December 31, 2009

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Odd season
Forget the blockbusters (mostly), 2009 was a year of the oddballs
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com

So, 2009 — is that all?

Considering this year’s major movies, I feel a bit like a kid looking into an empty Christmas stocking, hoping that maybe a Twix or one of those mini Reese’s peanut butter cups is lodged at the bottom, heretofore unnoticed.

The big movie seasons — summer, holiday-era Oscar wannabes —seemed more fizzle than fab. And I feel like I’ve thought “shut up, movie” with more frequency than normal.

But looking back through the list, there have been lots of quirky movies that caught my attention. In many cases, the truly fun, delightful, this-is-why-I-go-to-the-movies movies have come from the most unexpected places. And, as usual, there are plenty of heavy hitters I haven’t seen yet: The Young Victoria, The Lovely Bones, A Single Man, Crazy Heart, Red Cliff, etc. But here, based on what I have seen, is how 2009 shook out.

• Best over-hyped use of 3D: Avatar Yes, whatever one might say about the story and characters (that they’re flat and uninspired, for example), the movie does indeed look great, with a truly pushing-the-game-forward use of motion capture technology.

• Worst over-hyped use of 3D: My Bloody Valentine The weak, boring story comes RIGHT AT YOU.

• Best bromance: Sherlock Holmes Holmes and his Watson (Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law) are more charming than even the Jason Segal/Paul Rudd dude duo.

• Worst romance: Did You Hear About the Morgans? Though enraging rom-coms like Ugly Truth and He’s Just Not that Into You certainly give it a run for its money, Did You Hear About the Morgans? is particularly awful, making you want to boink the character’s heads, Stooge-style, into each other throughout.

• Best movie about the Great Recession: Up in the Air Nobody’s job is secure, not even the guy whose job it is to fire you from yours. This George Clooney movie is a great rumination on all the big life questions.

• Worst movie about the Great Recession: Confessions of a Shopaholic Also a truly awful and sort of demeaning romantic comedy, Confessions is full of lust for our haute label-filled past. And sure, the movie was made before the world went to hell in a discount handbag but I still had to watch it during the depths of the initial freak-out stage.

• Best attempt to revive a beloved sci-fi series: Star Trek Hands down the best time I had at the theater this year and the most fun I had with any blockbuster this summer. The original Trek characters return with new actors (plus Leonard Nimoy!) and breathe new life into a beloved universe.

• Worst attempt to revive a beloved sci-fi series: Terminator Salvation With all the machine-on-machine action, I kept thinking I might have accidentally walked into a Transformers screening instead. John Connor is a dour freedom fighter who makes you think maybe the robots should just take over.

• Best cheesy apocalypse movie: 2012 Outrunning explosions, a children in peril, a dog who just barely escapes disaster — this is the end of the world at its most popcorn delightful. Plus, how can you not root for John Cusack?

• Worst cheesy apocalypse movie: Knowing As if secret codes predicting 9/11 and other disasters weren’t “ugh” enough, this Nicolas Cage (sigh, poor Nicolas Cage) movie devolves into nonsense about sun flares and aliens — apocalypse might be better than this.

• Most charming Disney movie: The Princess and the Frog Little girls get another princess to dress up like and, in the spirit of our Obama era, she’s African-American. Fans of classic Disney cartoons with their hand-drawn, watercolor-like loveliness, get some assurance that this medium has a future. Everybody wins — even the not-great music kinda grows on you.

• Most terrifying Disney movie: Disney’s A Christmas Carol Demon horses, a sucking-blackness Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, the scowling children that are Ignorance and Want, the commendable but comedy-free adherence to the Dickens text — if you see this movie you’ll want to have a few nightlights handy.

• Best gratuitous use of blood, guts and violence: Inglourious Basterds Quentin Tarantino pays homage to war movies, spaghetti westerns and 1970s filmmaking. Brad Pitt works a strange southern accent and has an absolute ball. The blood spurts, the Nazis suffer and all is right with the world.

• Worst gratuitous use of blood, guts and violence: The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day Makes you think that maybe this whole movie thing is really kind of played out.

• Best comedy nobody saw: The Invention of Lying When nobody was looking, Ricky Gervais made a comedy about atheism and hope and it’s quite lovely.

• Best zombie movie nobody saw: Dead Snow They’re not just zombies, they’re zombie Nazis!

• Best girl-on-a-killing-spree movie: Jennifer’s Body Speaking of movies nobody saw, get over your Diablo Cody problems and see this delightful movie about a high school cheerleader who becomes a demon who is, as her best friend puts it, really evil, not just high school evil. From its cheery beginning to its Hole-scored ending (not to “Jennifer’s Body” but still…), Jennifer’s Body is great girl movie fun.

• Worst girl-on-a-killing spree movie: The Orphan “Hilarious” and “good” are not the same thing, particularly if your movie is not a comedy.

• Best post college: Adventureland Jesse Eisenberg spends the summer after college working a crappy job at a crappy amusement park and we learn that Kristen Stewart has more in her than “vampire’s girlfriend.” The 1980s soundtrack makes this Gen-X version of The Graduate a delight.

• Worst post college: Post Grad Shut up, Rory Gilmore.

• Best weird movie by stylistic filmmakers: A Serious Man The Cohen Brothers riff on the story of Job in this quiet, menace-filled oddball movie about a Jewish man whose life is falling apart in 1960s Minnesota.

• Best funny movie by a stylistic filmmaker: Whatever Works Woody Allen — I know! I was surprised too. But this Larry David fronted comedy filled with cornball jokes and direct-to-the-camera monologues kept me smiling long after I left the theater.

