As I began to review all of the movies I enjoyed in 2009, it become immediately clear that this year stood out in one particular way: It was a great time for animated films. This is not typically the case. On a good year, I might genuinely enjoy one, sometimes two, and almost always it’s because Pixar or Aardman put something out. I listed ten films that might make the cut in this year’s self-indulgent Top 5, and it contained three animated movies. Thirty percent? That’s an absurd occurrence for a 29-year old man that doesn’t enjoy LARP-ing or Furry Fetish conventions. This began to get in my head a little. No way I was going to list that many cartoons, no matter how much I enjoyed them. Over time (yes, I put that much thought into it) things worked themselves out, in a sense, when I came to terms with a final five. The one that didn’t make the cut, please accept my apology. I’m sure you’ll have a hard time getting out of bed once this devastating news reaches your earholes.
Another not-as-positive theme this year? Me not ever going to the movies. The list of films I should have seen but didn’t is staggering. My deepest regrets to the following: Moon, Crazy Heart, The Road, Big Fan, Zombieland, A Serious Man, Bruno, A Single Man, Precious, The Messenger, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, and this year’s winner for Best Trailer, Black Dynamite.
All of these will surely get their due in the coming year, thanks to my trusty Netflix addiction. I know, too little, too late, nancy boy. BUT I’M TRYING, FILM INDUSTRY THAT DOESN’T REALLY NEED MY MONEY OR MY OPINION!
Anyway, let’s start off with my specialty: Hate.
THE WORST OF 2009; OR, THE YEAR OF OVERBLOWN GARBAGE THAT TRIED TO RUIN MY CHILDHOOD
5. Where the Wild Things Are
It kind of upsets me to have to put this one here, but it produced such strong feelings within me that I couldn’t really ignore it. I couldn’t name the last movie that confused me as much as this one. I went from near tears with happiness to near tears with rage at least five separate times in 90 minutes. This movie is an anti-depressant come to life. if bipolar disorder could be diagnosed in celluloid, this would be the first known case. And now I’ll never be able to watch The Sopranos again, because Carol the Monster IS Tony Soprano, friggin’ voice and all: He loves his family, but his mood swings come with violence and destruction. Although, with Carol they come from out of nowhere and serve no general purpose other than to depress the audience. This film is joyless and makes me wish Max had never run away to the wild rumpus.
Disclaimer: Before seeing this movie, I knew very little about the graphic novel. I had read a little over a third of it in high school, and tried to read a little more a week or so before it came out, so keep that in mind if you feel like I’m “missing the point” with this one. I understand that it’s faithful to the novel; that doesn’t change the fact that it doesn’t adapt well to film. Plot holes become more glaring, the story drags for what seems like centuries, and only a handful of characters aren’t incredibly dull and underdeveloped (Rorschach, The Comedian). This isn’t a terrible movie, just a below average one, and when expectations are high, the backlash factor is just as high.
In the same vein as Watchmen in the hype category, but different in the sense that it’s actually a terrible movie. You’ve probably heard the typical complaints: cliche story, cliche characters, cliche action sequences, cliche, cliche, cliche. And these are all not without merit, believe me. But what makes Avatar truly awful is how unapologetic it is in its ineptitude. James Cameron believed people would ignore the lack of story and creativity if he devoted all of his effort in creating the world of Pandora. I do applaud him here — Pandora is a beautiful place to visit, but so is Vietnam and I’m not about to book my honeymoon there. It’s like Cameron placed a bunch of plot devices in a bag, shook it up right good, and had a gibbon pull them out one at a time. “Okay, we have ‘Giant robot with person inside that I already put in Aliens,’ and ‘Knife fight.’ Brilliant!” James Cameron thinks you’re dumber than a gibbon. How does that make you feel?
2. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Complete no-brainer, this one here, in more ways than one. It truly belongs on this list and it truly is incompetent. As someone that didn’t dislike the first installment, I had wavering hopes for this effort. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t shake the Michael Bay factor, but it was a big movie with big robots and big explosions…..how could it go completely wrong? The reanimated corpse of the original Lassie could have directed this movie and it still would have been a functional summer blockbuster. Here’s what Bay did: Took the greatest thing going for the movie (Optimus Prime), had him disappear for 80% of the running time, and added farting robots with robot testicles. I won’t even mention the “hip-hop” robots with gold teeth that didn’t know how to read. Wait, I guess I just did. Jesus wept.
1. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
This one isn’t even close. As much as I hated Transformers, it’s practically a walk in the park on a sunny day, ending with a rub and tug, compared to this abomination’s afternoon of waterboarding and paper-cuts, ending with a sledgehammer to the groin. At least with the fighting robots, it was somewhat genuine to the source material. Here, the filmmakers took a story about a special forces unit pitted against a terrorist organization, entrenched in gritty realism (kind of, not really, but sorta), and turned it into science fiction mumbo jumbo starring fashion models that only know one look — constipated. This could have been a modern day war movie, I mean, nothing too serious, but on par with something like Black Hawk Down. Instead, we were handed laser guns and Channing Tatum (currently the worst actor getting work) looking like the star of a Colon Blow commercial. You’re all fired. All of you.
THE BEST OF 2009; OR, THE MOVIES I LIKED BETTER THAN UP, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, AND UP IN THE AIR (SUCK IT)
I Love You, Man
My favorite comedy of the year. I appreciated Paul Rudd and Jason Segal reversing character types they usually get pigeonholed in.
