My best and worst films of 2009

Most organisations and blogging outlets appear to be compiling bumper fun lists detailing the best films, games, songs, photos, deaths etc. from the entire decade. This strikes me as a bit of an unlikely goal; I struggle to narrow these things down to the best whatever of the last five minutes myself. Nevertheless, here’s my attempt at listing my best and worst films of 2009, in no particular order of preference and with little attempt to round to the nearest ten.

I’ll no doubt spend the next few weeks remembering other films I wanted to put in this list, but here we go anyway:


While some found Watchmen to be impenetrable, ponderous and a shocking deviation from their much-loved graphic novel of the same name, I’d put it up with The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2. Not only did Snyder manage to boil away the novel’s contents to a reasonably tight core, he managed to deliver some of my favourite screen moments, chiefly the montage introduction and the history of Dr. Manhattan. The recently-released director’s cut of the film adds some fan-pleasing padding but the theatrical cut is still the one for me.
Trailer for Watchmen

Inglourious Basterds

Possibly this makes the list due to it being a pleasant surprise; Basterds for me was an incredible film. Thoughtful dialogue, beautifully shot and introducing some new talent, this is Tarantino’s best in a long time. I hope he can keep it up and not descend back into Death Proof self-indulgences.
Trailer for Inglourious Basterds
My review of Inglourious Basterds


My absolute film of the year. While James Cameron is pratting around spending the GDP of a small African nation on rendering some pretty videogame cutscenes, Duncan Jones shows that pure SF can be delivered on a shoestring budget if you just have good characters and story.
Trailer for Moon
My review of Moon

The White Ribbon

Michael Haneke possibly explains the rise of Facism in Germany with an artful murder mystery set in a pre-WWI German village. Dripping in tension and style yet 90% of the film is uneventful. I sat for the duration not sure why I was enjoying myself then thought long and hard about the film for days afterwards.
Trailer for The White Ribbon

Il divo

A labyrinthine exploration of Italian politician Giulio Andreotti. Stunning to watch and comes with an operatic score by Teho Teardo, it’s a complicated film that demands multiple viewings (it even begins with a glossary).
Trailer for Il divo

sleep furiously

A real Sunday morning film. A documentary about a village in rural Wales. That’s all. It’s perfect.
Trailer for sleep furiously

Encounters at the End of the World

Werner Herzog visits Antarctica and makes me want to join him. In the future when all of that shit is a tropical reef, this will make for good reference material.
Trailer for Encounters at the End of the World


Jean Claude Van Damme’s triumphant return as himself caught up in the midst of a robbery. To everyone’s surprise, JCVD turned out to be funny, poignant and probably Van Damme’s finest work yet, though admittedly it’s not up against much competition. A better compliment would be to say that it’s one of the finest films of 2009, which it is, and not even ironically.
Trailer for JCVD

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

A French James Bond spoof set in the ’30s and filmed to look as if it was shot in the ’60s, with great success. Genuinely funny stuff and a nice contrast to all the po-faced grittiness coming from the Bond/Bourne camps.
Trailer for OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

Synecdoche, New York

One of the most depressing films I’ve ever seen. Kaufman ruminates on life, death, ageing and decay, and the artist’s inability to accurately portray it all. I saw this after having had my first filling, which focussed my mind somewhat.
Trailer for Synecdoche, New York

Lars and the Real Girl

Another surprise for me, as I was expecting a comedy but ended by being as swept up in Lars’ imaginary girlfriend as the rest of the town. Funny in places but mosty just very sad, it’s the first film since Mannequin to make me care about a life-size plastic model.
Trailer for Lars and the Real Girl

And now for the worst…

The Wrestler

This had critics and cinemagoers all in a tizzy but when it came to it, I just couldn’t give a shit. It’s wrestling! It’s wearing silly lycra costumes and faking fights for leering idiots with foam hands and checked shirts. I just can’t care about someone who’s so into wrestling that he’s going to do it even if it risks death. The whole thing’s ridiculous. It’s like trying to show the art and poetry and beauty of a cheese-rolling contest.


A light-hearted and affectionate look at the life of the idiotic, warmongering, lying, cretinous George W. Bush? No thanks. Think it’s a bit soon.

Broken Embraces

After nothing — literally nothing — had happened in the first 45 minutes I walked out, deciding I couldn’t take another 90 minutes of this. The remaining time could have been filled with nothing but Penelope Cruz in naked lesbian hijinks but by that point I couldn’t care less.


This one lost me when they dumped the newly-blind into a quarantined facility and expected them to cope for themselves with phones, food, etc. I couldn’t get past this. Doctors and nurses in the real world get close to contagious patients all the time, so why should this be any different? I can’t watch a film if I find it unbelievable, so this remained unfinished.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Sadly another train wreck from Gilliam though probably not helped by the death of Heath Ledger. Clunky improvised dialogue, a nonsensical story and the dubious acting talents of Lily Cole all helped to hammer the nails in.

The Reader

A real bit of Oscar-bait and not even helped by Kate Winslet appearing naked for the first 40 minutes or so, I couldn’t work out what we were supposed to be feeling about anyone in this film. She’s a cold-blooded SS guard who let Jewish prisoners burn to death in a locked church and tries to defend her actions; I’m afraid I find it a little tricky to care that she ends up learning to read while in prison. I mean, well done you and all, but you’re still a murdering Nazi, aren’t you?

By Paul Haine, in