movies, Nic Cage

2009: The Year in Movies

We are fashionably late to the “best of” movies from 2009 for several reasons:

  1. We needed to catch up on a lot of movies. We missed District 9, Moon, Star Trek, A Serious Man and The Hurt Locker in the theater. We have since caught up on DVD. We had never seen Iron Man either, so we threw that one in for good measure.
  2. We couldn’t in good conscience write this post until we’d seen Zombieland, which only came out on DVD last month. Mike Allen would’ve had an apoplexy.
  3. “Lost” started back up.

Then of course there is the matter of the Oscar nominations, always good fodder for conversation. Will Avatar win Best Picture? Of course it will. Academy voters won’t risk looking like fuddy-duddies by failing to recognize what everyone is calling the future of filmmaking (though Anthony Lane notes in a recent essay that Oliver Wendell Holmes was onto 3-D back in 1859). And we’d agree, it really was something to see — in 3-D, that is.

Was it one of our favorite movies of the year? No. Before we go to the list, a few other thoughts on film in 2009:

It was a good year for “kids” movies. Up, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Coraline and Where The Wild Things Are all graced numerous Top Ten lists. Though they had the outward appearance of being movies for kids, there was something winningly mature about all four. This was not the case, however, for Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, G-Force or Old Dogs. These movies were simply abominable dreck.

Knowing is the worst movie of all time. But we still had fun re-watching it with five truly remarkable human beings who wanted to go on a date with Voreblog. Up next for Mr. Cage: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which enterprising reporters Molly Gillespie and Steph Porter got the scoop on last summer. Circle July 16 on your calendars, people. Baby or no baby, we’ll be there opening night.

New Moon was a terrible disappointment. We’re not saying Twilight was a great piece of filmmaking, but it remains a guilty pleasure that we could pop in any Saturday afternoon and enjoy. (Obviously one of us would be more inclined to do this than the other.) New Moon was all guilt, no pleasure. Slow, mopey and humorless, New Moon took the best things about Twilight — notably its supporting characters Billy Burke and Anna Kendrick — and ordered a shirtless Taylor Lautner to crush them beneath his leaden acting. Boo.

The Hurt Locker was good, not great. Every Oscar season features one underdog Best Picture nominee that gets overhyped above-and-beyond all others. Sometimes these films win (Shakespeare in Love, Crash), usually they fall short (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, Little Miss Sunshine). (Whether they deserve to win is a different conversation. We’re just talking about the hype.) This year The Hurt Locker assumes that mantle, and while its twitchy, nervous energy suits its content well (we predict Kathryn Bigelow will take home Best Director), we did not finish it thinking we had seen a great film. Some of the set pieces are spectacular, notably when James (Jeremy Renner) searches for a car bomb while his wingmen Sanborn and Eldridge, the certainty of failure creeping down upon them, frantically attempt to keep the area secure. The end result, though, felt less than the sum of its parts.

Honorable mentions go to Moon (Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go set in space); Drag Me To Hell for its campy, creepy awesomeness; and Sherlock Holmes for being way more entertaining than critics led you to believe.

On to the best of 2009!

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5. Where The Wild Things Are. It’s a rare thing when Hollywood gets its mitts on a beloved children’s book and doesn’t mangle it to death (see: anything by Dr. Seuss). Spike Jonze’s take on Maurice Sendak’s classic is bold, risky and visionary, and we thought he got the realm of childhood almost exactly right. Young Max is no saint, but he felt real, as did the wonder and danger of his imaginary world.

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4. Adventureland. Adventureland also wins our “best movie experience” of the year: we saw it on vacation in Denver with Katie Stratman, and she paid for our tickets. (Katie Stratman: Best. Host. Ever!) We knew nothing about Adventureland going in, and were pleasantly surprised to discover that it was exactly our kind of coming-of-age movie: set in western PA, filmed at Kennywood (outside Pittsburgh), scored by Yo La Tengo and chock full of vintage 80s classics by everyone from The Velvet Underground to David Bowie to Big Star. Yes, we’re a sucker for these kinds of films. But few do it better, or with more feeling.

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3. The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Even Wes Anderson critics found themselves praising this one and remarking, correctly, that his meticulous style seems perfectly suited to animation, even (or especially) the painstaking stop-motion kind. What we loved was how these tiny animal puppets embodied all of the quirks and charms of Anderson’s usual cast of characters. The most sublime moment comes toward the end, after a successful and daring rescue mission, when Mr. Fox raises a fist in solidarity with a wolf far off in the distance. It is a strange, hilarious and moving scene. A cussin’ good film.

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2. District 9. Even knowing the premise behind District 9 (alien ship parks itself over Johannesburg, aliens get shoved into government housing), we had no idea what a punch the movie packed, from the apartheid parallels to the emotionally wrenching downward spiral of Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley, who has to take his character from Rick Steves to Rambo). Erin doesn’t go for sci-fi movies, and she went for this one. A smart, inventive script — by the end, it’s like E.T. on steroids. Also, we’ve taken to calling Scooter Thomas “little prawn.”

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1. Up. The night we saw Up we actually bought our tickets for Drag Me To Hell. Erin thought she would be up for it, and that the humor would counterbalance the gore. Five minutes in (actually, three minutes in), we knew we’d made a mistake. Then the screen went blank, the lights went out, and someone came into the theater to inform us there was a tornado watch. We took it as a sign and hightailed it across the hall. The power returned, Up started, and ten minutes into that movie we were crying our eyes out. If you’ve seen it, you know exactly which sequence did it to us. And that’s the magic of Pixar — it distilled the simplest love story into a short, wordless montage and brought you to tears. It’s just a cartoon, you think. So why am I sobbing?

By the end we were laughing, and smiling. We’d like to think Up would’ve made the Best Picture cut even if the field hadn’t expanded to ten this year. Regardless, it is an entertainment for all ages, packed with more emotion and feeling than anything else we saw last year. In a year of fine “kids” movies, this was the best.

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Coming tomorrow: Live-blogging the Oscars!

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2 thoughts on “2009: The Year in Movies

  1. So if I’m reading this correctly (and I believe I am) Zombieland was #6?

    I can’t say I agree entirely with that ranking (it’s really #2), but a good showing nonetheless.

    You got it right with #1.

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