Buried treasures: Chad’s best of 2009 (list and ballot)

Posted by · 5:32 pm · January 8th, 2010

Robin Williams in World's Greatest DadUnlike Kris, I can’t quite come to the conclusion that 2009 was the best year of the decade. Nor can I call it the “year of the woman,” the “best year for animation” or “the year James Cameron brought a sense of wonder back to the cinema.” The only thing I can personally label 2009 is “The Year I Put in the Work.”

In other words, as my taste drifts further and further away from the mainstream options, it becomes harder and harder to see the films that excite me. We’re talking about a list where the top 9 films earned a combined $2.3 mil at the box office, which “Avatar” will make in the time it takes you to read this article.

Now, I am well prepared to field some comments on this thread labeling me a “snob” or an “elitist.” I am also willing to bet that these comments will come from people who have not seen many of the films I will single out.

And who can blame them? Many of them played for exactly one week in a small, L.A. theater and then vanished into ancillary market oblivion. If I wasn’t diligent about seeing them that week then it was tough luck, and it took serious motivation to keep that going 52 weeks a year. But, my goodness, the rewards!

In the end, I didn’t see everything I wanted to. “Lorna’s Silence,” “The Beaches of Agnes,” “Beeswax,” “Collapse,”Tony Manero” and “The White Ribbon” all passed me by and could easily be included on this list in the future. On the flipside, interesting films I did see like “Wah Do Dem,” “Modern Love is Automatic” and “Alexander the Last” will never see the light of day in theaters and had to be disqualified from this list.

I know Guy and Kris went with honorable mentions and a top 10, but I’m pushing forward with a straight top 20. Check back tomorrow for my dream ballot.


Directed by Lars von Trier

Lars Von Trier’s personal therapy session may not work 100% as a film, but as an expression of grief, anxiety and self-hatred from an irreplaceable cinematic artist, it’s a marvel. What other director, film after film, comes with such stylistic diversity? Enlisting Anthony Dod Mantle and entering the horror genre sees Von Trier offer up his most visually arresting film since “The Element of Crime” and elicits monumental performances from Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe in the process.


Directed by Henry Selick

Is it just me or did animation get a little dark this year? “The Princess and the Frog” would have scared me when I was a kid but “Coraline” scared me now. Henry Selick and his team of artists have beautifully captured the way a child channels their frustrations into imagination in order to play out their rebellion. Sumptuously designed and executed, seemingly with adults in mind, the film proved much more rewarding to me than any recent Pixar venture.


Directed by Greg Mottola

Less abrasive than “Superbad” but no less truthful to youth, Greg Mottola’s third feature delicately straddled the line between tried and true coming-of-age tropes and subversive character developments. The whole thing is anchored by Jesse Eisenberg’s charming, nervous performance (does he give any other kind?) and a talented supporting cast. If only Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig weren’t around to turn their scenes into a bad SNL skit, the film might have placed much higher.


Directed by Duncan Jones

For all the talk of “Avatar,” “Star Trek” and “District 9” encapsulating a return to bold, intelligent science fiction, only a low budget film from the son of David Bowie actually seemed concerned with exploring ideas from first frame to last. Sam Rockwell gives a reliably excellent performance and the visual effects earned this film the honor of making me murmur to myself, “How did they do that?” for the first time in years.


Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh’s intimate (but not that kind of intimate) look at a high-priced call girl manages to serve as a fascinating look at what the rich and lonely are and aren’t willing to compromise in a time of economic uncertainty.The main character’s  rocky relationship with a far too understanding boyfriend is also interestingly explored, as is the need for physical attention that is subtly juxtaposed in his work as a personal trainer.


Directed by Steven Soderbergh

This Soderbergh guy is going places! In all seriousness, Warner Bros. deserves special recognition for bankrolling this film, “Observe and Report” and “Where the Wild Things Are” because all three feel like final cuts turned in under the nose of studio brass who expected something else when issuing a green light. In the case of “The Informant!,” a corporate whistle-blowing expose becomes a breezy farce with as many identity issues as its protagonist. Damon keeps the film grounded with an assured, layered performance worthy of Oscar attention.


