The cutest, most creative, and awe-inspiring movie I saw from the 2009 crop, and that’s saying something. The amount of craft and ingenuity in nearly every frame of the film is astounding, somehow capturing the Wes Anderson essence perfectly but also delivering absolute manna from stop-motion heaven. The trailer does this film absolutely no justice. None at all.

This is a smart, crafty, and somewhat anarchist little project and though it’s aimed at the heart of the kid’s market this is only a kid’s film if it had been released in 1975. It’s perfect for smart kids or the parents of kids who grew up in the late 60’s and early 70’s, ones who aspire for their kids to have the spark of mischief and questioning of the system present in a lot of Roald Dahl’s books and the best stuff to come out of that era. It absolutely doesn’t insult the intelligence of its audience once, in fact loaded to the gills with little subtleties and comments that will make it one for many repeat viewings.

I’d put it up against any Wes Anderson film and anything this side of Pixar for actual merit of work in films aimed towards the younger set.

Contributing Factors: The craftsmanship and level of detail. Every frame, particularly the sets, are worth framing. The little things, like the way the opossum’s eyes glaze over, the designs of the human characters, the way the animals in the back are digging in the digging scenes even though they aren’t digging. The way Schwartzman’s character spits. The ‘Peter wrote a bad song’ scene. Brilliant is a word tossed around too often. That scene is brilliant.
Performance to Savor:
Michael Gambon. Not a lot of lines, but great work when he has them, including the best laugh in the film. The guy has his own turn on the Top Gear track and now he is officially a king of Earth. Pull Quote: “Fantastic is too weak a word!”
4. In the Loop (CHUD review)(Buy the DVD/Buy the Blu-Ray)

There are some movies you watch over and over because there are special moments you want to experience again and again. There are some movies you watch over and over to discover new laughs or thrills. There are some movies you watch over and over because there’s just too much shit for you to process the first time.

This is all of the above.

Whip-smart, lightning fast, excellently performed, and loony, this is political satire at its best. Many have compared it to Wag the Dog and Dr. Strangelove but it’s not. It’s its own thing, owing more to today’s world of docu-comedies (which have made Ricky Gervais a wealthy man) and the way the public has sort of become more of an eyewitness to the people who comprise the power structure [real or implied] and made celebrities of them, and the fact the world has been quite a clusterfuck of late.

Armando Iannucci’s movie is one you simply get all the grace and scathing brilliance of in one sitting. Or two. Or three.

Contributing Factors: “Turn that fucking racket off! It’s just VOWELS! Subsidised… foreign… vowels!”
Performance to Savor: Peter Capaldi is a whirling dervish of venom in this film and it’s lovely. That said, James Gandolfini rocks this film hard and I was frankly impressed with how he held his own in this grouping. Pull Quote: “This loop is de pacte with laughs!”
3. Watchmen (CHUD Review)(Buy the DVD/Buy the Blu-Ray)

When I saw this movie the first time it was sort of a numbing experience. I’d read Watchmen the week it came out in comic book shops (thanks to my then closest buddy Bert Cox) and had sort of grown up with it over the years, always hoping for but never expecting the film to actually come out. After being utterly psyched for the Paul Greengrass version I was skeptical but thrilled when Zack Snyder took it on.

I was numb. I knew I liked it a lot but wasn’t sure if I loved it. Then I saw it two more times and knew I loved it. Just didn’t know if it was for the right reasons and if that love translated to the film deserving its place on this list.

Thankfully, home video has made this film better and better for me and I can say without any doubts that it’s a film I love and a rather sizable cinematic accomplishment. Not without its flaws, mind you, but the films I love the very most tend to be ones with some serious flaws (Heat, Collateral, Out of Sight, and The Shining come to mind).

I loved this movie first because it actually got made and wasn’t a sellout. Now I love it because it’s one I can watch end to end anytime and find new things to be amazed by. And really, in a world where so many sacrifices are made on the journey from page to screen, I have no problems at all with this being a ‘cover’ over the graphic novel.

That said, I wish Malin Ackerman and Matthew Goode had been replaced with someone else. The cast would have been impeccable then. 

