There are a lot of movie lists floating around these days, and while they don’t always share the same choices there is one thing they all have in common… a shared implication that the movies on the list are the best. When looking at the best trailers of the past year though it quickly becomes obvious that the quality of the movie itself is irrelevant. Great movies can have terrible trailers, and bad movies can have fantastic trailers. The only real deciding factor here is does the trailer accomplish it’s singular job… does it increase your interest in the movie? All of the trailers below did so in spectacular fashion.
Regarding the selections below, I wasn’t sure if the list should only include trailers for movies that actually released this year or if this should be a list of trailers that came out in 2009 regardless of when the movie is scheduled to hit screens. So I compromised and turned my Top Ten list into a Top Fifteen… and it includes trailers for actual 2009 releases as well as for movies that don’t come out until 2010. (And yes, the recent French trailer for Inception would have easily made this list if the studio hadn’t asked all the web sites to pull it.)
It’s tough getting an audience to show up for your animated film if your name isn’t Disney/Pixar, Dreamworks, or 20th Century Fox… and it certainly doesn’t help matters if your plot involves the annihilation of the human race. So what do you do if the deck is stacked against you and your little film? You cut a kick-ass trailer together that showcases just how impressive your CGI and animated action set-pieces are, and then you add in some powerful instrumentals. Sadly, much like James Cameron’s Avatar, the makers of 9 forgot to add much in the way of substance or story to their beautiful little movie… but you can’t tell that from the trailer.
(500) Days of Summer
This anti-romantic comedy has ended 2009 as one of my top five movies of the year, and it represents one of the few times when a great trailer manages to equal a great film. “”This is not a love story. It’s a story about love.” A strong opening narration is soon joined by an uptempo but unfamiliar song (“Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap) and a series of images showing us the highs and lows of a relationship. Add in Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, two actors who rarely disappoint, and the movie looks even better.
The folks who put together this first full trailer for Avatar knew exactly what they had to work with and what to do with it. They wisely eschew all but three words of dialogue and instead focus entirely on the movie’s amazing visuals to sell it to an audience. Even in this truncated form you may still find your jaw dropping at the mere glimpses of a world unlike any you’ve seen before. From the opening sonic boom to the closing roar, this trailer is masturbation for your senses… which I guess makes the movie itself like sex with a brain-dead supermodel.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
This early trailer for Werner Herzog’s latest movie is endlessly quotable and filled with WTF moments… the fucking iguanas, the break dancing soul, the lucky crack pipe… and they all combine to form a perfect representation of the movie itself. Trailers for Nicolas Cage movies usually reek of mediocrity, paycheck acting, and toupee glue, but this one actually demands you see the flick by virtue of it’s sheer audacity and zaniness.
As with many of the best trailers the music selection here is a large part of what makes it so good. Placebo’s cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” is moody and beautiful. The trailer also gets two other key aspects perfect… it hooks you with a simple but intriguing premise and then pairs it with some truly impressive visuals. I’m happy to report the movie delivers on the trailer’s promise (we saw this at Fantastic Fest and loved it), so definitely check it out when it opens this coming January.
Anonymity can be both a gift and a curse sometimes, but for this (relatively) small science fiction film the general lack of awareness worked entirely in it’s favor. No one knew what to expect, and they were blown away when this trailer (and the movie itself) first arrived. It does a fantastic job of highlighting not just the action and effects, which are both pretty damn impressive, but also gives a glimpse of a possible social awareness. Beautifully rendered aliens, sweet-looking giant robots, and a pseudo-documentary feel all worked to create one of the summer’s must-see movies.
I was already pretty interested in Matthew Vaughn’s comic adaptation before this redband trailer hit a couple weeks ago, but now I’m literally counting the days until Kick-Ass hits theaters. If the movie is even remotely as cool, bloody, and audacious as this trailer then it just may be one of the best movies of 2010. Chloe Moretz has become one of my favorite child actors with her work in (500) Days of Summer and Not Forgotten, but she is absolutely out of control here. It’s no great honor, but you can already see her onstage at the MTV Movie Awards holding a golden popcorn statuette for Best Ass Kicker. And yes, I do realize that this means Nicolas Cage is in two of my top fifteen choices… probably the only list this year where he can make that claim.
