22 February 2010

The Good and Bad of 2009

It's been over a month since 2009 concluded, and plenty of online bloggers wrote up not only their Best of the Decade lists, but also compiled their Best of 2009 post. I'm a tad late at the game, my apologies. There's still plenty of movies I want to see and haven't had the chance to see, like the much-loved A Serious Man, World's Greatest Dad, Sin Nombre...basically just a lot of flicks that get a lot of mucho diggin' by critics professional and bloggie. But I decided I wanted to finally just write this baby out, and watch such flicks later (like The Road, which I super, super, super duper wanna see) and give 'em some good ol' honest reviewin'. As it stands, my picks of 'Favorites of 2009.' Hope you enjoy.

THE GOODEST OF THE GOOD

1o] Avatar

The most hyped movie of 2009, Avatar had a lot to live up to. Whether or not it actually did is a matter of opinion, as it seems to vary from 'crap-ola!' to 'O.M.F.G!' I found the experience to be enjoyable, as the digital creatures and 3-D effect helped transport me into the land of Pandora, onto the back of these winged creatures as they soared through the sky and attacked the humans that were destroying their home. The experience, I wager, is what basically made this movie for most, and is probably what many will remember moreso than the actual plot. The story left much to be desired, but the characters, creatures, habitat - hell, the imagery: it all came together to create a experience that made me feel like a kid again, playing with action figures and imagining a world like no other...and I thank you for that, James Cameron.

9] District 9

Funnily enough, I didn't really find myself enthusiastic about the film initially (before it started), but post-District 9, I thought it was terrific. If that's the case, why is this so low on my list? I guess it all boils down to rewatch value. As a piece of cinema, District 9 is fantastic. Completely digital characters interacting with actors in an striking environment, and even the nitpicking CGI dudes would be hard-pressed to find any faults in the computer animated graphic work. It's pristine. It truly felt like these creatures - fully rendered digitally - filled that space, interacted with those characters, and actually lived and breathed. It's a remarkable accomplishment.

8] I Love You, Man

After 40 Year Old Virgin, Paul Rudd was in, like, a bazillion movies. And I hardly think that's an exaggeration. Jason Segel starred in a few films here and there, such as his break-out hit Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but he primarily stayed TV-driven with How I Met Your Mother. The first quarter of 2009 had a comedy high (Fired Up!) and a comedy low (Miss March), but little did I know that perhaps the funniest movie of the year would be out so early (and yeah, that's counting The Hangover). A beautiful dramedy of a bromance, with one dude, Peter (Rudd) completely unable to make guy friends 'cuz it's waay too awkward; and there's Sydney, a carefree bloke who has no filter. Get these two awesome actors and awesome characters into a scene together and you got some magic. Add in some fantastic co-stars (Jaime Pressley, Jon Favreau) and one of the best girlfriends ever to grace the screen (Rashida Jones) with a intelligent, no-bullshit screenplay that has enough jokes that hit home you leave the theater completely satisfied, and ready to watch it again on DVD. I love you, I Love You, Man.

7] Zombieland

Here begins a trend of 'top movies' that I haven't written reviews for (either to my being unable to be critical about a movie, like I was with Star Trek, or others have written far better stuff that encapsulates my thoughts perfectly). Being a dude who doesn't really like zombie movies all that much, Zombieland was terrific fun. Far superior to Shaun of the Dead (although I LOVED Hot Fuzz), Zombieland is a great comedy that follows these charismatic, unique characters as they try to survive in, well, zombieland. Along the way, a lot of jokes result, a not-much-of-a-surprise-anymore-but-it-was-when-it-came-out cameo by a famous actor, a AWESOME shoot 'em up at a amusement park, and plenty of screentime for the hot Emma Stone and surprisingly awesome Abigal Breslin, who is a actress to be reckoned with, no doubt. The sad part is that it doesn't hold up 100% with repeated viewings, but it's still a fun movie, and I'll be there opening day for the sequel (which, sadly, seems to be getting a 3-D treatment).