Directed by So Yong Kim

The two most believable child performances since “In America” anchor a story about abandonment that doesn’t go looking for cheap sympathy. Nor does it vilify the adults who refuse to take responsibility for the two leads. Instead, it focuses on the unbreakable spirit of two sisters and their journey towards premature adulthood.


Directed by Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson’s same obsessive attention to detail that has made his last few live action features a ponderous bore bring this stop-motion adaptation of Roal Dahl to vivacious life. Briskly paced with lively voice work, the film never rests on the laurels of its design and showcases great characters, thrilling adventure and droll humor, just like Dahl’s work.


Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda

Another film about the bonds of family, given added depth by the importance of tradition and ancestry in Japan. Three generations of family are explored over the course of one overnight visit and Hirokazu Koreeda keeps things interesting without resorting to any major secrets being revealed or bombshells being dropped. Every relationship is given the screen time and breathing space to form something interesting and unlike a day spent with your real family, it zooms by quite enjoyably.


Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait

Who would have thought that Bobcat Goldthwait would turn into an acclaimed writer/director? Certainly not me, and I only checked this out after numerous recommendations from friends I trust, and this is why I trust them. It’s almost an experiment in how outlandish a film can allow its plot to get away with it by keeping the characters and their reactions truthful. Robin Williams reduced to tears looking at a rack of porn at a newspaper shop is just one hilarious and touching moment that should never in a million years work, but does.


Directed by Spike Jonze

This Maurice Sendak adaptation makes for a nice live action companion piece to “Coraline,” as Spike Jonze also takes aim at the way children learn through their imaginations. The way each of the filmmakers brought the Wild Things to life, both technically, and through vivid characterization, is a true wonder and the exploration of jealousy, rage and sorrow was completely unexpected. Many thought that made it inappropriate for kids, but unlike Jonze and his film, that is grossly underestimating them.


Directed by Roy Andersson

I don’t pretend to know what Roy Andersson is getting at throughout the course of this film. He calls it “a film about the grandeur of existing” and it may well be as pretentious as that makes it sound. That actually sounds optimistic, though, and I wouldn’t blame someone for leaving this film thinking that Andersson hates people and wants us to laugh at them. Finding humor in tragedy and loneliness is really one of the only things that ties this series of vignettes together but it’s so watchable because I’m in love with the aesthetics of his films. Beautiful static frames and very deliberate blocking that can get a laugh out of someone just appearing in a doorway. The sound design, the editing, the timing of the dialogue is all slightly surreal and executed with the precision of a tightrope walker. No one else makes films quite like it.


Directed by Barry Jenkins

This simple story about two people trying to get to know each other after a one night stand is given added depth by a look at the gentrification and racial divisions of San Francisco. What has the ingredients to be just written off as a “Before Sunrise” copycat instead becomes a beautiful look at finding a connection amid the bigger concern of finding your place in the world. Beautifully shot on HD by James Laxton and featuring strong performances and pitch-perfect music selections, the film is something unique, both in the context of the mumblecore movement and in African American cinema in general.


Directed by Jeremiah Zagar

I can’t speak highly enough of this documentary. Jeremiah Zagar initially begins making it about his father and his delirious mosaic art that covers a couple of Philadelphia city blocks, but it quickly turns into something else when the elder Zagar admits to cheating on his wife with his assistant. The camera continues to capture the family trying to save itself from that fissure while continuing to asses the artist’s relationship to his art.  Zagar expertly melds the cinematography, editing and music into a visual mosaic that more than equals his father’s work on the screen.


Directed by Carlos Reygadas

A film about Mexican Mennonites with a six minute opening shot of the sun rising is certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but for patient viewers, few experiences could be as rewarding. Hints of Dreyer and Bergman, but undeniably modern as well, the questions of love, family, fidelity, life and death are all explored in achingly gorgeous long takes.


Directed by Lynn Shelton

Hollywood needs to study what is being done here, with three actors, a rented camera and a couple thousand bucks. Like “World’s Greatest Dad,” Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday” pushes and proves the notion that no high-concept conceit is too ridiculous to buy as long as the reactions by the characters are honest and realistic. I didn’t see a funnier film all year and it goes places with “bromance” that the filmmakers behind “I Love You, Man” wouldn’t even consider because they are too busy constructing tired devices like the “bad date montage.” In a year where the Academy is surely about to bestow its first Best Director trophy upon a female tackling the male psyche, I can’t help but think they’re awarding the wrong one.


