My Top 10 Movies of 2009

Over at Cinema Knife Fight, you can check out my Top 5 genre films of 2009. But since that was only limited to 5 movies, and only horror/sci-fi, I couldn’t include a few other films I saw last year. So here’s my personal Top 10 list for all the movies I saw in 2009. I saw and reviewed over 40 films in 2009 (not including some I saw on DVD just for enjoyment). I think this is a little less than usual. But I’m still going to the movie theater fairly often. I don’t expect 2010 to be any different.

Okay, without any fanfare, here are my Top 10 in order, from best to last:

ONE: MARTYRS

My top film choice for 2009 was originally released in France in 2008, but didn’t see DVD release here until April 2009. I have no idea if it made the rounds of the festival circuit, or if it got a limited theatrical release. It should have gotten something. But most people here, like me, saw it in 2009.

It’s the disturbing story of a girl who is kidnapped as a child, escapes, ends up in an orphanage, and seeks revenge once she turns 18.  Her name is Lucie (played by Mylene Jampanoi).  The girl she meets at the orphanage who sticks by her no matter what is Anna (Morjana Alaoui). What unfolds is a tale of revenge and  madness, and then the movie goes in a completely different direction you weren’t expecting. The last part is hard to sit through. But that’s why I loved it.

TWO: INGLORIOUS BASTERDS

One of the films I couldn’t include in my Cinema Knife Fight list. Whenever a new Quentin Tarantino movie comes out, it seems to become my favorite of my films, at least for a little while (until the next one). INGLORIOUS BASTERDS is no different. It’s an terrific flick. With Brad Pitt (who is hilarious!) leading a platoon of Jewish-American soliders into Nazi territory to scalp and kill the bad guys. There is even an alternate-world plotline that involves the defeat of Hitler by way of cinema. Sure, it’s not based  on history, or reality, but it was utterly amazing. It deserves any awards it gets for its first scene alone, where Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) interrogates a farmer in Nazi-occupied France. The suspense is so thick you can cut it with a knife. And if Waltz does not win an Oscar for his role, then he’s been cheated. Easily the best performance of 2009.

THREE: ANTICHRIST

Lars von Trier’s latest assault on cinema-goers is extremely dark and depressing. It’s disturbing and  gory. It also has terrific but gut-wrenching performances by Willem DaFoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a couple grieving over the death of their young son. DaFoe’s character is a psychiatrist trying to heal his wife’s pain, and Gainsbourg plays a woman who is descending into complete madness. A lot of the imagery is quite extreme, and it’s not for the squeamish. But for me, this is exactly what a horror movie should be. It should get a visceral reaction out of you. It should haunt you long after the final credits have rolled.

FOUR: TOKYO GORE POLICE

This one was an over-the-top, live action cartoon, with more than enough of the red stuff to live up to its title. The story of a special ops team in Japan that fights creatures that have mutated in extreme ways (we’re talking severe body modification here) TOKYO GORE POLICE is a lot of fun and features a terrific performance by Eihi Shiina (the girl from Takashi Miike’s 1999 classic, AUDITION) as the main policewoman, Ruka. I wanted to see this movie since I first heard the title months before, and it totally lived up to my expectations.

FIVE:  DISTRICT 9/WATCHMEN (tie)

Like in my Cinema Knife Fight list, I’m choosing these as one choice. My favorite science-fiction and superhero movies of 2009. DISTRICT 9 is about ugly insect-like aliens who get stranded on earth and are huddled into a ghetto in South Africa. A pompous human official gets sprayed with alien DNA and begins to become his worst nightmare. I really dug this one, and I think the spaceship hovering over Johannesburg will remain an iconic movie image for years.

WATCHMEN was the mostly-faithful adaptation of the monumental graphic novel (I actually read them in their original form as a series of comic books) by Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons. Some consider it the best superhero story ever written. In its translation to screen, it seems to lose something. I can’t quite put my finger on what. But it’s still a terrific movie. And one of the most adult looks at masked crime fighters put on film so far. Worth the price for Rorscach’s adventures in prison alone.

