Up and away: Disney-Pixar's animated 3D coming-of-old-age story rose to the top of many lists in 2009.

Top 10s of 2009: Insiders and Fans

Susan Gerhard December 29, 2009

It was a big year for 3D, but critics and film-industry folk in the Bay Area found many other dimensions in the cinema of 2009. Included in these lists we solicited from the community are not just films released this year locally, but occasionally films that have had festival-only screenings elsewhere or films made in ’08 that had local releases in ’09. We gave wide berth to our well-traveled respondents, a few of whom offered comments on films, or limited their selections to moments within films. Directors and countries of origin on films are listed on first mention; lists appear in the order they were received. And please: Join the fray. Share your own lists in the "comments" box, below.

Cheryl Eddy, S.F. Bay Guardian
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog, USA)
Beeswax (Andrew Bujalski, USA)
Cropsey (Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman, USA)
District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, New Zealand/USA)
Drag Me to Hell (Sam Raimi, USA)
An Education (Lone Scherfig, UK)
Goodbye Solo (Ramin Bahrani, USA)
The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, USA)
Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, USA)
Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan)

Jeffrey Anderson, Combustible Celluloid
The Hurt Locker
Coraline (Henry Selick, USA)
Bright Star (Jane Campion, UK/Australia)
Red Cliff (John Woo, China)
You, the Living (Roy Andersson, Sweden)
35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis, France)
Drag Me to Hell
Sita Sings the Blues (Nina Paley, USA)
Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, USA)
Adventureland (Greg Mottola, USA)

Marcus Hu, Strand Releasing
The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina)
A Serious Man (Ethan and Joel Coen, USA)
Up In the Air (Jason Reitman, USA)
35 Shots of Rum
Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, USA)
The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, Austria)
Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodovar, Spain)
Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, USA)
The Hurt Locker

Chris Metzler, Tilapia Film
Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Sacha Gervasi, USA)
(500) Days of Summer (Marc Webb, USA)
We Live In Public (Ondi Timoner, USA)
An Education
Up (Pete Docter and Bob Peterson, USA)
Audience of One (Michael Jacobs, USA)
Zombieland (Ruben Fleischer, USA)
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (Phil Lord and Chris Miller, USA)
The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh, USA)
Trucker (James Mottern, USA)

Joel Shepard, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Lola (Brillante Mendoza, Philippines)
The marriage montage in Up
Mo’Nique, first staircase scene in Precious (Lee Daniels, USA)
The Headless Woman
Treeless Mountain (So Yong Kim, USA/South Korea)
Public Enemies (Michael Mann, USA)
Still Walking (Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan)
Kinatay (Brillante Mendoza, Philippines)
A Serious Man
The Collector (Marcus Dunstan, USA)
Special mention: Black Dynamite, Zero, Maria Bello in Downloading Nancy, 2012, Graphic Sexual Horror, Land of the Lost, The Tree, R.I.P. David Aaron Clark

Michael Guillen, The Evening Class
A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, France)
A Single Man (Tom Ford, USA)
Avatar (James Cameron, USA)
Crab Trap (El Vuelco del Cangrejo) (Oscar Ruiz Navia, Colombia)
Hadewijch (Bruno Dumont, France)
Inglourious Basterds
Lake Tahoe (Fernando Eimbcke, Mexico)
To Die Like A Man (Joao Pedro Rodrigues, Portugal)

Rod Armstrong, San Francisco Film Society
Autumn (™zcan Alper, Turkey)
The Beaches of Agnés (Agnés Varda)
Bright Star
Home (Ursula Meier, Switzerland)
Hunger (Steve McQueen, UK/Ireland)
The Informant!
Still Walking
Sugar (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, USA)
Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, France)
Vincere (Marco Bellocchio, Italy)

Marc Huestis, Outsider Productions
Haven’t seen a lot but liked most everything I’ve seen.
“Mad Men”
(Don’t care if it’s TV, it’s a movie.)
Up in the Air
“Grey Gardens” (TV)
The Hurt Locker
District 9
The September Issue (R.J. Cutler, USA)
Waiting For Hockney (Julie Checkoway, USA)
Prodigal Sons (Kimberly Reed, USA)

