2009 Film Poll: A Whole World of Hurt 

Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq drama tops our annual critics' survey

Wednesday, Dec 23 2009

Topping the 10th annual L.A. Weekly/Village Voice Film Critics’ Poll, The Hurt Locker is also director Kathryn Bigelow’s personal best. Impressively old-school in its construction of suspense and character, the film is also horrifically topical with its depiction of existential terror and men at war in the age of the drone aircraft and the IED. Working from Mark Boal’s knowledgeable script, the movie brilliantly conflates human and technological alienation — its protagonist is an artist as crazed as the Joker, the robot bomb defuser he scorns is first cousin to last year’s poll cover boy, WALL-E.

The Hurt Locker is not just the decade’s strongest Iraq movie and the finest action flick of 2009 but a remarkable consensus choice — having also been named the year’s best movie by critical conclaves in both New York and Los Angeles. The Voice poll, which queries film critics throughout the country, had The Hurt Locker on 54 out of 94 ballots; its margin of victory surpassed the runner-up, Olivier Assayas’ Summer Hours, by the poll’s largest percentage since David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. topped Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love back in 2001. (These two movies get a rematch in our film-of-the-decade category, with Mulholland Dr. defeating runner-up In the Mood even more decisively this time around; the big news there is that Spike Lee’s The 25th Hour, a weak 25th in the 2002 poll, ties for second place.)

That said, the 2009 poll does reveal certain fan favorites. The Coen brothers (A Serious Man, No. 3), Claire Denis (35 Shots of Rum, No. 5), Lucrecia Martel (The Headless Woman, No. 6), Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox, No. 8) and Pixar (Up, No. 10) are all previous Top 10 finishers. The only newbies: Corneliu Porumboiu (Police, Adjective, No. 7), James Gray (Two Lovers, No. 9) and, surprisingly, Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds, No. 4), whose previous best was a 15th-place finish for Kill Bill Vol. 2 in 2004. The post-Thanksgiving Oscar rush had relatively little impact on the poll. Up in the Air finished at No. 20, Avatar at No. 41, Invictus at No. 74, and Crazy Heart at No. 113.

Auteur allegiance may be a given but, as proof of a critical capacity to compartmentalize, let’s note that, in many cases, the performances transcended the movies — particularly in the portrayal of dangerous characters. Psycho-mother Charlotte Gainsbourg was cited on three times as many ballots as her vehicle, Antichrist (No. 25), while Tilda Swinton and Mo’Nique gave poll-topping perfs as even worse mommies in Julia and Precious, two films that failed to break the Top 25. In the best actor category, Nicolas Cage placed second to The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner for his turn as the world’s most degenerate cop in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, a movie that finished at No. 30. And Christoph Waltz’s affable Nazi villain (Inglourious Basterds) continues his winning streak — Cannes, New York, Los Angeles, this paper — proof that the devil still gets the best lines.

For the complete results and individual critic ballots, go to laweekly.com/filmpoll.


1. The Hurt Locker (356 points, 54 mentions)

2. Summer Hours (239 points, 40 mentions)

3. A Serious Man (229 points, 34 mentions)

4. Inglourious Basterds (214 points, 36 mentions)

5. 35 Shots of Rum (189 points, 32 mentions)

6. The Headless Woman (183 points, 28 mentions)

7. Police, Adjective (171 points, 28 mentions)

8. Fantastic Mr. Fox (163 points, 29 mentions)

9. Two Lovers (137 points, 20 mentions)

10. Up (120 points, 21 mentions)


1. Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker (60 points, 27 mentions)

2. Nicolas Cage, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (33 points, 19 mentions)

3. Colin Firth, A Single Man (32 points, 13 mentions)


1. Tilda Swinton, Julia (66 points, 25 mentions)

2. Charlotte Gainsbourg, Antichrist (57 points, 25 mentions)

3. Carey Mulligan, An Education (42 points, 23 mentions)


1. Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds (92 points, 35 mentions)

2. Christian McKay, Me and Orson Welles (34 points, 17 mentions)

3. Woody Harrelson, The Messenger (30 points, 15 mentions)


1. Mo’Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (69 points, 29 mentions)

2. Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air (45 points, 20 mentions)

3. Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds (32 points, 14 mentions)


The Messenger
(8 points/mentions)


Anvil! The Story of Anvil
(12 points/mentions)


Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
(6 points/mentions)


1. To Die Like a Man (24 points, 11 mentions)

2. Trash Humpers (16 points, 7 mentions)

3. Enter the Void (12 points, 7 mentions)


1. Mulholland Dr. (10 points/mentions)

2. The 25th Hour (5 points/mentions)

2. In the Mood for Love (5 points/mentions)

4. La Commune (Paris, 1871) (4 points/mentions)

4. Yi Yi (4 points/mentions)

4. Zodiac (4 points/mentions)

7. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (3 points/mentions)

7. Dogville (3 points/mentions)

7. The New World (3 points/mentions)

7. There Will Be Blood (3 points/mentions)


The Ground Rules: We asked each critic to cite 10 films, three male lead performances, three female lead performances, three male supporting performances, three female supporting performances, three films without distributors, and one choice each for documentary, first feature, worst and best of the decade. Ranked ballots were weighted as follows: For film: 1 (10 points), 2 (9), 3 (8), 4 (7), 5 (6), 6 (5), 7 (4), 8 (3), 9 (2), 10 (1). For performance and undistributed: 1 (3), 2 (2), 3 (1). Unranked films were awarded 5 points each, unranked performances 2 points. Ties were verboten. Outside the undistributed category, we asked voters to focus on films that opened for U.S. theatrical engagements in 2009.

Participants: L.A. Weekly/Village Voice Media contributors: Robert Abele, Melissa Anderson, David Ehrenstein, F.X. Feeney, Scott Foundas, Lance Goldenberg, Tim Grierson, Aaron Hillis, J. Hoberman, Brian Miller, Adam Nayman, Michelle Orange, Nick Pinkerton, Nicolas Rapold, Vadim Rizov, Ella Taylor, Luke Y. Thompson, Chuck Wilson

Others: Sam Adams (Philadelphia City Paper), Jason Anderson (Eye Weekly), David Ansen (Newsweek), Michael Atkinson (Zero for Conduct), Sean Axmaker (Parallax View), Sheila Benson (Parallax View), Donna Bowman (freelance), Peter Brunette (The Hollywood Reporter), Jeannette Catsoulis (Reverse Shot), Justin Chang (Variety), Tom Charity (CNN.com), Daryl Chin (Documents on Art & Cinema), Richard Corliss (Time), Mike D’Angelo (Las Vegas Weekly), David D’Arcy (Screen International), Peter Debruge (Variety), Bilge Ebiri (New York), Jim Emerson (RogerEbert.com), Steve Erickson (Gay City News/Baltimore City Paper), David Fear (Time Out New York), Cynthia Fuchs (PopMatters), Ed Gonzalez (Slant), Larry Gross (Film Comment/Movie City News), Andrew Grant (Like Anna Karina’s Sweater), Eugene Hernandez (indieWIRE), Logan Hill (New York), Christoph Huber (Die Presse, Vienna), J.R. Jones (Chicago Reader), Kent Jones (Film Comment), Christopher Kelly (Fort Worth Star-Telegram), Ben Kenigsberg (Time Out Chicago), Glenn Kenny (Some Came Running), Peter Keough (The Boston Phoenix), Robert Koehler (Variety), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Dan Kois (NYmag.com), Michael Koresky (Reverse Shot), Nathan Lee (NPR), Diego Lerer (Clarin, Buenos Aires), Karina Longworth (Spout.com), Philip Lopate (Film Comment), Todd McCarthy (Variety), Patrick Z. McGavin (Screen International), Kristi Mitsuda (Reverse Shot), Wesley Morris (The Boston Globe), Rob Nelson (Variety), Mark Olsen (Film Comment), Gerald Peary (The Boston Phoenix), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Keith Phipps (The Onion), Richard Porton (Cineaste), John Powers (Vogue), James Quandt (Cinematheque Ontario), Nathan Rabin (The Onion), Bérénice Reynaud (REDCAT), Carrie Rickey (Philadelphia Inquirer), Jonathan Rosenbaum (JonathanRosenbaum.com), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York), Nick Schager (Slant), Andrew Schenker (Slant), Choire Sicha (The Awl), Chuck Stephens (freelance), David Sterritt (DavidSterritt.com), Amy Taubin (Film Comment), Charles Taylor (freelance), N.P. Thompson (Movies Into Film), Scott Tobias (The Onion), Martin Tsai (The Bitter Critic), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York), Bill White (Seattle Post-Intelligencer), Matthew Wilder (Collider.com), Stephanie Zacharek (Salon.com)

Reach the writer at jhoberman@villagevoice.com

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