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Top Ten

The Year in Movies


Top Ten 2009

The Year in News Our mayor was indicted and convicted of embezzlement this year. We learned just how deeply a violen... | By Edward Ericson Jr., Van Smith, and Erin Sullivan

The Year in Movies No, you're not hallucinating. Revanche, an Austrian crime flick that starts off in somewhat grim qu...

The Year in Television Raise your hand if you still have cable. As in, that overpriced digital teat that pipes into your h...

The Year in Music We do this because, between the 15 or so of us, we listen to a lot of music, we think a lot about m...

The Year in Local Music The thing that unites Baltimore music is Baltimore the city, a geographic place with a good number ...

The Year in Books No idea why there's such a strong turnout of speculative/sci-fi-ish titles in this year's Top 10. P...

The Year on Stage Local stage talent might be the last untapped well of local greatness. Local music is already an an...

The Year in Visual Art The past 12 months really delivered a blow to the arts--you know, the stuff and ideas that comes fr...

The Year in DVDs 1) Deadly Sweet (Cult Epics) Italian writer/director Tinto Brass' loose 1967 adaptation of a Serg... | By Lee Gardner and Bret McCabe

The Year In Tracks . . . just in the case the album really is dead. | By Michael Byrne and Lee Gardner

Posted 12/9/2009

No, you're not hallucinating. Revanche, an Austrian crime flick that starts off in somewhat grim quarters and only ventures further into the dark from there, claims the year-end top spot in a poll of City Paper's contributing critics. And while the surprise of Revanche earning that spot is--speaking personally, of course--only modestly tarnished by Wes Anderson's latest foray into adult adolescence sneaking into it as well, the thematic gulf between director Götz Spielmann's Vienna underworld and the animated imagination of Fantastic Mr. Fox only spotlights the reality of moviegoing in 2009. Nothing really dominated the box office, the geek squad, the chick-flick niche, or the film snob set, and even the big-ticket, mass-market summer blockbusters--such as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen--didn't earn nearly the box-office numbers or critical adoration of 2008's The Dark Knight and WALL-E.

And that's actually good for moviegoers, because instead of a few titles getting all the love, 2009 featured a wide variety of things to see. A total of 69 movies were voted for by City Paper's 10 contributing critics--G. Brain Davis, Lee Gardner, Eric Allen Hatch, Geoffrey Himes, Martin L. Johnson, Joe MacLeod, Bret McCabe, Brandon Soderberg, Joe Tropea, Wendy Ward--and that range of taste is echoed in this year's favorites. Tilda Swinton delivered what may be the decade's ballsiest performance in Erick Zonca's Julia, Lars von Trier laid down yet another visual gauntlet in Antichrist, and even Quentin Tarantino managed to climb out of his own navel for a bit and do something a little different from his norm. And those movies didn't even make it into the below Top 10.

1 Revanche (Götz Spielmann, Austria)

The movies coming out of Austria lately serve as an anti-tourism campaign of sorts: apparently this nation's bustling urban centers and remote rural areas are equally--and routinely--afflicted by random outbursts of horrific violence and life-mangling depravity, endurable only from the distance cinema provides. With Revanche, director Götz Spielmann joins fellow countrymen Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl as world-class talents taking an unflinching look at the dark shadows of human behavior. Its story of an obsessive quest for revenge handles a dramatic shift in setting as well as any movie since Fatih Akin's Head-On; and, as with Spielmann's also-excellent Antares, the brutal notes are never forced, but struck only when honesty requires them. (Eric Allen Hatch)

2 Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone, Italy)

Sinners in the hands of an angry director. Eurotrash beats apathetically pound over scenes of sitting around and shooting all the same--and no self-justified, too-tan character is spared director Matteo Garrone's scorched-earth disdain. Not the "just doing my job" money collector, the knuckleheads who think this crime shit's like Scarface, or the guys in charge, stomachs spilling over too-tight DIESEL jeans. Even those far from Naples aren't absolved when the web of corruption stretches to Oscar night couture and Camorra cartel investments in rebuilding the World Trade Center. Gomorrah's biblical pun title is more than earned. (Brandon Soderberg)

3 Star Trek (J.J. Abrams, United States)

Maybe this is the last time a science-fiction movie rakes in this much dough until the whole emo-vampire thing blows over, but box-office aside, the "reboot" idea really worked on this corny, creaky-old-movie franchise, sucking us into a story about a young man who has a such a serious problem with authority he has to leave the planet. This flick was far from perfect (Eric Bana can't catch a break onscreen in anything comic-book or sci-fi related), but it delivered overwhelmingly on visual design, direction, and rejuvenated pre-loaded iconic characters we want to see fly around space boldly getting into adventures and shit. (Joe MacLeod)

