Be forewarned: the following article may be considered masochistically long.
2009 has drawing to a close and I figure it's probably appropriate to talk about my responses to the '09 movies I've seen this year. These aren't all the films I saw in 2009, of course, simply the ones I saw that were released in 2009. To make things a little easier, I'm just counting the North American wide release of the films ('12', for example, was released in Russia in 2007, but didn't see Canadian and North American release until this year).
For convenience, links to trailers have been provided. Ratings are as follows:
A - Best of the best.
High B - A film I enjoyed considerably, but I couldn't quite give it an A.
B - Not a bad film, but certainly not a great one. Average, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Low B - Less than a B, but too competent to warrant a C rating.
C - I had a strong negative reaction to this film. The use of this rating goes beyond personal preference and into the realms of incompetent filmmaking.
'9' is a post-apocalyptic story about small humanoid dolls/robots trying to survive in an inhospitable land. Not to be confused with 'Nine', '$9.99', 'Cloud 9', or 'District 9', of course (seriously, what was up with that number in 2009?).
Produced by Tim Burton the film is the visual treat you'd expect. Ultimately though, it didn't hold my interest.
A reimagining of 'Twelve Angry Men' set in Russia.
I was absolutely absorbed by this film. Even those familiar with the story, like myself, will find it entertaining and worthwhile. The beats are the same, but the characters and their motivations are entirely different.
Highly, highly recommend.
3. 17 AGAIN
A man gets a second chance at being seventeen.
Honestly I enjoyed this guilty pleasure. Predictable? Sure. But for what it is, it's not a bad film.
4. ASTRO BOY
A father recreates a robot in his dead son's image.
For reasons I'll explore in a planned article (A Brief History of Anime), I was greatly looking forward to this film.
Pained as I am to say this, the film live up to my expectations.
The story beats felt ham-fisted and the characters lacked genuine emotional pathos (often doing drastic 180 degrees turns in the space of seconds). I will accept that I'm not part of the film's target audience, but given the run of children movies in the past few years ('Up', 'Monsters Vs. Aliens', 'Bolt', 'Shrek', etc.) that's not really an excuse.
Honestly all problems would be solved with better pacing (an extra and well utilized 5-10 minutes, seriously).
Watched in the early hours of December 31st, this is officially my last film of 2009. Disappointing.
RATING: Low B
A man is becomes an ambassador to humanity on the distance planet of Pandora. As he becomes more familiar with he finds his loyalties divided.
There's too much to go into right now, but expect an article on this subject in the new year.
Quick thoughts, though? Solid acting and visually stunning. Among the first films I've seen where the 3D is used as an effective storytelling tool rather than just a gimmick to shove stuff in your face.
The story is not cliché, as many have written it off as. It is an archetype. The one is often mistaken for the other, even by folks who know what they're talking about. You can see this archetype employed in many, many stories, including 'Pocahontas', 'Dances with Wolves', 'District 9', 'The Last Samurai', 'Total Recall', several Disney animated films, and even in the biblical story of 'Moses'.
RATING: A (perhaps not the best or original films of the year, but far and away the best movie-going experience I've had in a long time).
6. BART GOT A ROOM
Prom night is coming up and the pressure is mounting for Danny to get a date for the most important day of high school.
Solid script, solid acting, quirky characters and humor, but no real surprises. To be honest the only reason I watched it was because of actor Brandon Hardesty, who's best known from youtube. What can I say, I like a good underdog story.
A disgraced former Austrian fashion show host searches for stardom in the USA.
Beyond a couple moments of brilliance, the film felt like a one note affair (I get it, he's gay, move on). Wasn't too impressed. Unlike 'Borat', I wasn't at all engaged in the character's journey, which felt shallow and little more than an excuse for unconnected, barely motivated scenarios.
RATING: Low B
8. CHERRY BLOSSOMS
A man struggles to come to term with his wife's death through the art of Butoh Dance, which she loved but never followed.
It's a beautiful film and very human. Solid, but it didn't connect with me as much as several other people I've talked to. Not the film which stands out to me most this year.
