Top Ten Films of 2009


Instead of writing the usual apology or disclaimer for creating a Best Of list, I’m just going to confess that I love creating these lists as they provide a snapshot of what films I was most immediately impressed by from the year that has just finished. As time passes many of these films will fade from memory while some continue to resonate and establish themselves in film history so it will be nice to be able to refer back to such a list and remind myself of films that may be forgotten.

Top Ten films with a theatrical release in Melbourne, Australian in 2009

  1. Balibo (Robert Connolly, 2009)
  2. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, 2008)
  3. Avatar (James Cameron, 2009)
  4. Genova (Michael Winterbottom, 2008)
  5. Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)
  6. Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton, 2009)
  7. Up (Pete Docter, 2009)
  8. Two Lovers (James Gray, 2008)
  9. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Terry Gilliam, 2009)
  10. Every Little Step (Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern, 2008)
Rachel Getting Married

The film that left the biggest impression on me in 2009 was Balibo, which left me initially feeling completely shattered and later left me in awe of how skilfully crafted it is with its combination of human drama, international politics and historical detail. The only two films I saw twice in the cinema in 2009 were Rachel Getting Married and Avatar; films at almost the opposite end of the spectrum to one another in representing what cinema can achieve. The ultra small scale Rachel Getting Married provided a deeply emotional examination of family dynamics and my love of cinema that captures a sense of place and something deeply human is further reflected by my inclusion of Genova, Samson and Delilah, Two Lovers and Every Little Step. The extravagant spectacle Avatar created one of the most immersive cinema experiences to date and my love of cinema as a visual art form is further reflected by my inclusion of Antichrist, Up and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Honourable mentions

Milk (Gus Van Sant, 2008)
The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008)
Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in, Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009)
Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009)
Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009)
Gomorrah (Gomorra, Matteo Garrone, 2008)
Summer Hours (L’Heure d’été, Olivier Assayas, 2008)
Mary and Max (Adam Elliot, 2009)
The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch, 2009)

Top Ten unreleased films (in Melbourne)

Love Exposure

While Melbourne is a tremendous city for film, especially with cinemas such as Cinema Nova that are very much committed to independent releases, a number of exceptional films still miss out on getting general theatrical releases. Fortunately for the Melbourne based film lover there is the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and what seems like an endless stream of film festivals picking up the slack. For this reason I’ve separately listed films screened in Melbourne in 2009 but not given a general theatrical release (and to date not scheduled for a 2010 release).

  1. Love Exposure (Ai no mukidashi, Sion Sono, 2008)
  2. 35 Shots of Rum (35 rhums, Claire Denis, 2008)

  3. Paper Soldiers (Bumazhnyy soldat, Aleksei German MI., 2008)
  4. Thirst (Bakjwi, Park Chan-wook, 2009)
  5. The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom, Kim Ji-woon, 2008)
  6. Public Enemy Number One (Part 1) (L’instinct de mort, Jean-François Richet, 2008)
  7. Mother (Madeo, Bong Joon-ho, 2009)
  8. Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009)
  9. JCVD (Mabrouk El Mechri, 2008)
  10. T Is for Teacher (Rohan Spong, 2009)
Dogs in Space

Melbourne also benefits from a wide range of retrospective screenings and in a year that was already spectacular for Australian cinema it was an added bonus to have screenings and then long overdue DVD releases of Richard Lowenstein’s 1986 masterpiece Dogs in Space and Ted Kotcheff’s ‘lost’ 1971 classic Wake in Fright. Watching a newly restored print of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (C’era una volta il West, 1968) at The Astor Theatre was another highlight on the cinematic year as was visiting ACMI’s Dennis Hopper and the New Hollywood exhibition. The Melbourne Cinémathèque once again provided a terrific program in 2009 and it was great to finally catch-up on some previously unseen films by Ingmar Bergman and Samuel Fuller as well as discovering for the first time the under-appreciated cinema of Frank Borzage.

Also appears here on Senses of Cinema, Issue No. 53, 2010.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

Bookmark and Share


  1. Great lists, nice & unique!! Too many critics name the same 12 films over & over again, so it’s nice to see some less-mentioned flicks get some love! Well played.

  2. Er! I need to rent Dogs in Space now. I’ve never heard of it but just watched the trailer and it looks awesome. Away We Go was my top film of 2009.