Directed by Shane Meadows

Some people may call this film too “slight,” but that word was never a pejorative to me in film. Thomas Turgoose delivers on the promise of his performance in “This is England” as a young runaway who makes friends with a poor, Polish immigrant in a working class British town. Shot exquisitely in black and white and not a second longer than it needs to be, Meadows seems incapable of hitting a false note and is on quite a roll.


Directed by Sebastián Silva

Catalina Saavedra towers over any other female performance this year as the titular character dedicated to her profession and her employers. The plot is standard character redemption stuff but Saavedra and director Sebastian Silva’s handling of her transformation from raging bitch to tolerable human being should be studied for its subtlety and realism. If that wasn’t enough, she is given a specific dynamic with each family member that is pleasantly explained and explored for humor and depth.


Directed by Lee Isaac Chung

Midway through watching this film, I pinpointed why I liked it so much. For films from Africa to make it to the U.S., they usually have to be about some sort of political strife or have some lesson for us Westerners to glean. This film felt like a regular movie from a different region that had little or no interest in appealing to other audiences or their politics. Which is why I was so shocked to find out it was made by a Korean dude from Arkansas. And in the end, of course, it does have something to say about the region, and does so with bristling intensity by way of a 10-minute poem delivered directly to the camera in a one take close-up.


Directed by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

In a monumental leap forward for the directing duo behind “Half Nelson,” there’s not a false note to be found in this wonderfully original story about a Dominican baseball player attempting to adjust to life in America and the minor leagues. More than once I thought I had the story pegged only to discover that I wasn’t even close and the filmmakers were taking a much more challenging road.  The final shot is heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. Seriously, I hate baseball and I love this movie.

Finally, if I may indulge myself, I’d like to share my dream ballot for the Oscars. I won’t bother with shorts categories or original song and I’ve combined the sound categories into one, because I’ll be damned if I can tell the difference between sound editing and sound mixing. I can tell which films used sound effectively and which didn’t, though. Winners in bold italics.

Best Picture
“Humpday” (Magnolia)
“In a Dream” (International Film Circuit)
“The Maid” (Elephant Eye Films)
“Medicine for Melancholy” (IFC Films)
“Munyurangabo” (Film Movement)
“Silent Light” (Palisades Tartan)
“Somers Town” (Film Movement)
“Sugar” (Sony Pictures Classics)
“Where the Wild Things Are” (Warner Bros.)
“You, the Living” (Palisades Tartan)

Best Director
Lars Von Trier – “Antichrist”
Barry Jenkins – “Medicine for Melancholy”
Carlos Reygadas – “Silent Light”
Shane Meadows – “Somers Town”
Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck – “Sugar”

Best Actor
Tom Hardy – “Bronson”
Matt Damon – “The Informant!”
Sam Rockwell – “Moon”
Michael Stuhlbarg – “A Serious Man”
Thomas Turgoose – “Somers Town”

Best Actress
Charlotte Gainsbourg – “Antichrist”
Carey Mulligan – “An Education”
Maria Onetto – “The Headless Woman”
Catalina Saavedra – “The Maid”
Hee-Yeon Kim – “Treeless Mountain”

Best Supporting Actor
Benoit Poelvoorde – “Coco Before Chanel”
Anthony Mackie – “The Hurt Locker”
Christoph Waltz – “Inglourious Basterds”
Piotr Jagiello – “Somers Town”
Daryl Sabara – “World’s Greatest Dad”

Best Supporting Actress
Rosamund Pike – “An Education”
Melanie Laurent – “Inglourious Basterds”
Mariana Loyola – “The Maid”
Mo’Nique – “Precious”
Kirin Kiki – “Still Walking”

Best Original Screenplay
“Inglourious Basterds” – Quentin Tarantino
“Somers Town” – Paul Fraser
“Still Walking” – Hirokazu Koreeda
“Sugar” – Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
“World’s Greatest Dad” – Bobcat Goldthwait

Best Adapted Screenplay
“Coraline” – Henry Selick
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” – Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach
“The Informant!” – Scott Z. Burns
“Public Enemies” – Ronan Bennett, Michael Mann, Ann Biderman
“Where the Wild Things Are” – Dave Eggers, Spike Jonze