6] Push

God, I love this movie. I really, really do. And I seem to be one of the only people on planet Earth who think so. Director Paul McGuigan infuses the script and the actors with such energy, the movie blazes through at lightning speed. Seriously, it begins, and then ZOOM!, it ends. And I had one helluva journey in that short hour and a half. Dakota Fanning gives her finest performance yet, and Chris Evans oozes coolness in every frame as he kicks some government cronies ass. This is how NBC's Heroes should have been. It takes the superhero genre, and makes it fresh and unique, and gives us a couple of awesome characters fighting equally awesome antagonists whilst fighting a seemingly unchangeable future that sees them all dead. Push is some of the greatest fun I had at cinemas in, like, EVER, and it's a treat in every department: the script, the visuals, the music, the acting. Forget what all the negative writers are saying, Push is 'da bomb diggity!

5] Whip It

Hit theaters and left theaters in a span of about three weeks, I didn't have much interest in the title and saw it as a freebie after another much publicized movie blew chunks. Turns out that this was a phenomenal movie that effortlessly mixed drama and comedy, and on top of that, was great fun. The directorial debut of Drew Barrymore, Whip It! features Ellen Page (aka, the forever-known Juno) as Bliss, a young teenage girl in a small town trying to find her own way in life, her own identity, and find out what exactly she likes, and her search leads her to a roller derby and joins the club. Powerful performances by Page, Marcia Gay Harden (The Mist) as her unwavering mom, and Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) as Bliss' best friend Pash. The movie's great fun, but it also deserves kudos for excellent music choice and pristine editing. If you've skipped Whip It!, please remedy this immediately.

4] (500) Days of Summer

I love Joseph-Goron Levitt. I like Zooey Deschanel. I love break-up/relationship movies when they're good. I love quirky scripts. I love movies with a good music selection. Thus, I love (500) Days of Summer. All these elements come together seamlessly, and make a movie of the utmost awesomeness, enjoyability, and relatability. There's not much to say other than I think it's a great script with a smart director. I loved the reality vs. expectation sequence when Tom attends Summer's party, the constant switching between days to show what used to be and what is now, the nice and real conversational exchanges between two ex-lovers...it's all very real, very unique and stylish, and very well done, and I love this movie for everything it is.

3] Watchmen

It took a lot of viewings to fully fall in love with Watchmen, to fully understand, acknowledge, and equally love what Zack Snyder did with the source material. Like so many fans of the graphic novel, I watched the movie with a harsh, criticizing attitude. The first two times the experience was more akin to a 'Why did they exercise that? Why did they add that?' exercise than any sort of movie watching enjoyment. But finally the DVD hit in July, and the more I rewatched it, the more I understood what this was, and what it is is brilliant. Zack Snyder adapts the graphic novel quit well, taking all the absolutely necessary elements from the novel and basically dramatizes them for the big screen. Running motifs and symbols - and sometimes emotional moments that carry real weight in the novel - are omitted, but I can handle that. And yeah, the ending was changed from the novel, but I actually think it was for the better, and it makes more sense. It wasn't until some random review of Watchmen where it all clinked: the movie is a reference to our culture, not just right now but through the last 30 or so years. It plays both as a 3-hour homage and brand spanking new movie simultaneously. The sound effects of the punches and the capes, the music selection, the suit designs...it was something more than just bringing a comic book to the big screen, it was a movie immersed in what the culture views superheroes the past few decades: from a complete satire to dark and brooding. That realization, whether it be my own demented mind thinking so, improved the film in so many ways for me. Watchmen may not have satisfied lovers of the graphic novel (such as I initially), but it's the best adaptation we could hope for, and the positives of the film far outweigh the negatives. I don't think I'm far off in saying that Watchmen is the third best hero movie ever made, next to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

2] Star Trek

Read the review, because I'm pretty sure the opening paragraph tells you all you need to know about my reaction to Star Trek. In short, I loved it. The movie renewed my interest in the franchise, and was super galactic fun. Thanks to the intelligent, funny, and dramatic script by Transformers scribes Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, Star Trek hit so many high notes, that any negatives seem void of purpose. Although I may not be able to hold my ground to a true Trekker (or Trekkie), I will try to defend the film as best I can. It's undeniable that J.J. Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman has created something unique: a movie that generally guarantees that anybody can join the party without needing prior knowledge, and yet making a film that makes it seem like we've known these characters all our lives. To find the best of 2009, look no further than Star Trek.

