Top 5/Bottom 5 Movies of 2009

First let me say that I’m not a professional movie critic. I actually have to PAY for all of my tickets, so naturally I haven’t seen everything, and I’m not putting movies on my list that I haven’t seen.

I was going to do Top 10 and Bottom 10 in separate articles, but then I realized that nearly half of the movies I’d seen would have to be on one list or the other (I counted, I’ve seen 42 movies this year, five of them more than once), so I pared it down to 5 of each.

There are some films (Hurt Locker and Bright Star in particular) that might have been on the “top” list if I’d seen them, but they never came to Sydney. I also tend to avoid movies if I think they’re going to be bad, so the ones on this list are the ones that slipped through my filters and/or I was dragged to by friends.

That said, on with the best and worst films I’ve seen in theaters in 2009.


Buy Fantastic Mr. Fox on DVD
Buy Avatar on DVD

#5 TIE: Fantastic Mr. Fox and Avatar

Fantastic Mr. Fox
An ingenious fox and his loopy woodland friends go up against three horrid and seemingly invincible local farmers in a series of increasingly dangerous food heists.

A paraplegic ex-Marine hired to “drive” his dead twin’s avatar on a strange new world finds himself identifying more with the downtrodden natives than the greedy corporation he’s supposed to be working for.

These two films were both surprises to me. While I fully expected to not hate Fantastic Mr. Fox I was surprised by how much its quirky charm and deadpan humor won me over. I’m not a George Clooney fan, but this movie definitely went a long way towards overcoming my prejudice against his movies.

Meanwhile, I had hoped Avatar would top my list of all time favorites, but for reasons I will delve more into next week in my review, it never quite got there. So why did it make the list? Because the CGI is CRAZY, Sam Worthington manages to pull you right in, and there are some sweet ass futuristic helicopters.

Buy District 9 on DVD

#4: District 9

Years after an alien spaceship is marooned above Johannesburg, an alien affairs officer is drawn into the secret world of the marginalized “prawns” while attempting to forcibly evict them from their ghetto.

I went into this one with no expectations and was totally blown away by its originality. It’s filmed in a semi-documentary style and stars people who aren’t actors, so it’s a break from the superstars+splosions=$$ Hollywood formula. Plus, it’s got a fascinating story, plenty of action, heartbreak, special effects, and great jokes. In short – there’s a bit of everything, and unlike some movies that TRY to do everything, this one actually pulls it off.

Buy Up on DVD

#3: Up

An old man who long ago gave up on his dreams ties thousands of balloons to his house and sets out on a last ditch adventure to the Amazon, unwittingly bringing an overeager young boy scout along for the ride.

I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t expect Up to be very good. Shame on me for having no faith in Pixar, which is as consistently awesome as a movie studio can be. In Up, it seems like they took everything anyone had ever told them wouldn’t work in a family adventure (i.e. main characters who are 80, long montages, a tearjerking theme) and made it work. Any time I’m tempted to give a free pass to a piece of crap like Santa Buddies “because it’s a kid’s movie” I think of the emotional complexity and fully rounded characters in Up and remember that’s no excuse. Plus: Dug the talking dog is the cutest and funniest thing ever.

Buy Star Trek on DVD

#2: Star Trek

An angry young James T. Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise find the fate of two worlds in their hands before they’ve even graduated from Starfleet Academy when Romulans from the future launch an assault on Vulcan.

First, let me clarify that I am not a fan of the original Star Trek series. I think it was melodramatic, campy, lame, etc etc. J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the series is none of these things. He gleefully flings the entirety of the established canon (which, if printed out, could probably fill three oil tankers) out the window and creates a hilarious, action-packed new movie with a cast that can actually act (sorry, William Shatner). The echoes of the original are there, but the two words that best describe this movie are awesome and awesome.

Terminator Salvation

#1: Terminator Salvation

A convicted murderer wakes up in post Judgment Day Los Angeles fifteen years after his own execution to find himself in the middle of an all out war between the last remaining humans and the machines controlled by Skynet.

