The 20 Best Films Of 2009With 2015 upon us, we figured it was a good time to look back on the movies the millennium has brought us. We’ve dug into the archives and are re-running our Best of the 2000s pieces, from way back in 2009 when the Playlist was a little Blogspot site held together with tape and string. Each list runs down the top 10 films of each year (it’s possible that, half-a-decade on, we’d put them in a different order and even change some of the movies, but we wanted to preserve the original pieces untouched as far as possible). Check out 20002001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 if you missed them, and today we continue with 2009. FYI, unlike the other pieces, which were compiled by group, 2009 were the picks of Editor-In-Chief Rodrigo Perez only, and also went to twenty picks. If he were to do them again, they’d probably look very different, too…

Getting a definitive top 10 out of the Playlist team is hard.

There’s a lot of differing opinions and due to the locations of our writers (we’ve got people in the UK, Australia, Canada and U.S. places other than NY/LA), some don’t get to see most of the year’s films until January 2010. While we’re deep in January now, some are still making their way through everything.

While 2009 in many ways was a weak year for movies, at least in the mainstream, if you looked into international cinema, there were lots of films to be admired. Here’s my personal top 20 films of 2009 —they’re the ones that were the most emotionally affecting and psychologically haunting. The tried and true formula: the experience + the resonance= great movie. It has to be great in that moment and months later, unlike say, “Avatar” which was fun but forgotten about an hour later.

Unlike our 2008 picks, we stuck explicitly to 2009 films, not including pictures that are set for a 2010 release that we saw earlier this year at Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival (Nicolas Winding Refn‘s spiritual horror viking film, “Valhalla Rising” and Bong Joon-Ho‘s oedipal murder mystery drama, “Mother” being the two that would easily penetrate this list if they were technically not 2010 films).

null20. “Tokyo Sonata”
A family drama like none other done by former J-horror master Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to grandmaster Akira), the only reason this film is so low on our list is that I saw it over a year ago. ‘Sonata’ is a sprawling saga about a father too ashamed to admit he’s been fired and the aftermath that effects his family. And if Kurosawa was once the maestro of Japanese horror, this is internal terror of another kind: a disquietude that haunts even as it defies categorization, veering into absurdist comedy and social commentary before finally settling on a graceful, quivering and jaw-dropping solemnity.

null19. “The Cove”
How do you treat a potentially bleeding-heart, environmentally-friendly save-the-dolphins type hot-button issue documentary? If you’re director Louie Psihoyos, you check all the angles and realize the only true way to expose the dirt behind what’s actually going on in an illegal fishing cove in Taijii, Japan, is to go stealth and infiltrate from the inside with all the logistics and planning of a special ops team a la Jason Bourne. Using state of the art technology (plus help from Industrial Light & Magic) and Ric O’Barry, one of the world’s preeminent dolphin advocates, “The Cove” becomes a riveting spy-like thriller and one of the most truly captivating documentaries of the year. It’s also a powerful examination of redemption. O’Barry became famous (and rich) by capturing and training the dolphins that starred in the T.V series “Flipper.” Eventually he realized the show was a catalyst for the abuse and captivity of dolphins worldwide, and this film depicts a passionate man dedicated to righting former mistakes.

null18. “Two Lovers”
If Joaquin Phoenix sticks to his guns and does end up retiring from acting (he didn’t – Ed.) then his incredibly manic yet vulnerable final performance in James Gray‘s “Two Lovers” is certainly not a bad way to go out. A loose remake of Luchino Visconti‘s 1957 film “Le Notti Bianche” (starring Marcello Mastroianni), Phoenix plays an emasculated man-child torn between two women: one that represents chaos and lust (Gwyneth Paltrow) and one that symbolizes stability and open-heartedness (Vinessa Shaw). The right choice isn’t quite so easy, and watching Phoenix grapple with his decision is remarkable.

null17. “Goodbye Solo”
An old man wants to die and a relentlessly optimistic Senegalese cab driver tries to convince him otherwise in a hands-off, round-about way. Ramin Bahrani‘s acute, occasionally funny and well-observed examination of loneliness and friendship is incredibly thoughtful and textured. Tags of neo-neo realism aside, it’s easily his best work thus far, showcasing an incredible touch with finding untapped talent and quietly guiding them to greatness.

null16. “The Limits Of Control”
Perhaps the most misunderstood film of 2009. A swirling, mantra-like dream and a deceptively funny piece of minimalist art, Jim Jarmusch‘s “The Limits of Control” stars a stoic Isaach de Bankolé in a performance sorely undervalued this year by impatient, short-sighted critics. Mark my words, like mind-benders such as David Lynch‘s “Mulholland Drive,” Alain Renais’Last Year At Marienbad,” or even Jarmusch’s own “Dead Man” (which also received poor reviews and now is a cult classic), this psychedelic masterpiece will one day get its proper due. In some circles, it already has.