Best Cinematography
“Antichrist” – Anthony Dod Mantle
“The Headless Woman” – Barbara Alvarez
“The Limits of Control” – Christopher Doyle
“Medicine for Melancholy” – James Laxton
“Silent Light” – Alexis Zabe

Best Editing
“District 9” – Julian Clarke
“The Girlfriend Experience” – Steven Soderbergh
“The Hurt Locker” – Chris Innis, Bob Murawski
“Still Walking” – Hirokazu Koreeda
“Sugar” – Anna Boden

Best Art Direction
“District 9” – Philip Ivey
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” – Nelson Lowry
“Public Enemies” – Nathan Crowley
“Where the Wild Things Are” – K.K. Barrett
“You, the Living” – Magnus Renfors, Elin Seqerstedt

Best Costume Design
“Brüno” – Jason Alper
“Coco Before Chanel” – Catherine Leterrier
“The Limits of Control” – Bina Daigeler
“Public Enemies” – Colleen Atwood
“Where the Wild Things Are” – Casey Storm

Best Original Score
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” – Alexandre Desplat
“The Informant!” – Marvin Hamlisch
“The Limits of Control” – Boris
“A Single Man” – Abel Korzeniowski
“Where the Wild Things Are” – Carter Burwell, Karen O.

Best Documentary Feature
“The Garden” (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
“In a Dream” (International Film Circuit)
“No Impact Man” (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
“Tyson” (Sony Pictures Classics)
“The Windmill Movie” (The Film Desk)

Best Foreign Feature
“The Maid” (Elephant Eye Films)
“Silent Light” (Palisades Tartan)
“Somers Town” (Film Movement)
“Still Walking” (IFC Films)
“You, the Living” (Palisades Tartan)

Best Animated Feature
“Coraline” (Focus Features)
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” (20th Century Fox)
“The Princess and the Frog” (Walt Disney Pictures)

Best Sound
“District 9”
“The Headless Woman”
“The Hurt Locker”
“Public Enemies”

Best Makeup
“District 9”
“Star Trek”

Best Visual Effects
“District 9”
“Where the Wild Things Are”

Blam! Anybody still reading this far down? All in all, I had a great time at the movies in 2009 and can’t wait to get my 2010 started with “Youth in Revolt” this weekend!  Feel free to chime in with thoughts and comments below.

(Chad Hartigan contributes weekend box office analysis for In Contention via his Friday Forecast and Sunday Cents columns.)

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41 responses so far

  • 1 1-08-2010 at 5:53 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Well, your list is an interesting and unique one. No one can claim that you’re just following everyone else, though there’s one *ahem* ommission that stuck out for me like an IED.

    “What other director, film after film, comes with such stylistic diversity?”

    Todd Haynes, probably.

  • 2 1-08-2010 at 6:06 pm

    Encore Entertainment said...

    Glad to see you liked Rosamund Pike. Just curious did you not see Up In the Air, The Lovely Bones Nine, Bright Star…or did you not like them?

  • 3 1-08-2010 at 6:10 pm

    Leocdc said...

    YES!!! VIVA CHILE!!! (I’m Chilean, and i’m very proud to see that a product of my country make lists and have good reception all over the globe :D)

  • 4 1-08-2010 at 6:11 pm

    aspect ratio said...

    I find it very humorous (and really rather sad too in a way) that despite your top 20 being so indie/foreign-skewed, you too still have Christoph Waltz and Mo’Nique as your supporting winners!

    This must be how it’s like to live in a communist country, where you only have one choice. ;)

  • 5 1-08-2010 at 6:35 pm

    James D. said...

    A fantastic and thoughtful list, just like your decade list. I have seen only 13, and had intended to catch up on the other 6 (In A Dream was an unknown until now, but it is added.)

    I still fail to see what anyone say in Adventureland, but I guess I will never know.

  • 6 1-08-2010 at 6:39 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Encore- I did see Up in the Air but not the other three you mentioned.

    Aspect- Communism or not, they’re fantastic performances.

  • 7 1-08-2010 at 6:46 pm

    Yogsam said...