9. CODE, THE
Two thieves work together on a big heist, but can you really trust a thief?
Forgettable. Doesn't really do anything new.
A girl finds a doorway to parallel world.
What can I say? I love Henry Selick (director of 'James and the Giant Peach' and the Tim Burton produced 'Nightmare Before Christmas'). And I love Neil Gaimon (who wrote 'MirrorMask' and 'Beowulf' but is best known for his revolutionary writing works in comics).
For all it's fantastic imagery, the film never loses sight of it's human core.
RATING: High B
11. CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE
The impossible-to-kill Chev Chelios returns for a little more revenge.
When I saw the trailer, my knee-jerk reaction was to write it off. I did watch it eventually, though. I can't believe I'm saying this, but damn this film is fun.
Pretty much the definition of a guilty pleasure. The film starts with Chev falling out of a helicopter, surviving, getting scooped up from the pavement with shovels, and waking up during a shady open-heart surgery. At some point an Anchorman reports the events of the first film on television and dismisses them matter-of-factly as "likely bullsh*t" Hell, it even has a reference to the classic Godzilla films, complete with cheap models and rubber masks. All of it works because of the gleefully over-the-top tone the movie maintains, never taking itself too seriously.
In WWII, a group of jews fight both against Nazism and to simply retain their humanity.
No complaints. A solid movie.
13. DISTRICT 9
A man is forced to trust his enemy to remain human.
To me it didn't live up to the expectations I had for it, but that's not terribly surprising considering the hype the film had. That said, it's a good flick.
I'll give it a second chance in the new year, when I'll be able to be a bit more objective.
14. EVANGELION 1.o: YOU ARE (NOT) ALONE
Movie retelling of the popular Anime series 'Neon Genesis Evangelion'. It's a little hard to sum up the concept, but it involves Giant robots, emotionally fragile preteens, father issues, and some religious themes.
The movie really doesn't stray far from the series. A good introduction to anyone who's not familiar with the show, but doesn't really offer much to anyone who is. Only shocker thus far: Adam is instead Eve.
Further installments look to be more fresh. Yet another ending has been promised.
A group of friends travel to Skywalker ranch to watch a pre-released version of 'The Phantom Menace' before their colleague succumbs to cancer.
Pretty much a love-letter Star Wars and it's fans with several recognizable cameos and many, many references to the classic trilogy. Better than I'd expected, honestly. The main characters have a good dynamic and there is enough moments of humanity to keep the film from being written off as dribble.
An convict is a game piece in a brutal game of kill-em-all.
A surprisingly smart commentary on society with some haunting imagery. Michael C. Hall is very memorable as the villain pulling all the strings. I'm going against the grain here and recommending this one.
A modern italian mafia story.
Brutal and compelling. Not really a film you "enjoy", but it's worth a watch. Reminds me a bit of 'Goodfellas' as seen through the lens of 'City of God'.
18. GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST
Christmas Carol story, but about relationships.
Entertaining but forgettable.
19. GI JOE: RISE OF COBRA
Secret army people fight super villains who have nano-weapons.
Didn't really hold my interest.
RATING: Low B
20. GREAT BUCK HOWARD, THE
A young writer becomes the assistant to fading mentalist Buck Howard.
No complaints come to mind about this one. Fun and well executed, but nothing spectacular.
21. GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT
Origin story of Green Lantern super hero.
Pretty epic story with strong characters. No complaints.
22. HANGOVER, THE
The day after an out-of-control bachler party and the groom is nowhere to be found.
The director of 'Old School' has made another good one. Fun characters and entertaining throughout. I enjoyed myself.
23. HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE
Harry Potter continues his fight against Lord Voldermort.
Excepting the fourth film, which felt rather rushed, I've been quite impressed with the Potter series since the third film. This one is no exception.
RATING: High B
24. INGLORIOUS BASTERDS
Folks goin' up against Nazi's.
What can I say? It's Quentin Tarantino. He makes bloody good films and this is no exception.
