Annual #5 - Greetings From McCone County, USA
Theda B. Geer
1925 - 2010
Hello everyone. Allow me to be the very last person to wish you a Happy New Year. Yours truly began 2010 on a sour note, with a computer meltdown so severe that I seriously contemplated returning to a manual typewriter once and for all. After some consideration, I realized this might not be the best course of action for an online columnist and, two weeks and a few hundred bucks worth of repairs later, I’m finally back.
My original plan for this week was for a double-shot of special editions, outlining my picks for the best movies of the year and decade. The first was to appear on Monday, with the thrilling conclusion going live on Friday. This delay has caused me to reconsider the schedule a bit. After all, Best-Of lists started to appear online before the Thanksgiving turkey had cooled. I’ve checked out several of them myself and have been disappointed by how similar they all are. Sure, there are a few slight divergences but by and large, everybody seems to be on the same page. So rather than try your patience (and mine) any further, I’m going to bang these out relatively quickly. Rather than wait several days, part one of my best o’ the decade list will show up tomorrow, computer gods willing.
As for 2009, it was a considerably better year for film than its predecessor (my 2008 rant is here in case you’d like to take a stroll down memory lane). It was by no means a perfect year. I saw far too many movies that succeeded brilliantly on one level while completely falling apart on another. Even my own list includes several movies that I freely admit are fundamentally flawed in one way or another. But it’s through this experimentation that we eventually do mine a few classics. I’m much happier watching interesting filmmakers try and fail than in seeing talented people simply phoning it in. Even something like Avatar, which failed to connect with me on any meaningful level, at least provided a unique experience that I’m glad I saw theatrically. That’s not a claim I can make about most of the movies I saw in 2008.
2009 will also go down in history as the year Hollywood officially ran out of titles. OK, I imagine very few people confused Up with Up In The Air. But between District 9, 9 and Nine, there was very little danger of anybody forgetting what year it was. And I can only assume that a couple folks had to convince their friends that no, they hadn’t already seen A Single Man a few weeks ago. That had been A Serious Man. That doesn’t even take into account all the title trouble stirred up by remakes, reboots and sequels. Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans sounds more like a CSI-franchise spin-off than a movie. And I cannot believe we’re now at a stage where you have to specify which movie you’re talking about if you mention Halloween II.
But what’s in a name? Without further ado, here are my favorite movies of 2009. These are the films that grabbed my imagination, my heart, my mind and/or my gut and wouldn’t let go. I already know that a few of you will look at this list and say, “He didn’t like Avatar but he liked THAT? What a maroon!” I can live with that. Remember folks, this is only an exhibition, not a competition. Please, no wagering. And as usual when I put together a Top Ten list, this one goes to 11.
11. Drag Me To Hell
Sam Raimi gets back to basics (kinda) and remembers how to put together a wildly good time at the movies. Sure, the twist ending is telegraphed by Western Union but any movie that has a demon-possessed dude puking up a dead cat is OK in my book.
10. The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
A chaotic, glorious mess of a movie as only Terry Gilliam could do it. Heath Ledger’s death made this even more scattershot than it might have been but Gilliam’s work-around is fairly ingenious. The movie is a big, unfiltered slice of one of the most imaginative and creative minds in cinema.
Duncan Jones’ small-scale science fiction drama is intelligent, suspenseful, witty and manages to pay respectful homage to Kubrick’s 2001 without coming across as a pale imitation of it. Sam Rockwell deserves an Oscar nomination for his work here which he almost assuredly will not receive.
8. The Hurt Locker
I didn’t see this under the most ideal of circumstances, otherwise it might have ranked higher on the list. But considering I saw it on the world’s tiniest screen with plenty of distractions and still found it absolutely riveting, you should believe the hype. Kathryn Bigelow’s movie really is that good.
7. The Baader Meinhof Complex
Uli Edel’s thrillingly complex political drama follows the transformation of radical ideas into radical action, then shows how those ideas can evolve into something unpredictable and even more dangerous. One of the few movies I’ve seen that connects political and cultural revolutions globally while remaining focused on a very specific time and place.
6. (500) Days Of Summer
One of the year’s most pleasant surprises, a post-modern romantic comedy with heart. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is at his most charming and Zooey Deschanel matches him at every turn, even when her character is at her most shallow and unsympathetic. An all-but irresistible treat from director Marc Webb and writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber.
5. The Informant!
I’m happy for the success of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s movies if for no other reason than it has allowed him the freedom and confidence to dream up giddy concoctions like this. Soderbergh slaps a superfluous exclamation point, a delightfully silly Marvin Hamlisch score, and a puffed-up but energized Matt Damon onto what could have been a moderately interesting 60 Minutes story and creates a razor-sharp corporate comedy.
4. District 9
If District 9 had been made by a well-established filmmaker, it’d still be one of the most invigorating movies of the year. Considering that it marks Neill Blomkamp’s feature debut announces the arrival of a major new talent. And Blomkamp isn’t the only one to keep an eye on. Sharlto Copley grounds the film in reality with a seemingly effortless performance that compares favorably to Jeff Goldblum’s in The Fly. A thrilling movie that works on every level.
3. Up In The Air
It’s no easy task to make a movie tied very specifically to the present that doesn’t feel like it will be dated in ten years time. Yet that’s just what Jason Reitman has accomplished with this sophisticated comedy-drama. George Clooney is in top form here and he’s supported at every turn by the equally fine performances of Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Amy Morton and Melanie Lynskey.
2. Fantastic Mr. Fox
2009 was an extraordinarily good year for animation. With a wildly diverse range of both styles and subject matter, if you didn’t see an animated film you liked, then you really just weren’t paying enough attention. For my money, Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox was the leader of the pack. Its charming, folksy animation combined with a great soundtrack and Roald Dahl’s wonderful story to create one of the most colorful, warm and delightful movies I’ve seen in years.
1. A Serious Man
I am in awe of Joel and Ethan Coen. Even their worst movies are at least somewhat entertaining. When they’re at their best, as they most certainly are with A Serious Man, no one can touch them. A Serious Man is a dense, complex, personal film, revealing hidden layers of meaning the more you dwell on it. It’s haunting, meditative and sad but also deeply funny. What does it all mean? Frankly, I think it varies from person to person depending on what you bring to the table with you. At its core, there’s a quest for meaning and purpose that is perhaps unattainable, so it’s fitting that the movie defies easy explanation. One thing is certain. I’ll be returning to A Serious Man repeatedly in years to come.
2009 AT THE HELL PLAZA OCTOPLEX
If TV theme songs have taught me anything, it’s that you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have an Electric Theatre Annual. As I mentioned a couple times this year, I don’t attend press screenings for the flicks I write about. I shell out my hard-earned samoleans at the box office just like everybody else. If I was a proper critic, I’d have a responsibility to report on anything and everything that’s released. But as a consumer, I’m free to pick and choose. Consequently, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that I didn’t see the worst movies of 2009.
Usually in this space, I shine a light on the eight movies that looked so irredeemably awful that I could not in good conscience pay money for the privilege of seeing them. And believe me, there were plenty to choose from this year. We had Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway competing to see which one will be crowned Queen of the Harpies in Bride Wars. There was the Nia Vardalos double feature of the damned, I Hate Valentine’s Day and My Life In Ruins. We had Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, for crying out loud. I’d have to be offered a substantial amount of cash before I would even consider sitting through one of these things. But this year, one movie stood out among the rest. In 2009, all eight screens of the Hell Plaza Octoplex are booked with…
Look, both John Travolta and Robin Williams have appeared in their share of stink bombs but they’re capable of good work and I like Seth Green. So if all you knew was that these three guys were appearing together in a new comedy, I can understand wanting to see it. But as soon as you arrived at the theatre and saw this poster, you should have immediately changed your plans. Even the gorilla looks like she doesn’t want to be there. I have a high tolerance for crap and will basically give anything a chance. But the only way I’d watch this is if I’d been stabbed and some twisted sadist projected it in front of me while I slowly bled out. Now that’s what I call torture porn. If you ever meet anyone involved in the making of this movie, either in front of or behind the camera, you are within your rights to punch them in the belly as hard as you can and say, “That’s for Old Dogs!”
That’s it for 2009…almost. I’ll return tomorrow with the first half of my picks for the best movies of the decade. Will any ’09 releases sneak in under the wire? If your heart can bear the suspense, come back tomorrow and find out.