    I’m from Chile too!!! Hi you there!! : )
    but i didn’t like “the maid” that much

  • 8 1-08-2010 at 6:49 pm

    Daniel said...

    I would like this list a heck of a lot more if it were reversed, but still, it’s pretty great.

  • 9 1-08-2010 at 7:07 pm

    Troy said...

    Man, I don’t get all the love that Sugar seems to have around here.

  • 10 1-08-2010 at 7:24 pm

    JJ said...

    I found SUGAR nice but incomplete.

  • 11 1-08-2010 at 7:30 pm

    Speaking English said...

    For some reason 10 minute long takes convince people the film is “artful” or “important.” To me this is complete bullshit. There are very few times where this is at all necessary, especially in a static shot, and something like “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” utilizes this to overly indulgent effect. You must stop praising this self-important tosh.

  • 12 1-08-2010 at 7:34 pm

    Daniel said...

    I really love the stills by the way. :D

  • 13 1-08-2010 at 7:41 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Not just around here, Troy. AFI was on board, too. :)

  • 14 1-08-2010 at 7:43 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    English: I don’t want to speak for Chad but some people simply think allowing a take to linger and let the audience observe behavior is, in fact, a more arresting dramatic device. In all the years I’ve known Chad, that’s been his cup of tea. He’s not calling it “artful” for the sake of calling it “artful” and he isn’t hastily considering the impact of such a technique.

    Put it this way. I think he’s putting more thought into why he likes such a thing than you are into criticizing him for it by taking the facile route you’ve taken.

  • 15 1-08-2010 at 7:48 pm

    Speaking English said...

    It’s just so overdone though, by foreign directors who want to appear self-important and artsy. People always fall for it of course. But it doesn’t always work, and we shouldn’t treat it like it does, nor like it’s some heavenly anecdote to more fast paced and frenetic filmmaking.

  • 16 1-08-2010 at 7:53 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Speaking English – To me, your comment is bullshit. A take can be as long or as short as it needs to be to get the director’s point across. The “artful” aspect can be in the cut or in the lack of a cut. It sounds to me like you just have a preference for films that don’t require as much patience as “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”. I’m sure you don’t mind the 10 minute take in “Goodfellas”. And nobody, certainly not me, claimed that any of these films were “important”.

  • 17 1-08-2010 at 7:56 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “by foreign directors who want to appear self-important and artsy”

    LOTS of presumption in there. I’m not even saying it always works. In fact, many times, it doesn’t. But to call Chad to task on a film I’m guessing you haven’t seen due to a bias you are bringing to the table…

    (Also, no one called it a “heavenly anecdote” to anything. Again, biases you’re bringing to the table.)

  • 18 1-08-2010 at 8:12 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Whatever. I don’t mean to belittle anybody’s opinion but this list just reeks to me of someone purposely trying to disregard studio films and major Hollywood productions. Guess what… big budget bonanzas and mainstream product actually CAN be excellent. And there were plenty this year.

  • 19 1-08-2010 at 8:20 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I can see that, but other than Avatar, I don’t see how I can be accused of purposely trying to disregard the lauded Hollywood productions when they got my $10. I don’t fork over that money hoping to be disappointed. They just didn’t do it for me this year.

  • 20 1-08-2010 at 8:20 pm

    aaron said...

    speaker of engrish:

    is it a burden, being that lone renegade who sees The Truth about prentious artsy movies? (how’s the palin clan doing, btw?)

    and isn’t it just disdainful, chad and his fancy list of obscure anti-populist “films”? i bet he thinks he’s better than us, huh? you certainly don’t come off as someone who thinks he’s better than “artsy” people who like gay “art films.” you’re certainly not projecting your own prejudices and biases onto others, no sir. just calling it like you see it, tellin’ it like it is, etc.

  • 21 1-08-2010 at 8:38 pm

    Adam Smith said...

