Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Big Dysfunctional 2009 Movie Roundup

My efforts to compile a year-end list were a failure. I decided to look over some numbers. Of the 10 biggest pictures this year, I would only consider seeing 3: Up, Avater, Potter 6 1/2. Of those 3, only one was a must for me (Up). And I still missed all of them.

Even more oddly, through one problem or another, missed most of the movies I really looked forward to this year: Let the Right One In, District 9, Inglorious Basterds, The End of the Line, Drag Me to Hell, Food Inc., Moon, The Brothers Bloom... Bad luck or coordination really sabotaged my movie-going this year. I was in a movie theater less than 20 times for all of 2009. But there are still many things to say, so let's sort out what we do have, ok?

Best New Release (that I actually saw) Coraline. Neil Gaiman's brilliant writing is paired with excellent effects work for a thoroughly-enjoyable fairy tale full of laughter and tension. [this happened before with Mirrormask, but Coraline was better] See my review.

Best Out-of-the-Blue Release Cooking History. It's been ages since I've seen a picture with an actual thesis. This movie features interviews with cooks from various European armies (e.g., Russia, Bosnia, Hungary, France). Among the topics: questions of pride in helping the war effort, guilt over Old World colonialism, moral blindspots, and racism/nationalism. Filmed with more than a bit of humor and style, it was very thought-provoking. Also, the big theater at the Museum of Natural History looks like a place to watch opera. I was lucky to have seen this.

Most Internal-Conflict-Causing Release Star Trek. I loved the old series because my brothers and I used to gather to watch the depiction of three good space-navy officers kicking ass in the future. And Wrath of Khan is magnificent. The new movie had some good qualities. Still, the flaws were nearly shouting out at me. I couldn't help but be bothered by the half-hearted nature of the reboot; it was a clear effort to re-franchise ST, not to produce a great movie or storyline. Further, you don't need to increase pathos by killing a guy's mom when you also destroy his planet. Also, at 29 (compared to Shatner's 35), Chris Pine looks way too young for this. It's like seeing a teenage trust fund baby driving a 60's Porsche. If a good friend hadn't wanted to watch it, I'd've skipped it altogether. I can't say that I would've missed anything by it.

Worst Movie This is a hard call, since I didn't see much. I'll nominate every unnecessary and ill-conceived sequel/remake: The Final Destination, GI Joe (Why), Transformers 2 (Why again), Friday the 13th, Terminator Salvation, X-Men:Origins:Wolverine (why:did you:make this), Angels & Demons (hahaha), The Last House on the Left (really?)... I can't leave out The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3. Mr. Shaw must be rolling in his grave.

Best Theatrical Re-release Tied between The Great Muppet Caper and A Hard Day's Night. I remembered nothing about either film, not even if I'd seen them before. The Muppets, in record time, brought out the kid in me. I was as happy and entertained as if I were a child again. The Beatles movie was rewarding far beyond classic rock n roll. It was a real wealth of beautiful black and white images, great jokes, and the satisfaction of watching youthful success. It was so easy to be caught up by it that the tragedies to follow were far from my mind. The music was frosting for the metaphorical cake.

Best Re-watch Brick. If I buy a movie and don't watch the dvd, that's a very good sign. I'm glad that I saved my second viewing of this film for a quiet night at home. Great dialogue, acting, and direction - exactly what I needed early this year. It's hard to tell which is more compelling: the story or the actors.

Best I-Should've-Seen-This-Before To Have and Have Not. I do not know how I missed this, yet watched the other three Bogey and Bacall pictures. The old-school characters and dialogue were nearly as much of a delight as the chemistry between the leads. I loved it, as you can read.

Best Anticipated Rental Kiltro. This had been on my must-see list for almost two years. It actually took me a lot of searching to even rediscover the name of the picture or director. My efforts paid off in spades, and I was treated to an entertaining and emotionally-satisfying Kung-Fu flick (in Spanish). I was happy to watch (and review and recommend) this film. With a second film on Netflix now (Mirageman is the biggest rental on my radar), I hope that Espinoza's star continues to rise.

Biggest Vicarious Disappointment Avatar. I love James Cameron's dedication to telling good stories, the effort that he puts into his movies. I was incredibly annoyed by the hype machine, but I looked forward to giving it a chance. I was understandably let down when I heard the result of his long absence: written for a young-teen audience, lacking in charismatic faces to support clunky words, and bearing a heavy-handed Native American metaphor. At best, scouring through several reviews indicates that I should only see Avatar if I want a decent popcorn pic to catch with a friend. Many of Cameron's films have a stronger appeal than that.

This is the best year's summary I can provide. Many other movies appeared on my radar, but I felt in no rush for them (The Box, The Road, The Lovely Bones, Sherlock Holmes). Time, and the thoughts of other reviewers, will decide whether I catch them at all. If circumstances were different, I'd certainly be able to include all those pictures from the second paragraph of this entry. Hopefully, 2010 will be a better year.

And, as far as films go, I hope it will be a year that sees studios focusing on foreign releases, important issues, fewer mindless remakes/reboots, and more original stories. As long as you're hoping, you might as well hope big, right? Happy New Year, everyone!

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