The Top 10 Trailers of 2009

I usually loathe Top lists.

As the adage says, if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. I have been starting to get highway hypnosis with the sameness of a lot of these Best Of lists for films in 2009, so I was emboldened when asked to come up with a Top 10 Trailers list for 2009 as I haven’t seen a lot of people devoting time to stacking which of them they thought performed their duty exceptionally well.

When I cobbled this list together I essentially, and unscientifically, used some of the same criteria that I use every week for my This Week In Trailers column. I wanted to include a wide swath of various genres (foreign, kids, drama, comedy, action) to show representative samples of what can be done within those arenas; thus, a few solid trailers just couldn’t make the cut.

Because these trailers are usually entry points for the films listed below, some of the challenge of this exercise is trying to “unexperience” watching the eventual film and judge these things based on why they moved me to begin with. It was tough separating what I know now versus what I knew then but, as you will see as my #3 choice, they don’t always have to result in great films. Trailers are always trying to separate you with your money or trying to make the best case why they deserve to be experienced so I hope you enjoy the ones I selected below and leave a comment or two for any trailers you think deserve a special mention.

10. Seven Days (Les 7 jours du talion) Trailer

This one will just not leave me alone. As a father I am unfairly biased at the initial opening of this but sometimes you can be moved by art simply by its construction. It’s such a deceptively simple premise (a chomo rapes and kills a girl, the father kidnaps the offender and plans on torturing and then killing him over the span of seven days before he’ll give himself up to police), but the trailer is wonderful to watch and soak in. There are no voiceovers, no annoying interstitial graphics, just expedient storytelling and the promise for a roller coaster ride straight downward. I can’t think of another trailer for a thriller this year that has kept a tight grip on my imagination like this has.

9. Coraline Trailer

Often, it’s hard to tell whether I might be able to go an enjoy a kid’s movie. I hate being trapped at a screening of a film (thanks, Madagascar 2) where I initially thought I might be able to eek out a little enjoyment, but the trailer for Coraline just exceeds my expectations as a parent as it is utterly phenomenal. There isn’t any sugarcoating the plot, the malaise or the sadness of the protagonist in this trailer and what a bold choice that is. The plucking violins, the hint this is going into some pretty dark territory, it all makes for one of the best “kids” trailer for 2009 that I think turned off just the right kind of parent: the one who actively wants Madagascar 2 and passed on what was one of the best animated films this year.

8. Zombieland Trailer

You’ve got a property that you may want to turn into a franchise. How you introduce the world to a concept we’ve seen before and make it fresh? This is how it’s done. My initial stance of this trailer was one of indifference with the number of zombie movies being put into production but the more you watch this the more you understand how tongue-in-cheek it’s being with how witty it tries to be. Not since Better Off Dead has Van Halen’s Everybody Wants Some been used so well and majestically. Say what you will about the actual film but this trailer knew what it was and sold it as-is. Honesty in advertising, imagine that.

7. Black Dynamite Trailer

A lot of independent movies come and go so it falls on the shoulders of a great editor to make a statement about why this one particular is special and deserves attention. This trailer packages itself as a true throwback to those 70′s era blaxploitation films many of us grew up watching, if not in the theater but on cable channels that loved to air them late at night in the 80s. And that’s what makes this trailer so great: it embraces its comedic selling points, showcases the period piece vibe it was trying to recreate, and gambles on pushing things all the way it can go. The music, the tempo, the voiceover, the clips, all of these things coalesce into a trailer that did a better job selling itself to an unsuspecting public and became one of the little indies that could, and did.

6. Drag Me To Hell Trailer

This is what brings all the boys to the yard. Yes, it’s a little slow going in the beginning as it all gets set up but once it does there is no going back with how fast things start coming at you. The deception of the first minute is that you don’t realize what kind of movie this is going to be if you were to just happen and stumble upon the trailer; it confuses you a little bit, I would assert, but it needs that time in order to line the pawns up. The last minute just jolts you with the very things that made it a satisfying movie in the first place: shocking and incredible visual cues.  The intense images we get at the end contrast so starkly from the ones we got in the beginning that there was no way I could leave it off this list as one of the better trailers this year.

