As much as I enjoy reading the infinite ‘Best of’ lists that percolate across pop culture touchstones throughout Decembers, manifesting my own lists is as easy as that whole ‘blood from a stone’ endeavor. I don’t consider my aesthetic tastes up to the task of saying Fighting is a demonstrably better film than the Friday the 13th remake. I can say that the unrated cut of Taken is hugely superior to the watered-down theatrical cut, but even then am I responding to a heightening of technique and tension or do I simply prefer it when he stabs two large nails into the bad guy’s legs to attach jumper cables to versus merely electrocuting the metal chair he’s sitting in?
Let it never be said that I don’t bring intense, (seemingly) piercing insights to all my attempts to rank art in terms of both ‘art’ and ‘awesomeness.’ When I go to art museum, I go to art museums, if you can dig it.
I just might attempt a ‘Look Back at the 2000’s’ article in the coming week. For now, I’m content to contemplate solely 2009, and see what my thoughts are. As always, keep in mind that swimming in the murky depths of my cerebral fluids (eww.) are the ‘Best/Worst of 2009’ lists written not just by my Mutant-mates but also by a wide variety of columnists, bloggers, cultural journalists, and bold-yet-otherwise-unqualified-to-make-judgements writers. It’s an interesting exercise to consider the year-that-was through the lenses of those both close and far to your own critical thinking, and it’s an excellent way to learn about or remind yourself about gems here and there that you just happened to miss as the year flew by. I still haven’t seen Avatar, and everybody tells me I should. Thanks, everybody! (UPDATE: we snuck into Avatar last night, and it was fun! I’ll discuss it below after all, hooray!)
2009 was much more about girls and music than film for me. Or, to clarify, 2009 was a year in which I was obsessed with the girls in my life (as usual) but unusually my ’09 girls were more into concerts and road trips than movies. Go figure! 2010 has already seen a few date nights revolve around the local theater, so that’s good for both Kyle, Mutant Reviewer, and Kyle, sexual deviant, and perhaps highlights a return to cinematic enthusiasm. Actually, with a few exceptions (those thankfully largely tilting towards the ‘surprisingly positive’ side) the films of 2009 pretty much met my preconceptions, hence my distinct inability to remember any big discussion points for an article such as this. If you walked into G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra or My Bloody Valentine 3-D and your expectations were NOT met, I’d be curious enough to buy you a drink just to find out what you expect not only from film, but also from life.
2009 had very few “oh WOW” moments at the movies for me, and the few I did enjoy don’t live up in retrospect to the joy of discovering the band The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. There is possibly one exception, which is probably what pushes that film to my #1-of-the-year slot, but I’ll talk about that in a second. Usually I just run through the whole list of 2009 releases and give you a sentence or two. This year I feel like doing an actual Top 10, with a handful of honorable mentions: all ranking done on a wholly arbitrary set of criteria that I’ll never formally discuss so you’ll just never know exactly why #4 is better than #6. Isn’t it so much better this way?
Honorable 2009 releases great to watch once but otherwise not worth mentioning: Up in the Air, Avatar, Watchmen, I Love You Man, The Hangover
Notable 2009 releases I have not yet seen but feel will be great and possibly worthy of at least honorable mentioning: Nine, Crazy Heart, A Single Man, The Lovely Bones, Antichrist, The Road, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, The Knowing, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Uncertainty, Pirate Radio, Precious, Black Dynamite, A Serious Man, World’s Greatest Dad, I Sell the Dead, Ponyo, District 9, Paper Heart, Thrist, Funny People, Adam, In the Loop, Orphan, Moon, Away We Go, Up, Drag Me to Hell, Lymelife, Knowing, Collapse, Big Fan, Humpday, Julia
Dishonorable mention: I promise you that I will never ever ever see Paul Blart: Mall Cop
10. Zombieland. This movie perfectly captures my overall take on the cinematic offerings of 2009: it was exactly what I thought it would be, and that provoked quite a lot of ‘like’ but not a lot of ‘love.’ I enjoy humorous approaches to humor, especially when it comes to zombies, and I agree that our foursome in this here movie is one of the strongest of teams you’ll find on my list. But audience-pleasing cameo aside, the lack of a ‘wow’ factor is what lost me. I can see why some of my friends think this is one of the greatest films in the past few years, but I also understand where intense dislike comes from as well. It’s fun, it’s ingratiating, and it’s over before it wears out its welcome. But more than once I found myself wondering why otherwise smart characters do really dumb things for no other reason than to hasten a plot development, and for that I have to knock it down to #10.
9. House of the Devil. Obviously, I love me some horror movies. I also love horror movies of the 1980’s, and HOTD would easily fool me into thinking it was a legit ’80s movie if someone had presented it to me as such. It’s one (albeit impressively significant) thing that someone else ‘gets’ the joys of horror films like I do. It’s quite another that that someone weaves almost all of those joys into a horror tapestry of their own and makes it work. You know right this very minute based on your appreciation of ’80s horror if you’ll even be able to sit through this minimalist movie; that’s the benefit of the whole ‘homage’ angle. If you think you’ll like it, though, I’ll go so far as to guarantee that you’ll love it.
