The Best 30 Films of 2009

by PopMatters Staff

7 January 2010


5 - 1


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Director: James Cameron
Cast: Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi, Laz Alonso
Review [18.Dec.2009]
Review [17.Dec.2009]


James Cameron

As it continues to make money, hand over fist, the inevitable backlash against James Cameron’s latest claim to filmmaking’s epic throne has already begun. Granted, the director set himself up when he referred to the narrative as “every storyline from every sci-fi book he ever read, all thrown together”. While a serious consideration of this amazing movie begs such a sweeping overgeneralization, it remains a point beleaguered by those desperate to dismiss his complicated computer generated vision. No matter the squabbles, this stands as one of 2009’s most important films, and not just for its overall special effectiveness. Indeed, Cameron reminds us of the two simplest pleasure of motion pictures—successful storytelling and inherent medium magic. He definitely delivers both here. Bill Gibron



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Cast: Edward Asner, Christopher Plumber, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo
Review [29.May.2009]


Pete Docter & Bob Peterson

Two children, Ellie and Carl, who long to be adventurers, meet while playing with a blue balloon in an abandoned house. What follows is a miracle of filmmaking, a montage that starts with their wedding and ends with a funeral. We smile when they kiss, move into the abandoned house and paint the mailbox. Our hearts break when we discover they can’t have children, when Ellie becomes ill and Carl walks home alone from her funeral with a blue balloon. It is a beautiful entertainment of empathy. We live their entire lives with them in three gloriously heartbreaking minutes. The fact that Up sustains its power after such a sequence, riding its animated balloons to adventurous emotional heights, is a breathtaking pleasure. Up is yet another soaring achievement from Pixar as well as one of the year’s best films. Gregg Lipkin



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A Serious Man

Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Adam Arkin, Sari Lennick, Fyvush Finkel, Aaron Wolff, Jessica McManus
Review [11.Dec.2009]
Review [11.Dec.2009]


A Serious Man
Joel & Ethan Coen

The Book of Job isn’t the most likely source material for a dark comedy, but in Joel and Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man, Job’s story clearly informs the malaise of physics professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg). Gopnik exists in the Coens’ autobiographical 1967 Jewish middle class milieu, but beyond that he’s stuck in a larger, more ominous universe that pelts him with multitudinous misfortunes. His search for signs and wonders, often through rabbinic cycles of speeches, produces nothing but more torment and confusion. Theater veteran Stuhlbarg expertly embodies Gopnik’s existential paralysis—afraid of the consequences of action and powerless to steer his imploding family, finances and career. Although the film tries in several purposeful ways to keep some distance from the character, Stuhlbarg’s pitch-perfect panic connects us to his hardship. Gopnik ultimately has neither the piety nor the endurance of Job, but his search for answers in the traditionally right places draws the spectator’s attention to the “conviction of things not seen” before a doozy of a climax confounds us with what might be God’s cataclysmic response. The film’s concluding quandary makes Gopniks of us all. Thomas Britt



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The Hurt Locker

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Guy Pearce, Brian Geraghty
Review [10.Jul.2009]


The Hurt Locker
Kathryn Bigelow

From Brothers at War and Gunner Palace to In the Valley of Elah and Redacted, many films and filmmakers have tried to channel the Iraq War into a meaningful cinematic experience. With The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow—always adept at action movies concerning men in confined conflict—explores the war with her mind-body-spirit approach and creates one of the most complex perspectives of war since the Spielberg/Malick one-two punch of 1998. Set in Baghdad in the summer of 2004, The Hurt Locker is the story of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal squad attempting to disarm IEDs. Actors Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty skillfully portray the three technicians committed to the seemingly impracticable task of creating a safer war zone. Mark Boal’s script uses the final days of Bravo Company’s tour to heighten both the stakes of the mission and a range of effects on the soldiers, including adrenaline addiction (Renner), frustration (Mackie), and panic (Geraghty). The film neither condemns nor endorses the war, but instead challenges the audience to consider the consequences of decisions great and small, as well as the value of the many lives involved. Thomas Britt



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Inglourious Basterds

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Daniel Bruhl, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, Mélanie Laurent, Brad Pitt, Eli Roth, Til Scheweiger, Christoph Waltz
Review [8.Feb.2010]
Review [21.Aug.2009]


Inglourious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino

Inglourious Basterds is nothing short of a tour-de-force, a film made with such assurance and audacity that it sweeps us up and makes us forget that Tarantino ever left us. What he creates has the feel of a classic war movie (right down to the period details), yet with its own distinct, auteurist touches that take us somewhere entirely new. It demonstrates Tarantino’s continually evolving style and versatility, with a multi-lingual and multi-versed storyline. And it’s easy to forget, through all the WWII carnage, that several of the scenes are stunningly beautiful and well-filmed. Tarantino has an extraordinary sense for the small details that make up a scene, and the way he twists dialogue around his finger is miles ahead of Hollywood’s rancid one-liners. There’s so much to absorb in Inglourious Basterds, so much savoir-faire to drink in, so many fine performances to admire. A testament to the power of cinema to rewrite history, his film coalesces into something dazzling and explosive. He leaves everyone else outgunned. Andrew Blackie


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