I originally wanted to make a 'Top Ten' film list for 2009, similar to my video game and album lists, but there's still so much that was released in 2009 that I haven't seen (Up in the Air, The Road, Crazy Heart, etc.). So, I'll just talk briefly about ten films I liked last year (in alphabetical order).
500 Days of Summer -- A brilliant directorial debut. It didn't quite connect with me as strongly as it did with some other people, but it's still a very good film. The 'Expectations vs. Reality' split-screen scene is simple, yet genius. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance almost makes up for his appearance in the horrific G.I. Joe!
Avatar -- I had no expectations for this film, and was pleasantly surprised. The script is so-so, and the last hour goes through the motions, but it's an 'event' movie that deserves the title. Also, see it in 3-D. It adds a great level of depth to the visuals.
District 9 -- Another great directorial debut. If Neill Blomkamp can keep making films like this, that Halo movie should just stay in Development Hell.
The Hangover -- Not quite as funny as all your friends told you, but still a very good comedy. Break-out performances from all three leads. My only concern is that most of the laughs come from the 'discovery' of what happened that fateful night. I'm not sure if it will be as funny on a second viewing, but I plan on finding out soon.
The Hurt Locker -- Jeremy Renner will get an Oscar nod for his work here, and deservedly so. I'm not as 'in love' with this film as some critics are: Anthony Mackie's performance was very one-note, and the sniper scene in the second act was tense, but felt false. However, it's a strong film, and definitely worth your time. It's also good to see Kathryn Bigelow make a comeback, as she's been due ever since the great Strange Days in 1995.
Inglourious Basterds -- Quentin Tarantino is still the best American director working today. Some felt it's too talky, but I disagree. The most dialogue-heavy scenes (opening, basement bar) are crackling with tension. Also, the Academy should just hand Christoph Waltz the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor right now. He completely steals the film.
Moon -- My favorite science fiction movies focus on ideas more than effects, and this is no exception. It's truly 'old-school' sci-fi, filmed on a tiny budget, and is all the stronger for it.
Up -- Pixar continues its mastery of the 'family' genre by making films that are aimed almost squarely at adults. Monsters Inc. is still my favorite of theirs, but this one may end up a close second. The opening 15 minutes contains what may be one of the greatest montages ever (yes, even beating out the one from Team America).
Watchmen -- Those who liked it and those who didn't can both agree on one thing: This is as good as a film version of the influential graphic novel could ever be. Jackie Earle Haley is flawless as Rorshach. Over $100 million domestic box office, and yet it's considered a 'flop'. Sad.
Zombieland -- THE best cameo of the year, without question (I won't say who it is, as to not spoil it). Woody Harrelson pulls off both funny and intimidating, and does it convincingly. However, anyone who tells you that this is better than Shaun of the Dead is as brain-dead as a zombie from either film.
BONUS LIST! Of the films I saw in the past decade, here are my ten favorite (as of today ... subject to change!):
3. Mulholland Drive
4. Bus 174
5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
6. Wonder Boys
7. The Grey Zone
8. The Fog of War
9. Gangs of New York