  • Randommale

    Not even an honorable for Up In the Air?!?!??!?!???!?!!!!????

  • Rick Andrews

    So, y\’all not gonna move forward from here up through 2013 (at least, I guess)? As far as I\’m concerned, keep going! It\’s interesting to see how consensuses over which movies are the best of the year evolve as time passes. But, I guess the cut-off point would probably be difficult to determine if you went ahead into the 2010s. How much time ought to pass before a reassessment of that particular year in film is at all warranted? A good question. But I did re-watch "Che" as a result of this series, and I thank you so much for that at the very least. In about twenty years, that movie (those movies) had better be uttered in the same breath along with "The Battle of Algiers" and "Battleship Potemkin" when people talk about great films about revolution!

  • E.

    What a disgrace of a list! It\’s okay if one likes indie movies with shaky cameras and realistic and minimalistic plots, but this list is pretentious and laughable. IndieWire seems to have a rule for the writers to not to include any entertainment or mainstream films to their lists, no matter how good they\’d be. And it\’s top 20, for Pete\’s sake!!! I\’d never consider leaving out Up, Inglourious Basterds, Up in the Air, Avatar or District 9 etc. God dammit, even The Hangover is better than plenty of your choices!!! Thanks, you just made my day worse, and now I\’m angry.

  • Chili

    I agree with the top three and think that these films have only grown in stature since 2009 (particularly Still Walking). But it is curious to omit The White Ribbon and City of Life and Death, two films that have been consistently mentioned as two of the best films of the decade.

    I know this list was made in 2009 but I think these films were pretty widely regarded even back then (both films made my top ten list in 2009).

  • Rodrigo

    " look like you guys are just being pretentious in the selection process intentionally."

    No us. Me, please read the intro. Also I reviewed Inglorious Basterds at Cannes in 2008 and I did not like it. Not trying to be controversial, just didn\’t care for it.

  • Dustin

    It\’s one thing to not include Inglorious Basterds on the list, but to not mention it in the honorable mentions is beyond pretentious.

  • Darryl

    Brilliant year for movies. I loved almost everything on this list. The top 3 are great films. And with this list it reminded me of excellent films that I forgot about: Bright Star, Still Walking, Tokyo Sonata, Goodbye Solo. Honestly, this overall year may have been better than \’07. Also, I believe this may have been the first year I became invested in this site.

  • Conway Twell

    Listen, I love Jarmusch but The Limits of Control will NEVER have its due in the same way as Dead Man. It is the epitome of style over substance, even if the style is rather breathtaking at times.

  • Adrian

    "Antichrist" (if the second half was as good as the first, it would have been top 5"? what do you mean? are you talking about antichrist or nymphomaniac?

  • Lib

    Excuse me?! Where the hell is \’Enter the Void\’??? Not even as an honorable mention! This is rubbish.

  • Quiet Wyatt

    You lost me at the Limits of Control. And quickly brought me back with the terribly underseen Bright Star.

  • anonymous

    It\’s nice the list gives attention to some lesser known films but it is a bit pretentious.

    I think Pixar\’s Up also deserves to be mentioned.

  • Ugh

    Fine list but not even an honorable mention for INGLORIOUS BASTERDS kind\’ve makes it look like you guys are just being pretentious in the selection process intentionally.

  • Wes

    1. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
    2. White Ribbon (Michael Haneke)
    3. Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodovar)
    4. Serious Man (Coen Bros)
    5. Avatar (James Cameron)
    6. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)
    7. Up in the Air (Jason Reitman)
    8. District 9 (Neill Blomkamp)
    9. I am Love (Luca Guadagnino)
    10. Mother (Bong Joon Ho)

  • Nathan Duke

    Oh, yeah – and \’Adventureland\’ too, which is, in my opinion, one of the best movies about youth from the past several years.

  • Nathan Duke

    What!? You\’ve got 20 spots and don\’t include either \’Inglourious Basterds\’ or \’The White Ribbon\’? That\’s nuts. Those were, respectively, my numbers 2 and 3 behind \’A Serious Man.\’ And I think they both certainly belong on the list over \’A Single Man\’ or \’The Headless Woman.\’

  • Joey Lee