The Brothers Bloom
Points for Rachel Weisz and the crippled kitten in a roller skate. Minus points for the subpar ending.
Away We Go
I loved Maya Rudolph in this. She showed a vulnerability I never imagined was in her range. Sure, this was the second cousin to (500) Days of Summer in the canon of hipster twee cinema, but this one had more substance. Plus, there weren’t any dance sequences with animated birds.
I don’t agree with the argument that the third act took a turn for the weird/worse. This was never a comedy. It was entrenched in drama from the very beginning, so I’m not sure why people thought the tone changed in a drastic way. Adam Sandler’s best work since Punch Drunk Love and Judd Apatow’s best movie.
The animated movie that barely missed the cut. I can hear you bitching already. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it at a high level — just not as much as the five you’re about to see. The first 10 minutes probably contain the best montage, well, maybe ever. If you don’t weep, then you’re incapable of feeling. My only complaints involved the antagonist. I didn’t buy the reasoning for his change of heart, OR that he’d actually still be alive. What is he, 110?
Winner, Winners, Chicken Dinners
Stop-motion made a comeback this year, although I hesitate to say that it ever really went away. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was a success not too long ago, so there’s no question that stop-motion is alive and well. The only thing is that feature length stop-motion films are few in far between when compared to the oodles of computer animated films released every year. But it is a comeback in my eyes, when you couple it with the other movie you’ll find a few spots down on this list. Henry Selick, the director, seems to take his time in between projects. You may know his work on a little thing called THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE FUGGIN’ CHRISTMAS. (Side note: I just found a possible explanation for his long absence……Monkeybone. He made that pile? That’s a career killer.) But this is certainly a return to form — Coraline is a strange mash-up of the beautiful and the bizarre that will certainly scare anyone under the age of 11 into a coma. I’ve had nightmares about waking up with buttons for eyes. And about Teri Hatcher turning into a spider. A spider with anorexia. “Ohhhh, maybe just one more fly. Five of my legs are looking cellulite-y.” (The last one might be a lie.)
The studio promoted this movie all wrong. I blame my hesitation to see it in the theater not on my own stupidity, but on the marketing campaign. I didn’t want to see a Superbad re-hash starring the guy that wasn’t the guy smearing semen on school lockers in The Squid and the Whale. It just screamed subpar teen comedy, and I was having none of it, y’all. (Because I’m wicked ahead of the curve, you see?) So I waited until Netflix did all the work for me and sent it to my mailbox. 107 minutes later and, boy oh boy, do I owe Greg Mottola (dir.) an apology. I loved this movie. Here is the first genuine coming-of-age comedy to come around in years, and I discarded it immediately as another “let’s put our penises in things” American Pie prequel. I even hesitate to call it a comedy, because it deals with the pains of growing up in mature fashion. It’s no Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but it sure is close.
3. The Fantastic Mr. Fox
This is going to sound like an insult, but I do not mean it as such: The Fantastic Mr. Fox is the best movie Wes Anderson has made since The Royal Tenenbaums. Yes, the stop-motion kid’s movie about fuzzy animals is his best work in eight years. Honestly, though, I doubt he would be offended by this notion. This movie is certainly something he should proudly stand behind. He managed to include all of his signature tricks (title cards, scorned father figures, Rolling Stones songs, etc.) into a stop-motion film starring a family of foxes, and not only that, he made the family relatable and sincere. Somehow, all the hipster quirks that draw people away from Anderson’s films work in reverse when puppets are involved. Everyone should love this movie. No excuses.
2. Drag Me to Hell
My face hurt after seeing this movie. I smiled for so long, and at such a high level, that I felt like I had gone to mouth muscle pilates (There’s a joke here that I’m not going to make. Out of respect for my mother). This is Sam Raimi returning to his roots, finally, and delivering the best horror-comedy in years. This shouldn’t come as a shock — he practically invited the genre. And poor Alison Lohman. She really earned her paycheck in this one. In every other scene she was either being thrown around a room or having things thrown up on her. You name it: blood, maggots, embalming fluid, old gypsy lady spit, it all ended up in her mouth at one point. So, am I successfully selling this one yet? Well, if you aren’t a horror fan, then you’re surely not going to enjoy this. But if you’re like me, you’ll embrace it wholeheartedly and watch it twice a week.
1. The Hurt Locker
I typically don’t go to films involving war, or the military in general. It’s just not my cup of liberal pansy tea, that’s all. But I had an off day and a new neighborhood to explore, so I ambled over to the closest theater to see what was playing, and lo and behold, this was the best option. And Siddhartha H. Christ, was I not disappointed. From minute one, you are simply not allowed to relax. That whole “it’ll have you on the edge of your seat” cliche? It’s real. Embarrassingly, it’s real. I usually have a problem suspending my disbelief in action/horror films, and this never allows me to feel any real danger for the characters. But, I don’t know, I felt involved when the bomb unit inched closer and closer to their probable demise. This is a level of filmmaking success that’s so rare these days. I can watch Will Smith ALMOST get eatin’ up while welcoming an alien to Earff, and of course, I’m not going to feel intimately involved. But I can also watch Jarhead or Black Hawk Down and never feel a thing. These films should be steeped in reality, but they still feel like studio backlot action sequences. Kathryn Bigelow (dir.) successfully made me feel entrenched in war. Tip of the hat to you, madam. Also, so far Jeremy Renner has received some recognition for his work, but not nearly enough. The Golden Globes looked him over completely, and if the Oscars follow suit, then that would be a tremendous shame.