8. Paranormal Activity. As someone who has never sat through the entirety of the first Blair Witch film, and enjoys yet has a low tolerance for bad acting in small-scale horror films (I’ll watch them all but you better believe I’ll complain at the first signs of corner-cutting), I’ll happily champion PA as a successful ‘found footage’ production. So much of it is taste: the two main actors clicked perfectly, the paranormal activity was captured logically and maintained the tension, and the story progression never seemed artificially-strained. I understand why someone else would be repelled from the world of the film by feeling put off by even one element, but I was happily enraptured.
7. Star Trek. As a tremendous fan of the true Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the band, it’s fascinating to see how much the updated Trek tramples over the original series slightly and has a head-scratchingly dumb plot . . . all because the fabulous cast, omnipresent lens flares, and breakneck pace keep you entertained and satisfied even on repeat viewings. Star Trek and Avatar could have a very interesting fight for the supreme title of ‘best 2009 sci-fi film with least surprising story that is redeemed by other factors’ but at least Star Trek accomplishes the more tricky goal of making you walk out of the theater legitimately pumped to see the next installment.
6. Fantastic Mr. Fox and Where the Wild Things Are (tie): completely different films that nonetheless both use the look/feel of children’s films to tell multi-layered stories and carry an overwhelmingly-present authorial voice from their directors. If you know the work of Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze you know what tone you’ll get. The magic is found in how they present stories that would wow most kids (others would be terrified) and wow most adults (that are in touch with both rational logic and an intact sense of wonder). Mr. Fox dances to a more ‘fun’ soundtrack, although the Wild Things roll to an incredible score. Hence: tie!
5. Adventureland. A magical, unblinking recollection of that one summer most everyone suffers through where you feel like you’ve grasped the **** end of the stick, you rationalize throughout that at least you’re having more fun than you expected to, and suddenly when the fall comes you realize you’ve not only learned some lessons but you’ve actually experienced some form of growth. Trying to watch this again on DVD is difficult because nearly every details big and small seems so personally tailored to remind me specifically of people and places, though that’s a reaction that’s fairly widespread. Unfairly sold as aSuperbad clone, this is a zany but ultimately moving look at how life really does just happen around you no matter where you are. When it comes to all-time performances as the ideal crush object, Kristen Stewart is the greatest actress ever.
4. The Brothers Bloom. This one benefits greatly from the significance soft spot I have for Brick, but on its own it performs a con film on us with some welcome twists and that makes it great. Refreshingly, we the audience never truly get the wool pulled over our eyes in any Ocean’s Whatever way, so for a modern con that fact alone makes it stand out. Winning performances and a charming emphasis on how great it is to be clever elevate it above most other movies of its kind, don’t hesitate just because the leads wear funny hats!
3. (500) Days of Summer. It’s my emotional #1, as I have strong crushes on both leads (they’re both so cool!) and I will surely watch this a hundred times more than either my #1 or my #2. That last part reads a little funny when you think about it. Intense Zooey-love aside, this is perfect accompaniment to all the other rom com we will sit through for the rest of our lives. If we get more films like this one, which are in a particular genre yet are arguably of none, we will all become more interesting people just from absorbing them into our thoughts.
2. The Hurt Locker. A notable viewing experience because I took my bestest friend to see it in the one Hollywood theater that was showing it over the summer when she flew in from Boston, and it being a Friday night naturally she had to sit next to a cokehead writhing in his seat for the duration of the film. Yet she didn’t mind because she, like me, was completely enthralled by this film. It’s hard, and thankfully a mere theoretical exercise, to consider how good The Hurt Locker would be without the incredible central performance by Jeremy Renner. But that’s just idle thought. Renner is incredible, and grounded in his work The Hurt Locker blows away nearly every other film of 2009 (ha ha).
1. Inglourious Basterds. While I firmly believe that The Hurt Locker is a great film, it’s in the runner-up slot because I just as firmly believe that Inglourious Basterds truly is Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece. It’s a 99.99% perfect film; there is only a quick moment where Eli Roth speaks in the middle of the film where I remember physically wincing in my theater seat because of how awful his delivery is. It’s quite the divisive work, though. It’s more heralded than not, but the ferocity of praise wavers all over the place. Still, while I would much rather be stuck with my #3 on some deserted island, I have to admit thatInglourious Basterds, with Roth redeeming himself via some incredible nonverbal acting in the theater scene which was the most eye-poppingly cathartic moment of 2009, is the film of the year that was.
Fun times! Let’s compare notes again in like a year, yeah?
With Paranormal Activity, the less you knew going in, the better. Once they started hyping the film, people were complaining. Much like Blair Witch, which I thankfully saw before the hype built in.