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The 25 Best Movies of 2009

December 16, 2009  |  7:00am

Our favorite movies of 2009 belie a diverse appreciation ranging from a quiet rumination on death to gruesome horror; from a partly ad-libbed, low-budget character study to the most expensive movie of all time. There are four movies made, at least in part, with children in mind. There are several Hollywood movies alongside films from the rest of the U.S., Austria, the U.K., Japan and South Africa—plus three from France. Our top pick was a late addition to the list, so the print version looks a little different than what you see here. We love most types of movies and believe each of these to be among the best of its style from 2009. Let us know what we missed in the comments section below.

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25. Drag Me to Hell (Sam Raimi) [Universal]
Drag Me to Hell is a delirious horror film, but it’s no trifle, for the sole reason that Raimi’s creativity suddenly seems reinvigorated, no longer bound by a comic book template. Each action sequence is a model of wit. You can almost hear Raimi laughing when his heroine, Christine, discovers that her assailant is standing conveniently beneath an anvil hung from the ceiling by a rope, or when a fierce fight in the interior of a car manages to incorporate both staples and dentures as weapons, or when a creature tries unsuccessfully to gum its victim’s face off because said dentures are at large, or when a possessed goat calls our heroine a bitch in exactly the way you’d expect a goat to speak: bi-ii-ii-ii-tch. Robert Davis

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24. Beeswax (Andrew Bujalski) [The Cinema Guild]
In his first two features, Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation, lo-fi trailblazer Bujalski spearheaded the mumblecore movement, funneling untrained actors and quarter-life ambiguity into a surprisingly rich product. Beeswax continues Bujsalski’s history of creating domestic visual poetry that borders on novelty. The story documents the relationship of twin sisters Jeannie and Lauren (Tilly and Maggie Hatcher) as they cope with twentysomething trials of lost wallets, lukewarm lovers and tentative lawsuits. While the script (or lack thereof) reins in its players from divulging openly, each subtle facial expression and stuttered line is its own monologue in this affectionate anti-drama. Despite the ADD conversations and lax plot, the earthy performances are endearing enough to reverse years of big-budget desensitization. Sean Edgar

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23. Ponyo (Hayao Miyazaki)
Like Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Ponyo is the story of a fish-person who becomes a human and must find true love. But Miyazaki’s take is personal and whimsical. There’s an irresistible passion to every frame, regardless of whether or not what’s happening onscreen makes any sort of sense. Even as he ages, Miyazaki’s children remain an accurate portrait of youth without becoming mere nostalgia. Simply put, no one seems to understand the wonders of childhood better. Sometimes it’s enough to just sit back and let a beautiful work of animation wash over you, letting the troubles of the world slide past as the pictures take you out of this world. Ponyo is just that sort of film. Sean Gandert

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22. Food, Inc. (Robert Kenner) [Magnolia Pictures]
Kenner creates a persuasive and utterly effective diatribe against 21st-century food production and eating practices in the U.S. He travels from slaughterhouses to agricultural conglomerates to family farms to explore the fallout of the ways we consume food. Discussing the obesity epidemic, health disasters like e. coli outbreaks and political apathy, Kenner highlights the crises that have come from the corporatization of food production in this country. Kenner makes no attempt to veil his personal opinions on the subject, but his effective interviews make a convincing argument. He uses witty illustrations and some eccentric but lovable small-time players in the production chain to make an impressive case for a movement to non-mass-produced food. Emily Riemer

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21. Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze) [Warner Bros.]
Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers’ re-imagining of a childhood classic garnered a wide range of reviews and opinions, even within our office. It’s not just that the film isn’t really geared towards kids—mine fidgeted throughout. It’s the complete absence of the feeling the trailer gave us—one long wild rumpus coming to life to Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up,” a song that doesn’t actually appear in the film. That sense of triumph and whimsy is the exact opposite of the actual movie. It’s an angry, frustrated angst-filled movie because it’s a angry, frustrated, angst-filled book. Jonze masterfully brings all of the inner turmoil of Max’s childhood to life as Maurice Sendek’s creatures make a glorious jump onto the screen. They have names now! And they’re every bit as wild as we all imagined. Josh Jackson

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