2009 YEAR IN REVIEW
Biggest surprise: District 9.
There were two science fiction movies this year about a man who delves into an extraterrestrial culture, finds himself understanding and helping them in their struggle against human oppressors and, ultimately, becoming one of them. But unlike the simple, Dances with Wolves "a white man set them free" mentality and screwy politics of Avatar, Neill Blomkamp's apartheid allegory tells its story without shoving the symbolism in the audiences face. The fact that a minority race is feared and maliciously exploited by the majority is a given, and Blomkamp's real concern lies in how to make one man understand this seemingly obvious truth.
The man in questions journey works in the film thanks to the breakthrough performance of Sharlto Copley, whose transformation is the scariest and most tragic since Jeff Goldblums Brundlefly. The movie was as hyped up in the press and critic's circles as Camerons film, but on many levels it more or less deserved the praise, and was certainly a better-written and more exciting story, intimate on an epic level thanks to effects that were very good (and most importantly, not distracting) and a script that offered the kind of character depth not typically associated with Hollywood summer movies. I kind of think I won't like it as much the second time around, but it definitely impressed me at the time.
Much better than it deserved to be: Orphan.
God bless Vera Farmiga. She's perpetually appearing in crap I have no interest in seeing, and this one seemed no different: yet another movie in the Bad Seed tradition of evil kid flicks, dropping the twist of the subject crumb-crusher being the antichrist or Macaulay Culkin and going back to the source with an adorable little girl psycho. And didn't Vera already cover this poor mother terrorized by evil kid territory in Joshua not two years ago? You'd think she would have learned her lesson about homicidal tykes by now! With an onslaught of recent evil kid movies (Eden Lake, The Children) this one seemed like just another rote thriller where nobody believes the one or two concerned adults because they must be crazy to think an adorable l'il poppet capable of deception and murder. Well, Orphan is exactly that - but it's also about the crippling guilt that comes with parental responsibility, that the actions of your children or things that happen to them is all part of the same inescapable responsibility. The movie suggests that a parent is either completely ignorant of said responsibility to the point that he can be coveted and seduced by his own adopted daughter, or so consumed by obligation that she is literally torn apart. The film, from the director of the House of Wax remake, is expertly handled and includes a twist that feels more like a genuine development than an empty gimmick.
Runner-up: Next Day Air.
The directors name is Benny Boom for christs sake. Was I expecting to enjoy this movie at all? Well, shockingly, I did. Following five groups of charmingly hapless crooks and disgruntled postal employees involved with the mis-delivery of some drugs, the movie keeps up a quick and amusing pace as it barrels towards a powder keg of inevitable disaster. While it's occasionally guilty of the Guy Ritchie/Joe Carnahan brand of "freeze-frame-sound effect-sliding shot" slickness, in its best and funniest bits the movie is closer to the humor of Miami Blues and Grosse Pointe Blank. That said, it's a shame that the whole thing all but collapses under its abrupt violent climax, but up until then it's constantly in danger of almost getting it right.
Movie I'm outright appalled to admit I actually liked: Halloween II Part II.
I hated Rob Zombie's revamp of John Carpenter's classic as much as anybody; it even got a special award for suckiness in my 2007 Year in Review. And the new one features a lot more of the same: more rock t-shirts and Charlie Manson posters and "Love Hurts" (again!) and stuff its director obviously thinks is some f'ed up shit! But there was something different, too: this is a very enjoyable hang out horror movie. With remake-part-one survivors Laurie and Annie trying to readjust to life after the attacks living day by day in a house with sheriff Brad Dourif while Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, who apparently didn't lose his eyes after all) milks the Michael Myers cow by shilling his exploitative true crime book and the giant killer himself slowly makes his way back home across foggy fields for some more slaughter - somehow Zombie just makes it fun to hang out with these people (even the mute and brooding and bearded Myers.) The violence is extremely discomforting and, unlike the first one, there's a strong sense of loss and remorse over all the killing (Dourif is given a particularly effective scene to play.) The cameos by horror convention panelists are less distracting, there are some creepy dream sequences and surreal moments that are actually fairly unnerving and things that could be considered bad filmmaking (like the 20 minute opening that turns out to be a dream) are actually kind of cool in a free-form kind of way. It's not saying much to claim this is Rob Zombies best movie but it's Rob Zombies best movie.
Biggest disappointment: My Son My Son, What Have Ye Done?
