Year-end lists are always contentious--three Mania interns were killed in the debates to determine this one and with the generally poor quality of cinema in 2009, the choices of great genre films became even tougher to resolve. But somewhere along the line, somebody produced 10 pretty damn good genre movies with which to constitute a list. You may disagree with the choices and placement--Lord knows we did--but as always, this is intended to spur debate rather than deliver the final word. Let's get to it.
Watch the Movie Maven Talk the Top 10 Films of 2009 or Read Below
James Cameron's $500 million return to science fiction appears to have matched the pre-release hype with the next great breakthrough in visual effects, a burgeoning star in Sam Worthington, and a storyline which marries genre action with more serious social messages. While it doesn't make for a masterpiece--its storyline is fairly pedestrian, and is themes are too obvious--it certainly can't be left off a list like this.
A remarkably strong year for animation gained a quiet boost with the latest effort of Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki. A gentle, almost plotless story--patterned loosely after The Little Mermaid--charts the growing friendship between a transformed goldfish and a little boy. The gorgeous color palate remains fittingly simple, and while it caters primarily to younger children, it leaves an impression that anyone who loves good animation can appreciate. Ponyo Movie Review
8. Drag Me to Hell
Audiences ignored Sam Raimi's return to full-bore horror when it was released last spring. Too bad for them; it was as if the rollicking madcap energy of the Evil Dead films never left. Freed from the constraints of ginormous studio blockbusters, Raimi found his grindhouse soul right where he left it, and reminded us all that you don't need a lot of money to create a fearsomely funny roller coaster. Drag Me to Hell Movie Review
7. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Speaking of films audiences have ignored, Wes Anderson's stop-motion adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic continues to struggle for traction at the holiday box office. There is no justice in this world. Fox's deliberately old fashioned technique stands alone among animated features this year, augmented by Anderson's sly dialogue and a resolutely entertaining approach to so-called children's stories. Owen Wilson's description of whackbat is worth the price of admission alone. The Fantastic Mr. Fox Movie Review
6. The Road
Post-apocalyptic fables don't come any bleaker than the slate gray expanse of The Road, in which a father and son search desperately for safe haven as the planet enters its death throes. The unremitting intensity of director John Hillcoat disguises a surprising streak of optimism: the belief that we can retain our moral compass, even in the worst possible circumstances. The Road Movie Review
5. Inglourious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino provides what Roger Ebert called "a much-needed alternate ending" to World War II in this strange and marvelous ode to good old-fashioned Nazi bashing. Christoph Waltz deserves an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the most jovial SS Colonel ever, while Brad Pitt adds another notch to his belt as a U.S. lieutenant who really, really loves German scalps. Inglourious Basterds Movie Review
4. Paranormal Activity
In many ways, Paranormal Activity isn't really a movie. It's a glorified haunted house, exercising the same techniques that carnival barkers employ with papier mache skeletons. But director Oren Peli is so skillful in his presentation than the boo-gotcha spook show rises to a level of near-perfection. The bloodless scares would be almost quaint were they not so relentless, putting the goriest torture porn to shame with their simple, straightforward effectiveness. Paranormal Activity Movie Review
This writer's choice for the best film of any sort this year comes courtesy of Pixar. So routinely does that studio knock our socks off--so perfectly do their CG masterpieces encapsulate impeccable storytelling techniques--that we only notice on those rare occasions when they don't produce a movie for the ages. Up continues their grand tradition with the story of a bitter old man who escapes the travails of the world in a house floating on balloons. The heartfelt emotions arrive with just enough cynicism and satire to blunt their schmaltzier overtones without detracting from an ultimately touching finale. Up Movie Review
2. District 9
This is what science fiction is all about: a thinly disguised treatise on social responsibility and humanity's inability to accept those who are different, dressed up in a chillingly plausible mockumentary and punctuated by some of the wildest action scenes all year. Director Neil Blomkamp announces himself as a director to watch, godfathered by Peter Jackson whose early low-budget efforts only aspired to the imaginative mayhem on display here. District 9 Movie Review
1. Star Trek
While the original series had some important things to say, and The Next Generation showed a few flashes of greatness, the rigors of acting as a tent pole for Paramount doomed much of the Star Trek franchise to homogenized filler… until J.J. Abrams kicked the whole thing into overdrive with his magnificent, game-changing reset button. Every aspect of Star Trek feels different--the sets, the effects, the character mannerisms, even the dialogue--and yet not only does it perfectly embody the original characters, but it encapsulates everything the franchise is supposed to be about--wrapped in irresistible visual effects and launched straight at us at warp speed. Watch The Movie Maven Talk Star Trek READ Star Trek Movie Review
Just to give you a sense for the opinions involved in the formation of this list, my personal 10 best genre films are as follows:
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