The Best and Worst Movies of 2009

Russell and Mr. FredricksenWhile everybody else is busy constructing their list of the Best and Worst Movies of 2011, I’m right here organizing my year-end list for, believe it or not, 2009. I’m aware that us Filipinos are notoriously known for being late, but this is just ridiculous. Here is a blog post that will probably inspire very little interest, precisely because it is two years too late. But what the heck – I’ll post it anyway. One would naturally think that I would have no valid excuse for such a delay, but I can actually explain.

Dedicated movie lovers who live in the same country as yours truly will not have a hard time agreeing that it can be real frustrating to be a cinephile in the Philippines. The overwhelming awfulness of the majority of our county’s movies cannot be denied, but it is not what ultimately drags me into hopeless depression. My quarrels and objections against the artistic illiteracy of this country are long and many, yet I shall not go into specifics, for this is not what I am here for. Simply put, the Philippines is a place that does not welcome Better Movies, which makes it difficult for me to catch up with the movies I need to see.

Of the 10 movies featured in my Best Movies list, less than half of them were featured in a local theater; the rest I had to wait months for the DVD release. I shall attempt to explain further in my post, “The Best and Worst Movies of 2010”, that is to be published next month. But in the meantime, here are my choices for 2009.

A few pointers:

  • The following list is entirely objective, where the order of the movies is determined by my critical observations, and not by personal preferences
  • The movie that is dearest to me, which can also be considered as my Favorite Film of the Year, will receive the Special Jury Award. On the other hand, the movie that I despised the most will be graced by my Most Hated Award, just for the “lulz”.
  • In the “Honorable Mentions” section, you will find a bunch of titles that are great movies that didn’t quite make it to the Top 10. In short, they are the “Runner-Ups” that also deserve some attention.
  • A less familiar category would be the “Potential Movies”. All of the titles you will find here are movies released in 2009 that I still haven’t seen. What makes it different from other movies I haven’t seen from that year is that there is a possibility that they could have ended up in my list if I have seen them.
  • The list will not include Independent Movies that aren’t attached to any renowned names, like “You, the Living” and “Sin Nombre”. I believe they deserve their own category, but I haven’t seen enough of them to make one.
A Serious Man10. A Serious Man

The Coen Brothers are always determined to churn out something we’ve never quite encountered before, and they have once again succeeded with this dark, perceptive, supernatural Jewish dramedy. Michael Stuhlbarg stars as physics professor, Larry Gopnik, a troubled man who is struggling to cope with all the problems that continually corner him. He has a wife who plans to leave him for another man, two kids who ignore his existence, an adult brother who needs 24/7 monitoring, and much more. Larry is seriously in deep dilemma, yet he always tries to do the right thing. The movie provides great insight on Jewish culture, moral philosophies, and the reality of compromises. The Coens does the hard task of extracting dark comedy out of poor Larry without ever exploiting him.

Zombieland9. Zombieland

Zombies, in essence, are pretty standard. Like the cast of “Twilight”, they soullessly stagger from one place to another in sluggish repetition. This is why the greatness of a zombie flick is determined not by the undead, but by what the undead are trying to eat: People. In “Zombieland”, we are introduced to four loveable, well-written characters played by charming, capable actors. Three of them have been nominated for an Oscar – is that normal for the cast of a zombie movie? The script depends on the dialogue between our heroes while rightfully limiting the zombies as target practice. Heck, the movie’s most memorable moments are completely zombie-free, thanks to the invaluable Bill Murray and his dangerously convincing zombie disguise.

The Bad Lieutenant Port of Call - New Orleans8. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans

Throughout his career, Nicolas Cage’s tenacious audacity to take on daring roles has granted him immense popularity, be it for better or for worse. That the guy has been nominated for Oscars as much as he has been nominated for Razzies should tell us something. His reputation can suffer massive persecution from late night talk shows when he makes the wrong choices (e.g. “Ghost Rider”, “The Wicker Man”, and “Drive Angry”). But when he gets it right, he instantly earns everybody’s praise. And boy, did he get it right in Werner Herzog’s “The Bad Lieutenant”. With eyes ready to burst and a mouth ready to froth, Cage plays a drug-snorting, soul-shooting, double-crossing potty-mouthed cop who calculatingly crisscrosses on both sides of the law. It’s Cage’s most brilliant performance since he played twins Charlie and Donald Kaufman in the ingenious “Adaptation”.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

Excerpt from my official 5-Star review:

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is an exceptional thriller that supplies just about everything you can expect from its genre: an unsolved crime, a devious villain, a collection of clues, a determined investigator, and a climactic sequence where they all come together. These elements are all aptly done, but our attention is captured by an enigmatic woman whose own vague life can be considered a puzzle that’s more perplexing than the one she occupies.

Her name is Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). She is a skilled surveillance agent and an ingenious computer hacker. Her face, firm and pierced, rarely reveals any form of emotion. Her dark, gothic look attracts our immediate interest, but even the most analytical of audience members cannot observe beyond her physical appearance. The dragon tattooed on her back, which we get to see once, is open to our interpretations, but that’s about as far our theories can go. She prefers to keep her secrets to herself. Conversations with Lisbeth occur only when necessary, and they usually end quickly. Moments where she secures her isolation are often “celebrated” with a lighting of a cigarette.

Up in the Air6. Up in the Air

A profoundly relevant, richly humorous, and sincerely empathizing film, “Up in the Air” is about so many things, yet there is not a single minute where it loses its touch. As challenging as it is, the movie somehow manages to handle two different worlds of opposite magnitudes: the universal devastation brought about by the recent economic meltdown, and the personal philosophies of a middle-aged bachelor that sustains his happy family of one. The cast is led by George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a man who works for a company that requires him to fire the employees of other companies. Alone and uninterrupted, he controls how he lives and loves it. This cycle is broken up when he meets two women he has no intentions of connecting with. Soon enough, they ignite sparks in each other’s lives. Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick also star.

