Opened on October 16, 2009
Directed by Lone Scherfig
A coming-of-age story about a teenage girl in 1960s suburban London, and how her life changes with the arrival of a playboy nearly twice her age.
Why it’s on here: An Education contains one of the best performances of 2009 from the extraordinarily talented, and quite beautiful, Carey Mulligan. Not only that, but the story is meticulously crafted yet paced well enough to never bore. It’s a charming, sometimes frustrating, and occasionally comical story of a British girl getting a chance to grow up. It takes a lot to impress me with a film like this, and I can’t say it was my favorite film of last year, but it certainly was one that I haven’t forgotten. And I’ll be rooting for Carey Mulligan at the Oscars – she deserves to win for Best Actress.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Opened on April 10, 2009
Directed by Sacha Gervasi
At fourteen years old, best friends Lips and Robb Reiner made a pact to rock together forever. Their band Anvil, hailed as the “demi-gods of Canadian metal,” influenced a musical generation including Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax. Though Anvil never made it, they never stopped playing or believing.
Why it’s on here: Here’s the second-best documentary of last year. In this rags to rags story, we’re privy to the tale of Canadian metal band Anvil, toted as one of the most influential bands of its generation — and one of its least successful. Having never hit it big despite garnering a world-wide following, Anvil bandmates Robb Reiner and Lips embark on the journey of recording their 13th studio album. There wasn’t a single film last year that displayed more heart than Anvil!. While on a calamitous European tour, you’ll cry out as the band is stiffed. Again. Lips and Robb are now in their late fifties, still chasing their boyhood dreams. I’ve never wished more success for someone. Long live Anvil! (Written by Brandon Lee Tenney)
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Opened on November 20, 2009
Directed by Werner Herzog
Terence McDonagh is a drug- and gambling-addled police detective working in post-Katrina New Orleans investigating the killing of five Senegalese immigrants.
Why it’s on here: I’m sure a lot of people will be wondering why this is on here at all, but screw it, it deserves to be. There is one simple reason for that: I went to see this expecting to hate it, and walked out loving it. It’s such a crazy movie and I love seeing Nic Cage get even wackier every minute. This was the film he needed to do to let all that craziness out (and get back on track with his acting). Combine Cage with Werner Herzog, lots of drugs, Eva Mendes, and Xzibit, and this is what you get – a crazy but highly entertaining cop movie. Just make sure you go in ready to laugh your ass off, even if you think you’re not supposed to be laughing. It’ll help you enjoy it even more!
The Brothers Bloom
Opened on May 15, 2009
Directed by Rian Johnson
The Brothers Bloom are the best con men in the world, swindling millionaires with complex scenarios of lust and intrigue. Now they’ve decided to take on one last job – showing a beautiful and eccentric heiress the time of her life with a romantic adventure that takes them around the world.
Why it’s on here: From the director of Brick comes this brilliant con man comedy. It took me a few viewings to fully appreciate The Brothers Bloom, but it was one of my top 10 movies of 2009. I love the score, created by Rian Johnson’s cousin Nathan Johnson, and the three lead performances from Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, and Mark Ruffalo are fantastic as well. It’s a great con man comedy with a story that takes them all over the world. And the whole movie itself is kind of a con, too, and it will take repeat viewings to figure out, but it’s worth it. Johnson is one of my favorite directors for a reason – he knows how to make unforgettable, original movies.
Straight to DVD on October 6, 2009
Directed by Tom Shankland
A relaxing Christmas vacation turns into a terrifying fight for survival as the children begin to turn on their parents.
Why it’s on here: I’m not the biggest fan of horror, but after seeing this at Fantastic Fest last year, it instantly became one of my favorite horror movies of all-time. It’s a creepy but beautifully shot horror/thriller about some children who go crazy and kill their parents while on Christmas vacation. Sure, that’s been done a few times before, but The Children is still worth seeing because of its style. Director Tom Shankland does a great job keeping the story contained on a low budget and not going all out with effects or anything like that. Plus it’s always great to come across an indie horror movie that even I can call a personal favorite.
Opened on July 31, 2009
Directed by Louie Psihoyos
Using state-of-the-art equipment, a group of activists, led by renown dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry, infiltrate a cove near Taijii, Japan to expose both a shocking instance of animal abuse and a serious threat to human health.
Why it’s on here: This documentary from director Louie Psihoyos is, flippers down, the best of the last year. A little bit heist film, a little bit environmental outcry, and a lot of one of the most staggering, nearly unbelievable explorations of human immorality I’ve ever seen. Led by infamous, world-renown dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry, a team of activists infiltrate a small cove in Taijii, Japan in order to expose the blood-boiling truth that thousands upon thousands of dolphins are slaughtered each year without any repercussions. The film ably blends the tension and excitement of an action film with brain-swelling knowledge and an intensity that could cause the comatose to join the picket lines. See this film. Or do you hate dolphins? Come on! (Written by Brandon Lee Tenney)
In the Loop
Opened on July 24, 2009
Directed by Armando Iannucci
A foul-mouthed comedy that draws on non-specific events to create a world that is terrifyingly familiar: The US President and UK Prime Minister fancy a war, but not everyone agrees that war is a good thing.