Yes, Tarantino is known for lifting scenes directly out of other films (or playing homage to, depending on your viewpoint). It doesn't matter, though, because he isn't a Bruno Mattei (who blatantly ripped off popular films and basically re-made them on lower budgets). Tarantino's films stand on their own merits and work whether you're familiar with the references he uses or not.
Jean Claude Van Damme gets tangled up in a hostage situation.
This film blew my mind. Van Damme doesn't just give the performance of his lifetime, but among the best of the year among any actor. That it didn't get him an Oscar nod is a shame.
The film itself is excellent as well (stellar performances tend to happen in stellar movies). Highly, highly recommend.
26. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
A coming of age story about a boy and the girl next door... who's a vampire.
Subtle, poetic and human. Among the better vampire films I've ever seen. Recommended antidote for anyone who's bitter about Twilight's dumbing down of the vampire mythos.
27. MONSTERS VS. ALIENS
Monsters attempt to stop an alien invasion.
My god I love this movie! It's basically a love letter to the 'B' Monster Movies of the 1950s. It's a well-crafted movie with a strong emotional core. Recommended mindless fun.
RATING: High B
28. PAUL BLART: MALL COP
A mall security guard goes up against bank robbers.
Better than expected with a strong villain, but I don't need to see this again.
A small town radio station finds itself at the center of a zombie outbreak.
It gets extra points from me for being Canadian, but I didn't mind this film. The highbrow concept of a disease spreading through language and ideas doesn't entirely feel at home in this genre piece, but there's a lot going for the film.
30. PRINCESS AND THE FROG, THE
A retelling of the familiar tale, but with a twist.
Five years after closing down their traditional animation department, the Disney magic is back.
It holds it's own against the Disney classics of the 90s. Very entertaining and delivers what I'd expected: great music, perfect comic timing, fun characters, and a happy ending.
RATING: A (normally High B, but upgraded for historical significance)
31. PROPOSAL, THE
To save her job, a high powered female executive blackmails her personal assistant to marrying her.
Fun, formulaic chick flick. Not much more to say, really.
A bunch of people with powers fight for their freedom.
Decent but nothing special.
33. SHERLOCK HOLMES
The latest reinvention of Sherlock Holmes. Far as I can find, Robert Downie Jr. is the 51st actor to don the persona on celluloid.
Guy Richie travels outside the world he painted in 'Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels' and 'Snatch'. A thoroughly entertaining ride.
RATING: High B
34. TERMINATOR SALVATION
The latest in the Terminator saga.
Despite the rather negative reviews this film has been getting, I enjoyed this film.
35. TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN
Another Decepticon plot against humanity with Sam set as the savior of the human race. Oh, and a bunch of robots fight each other.
Again, despite negative reviews, I enjoyed this film. Only complaint, really, is that it's hard to tell the robots apart in the action scenes. Also somewhat humorous is Optimus Prime's repeated cutting off of opponent's faces.
36. TWILIGHT: NEW MOON
The latest entry in the popular vampire thing. This time it has werewolves.
Not as bad as I'd expected. Expect an article going more in depth, soon.
An elderly man goes on one last adventure.
Let's just accept it, Pixar has a hell of a good track record. With one of the better opening sequences of any animated film and a solid story, this is no exception. I very much enjoyed this film.
38. UP IN THE AIR
A man who fires people for a living has his lifestyle challenged when his company goes high tech.
Great characters with true humanity. I loved this movie. Highly recommended.
RATING: High B
In the midst of the cold war, a group of costumed heroes strive to uncover a conspiracy against their peers.
Imperfect, but one of the truest adaptations of any comic book. On the whole not bad, but I had some complaints. Particularly about the music choices. Perhaps I should go into more depth about the whole thing in an article at some point.
40. WHATEVER WORKS
An unusual and fun romantic comedy about finding love and happiness where you can.
A man so smart he understands his own fictional nature falls in love with a young run away. Woody Allen as a director is a bit hit and miss for me, but this is one film of his I enjoyed greatly.
41. WONDER WOMAN
Origin story of Wonder Woman.
