2009 was a year filled with some great blockbusters including the now #1 highest grossing film of all time, Avatar.  You can see a full list of the top 10 highest-grossing films of 2009 and their worldwide grosses on Wikipedia.   Of that list, only 2 films made my list of the Top 13 movies of 2009.  These are movies that I would definitely recommend to rent and watch if not own.

Those films are:

#13 -  The Blind Side

The Blind Side (Movie Poster)

Based on the book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, by Michael Lewis, The Blind Side and features the real life story of Michael Oher (now an Offensive Lineman with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens) and his adoptive parents Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy (played by Tim McGraw and Sandra Bullock).  This was a pretty moving story of a young, impoverished black man’s struggle in school and on the football field in a prominent white neighborhood and the people that take him in from a life of poverty and gangs.  Throughout the film, Sandra Bullock puts on an amazing performance as the determined and strong-willed Leigh Anne Tuohy, so much so that she recently won the Golden Globe for Best Actress.  Look for some great comic relief by the young “SJ” (Jae Head).

My Rating: 7.5 out of 10

#12 – Funny People

Funny People

Adam Sandler has made a living out of playing slapstick comedic roles, but has branched out to more dramatic roles, most notably 2002′s Punch Drunk Love and 2007′s Reign Over Me.  This movie, directed by Judd Apatow, is a marriage of both comedy and drama, and it follows 2 main characters: George (played by Adam Sandler), a star comedian who finds out that he is dying of an incurable disease; and Ira (Seth Rogen – Knocked Up, Observe and Report),  an amateur comedian trying and struggling to just make a name for himself.  George ends up hiring Ira as an assistant and joke writer and Ira finds out what it’s like to be a big star.  At the same time, George tries to redevelop a relationship with an old flame (Leslie Mann – Knocked Up, The 40-Year Old Virgin) only to find that she’s married with a family.  A great dramatic look at the “real” lives of comedians.

My Rating: 7.5 out of 10

#11 – Taken

Taken

When I first saw the trailers for this film, I thought to myself, “Oh great, another action flick where someone gets abducted and there’s this big hoopla to get that person back… blah blah blah.”  Yes, I actually say blah blah blah in my head.  This movie took me by complete surprise though at the sheer lengths of ruthlessness that ex-spook Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson – Batman Begins, Schindler’s List) exhibited just trying to get his daughter back from kidnappers while she was traveling in Europe.  Forget all those movies where someone’s child has been kidnapped and they say they’ll do anything to get them back; Mills does and is not in the least bit afraid to get his hands, or other people for that matter, bloody.  There were scenes in this film that made me just yell out loud “HOLY $H*T!!  DID HE JUST DO THAT??!??”.  Yes, yes he did.

My Rating: 8.0 out of 10

#10 – Watchmen

Watchmen

This was one of the very few graphic novels that I read in the 80′s that stuck with me the entire time.  In a time when it seemed that superheroes were infallible and indestructible, Alan Moore’s story of heroes coming out of forced retirement to solve the mystery of a murdered hero was revolutionary.  Stuck in a world where the impending danger of another world war was looming around the corner, the story is rich with intrigue and deception; and the film faithfully captures it all.  The only difference between the film and the comic is near the end, but the film ending blends the rest of the story so well, you’ll forgive director Zack Snyder for this change.

My Rating: 8.5 out of 10

#9 – Whip It

Whip It

The second most underrated and under-marketed film of 2009, Whip It is a gloriously funny ensemble film filled with indie culture.  The story of a girl named Bliss (Ellen Page – Juno, Hard Candy), in a small Podunk Texas town, who finds an escape from her everyday life by secretly joining a roller derby league.  The ensemble cast includes some great comedians and actors such as: SNL alumnus Jimmy Fallon, current SNL’r Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis, Marcia Gay Harden, Daniel Stern, and Drew Barrymore (who also directed the film).  I’ve recommended this film to all my friends who have never even heard of this movie and they were all glad I did.

My Rating: 8.5 out of 10

#8 – The Hangover

The Hangover

If you haven’t seen this movie yet, bring a diaper; because you’ll have pissed your pants laughing.   Four guys go to Vegas for a bachelor party only to wake up the next day with no recollection of the prior night’s events… and no groom… on the day of the wedding.  They try to piece the night’s events together with some little and some not so little clues and along the way find that they may have angered the wrong people… including former boxing heavyweight champ Mike Tyson.

My Rating: 8.5 out of 10

#7 – Avatar

Avatar (Movie Poster)

Move over floating plastic bag from American Beauty… there is a new “Most Beautiful Thing I Have Ever Seen”.  I have seen this movie twice and I’m still amazed at the details in the computer animation.  James Cameron’s story of humans that have traveled to  another planet to mine a very rare and precious ore does have a very similar (if not exact) storyline as Ferngully and Disney’s Pocahontas, but it’s such a visually spectacular film that it must be seen.  The premise: a disabled soldier in the Marines,  is recruited to explore the environment and negotiate the relocation of the native people, the Na’vi.  He accomplishes this through his Avatar, a body that he can control with his mind.  He learns the ways of the Na’vi, falls in love with the chieftain’s daughter, and all but forgets about the Mining company and the Marines… until the company decides to take matters into their own hands.  What ensues is a major conflict and battle with the avatars caught in the middle.