1] Inglourious Basterds

I've loved Quentin Tarantino movies since I was 11 (so about 9 years), having watched Resevoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction (yes, I started young; although I didn't really appreciate 'em until three years down the line). Jackie Brown was sort of crappy, and I completely felt in love with the Kill Bill saga. I collected books about Tarantino and owned the best DVD/Blu-Ray versions available for his films. This Inglourious Basterds, which he'd been talking about for years, was probably never gonna happen - since Quentin is notorious for announcing stuff but not really getting to it - so it was a major surprise that within only a few months of announcing the movie, it was shot, edited, and released by August. Turns out it's phenomenal. There was, of course, the powerhouse performance by Christoph Waltz (Hans Landa) that has received quite a lot of deserved attention, and a lot of sure-bet awards. The movie also boasts three insanely intense sequences - the beginning (the prologue), the middle ('Operation Kino'), and the end (the premiere). A superbly written screenplay as only Tarantino could write and personified by a wonderful cast, Inglouruous Basterds is a tough act to follow, but I can't wait to see what's next. And the other cool think is, Basterds has helped Tarantino become a name in households and movie goers who don't really concentrate on that type of stuff, but they'll always remember Basterds and the experience of watching it.

SO BAD THEY'RE JUST BAD



This was dumber than a Hannah Montana episode with guest stars Dora the Explorer, Blues Clues, and the Jonas Brothers all uniting to save the world from a world-ending mecha-horse that snorts musical notes of doom (!). My stomach literally felt yucky (and it was by no means the delicious pizza I just consumed at Broadway Pizza), my head felt lighter (I probably lost a few dozen brain cells), and I just was left with a stunned expression on my face. This could, I wager, be the very epitome of a 50/50 movie - for those who understand and appreciate the high-energy insanity that this flick is, it's probably one of the best of 2009, but for a bloke like me, it was just too much and too crazy. The best bit of the entire movie, however, (and I applaud them for it) is the War of the Gargantuas-esque fight scene in a electrical power plant. That was pretty awesome. But Amy Smart seeing a horse's penis - not high on the 'must-see' list.


A blah 'inspirational' movie if ever I saw one. I haven't given it much in the way of thought since I saw it. Boring, sporting a super epicly bad acting choice by Terrence Howard, and a sleepwaking performance by Channing Tatum. It honestly was just a waste of time. It wanted to tell a story I've seen countless times before, and didn't honor that particular story enough to be worth the experience. It was just...dumb.


Still can't decide if this is one of those 'so stupid it's actually good' type movies, or really just stupid with a good ol' bold period at the end. As it stands, I think it was a stupid comedy with 30 something actors trying to pass as teenage/early 20's kids [though still not as bad as the 40-something protagonist in I Love You, Beth Cooper], with only a few jokes that actually hit the spot, and a earthquake chunk that were bbbaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadddd. But one quality that Miss March has that most on this list lacks, is that I was at least amused and entertained during its running time, so kudos to you, Ms. March, on accomplishing that. Still, not necessarily a comedy I'd recommend. Expect for aspiring filmmakers to see what not to do when crafting a sex comedy.


I think it's partially my fault. I don't believe I fully prepared myself to take this as a drama instead of a comedy. But at the same time, I feel Judd Apatow failed either way at achieving what he wanted to get across. The movie follows the declining years of a comedic artist, only to find himself facing his own mortality. And along the way, he acts like a asshole to everybody. And during the last 2/3rds, when I felt like I sorta understood what was going on, characters act in ways that made no sense by what I'd seen before, and everything just went to Hell. Funny People, for me, just failed at being good as a drama and a comedy. There was nothing of value in the whole movie, and by the time the credits rolled, I didn't experience a story worth being told, a documentary (if you want) of a character that's worth our time. It just went nowhere, and meant nothing.


