My 20 Favorite Films of 2009 (so far)

This is one of the finest years at the movies that I’ve experienced this decade, as the years prior left me underwhelmed. I can only surmise that fewer than five films that I mentioned in my “decade” posting last week will become classics. Last year, there were no movies that stood out to me as extraordinary other than a film actually released in 2007 but not nominated until 2008, The Lives of Others. This year, it was difficult to stop the list at 20, and a few are bound to become classics. I’m not sure if there is a correlation, but Hollywood box office returns were dramatically increased this year — in the midst of the Great Recession. This weekend was the biggest box office weekend on record, with over $218 million in tickets sold. Perhaps theater attendance is indicative of a country that needs an excuse to escape from its economic woes, but I think the reasons go much deeper.

This year’s films seemed to return to the three-act formula that our brains are tuned to love, and there was a greater emphasis on character development than in recent years where action was the hallmark of the films that did well at the box office. I sense that amidst economic difficulty and social alienation, we are longing for depth, meaning and community. It is not lost on me that theater attendance was up while DVD sales were down. While perhaps not conscious of it, I surmise that movie viewers are returning to theaters because they desire to be with others — and they are coming to see that there is something more deeply satisfying about sharing a film in the presence of others than to watch it alone at home. I hope the trend continues.

Now on to my favorite films of 2009, of those I’ve seen so far, along with their Netflix URL if you would like to add them to your queue:

1. Inglourious Basterds

2. Hurt Locker

3. Up

4. Up in the Air

5. A Serious Man

6. Precious

7. Sin Nombre

8. An Education

9. Invictus

10. I Love You, Man

Honorable Mention Goes To: Avatar, District 9, Zombieland and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Technically, they are superb films. I am not a science fiction person generally, and I was bored by Mr. Fox.

I also did not include documentaries in the list above because they are my preferred genre of film, and therefore I can’t limit my choice to one or two among so many fine documentaries this year. I’m thrilled that documentaries are now mainstream film and often make their way into mainstream movie theaters. I can only hope this continues because I believe in the power of documentaries to move us to action to change society and the world.


1. Every Little Step

2. The Trials of Ted Haggard (HBO)

3. Food, Inc.

4. The September Issue

5. Valentino: The Last Emperor

6. The Class

7. Outrage

8. The Cove

9. Man on Wire

10. Tie:Lord, Save Us From Your Followers and As We Forgive

Critics loved these but they are still on my Netflix list: Coraline, Coco Before Chanel, What’s the Matter with Kansas, Anvil, Beaches of Agnes, Of Time and the City, The Princess and the Frog and A Christmas Carol.

The Films That Everyone Loved That I Disliked: The Hangover and The Blind Side. Taste, people!

The Film You Haven’t Heard of But Should See: White Ribbon

The Film That Made Me Happy and Want to Dance: Every Little Step

The Film That Made Me Cry: Up

The Film That Made Me Angry: The Cove

My Favorite Film of the Year: Inglourious Basterds

My Oscar Pick for Best Film: The Hurt Locker

2 Responses to “My 20 Favorite Films of 2009 (so far)”
  1. Joshua says:

    They turned What’s the Matter with Kansas into a documentary? I read the book a couple years ago.

  2. toddbouldin says:

    Yes, Joshua, it has been made into a documentary. Unfortunately, it did not receive much distribution.

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