  3. I really adore Dogs in Space and it’s one of my top 5 Australian films of all time. There’s almost no narrative to speak of but it is so wonderfully atmospheric and full of great music.

    If I allowed myself to list 10 or 20 more highlights from 2009 then I would have included Away We Go as I did really like it. If I’d seen it in another year then it may have even made my top 10.

  4. Interesting stuff Thomas, especially with a couple in your top 10 – and yes, I love compiling and checking out other lists as well, it’s great fun this time of the year!

    I really liked Rachel Getting Married too but somehow left it out of my top 20. It’s so far ahead of anything else Anne Hathaway has ever done that it’s not funny. Loved the raw honesty of the film and her performance.

    Haven’t seen the Gilliam yet but you’re the first person I’ve seen list that one so I’m curious now to see how it pans out. The ones I’ve seen I pretty much concur with except for Antichrist which I wasn’t crazy about and will have to see again to know how I really feel about it.

    Bronson was near the top for me. Didn’t it get a short run at the Nova or somewhere else a month or so after MIFF? Or maybe just in Sydney?

    I watched Moon for the second time the other night and loved it even more! Would possibly raise it another notch or two if I was into further revision! I already had nasty thoughts of sneaking Bright Star in after being blown away by it last weekend!

    It’s so hard to catch everything by the end of the year. I’m still trying to find time to watch Inglourious Basterds! :(

  5. Thanks Dave and kudos on your diverse and fascinating list over at Screen Fanatic. I see you’ve included A Serious Man and An Education, which are both films that I rated highly too.

    Antichrist and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus are probably the two films on my list that I should include a disclaimer for as they very much appeal to particular sensibilities that I have so they won’t be for everybody. However, I would still encourage people to see Parnassus as it is such a glorious dive into Terry Gilliam’s surreal and chaotic imagination.

    When I interviewed Nicolas Winding Refn he announced that Bronson was getting an Australian release but I don’t remember it showing up in Melbourne so it may have only ended up making it to Sydney. It’s a shame as it is an excellent film that I think more Australian audiences would have enjoyed. It could have easily been promoted as England’s Chopper!

    The big absence from my list is Inglourious Basterds and that is because I really didn’t think it was that good. I enjoyed it and recommend people see it but found it to basically be a series of incredible moments that don’t hang together as a whole. Too many great characters exited the narrative too soon and often without getting to do much. However, I did see it during an exhausting week while I was on a break from film reviewing so perhaps I need to give it a second go. But to be honest I’d rather watch The Dirty Dozen or Cross of Iron again!


  6. Thanks Thomas! Yeah, I am a bit hesitant about Basterds and especially Parnassus, having loved very few of Gilliam’s films over the years. Hoping for better luck with this one! ;)

    I think you may be right about Bronson too – Melbourne audiences might have missed out in the end which is a shame. Really looking forward to seeing that again on DVD.

  7. Hey Thomas,
    Only just saw Balibo two weeks ago… amazing. Absolutely worthy of making #1 on your list. I shall follow thy recommendation and hire out Rachel Getting Married next. Pleased to see Up making your Top 10 – I’ve been very impressed with Pixar movies. Safe to say, they’ve really pushed the boundaries of not just animation for kids/family movies – but also, in the way of great narratives. Where my generation had Disney films, it’s great to see the kids these days have Pixar.

  8. Hi David

    Thanks for dropping by and you will certainly be doing yourself a favour if you check out Rachel Getting Married.

    I love the Pixar films too and they are actually now a subsidiary company of Disney. If you like the old Disney films then try to catch The Princess and the Frog. It’s a return to old-school 2D hand drawn animation and watching it reminded me of how I used to feel as a kid seeing the old Disney films.


  9. Hi Thomas,
    Do you think you can create a post with movies you’ve seen several times? More than 3 times :) I can tell about La vita è bella that I’ve seen it 5 times and still want to watch it again. Of course, not very soon.

  10. Hi Ana

    That’s a great idea and something that I was already thinking about doing this year. I don’t know where to start though as there are several films I’ve seen so many times that I’ve lost count!

    Keep reading and I’ll see what I can come up with. It may be a few weeks (or even months) until I get around to it but I will do it.


Comments are closed.