• Best biopic: Julie and Julia This biopic of both Julia Child and Julie Powell is a foodie delight — particularly when the movie is showing us 1950s Paris where a bored and lonely Julia finds herself through French cooking. This movie is what happens when you mix joy and butter.

• Worst biopic: Amelia Hilary Swank uses a weird Katharine Hepburn accent to give us a completely uninteresting look at the life of female aviator Amelia Earhart. Richard Gere plays her husband with whom she has, like, negative chemistry.

• Best documentary: The September Issue Sympathy for the Prada-wearing devil. Anna Wintour, you’re my hero.

• Worst documentary: Capitalism: A Love Story Enough out of you for a while, Michael Moore.

• Best movie about classic monster-movie monsters: Zombieland As if being one of two (two!) movies featuring an excellent performance by Woody Harrelson wasn’t supernatural enough, Zombieland accomplishes the delightful feat of making zombies fun and new. And just when you think it might be the funniest movie ever, Bill Murray shows up to increase the awesomeness exponentially.

• Worst movie about classic monster movie monsters: The Uninvited Stupid and ultimately pointless use of ghost children.

A decade of movies is a big thing to consider — also how many lists have you read so far that are full of foreign movies and then one thing you’ve heard of (and why is that usually Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?)? Instead, I offer:

• Best thing about movies this decade: Pixar. Pixar began its dominance of the cartoon universe in the mid-1990s but it was in the ’00s (I’m still not resolved on aughts; how about decadus horribilis?) that they started putting out films that will truly stand as classics for decades to come. Specifically Finding Nemo (the new Bambi), The Incredibles (a remarkably spot-on examination of marriage and family dynamics, despite being a kid’s movie about superheroes) and this year’s Up. Their very best? Ratatouille and WALL-E.

• Worst thing about movies this decade: The escalation of everything. Everything seemed to get more in the past 10 years. Summer movie season (which, like Christmas shopping season, seems to begin earlier each year), Oscar campaigning season, Oscar campaigns, Oscar movie season (with more movies crammed into one limited release date and not filtering out to us in the hinterlands until January), the importance of opening weekend, the hype around opening weekends, the use of 3-D, the turning of everything into a franchise, the continuing infliction of the Saw movies, the remake/adaptation of old TV shows/old movies/video games/amusement park rides … more, bigger, louder, advanced sold and coming right at you.

And now, for the absolute top of the last year, with, of course, some cheating

Best 10 movies of 2009
10. Fantastic Mr. Fox / Where the Wild Things Are Hipster filmmakers give us new ways to look at classic kids’ tales.
9. Zombieland Zombies! Woody Harrelson! Bill Murray! Zombies! Zombie Bill Murray!
8. It Might Get Loud / Every Little Step Two excellent documentaries about people absolutely in love with their crafts. In It Might Get Loud, Jimmy Page, Jack White and The Edge nerd out over guitars. In Every Little Step, you get the making of and the casting of A Chorus Line.
7. The Messenger / The Hurt Locker / In the Loop If you see only three movies about The War this year … The Messenger features the other excellent Woody Harrelson performance and gives us the homefront. The Hurt Locker is an unflinching look at the warriors in battle. In the Loop is an excellent British comedy about the frightening way that war policy is made.
6. Up / The Princess and the Frog With Coraline and the neat-to-look-at, weird-to-watch 9, it’s been a good year for animation but there were two standouts. Up continues the Pixar tradition of computer animated tales full of heart and fun. The Princes and the Frog reminded us of the best of classic Disney with a much-needed modern heroine.
5. Inglourious Basterds Brad Pitt hunts “Naaazis” in this fun revenge fantasy.
4. The September Issue See an issue of Vogue come together in this documentary about fashion layouts, haute couture and the mystery that is Anna Wintour.
3. Drag Me to Hell / Jennifer’s Body Girls have horror movie fun in these two excellent action/creep-out movies that mix horror with comedy. Alison Lohman makes a great lead in the Sam Raimi creation Drag Me to Hell. Diablo Cody’s script and performances from Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox give Jennifer’s Body a kick.
2. Up in the Air George Clooney (how does he keep getting better looking?) is perfect as a man living in stasis in this quiet comedy.
1. Star Trek J.J. Abrams gives us old Trek made new with a smart eye to continuity, great casting and a dash of Leonard Nimoy. I left the theater delighted.

Honorable mentions:
• Paranormal Activity Made for, like, $6, but the creepiest horror movie I’ve seen in ages.
• Watchmen A nice dystopic superhero movie filled with fun visuals and actual good performances.
• District 9 When it comes to our fear of the Other, we never learn.

Worst 10 movies of 2009
10. Amelia What is with those “March of Time” newsreel-like accents?
9. Dance Flick The obligatory dance movie spoof somehow captures none of the fun and silliness of the genre.
8. I Love You, Beth Cooper / Post Grad / Ugly Truth / Confessions of a Shopaholic Whether it’s a lovelorn nerd, a confused 20something, a shrill 30something or a spendy moron (respectively), the lead characters are only the beginning of what makes these movies painful.
7. Streetfighter: The Legend of Chun Li Kristen Kreuk, Smallville’s Lana, is only one of the problems with this painful movie about a video game character.
6. Echelon Conspiracy Yeesh, Ed Burns. Dude.
5. The Pink Panther 2 How about this — I’ll send Steve Martin $10 if he doesn’t star in another one of these sequels.
4. The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day Giving excessive movie violence a bad name.
3. Old Dogs John Travolta and Robin Williams apparently have some sort of score to settle with the American movie-going public and here they get their revenge.
2. Did You Hear About the Morgans? Movie make angry. Amy want smash.
1. Transylmania Boobs everywhere. Also, women’s breasts.