    @Speaking English: Yes, big budget mainstream fare can be excellent–I personally would consider both Inglourious Basterds (not a HUGE budget, but over $70 million counts, I’d say) and Star Trek among the year’s finest. But you seem to disregard that someone could legitimately enjoy both types of films and just prefer the smaller, more intimate films to the blockbusters. Some people believe in the power of the shot over the power of the cut (or the power of choosing not to cut). Yeah, long takes can be really indulgent if the rest of the content isn’t up to snuff. And there are really two kinds: long tracking shots, like in Goodfellas or Atonement that are really energized because they’re so fluid and unbroken, or long static shots like the ones utilized, per your example, in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which seem to leave the action completely exposed. Both have a special quality of movie magic, I think–films like Goodfellas or Children of Men astonish in the “How did they do that?” sort of way, whereas long takes in the likes of Hunger or 4 Months show filmmakers so comfortable with a visual that they feel no need to add any flourishes with a pan or a cut. It’s stripping it down to basics.

    I guess I can’t help but wonder why you keep coming back to this site, English, when you clearly disagree with the site’s writers all the time. If I remember correctly, you’re the same guy who was crying “Elitist!” a few weeks ago. And I’ll repeat the same point I made then–unless you’re a film critic, I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts that you haven’t seen as many films as they have. With the exception of Avatar, I get the impression that Chad has seen a SHIT TON of films, both small independents AND mainstream smashes. When you see as many films as they do, it shapes your taste, and it changes. I wholly trust that his opinion is his opinion–this isn’t Armond White we’re talking about here. Chad’s not a troll just because his taste clashes with your own.

  • 22 1-08-2010 at 8:47 pm

    Speaking English said...

    No, I very much respect the opinions of everyone on this site and I return because I find this place enriching, enlightening, and thoroughly informative. I just have to question someone who seems to go out of their way to slam mainstream films and cite a “10 minute static shot” as an integral reason to why a film is so fantastic. But maybe I’m just misreading.

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to with the “Elitist!” comment, however.

  • 23 1-08-2010 at 9:24 pm

    matt j said...

    i worked with alexis zabe on kelly reichardt’s new film. awesome guy and yes, silent light is a masterpiece.

  • 24 1-08-2010 at 9:37 pm

    Joe said...

    I just rented Sugar because of you guys. It better be good!

  • 25 1-08-2010 at 10:06 pm

    joe said...

    i love the inclusion of silent light. that film is going to be around for a LONG time even if no one has seen it. too bad the ambiguous release dates hurt it’s profile (it made top ten lists this and last year).

  • 26 1-08-2010 at 10:21 pm

    James D. said...

    Speaking English, attitudes like that lead to lists like the ones Peter Travers put out, full of December Oscarbait releases and popular summer blockbusters.

    From Chad’s decade list, I have learned about many films I had never heard of, and the two I have watched so far, Treeless Mountain and Nights and Weekends, blew me away. It isn’t pretending to like something but actually having a taste outside the mainstream.

  • 27 1-08-2010 at 11:01 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I’m with you. But a good balance is always best.

    And yes, very much to Chad’s credit, you have enticed me to check out some films from last decade that I had missed or otherwise not heard much about.

  • 28 1-08-2010 at 11:58 pm

    Loyal said...

    I was really disappointed with Humpday and I thought Sugar was a step down from Half Nelson. World’s Greatest Dad was disaster on most levels. I’ve seen most of the films on your list and all I can say is…okayyyyy?

    It’s weird that you analysis box office and yet seem to hate the type of films you have to track. You’re an enigma Chad Hartigan.

  • 29 1-09-2010 at 12:35 am

    Marshall1 said...

    A certainly unique list! Only seen 3 or 4 movies on your list but one of the biggest surprises is the Maid! I went into the festival by myself, without knowing who the director or actress is, but come away thinking that this is one of the best movie of the year. It has a nice balance of sweetness, intelligence, and it unfolds nicely without dragging. Of course, the performance of the central character is still to me, the best female performance of the year!

    I like the inventiveness of Coraline, but felt the movie a bit cold, that is why I think Pixar is great because it can take themes that are way beyond cliche and use their advanced animation to make them come alive.

    Always loved Koreda’s work (I saw Afterlife a lot let’s just say), can’t wait for this to come to vancouver (or out on DVD I guess). Did see Sugar on DVD, but I actually like Half Nelson more than this movie. But I think the male character is very likable and he’s very good for a non-actor. I think the last 20-30 minutes a bit meandering…

  • 30 1-09-2010 at 12:43 am

    Sound Designer Dan said...