Avatar5. Avatar

First things first. Up until now, a lot of the hatred thrown at “Avatar” seems to be because of the fact that it significantly resembles the storyline of “Pocahontas”. I don’t get it. Roger Ebert showed great wisdom when he stated that “a movie is not about what it’s about; it’s about how it’s about it.” If the movie’s foundation is indeed inspired by “Pocahontas”, why not just thank the inspiration instead of bashing the beauty that blossomed from it? But anyway.

The creation of Pandora is the main cause of my love for the movie. It features one of the most imaginative uses of CGI I have ever seen. When the sun disappears, an array of enthralling images comes to life. As darkness falls, things start to glow while creatures of fascinating splendor roam around. There are plants as big as trees and trees as big as buildings. It’s an all-you-can-see visual buffet.


I very rarely cry at theater, but I found myself bathing in tears – twice – while I was viewing “UP”. I’ve seen it two more times since then, and I’m still crying. Except for Toy Story 3’s final moments, it’s the most thoughtful Pixar film yet. That Russell kid is cute and adorable and all that, but it was the relationship between Carl and Ellie that got to me. We all remember that sequence early in the film that took us through the marriage of the Fredricksons.  Accompanied by the Oscar-winning score by Michael Giacchino entitled “Married Life”, that little stretch of film gracefully shifted from sweet, to lovely, to tragic, to downright heartbreaking. It was short but powerful, wordless but resonant. And because our hero’s mission is centered on his unconditional devotion displayed in that scene, we become emotionally involved until the film’s very end. This is an amazing movie.

Moon3. Moon

Maybe it has something to do with its early release date. Maybe it’s because of the short attention span of the members of the Academy. Maybe both. Maybe neither. I can’t be sure. Whatever the darn reason is, Sam Rockwell not receiving an Oscar nomination for “Moon” is, in my opinion, one of the worst crimes the Academy has committed in the past decade. The movie’s potential for dramatic impact and authenticity is placed entirely on Rockwell’s shoulders, and he carries it all with an affecting performance that’s aided by a moving soundtrack composed by Clint Mansell. Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a man on the moon who is nearing the end of a 3-year contract with the company he works for. Alone and desperate to return home to his wife and daughter, Bell provides a portrait of loneliness that the movie explores. “Moon” is a sci-fi gem, and it’s saddening how it was overshadowed by recycled summer blockbusters. Maybe you still haven’t seen this yet. Maybe you should go look for a copy right now.

The Hurt Locker2. The Hurt Locker

“The Hurt Locker” does more than just take us to the war in Iraq. A great movie could have very well been made by simply giving us a peek of the devastation caused by the war, but the movie has a broader vision for itself. It ventures inside the mindset of a soldier like no other, and we begin to see the war through his eyes. The soldier is Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner), a quiet and alert veteran who is an expert at disarming bombs. Together with his team, he monitors unsecured areas for bombs that need some serious defusing. Scenes that feature a stand-off between James and those pesky bombs would make Alfred Hitchcock proud, as they are to be treasured in the world of suspense. Director Katherine Bigalow was wise to treat the bombs more as a tool for tension than as an excuse for explosions.

Inglorious Basterds1. Inglorious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino is, yet again, one helluva genius. He deviously rips a page off the history books and rewrites it with blood-soaked hands. The result is a stylish, funny, brutal and tremendously entertaining slap to the face of Nazism. The best movie of 2009 takes us back in time to a Nazi-occupied France, where Jewish families are hunted down and executed while the Germans flourish in their dominance. Hitler makes an appearance, of course, but it is Nazi officer Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) who will leave a mark in our memory. Cunning, diabolical, and naughty, Hans Landa is a nightmare for all Jews… and Gentiles.

This kind of cruel persecution is not at all pleasing to Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), leader of the Basterds. These trigger-happy, trash-talking, bat-whirling, suicide-bombing, scalp-scraping Jewish-American soldiers are determined and unforgiving. They will stop at nothing when it comes to fulfilling their mission, and that is to beat all them Nazis to death. Sounds like a plan to me.


Honorable Mentions: An Education, The Road, District 9, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, and Paranormal Activity

Potential Movies: The White Ribbon, In the Loop, Ponyo, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Broken Embraces, and The Cove



The Worst Movies of 2009

10. Sorority Row

9. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

8. The Haunting in Connecticut

7. The Ugly Truth

6. I Love You, Beth Cooper

5. Halloween 2

4. Ninja Assassin

3. Dragonball: Evolution

2. The Twilight Saga: New Moon

1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen


Bonus Awards!

Special Jury Award: Moon

Best Animated Feature: UP

Best Director: Quentin Tarantino – Inglorious Basterds

Best Actor: Sam Rockwell – Moon

Best Actress: Noomi Rapace – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

Best Villain: Hans LandaInglorious Basterds

Best Debut Performance: Duncan Jones (Director) – Moon

Sharlto Copley (Actor) – District 9

Best Ensemble Cast: Inglorious Basterds

Guilty Pleasure Award: 2012

Overlooked Movie: Moon

Most Memorable Moment: Bill Murray Cameo in Zombieland


Most Hated: New Moon

Worst Director: James Wong – Dragonball: Evolution

Worst Actor: Robert Pattinson – New Moon

Worst Actress: Kirsten Stewart – New Moon

Worst Villain: The Fallen – Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Worst Ensemble Cast: New Moon

Worst Scene Award: “Robot Heaven” in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

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The Best and Worst Movies of 2009