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Hour's 20 best films of 2009: Film fortunes found

Film fortunes found

Jacques Audiard goes inside French prison walls in Un prophète

Hour's Top 20 movies of 2009, from small wonders to surprising blockbusters, beat the recession blues

As I write this, it’s the official beginning of awards season: The Golden Globe nominations were announced about 20 minutes ago, at 5 a.m. PST in Los Angeles. Not that this means anything, because certainly the Hollywood Foreign Press Association list that has been presented is merely a shadow version of what 2009 was actually like in film (and let’s not even mention that their awards span both "achievements in film and television," except that I just did).

But it was a very good year, really, despite gloomy prognoses about how the economy would adversely affect filmmaking in Hollywood, in our Canadian cinematic landscape and in film around the world. All the scowling doesn’t seem to have paid off: An actual perusal of the list of what we got this year shows us that necessity, or adversity maybe, can well be the mother of invention.

Even when I can narrow down a list of what I liked, or even loved, in a given year, I certainly cannot (will not) put them in a numbered list, let alone a top 10 list. The film distribution calendar is a certain kind of chaos, and I’m certainly not the one to make order out of it.

However, what I can say is this: If you’re making your way out to the cineplex on Christmas Day or if it’s snowing like crazy and you’d rather curl up with a stack of DVDs, you won’t go wrong with the following films:

Top 10 Independent Movies

District 9 (Neill Blomkamp) "Prawns" are people too in this ingenious and inventive low-budget alien joint directed by a first-timer and former Montrealer.

Good Hair (Chris Rock) One of he best docs I’ve ever seen on a subject downright mysterious to many white folks. Seriously, what can’t Rock do?

Les Beaux gosses (Riad Sattouf) If you missed it at the FCM and in a limited run here in Montreal, catch it on DVD – one of the funniest coming-of-age films ever, from French comedy’s enfant terrible.

Dédé, à travers les brumes (Jean-Philippe Duval) A part of Quebec rock history, sensitively recreated.

Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt) A quiet film about a girl and her dog, it speaks volumes.

Polytechnique (Denis Villeneuve) Required viewing for all, not only Montrealers.

Un prophète (Jacques Audiard) This tale of a North African streetpunk-turned-jailbird, turned-crime-kingpin, turned-grownup was a long, worthwhile haul at the festivals – opens here in February.

H2Oil (Shannon Walsh) Hometown takedown of the Alberta oil sands, or at least, the beginning of an uprising.

Sugar (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck) This interesting fictional biopic of a Dominican baseball player in the U.S. farm teams barely registered at the box office but isn’t to be missed.

Two Lovers (James Gray) This strange, affecting little love story starring unlikely Joaquin and Gwyneth was an unexpected triumph, IMHO.

Top 10 Studio Movies

We all likely know everything we need to know about all of these highly watchable big-money ventures:

Up in the Air

Sherlock Holmes

The Hangover

Where the Wild Things Are


Fantastic Mr. Fox

Star Trek

Inglourious Basterds


Gran Torino

Now make your own lists, and feel free to post ‘em.

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  • by Pedro Eggers - December 19, 2009, 7:42 pm

    I’m going to say something that’s as close to blasphemous as can be imagined but it is nevertheless the truth–Denis Villeneuve’s Polytechnique is as overrated as Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. There I said it. Just because you document a horrific event as righteous art does not make it a good film. I can at least say that there was some manipulative macabre artistry to Spielberg’s Schindler’s List but Denis Villeneuve’s Polytechnique was a detached effort designed to play on our collective sense of sorrow and injustice over the infamous massacre. It was a good movie from a technical aspect but as an emotional experience it little more than pumped up doc with actors. Sorry but strictly speaking, if you’re going to list off great movies of 2009 this one just doesn’t make the cut. Simply being considered an important and timely movie doesn’t make you the best.

  • by Martin Rioux - December 20, 2009, 4:48 pm

    While i agree with most of your movie on both list, i’ve got a few problem with our Top 10 independant film list, espicially with the fact that District 5 is on it. Personally i hated this movie and i thought i was real waste of time. The only thing redeeming about this movie was the performance of the lead actor but outside of that, this was a very boring movie.

    Having said that here my list for best of the year

    Top 10 Independent Movies

    Dédé, à travers les brumes: Dédé was one one the most popular singer in quebec history and this movie does him justice, a must see

    Polytechnique: This should be seen by everybody around the world.

    Sugar: one of the most uplifting movie of the year and just great performance

    Wendy and Lucy: pretty much what you expect from this type of movie but still a good movie to watch

    Paranormal Activity: For me this was the best horror movie of the year, while a little bit on the slow side at the beginning it pick up the intensitive as the movie goes along and the ending is really scary, it hauted me for a couple of days.

    Michael Jackson’s This is it: Has a fan, i thought this was a best way to remember him, if your are a fan, this is the movie you want to watch.