Why it’s on here: There’s a difference between you and I. For one, I have an expanded vocabulary of curse words and insults. It’s not that I grew up any different, but simply that I’ve seen Armando Iannucci’s chest-burning comedy In the Loop. Over the course of 106-minutes, the characters (mostly Peter Capaldi) actively create countless new ways to insult each other. It is all part of a wicked political satire that is simultaneously authentic and absurd. It is also evidence that Anna Chlumsky, the star of My Girl (and My Girl 2) still has an acting career. And she’s lookin’ good. (Written by Neil Miller of FSR)
The Killing Room
Straight to DVD on October 13, 2009
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
Four individuals sign up for a psychological research study only to discover that they are now subjects of a brutal, classified government program.
Why it’s on here: This incredibly intense thriller got screwed in a straight-to-DVD release, which is unfortunate considering it’s such a great movie. The Killing Room is sort of one of those stuck-in-one-place movies about four people who think they’re going in for a research study, but we soon discover they’re in the secret CIA MK-Ultra program. Liebesman shows that he’s a very capable director with this, using nuance and emotion to pull us through the story, which does have big twists and turns this time. Even Nick Cannon does a good job starring alongside of Timothy Hutton and Shea Whigham. If you want to see a very well directed thriller, start with this, you won’t be let down.
Opened on April 8, 2009
Directed by Derick Martini
Set in the late 70’s, seen through the innocent eyes of a fifteen year old boy, Scott, Lymelife is a unique take on the dangers of the American Dream. This funny, sad, violent and sometimes tragic look at first love, family dynamics and divorce weaves an intricate tapestry of American life during a time of drastic economic and emotional change.
Why it’s on here: I first saw this at the Toronto Film Festival in late 2008 and instantly fell in love with it. I could’ve put it on here solely for all of the hilarious Star Wars references (since it’s set in late 70’s), but it’s actually a great movie as well. It’s another coming-of-age drama full of fantastic performances from brothers Rory Culkin and Kieran Culkin as well as Alec Baldwin. It’s a bit more subtle than most movies on here, but the writing is top-notch and the directing is good, too, which amounts to a movie I think most should try and seek out.
Mary and Max
Opened on September 25, 2009
Directed by Adam Elliot
A tale of friendship between two unlikely pen pals: Mary, a lonely, eight-year-old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne, and Max, a forty-four-year old, severely obese man living in New York.
Why it’s on here: While there were many great stop-motion movies last year, this is easily the most underrated and under-appreciated one, probably because it was never released theatrically. Mary and Max was the opening film of Sundance last year and I fell for it immediately. It’s a charming story of two pen pals, one a young girl in Australia, and one an old man in New York, but neither of them have any friends. The character design and style is unique and the comedy in it is hilarious. And if I didn’t tell you Philip Seymour Hoffman voices one of the characters, you would’ve never guessed. If you’re a fan of animation or stop-motion, you need to find Mary and Max and see it as soon as you can!
Opened on November 13, 2009
Directed by Oren Moverman
An American soldier struggles with an ethical dilemma when he becomes involved with a widow of a fallen officer.
Why it’s on here: The Messenger is a tough film. Centered around a US Army Staff Sergeant, played by Ben Foster, who’s assigned to the Army’s Casualty Notification service, it’s a harrowing story about the survivors left at home during war time. When Ben Foster’s character becomes involved with a woman to whom he delivered the news of her husband’s death, both sides of grief and loss are explored. Foster’s and Woody Harrelson’s performances are revelatory. It’s tone is bleak, though, and its story becomes repetitively dismal as the movie progresses. But it can not be denied that the film is able to accomplish a realistic, illuminating exploration of grief and just what it means to survive the ones you love. (Written by Brandon Lee Tenney)
Opened on July 3, 2009
Directed by Duncan Jones
Astronaut Sam Bell has a personal encounter toward the end of his three-year stint on the Moon, where he sends back to Earth parcels of a resource that has helped diminish our planet’s power problems.
Why it’s on here: By now, everyone has probably heard of Moon, but how many have seen it? If you haven’t seen it yet, make it a priority to watch it, especially if you love sci-fi. What Duncan Jones was able to achieve on a budget of $5 million is astonishing. And Sam Rockwell knocks it out of the park with his performance(s) as well (he deserves an Oscar nomination, too). And let’s not forget Clint Mansell’s wonderful score. There are some low budget sci-fi movies that just fall apart, but this is not one of those, and not only does it bring up great questions about morals and ethics, but it’s just a beautiful film as well.
Opened on August 28, 2009
Directed by Dan Eckman
A group of former Encyclopedia Brown-style child-detectives struggle to solve an adult murder mystery in their small town.
