Best films of 2009

I began to make my annual list of the best films of 2009 and quickly discovered that, unlike the last few years, 2009 was a year of plenty – there was a surfeit of films far beyond what I’d expected.  In fact, culling here and there among the 250-odd films I’d seen and either talked about on my radio show or written a review for the website, I had to deal with at least 35 features and ten documentaries, all of which had some claim to be on my list.  This has never happened before.


There were films I liked a lot, but thought they weren’t quite up to the top ten; films like “The Informant!” or “Revanche,” or “The Invention of Lying,” or “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”  I thought for a while about “Harry Potter,” but as the fifth in an ongoing series, somehow it didn’t seem right to put it up at the top.  Then “Summer Hours,” which a lot of critics have loved inordinately; I thought was a little too indistinct in its delineation of the younger generation.  Good enough, certainly, but not quite there.  What about “Funny People?”  A fine film; maybe it belongs in the top ten, but then the competition just kept moving it down again.  “Still Walking?”  I thought Koreeda’s previous feature, “Nobody Knows,” was a miracle of filmmaking, a tragedy for the ages.  But “Still Walking” gave too much ground to the films of Ozu, so no this time.


So what are my ten best films?  Please remember that this is written in January, 2010, and I’m likely to change my mind over the next few months, but here goes:


10:       “Up” – for the miraculous story of  a love affair from youth till death.  The rest of the film isn’t bad at all (it includes those incredible

                        mesas that rise from the jungles of southern Venezuela).


9:         “The Secret of the Grain” – a beautifully told story of a Tunisian immigrant family to a French fishing town on the shores of the

                        Mediterranean, with stunning performances.


8:         “A Serious Man” – I know, it isn’t all that great, but this is a personal favorite because of the Yiddish opening.


7:         “Gomorrah” – How did this film get made?  It is an unbelievably detailed story of the Mafia at work today in Naples.


6:         “Big Fan” – Just a perfect little independent film that never tries for more and succeeds doubly because it’s so familiar.


5:         “Avatar” – This would be number one except for its shameless script borrowings.  Couldn’t Cameron have hired someone

                        to give him a script?


4:         “Precious” – Take away the stupid subtitle and it would probably be on everyone’s list.  Incredible acting by the whole cast,    

                        particularly Sidebe and Mo’Nique.


3:         “Brothers” – Yes, I know it’s a remake, but it affected me just as much this time, with superb performances by everyone.


2:         “The Hurt Locker” – Surely the very best film about the Iraq war, with Jeremy Brenner taking the honors.


1:         “Invictus” – Morgan Freeman, who should win an Oscar, channeling Nelson Mandela, and Matt Damon never overplaying

                        his role as captain of the rugby team.


No doubt you’ll notice that there are no documentaries on the list.  I haven’t seen all the ones that are on the short list for an Academy Award, but among the ones I was most affected by are “The Cove,” “The Beaches of Agnes,” “Tyson,” “The September Issue,” “Capitalism: A Love Story,” “Bergman’s Island,” and “Encounters at the End of the World.”


So there you have it; tell me what you think.