Of the 130-plus movies I saw this year, here are my 10 very favorite -- and 15 I dug almost as much. Feel free to ask "Where the hell is _____?!!!" in the comments section below. The year 2009 (now pronounced "twen-ty-oh-nine") in movies was -- well, like pretty much like other year. There were lots of bad movies, less good ones, and even fewer that were great (though we still, as a staff, were able to come up with our annual list of the 50 best movies of the year, and though that may seem like a reach, all are deserving.)
Of the 130-plus movies I saw this year, here are my 10 very favorite -- and 15 I dug almost as much. Feel free to ask "Where the hell is _____?!!!" in the comments section below.
10. 'World's Greatest Dad'
One of the most pleasant surprises of the year, this deliciously demented black comedy shocked us in more ways than one: It's directed by Bobcat Goldthwait (yes, that same Bobcat Goldthwait who scared children throughout several installments of 'Police Academy'), stars a likable, understated Robin Williams (not the obnoxious, over-the-top Robin Williams) and gets better as it goes along. 'Dad' is twisted in all the right ways, brims with clever satire, and features Williams' best turn in year. And if that's not enough, there's also a cameo by Bruce Hornsby!
It's likely you don't share much in common with Precious (Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe), a morbidly obese, illiterate Harlem teen reliant on welfare, abused by her mother (future Oscar winner Mo'Nique) and twice impregnated by her father -- I really hope you don't, anyway. But that's the power of this startling indie drama: It makes you see life through her eyes, relating to her every struggle. And though the odds have been stacked so unfairly against her, it's a life defined by perseverance. Mo'Nique has gotten most of the acting raves, but the phenomenal Sidibe belongs in any awards discussions as well.
8. 'I Love You, Man'
There exists a minority of us movie lovers who consider this gut-buster the best comedy of the year -- yep, even over a certain Vegas-set blockbuster starring Mike Tyson and "Zach Galifa-whatshisname." Master of improv Paul Rudd proves he may just be the funniest guy working in Hollywood as an impossibly amiable, recently engaged real estate agent on the hunt for a best man (enter Jason Segel, in his funniest stint yet). 'I Love You, Man' is the bromance to end all bromances -- so let's take a break from all the bromances for a while, shall we?
The first must-see movie of the year, this eye-popping whirl through stop-motion animation is a meeting of two brilliant minds (writer Neil Gaiman and director Henry Selick) that has a "kids in a candy shop" feel to it in terms of the supremely cool ways these guys are employing new technologies. Following in the tradition of 'Nightmare' and 'Corpse Bride' (and managing to best both), it's a gothic, trippy, oftentimes creepy (they've got buttons for eyes!) film that should thrill older kids and adults in equal measure.
6. 'The Hurt Locker'
So much for Iraq War dramas spelling death at the box office. Kathryn Bigelow's stunning, respectably non-preachy thriller found the audience it deserved, becoming somewhat of a summer sleeper and emerging as one of the most surprising Oscar favorites come fall. Focusing on a group of bombs specialists -- including one who may very well have death wish (Jeremy Renner), it's taut and riveting from first frame to last, and is one of the best war films in years.
5. 'The Cove'
Widespread love for dolphins dates back to the days of 'Flipper,' and comes full circle with this expose of their mass slaughter occurring in Japan (some 23,000 are killed a year), the best documentary of the year. Louie Psihoyos' doc is equal parts thrilling and heartbreaking -- he crafts a mission to uncover the slaughter as a full-on caper; the film then climaxes with one of the most devastating (and disturbing) scenes ever committed to non-fiction filmmaking.
OK, this is starting to get a little ridiculous ... Pixar hit yet another one out of the park, maintaining their 1.000 batting average (they're now 10/10 for those keeping score at home) with their latest -- a hilarious, beautiful and heartbreaking adventure that ranks among their very best. You just can't go wrong with intelligent storytelling and lovable characters, and the Ed Asner-voiced 78-year-old Carl ranks right up there with Maude, Alfred and those crazy 'Cocoon' kids as my favorite old-timers ever to hit the big screen. The film also broke a personal record for most -- making us sob like little babies only 10 minutes into it.
3. 'The Fantastic Mr. Fox'
What the cuss?! For as much we love Wes Anderson fare like 'Royal Tenenbaums' and 'Life Aquatic,' his overly quirky dialogue (often co-scripted by Noah Baumbach) can be a bit too much. But spoken by an adorable family of foxes? Brilliant! This hilarious, awesomely oddball stop-motion animated film is packed with one feast-for-the-eyes sequence after the next, and begs for repeat viewings to catch all of the elaborate and spectacular details. It may be the best thing Anderson's done yet.
2. 'An Education'
It's not often we get a winning coming-of-age tale told from the female perspective; Lone Scherfig's adaptation of Lynn Barber's is all the more impressive given it was adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby ('High Fidelity'). An elegantly, perfectly construed drama about a mature-beyond-her-years girl (the revelatory Carey Mulligan, one of many top-notch performances here) in postwar, pre-Beatles London, it's a universal tale set in an unmistakably distinct time and place.
1. 'Up in the Air'
With three feature films now under his belt – 'Thank You for Smoking,' 'Juno' and now this instant classic -- is there any doubt that 32-year-old Jason Reitman is one of Hollywood's best directors? George Clooney somehow makes a corporate downsizer (topical!) lovable and magnetic in a superb lead turn (his best yet), while Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga kill as the distinctly powerful women who change his life. 'Air' is a near-perfect film that is at times bitingly funny, at other times heartrendingly sad -- sort of like life, come to think of it.
'(500) Days of Summer'
'Bart Got a Room'
'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'
'The Princess and the Frog'