Peter Stein, San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
Food, Inc. (Robert Kenner, USA)
Every Little Step (Adam Del Deo and James Stern, USA)
A Serious Man
William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe (Emily and Sarah Kunstler, USA)
Anvil! The Story of Anvil
A Matter of Size (Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmor, Israel)
Humpday (Lynn Shelton, USA)
Fig Trees (John Greyson, Canada)

George Rush, Law Offices of George M. Rush
This is my list of distributed films:
Anvil! The Story of Anvil
We Live in Public
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Good Hair (Jeff Stilson, USA)
Tyson (James Toback, USA)
Forbidden Lie$ (Anna Broinowski, Australia)
Audience of One
District 9
D Tour (Jim Granato, USA)
Everything Strange and New (Frazer Bradshaw, USA)

Marissa Aroy, Media Factory
Where the Wild Things Are
The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, USA)
The Class (Laurent Cantet, France)
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Frozen River (Courtney Hunt, USA)
Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)
Looking for Eric (Ken Loach, UK)
Milk (Gus Van Sant, USA)
Sin Nombre (Cary Fukunaga, Mexico/USA)
Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, UK)

Michael Hawley, Film-415
35 Shots of Rum
Ander (Roberto Caston, Spain)
Everything Strange and New
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Fig Trees
Hipsters (Valery Todorovsky, Russia)
My Dear Enemy (Yoon-ki Lee, South Korea)
Revanche (Gotz Spielmann, Austria)
Still Walking
Tony Manero (Pablo Larrain, Chile)

James T. Hong, filmmaker
What I remember:
The Founding of a Republic (Han Sanping and Huang Jianxin, China)
Antichrist (Lars von Trier, Denmark)
The White Ribbon
Nanjing Nanjing (City of Life and Death) (Chuan Lu, China)
U.S. Germ Warfare in Korea (National Archives release of Korean War enemy “propaganda”)
YouTube videos posted by the Israel Defense Forces
released videos of UAV attacks in Afghanistan by the U.S. military
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
inauguration of Obama on CNN

Sean Uyehara, San Francisco Film Society
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Last Train Home (Lixin Fan, China/Canada)
Capitalism: A Love Story (Michael Moore, USA)
Stay the Same Never Change (Laurel Nakadate, USA)
Extract (Mike Judge, USA)
Where the Wild Things Are
The Spine (animated short, Chris Landreth, USA)
The Hurt Locker

Marc Capelle, Tarmac Music
Laila’s Birthday (Rashid Masharawi, Palestine)
Funny People (Judd Apatow, USA)
Oblivion (Heddy Honigmann, Holland)
Anvil! The Story of Anvil
It’s Not Me I Swear! (Philippe Falardeau, Canada)
Gommora (Matteo Garrone, Italy)
Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo (Bradley Beesley, USA)
Soul Power (Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, USA)
The Headless Woman

Brian Darr, Hell On Frisco Bay
Ponyo (Hayao Miyazaki, Japan)
35 Shots of Rum
Inglourious Basterds
Passing Strange (Spike Lee, USA)
Tokyo Sonata
Wendy And Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, USA)
Unmade Beds (Alexis Dos Santos, UK)
Invictus (Clint Eastwood, USA)

Bill Banning, Roxie Theater
The Hurt Locker
The White Ribbon
Up in the Air
Inglourious Basterds
An Education
Life During Wartime (Todd Solondz, USA)
A Serious Man
Bad Lieutenant: New Orleans Port of Call
The Cove (Louie Psihoyos, US)
Dancing with the Devil (Jon Blair, UK)
Con Art Confidential: The Great Contemporary Art Bubble (Ben Lewis, UK)
Kassim the Dream (Kief Davidson, USA)
The Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (Rick Goldsmith and Judith Ehrlich, USA)
The Art of the Steal (Don Argott, USA)
William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe
Food, Inc.
Capitalism: A Love Story
We Live in Public

Christian Bruno, filmmaker
Maggots and Men (Cary Cronenwett, USA)
Is Stormy Knight eligible for an Oscar this year? Will someone please program this again, please, so I don’t have to go hoarse from shouting any longer. This film is amazing!

