Despite seeing a ton of films, finding top 10 was tough

By Milan Paurich

What can you say about a movie year in which the top-grosser (“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”) was also the year’s biggest stinker? That critics are even more irrelevant than ever? That mainstream audiences have become gluttons for punishment?

I saw more films this year than ever before (527 at last count), but still had trouble finding 10 worthy of a slot on my top-10 list. If 2009 wasn’t the worst year for movies this decade, it sure felt that way.

Accordingly, I had to scramble just to fill slots 6-10. Not that the titles that wound up making the final cut are inferior or somehow inadequate. It’s just that there weren’t enough of them to go around. In other words, without the deluge of quality last-minute arrivals such as “Up in the Air,” “A Single Man,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and yes, “Avatar,” I might not have had a 10-best list at all.


1. “Up.” The pinnacle of Pixar artistry/imagination, and a humanist masterpiece for the ages.

2. “Up in the Air.” A true zeitgeist film that speaks directly to how we live now, how we got here and where we’re headed. It’s also that increasing cinematic rarity: a major studio film that’s unapologetically and mistakably grown-up. Thank you, Paramount, Jason Reitman and George Clooney.

3. “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” “Fantastic” doesn’t begin to describe Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated marvel which also features the year’s best ensemble cast (Clooney again, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Michael Gambon, et al).

4. “Where the Wild Things Are.” Spike Jonze not only captured the look of Maurice Sendak’s kid-lit perennial; he captured its soul as well.

5. “A Single Man.” Fashion maven Tom Ford’s stunningly accomplished directorial debut hearkens back to ’90s Queer Cinema classics such as Todd Haynes’ “Poison” and Tom Kalin’s “Swoon.” A masterful blend of drop-dead style and great, tender feeling.

6. “Summer Hours.” The latest cinematic treasure from France’s greatest (and most chameleonic) working director, Olivier Assayas.

7. “Avatar.” James Cameron regained his “King of the World” cred with the most eye-popping, knock-your-socks-off Hollywood super-spectacular since, well, “Titanic.”

8. “The Box.” This undeservedly snubbed chiller was another mindblowing chef d’oeuvre from Richard (“Donnie Darko”) Kelly, the most exciting new American filmmaker to emerge this decade.

9. “Every Little Step.” This exhilarating “making-of-‘A-Chorus-Line’” doc was one singular sensation indeed.

10. “Tetro.” Francis Ford Coppola’s follow-up to his virtually unwatchable 2007 farrago “Youth Without Youth” was the 70-year-old maestro’s finest work in almost two decades. Directing his first original screenplay since “The Conversation,” Coppola’s self-contained film festival was both loving homage to the heady days of the Nouvelle Vogue and a glorious throwback to the sort of tempestuous melodramas Hollywood made back in the 1950s.

Runners-up (in no particular order): “The Class”; “A Serious Man”; “Funny People”; “The Hurt Locker”; “Me and Orson Welles”; “Broken Embraces”; “The White Ribbon”; “Police, Adjective”; “Inglourious Basterds”; “Away We Go”; “Somers Town”; “Of Time and the City”; “Antichrist”; “The Beaches of Agnes”; “Observe and Report”; “Precious — Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”; “Bright Star”; “Invictus”; “The Limits of Control”; “Gomorrah”; “Everlasting Moments”; “Still Walking”; “24 City”; “Ricky”; “The Headless Woman”; “Bruno”; “35 Shots of Rum”; “Thirst”; “Whip It”; “The Young Victoria.”


1. “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” Nearly as sickeningly indulgent and morally reprehensible as Michael Bay’s last putrid sequel, “Bad Boys 2.” Notice I said, “nearly.” Be thankful for small favors, boys and girls.

2. “The Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day.” If a not-terribly bright, sexually confused 13-year-old boy who had seen “Pulp Fiction” too many times wrote and directed a movie, this might be the result.

3. “Old Dogs.” Makes the previous Walt Becker/John Travolta collaboration (2007’s ho-hum “Wild Hogs”) seem like vintage (Preston) Sturges or (Billy) Wilder by comparison.

4. “Gamer.” Even more cringe — and migraine— inducing than co-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s other 2009 film, “Crank 2: High Voltage.” Starring the currently ubiquitous (and well-nigh insufferable) Gerard Butler.

5. “Planet 51.” There were a lot of great animated films this year (see above), as well as plenty of bottom-feeders. This el-cheapo Sony throwaway was the worst of the lot.

6. “The Ugly Truth.” I know that (romantic) comedy doesn’t have to be pretty, but does it have to be so butt-“Ugly”?

7. “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done.” Ostriches, midgets and a sinister bowl of Jell-O figure prominently in this whatzit? collaboration between (director) Werner Herzog and (producer) David Lynch. A career low for both veteran auteurs.

8. “The Brothers Bloom.” Writer-director Rain Johnson followed his superb 2005 high school noir “Brick” with a failed Wes Anderson homage that repeatedly hit the same note of arch whimsy. Even with its top-tier cast (including Mark Ruffalo and Oscar winners Adrien Brody and Rachel Weisz), this smarmy grifter farce failed on nearly every possible level.

9. “Paranormal Activity.” The Emperor’s New Clothes of horror flicks, this internet-driven phenom was akin to watching paint dry for 90 minutes. I guess P.T. Barnum was right.

10. “The Hangover.” The most mean-spirited, thoroughly unpleasant comedy of the year was also one of its biggest hits. You know that a movie’s in trouble when the most likable character is “Mike Tyson” (played by, er, Mike Tyson).


With the terrible ’00s drawing to a close, it’s also time to reflect upon the decade’s most enduring cinematic achievements. In the spirit of closure, here’s how things stacked up for one inveterate cinephile who spent much of the past 10 years furiously scribbling notes in the sacred darkness of a movie theater.

Top 10 of the Decade (Plus One):

1. “Donnie Darko”

2. “In the Mood for Love”; “2046”

3. “The New World”

4. “A.I. Artificial Intelligence”

5. “There Will be Blood”

6. “Zodiac”

7. “Y Tu Mama Tambien”

8. I’m Not There”

9. “Mysterious Skin”

10. “The Aviator.”

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.