2009 Movies: The Deviant Knowledge “Notable” Film Awards: Best, Worst, and Weirdest of the Year in Cinema
Another year if film has come and gone and we are no right on top of the Oscar announcements. I don’t make definitive statements about the “best movies” of the year or anything. Don’t get me wrong. I see a lot of movies, and as the expression goes, opinions are like rectums, everyone has one. I, personally only have one rectum but have many opinions. But my opinions are no or less valid than yours, so we will again refrain from making definitive judgments this year and again offer The Deviant Knowledge Notable Film Awards for 2009. This will be my short list of films that in my meager view deserve some sort of recognition good or bad.
Interestingly enough, 2009 turned out to be a pretty good year for Science Fiction films. As a long term geek of the genre I can honestly say it’s a rare treat to see quality hardcore sci-fi. However, it wasn’t all good and we must first visit that genre to see the seedy underbelly of 2009 cinema:
** Biggest Disappointment of 2009 **
While I still don’t quite know what a “McG” is or how he, she or it got the job directing this thing, I can wholeheartedly say that it the biggest thing it had going against it was the release of a stellar blu-ray edition of T2: Judgment Day coinciding with Salvation’s release. I’ve tried to come up something original to say about Terminator Salvation here, but I don’t believe that I can articulate it any more clearly than I did back in my original review: This film “adds little or nothing of value to Terminator mythology and is lacking in the basic element any action film needs to at least make a decent box office showing: fun. This movie is a big boatload of no fun, no character development and, very little consideration or respect for what has attracted fans to the Terminator series to begin with.” At least last year I could enjoy watching Harrison Ford in the most disappointing film of the year. The most entertainment value from T4 was easily the on the set antics of Christian Bale railing on the director leaking on the internet.
** Best Piece of ‘Pop Art’ of 2009 **
I really liked Watchmen. But as the months have passed since it’s release I have come to terms with the fact that it really is more of a pop culture spectacle than it is a great film. I saw the film twice in the theater and have watched it since and it holds up more as an oddity than it is does a coherent piece of cinema. I believe that the long term devotees of the original work found it difficult to connect to these particular representions of the characters they spent the last two decades modeling in their heads while the curious newcomers to the work probably never really connected with the alternate 1985 reality that it created. This was a tough cookie to crack, but if Zack Snyder did nothing else, he adapted the material reverently. The film turned for me on Billy Crudup’s performance as Dr. Manhattan. The concept of the character is brilliant as it was originally envisioned I really enjoyed Crudup’s soft-spoken, under-played quantum oddity.
** Best Cameo Performance of 2009 **
Bill Murray in Zombieland!
For whatever reason, the zombie film genre has enjoyed a rebirth of sorts the last few years with the entire Zombie concept crisscrossing multiple other genres. While the Zombie comedy was done perfectly by Simon Pegg with Shaun of the Dead, we did have a funny redneck zombie comedy in 2009 with Woody Harrelson. While the film had plenty of gross outs and laughs, the best cameo of the year came from Bill Murray as himself in an extended cameo in the middle of the film. While I wouldn’t want to spoil it any more than that, it plays right into the bizarre world that Murray has dropped himself into as he ages, more of a parody of himself than anything else. If there’s any flaw here it’s that the film comes to a dead stop to let us spend a couple of scenes with Mr. Murray, but it’s well worth it.