4 District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, South Africa)

District 9 begins as a sci-fi flick of alien invasion, morphs into a vampire fable of infected blood, and climaxes as a blow-'em-up action picture. In all three phases, the movie not only transcends its genre conventions, but actually uses those conventions as a way to speak more clearly about class and race than any picture this year. By presenting the aliens, whose broken-down spaceship hovers over Johannesburg, as bipedal crustaceans, director Neill Blomkamp pushes the buttons on our own prejudices and later forces us to swallow them with all their bitter aftertaste. The antidote for that bitterness is the comic figure of Wikus van de Merwe, a mealy-mouthed South African bureaucrat with good intentions and a bad habit of damaging everything he touches. (Geoffrey Himes)

5 The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, United States)

Unexploded bomb disposal is a subject loaded with Hollywood cliches, but director Kathryn Bigelow avoids them all and pushes our blood pressure through the top of our skull as we steel ourselves for the inevitable, following a three-man improvised-explosive-device-disarming unit in present-day Iraq. There's no hand-wringing over the larger issues or getting lost in giant explosion fireballs. It's more about how boring and routine, then suddenly no-God-random terrifying it all can be for those who want to be all that they can be, especially if they're good at their jobs. (JM)

6 Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, United States)

Directed by a lesser talent, Wendy and Lucy would have been an indie shaggy-dog story. But for the second time, Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy) has turned a short story by Oregon chronicler Jon Raymond into a meditation on the relationships formed by lonely people. Reversing the narrative of Vittorio De Sica's Umberto D., Wendy (Michelle Williams) leaves her hometown to go to Alaska for work, but loses her dog Lucy on the way. Like Umberto D., Wendy ends on an ambiguous note, sounding uncertainty and comfort at the same time. (Martin L. Johnson)

7 The September Issue (R.J. Cutler, United States)

You may not care about Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour, and you can bet that $4.99 cover price she doesn't give a shit about you even more. But she cares deeply for her fashion tomb and lords her ultimate power over every detail. Documentarian R.J. Cutler aims his camera at her editorial decisions and the creative input--by the likes of the great Grace Coddington--it takes to put together the largest September issue in the mag's history and, as a surprising outcome, captures a snapshot of a 2007 economy that could support such a print endeavor. Publishing has since lost Bon Appetit and Domino, but it's not the excess of Wintour's universe that's on parade here but the candid moments between a model and a fruit tart, Wintour and her daughter, and photographer Mario Testino and his balls to deny Wintour the specific shot she wants that bring this fashion porn to life. (Wendy Ward)

8 The Hangover (Todd Phillips, United States)

The funniest movie of the year because of the dynamics between bearded goofinopolous Zach Galifianakis, handsome part-asshole part-sweetheart Bradley Cooper, and nervous Nelly a-dentist-is-a-doctor Ed Helms with bits by groom-to-be cutie Justin Bartha on their lost Las Vegas weekend. Favorite scene: morning after poolside when someone mentions Jaeger and Helms almost voms, Galifianakis simulates a baby beating off and asks Cooper if he is OK after Cooper discovers the hospital bracelet around his wrist. Favorite guest star: Mike Tyson, in both "mad" and "buddy" moments. Favorite doing what she does best: Heather Graham as a sunny "dancer." Favorite homage: Rain Man, natch. Favorite peen: Ken Jeong's. (WW)

9 A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen, United States)

It walks and talks like just another Coen Brothers comedy--the outlandish characters, the deadpan gags, the non-sequitur obsessions (ears, Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love")--but this revisiting of the Book of Job via tremulous Midwestern Jewish physics professor Larry Gopnik (the astonishing Michael Stuhlbarg) is both their funniest movie in years and their most slyly profound. The lavishly affectionate/mocking depiction of the Jewish culture of the Coens' own Minnesota childhood is incidental in the end. Comedy or not, A Serious Man makes plain that the joke is on us. (Lee Gardner)

10 Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, United States)

Wes Anderson further indulges his manboy love with a movie unabashedly for the precocious overgrown adolescent in all of us (or most of us, anyway). A stop-motion "kids" movie might sound like a major shift for the director, but Fantastic Mr. Fox actually dovetails with many of his strengths. Its focus on yet another unreliable father figure, this one a charming sophisticate who just can't stop indulging his true nature or his pride, gives the story some genuine adult pathos. Meanwhile, the painstaking art direction, camerawork, and seams-showing animation manage to make the screen come alive in a way that even state-of-art 3-D CGI doesn't. (LG)

The ballots

G. Brian Davis

1. Up (Pete Docter and Bob Peterson, United States)

2. Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, United States)

