The movies of 2009 were brought to you by the number 9, the letter-grade C, and the word, “distant.” Sure, there were a few diamonds in the rough, but, for the most part, 2009’s movies were just that: rough. There were ho-hum blockbusters and lifeless dramas and comedies that made audiences cringe. And, as such, that makes it pretty tough to put together a best-of-the-year feature. Fortunately, though, among the hundreds of movies I saw this year, there were still a few good ones. Let’s see if I can come up with 10 of them, shall we?
First, the Good News:
(500) Days of Summer: Usually, when I see a romantic comedy, I know exactly what I’m going to get. Not so with this unexpected indie chick flick. It’s sweet and funny—and brutally honest. Cleverly written and brilliantly acted, (500) Days of Summer was a breath of fresh air—and a surprise favorite.
Inglourious Basterds: Quentin Tarantino’s latest wasn’t really what I was expecting, either—or perhaps, more accurately, it was everything I expected and more. It’s long and chatty. It’s action-packed and laugh-out-loud funny. And it’s completely over-the-top. But it’s also cleverly written and brilliantly acted.
Up in the Air: It came as no surprise that I loved Jason Reitman’s latest, Up in the Air. After all, his previous features—2007’s Juno and 2006’s Thank You for Smoking—both made my year-end list. Like Reitman’s earlier films, UITA is delightfully unexpected—yet thoughtful, too. The cast is brilliant, and Reitman’s directing is spot-on.
Invictus: Part of me dreads award season just a little bit—because, while the poignant, award season dramas are often done especially well, they also tend to be pretty heavy. But that’s not the case with Clint Eastwood’s Invictus. This award season sports drama is powerful in the most subtle of ways—but it’s also kinda fun. It’s just what I needed in the midst of war dramas and the apocalypse.
Star Trek: Before seeing director J. J. Abrams’s reboot of the Star Trek franchise, I hadn’t seen a single Star Trek movie—and my only experience with the TV show was years ago, during some late-night babysitting. But, with its breath-taking effects and surprisingly solid character development, Star Trek won me over. Don’t be surprised if I show up in full Starfleet uniform for the screening of the follow-up (whenever that may be).
Zombieland: How did I love Zombieland? Let me count the ways. I loved it for Woody Harrelson on a hunt for the last Twinkies on Earth. I loved it for Jesse Eisenberg as a nerdy, by-the-book zombie fighter. For its brilliant cameo (which I’m not spoiling—so you’ll just have to see it for yourself). And, of course, its badass zombie-killing action. It was one of the most entertaining movies I saw all year—and, without a doubt, the most fun I had in a movie theater since the late-night showing of Snakes on a Plane—only, this time, the movie was actually good.
Fantastic Mr. Fox: 2009 was a big year for animated films—but while many studios opted for the flash of whiz-bang 3D effects, quirky indie director Wes Anderson opted to go old-school for Fantastic Mr. Fox. Based on a classic story (by the equally quirky Roald Dahl) and told through stop-motion animation by an all-star voice cast, Mr. Fox is certainly fantastic. In fact, I’ve already seen it three times (and counting), and I enjoy it more each time I watch it.
The Princess and the Frog: Speaking of old-school, Disney also made a splash this year with their first hand-drawn animated film in five long years. The Princess and the Frog is the classic Disney fairy tale—both magical and musical, with lovable characters and breathtaking artwork. Like Mr. Fox, it shows that old-fashioned animation is still alive and kickin’.
Bliss: For me, 2009 was also a year of trying new things—like Blu-ray…and online screenings. It was the year I discovered GiganticDigital.com—a site that screens independent and foreign films online for those of us who don’t live near the art houses of New York and LA. It was a successful experiment for me—because my first Gigantic movie, the Turkish drama Bliss, turned out to be one of the best films I saw all year.
Sita Sings the Blues: I actually had two animated films to choose from for my final spot. But since I’m obviously on a serious old-school animation kick this year (and putting a Pixar movie on my top-ten list would just be too…predictable), I’ll close out my list with Sita Sings the Blues, a vibrant animated film that’s filled with action, romance, Indian folklore, and 1920s jazz. It’s unlike any animated film you’ve ever seen—and (lucky you!) you can watch it for free (legally, even!) on YouTube (though I recommend picking it up on DVD anyway).
This Year’s Film Festival Favorite:
The Candidate: I saw some great films at this year’s film festivals. But my favorite was The Candidate, a Danish thriller so captivatingly twisted that I found myself at a complete loss for words when I attempted to write up a review. I can only hope that the Hollywood remake (which is currently in development) will be half as good.
Kristin’s Special You Go, Girlfriend Award:
2009 was a big year for women, with movies by female directors raking in both cash and Oscar buzz. But Drew Barrymore deserves a shout-out for her directorial debut, Whip It, a riotous flick for gutsy chicks. Keep up the good work, Drew!