5. The Hangover Trailer

Who was Zach Galifianakis before The Hangover? To the hipsters who saw him coming there was never a doubt in their mind he was going to be the breakout actor in this little ensemble vehicle. For those of us who didn’t really know all the details of what happens in this film, nor knew of Zach, the trailer shined when we switched from a movie I thought was straying into cutesy buddy comedy with the Rihanna ditty playing in the background to one of dark bachelor party debauchery when daylight comes. The morning after sequence, along with the breakfast at the pool, that became synonymous with this movie’s campaign is used judiciously and sets up the film perfectly. As Ed Helms screams out from the back of a police cruiser near the end of the trailer, “What is going on?” That’s exactly what this trailer leaves you thinking and God bless them for keeping everyone guessing.

4. Moon Trailer

Atmospheric, ephemeral. There isn’t a lot more that can be said about a movie no one knew about yet one that a cavalcade of geeks would champion as one of the year’s best by the end of December. To wit, at the :28 second mark we get everything we need to know about this movie: Sam Rockwell is on a moon base, he’s the only one there and has been there almost three years. Such a masterstroke in that not one word was needed to convey that yet we hit the ground running with what’s going on. Add in one of the most haunting scores you have heard since Requiem for a Dream, quotes from notable notables, some substantive moments of Rockwell’s performance, and you’ve got yourself a movie that is imploring you not to miss it.

3. Terminator: Salvation Trailer

This one is getting my honorary Roland Emmerich award for Best Sleight of Hand in the field of trailer making. Every year there’s always one trailer that catches me unaware and this year it was this. I honestly don’t care if you think this was the greatest thing you saw in 09 or that Christian Bale deserves some kind of honorarium for the work he did in it, but this movie was terrible. This trailer sold me on a bill of goods that weren’t there but, man, did they get me. From the moment he jumps off the helicopter and delivers a double-tap to the head of a machine I thought this would be mind-blowing. From the Nine Inch Nails score, the motorbike that does a 360 and keeps on going, the big thing that knocks down a 7-11 (endorsement alert!) and takes people prisoner, to Bale’s bombastic radio address I thought there wasn’t any way this film could be a sham. But holy homology, Batman, there isn’t anything I would take away from this movie that made me feel it was a part of the Terminator universe I know. My cap is off to you, McG. You are a fine huckster/carnival barker (“Hey everyone, let’s call Christian at home!”) and you got me. Thankfully, I didn’t need to buy a ticket to find out you put all the good bits in the trailer.


2. Tron Legacy Trailer

For sheer thrill, this one deserves its number two spot. The Daft Punk helps it, to be sure, but the sequence we get here just excites me in ways that many teasers just could not this year. The use of bright color against a deep black palette, the shot of the face inside the helmet that looks like a video projection within a human shell, and when the dude slo-mos into the air to jump on his quickly constructed light cycle it is on like Donkey Kong. The cycles’ physics are dazzling, they feel like they possess some actual weight and heft, and the introduction of Jeff Bridges just makes the fanboy in me squeal with delight. The trailer feels and looks like a fine piece of modern furniture that seems too precious to sit on but I could not be anticipating this movie more than I already am after seeing this.

1. The Hurt Locker Trailer

After seeing this trailer I wanted to buy this film, site unseen. You don’t get a lot of these moments when you watch as many trailers as I do but there was something so inherent in this movie’s marketing that it enveloped me with its message. That message, yet another in a string of movies set in The Iraq, seems like it could have been swallowed whole in all the white noise but the trailer stands out, and stood out, thanks to Jeremy Renner. I mean, how can you not be brought to attention with a line like “If I’m going to die, I’m going to die comfortable”? You have to be, and the trailer disarms you with the way in which it sells this as an intimate portrait of a guy who is diffusing bombs in the most un-intimate of places on earth. The dichotomy is illustrated wickedly and the kudos and accolades this movie received that’s pasted mid-way in this thing hit all the right notes. Plus (and why it is getting the number one spot this year), the scene that ends at about the 2:20 mark that became synonymous with this movie’s marketing push. The whole trailer builds to this moment, earns this moment, makes one of the best cases why this is an important movie and deserves your money.

In the world of trailers, that’s the point. What a wonderful world it is.

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