I know I’m going to take a lot of flack for naming Terminator Salvation the best movie of the year. It’s been poorly reviewed, slagged off my many who consider themselves members of the Terminator fan club, and picked on for logic and continuity errors (I did my fair share of nitpicking too) but despite all of it, Terminator Salvation was still the most engaging movie I saw this year. The gritty, post apocalyptic world is so well created and Sam Worthington sells pain/conflict/etc so well that it’s impossible not to bond with Marcus. Add in helicopters, real non-CGI explosions, and killer machines, and you’ve got the beginning of a beautiful franchise (I hope – someone give McG some more money).


Buy G.I Joe on DVD

#5: G.I. Joe

An ordinary special forces soldier is invited to join an elite branch of the military when he gets caught up in the fight against an evil villain in possession of bombs that can dissolve matter.

I expected this movie to be way worse than it actually was (especially considering the trailer was easily confused with the trailer for the farting guinea pig spec-ops movie G Force). It had the requisite ridiculous action stunts and overreliance on skintight uniforms, but it actually had a semi-coherent story and some of the characters were halfway relatable, so it only merits a spot as the fifth worst movie I’ve seen this year.

Buy My Bloody Valentine on DVD

#4: My Bloody Valentine 3D

A teen traumatized by an encounter with a mass murderer in his family’s mine returns to town as an adult to sell the mine, only to find himself in the middle of a second killing spree.

Make no mistake – this movie is awful. The story is nonsensical, the characters are flat and mostly unlikeable, and the only reason the killer (who looks like the Miner 49er villain from Scooby Doo, by the way) is able to murder anyone at all is that no one in town seems to have any common sense. However, it only comes in at fourth worst movie I’ve seen this year because it’s so hilarious to watch this film stumble aimlessly around, pulling out 3-D tricks and boobies to try and startle/entertain you.

By Final Destination 3-D on DVD

#3: Final Destination 3D

A teenager with visions of impending doom battles the inescapable forces of death after he prevents his friends from dying in accident at a motor speedway.

With the resurgence of 3D in movie theaters, franchises have been slapping Ds onto the end of their third outings in an attempt to seem clever. The producers of Final Destination 3D must be EXTRA clever, because this is actually the fourth title in the series. It’s also the third unnecessary title in the series, because all they’ve been doing is re-making the first movie with different accidents and different characters. Bad acting, bad writing, stupid deaths, unnoticeable 3D component. And the worst part? It’s not even bad enough to be funny.

Buy The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 on DVD

#2: The Taking of Pelham 123

A transit coordinator suddenly becomes an NYPD hostage negotiator when an angry passenger hijacks one of his subway trains.

I like Denzel Washington. I like John Travolta. I like thrillers. So how could a thriller starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta be this bad? Easy: all you have to do is write a script where the two of them sit in separate little rooms and talk to each other on the radio for two hours. The plot twists were not surprising, the brief periods of action were at best only peripherally related to the plot, and the secondary characters were one dimensional. Despite the “thriller” designation, the only time I was thrilled was when I saw the credits roll, because it meant the movie was finally over.

Buy Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on DVd

#1: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

A nerdy teenager, his improbably hot girlfriend, some military people, and a bunch of sentient robots that turn into vehicles fight other sentient robots that turn into vehicles because they’re evil and want to wreck things.

My naming Transformers 2 as my most reviled movie of 2009 is probably less than surprising considering how often I reference it in sentences containing phrases like “worst movie ever”. The explosions and transforming robots, while very impressive in terms of CGI constructs, quickly become boring when liberally sprinkled into a plot that seems like it was created by typing action movie cliches onto slips of paper, putting them into a blender, and pouring the pureed mess into an blank screenplay template. This movie earns an impressive 12 out of a possible 10 drill bits for how badly it made me want to drill into my own brain to escape the agony.

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