I'm sure the pitch sounded good: the true story of a man obsessed with Orestes who ended up stabbing his mother with an antique saber as seen through the lens of Werner Herzog with David Lynch providing support as producer/consultant. What drove this young man (played by the great Michael Shannon) over the edge? Why did he murder his mother? Will Willem Dafoe find a decent cup of coffee? Herzog is not the kind of director to answer questions like these. He never attempted to deconstruct the mind of Kaspar Hauser or Don Lope de Aguirre: he used them to discover new ways to see and communicate. And lets just say a basketball in a six foot tree in an L.A. park lacks the effect of a wrecked ship in a tree in the furthest region of the Peruvian jungle. Why would a man haul a steamship over a mountain? and Why would some nutjob commit matricide? are both difficult questions to answer, but only one offers itself the kind of transcendent Herzog magic weve come to expect from him. That aside, My Son is just a very sloppy movie, made up of choppy flashbacks from an uninvolving police standoff outside the killers house. The filmmaker has never seemed less comfortable with the locations hes exploring or the actors hes working with (were Chloe Sevingy and Michael Pena directed at all?) His Bad Lieutenant can be written off as an enjoyable curio where the charming craziness of Herzog and Nic Cage finally met, but this effort feels like a movie shot on the cheap by a film student who couldnt decide if hed rather rip off Lynch or Herzog.
Also disappointing (in order of how much better I expected them to be):
Big Fan, Ponyo, The Limits of Control, 12 Rounds, I Love You Man, Ninja Assassin.
Worst trend of the year: Hipster auteurs adapting classic childrens' books into overrated movies (Where the Wild Things Are, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, the "How I Met Your Mother" guys making Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.)
Best ending: Two happy ones: Ewan MacGregor makes it through the wall (The Men Who Stare at Goats) and the Japanese stadium turns out to be packed (Anvil: The Story of Anvil.)
Worst ending: No, Quentin this is no masterpiece. Inglorious Basterds
The Problem Child Award for best movie watched (or heard) by characters in a movie: Enter the Dragon in Lake Tahoe (good Bruce Lee impression by the kid, too.)
A terrible movie that survives as a joke in other movies: Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, name-dropped in Bruno and I Love You Man.
Best villain: Nero, Star Trek.
Best character name: Rick Rape, Gamer.
Worst character name: Anastasia DeCobray, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
Best two reasons to sit through a movie: Laetitia Casta in Tsai Ming-liangs Face and after
138 minutes of watching windows being tapped over you really do earn that Salome
dance she does.
Runners-up: Alicja Bachleda in Ondine; Amber Heard in The Informers (somebody told you there was no other reason to sit through this piece of shit? Well you heard right!)
The "Maggie Gyllenhaal Award" for a Nude Scene I Wish I Could Un-see: Who's gonna top the maverick? Maggie Gyllenhal in Away We Go.
Best death: Viking Ron Perlman, decapitated by an alien-dragon's lashing tail in Outlander.
Worst death: Isabelle Huppert's son, burned alive in White Material.
Standout joke: I didn't know they gave out rings at the Holocaust! The Hangover
Standout lame joke: Mike Tyson, and pretty much everything else, in The Hangover.
Still not entirely sure this movie wasnt a joke: Sherlock Holmes.
Definitely not the worst film of the year fuck you very much Owen Gleiberman: The Men Who Stare at Goats.
Steve Buscemi (The Messenger), Sharlto Copley (District 9), Brad Dourif (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, My Son My Son What Have Ye Done?, Halloween II Part II), Michael Fassbender (Hunger), Isabelle Huppert and the cast of White Material, Kim Hye-ja (Mother), Matt Damon (The Informant!), Timothy Olyphant (A Perfect Getaway), Tahar Rahim (A Prophet), Sam Rockwell as the astronaut farmer and his space doppelganger (Moon), Michael Shannon (My Son My Son What Have Ye Done?), Tilda Swinton (Julia), Karl Urban and Eric Bana (Star Trek.)
Most ridiculous performance of the year: Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover in Public Enemies
The "Robert Mitchum in Backfire Award" for most so its come to this appearance: Jean Reno in Couples Retreat.
Most overrated performance: Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds.
THE YEAR OF CLIFTON COLLINS!
Sunshine Cleaning Crank: High Voltage
Star Trek Brothers
Extract Boondock Saints II: All Saints' Day
And like 10
other movies! Go Nino!
Genius most in need of a new agent: Chiwetel Ejofor - an actor of his intelligence and intensity shouldn't need to dance around a lot of goofy digital effects.
Best cameos: Danny McBride in Observe and Report, Weird Al in Halloween II Part II.
Most spoiled cameo: Bill Murray in Zombieland.
Most useless cameo: Bill Murray in The Limits of Control.
