Slumdog Millionaire

After agonising over the perfect balance between solid entertainment, sound human values and artistic merit, MercatorNet recommends the following films released in 2009. Post a comment on our selection. Or nominate your own favourites!

The Blind Side
Directed by John Lee Hancock
Starring Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Kathy Bates

An uplifting fact-based story of a wealthy couple in Memphis who adopt a talented black football player from the wrong side of the tracks and do all they can to help him improve academically. Sandra Bullock does a great job as a devout Christian mother who believes that “with God all things are possible”.

Bright Star
Directed by Jane Campion
Starring Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish, Paul Schneider, Kerry Fox, Thomas Sangster

Drama based on the three-year romance between 19th century Romantic poet John Keats and his inspiration, Fanny Brawne, which was cut short by Keats’ untimely death at age 25. An excellent period drama by New Zealand director Jane Campion.

Capitalism: a love story
Directed by Mike Moore

You don’t watch Mike Moore documentaries to get a serene, balanced view of American politics. You watch it to get enraged – either at The System or at his knee-jerk liberalism. Wherever you stand politically, the Global Financial Crisis is making a lot of people ask the same questions as Moore does. Why do some airline pilots have to supplement their paychecks by selling their blood?

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris

An unsuccessful young inventor creates a machine that makes cheeseburgers and other food fall from the sky. He finds a kindred spirit in a rookie weather reporter assigned to cover the bizarre climactic phenomenon. Great in 3-D. There’s a moral to this cheerful animated comedy about the dangers of gluttony.

Departures
Directed by Yōjirō Takita
Starring Masahiro Motoki, Ryoko Hirosue, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Kimiko Yo, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Takashi Sasano
This unusual Japanese drama won an Oscar for best foreign film. It tells the story of an unemployed cellist who finds a job in a funeral parlour. Far from being a dismal job, he discovers that through his new profession he can help soothe the sorrow of grieving relatives. The climax comes when he has to help prepare the body of his estranged father. A great film about human dignity.

District 9
Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Starring Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Robert Hobbs

This is a science fiction film in mock documentary style about racial prejudice and discrimination. A number of human-sized aliens who look like insects are stranded in the slums of Johannesburg where they are treated with contempt by humans. Finally the government decides to herd them all into a concentration camp. The ensuing violence is very graphic but delivers a powerful message about tolerance and solidarity.

Drag me to hell
Directed by Sam Raimi
Starring Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao, Adriana Barraza, David Paymer, Reggie Lee

Before director Sam Raimi made the Spiderman films, his specialty was horror. He returns to his favourite genre in this over-the-top tongue-in-cheek thriller. A loan officer is ordered to evict an old crone from her home. But the gypsy woman curses her and condemns her to hell in three days’ time. Believe it or not, this was a big hit with the critics. Only if you have an appetite for campy humour.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Directed by David Yates
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Alan Rickman, Tom Felton, Helena Bonham Carter

The latest instalment of the Harry Potter saga was also the highest-grossing film of 2009. Older now, Harry is getting closer to the forces of darkness whose leader, Lord Voldemort, murdered Harry’s parents. For the first time there are romantic complications. Amazingly, the special effects and narrative maintain the same high standards as the previous films.

The Hurt Locker
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty

This film follows a three-man US Army bomb disposal team during the Iraq War as they contend with defusing bombs, the threat of insurgents, and the tension that develops between them. Many critics thought that this is the best film yet about the war in Iraq, with impeccable acting and heart-stopping suspense.

Invictus
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon

A powerful and uplifting film about reconciliation after decades of apartheid in South Africa. After Nelson Mandela becomes president, he sees that he has to balance black aspirations against white fears. One way was to back the Springboks, the legendary South African rugby team, in the 1995 World Cup. Against all the odds, the mostly-white Boks win 15-12 in extra time. White and black are united in their triumph.

Slumdog Millionaire
Directed by Danny Boyle
Starring Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Anil Kapoor, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Tanay Chheda, Rubina Ali, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala

This is not a film which inspires indifference. It won 8 Oscars for its vibrant portrayal of an orphan in a Mumbai slum, but has been harshly criticised for demeaning the slum dwellers. The story line is imaginative (and sometimes absurd): a “tea wallah” goes for the biggest ever prize on a quiz show. He is so successful, in spite of his poor education, that he is suspected of cheating. The narrative unfolds as he explains his life to the police. An exuberant, exotic romance mixed with graphic violence, appalling poverty and a message of hope and human dignity. The music is terrific, especially the signature song, Jai Ho. However, some scenes are not for people with weak stomachs.

Up
Directed by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson
Voices of Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo, Jerome Ranft, John Ratzenberger, Elie Docter

After Finding Nemo, Up is Pixar’s most successful film to day. It tells the story of an elderly widower named Carl Fredricksen and an overeager wilderness explorer named Russell who fly to South America in a floating house suspended from helium balloons. Everyone (well, almost everyone) will appreciate the touching lessons about love and loss, marriage, friendship, and perseverance in this beautiful and entertaining animated film.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet.