The Best Overlooked Movies & Shows of 2009

All the movies here are highly-rated (by both critics and viewers), little-known, and handpicked by our staff.

This list is ordered by most recent good movies, and therefore is not a ranking. Here are the titles considered as the best from the year 2009.
Stars: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick
Directed by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

A Serious Man is an almost inexplicable and philosophically dark comedy from the Cohen Brothers. Its protagonist,  Larry, is a professor at a quiet university whose wife decides to leave him for one of his more successful colleagues.  His unemployed brother moves into the couch and both of his kids are acting out. He starts a quest for meaning and clarity within his Jewish community.  The movie’s aesthetics and comedy will appreciated by all Cohen Brothers fans. However, the intricacies and struggle of the protagonist will hit home for anyone who has had a religious upbringing: Jewish guilt, and by extension Catholic guilt (or any other religious guilt) are big themes here. An original, weird, hard to understand masterpiece. Other than the prologue, you’ll feel like you have to watch it many times to understand it. Earned many nominations for the Oscars, including Best Picture.
Stars: Anna Kendrick, George Clooney, Vera Farmiga
Directed by: Jason Reitman

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a corporate axman, he comes in a fires people when the managers are too afraid to do it themselves. The nature of his work requires a lot of flying, short lived meetings in transit zones and he absolutely loves it, and he has a certain goal in mind. When the company tries a new approach to corporate downsizing he has to change his way and view of life. It’s full of cynicism and warmth. If you are familiar with Jason Reitman’s previous work, you’ll feel right at home, if you don’t : Get to it!
Stars: Iwan Rheon, Joseph Gilgun, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett

Five delinquents are stuck together in juvenile detention. The kids are bored, and they are all doing their best to be as rude as possible to each other and their supervisor. One afternoon there’s a big storm and they all get struck by lightening. The next day they wake up with the realization that they are not the same people as they were the day before. Each episode follows the perspective from a different character.

This is not your average superhero gang – nor are their powers particularly desirable. In essence the show is about a group of “misfits” trying to make connections and fit in. It’s at times heart warming, at others it will make you cringe. There is some seriously good acting between Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones) and Antonia Thomas (Love Sick). The plot is very gripping so it will be hard to not watch the whole first season (6 Episodes) in one afternoon.
Stars: Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Joan Allen, Richard Gere
Directed by: Lasse Hallström

A college professor (Richard Gere) provides a home for the abandoned Akita he encountered at the train station, against the wishes of his wife (Joan Allen). As a bond develops between dog and master and tragedy suddenly strikes the family, a true act of devotion is displayed by the pup. Based on a supposedly true story which played out in Japan in early 20th century, Lasse Hallstrom’s Hachi finds beauty in its simplicity without being overly cloying and gets empathetic, frankly really strong performance from Gere.
Stars: Christian Friedel, Ernst Jacobi, Leonie Benesch
Directed by: Michael Haneke

This 2009 Palme d’Or winner is filmed beautifully in black and white by Michael Haneke. In equal parts mysterious and disturbing, it is set in a northern German village in between 1913 and 1914 where strange events start to happen seemingly on their own. The people of the village, who feel as if they were punished, try to investigate it as the events start affecting them one by one. As they speculate on who is behind the acts that never stop, the film unfolds its slow but captivating plot. A brilliant and unique movie.
Stars: Ewa Fröling, Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace
Directed by: Niels Arden Oplev

The original Swedish mystery thriller that was later remade by David Fincher. It’s the same story of a wealthy man hiring a journalist and scrappy hacker to solver a murder, but told better. This version is slower, has more attention to detail and pace. In casting, authenticity triumphs over good looks. In staging, aesthetics are given as much importance as thrills. And in the story, intelligence wins over plot. This gives the main character of Lisbeth Salander (played by Noomi Rapace) better space to deploy her full mysticism and enigmatic nature. Danish director Niels Arden Oplev masterfully brings everything together to make for a movie that will forever be remembered.
Stars: Charlize Theron, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Viggo Mortensen
Directed by: John Hillcoat

A Cormac McCarthy novel adaptation (like No Country for Old Men), The Road is an apocalypse movie set in a ‘scorched Earth’ rendition of the world. It follows a father (played by Viggo Mortensen) and his son as they battle to survive everyday life. Throughout the movie, the son’s trust in his father grows and shrinks depending on choices the father makes, as he attempts to protect his son from cannibals, bandits, and the threat of starvation. The gritty realism this movie presents sets it apart from many other more theatrical releases, with the setting of a charred world illustrating a rather depressing new reality. A very down to earth and heartfelt story. Definitely worth the watch if you’re willing to feel like you’ve been punched in the gut.
Stars: Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Steven Strait
Directed by: Raymond De Felitta