Now For the Bad News:
Believe it or not, my worst-of-the-year list was just as difficult to compile as my best-of-the-year list—because I spent most of the year feeling completely indifferent toward the movies I saw. There were, however, a few movies that still stand out as the most painful of the year. If you haven’t seen them, well…consider yourself fortunate.
Miss March: There are bad movies, there are worse movies…and then there’s Miss March. Crude (but not in an edgy way) and idiotic (but not in a funny way), it’s one of the most excruciating movie-going experiences I’ve had in years. And now that I’ve written about it here, I’d really appreciate it if we could just pretend I never saw it.
I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell: Like the last entry, which shall remain nameless from here on out, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell was a painful movie-going experience. Granted, the college kids at the screening seemed to enjoy it—but they were also very, very drunk. I, unfortunately, was not, so I had to sit through the film, with its guy-movie clichés and its dimwitted attempts at humor, completely sober. It’s an experience that I would liken to undergoing an appendectomy without anesthetic.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop: (With apologies to my nephew, who’s still pretty sure that this is the funniest movie ever made.) After those last two movies, Paul Blart actually seems rather innocuous. Of course, that’s not to say that I’d ever want to sit through it again. The jokes were bad enough the first time around. And I suppose I need to save my strength—because I’m guessing I’ll be forced to sit through the sequel in another year or so.
The Ugly Truth: The ugly truth about The Ugly Truth is that, well, it ain’t pretty. Not even Hollywood hotties like Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler could clean up this flat and clichéd chick flick. From the ridiculous stereotypes to the half-hearted attempts to shock and offend, it’s one unsightly mess.
Post Grad: Et tu, Fox Searchlight? Fox’s indie-focused arm (the distributor responsible for movies like Juno and (500) Days of Summer) rarely disappoints. In fact, through the years, I’ve come to expect nothing but delightful little indie darlings from them. But then they gave me Post Grad, a pointless and painfully predictable romcom that’s a complete waste of a great cast.
The Pink Panther 2: Every year has its share of pointless sequels—those that are made strictly for cash-grabbing purposes. I suppose I can’t really blame Steve Martin for making this one—after all, a guy’s gotta eat (and pay the mortgage on his various homes). I am, however, just a little bit bitter that I had to sit through another 90 minutes of his bumbling as the ridiculous Inspector Clouseau. I can only hope that there won’t be a Pink Panther 3.
Terminator Salvation: Speaking of pointless sequels…director McG teamed up with a very angry Christian Bale to make the priciest pointless sequel of the year. Now, some might argue that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was the year’s priciest pointless sequel, but I would have to disagree. Sure, it was rather pointless—and it was definitely pricey. But at least Transformers was kinda entertaining. Terminator Salvation, on the other hand, was just bland and brainless.
The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day: While I’m on the topic of pointless sequels, I also need to mention writer/director Troy Duffy’s pointless sequel to his 1999 cult favorite, The Boondock Saints. I’m not sure what Duffy’s been doing in the decade since his first movie, but he obviously wasn’t working on the script for the sequel. It’s filled with gimmicky action sequences, ridiculous stereotypes, and sophomoric humor. Note to Troy Duffy: You’re not Quentin Tarantino. You will never be Quentin Tarantino. Please stop trying to make Quentin Tarantino’s movies.
Brüno: I’m trying to remember an old saying that I happen to recall from younger days. It goes something like: “The first time is funny; the second time is a spanking.” That may not be exactly how the saying goes, but that’s definitely the case for Sacha Baron Cohen. His antics in Borat were sometimes kinda funny. But the follow-up, Brüno—in which Cohen stars as a flamboyantly gay Austrian fashionista—deserves a spanking. Then again, Cohen would probably enjoy it a bit too much—so I’ll just put him on my bottom-ten list instead.
Shorts: While Quentin Tarantino had a hit with Inglourious Basterds, his filmmaking buddy, Robert Rodriquez, didn’t fare quite as well with his wacky kids’ movie, Shorts. It’s a random mess of bad acting and bodily fluids, all wrapped up in a shaky, unprofessional-looking package. To make matters worse, at the screening, my fellow critics and I ended up sitting near an incredibly rude woman who refused to remove her particularly noisy infant from the theater. Granted, that’s not Robert Rodriguez’s fault. I’m pretty sure he didn’t plant rude moviegoers at his screenings. But it definitely didn’t help his cause.
Bring Me Your Worst, 2010!
After the mediocre movies of 2009, I’m pretty sure I can take it. In fact, while January usually feels like a bit of a letdown—the end of Award Season and the beginning of a long, cold Movie Dead Zone—I’m actually looking forward to the year’s silly thrillers and humorless comedies. At least in January, I don’t expect anything—so I can’t really be disappointed, right?
Still, 2010 offers a bit of hope—from the return of Iron Man to Christopher Nolan’s latest to Toy Story 3 (and, my personal favorite, Hot Tub Time Machine). So stuff a box of dollar store Raisinets in your coat pocket and set your hot tub to full speed ahead. It’s time for another year of movies.