My Rating: 8.5 out of 10

#6 – Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s latest outing is nominated for 8 Academy Awards and tells the story of Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), a resourceful young movie theater owner fighting to stay one step ahead of the Nazis in occupied France.  She plots her revenge on the man responsible for her family’s death, the flamboyant Col. Hans Landa, played magnificently by my choice for the Oscar, Christoph Waltz) . Her plan soon draws the attention of Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Burn After Reading) who leads a group of Jewish soldiers known as the Basterds in a savage campaign behind enemy lines.  Those expecting an all out Tarantino slug-fest, beware:  This whole film is a delicate, dauntless, and deceptive game of Cat and Mouse (There… I got my 3″D” fix in… lol).

My Rating: 8.5 out of 10

#5 – District 9

District 9

Nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Picture, District 9 is what V or Alien Nation the 80′s television sci-fi shows  should have been.  The arrival of an enormous disabled spaceship over Johannesburg, South Africa, leads to the establishment of a refugee camp on the city’s outskirts for the ship’s starving, stranded aliens. Leading an attempt to relocate its inhabitants to a more remote location is security expert Wikus van de Merwe, whose lack of knowledge about the visitors will undergo a dramatic change when he becomes infected with an alien substance.  The mixture of live props and computer animation in this tale is so extremely impressive, you’ll believe the aliens actually do exist.

My Rating: 9.0 out of 10

#4 – Star Trek

Star Trek

A prequel, if you will, to the original and legendary sci-fi Star Trek films, this film tells the tales of James T. Kirk (Chris Pine – Smokin’ Aces) and Spock’s (Zachary Quinto – TV’s Heroes) childhood, their time in Starfleet Academy and a particular voyage into the Final Frontier on the Starship Enterprise.  When a Romulan ship from the future attempts to destroy the Federation of Planets, Kirk, Spock and a mostly inexperienced crew are thrown together on their first mission aboard the Starship Enterprise.  A must see for any sci-fi fan… and if you’re a Trekkie, I’m sure you own the DVD, Blu-ray and special Tribble doll too.

My Rating: 9.0 out of 10

#3 – The Hurt Locker

ThThe Hurt Locker

Nominated for 9 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, this Iraq War drama is an edge-of-your-seat thriller.  The Hurt Locker tells the story of Staff Sergeant William James (portrayed by Oscar nominated Jeremy Renner – S.W.A.T.), a bomb defuser in Iraq who thrives on the risk and danger of his job.  There’s simply not much more to say about this film; the intensity that emanates from this film leaves you on edge waiting for the eventuality of death.

My Rating: 9.5 out of 10

#2 – Up In The Air

Up In The Air

After watching the first 15 minutes of this Oscar nominated film, I knew immediately that it would easily be within my top 5 favorite films of the year.  George Clooney (The Men Who Stare at Goats, Michael Clayton) plays Ryan Bingham, a man who’s contracted by different companies to fire employees.  He is distant to his own family and spends so much time away from his own home that he has perfected the art of traveling.  His travels bring him to meet and fall for Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga - The Departed), a fellow traveler whose zeal for corporate traveling benefits matches his own.  Threatened by the prospect of having to fire people over video conference Ryan soon finds that his travels and hopes of reaching 10 million miles may be over.  He takes matters and young Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick – Twilight) into his own hands and shows her what it really means to end someone’s livelihood.

My Rating: 9.5 out of 10

#1 – Pirate Radio

Pirate Radio

Originally released in the UK as The Boat that Rocked, this ensemble comedy is a hilarious coming of age story through the era that brought us some of the greatest Rock and Roll music that was ever created.  Pirate Radio tells the fictional story about a group of DJs broadcasting from the North Sea who are at odds with a traditionalist British government that prefers to broadcast jazz and more classical fare.  Young Carl (Tom Sturridge) arrives on the pirate radio ship, Radio Rock, after being sent to stay with the ship’s Captain, his godfather, Quentin (Bill Nighy), to hopefully set his life on a different track after being expelled from school.  Little do the DJs on board know that Young Carl is actually looking for his father.

Just a note: I understand that the US version cut out some parts of the movie, so if you can watch the UK or uncut version, I would most definitely recommend it.

My Rating: 10 out of 10

Honorable Mentions:

I also liked these movies although they didn’t quite make my Top 13,  I’d definitely recommend renting these -

Fantastic Mr. Fox
Terminator Salvation
Moon
Bronson
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
The Ugly Truth
Precious