting a lifelong romance between a couple from childhood to old age. Then the film really took off - literally - sending its protagonist, and the audience's imagination, into the clouds. At once humanistic and surreal, Up set a new standard for the heights animation is capable of achieving.


9) The Class: Half-documentary, half-feature film, Laurent Cantet's amazing story of one year in the life of a French schoolteacher and his students was a transcendent exploration of the immeasurable importance and significance of an arena we too often take for granted: The classroom.


10) Star Trek: In reviving a tired, worn-out franchise, director J.J. Abrams came up with the year's most invigorating popcorn entertainment, a movie that cannily played to the audience's sense of nostalgia while coming up with a slew of fresh twists and riffs on hoary cliches. Everything old is new again.

Honorable mentions: Adventureland, Afterschool, An Education, Avatar, The Cove, District 9, Duplicity, The Hangover, Julia, Moon, Precious, The Road, Sin Nombre, Watchmen, Whip It. 


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Where's the love for District 9? Slight oversight, or did you really feel that Star Trek was better.

Rene Rodriguez

I just added "District 9" to the honorable mentions list. I watched it again last week and while I still dig it, the movie just didn't hold up as well as "Star Trek" did, which was even better on second viewing. So yeah, "Trek" edged it out.


Forget I said that, I saw it under honorable mentions. When I first scanned it I thought you said 9 (What's up with the 9 movies this year? Two movies called 9, plus District 9. Plus a movie where Hitler says "Nein, nein, nein, nein, nein!")


Aside from A Serious Man, an excellent list. I'm very pleased to see 500 Days of Summer on there...


The Hurt Locker. An amazing film. Unfortunately not many people have seen it. I'm working on that though. lol

Rene Rodriguez

"The Hurt Locker" didn't get a tenth of the audience it deserved. Summit Entertainment botched the release of that movie on a colossal scale. They're only good at releasing "Twilight" movies, apparently.

It'll be out on DVD in a couple of weeks, but that movie deserved to be seen in the theater. It's a shame.

Adrian Ruhi

I've shamefully only seen Basterds, Up and Star Trek from this list, but I'll definitely catch the rest as they slowly trickle out on Blu-ray/DVD

Capitan Justiica

Where was 'Watchmen' or 'This Is It'?

And where was that instant classic 'Jennifer's Body'? Lol

Rene Rodriguez

"Watchmen" made my honorable mention list. I never saw "This is It."

And I only gave "Jennifer's Body" **1/2. I don't remember calling it an "instant classic." I still like it, though.

Capitan Justiica

Hello Rene, thank you for writing. I am an avid reader of your reviews and think you are a wonderful writer! I honestly think you should try writing a screenplay someday.

I was being facetious when I called 'Jennifer's Body' a classic. I thought it was horrible. I'm surprised you liked it.

Btw, where can we see your honorable mention list? Thanks.

Rene Rodriguez

Poor "Jennifer's Body." No one liked her very much.

The honorable mentions list is at the bottom of the top ten list, under the "Star Trek" entry.


I never did get to see Hurt Locker. I really wanted to but never got the chance, and before I knew it, it ws gone from theaters. I'll have to just rent it.

Public Enemies was crap though. Digital film has ruined Michael Mann. Enemies had the same problemt he nearly unwatchable Miami Vice had, there was no cohesive narrative. All it was was random shots strung together. Mann was FAR more interested in making everyone and everything look cool and manly, but never interested in putting a proper story in place or letting you connect to the characters. By the end of Public Enemies, i didn't give a damn about any of the characters in the movie. i was just glad it was over and I could go home. It looks like he'll neve be able to top Heat.

Good pick with Star Trek though. I've watched the blu-ray 3 times same weekend I bought it. That movie gets more enjoyable everytime I watch it. Best popcorn flick of the year.


Nice list Rene.

Here's mine.

1. The Road
2. The Box
3. The Hangover
4. Inglorious Basterds
5. Surviellance
6. Watchmen
7. Moon
8. Anvil, The Story of Anvil
9. Iron Maiden : Flight 666
10. Global Metal
11. Black Dynamite


I forgot a couple honorable mentions.

12. The Hurt Locker ( I don't know how I missed mentioning it )

13. The Collector


I thought Public Enemies was one of the best and there's another movie that just came out called A Single Man starring Colin Firth looks like it might be one of the year's best, but I haven't seen it yet--it seems to be getting good reviews. Maybe you shouldn't make up your list until the very end of the year to include newly released movies like this one.