Talk about lost potential. If Fox greenlights a X-Men Second Origins: China Man Wolvie, I sure as hell hope they remedy everything that made this flick crap. The tone of this movie was completely wrong. Logan should not be treated as a Disney character, nor should his environment, enemies, stories, and dialogue reflect so. From what I get of Logan, purely based off the few comics, TV-shows, and other misc. stuff I've read/seen, his world isn't all bright and sunny, full of stupid one-liners, a dumb lost love plot line, a vehicle to show off other mutants in a far greater light than the title antihero, or be simply ridiculous (e.g., Wolverine examining his new claws at a old folks house). I don't necessarily want to use the words "dark" and "gritty" to describe what I wanted from this movie, but I would have at least appreciated a serious approach to this material. It honestly felt like a screenwriter took 20 minutes of their time to look over X-Men comics (just long enough to catch a glimpse of a few characters and a mention of some sort of 'Weapon X'), tossed out all notions of a sensible, smart story idea, and just wrote a by-the-numbers screenplay with one-dimensional characters and eye-rolling one-liners. Logan's a tormented person, always in pain - physically and emotionally - and after a brief scene of Wolverine going all 'Grrr!', I'd have expect him to be at Toys 'R Us playing with plush kitties. It's that type of movie.

Leaving the theater totally devastated and beyond disappointed that Pink Panther 2 sucked majorly, I can hardly express it. Unlike 89% of movie watchers, I quite fell in love with the original 2006 Pink Panther, found it friggin' gut-bursting High-larious! even. And then Steve Martin comes back with this two years later? Delivering a stupid MacGuffin, stupid jokes, pointless cameos, and not even remotely trying to rekindle any of the magic of the '06 version? (and yeah, I know plenty of people will be like, 'what magic, dude?') As a fan, I hated it. As a avid film watcher, I was insulted. Biggest disappointment of 2009.

THE ULTIMATE GUILTY PLEASURE OF 2009


Yep, that's right. That is the poster for Dragonball: Evolution. Critically ridiculed by film critics and hated by every fan of the franchise. But damn it, I love this movie. It's just so friggin' awesome, words can hardly describe it. There's a sense of fun that's contagious when watching it; the movie hardly makes a lick of sense, a impending Apocalypse takes second fiddle to a disbelieving romance, and on top of that a even worse attempt at a romance with two zero-dimensional characters that have no real impact to the story, to a admired martial arts expert clearly having a blast while collecting a paycheck. It's almost like a superhero/sci-fi/apocalypse satire, but approached with a dab of seriousness. Likely a abomination of epic proportions for fans of the Dragonball series (similar to my feeling of Roland Emmerich's GODZILLA), I just can't help but rewatch it and rewatch with a smile on my face. At the very least, DBZ fans, it was better than what Street Fighter fans got last year.


THE AWARDS

Damn, I Had Fun at the Movies:
The Best: Star Trek
The Best, Part 2: Push
The Best, Part 3: Avatar

Best Sex Comedy
Winner:
American Pie - The Book of Love (Direct-to-DVD)
Loser: Miss March

Best in the Name of Horror:
Winner: Paranormal Activity
Loser: The Fourth Kind

Best Sci-Fi:
Winner: Star Trek
Runner-Up: District 9
Second Runner-Up: Moon
Loser: The Fourth Kind

Best Romantic Comedy:
Winner: (500) Days of Summer
Loser: Couples Retreat

Best BOOM! Explosion Epic:
Winner: Taken
Loser: Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li

Best SupaHero Direct-to-DVD Animated Feature:
Winner: Wonder Woman
Runner-Up: Hulk vs.
Loser: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

Most Bodacious Babe With Acting Talents:
Winner: Rachel McAdams, The Time Traveler's Wife
(Uber)Loser: Megan Fox, Jennifer's Body

The Time of Man:
The Best: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Runner-Up: Woodey Harrelson, Zombieland
The Bad: Terrance Howard, Fighting

Biggest Surprise Performances
The Best: Jackie Earle Haley, Watchmen
Runner-Up: Nicholas Cage, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Third-Up: Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air

Remake Time:
The Good: Star Trek
The Bad: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
The Badder: Fame
The Eh: Halloween II

Sequelage:
The Good: Star Trek (yes, it qualifies)
The Bad: The Pink Panther 2
The Eh: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I Name Thyself 'OMG!' Ending:
Best: Paranormal Activity
Worst: Antichrist

SupaHeroes!!!
The Best: Watchmen
Runner-Up: Push
The Bad: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