I am still unclear how Heddy Honigmann gets people to open up in front of the camera in such touching and honest ways. A wonderful experience.

Bright Star
Where best to find comfort—on Fanny Brawne’s bosom or in John Keats’ hair?

Moon (Duncan Jones, UK)
The return of melancholic sci-fi. Best viewed with one other stranger on a weekday afternoon at the Opera Plaza.

Lorna’s Silence (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium)
Such a great job at creating characters and building tension without succumbing to convention. The last 10 minutes were kinda eh, but the whole ride is better than anything else you’re likely to see.

The Beaches of Agnes
How could you not love it? Giddy and invigorating, it also hits some really sore spots. Ouch. How does she constantly make filmmaking seem so easy?

Goodbye Solo
I just wanted to spend more time with Souleymane and William long after the film was over.

Jonathan Marlow, San Francisco Cinematheque
Brain Operations (short, Ken Jacobs, USA)
An Education
The Headless Woman
A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (short, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)
Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina/France)
Picture Start (short, Christopher Doyle, Australia)
The Time That Remains (Elia Suleiman, Palestine)
White Material (Claire Denis, France)
You, the Living

Animated films deserve their own category. Documentary films deserve their own category.

Jonathan Kiefer, The Faster Times, KQED, San Francisco Magazine, SF360.org
Bright Star
The Hurt Locker
Goodbye Solo
Up in the Air
An Education
Star Trek (J.J. Abrams, USA)
Lorna’s Silence

Jason Sanders, Pacific Film Archive
Adela (Adolfo Alix, Jr., Philippines)
Alix straddles the line between the commercial side of Filipino cinema (his Batanes was a huge hit and the submission to the Foreign Film Oscar category) and the more daring works of the emerging Philippine Digital Underground. Adela brings the two arenas together, boasting an extraordinary performance by legend Anita Linda as a lonely elderly woman trying to maintain civility in a community residing along (and working in) a massive Manila trash dump, while maintaining the kind of intellectual and filmmaking rigor apparent in Alix’s more arty contemporaries. For anyone looking for a first taste of the Filipino digital underground, this is it.

California Company Town (Lee Anne Schmidt, USA)
A merger of landscape photography and economic policy, this experimental work trains its eye on old towns once blessed by progress, now abandoned by it. From lumber towns in redwood forests to the tech mines of Silicon Valley, this desolate, gorgeous film captures the promise-ridden history—and now decaying landscapes—of all of California.

Drag Me To Hell
Freed from the big-budget monstrosities of the Spider-Man franchise, Sam Raimi returned to his Evil Dead exploitation roots with this giddy little nasty.

Medicine For Melancholy (Barry Jenkins, USA)
Leave it to a Florida-by-way-of-L.A. transplant to make arguably the definitive film about contemporary SF. Jenkins’ marvelous feature debut decisively captures SF’s‘s particular blend of hope, beauty and unease through a strikingly universal, timeless aesthetic. Chronicling two young African American hipsters‘ uncertain day after a one-night stand as they bike and banter their way around the city, M4M bears token narrative resemblances to the mumblecore movement but its airy, seemingly casual B&W visual aesthetic recalls an entirely different era: the French New Wave, specifically Rohmer‘s Six Moral Tales, with its similar focus on urbane city dwellers trying to sway (and lay) one another through verbal seduction (and destruction).