Adrian Ruhi

I have't seen "Public Enemies," but I know what you mean about Michael Mann, Juan. "Heat" and "Collateral" are my favorite films of his, but I HATED "Miami Vice."


You guys aren't making me want to see Public Enemies, the one movie I haven't yet seen on this list...

Rene Rodriguez

Addie: I've seen "A Single Man" and the other big year-end films The studios know mid-December is the deadline for critics' top 10 lists, so they screen everything before then or send us DVD screeners.

Juan: I can't argue with you on "Public Enemies." Mann has gone into this phase of filmmaking where he's more about mood and tone than anything else. PE had even less of a traditional plot than "Miami Vice" did. But I personally dig what he's doing. The first five minutes of "Public Enemies" (the jailhouse break, culminating with the guy dying while holding Dillinger's hand) is pretty sensational filmmaking.

Lou: It figures you would have liked "The Box." (I did too). I was really enjoying "Surveillance" - the first half of it made me think Jennifer Lynch may have inherited her father's talent after all - until I figured out the big twist and then the rest of the movie felt like a feature-length con. I wasn't even looking for the twist: It just hit me. If she had been able to pull a Shyamalan and preserve it better, I might have liked the movie more. But that's a bold choice.

Connie: You would HATE "Public Enemies."


I haven't seen every movie on your list (though I would also rank "Up in the Air" at the top--loved it!) and I'm glad someone else besides me liked "Miami Vice," but I have to say that I don't think "Duplicity" merited anything close to an honorable mention. I hated that movie. It's a thinly plotted, predictable and droll experience. While the core of 2 people trained not to trust anyone trying to have a relationship is interesting, the movie was nothing more than an insufferable vehicle for Gilroy to announce his genius but forget to entertain. Terrible, terrible, terrible.

I have to give "Watchmen" a second chance. Director's cut or ultimate cut? Hmmmmm.

Rene Rodriguez

Justin: Definitely go with the Director's Cut of "Watchmen." The Ultimate Cut just adds the Black Freighter stuff, which really feels superfluous. I didn't get to see the theatrical version, but I think you'll be surprised at how much better Snyder's cut is. I don't see how the movie made any sense when it was 30 minutes shorter.

As for "Duplicity," you're right-on about the movie being a showcase for Gilroy's writing. But I thought Roberts and Owen were fantastic together and made his dialogue really sing. I never felt I was watching a self-consciously clever movie.


No love for Where the Wild Things Are and/or Fantastic Mr. Fox? Unclean.

Rene Rodriguez

"Fantastic Mr. Fox" was inventive and beautiful to look at, but the second half of that movie evaporates into thin air.

I didn't care for "Where the Wild Things Are."


Evaporates into thin air? Qualify s'il vous plait. I found myself engaged even more as the stakes grew and we learned more about the characters. Unlike, say, Up in the Air,
which betrays an excellent 2/3 worth of feature with a hackneyed closing. Would Clooney's character really behave that way? Hardly. Heaping accolades on an effort for timeliness is not the same as for quality. Makes me wonder how the book ends.

Rene Rodriguez

You really found the ending of "Up in the Air" hackneyed? How so? And what do you mean, Clooney's character wouldn't behave that way. I think one of the great things about that movie is the ending - how it betrays all the pat-on-the-back, everything-is-going-be-OK vibe most comedy-dramas end with.


"In the Loop" ???? I must not have been "in the loop" on this one.Did it fly in under the radar? I didn't even know it existed,must have been out of town when it was released and R.R. reviewed it. I agree with most of Renes' reviews on films .Sounds like an interesting premise for a great flick.I'll have to go buy it!


thats rite mr blue...the road is the best, and maybe not just for this ryear, but for the last decade....(city of god giving it a run for the money.....)


my Top 10 Movies of 2009


post a comment, and let us know what YOU think.


where is orphan?This is 1 of the best movie of 2009


What about Avatar????

Sherlock Holmes was also a good movie.
The only one of those movies i saw was "Up" and, to be honest, it didn't really get me, you know?


up in the air and all the others were great indeed, but the hangover is in my top 5!

The comments to this entry are closed.

Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About The Miami Herald | Advertise