SIX: THE BROKEN

I saw this one after I wrote my list for Cinema Knife Fight. It was part of the “8 Movies To Die For” series from AfterDark Films that has been coming out the past three years, and it was recommended to me by Matt Schwartz over at Shocklines. I’m really glad I checked it out.

In THE BROKEN, the very striking Lena Headey plays Gina McVey, a radiologist who one day follows a woman who looks just like her. Soon after, she gets into a car accident and tries to put the pieces of her life back together. This one plays like a smarter, more adult version of the movie MIRRORS. Every time a mirror breaks, someone’s doppelganger emerges into the world, and the “original” person has to be gotten rid of. This one has a very strong “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” tone to it. Atmospheric, subtle, and very effective. (Not to be confused with another movie called BROKEN which also came out this year on DVD).

SEVEN: ZOMBIELAND

I thought I was sick of zombie movies. I guess I wasn’t. ZOMBIELAND puts a fresh spin on the apocalyptic zombie plotline. The movie has great characters (especially Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg as “Columbus” and “Tallahassee”), lots of sly humor, and moves at a really good pace. It even has a terrific guest appearance by Bill Murray as himself, who fits this movie perfectly. I just had a lot of fun with this one.

EIGHT:  THIRST

Chan-wook Park, who has given us some modern classics like OLDBOY (2003), turns to horror in the story of a priest (Kang-ho Song) who turns into a vampire after he volunteers for a drug study to save lives. He is torn between his vocation and his passions, which are now suddenly inflamed. Oh yeah, and he now needs to drink blood to survive. Enter Tae-ju (Ok-bin Kim), a woman who is treated like a dog by her adoptive family, who becomes his lover, then a vampire, and who revels in the new-found power this gives her. It starts out a little slow, but once Tae-ju becomes a vampire, this movie really comes into its own. The more I think of it, the more I think it belongs in the Top 5.

NINE: LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT

My favorite remake of the year. I am a big fan of Wes Craven’s gritty, transgressive classic from 1972, one of the most disturbing films of the 1970s, and saw no reason for it to be remade. But the remake is more like a crime thriller than an over-the-top revenge film, and it works really well as a completely separate movie, rather than a by-the-numbers remake. Director Dennis Illadis does a great job doing his own spin on the source material. With good performances by Garret Dillahunt (from the HBO series DEADWOOD) as lead bad guy Krug (even though he doesn’t come close to the menace of David Hess, who played the role in the original movie) and Monica Potter as victim Emma Collingwood.

TEN: WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE/DRAG ME TO HELL (tie)

Another tie. Spike Jonze’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE riffs on Maurice Sendak’s children’s classic and gives us a thoughtful, dark film that doesn’t’ seem meant for children at all. In my Cinema Knife Fight column, I mentioned CORALINE as my favorite kids’ movie of the year, and that says a lot about why I forgot this one. It seems more like a movie for adults. With big, hairy monsters with the voices of people like James Gandolfini (Carol) and Forest Whitaker (Ira), and a little boy named Max (Max Records), who learns about loss and growing up.

DRAG ME TO HELL was Sam Raimi’s first horror movie in over a decade. He’s been focusing almost exclusively on his extremely popular SPIDER-MAN movies, but it was great to see him get back to his horror movie roots. Like his classic EVIL DEAD flicks, this one has as much humor in it as horror, and moves at a breakneck pace, as banker Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) tries to get rid of a curse put on her by ugly witch Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver), who was arears in her mortgage payments, before she ends up dead. Both timely in our current financial straits, and a whole lot of fun, I really enjoyed this movie, which showed that Raimi hasn’t lost his flair for rock-em-sock-em horror movies. And this one has a talking goat. How can you not dig that?

That’s it for 2009. Right now, Michael Arruda and I are working on a Top 10 list for THE BEST MOVIES OF THE PAST DECADE. I’ll post here when that’s up. I’m sure some of the movies I listed this year will end up on that list, too.

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