The Best 30 Films of 2009

by PopMatters Staff

7 January 2010


10 - 6


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Director: Greg Mottola
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Martin Starr
Review [1.Sep.2009]
Review [3.Apr.2009]


Greg Mottola

One could use Adventureland, Greg Mottola’s brilliant comedy about an overeducated college grad killing time working at a summer amusement park in 1980s’ Pittsburgh, as an illustration for what happens when a nostalgic reverie hits a note so acutely that it induces a feeling more painful than pleasant. Still, that stabbing sense of post-adolescent longing and nearly crushed romanticism that Mottola utilizes here is employed in the service of something more lasting than the dredging up of buried memories and the packaging of a killer period soundtrack (The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Alex Chilton, Jesus & Mary Chain, Poison). This is a film about the moments when expectations run headlong into reality, as well as the grace notes there to be grasped around the clouds of disappointment. A quiet kind of genius.  Chris Barsanti



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Where the Wild Things Are

Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Max Records, James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, Forest Whitaker, Catherine O’Hara, Paul Dano, Catherine Keener
Review [16.Oct.2009]


Where the Wild Things Are
Spike Jonze

Spike Jonze hit all the right notes with his adaptation of the classic Maurice Sendak book. In expanding the simple story, Jonze and writer Dave Eggers added context and emotion to the tale. No longer is Max simply a boy sent to bed with no supper, he’s now a sullen, dissatisfied kid with no real friends, a distracted mom (an excellent Catherine Keener), and no father figure in his life. His trip to the island of the Wild Things allows him to cut loose and indulge in all the fantasies of a typical young boy. He gets to play around with monsters, build a massive fort, and engage in wanton destruction. But Jonze and Eggers give the Wild Things personalities too, and eventually the fun and games are interrupted by real-world emotions. Max Records plays Max unapologetically, with his raw feelings right on the surface. This makes for a character that isn’t always likable, but that feels very, very real even in the film’s fantastic setting. Chris Conaton



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District 9

Director: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Eugene Khumbanyiwa, Nathalie Boltt, Sylvaine Strike
Review [3.Jan.2010]
Review [14.Aug.2009]


District 9
Neill Blomkamp

Reviews of Neil Blomkamp’s rightly-raved-about debut feature District 9 focused on its surface allusions to Apartheid era South Africa, but the film’s scope does not end in Blomkamp’s country of origin. Its sci-fi dissection of issues of immigration and class and how both are “handled” by media and government in late capitalism have implications that are global, if not galactic. The film is lead by Sharlto Copley’s Oscar-worthy performance as Wikus van de Merwe, a deplorable managerialist whose nepotistic appointment lands him in front of a publically subsidized project to evict extraterrestrial “prawns” from District 9, essentially a shanty town for the acephalic aliens, and compile them in a massively populated ghetto dubbed District 10. Wikus’s services are enlisted by MNU, a Blackwater like private mercenary defense contractor disguised as a military bureaucracy. MNU, through contract, performs the dirty work the state can’t rub its hands in, namely uncovering the secret to prawn weapons technology by any means necessary. District 9 is brutal and heartbreaking, a view of mankind at a tipping point of unhumanity and dehumanization. Even Wikus’s utility is short-lived and he eventually becomes alien-ated as well, though his failure to surrender his prejudices continues to serve the interests of those who threw him away. This is a staggering film that will be watched and studied for years to come. Timh Gabriele



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Fantastic Mr. Fox

Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Wallace Wolodarsky, Eric Anderson, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Jarvis Cocker
Review [22.Mar.2010]
Review [13.Nov.2009]


The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Wes Anderson

There are so many reasons to love The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I can’t possibly detail every one. But that in itself is one of the reasons to love it. The film has all of the quirkiness and attention to detail expected of a Wes Anderson project, while retaining all the charm inherent in the beloved original story by Roald Dahl. Mr. Fox is a feast for the eyes in an entirely different way than a computer-generated, visual effects-laden blockbuster. It has a small, delicate, home-made, hand-crafted beauty that is stunning. The vocal talents, along with several Anderson hallmarks, only serve to increase the warmth and authenticity of The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is filled with the sort of unspoiled enchantment too many other movies are missing these days. Christel Loar



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Star Trek

Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban, John Cho, Winona Ryder, Ben Cross, Simon Pegg
Review [8.May.2009]


Star Trek
J.J. Abrams

J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek reboot could have been a disaster. It seemed downright heretical to take the granddaddy of all sci-fi ‘60s television series with its notoriously rabid fanbase, plunk new actors in iconic roles, and attempt to boldly go again where Gene Roddenberry had gone some 40 years before. The end result was a solid re-imagining with very few tweaks to established cannon, allowing the venerable franchise to continue to spark the imagination of current and future Trekkies (and still afford them a glimpse at Old School Spock, Leonard Nimoy). The casting of younger actors in the roles of Kirk, Spock, Bones and company were all spot on, capturing them at their rough-around-the-edges early years at Starfleet Academy. The essential core of the characters remained the same although the circumstances changed. And like the original series, moments of comedy and genuine pathos cropped up amid the action and technical wizardry. It probably won’t win an Oscar, but Star Trek was significantly more cerebral, thought-provoking, and better acted than the bulk of the summer popcorn movies. Lana Cooper


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