Multiple Award Winner:
** Most Fun Film of 2009 ** and ** Biggest Geek Orgasm of 2009** Star Trek
And now we come to my personal favorite cinema experience of the year, J.J. Abrams Star Trek. As a member of the geek armada, our radar dishes really started perking up toward the end of 2008 when the first trailers started to hit. The only thing going through my mind was that those were some damned fine trailers, but it just was not possible for this film to succeed. Quite frankly, I’m still speechless at how incredibly good it was. Abrams took his innate gift for going for the entertainment jugular, added a few dashes of fortuitous casting choices, a fun script, and the best effects that have ever been associated with the Star Trek franchise to launch what has to be the most successful reboot of any film property since Tim Burton struck gold with Batman in the late 80’s. If you had stood in front of a crowd of any size at any Star Trek convention on the planet in 2008 and said the you were remaking the original Star Trek with a young new cast and tossing continuity and established Trek canon out the window to do it, the middle-aged virgin geeks would have run you out of town at the sharp end of pitchforks and torches. At the end of the day, though, the self proclaimed “non-Trek fan” Abrams managed to get all the right ingredients mixed in with a giant dose of luck. He managed to bring in the mildly curious as well as the hardcore Trekkers that would have loved nothing more than to spend the rest of the year cursing the movie in talkbalks. The naysayers were few and far between, though. Hands down, Abrams took the biggest risk and won the biggest reward of the year with Star Trek.
**Best Film that Made My Wife Physically Ill** Taken
On and off over the course of the year since I saw this I’ve continued to hear praise heaped upon Taken by many others, but I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out what the real draw of this film was beyond being a somewhat entertaining popcorn fantasy seemingly directed by Michael Bay immediately after stepping off a prolonged ride on the carnival tilt-a-whirl. Arriving late for this film we had to sit in the first couple of rows. Being right on top of the screen for Taken is kind of like sitting for 90 minutes while someone intermittently speed flips a picture book in front of of your face. We found out on opening night of Saving Private Ryan many years ago that fast action, high shutter speeds, intense motion and a variety of other fast paced camera work styles will generally send my wife out of the theater sick, and this years “motion movie mistake” with my wife was Taken. While I generally enjoyed the film for what it was, many of the action scenes stepped over that fine line where the camera work and editing turns the events of the scene into an indecipherable mess. Unlike Saving Private Ryan, this did not have my wife literally vomiting in the trash can at the theater entrance, but that’s only because she’s finally learned that the best way for her to deal with it is to simply look down and shield her eyes until the ride is over.
**Most Painful 1 Hour and 58 Minutes in a Theater This Year** G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
While G.I. Joe was neck and neck with Transformers 2 for this honor, Joe has to get the nod for having generally less well coordinated action scenes that the Transformers sequel debacle. While it’s only fair for me to admit that I was never a fan of the animated series, this movie was so devoid of coherence, logic and enjoyment it was by far the most distasteful film experience of the year for me.
** Most Fun Horror Film of 2009** Drag Me to Hell
As usual, horror films seem to be the quickest, sleaziest way for a film to turn a profit at the box office. Over the course of the year we got some remakes and “re-imaginings” popping in and out of the screens. Even an “art house” horror film creeped in under the radar (see my next category). However, this past year, the man that reinvented cult horror films in 1980s with the Evil Dead series before moving on to catapulting the Spiderman franchise into box-office gold returned to his roots to bring us a strictly for thrills popcorn chill flick, Drag Me to Hell. While I enjoy well made horror films to creep me out, I still find myself drawn to films that tread that line between pure scares, unexpected weirdness and laugh inducing craziness in the forms of cheap and over the top ways to startle you or get under your skin, and Drag Me to Hell was simply a horror film clinic by Raimi and sheer cinematic joy. This is definitely a horror flick that can be equally enjoyed by dragging an unsuspecting date into the cinema or popping it in the DVD player on a Friday night the guys a case of beer and few bottles of cheap vodka. Raimi is back in Evil Dead 2 form here where no situation, scare or gross out is taboo. Hands down a “film for the joy of film” classic genre horror film.
** The Loathsome and Offensive Yet I Cannot Look Away Award **
After last year’s Funny Games, I honestly thought it would be a long time before any film made me so uncomfortable I would be torn between wanting to turn it off yet innately compelled to continue watching. Danish film director trotted out Antichrist at Sundance implying heavily that it was his “masterpiece.” This is a movie that has a puss-filled, grapefruit sized lump of black cancer at the heart of it. Willem DaFoe plays a therapist and the husband of a sex-addicted wife, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. The couple’s young son inadvertently falls to his death out of their hi-rise window while they are having heated intercourse one night. This causes the wife to come to the brink madness with grief. After working through ineffective counseling, her husband makes the gigantic mistake of talking her into letting him be her personal grief counselor in spite of it being completely inappropriate for a therapist to treat a family member. There are times during the course of this film that you almost have to ask yourself if Lars von Trier is really making an art film, or a parody of one. There are several moments that are outlandishly “artsy,” including one scene so egotistically indulgent in the final act that I would swear that I was watching a Saturday Night Live skit.
