ZACK CLOPTON’S 2009 MOVIE RETROSPECTIVE!!!
…was the best ever!”
Thank you, Kanye. 2009 was another year that existed and happened. The history books back me up on that one. It was the end of a decade. Compared to all the crazy shit that went down in ’08, I’m having trouble coming up with notable events that took place over the last twelve months, besides Balloon Boy or Michael Jackson moonwalking to that Neverland Ranch in the sky or some other asinine shit. So, in other words, let skip pass all that nonsense and get right down to business.
Movies, that is. I only saw 73 this year. I know, that’s a fucking shame right? “I am so disappointed in you,” you must be saying to your computer screen, Hypothetical Internet User.
2009 was not a great year for cinema. There was some badass stuff, granted. However, it seems to me that the failures, disappointments, and half-successes are, if not more memorable, at least more prominent. Despite the number of very good movies this year, turns out there were very few really interesting movies this year. Most of the good stuff was more about breathing life into old ideas then exploring new ones. I felt like I didn’t see everything I wanted to this year. How much that has to do with the lack of fantastic flicks or me just dragging me feet, I’m not sure.
Enough of that. Let’s get to THE LIST, mighty and fearsome as it is. Everybody, soup’s on.
It’s ironic that the most exciting movie I saw this year is about a geriatric. It might also be ironic that an animated film features the most totally developed, realistic, and lovable characters you’re ever likely to find. Of course, the two facts go together. “Up” is thrilling, exciting, sad, funny, colorful, heartbreaking, and touching. What more could you ask for?
2. Star Trek
The new cast is perfect, the script is tight, and the ship battles are epic. More then anything, it was the numerous little callouts to the fans and the franchise’s history that won me over. For the first time in years, I’m proud to be a Trekkie.
Often described as “torture porn,” this is anything but. It doesn’t intend to titillate with its graphic violence. Instead, it summons up an incredible intensity, powerful performances, and legitimately mysterious puzzles. It uses gore as a spiritual tool and certainly has a whole lot more on its mind beyond simple shock value.
4. Murder Loves Killers Too
Starts out as the most authentic feeling retro-style slasher I’ve seen in ages, with inventive gore and suspenseful cat-and-mouse games, before throwing a brilliant curveball in the ending stages. Not all the acting is great but Allen Andrews is really good. This is a future classic.
5. The Princess and the Frog
I’m such a nerd for old school Disney animation. After waiting so long for another, I am thoroughly satisfied. The movie is visually gorgeous, the music is excellent, and it both subverts and pays homage to the classic studio formula.
6. Crank 2: High Voltage
Bow down to this movie. Submit or it will destroy you. More outrageousness, insanity, and fucking awesomeness is packed into this movie then should be legal. See it, worship it, or Jason Statham will step off the screen, hunt you down, and shove a shotgun up your ass.
7. Observe and Report
A completely dysfunctional, antisocial comedy that breaks all of the rules. What if “Taxi Driver” was about a mall cop? It’ll probably alienate most people with the way it cheers on an unrepentant psychopath but, hey, that’s the kind of cinema I can get behind.
8. Sick Girl
Leslie Andrew shows a depth and clarity of character that you rarely see. It captures the double life of a serial killer well, as the movie is a sweet family drama one minute and then an extremely twisted, disturbing horror story the next. I like the grimy visual style but found the ending sudden.
The spectacular visuals are almost as creative and colorful as the story, which is a surprisingly creepy variation on the Girl in Wonderland scenario. The vivid vocal performances and evocative score cements this as a delightful, though slightly over-long, fantasy.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS:
10. Inglourious Basterds
The first act is seriously uneven. You get the impression that a lot of stuff was cut to keep the runtime manageable. After the awesome music video sequence, it goes up in fantastic flames, fills you with a number of conflicting emotions, rewrites history, and is consistently badass for the reminder of the show. Col. Landa is a new candidate for best movie villain of all time.
A visually haunting, deeply unnerving film. Is it misogynistic? Maybe, but I feel it’s more generally misanthropic then anything else. Either way, it’s a lingering, nightmare-ish movie, a horror story that dares to go to personal, dark places few others do.
12. Dead Snow
Yes, maybe the movie focuses a little too much on cribbing from established classic, but you know what? I don’t care. I had a blast with this one. It takes the concept of snow-bound Nazi zombies and gets at much frantic, gory, fun out of it as possible.
13. The Children
The movie makes it’s “kids who kill” premise as intense and unsettling as possible. All of the right buttons are pressed and the violence is shocking and graphic. If nothing else, that blood sure sticks out against the snowy background. The frenzied direction is sometimes disorientating but I suspect that might have been intentional.
Sam Rockwell is awesome, right? This is basically a one-man show and he gives the best performance of his career, beautifully conveying a number of different aspects. The story is small-scale but uses general sci-fi concepts to explore bigger ideas about souls and identity.
15. Black Dynamite
If it wasn’t for the obviously funny scenes, you’d think this was an actual ‘70s blaxploitation movie. Michael Jai White is one bad mother-shut-your-mouth and should be a star by now. This is both a brilliant homage and a hilarious parody.
16. Battle for Terra
Don’t let the sub-Playstation level animation fool you. This is an old-school sci-fi tale that creates a truly unique world, fills it with fully developed, lovable characters voiced by a great cast, and handles a number of heady, complicated issues and themes. Seek out this overlooked gem.
17. District 9
Once the distracting faux documentary style is abandoned, the focus shifts to the dynamic between the lead characters, and then shifts again into an unexpected but surprisingly effective action film. Its biggest strength isn’t the thin sci-fi metaphor but the rich, detail oriented, fully formed world that unfolds on screen.
18. Drag Me to Hell
Raimi makes up for the PG-13 rating by having everything imaginable puked up and even more stuff shoved down throats. Slightly uneven at times, things kick into awesome with the séance and open grave climax. The sound design is amazingly creepy. It’s practically “Evil Dead 4,” so enjoy.
19. Where the Wild Things Are
I’m not sure a simplistic children’s story needed an adaptation this complex, but any movie that is filled with this much honest emotion, is as visually beautiful as this one, and pretty much made me cry from beginning to end is obviously worth high scores
20. The Hurt Locker
A portrait of an adrenaline junkie, an unbiased look at the Iraq War, a subtly acted character drama, an intense thriller, and a pretty well-made movie all over. Considering all the mainstream critics jazzed their shorts over this one, I don’t really have anything else to say.
21. Bart Got a Room
In the past, I’ve bitched about how no movies have accurately captured high school as I experienced it. This one comes close. It’s the story of a normal kid, awkward, hopelessly horny, in love with his best friend, dysfunctional parents… The ending gets a little too sentimental but this one is a joy for the most part.
22. Whip It
An indie comedy/inspirational sports drama sounds like a terrible idea but this movie coasts (Or even, ahem, SKATES) by on it’s top-tier cast. The first act is so much fun that when it descends into formula in the middle, it’s a total bummer. But it works out a-okay and, hey, if nothing else, those roller derby girls are… Mrrow.
23. The House of the Devil
While a lot of recent flicks claim to be in the eighties horror style, this one actually feels like a lost film of that era. It’s all atmosphere and mostly build-up, which I don’t mind at all when it leads to such a creepy, intense, satisfying conclusion.
24. Trick r’ Treat
I suspect this would’ve worked better as the fall surprise it was originally meant to be instead of the hyped-up, delayed flick we got. Either way, it sets out to be the ultimate Halloween film and more or less succeeds, what with its awesome atmosphere and great mixture of creepy, cool, fun, and freaky
The effects and meaning of the English language is pretty heady stuff for a zombie movie so don’t be surprised that this focuses on characters and atmosphere over gore. By keeping most stuff off-screen it creates some genuinely unsettling moments and it’s a unique take on the sub-genre, if nothing else.
26. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Give Nic Cage another Oscar. A performance this insanely captivating makes up for every moment of mediocrity from his last one hundred movies. You can tell that Herzog was only interested in the more deranged aspects, but Cage makes it all easy to watch. Am I the only one who wants to see a whole series of “Bad Lieutenant” movies, each one with a different crazed star and auteur director?
Almost everything you’ve heard is true. This truly is a new high for effects, easily some of the best CGI and motion capture I’ve ever seen. The action is impressive as well. The story is also as derivative and heavy-handed as you’ve heard and don’t think too hard about the science. Good news: Sam Worthington gives a half-decent performance.
While closer to “Kiki’s Delivery Service” then “Princess Mononoke” on the Miyazaki scale, it’s not like the guy makes bad movies. The Disney-approved dub is a little heavy handed but this is still a visually beautiful, sweet, happy fairy tale of childhood wonder and ocean magic.
Jordan Ladd’s intense performance makes you relate to the crazy lady and the amount of suspense that is generated is directly due to her. Extraneous subplots drag the movie down and it’s a little too short. That last scene is a nice shocker though.
30. I Sell the Dead
A buddy comedy that looks like a classic Hammer horror film with several moments of enjoyable comic book wackiness thrown in. The plot is pretty loose and the whole thing is maybe too care free, but the performances and characters make it a breezy, enjoyable affair anyway.
