The Best 30 Films of 2009

by PopMatters Staff

7 January 2010


20 - 16


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The Lovely Bones

Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Saoirse Ronan, Michael Imperioli
Review [11.Dec.2009]


The Lovely Bones
Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson should be prepared for some major frustration. Less than six years after he took the industry by storm with his amazing Lord of the Rings films, he’s set to deliver this “disappointing” adaption of Alice Sebold’s unusual novel. So far, the critics have not been kind. Unfortunately, they’ve forgotten how to “see” what a visionary like Jackson is striving for. Instead of going for something literal, or a realistic look at ‘70s American, the Oscar winner has tried to build his own Brothers Grimm fairytale out of crime and supernatural punishment. From the breathtaking look at the space between Heaven and Earth to the amazing performances from his cast, this is one title destined to be ridiculed today, and revered sometime in the near future. Bill Gibron



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Director: Lars von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Willem Dafoe
Review [23.Oct.2009]


Lars Von Trier

Absolutely stunning in its visual flourishes, horrifying in its aggressive violence, and knowing in its psycho-sexual philosophical bent, Von Trier’s Antichrist is simply astonishing. It’s a structured walk through one woman’s terrifying mental breakdown, a deconstructed cry for relief and understanding. So obsessed with birth and biology that the symbols practically stand up and shout their intent, this is New Age therapeutics as Grand Guignol geek show. Like Dante’s Inferno, what we wind up with is a literal trip through Hell, a beautiful, beguiling place that holds many horrific truths barely simmering under its lush surface. Sure, limbs are hacked and body parts are beaten. But the most painful elements play out in that most private of places—the human mind. Bill Gibron



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(500) Days of Summer

Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gray Gubler, Chloe Moretz
Review [17.Jul.2009]


(500) Days of Summer
Marc Webb

Several friends had an aversion to this film based purely on its presumed hipster credo. Pity that they chose to rob themselves of one of the most rewarding cinematic experiences of the summer, much less the whole year. With an acid-tongued screenplay that had me in hysterics more often than expected and numerous memorable scenes, to an exceptional performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt (further proving why he’s among the best young actors of this era), this “Annie-Hall of the Twittering generation” has yet to be flounced from my top five—and with good reason. Perhaps we’ll even see it among the Academy’s Top 10 as well. James De Roxtra



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Up in the Air

Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman
Review [11.Mar.2010]
Review [4.Dec.2009]


Up in the Air
Jason Reitman

Jason Reitman’s third film is a critical darling and with good reason—the theme of lay-offs is unfortunately a universal experience, now more than any other time in recent memory. Themes only get you so far though, so it’s George Clooney who brings the story to life. He’s back in his cocky mode, originally perfected in his late ‘90s break-through films (Out of Sight, Three Kings), but he also shows an all-too-human side to his character. It also helps that Reitman wrote the part with Clooney in mind and cast people who’d been recently fired from jobs, recreating their experiences. Even with the avalanche of pink slips, Clooney/Reitman provide solace to the unfortunates in the film and maybe even some hope for the audience. Not quite as iconic as Juno or smart and subversive as Thank You For Not Smoking, it might be Reitman’s finest work to date nevertheless. Jason Gross



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The Hangover

Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Heather Graham, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Jeffrey Tambor, Mike Tyson
Review [17.Jan.2010]
Review [5.Jun.2009]


The Hangover
Todd Phillips

The Hangover‘s success (scoff if you must, but upping Harry Potter in DVD sales is no small feat) was no fluke. Simply, Todd Phillips (Road Trip, Old School) aimed for the Perfect Hollywood Movie, and he scored. Think about it: there’s a screenplay as deeply and sincerely funny as Judd Apatow at his finest, but there’s also all the momentum of a fast-moving mystery (What really happened last night? And where’d the baby come from?). There are the “Did-they-really-just-show-that?” sight-gags, and then there’s Vegas in all its perpetual, towering glory. And finally, there’s Zach Galifianakis himself in one of the year’s most memorable breakout performances as the screw-loose would-be brother-in-law. It’s no surprise that people were quoting the “wolf pack” monologue all summer long. What’s remarkable is that it never really got old. Zach Schonfeld


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