The Film Babble Blog Top Ten Movies Of 2009

All this last month readers have been asking me for my top 10 movies of 2009. I’ve mentioned before that some major prestige films don’t get to my area until late January or early February or later, and that’s not considering many Foreign films that aren’t released in these parts until months after the Oscars so it’s usually a month or so into the year before I post my picks. So since there’s no way I’m going to catch up anytime soon and because tomorrow the Academy Award nominations are going to be announced, now is as good a time as any for my list for what I think was a great and diverse year for film:

1. A SERIOUS MAN (Dirs. Joen & Ethan Coen)

“The greatest films are the ones that leave you not able to explain, but you know that you have experienced something special. I’ve always had this feeling that the perfect response to a film or a piece of work of mine would be if someone got up and said, ‘I don’t know what it is, but it’s right.’ That’s the feeling you want – ‘That’s right’ – and it comes from four or five layers down, it comes from the inside rather than from the outside.”
– Robert Altman

I’ve been plowing through the new book: “Robert Altman: The Oral Biography” since I got it for Christmas and I was struck by the quote above. It made me think of A SERIOUS MAN, though the latest Coen Brothers cinematic conundrum is anything but Altman-esque. With Michael Stuhlburg leading an equally unknown cast into the academic abyss of late 60’s suburban Minneapolis, it’s the Brothers’ most personal work to date. Whether it’s a post modern riff on the story of Job or a series of nonsensical jabs at everybody’s existential expense, it’s a perplexingly pleasing parable. Read my original review here.

2. UP (Dir. Pete Docter)

Last year the same #2 position on this list was held by a Pixar film (WALL-E) so I was tempted to go in another direction here. But, that would’ve been wrong because UP honestly deserves this space. The first 10 minutes alone deserve this space. This wonderful tale of Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) – a crotchety old widower who attaches thousands of balloons to his house in order to fly it to Paradise Falls in South Africa is a rambunctiously inventive and funny flight. And if you don’t cry at that sweeping opening montage, either you have a heart of stone or you’re Armond White. Read my original review here.

3. THE HURT LOCKER (Dir. Kathryn Bigelow)

Every explosion has an emotional impact in this gripping war drama featuring Jeremy Renner as a bomb defusing expert who’d rather risk his life in Iraq than be home with his wife. Read my original review here.

4. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Dir. Quentin Tarantino)

This indulgent alternate history World War II film is possibly over-stuffed with story strands but as I said in my original review: “the pulse and tone of Tarantino’s best work is intact.” Read the rest of that review here.

5. BLACK DYNAMITE (Dir. Scott Sanders)

Though it was little seen, this is hands down the funniest film of 2009. Forget THE HANGOVER, this blaxploitation homage/satire/greatest hits has more laughs per minute and is sure to be one Helluva a future cult classic. Read more here.

THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX (Dir. Wes Anderson)

Wes Anderson’s stylistic whimsy works wonders in this friendly, fuzzy, and ferociously witty film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book. So does George Clooney’s charm which I enjoyed more here than in a certain air-born live action film that is sure to get more acclaim awards wise. Read my original review of THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX.

7. BRIGHT STAR (Dir. Jane Campion) An unfortunately overlooked period piece centering on poet John Keats’ (Ben Whishaw) doomed courtship of Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). A beautifully moving work with first rate performances including a scene stealing Paul Schneider as Keats’ writing partner Charles Armitage Brown. With hope the Academy will take notice. Read my original review here.

8. DISTRICT 9 (Dir. Neill Blomkamp) Without a doubt the most frighteningly original (and strikingly satirical) work of science fiction of the year. A misadventure in alien apartheid leaves a wet behind the ears field operative (Sharlto Copley) with his arm mutated to that of a “prawn” and he…oh, just go watch it. Read my original ravings here.

9. ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL! (Dir. Sacha Gervasi)

This documentary about a Spinal Tap-ish band of aging Canadian heavy metal rockers may have you snickering at first but before you know it they win your heart over with their “never say die” determination. As I said in my original review: “Metal heads and casual movie-goers alike (which means just about everybody) ought to dig it.”

10. BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL – NEW ORLEANS (Dir. Werner Herzog) Speaking of “never say die”, Nicholas Cage re-ignites the crazy edge of his persona in this twisted and surrealistic corrupt cop crime caper while he re-ignites his “lucky crack pipe” yelling “I’ll kill all of you…to the break of dawn! To the break of dawn baby!” Read about more craziness and how this does and doesn’t relate to Abel Ferrara’s 1992 BAD LIEUTENANT here.


The ones that didn’t quite make the Top Ten grade but were still good, sometimes great flicks – click on the title for my original review.

STAR TREK (Dir. J.J. Abrams)

THE INFORMANT! (Dir. Steven Soderbergh)

ZOMBIELAND (Dir. Ruben Fleisher)

THE ROAD (Dir. John Hillcoat)

IN THE LOOP (Dir. Armando Iannucci)

A SINGLE MAN (Dir. Tom Ford)


AN EDUCATION (Dir. Lone Scherfig)

AWAY WE GO (Dir. Sam Mendes)


BIG FAN (Dir. Robert Siegel)

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER (Dir. Marc Webb)

MOON (Dir. Duncan Jones)

ABEL RAISES CAIN (Dirs. Jenny Abel & Jeff Hocket)

TWO LOVERS (Dir. James Gray)

I didn’t write reviews of these but they are also strongly recommended:

SUMMER HOURS (Dir. Olivier Assayas)

GOODBYE SOLO (Dir. Ramin Bahrani)

WORLD’S GREATEST DAD (Dir. Bobcat Goldthwait) Yep, that’s right.

More later…

Aging Struggling Metal Band Hasn’t Spinal Tapped Out

ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL (Dir. Sasha Gervasi, 2008)

A handful of rock documentaries including METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER and DiG! have been dubbed “the real life Spinal Tap” before, but this examination of who one fan calls “the demi-Gods of Canadian metal” definitely comes the closest to resembling that seminal 1984 hard rock doc satire. From the shining silver lettering of the band name to their over the top stage antics (I can totally see Nigel Tufnel playing a guitar with a dildo) to the mishandled gigs and then there’s even the drummer’s name being Robb Reiner, so we’ve definitely got a winner in the true-life Spinal Tap sweepstakes. Hell, their amps actually go to 11 and they even go to Stonehenge – not just sing about it.

The thing is, these are real guys who have struggled in the low tiers of heavy metal for years and through all the hilarity a touching pathos forms for their perseverance. Now in their 50’s, guitarist/frontman Steve “Lips” Kudlow works for a children’s catering company while Reiner does odd construction jobs between tours that are becoming less and less frequent. Lips is the de facto narrator taking us through a disastrous European tour complete with a screaming irate manager, poor attendance, and non paying promoters. A bit down, but not out, they return home to focus on making their 13th album which involves raising a hefty sum in order to secure studio time with infamous metal producer Chris Tsangarides.

They squabble during production yet are immensely proud of the disc they deliver. Trouble is, no record label wants it so they distribute it themselves. In the end, just like in THIS IS SPINAL TAP, there’s always Japan. Filmed lovingly by a former roadie (who incidentally went on to co-write the screenplay for one of Steven Spielberg’s worst movies: THE TERMINAL), ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL (love that wonderfully redundant title) isn’t just one of the best rock documentaries of the last decade, it’s one of the funniest films I’ve seen in ages – I laughed so hard that tears flowed at an 80’s clip of Anvil appearing on some afternoon “issues” TV show (think a destitute woman’s Sally Jessie Raphel) with the lyrics of an early crude song (“Toe Jam”) being soberly recited. And speaking of tears, I was surprised to see so many shed by the participants (mostly Lips and his family members) throughout this film.

It’s weird but, I actually care about this band now (honestly though, I don’t think I’ll listen to their music) and think it’s great they are on the movie map. Metal heads and casual movie-goers alike (which means just about everybody) ought to dig it. It’s a hilarious and touching movie about pursuing one’s dreams, at all costs (or none), even if they appear to be adolescent pipe dreams to a huge portion of the population. Pete Townshend once said: “Rock ‘n roll can’t solve your problems, but it can help you dance all over them.” With ANVIL! make that “fist-pump and thrash” all over them too.

More later…