The Last House On the Left
I’ll be the first to admit this trailer should probably be excluded based purely on the fact that it gives away too much of the movie (the last few seconds of the trailer are inexcusable), but it does such a fine job of making something vile seem almost beautiful that I had to include it. Laying the sweet sounds of a Guns n Roses cover song (“Sweet Child O’Mine” by Taken By Trees) over scenes of such viciousness and violence is a brilliant and effective move, and it implies a degree of class that may or may not actually be in the movie itself.
A Single Man
There are only a few trailers on this list that are dialogue free, and this is the only one also (mostly) free of special effects. The trailer uses a simple but intense piece of music played over a series of beautifully shot images and manages to instantly grab our attention. What’s the movie about? You’d have no clue if all you knew was what the trailer offered, but that’s not a bad thing. Director Tom Ford is a big shot in the fashion world and it’s easy to see that his eye for beauty and style has translated well into the world of cinema.
Whether or not you like the final product, there’s no denying this trailer showed that JJ Abrams and friends were serious about their reboot of the Star Trek universe. And even if you couldn’t give a rat’s ass about Star Trek this trailer still manages to grab you with over two minutes of action, spectacle, drama, and lens flares. (There’s even lens flare on the screens with nothing but text!) The trailer does a great job of introducing Kirk as someone still in the process of finding himself and his purpose… and the fact that it manages that amidst all the explosions, action, familiar character glimpses, and space debris is truly impressive.
If it feels like this movie is two or three years old it’s because it is… but it hit US theaters in January so technically it’s a 2009 release. The trailer is pretty solid all around, but the heart of it is Liam Neeson’s standout speech on the phone to his daughter’s kidnapper. Even if we weren’t shown a single piece of the action that follows you’d know that he was about to start kicking ass all over Paris. Neeson is an imposing guy, and the fact that he’s never had a role of this sort before now is astounding. We hear his promise and we believe it… and when the bad guy says “good luck” we can’t help but smile thinking of what’s in store for the prick.
The trailer for Park Chan-wook’s latest film starts with a simple setup and ends with toe sucking… a priest gives his life trying to help stop a deadly disease, but then returns from the brink of death a changed man. The formerly chaste man of god soon discovers a taste for blood and the sensuous touch of a married woman, and the trailer shows us quick glimpses of both desires being satiated. Park knows how to frame a visually arresting shot and we’re teased with many of them here… the all white room, the scissors thrusting towards someone’s mouth, the long shot of the leap from the car to someone’s back… all beautiful, and all luring you into the director’s assured grasp.
I love this trailer. The images, the text style, and the song choice (“Be Good” by Tokyo Police Club) all serve to capture the kinetic, varied, and unexpected nature of the film itself. It’s dialogue-free, but the themes of transformation, anarchy, and rebirth are evident in more than just the screen that actually spells it out. We see a woman with an odd hole in her stomach, a weird troll-like man being tasered beneath the streets of the city, and tattoo buttons that seem to actually have an effect when pressed… none of it makes sense and we’re left wanting to see the movie just to see if any of it gets explained.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
If you’re a regular reader here at FSR then you may already know that I loathed this movie. Absolutely hated it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know a slick trailer when I see one… and this early teaser here is slick as hell. It’s designed perfectly to shake your eyes and your ears, and like the Avatar trailer above it wisely forgoes dialogue in favor of gigantic robots brawling and destroying everything they touch. It doesn’t even bother with a single shot of Megan Fox bent in some uncomfortable position over a motorcycle while wearing cutoff jeans-shorts that ride the crack of her ass like – what were we talking about again?
Where the Wild Things Are
I haven’t ranked these trailers, but if I did this would easily be in the #1 slot. It was the first true look at Spike Jonze’s cinematic interpretation of the classic Maurice Sendak book, and it is beautiful. From the visuals both intimate and sweeping, to the hand-written text, to the seemingly perfect musical choice (“Wake up” by Arcade Fire) this trailer never fails to move me. Perhaps the ultimate compliment to whomever cut it is the fact that this two-minute trailer packs a bigger emotional punch then the actual movie.
Honorary Mentions: Away We Go, Dead Snow, The Hangover, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, My Bloody Valentine 3D, Not Quite Hollywood, Ong Bak 2, A Perfect Getaway, Robogeisha, Taken, Terminator Salvation, The Tournament, Up In the Air, Watchmen, Zombieland
What was your favorite trailer of the year?
Read More: 2009 Year in Review