Stays true to the character and brings her mythos alive. Respectable film with an epic scope.
42. X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE
The origin story of Wolverine.
Some strong moments and it was nice to see some familiar faces be brought to celluloid. Tried to have a spanning storyline, but the character's weren't engaging. Some story beats contradict earlier films. Better than 'X-Men 3', but not really by that much.
RATING: Low B
Zombie comedy. Romance ensues at the end of the world.
Between this and 'Shaun of the Dead', I'd side with the British on this one. That's more personal preference, however, as this one is a blast as well.
So that's about it. Goes without saying that all above ratings are based on my own opinions, and are, therefore, subjective. Hope you enjoyed it.
As a side note, I realize there weren't any C rated movies on the above list. Mediocrity, which is becoming the new bad word in the popular vernacular, is not intrinsically worthy of scorn. Though I've seen some mediocre films this year, I did not see anything that was truly, soul-crushingly terrible.
'09 MOVIES ON MY TO SEE LIST:
I didn't get the opportunity to see these films for one reason or another, but the following are the one's I'm most looking forward to seeing and a quick rundown of the reasons to see them.
1. AWAY WE GO
It's Sam Mendes ('American Beauty', 'Road to Perdition').
2. BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS
The buzz is that this is Nicolas Cage's best performance in years. Plus iguana hallucinations. And having Werner Herzog in the director's chair doesn't hurt.
3. BIG FAN
A sports fan forced to confront everything he believes in when he's assaulted by his hero. In the hands of Robert Seigel, the writer of last year's 'The Wrestler', this looks to be quite good.
4. BROKEN EMBRACES
This looks to be a beautiful and human film.
Looks like it could be the 'Fight Club' or 'Trainspotting' of the decade. Meaning that it's vibrantly original, violent, and has some seriously interesting social meditation.
6. BROTHERS BLOOM, THE
I'm a fan of the director and good independent comedies. This looks to be a good example of both.
Both parts 1 and 2. This one looks to be powerful with superb performances.
8. CLASS, THE
Heard great things about this.
9. DRAG ME TO HELL
Sam Raimi mastered horror in the 1980s with the Evil Dead films. This is the first time in more than a decade that he's revisited that genre. Interest officially peaked.
I generally enjoy good movies about spies, double crosses, and corporate intrigue.
11. FANTASTIC MR. FOX
I'm a sucker for good stop motion animated films.
12. HURT LOCKER, THE
Man, this looks intense. If I don't see another film from 2009 except this one, I think I'll be fine with that.
13. I SELL THE DEAD
14. IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS
Heath Ledger's last film role. Also, Terry Gilliam's latest film. I had the privilege of working on this film for a couple days, but that's a story for another day.
15. INFORMANT!, THE
Looks quirky and entertaining.
It's Clint Eastwood. What more do you need?
17. JULIE & JULIA
I mainly want to see this for Meryl Streep's performance.
18. ME AND ORSON WELLES
I'm a film geek, do I really need to explain? Fine. If for no other reason, this film features a recreation of his famous 'Julius Caesar' stage play which, legend has it, got him the directing role on 'Citizen Kane'.
19. MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS, THE
Yeah, this looks fun.
Smart, non-action science fiction is a bit of a rarity these days, so my interest is piqued here.
21. POLICE, ADJECTIVE
Looks good. I really don't know what else to say other than that.
It's Hayao Miyazaki ('Spirited Away', 'Howl's Moving Castle').
23. PUBLIC ENEMIES
It's Michael Mann ('Heat', 'Collateral'). He generally does action films well.
24. ROAD, THE
Jeff, you lovable bastard, this one's your fault. Naw, but seriously it looks like a good one.
25. SERIOUS MAN, A
I have no idea what this film is about, but it's the Coen Brothers ('Fargo', 'No Country For Old Men').
It's Francis Ford Coppola ('Godfather', 'Apocalypse Now').
27. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
I grew up with this story. In the hands of Spike Jonze ('Adaptation', 'Being John Malkovic'), it looks like it's going to be fantastic.
Until next time, I'm the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic.