In a year where we learned much too much about Jon and Kate, Bernie Madoff, Octomom, Balloon Boy and Michael Jackson, isn’t it great we had so much decent film fare at the local multiplex to take us away from the madness that reality often brings?
For a time of major economic downturn, the domestic box office just surpassed the $10 billion mark, a milestone that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that people need their entertainment now more than ever. It looks like a lot of that pleasure came from the safest places, trusted franchises from which people know what to expect such as Transformers, Harry Potter, Twilight and Star Trek. Up isn’t a part of a series but did come from Pixar, the most successful movie studio, animated or otherwise. I do know its track record is a flawless 10 for 10 but even its creative streak is losing steam, considering the number of sequels it has in the works for the next few years. That’s a bad sign.
The point is that if your movie isn’t a cartoon, based on a bestselling book, a hit TV show, or features superheroes, aliens or robots (or superhero robot aliens) then you’re going to have a tough time turning a profit. There were actually a few titles this year that didn’t fit that mould. Sleeper hits like The Hangover actually gives me hope for Hollywood. Sadly, so do The Blind Side and Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
What makes me despair are the obvious attempts to rake in a buck with as little effort as possible. If we can squeeze away the time for a show that I have to shell out hard-earned dollars for, then we shouldn’t be subjected to rancid tripe like Fast and Furious, Ninja Assassin, Taken, Knowing, Fighting, Crank: High Voltage, Funny People, Saw VI or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Frankly none of those stinkers stunk as much as G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Even though it seems groomed for a series, I hope that abomination never happens.
There are some series still in existence that I think we should put a stop to. Transformers, Saw, Crank, and Fast and Furious are just a few. I won’t say Harry Potter here because that seven-part series will conclude by 2011. No, I’m talking about Rob Zombie’s reboot of Halloween, Underworld and Ice Age. These tired creations deserve their rest. It’s OK if Terminator, X-Men and Star Trek continue on. At least they keep trying new ideas.
As far as I’m concerned the best movie of the year was Where the Wild Things Are, a beautiful and emotional adaptation of a time-honoured children’s book. It should get an award just for finally making it to the big screen, let alone receive ample kudos for how truly awesome and low tech it is. Some of the other movies I would highly recommend include Year One, Public Enemies, The Final Destination, A Christmas Carol, 2012, Hannah Montana, Brüno, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, Zombieland and finally Avatar.
There’s one movie out there that I also want to get the word out for. The Brothers Bloom was my favourite little-seen gem, on par with last year’s In Bruges. It’s the kind of show you want to walk into, befriend the main characters and just live there forever. But no one can catch every show, even the blockbusters that play on thousands of screens across the continent.
Even with 52 reviews in 2009 there are still several movies out there that I wish I had seen but just couldn’t get to. That list includes The Hurt Locker, Moon, The Cove, District 9, It Might Get Loud, The Slammin’ Salmon, Black Dynamite, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Road. This is the high time of year for the heavy award contenders to get released, so I’ve left them out for now. All I can tell you is that Up in the Air is really good despite how obviously it panders to sentiments stemming from the economic zeitgeist while capitalizing on George Clooney’s uncanny ability to be handsome and charming.
What is most interesting to me is how I give some movies poor reviews but over time they become less seemly in my head, and vice versa where well-reviewed shows vanish from my thoughts almost immediately. If memory serves I excoriated Tropic Thunder last year but it has remained strong in my regard ever since.
Maybe I wasn’t so kind to Coraline but it sure does have a lasting impact, if only for visual style. The story creeped me out something fierce though and considering that it was geared as a family movie, I put the clamp down on that review. Monsters vs. Aliens came in soft for me too but it has strong recurrent entertainment value — just ask my finicky kids. On the other hand, The Hangover was originally average but there are a lot of well-designed scenes whose images linger indelibly. One of my measures of a classic is that it at least lingers and bears repeat viewings. Kudos to Todd Phillips, the idiot savant of the new frat flicks. Judd Apatow, your car is waiting.
Speaking of which, there are several strong contenders from the male goofball school of filmmaking. I Love You, Man and The Goods: Live Hard and Sell Hard were both highly enjoyable, although mostly forgettable. If you aren’t a man and enjoy other movies geared for you and your girlfriends and sisters, there were a number of high profile vehicles that came out this year. Bride Wars and Confessions of a Shopaholic were just a few but He’s Just Not that Into You was perhaps the best cast of the bunch. Also, any chick flick that stars Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Connelly, Drew Barrymore and Scarlett Johansson is an easy sell to most men as a date night feature compromise.
Apart from these titles, there were several others that stood out as highlights. Watchmen had been rumoured about and in development since I was a teenager but when it finally burst onto the screen in the spring, all that most people could talk about was the always-nude Dr. Manhattan and his glowing blue … appearance. If only James Cameron’s incredible high-resolution motion capture technology was available for Zack Snyder, there might have been an entirely new female fan base.
Angels & Demons also came out in the spring and to my relief, was better than The Da Vinci Code in story and pacing That’s misleading since the YouTube video of the cat playing the piano was more enjoyable.
I must admit that the greatest disappointment I faced this year was with an ultra-low budget horror movie that was supposed to scare the pants off of most people. Armed with a modern Internet campaign the likes of which The Blair Witch Project couldn’t even have nightmares about, Paranormal Activity was advertised by its producers with a trailer that showed more of the audience’s reactions during early test screenings followed by the studio’s encouragement for the public to vote on having the movie distributed to their respective region. I voted based solely on the trailer and, despite my exuberance, went to see the lamest ghost story ever. CinĂ©ma vĂ©ritĂ© can improve some movies’ plausibility but here it was so easy to see through the camera tricks and obvious blue screens— a misbehaving ghost was obviously just a guy in an invisible suit, ruffling the sheets.
In the end, I think it was a more successful year at the theatre, both financially and artistically than we’ve had recently. Still one question remains for me: can someone explain the sudden emergence and soon thereafter omnipresence of Zach Galifianakis and Sam Worthington to me? Honestly!