Ultimately, though, this award is for one of the most painful third acts of any movies I’ve ever seen capped by some acts of violence so outrageous that you literally squirm in your seat. Lars has no sense of “less is more” in his films. First, we get full penile penetration in the first 3 minutes of the film, but this award is for an act of graphic violence in the last few minutes of the film that it literally haunted me for a couple of days after watching it. You know a few seconds before it happens what’s coming as I watched this film at home alone I literally began talking to myself saying “no…no…no…I don’t want to see this I DON’T WANT TO SEE THIS” followed be a “Holy Christ I can’t believe I just saw that!” There’s nothing subtle about the violent cruelty that prevails in the final act of Antichrist. However the overwhelming feeling that one gets from this film as the credits begin is that Lars von Trier has given us his “hate” letter to women. All of the evil within this black hearted film is rooted in the evil that WOMEN do. It’s thought provoking, I’ll give it that, but from my point of view, this film will probably just go done as a grotesque oddity in the history of cinema.
** Funniest Damned Film of the Year ** The Hangover
I have a high standard for comedy, some years come and go without any comedy film crossing the threshold of being worthwhile, but we did get this year’s guilty pleasure The Hangover chronicling the quest a group of men as they embark upon the morning following a vicious bachelor party that gets out of hand. They awake with the groom-to-be missing and only some faint fuzzy memories of the events of the evening. Each clue they uncover in their quest to piece together the events and find the groom gets more and more bizarre as they slowly start to come to the realization that they may have crossed the line from just having a out-of-hand evening of over-indulgence into the realm of perhaps ruining their lives. Meek-voiced ex-boxer Mike Tyson comes a hair away from inching past Bill Murray in Zombieland from being the years Best Cameo. Overall, though, this is a well constructed and honestly funny film that will stand the test of time.
DOUBLE AWARD WINNER: **Best Visual Effects / Most Overrated Film of the Year** Avatar Right now, James Cameron’s Avatar is still murdering the box office, but ultimately, without the stunning visual effects, this film is a weak retread at best. Since I’ve spent hundred of words on this film already in my original review and my most recent “Oscar” rant I won’t spend any more time delving into it. Basically, you have one a pedestrian retread of a story populated with lazily written characters wrapped in one of the prettiest packages you’ve ever seen.
** Best Performance by an Actor in Lead Role (My Personal Pick) ** Robert Downey Jr in Sherlock Holmes.**
There’s been a lot of talk about some great performances this year. Clooney’s name is getting batted around again for Up In the Air and he was indeed excellent in that role. Matt Damon painted a phenomenal picture for us in his lead in The Informant. However, in my mind this year is no contest. Downey, Jr will very likely get overlooked by for the art that he created bringing us another interpretation of the classic detective Sherlock Holmes, but his performance here is quite simply the best example this year of a familiar face completely disappearing within a character and completely validating the actor as an artist in every respect. It’s doubly pertinent in my mind as a great performance since it was a new interpretation of legendary character in literature that completely holds true to how the character was originally written yet paints a stunningly textured portrait in new and unexpected ways. Downey is definitely one of the most versatile actors of this generation, yet he continues to surprise and delight his audience by continually pushing the limits of how simple words on a page can be used to create something so fresh out of something so familiar. It’s a helluva a talent for someone to be just as exciting at home in a futuristic iron suit as he is walking the streets of 19th century London.
