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…

BLACK DYNAMITE: The Film Babble Blog Review

BLACK DYNAMITE (Dir. Scott Sanders, 2009)

There have been blaxploitation parodies before, and also many stylistic throwbacks to 70’s cinema, but nothing like this that looks and feels so much like the original artifact that many will mistake it for the real thing. Authenticity is enhanced throughout with grainy saturated film stock, split screen dynamics, and many funk musical cues (every time our smooth hero walks into a room or shows up suddenly his name is sexily sung by a chorus of female soul singers).

That name is “Black Dynamite” (Michael Jai White who also co-wrote with director Sanders) – a Vietnam vet, Martial arts master, and former member of the CIA who’s “badder than SHAFT, SUPER FLY, and THE MACK put together” just as the trailer promised.

The mysterious death of Black Dynamite’s brother leads him into the underbelly of 1972 Los Angeles, where the ghettos are overrun with smack and Anaconda Malt Liquor, and “The Man” is in control. CIA Agent O’Leary (Kevin Chapman) tells the vengeance fueled fighter : “We heard about your brother’s death and we don’t want you running around turning the streets into rivers of blood.” Black Dynamite responds: “Then tell me who did it and I’ll just leave a puddle!” We know, of course, that just a puddle is out of the question; we’ll know him well by the trail of the dead well before the end of this motion picture. It doesn’t stop there though, in the form of cheap ass animation he even beats up, and it some instances blows up, many of the end credits.

To say anymore about the plot, especially to reveal the severe side effect of Anaconda Malt Liquor or who turns out to be the evil mastermind, would be to spoil the fun, and there’s a lot of fun here, so I’ll leave it at that. I laughed more during this movie than any other film this year. It’s a hilarious homage instead of a savage satire but its dead-on attention to detail never lets up and neither do the non-stop laughs.

The amusing aesthetics of actors’ eyes darting to off screen cue cards, visible boom mikes dropping too low into the shot, and not quite timed right edits are much more effective than the fake scratches and bogus missing reels of the more expensive retro exercise GRINDHOUSE, with the mixing in of period footage effectively matching the newly made material. I think we see the same shot of a car driving of a cliff twice but it really doesn’t matter, or it matters absolutely, in the fast pace free for all flow.

There are few familiar faces in BLACK DYNAMITE, but Arsenio Hall, Tommy Davison, Richard Edson, Nicole Sullivan, and Mike Starr all stand out in gloriously stereotyped roles. With its tons of quotable lines, scores of explosive action set pieces, and more jokes per minute than a dozen of current commercial comedies, this has cult film written all over it. That would be nice for the its future, but the film is in limited release right now so it’d be nicer if it got the packed houses it deserves much sooner. The genre may be mostly forgotten by all but die-hard fans and film buffs, but this hysterical yet sturdy tribute brings blaxploitation back with riotous results and should not be missed.

More later…