3. Star Trek (J.J. Abrams, United States)

4. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, United States)

5. District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, South Africa)

6. Adventureland (Greg Mottola, United States)

7. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, United States)

8. State of Play (Kevin Macdonald, United States)

9. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, United States)

10. Zombieland (Ruben Fleischer, United States)


Lee Gardner

1. Hunger (Steve McQueen, United States)

2. Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone, Italy)

3. Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, United States)

4 A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen, United States)

5. In the Loop (Armando Iannucci, United Kingdom)

6. The Class (Laurent Cantet, France)

7. Goodbye Solo (Ramin Bahrani, United States)

8. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, United States)

9. Antichrist (Lars von Trier, Denmark)

10. The House of the Devil (Ti West, United States)


Eric Allen Hatch

1. Dogtooth (Giorgos Lanthimos, Greece)

2. Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina)

3. Blind Loves (Juraj Lehotsky, Slovakia)

4. Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, United States)

5. Medicine for Melancholy (Barry Jenkins, United States)

6. Revanche (Götz Spielmann, Austria)

7. 35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis, France)

8. Gigante (Adrián Biniez, Uruguay)

9. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog, United States)

10. Antichrist (Lars von Trier, Denmark)


Geoffrey Himes

1. Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, United States)

2. District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, South Africa)

3. The Secret of the Grain (Abdel Kechiche, France)

4. Ponyo (Hayao Miyazaki, Japan)

5. Revanche (Götz Spielmann, Austria)

6. Julie and Julia (Nora Ephron, United States)

7. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, United States)

8. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, United States)

9. Whatever Works (Woody Allen, United States)

10. Anvil: The Story of Anvil (Sacha Gervais, United States)


Martin L. Johnson

1. Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, United States)

2. Revanche (Götz Spielmann, Austria)

3. A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen, United States)

4. The Maid (Sebastían Silva, Chile)

5. Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone, Italy)

6. Lorna's Silence (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium)

7. Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire (Lee Daniels, United States)

8. Two Lovers (James Gray, United States)

9. Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, France)

10. The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh, United States)


Joe MacLeod

1. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, United States)

2. The Hangover (Todd Phillips, United States)

3. The September Issue (R.J. Cutler, United States)

4. Soul Power (Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, United States)

5. District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, South Africa)

6. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog, United States)

7. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, United States)

8. Star Trek (J.J. Abrams, United States)

9. Moon (Duncan Jones, United Kingdom)

10. Big Fan (Robert D. Siegel, United States)


Bret McCabe

1. Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, United Kingdom)

2. Julia (Erick Zonca, France)

3. Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, France)

4. Revanche (Götz Spielmann, Austria)

5. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, United States)

6. The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina)

7. The Beaches of Agnés (Agnés Varda, France)

8. Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn, United Kingdom)

9. In the Loop (Armando Iannucci, United Kingdom)

10. Cold Souls (Sophie Barthes, United States)


Joe Tropea

1. Revanche (Götz Spielmann, Austria)

2. Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone, Italy)

3. Sin Nombre (Cary Fukunaga, Mexico)

4. Crude (Joe Berlinger, United States)

5. Immokalee U.S.A. (Georg Koszulinski, United States)

6. Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan)

7. Daytime Drinking (Young-Seok Noh, South Korean)

8. Munyurangabo (Lee Isaac Chung, Rwanda)

9. Che (Stephen Soderbergh, United States)

10. Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, Israel)


Brandon Soderberg

1. Star Trek (J.J. Abrams, United States)

2. Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America (Tony Stone, United States)

3. Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone, Italy)

4. Madea Goes to Jail (Tyler Perry, United States)

5. Public Enemies (Michael Mann, United States)

6. Two Lovers (James Grey, United States)

7. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, United States)

8. Good Hair (Jeff Stilson, United States)

9. Tyson (James Toback, United States)

10. Moon (Duncan Jones, United Kingdom)


Wendy Ward

1. An Education (Lone Scherfig, United Kingdom)

2. The September Issue (R.J. Cutler, United States)

3. Coco Before Chanel (Anne Fontaine, France)

4. The Hangover (Todd Phillips, United States)

5. Julie and Julia (Nora Ephron, United States)

6. The Boys are Back (Scott Hicks, Australia)

7. Sunshine Cleaning (Christine Jeffs, United States)

8. Funny People (Judd Apatow, United States)

9. The Brothers Bloom (Rian Johnson, United States)

10. Coraline (Henry Selick, United States)

Related stories

Top Ten archives

More Stories

The Year In Tracks (12/15/2009)
. . . just in the case the album really is dead.

The Year in News (12/9/2009)

The Year in Television (12/9/2009)

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