    Leslie, My Name is evil: Saw this at The festival du nouveau cinema so it probably won’T get release still if it’s release on DVD, rent this, it’s a real funny movie

    500 days of summer: Best romantic comedy of the year

    Sans Dessein: Saw this at Fantasia and i thought it was hilarious, i really hope it gets a DVD release so that more people can see it.

    One Week: Just a plain uplifting movie and you will never see your life the same way after watching this movie

    Top 10 studio films

    Like you said everybody know what these movies are all about so him just going to list them in no particular order

    The Hangover

    Star Trek

    Inglourious Basterds



    The Brothers Blooms


    The Soloist


    The Blind Side

  • by Reuven De Souza - December 22, 2009, 5:38 pm

    Looking over the list of list of Hollywood studio films that were included in the list of the best of the year was astonishing to me. Unfortunately, not in a good way. Some, were on the money like Gran Torino which was unappreciated, Adventureland which was a modern day John Hughes’ film, Watchmen- if only for its sheer temerity- or Inglourious Basterds which was a gloriously inelegant pastiche of crude war (revenge) films.
    The Hangover was fun but certainly not a well made film with its merely competent direction. Star Trek was fun… but as one of the best of the year?WTF? Where The Wild Things Are was an emotionally retarded film from the arrested developmentally challenged mind of Spike Jonze. ( The film was crock of…something…)
    This was, in my opinion, simply not a very good year for films. The list is proof of this fact.

  • by Mark St Pierre - December 23, 2009, 6:50 pm

    Well, unlike you privileged movie critic types, I have to wait until “Sherlock Holmes” opens to the public before either assessing or assailing it. As for the rest of the flicks on the list, the only really contentious one for me would be “Where the Wild Things Are”. While I’ve always been a huge fan of Spike Jonze’s non-linear story-telling arcs, his adaptation of the classic Maurice Sendak children’s story left me cold – dark, brooding, aimless and devoid of Jonze’s unique sense of whimsy. Sure some of the cinematography was breathtaking and the larger than life, non CGI muppet monsters were pretty cool but everything else kind of fell flat for me. And also somewhat (pleasantly) surprised that “Avatar” isn’t on your list owing to the early glowing reviews that I’ve read. Mind you, not being super-partial to digi-animation and CGI, I’m admittedly somewhat biased (and not favorably either) when any mention of this, Cameron’s technological tour-de-force is mentioned. As for the rest of the flicks, as far as I can tell, they all seem pretty bang-on!

  • by David St Pierre - January 2, 2010, 4:12 pm

    No major surprises on the Best Of lists, notwithstanding my own deep aversion towards Where the Wild Things Are which would actually top my Worst Of 2009 list. I was also actually pleasently taken aback by Avatar. While I typically revile CGI and digi-animation with an almost Scrooge-ian disdain (case in point, Carey’s A Christmas Carol), I have to hand it to James Cameron for his seamless symbiosis between CGI and live-action. And, if that wasn’t enough, the 3-D effects are also nothing short of spell-binding. My only (minor) qualm was the movie’s length – at just under 3 hours, I found myself getting a little bit fidgety towards the end but wee quibbles aside, I still find myself looking forward to what promises to be one of the best films of 2011 or maybe 2012 – Avatar 2!!!

  • by Vicky Parisella - January 3, 2010, 9:30 am

    My choice for the the Best movies that I have seen for Year 2009:

    1- Up in the Air My Oscar pick for Best Picture and Best actor: This realistic down
    to earth story soars HIGH! George Clooney with one of his best
    performances yet. A sure winner!

    2- Precious A winner! for best supporting actress–MoNique and great acting for
    newcomer,Precious,as lead actress portraying a teenager’s hell on
    earth life!

    3- Up A story line plus message–Visually;eye-popping computer animation
    terrific; a winner in animation this year–
    not too far behind is
    Fantastic Mr. Fox–stop-motion animation-timelesss!

    4- Avatar A simple so-so script but Visually: special effects and computer
    computer technology–Top-notched
    likewise for the movie 2012

    5- The Hurt Locker A Must -see:effects of war–

    6- Brothers A thought-provoking story with great acting from two main leads
    Oscar buzz for Tobey McGuire–his best acting,so far

    7- Invictus Clint Eastwood never disappoints: Morgan Freeman–for Best Actor

    8- Sherlock Holmes First-rate production with Guy Ritchie’s interpretation of the
    legendary Sherlock Holmes. Oscar buzz for Robert Downing Jr.

    9- Inglorious Bastards a winner!

    10- Julia,Julie
    It’s Complicated Interpretation of roles by Meryl Streep–Oscar nomination-she is
    able to transform herself in many different roles -Excellent

  • by George Kozera - January 21, 2010, 5:57 pm

    That an English language newspaper picks “Dede” as one of the year’s best is an INSULT to anglophones that never got a chance to see this movie (on screen or on the deluxe 2 disc DVD) with ENGLISH subtitles.

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