Worst cameo: Is it even a contest? Mike Myers in Inglorious Basterds.
Weirdest cameo: (tie) Mathieu Amalric in Face, and Brendan Fraser as... Sgt. Slaughter? (GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra)
Favorite fictional football player: The moral (yet apparently overrated) Renaldo Hayes in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.
Least fictional football player: The amoral (yet apparently not overrated) Quantrell Bishop in Big Fan.
Filmmaker of the year: Lucrecia Martel, The Headless Woman.
Filmfucker of the year: Quentin Tarantino, Inglorious Basterds.
Christopher Lambert discovers the threatening goats head Isabelle Huppert tried to bury, and she acts like it aint no thang (White Material.)
The gorgeous shot of Serge Reggiani under the bridge, unseen by audiences for 45 years, finally makes its debut in L'Enfer de Henri-Georges Clouzot.
The daring daytime jailbreak at the beginning of Public Enemies.
The less-than-daring shakedown of the DJ in Soul Kitchen.
They get the security tapes but leave the bank without the money (Next Day Air.)
Hellacious, knockdown fight between Alison Lohman and the hideous gypsy crone in the parking garage (especially the way Lohman presses herself against the window to see if shes still there), Drag Me to Hell.
Ponyo chases the car atop the waves in a thrilling sequence that's to animated features what the iceberg rescue in Griffith's Way Down East was to silent films that is to say, a brilliant and magical action sequence unequaled in its medium.
Big Fan: the 50 Cent cake.
The Final Destination: the car wash.
Clive Owen and Julia Roberts meeting again for the first time, for the second time, in Duplicity.
The Elder Daughter reenacting Rocky in Dogtooth.
The girls' grasshopper business is booming! (but let's be honest, their theme song needs work Treeless Mountain.)
Iguanas! Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.
Cats!...Actually, not a good year for cats Drag Me to Hell, Dogtooth.
Or for goats! Drag Me to Hell, The Men Who Stare At Goats, White Material.
The nasty bad cop and his apple torture of the murder suspect in Mother.
The guy looking for a movie about a "nasty bad cop, rotten to the core!" at the video store in Air Doll.
"Good news!" Smiling Vondie Curtis Hall slides into frame at the end of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.
"Derek, I'm gonna haveta call you back." Don't fuck with Beyonce! Obsessed.
"You won't jump off that cliff cuz I won't let you." A tender moment of friendship in Anvil: The Story of Anvil.
Ronnie tells a vomit-drooling Brandi, "I accept you." Observe and Report/
The midwife borrows a bike and pedals out of the movie. The White Ribbon.
The security camera does a double take (Micmacs.)
Bruce Dern as Creepy Carl in The Hole 3-D.
Birol Unel as Shayne the cook in Soul Kitchen.
Razzle 'em. Dazzle 'em. Michael Shannon introduced in My Son My Son What Have Ye Done? at a point where things still look promising.
A truck stop, a dwarf, a video camera, a pick ax and a naked lady and suddenly My Bloody Valentine 3-D is in some surreal realm it wasn't in before and won't return to again.
Whats been lost: the first 10 minutes of Up!
Whats been lost: the last 10 minutes of Summer Hours.
Seeing Alien and Aliens at the Jacob Burns Film Center on my birthday with my pregnant wife and some of my best friends and realizing that both those movies are even better than I ever gave them credit for!
TOP 10 DVD's
1. PIGS, PIMPS & PROSTITUTES: 3 FILMS BY SHOHEI IMAMURA (criterion)
2. SIMON OF THE DESERT & THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (criterion)
3. MURNAU, 1921-1926 (kino)
4. FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET - uncut (mya communications/ryko)
5. WAGON MASTER (warner home video)
6. A CHRISTMAS TALE (criterion)
7. THE LINE-UP (columbia pictures film noir classics)
8. NIKKATSU NOIR (eclispe, series 17)
9. HARDWARE - blu-ray (severin films)
10. THE SAMUEL FULLER COLLECTION (sony pictures entertainment)
Things to look forward to in 2009:
Still waiting on Green Zone.
Tony Kaye's Black Water Transit.
Gus Van Sant's Restless.
The Last Airbender - you heard me right! I've been wanting to see M. Night direct a script by someone else for 10 years.
Greenburg (will it be The Squid & the Whale or Margot at the Wedding?)
Toy Story 3 (will it be Cars or Toy Story 2?)
Things to dread:
Michael Winterbottom directing The Killer Inside Me.
Marmaduke - so, Owen Wilson just does dog movies now?
Hot Tub Time Machine - what happened to Time Toilet?
- john cribbs, january 2010
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