**Best Film You Didn’t See and Probably Didn’t Even Hear About in 2009** Moon
In the midst of a year bursting at the seems with hi-profile Science Fiction films, this movie was unceremoniously pushed to side with limited release and almost no promotion. As a result, it came and went without most people even realizing it existed if it played in your city at all. One of my favorite actors of recent years, Sam Rockwell conducts this quaint, low-key film almost single-handedly as the lone astronaut trying to finish out a 3 year contract as the lone worker in a lunar mining colony. Weeks before his contract is up as he is anxiously awaiting for his replacement to do the next solitary 3 year shift to mind the base and process, he suffers an accident on the lunar surface waking back up in the base’s sick bay with no memory of what happened to him. The only supporting character in this film is a maintenance robot that helps with the station’s upkeep voiced by Kevin Spacey. The entire film is simply Rockwell trying to unravel a mystery that becomes stranger and stranger as he comes to the realization that there is more going on than his maintenance robot or his employers back on Earth want him to know about. Compelling from start to finish, the best thing about Moon as that you think you have a good handle on where things are going by end of the first act, but it takes unexpected twists and turns as the pieces of the puzzle slowly fall into place and for the confusted and distraught astronaut to face some tough truths and make some difficult decisions. This is truly an original science fiction drama held together by a uncomfortable yet outstanding performance by Rockwell. One thing is for sure, this film gets the short end of the stick amidst this year’s blockbusters. Seek it out and watch it.
**My Personal 5 Favorite Films of 2009 in No Particular Order**
District 9: This science fiction surprise made for a meager 30 million dollars is one of the most polished and well scripted sci-fi stories to come around in years. In a sense, this came out of nowhere. With no star power behind it except backing from Peter Jackson as producer this exceptionally strong work is only slightly lessened by a pretty straightforward action climax. It’s a great science fiction allegory about human nature and racism.
Star Trek: I’ve covered it already, but no words or reviews I can give it can counterpoint my 13 year old son’s comment that it may have been “the best movie he’d ever seen” walking out of the opening night IMAX screening with me—keeping in mind this is from a kid who’s never watched a lick of Star Trek before that night.” While that’s a bit of overkill, I certainly didn’t have a more enjoyable experience in movie theater than Star Trek in 2009, and certainly no “cult” property has crossed into mainstream success of this sort in many years.
Inglorious Basterds: The one thing I love about Quentin Tarantino is that he is an unapologetic film geek of momentous proportions. While Basterds does not really edge Pulp Fiction in my mind as his best, it’s a war film filled with joy. While the character work and focus is a tad more hollow than we’re used to seeing from QT, he has once again conquered another genre with violent little World War II flick counterpointed by moments of sheer brilliance. Those moments are not the action scenes, but in brilliant direction from Tarantino in creating delicious nail-biting tension. He manages to wrap it up with a slam bang sequence that quite possibly has the most satisfying conclusion your likely ever to see in a war film.
Moon: Nothing to say here since I covered this above. This film is a must see for science fiction fans. They don’t make them much better than this. It’s just a damned shame that in 21st century that simple brilliant sci-fi flicks get pushed aside amidst the big-budget banquets
The Hurt Locker: The Iraq war is still such a politically charged event that it’s too easy to have preconceived notions about what side of the political fence that any movie about it is going to come down on. In the case of The Hurt Locker the political side of the war is not even skimmed over, which is refreshing in itself. This chronicle of one of the specialist units whose job it is to cruise urban areas around Baghdad and disarm Improvised Explosive Devices in urban centers is brilliant cinema. It’s one of those films that swings back and forth between compelling character moments and highly tense and effective sequences of a day in the life of a soldier. For me, halfway through the film I had to start asking myself what it was really about. Was it about the war? Was it about a rogue soldier that was a danger to his unit? Was it about mental illness or Iraqi insurgency? The film was definitely going somewhere. I don’t really want to say much about it other than the last 5 minutes of the The Hurt Locker, as simple and quiet as they are bring it all into clear focus. As the final shot of the film fades I found myself saying “so that’s what this film was about…and that is f**king perfect.” This is definitely a defining film in the short history of films about the Iraq conflict and quite frankly one of the most fascinating and best films of the year.
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