Contributing Factors: The opening credits. Jackie Earle Haley. The stunning visual work. The adherence to the source. A great story that’s still relevant and great today. Stephen McHattie classing up the joint. Eye candy and ear candy galore.
Performance to Savor: Jeffrey Dean Morgan. As great as Jackie Earle Haley is, it takes a knockout performance to make The Comedian anything other than a totally arch black hat. Morgan is sexy and dangerous and he has just something that makes his heinous actions almost worth it if the end result is a guy like him out there fighting crime with slightly less crime. Pull Quote: “You’ll be glad you’re locked in here with Rorsharch, rather than he being locked in with you!”
2. Inglourious Basterds (CHUD review)(Buy the DVD/Buy the Blu-Ray)

This is really a case where the top two films could be flipped and I’d have no problem with it. In fact, they’ve changed spots on this list about ten times as I’ve worked on it. It’s a case of 1A and 1B really.

As far as cinema goes, Quentin Tarantino’s movie is the best in many years. In many ways his best film. Definitely his most mature. Definitely the one boasting the least ‘look at me’ dialogue, the most confidence, and the least amount of moments where you feel the director is more concerned with his brand and legacy than in delivering something of true merit. There’s none of the embarrassing idol worship of Death Proof here [seriously, you take the crash and Kurt Russell out of that movie and it’s an abomination and even with them it’s a huge misstep]. There’s none of the excess of Kill Bill. This is his considerable talent distilled to one manageable movie. And it’s such a celebration of cinema.

The dialogue is like fine champagne and the actors (except for Eli Roth) deliver it like maestros. The scenes are well thought out and executed that the movie feels like a greatest hits collection from history. The sleight of hand in taking what would have been a boys with guns movie and making it about a Jewish girl’s revenge is breathtaking and bold. Everything about it (except for Eli Roth) is top notch and it keeps bearing fruit on repeat viewings.

Tarantino for a while there was a guy I was wary of. With this he delivers not only something truly great, but something truly great that isn’t kept afloat by cool or edgy sizzle. Amazing stuff.

Contributing Factors: Tarantino firing on all cylinders. The fact it suckers people into thinking it’s a combat film. Amazing work by everyone in the cast not named B.J. Novak or Eli Roth. Brad Pitt as an Italian filmmaker. The scene at the milk farm. The lunch scene. The theater scene. The basement scene. Most every other scene. Hans Landa’s pipe. Fassbinder’s farewell speech. So many great little moments. In reality this is the best film of the year, because it’s the best film of Quentin’s thus far. It’s just narrowly nudged by another film with a director playing a lead character. Except the director in the other film isn’t Eli Roth and someone whose work takes you out of the movie.  
Performance to Savor: Obviously Christolph Waltz is the breakout star but Mélanie Laurent is just as good and Michael Fassbender is the secret weapon. His work in the basement scene is as strong as anything in the movie.

Performance to Sever: Eli Roth. Pull Quote: “If you don’t love this movie, you don’t deserve to scalp Herrman!”
1. District 9 (CHUD review)(Buy the DVD/Buy the Blu-Ray)

What an electric film. I was a little worried it wouldn’t hold up on repeat viewings, because there’s no way some video low budget [though, without Peter Jackson and Weta this’d have been a massively expensive film] South African film can be this good and hold up.

Five Blu-Ray viewings later, yes it can. It doesn’t have the richness of some of the films on this list, nor the performances, nor the depth. But as a package it is just about perfect. The craft, the brains behind it, and the absolute wringing of every drop of value and quality from every aspect of the movie makes it the film of the year for me. And that’s saying an awful lot, because terrific filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron, Spize Jonze, and Wes Anderson delivered some of the best work of their careers.

Plus, this film has put a justified nail in the coffin of the documentary style sci-fi films. This can’t be topped…. until District 10. Bring it on.

Contributing Factors: Amazing use of digital effects. Great sense of confidence. Really good example of limitations being a virtue when it comes to creative filmmaking. The arrival of a major directorial talent. That rare non-event event movie that lends itself to many follow-up stories. Christopher Johnson and his little boy are 100% believable characters and engaging as hell.
Performance to Savor: Sharlto Copley, which came from the bleachers beyond left field. First time I saw the movie I wanted this guy dead or out of the movie ASAP, but over the course of the film, as intended, he got better and better and became one of the deserving breakout stars of the year. That said, Neill Blomkamp is the real star of this.. Pull Quote: “Best father/son alien story of ever!”