The One Movie You'd Have to Pay Me $100 To See: Crazy Heart

Best Fight Scene of 2009: Kirk vs. Spock, Star Trek

The biggest ‘this-isn’t-the-movie-I-paid-for-the-trailers-lied-to-me!’ movie: Observe & Report

It Coulda been worse: I Love You, Beth Cooper/ Hannah Montana: The Movie

The 'Whaaaaaaaaa....????????????' Award:
Antichrist

Overrated: The Hangover

My Favorite Scene in a movie:
From the moment Hans Landa of the SS walks up to Hammersmark at the film premiere to the chillingly hilarious conclusion, Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds kept me captivated. I'm not even sure a team of cheerleaders taking their tops off could have persuaded me to tear my eyes away from the screen. These collection of scenes (which I know breaks the 'favorite scene' equation of this award) is some of cinema's finest in '09. There are so many sequences from Basterds to choose from (the 20 minute opening, 'Operation Kino', etc...), but this sticks in my head the most. If I had to really cut it straight and narrow, the scene with Landa, Aldo, and Ultvich debating the end of the war was superb.

My Favorite Dialogue: "Roses are red, violets are blue, you're a whore. Bitch." (500) Days of Summer

My Favorite Character: Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise, from J.J. Abrams fantastic Star Trek sequel/reboot. Played to perfection by Chris Pine, who was basically unknown to me prior to his undertaking this role, Kirk is at his best. I've never loved the character more than when handled by him and writers Orci and Kurtzman. The 'numb tongue' sequence onboard the Enterprise, his continuous hitting on Uhura, his barfight in Idaho before he joined Starfleet, his tactic with the Kobayashi Maru, his interaction with Spock Prime, and finally, his disbelief in no-win scenarios. This is the James T. Kirk fans fell in love with years ago, and I never could quite get the grasp as to why. Now I do.

The Technical-ish Stuff:

Best Score: Star Trek - Michael Giacchino (he got snubbed; a far inferior score being nominated instead of this masterpiece?)

Best Theatrical Poster: Drag Me to Hell

Jaw-Dropping Visual Effects: Avatar

Best Visual Effects that Feel Real: District 9

Best Director: Neil Blomkamp, District 9

Best Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

This Actor Makes Any Movie 40% Better Than it Out To Be: J.K. Simmons, Extract/Up in the Air

MOVIES I HAVEN'T SEEN & DON'T PLAN ON CHANGING THAT

Winner: The Soloist
Number Two: Michael Jackson's This is It
Number Three: Crazy Heart
Fate Worse Than Death: Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel

4 comments:

Castor said...

Excellent post A.P! Nice to see another Inglourious Basterds lover! Also good to see Avatar at the bottom of the top 10. Good film but overrated!

Funny People: Finally someone who agrees with me! This movie was so disappointing, it was not funny at all!

And finally anyone who will choose Rachel McAdams before Megan Fox is all right to me ;)

A.P. Simon said...

Thanks for the kudos, sir. First, Rachel McAdams is a supremely fine actress, both in her talent and her beauty. Fox is all just looks - HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS AND ALIENATE PEOPLE and JENNIFER'S BODY are prime examples of her inability to hit any note aside from 'annoying cheerleader.'

And about damn time I met someone who felt the same way about FUNNY PEOPLE. I felt like I was alone in the blag-o-sphere concerning that flick.

AVATAR works purely by 'woah' and 'awe' factors, and I give it props for that. But as a movie that will sustain through the decades, that actually is worth getting a top 3 stamp or something like that - nah. Just nah.

jeremythecritic said...

Great list and not late at all (I'm not even close to done with '09's movies yet lol). Good call on including two terrific comedies (Zombieland and I Love You, Man) and I completely agree on Inglourious Basterds and (500) Days of Summer. And good for you in sticking up for Watchmen. You're right in that it is a film that invites repeated viewings.

Still need to see Whip It and am more curious to now after seeing it in your top 10. I really think you'll enjoy World's Greatest Dad.

Castor said...

Oh I definitely agree about McAdams. People are so caught up with bimbo looks and attention whores it makes me sick and it's refreshing to see someone who is classy, low key and has real acting chops.

Funny People: lol yea I get into arguments with my friends about how unfunny that movie. It's basically a series of penis jokes after another!