    Sound editing = editing of dialogue, ambience, sound effects, music

    Sound mixing = taking the above and mixing it to create a certain atmosphere.

    If an image in a film could tell you something in a thousand words, one piece of audio would show you a thousand pictures.

  • 31 1-09-2010 at 1:36 am

    Dean Treadway said...

    This is possibly the most fascinating top of 2009 list I’ve yet seen. I’m in complete agreement on STILL WALKING, CORALINE, MR. FOX, ADVENTURELAND, ANTICHRIST, THE INFORMANT!, MOON, and especially the radiant SOMERS TOWN, which I thuink is the most underseen masterpiece of the year. Just because it’s light and succint (72 minutes, I think) doesn’t mean it’s not great. I’ll use this list to see the rest and the best that the year had to offer in the coming months. By the way, did you happen to see TRUCKER? I thought that was a tiny little chunk of goodness, with a superb performance by Michelle Monaghan.

  • 32 1-09-2010 at 3:54 am

    Edward L. said...


    Thanks for a really interesting list. There are some films here that I hadn’t even heard of, so thanks for some recommendations!

    I note that you mentioned that you didn’t manage to see Lorna’s Silence. The film is really terrific – I thought it was the Dardennes’ second best yet (Le Fils being my favourite). I would put Lorna’s Silence as my favourite film of last year (US release date-wise; I saw it towards the end of ‘o8 in London) – or possibly joint fave, with Inglourious Basterds. It’s out on DVD in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, so I hope you can get to see it soon.

  • 33 1-09-2010 at 4:22 am

    aspect ratio said...


    I’m certainly not knocking the performances (or that you chose them), It’s just amazing that even you who don’t even have either of the two films in your top 20 still had them as your best. It’s just amazing how dominant and undeniable the performances are.

    I think I’m mostly amazed by Waltz’ domination because it’s not an emotionally moving performance, it’s just very showy. On some level I thought that there’d be more people who wouldn’t respond as much to the showiness and more to another performance that had more gravitas.

  • 34 1-09-2010 at 5:08 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Absolutely terrific list that, again, reveals so much of the person who compiled it.

    It keeps surprising me when “Silent Light” pops up on American lists, as the film feels like such old news to me, having been a 2007 release in my part of the world. Hard to believe it took two years to make the short trip across the border! Anyway, the resurgence of talk about the film has inspired me to take another look — I don’t get on very well with Reygadas’ work, but there’s certainly much to admire in this one.

    As far as I know, they haven’t yet deigned to release “Munyurangabo” in the UK, so I’m frustratingly out of the loop on that one. Your endorsement only amplifies my impatience.

  • 35 1-09-2010 at 9:20 am

    Chris138 said...

    I was watching Robin Williams on Charlie Rose yesterday (which was hilarious, especially his spot-on impersonations of Brando and Nicholson) and he was talking about World’s Greatest Dad. I am curious to see it now.

  • 36 1-09-2010 at 11:52 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I’m surprised, Chad, that you’d play up the joke “I don’t know the difference between sound editing and sound mixing.” Yer smarter than that, kiddo. You sat in those classes with me. You get it. Come on.

    That said, I love your pick for Antichrist, which I thought used sound (both via effects and the mix) to amplify the experience quite well.

  • 37 1-09-2010 at 12:52 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    By the way, great blurb on Humpday, which I rather loved.

  • 38 1-09-2010 at 1:26 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I can comprehend the definitions of each, but I just don’t have a sophisticated enough ear to tell the difference in a finished product. I prefer to just think of the whole sound process as one piece of work.

  • 39 1-09-2010 at 2:16 pm

    Billyboy said...

    Nice to see some recognition for Martel’s “The Headless Woman”

  • 40 1-09-2010 at 6:35 pm

    Adam Smith said...

    Chad, I just gotta say thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for recognizing World’s Greatest Dad. In part due to your recommendation, I checked it out tonight, and I was completely floored. I haven’t seen a film that funny and that deep in its pain in a very long time. It’s an absolute gem, and far and away the funniest film of the year.

  • 41 1-10-2010 at 12:06 pm

    Mike_M said...

    Pretty good list Chad, I some of my favorite films of the year are on your list (more from 20-10, than 10-1).

    Sugar was a great movie, but I am also a huge baseball fan as well.