City Island is a lighthearted comedy/drama about the Rizzo family, residents of the titular fishing community in The Bronx, New York. Andy Garcia plays the patriarch of the family who works as a corrections officer, and who decides one day to bring home a young ex-con named Tony under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Tony soon becomes entwined in the dysfunctional household as he develops varying relationships with each family member, even as each of them lives their own secret life apart from the rest. This secrecy drives much of the plot, as their personal mysteries play out in an unexpected and often amusing ways. It’s a lively slice-of-life full of boisterous characters, comedic misunderstandings and ultimately a warm embrace of family unity.
Stars: Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, Rashida Jones
Directed by: John Hamburg

“Sweet sweet hangin”. I Love You, Man hits a coziness more movies should aspire to be. It has smart jokes sprinkled throughout the very visible chemistry between Rudd and Segel. Their courtship is hysterical and rings true. I Love You, Man sets a high standard for bromances: they must be fantastic! It is a simple yet a brilliant feel-good movie.
Stars: Adam Bousdoukos, Moritz Bleibtreu, Pheline Roggan
Directed by: Fatih Akin

A delightfully screwy comedy about a guy and his struggling bar (of the title). The film is full of food, music, dancing, romance, and crazy coincidences. Our hero, Zinos, has just be abandoned by his girlfriend. On top of that his bar is struggling, he’s recently thrown his back out, he desperately needs to find a new chef, and his shady brother has just come to the Soul Kitchen looking for a job after being let out of on “partial parole.” Will it all work out in the end? Of course it will! This film is a lot lighter than Akin’s previous features, but maybe after all those challenging pictures he just felt the need to have a good time, which this film definitely delivers.
Stars: Bill Murray, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek
Directed by: Aaron Schneider

Robert Duvall…Bill Murray…need I say more? This popped up in my Netflix feed as a suggestion. Almost skipped over it, but my husband and I were up late and took a chance. WHOA! The acting is superb and what we thought would be a movie about revenge is unexpectedly about redemption. Robert Duvall is a hermit, looking forward to death. Bill Murray is a funeral home director looking for someone to bury. It’s subtle, very subtle, comical and heartbreaking. Y’all will love it.
Stars: Adel Bencherif, Niels Arestrup, Tahar Rahim
Directed by: Jacques Audiard

A cynical, gripping and unconventional French film that combines prison drama with the Goodfellas-styled narrative of the rise to criminal power. A Prophet takes age-old cliches and turns them upside down, resulting in a movie that manages to be completely original while remaining truthful to its influences. It’s not often that a film leaves me giddy with enthusiasm and has me constantly thinking back to it, but A Prophet achieves it. Incredible acting, fantastic pacing, great narrative arc, with a brutal, cynical and uncompromising take on morality, self-realization and life on the fringes of society. There are only two “action” sequences in this movie and they are as brutal and realistic as they are unexpected. Look past the subtitles, do yourself a favor and watch it.
Stars: Leonardo Alonso, Marco Antonio Aguirre, Paulina Gaitan
Directed by: Cary Fukunaga

A foreign film on par with City of God, and carrying its heritage of naturalistic performances and raw stories. Sin Nombre will take you into a world filled with gut wrenching violence, heart-breaking loss, and non-stop suspense. And while definitely a tough watch, it reports the horrors of immigration with humane and sometimes hopeful outlook.

The profound and epic redemption in this movie will leave you thinking about it for days.
Stars: Jae-yeong Jeong, Ryeowon Jung, Yeong-seo Park
Directed by: Lee Hae-jun

I didn’t know anything about the movie before watching it (this was my husband’s pick for ‘one of us picks something that the other knows nothing about’ night). It is Korean, sweet, funny, touching, unique, odd, poignant. I think the fact I knew nothing about the movie when I watched made it even more enjoyable so I hesitate to write more details in this review! Since watching it I have read that an American remake may be in the works, so I would recommend watching it before there is too much info out there about what is destined to be a less charming and successful version
Stars: Alfred Molina, Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard
Directed by: Lone Scherfig

A movie about a 16 year old girl who gets involved with an older more sophisticated man and how the relationship changes her life. Carey Mulligan’s performance is nothing short of perfect, inevitably making herself the center of the movie. The coming-of-age story is also quite exceptional, and conveys  impressive load and variety of emotions.

An Education is one of those movies that make you live an experience you haven’t lived yourself, but because it is so exquisitely and realistically done, the character’s problems and joys will feel like your own.
Stars: James Gandolfini, Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander
Directed by: Armando Iannucci

A hilarious comedy about politics in the UK and US. The secretary of State for Internal Development Simon Foster accidentally backs the plans for a war in the Middle East and suddenly finds he has a lot of friends in Washington. What follows is a difficult to follow maneuvering of pro- and antiwar factions in both governments. The harder it gets to follow what’s going on in the movie the more it resembles our present day politics and the funnier it becomes.