Sorry, just can't do a top ten left. I saw more than ten movies this year, but there are a lot I've missed as well. All of these films received a theatrical release in 2009 and all but one I saw in the theater. Also, as with all such lists, we're really talking about favorites rather than best. A little historical perspective is needed for a best list. So, starting with my favorite:
1)A SERIOUS MAN - This film had a shot at the list just because it's by the Coen brothers. But last year's BURN BEFORE READING was much further down the list. This tale of a modern Job is pretty sparce on hope, but not on humor. It makes the need for the true Messiah abundantly clear.
2) UP - Again, this was a likely canidate going in, Pixar had not had a loser yet. But this film more heartfelt emotion than one would expect of a cartoon with a giant talking bird named Kevin. Director Pete Doctor captured the joy and heartbreak of a life long relationship in moments. Yeah, I cried, okay. And as a fan of the great art that is "Dogs Playing Poker" (in Jr. High, I had them on a t-shirt), I had to love the dogs in this film.
3) MOON - Mick LeSalle of the SF Chronicle had this on his ten worst films list. I'm a regurlar reader and regular disagreer with Mick. Sam Rockwell gave a (many) great performance(s) in this story of a moon miner who discovers himself (again and again) on a three year mission. A Twilight Zone episode (not a slight at all) that could carry the burden of being stretched another hour. (And is there a less comforting companion than a Kevin Spacey voiced robot?)
4) (500) DAYS OF SUMMER - Zooey Deschanel is cute as can be, of course, but she is required to play a bit of a cypher as the Sid in the film. (SID AND NANCY, see both films and you'll understand.) But Joseph Gordon-Livitt (yeah, the kid from 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN) carrys the film. With this and BRICK and THE LOOKOUT, I'm tempted to go to the theater to see anything he's in that doesn't have 'G.I.' or 'JOE' in the title. As the tag line says, this isn't a love story, but it is a great story about love (or the nature of romantic love.)
5) TAKEN - As Jonah Goldberg wrote, this is great 'Daddy porn'. We learn that the world, especially wives and daughters, would be better off if they would just listen to Dad. And when they don't, he'll go in and clean up the mess without even a "I told you so" because that's the kind of guy he is. Great action without noticable CGI.
6) DISTRICT 9 - Thoughtful science fiction about aliens stranded on Earth. Blatant, but not quite heavy handed references to apartheid (it's set in South Africa). Writer/director Neill Blomkamp obviously benifted from the assistance of producer Peter Jackson, but it's unique style is all his own. (Okay, it does steal abit from the BBC version of "The Office".)Sharlto Copley as Wikus Van De Merwe is such a bureaucratic weasel that it takes time before you realize he a hero. (Not the hero, a distinction that belongs to a "prawn".)
7) ZOMBIELAND - I had to see this as I'm writing a zombie book. And it is good zombie fun. Very funny intentionally, with one of the great cameo apperances of all time. Woody Harellson is the most fun he has been since "Cheers". Difinitely in my list of top five alltime zombie films. A film that teaches the importance of following the rules as well as the necessity of breaking them.
So, that's my top seven. In a month or two, I might fill a top ten but listing what else would have made the list.
Some films I saw this year and enjoyed, but didn't seem list worthy: EXTRACT okay, but not as good as the better episodes of Mike Judge's "King of the Hill"), STAR TREK (fun, but the plot didn't really hold together and I hated Spock's follow your heart speech at the end), PUBLIC ENEMIES, SHERLOCK HOLMES (worth seeing for Robert Downey, Jr.)
But these are some films I haven't seen that I think might round out the top ten: CORALINE, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, THE HURT LOCKER, UP IN THE AIR, BRIGHT STAR, SUNSHINE CLEANING and PRECIOUS. (I haven't seen AVATAR, but from what I've read about it, I can't imagine I'd put what of the most technilogically advanced movies of all time that harangs about the evils of technology on my list. I don't think I'll be able to overcome the tag "Dances with Smurfs" that some wag gave it.)
So to the imaginary readers of this blog (if you're real, let me know), Happy New Year!