Why it’s on here: Mystery Team is the first movie by YouTube’s Derrick Comedy team and it’s hilarious. Donald Glover, D.C. Pierson, and Dominic Dierkes lead the way in this outrageous and smartly written comedy about a ragtag team of wannabe detectives who just never grew up. It’s a true shoestring-budget indie, but you’ll be impressed with the camera work as well as the writing and directing. It’s not for everyone, but if you’ve loved any of Derrick Comedy’s videos or Donald Glover’s appearances on NBC’s "Community", you’ll enjoy Mystery Team as well. And beyond that, these guys need all the support they can get, as they’re the true definition of indie filmmakers.
Pirate Radio (aka The Boat That Rocked)
Opened on November 13, 2009
Directed by Richard Curtis
A period ensemble comedy about an illegal radio station in the North Sea in the 1960’s.
Why it’s on here: Despite opening in theaters across the nation, Universal dropped the ball on the marketing campaign for Pirate Radio (better known as The Boat That Rocked in the UK), and therefore the people who should’ve seen this, never did. What I love about Richard Curtis is his ability to balance an enormous ensemble cast, and in this movie we’re talking about more than 10 different disc jockeys all stuck on one boat. And if the impressive cast (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, Rhys Ifans, Kenneth Branagh) isn’t enough to convince you, the soundtrack is one of the best I’ve ever heard. It’s a bit too long, but I had such a great time watching this movie, I couldn’t help including it on here.
Opened on November 25, 2009
Directed by John Hillcoat
A post-apocalyptic tale of a man and his son trying to survive by any means possible while walking down the Eastern seaboard.
Why it’s on here: I’m guessing this is another film that a lot of people have heard about, but I don’t know that many who actually went to see it. It’s a "beautifully bleak" adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s harrowing novel about a father and his son trying to survive in a desolate, ash-covered post-apocalyptic wasteland. It’s incredibly moving, extremely well made, and features more than a few impressive performances (from Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as well as other actors who show up later in the movie). It’s one of the best adaptations of 2009 and a movie I’m sure Brandon will be happy that I included it (he absolutely loved it).
Opened on July 31, 2009
Directed by Park Chan-wook
A failed medical experiment turns a Korean priest into a vampire.
Why it’s on here: Although I prefer Bong Joon-ho’s Mother over Thirst, that film isn’t out until this year. I first saw Thirst at Cannes last summer and it was later released theatrically in July. It’s not better than his Vengeance Trilogy, but seeing Park Chan-wook take on the vampire genre in a way you’ve never seen before is certainly enough of a reason to include it on here. It’s got a great performance by Korean actor Song Kang-ho (who starred in The Host) as well as Korean actress Kim Ok-bin. And yes, in typical Park Chan-wook fashion, it gets crazier than you could’ve ever imagined in the third act. But don’t watch this if you can’t handle blood.
A Town Called Panic
Opened on December 16, 2009
Directed by Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar
Cowboy and Indian’s plan to surprise Horse with a homemade birthday gift backfires when they destroy his house instead. Surreal adventures take over as the trio travel to the center of the earth, trek across frozen tundra and discover a parallel underwater universe where pointy-headed (and dishonest!) creatures live.
Why it’s on here: If anyone is looking for the most off-the-wall, unique, and entertaining movie to watch from this list, this is it. A Town Called Panic, known as Panique au Village, is a Belgian stop-motion animation comedy using figurines (watch the trailer). You may think it’s for kids at first, but I can assure that it’s definitely not for kids, and even if it is, I was laughing more watching this than I was any other kids movie released by Hollywood in 2009. As wacky as Bad Lieutenant is, I think this movie is even wackier. If mushrooms are your thing, you wouldn’t even have to take them and you’d still trip while watching this. It’s so ridiculously fun and everyone else I know that has seen has loved it, too.
Women in Trouble
Opened on November 13, 2009
Directed by Sebastian Gutierrez
A serpentine day in the life of ten seemingly disparate women: a porn star, a flight attendant, a psychiatrist, a masseuse, a bartender, a pair of call girls, etc. All of them with one crucial thing in common: trouble.
Why it’s on here: It’s rare to see a movie so honest, that it would include several lovely ladies (the likes of Emmanuelle Chriqui and Adrianne Palicki) running around in their underwear. In all seriousness, Women in Trouble is an honest look at the experiences of several women. Their situations are heightened, laden with comedy, and rife with sex. And it all works in the movie’s favor. We always talk about wanting comedy with depth above gag, charm above quirk. This is that movie. It also has hot women in their underwear. (Written by Neil Miller of FSR)
World’s Greatest Dad
Opened on August 21, 2009
Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait
A comedy about a man who learns that the things you want most may not be the things that make you happy, and that being lonely is not necessarily the same as being alone.
Why it’s on here: This is officially the 11th Sundance movie I have on here, but it deserves this final spot. World’s Greatest Dad is one of the darkest comedies you’ll ever see, but it’s still damn good, and that’s why it’s on here. It’s rare that films like this with absurd concepts even get made and it’s worth seeing just to appreciate that someone out there funded this. It may not hold up as well on repeat viewings, but if you’ve never seen it, you’re in for a treat watching it for your first time. Best of all, it’s probably Robin Williams best performance in the last 10 years.