Prince of Broadway (Sean Baker, USA)
Made in 2008, screened at some festivals in 2009, and won’t get a theatrical premiere until 2010: confusing, eh? Inspired by the street-level immediacy of the Dardennes brothers and the baroquely verbalized cityscapes of Taxi Driver-era Scorsese, Baker (codirector of the similarly urban-roughhouse Take Out and creator of cult TV series “Greg the Bunny”) uses the on-the-fly freedom of the digital aesthetic–skeletal crew, little equipment, improvisational filming–to create a defining film about New York City today, as he follows a rough-and-tough but kind-hearted Ghanian immigrant through a Garment District filled with cops, hustlers, scammers, and orphans. Shot through with the banter, gestures, and aesthetics of urban American life and its African immigrant underground, the film won the Locarno Jury Prize, and will be shown at the PFA in January as part of the African Film Festival.

Ruins (Manuel Mozos, Portugal)
Similar in topic and aesthetic to California Company Town, only with about six centuries of collapse and history to work through, Mozos’s fugue film captures the decaying beauty of the Portuguese landscape. Contemplative long takes of the ruins of empty castles, crumbling pilgrim’s quarters, and abandoned homes are merged with voiceovers reading the documents of the eras: plague notices from the 16th century, the love letters of a nun from the 17th, even hotel-booking requests from the early 20th.

35 Shots of Rum
At once sensual and contemplative, poetic and specific, Claire Denis’ portrait of a father and daughter in Paris evokes Ozu in its family dynamics and quiet observational tones and Rohmer in its seemingly effortless embrace of a season’s mood. As the father, Alex Descas brings a charisma unmatched this year.

To The Sea (Pedro Gonz lez-Rubio, Mexico)
The most effortlessly beautiful work I have seen this year, or even in a few years, this docu-fiction makes making movies seem like the easiest, most simplest thing in the world. Of course, it’s not; otherwise nearly every other film would be as wonderful and touching as this, and To The Sea wouldn’t be what it is: the best film of the year. Both documentary and fiction (“It’s just a film,” said the director), it’s set in a Mayan fishing village along Mexico’s spectacular Chinchorro, Quintano Roo, home to the world’s second-largest coral reef. Seemingly fused together with salt spray and sunlight, the film is made of the rhythms of the day, as two men and a boy fish, prepare food, eat, sleep, work and learn along the water. If it sounds simple, it is, but the way that Gonz lez-Rubio captures each moment—a gull hovering above a dock, a swordfish pulled into a boat, a father and son rough-housing with one another, dawn and sunset breaking—bears the mark of genius.

You’ve probably heard of this one.

The White Meadows (Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran)
Screened at Abu Dhabi (UAE) and San Sebastian, still unshown in USA. Near salt-bound islands off the Iranian coast, a man rows from town to town, collecting other people’s tears to pour into the sea; at dawn a dwarf walks among a crowd of shrouded women, with vials of tears roped to his back; a young virgin is bound to a raft and set adrift, to become “the bride of the sea;” a painter is buried in sand because he painted the sea red, his eyes filled with monkey urine “to make them see correctly:” these visions and others form the basis of this hallucinatory, angry, and utterly unforgettable work from the director of Iron Island. Let’s hope someone brings this here.

Michael Fox, SF360.org, SF Weekly
You, The Living
35 Shots of Rum
A Secret (Claude Miller, France)
The Beaches of Agnés
(500) Days of Summer
One Day You’ll Understand (Amos Gitai, France)
The Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
Shiva (Seven Days) (Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz, France/Israel)
A Serious Man

Sara Schieron, Boxoffice Magazine
Treeless Mountain
House of the Devil
Bright Star
Coco before Chanel
Beaches of Agnes
You the Living
Loren Cass
A Town Called Panic

Susan Gerhard, SF360.org
Three Monkeys
Tokyo Sonata
Burma VJ
Where the Wild Things Are
Stay the Same Never Change
35 Shots of Rum
The Maid
500 Days of Summer
District 9
An Education
Funny People
Goodbye Solo
Sleep Dealer
Sin Nombre
24 City
Examined Life
Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Thanks to SF360.org contributor Michael Fox for his generous help editing and compiling these lists.

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