31. Babysitter Wanted
A really likable retro-slasher type vehicle that has an amusing twist midway through and a surprisingly capable cast. The bombastic music projects too many of the scares and the meager budget shows in the effects but, once the story gets rolling, it’s action all the way through.
32. The Burrowers
A gritty Western and a monster movie are a winning combination, if you ask me. Though a little long and featuring themes that are far from fresh, truly unique creatures, a capable cast, and some effective sinister imagery makes this worth checking out.
33. Paranormal Activity
The most talked about horror movie of the year creates some spookiness by setting the mildly unsettling against the completely mundane. The boyfriend character is a total unlikable tool. “[REC]” is still the best found footage flick.
Neveldine/Taylor are some of the most entertaining directors out there but, with this one, they are repressing their gonzo tendencies in favor of telling a straight action story. So it’s no surprise that the wackier moments are easily the best, like any of the Society segments, Milo Ventimigila’s insane cameo, or Dexter’s Bruce Lee impersonation.
What starts out as an interesting study of teenage morality and a wonderful perversion of horror troupes soon turns into typical stuff: Guys putting hoes before bros, friendships dissolving, tension rising, gory finales, douchey acoustic songs… I would have liked to have seen some more of the dark humor that pokes through a few times.
The movie is at its best when focusing on the zombie killing and the wish fulfillment aspect of the apocalypse scenario. Woody Harrelson is a bad ass but the movie puts a little too much faith in its characters and casts, especially Jesse Eisenberg, who is a poor man’s Michael Cera.
37. The Informant!
The backbone of this comedy is composed of Matt Damon’s hilarious inner-monologues about random shit, the look on people’s faces as things get crazier, and the flippant musical score. As the story gets more pathetic, things get less funny and the energy trickles out before the end. Still, I smiled throughout most of the runtime.
38. World’s Greatest Dad
Gee whiz, Robin Williams can still be funny! Shocked, right? Though this dark comedy leans on its soundtrack too much and I was really hoping for a different ending, it not only gets a lot of humor out of its premise but also some questions about manipulated death, guilt, and grief.
39. Friday the 13th
Ultimately, if you overlook the typical Platinum Dune problems (Overly pretty actors, loud music, shaky-cam direction), you’ve got a damn decent “Friday” flick. I love the faster, smarter Jason, it’s respectful of the mythology, and provides plenty of creative gore and cheesecake
40. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Functions much like the cartoon that inspired it. The story is full of holes but, if you can still think like a six year old, you won’t mind. The action is often, the girls are hot, the comic relief is lame, and the villains are over-the-top. A campy, goofy summer pop-corn muncher.
Basically, it’s most of the goodness of the original comic with a generally competent cast. All of this is excluding Zack Synder’s jock rock, slow-motion-riddled, juvenilely violent fight scenes which almost ruin the movie. If you ignore those, it’s all right.
Who knew Aslan was so adapt at breaking people’s shit? I’m not keen on the flashier aspects and the gritty story is just set-up for fight scenes, but the action is well done and Liam Neeson provides an intensity that is beyond the abilities of your typical action hero.
43. S. Darko
I was taken aback by how good this was. Yes, it’s not even in the same league as the first and you often feel like its being weird or confusing just because you’d expect a “Donnie Darko” sequel to be those things. But Daveigh Chase makes a captivating lead and its world is just as fully formed as the first, even if the logic behind it isn’t as well thought out.
44. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
I like that humor and romance dominates the first half. While it isn’t bad after the second-act turn, it becomes less interesting. After a climax that is filmed in the least dramatic way possible and a sleepy ending, you realize all of this was just set-up for the last movie(s) and feel a little cheated.
45. New World Order
Alex Jones is the Rush Limbaugh of the conspiracy theory crowd. I’d feel more confident about this film if the makers, instead of just recording and letting the crazies speak for themselves, made some sort of point. Still, this is a fascinating look into an increasingly creepy sub-culture.
46. My Bloody Valentine 3-D
As far as slashers go, this delivers the goods, with some awesome gore and gratuitous nudity. It’s not the original but it is respectful and there are several throwbacks to the 1981 tale. I fucking hated the lead actor.
TWO AND A HALF STARS:
47. Astro Boy
The anti-military story is fairly obvious, some of the kid-friendly humor is lame, and it’s ultimately a little too brisk and goofy for its own good. But they really tried. Emotion is invested in the characters, action is somewhat decent, and the bright, colorful, cartoony animation is quite appealing.
Half a goofy popcorn movie and half the campy shit I was hoping for. The result is just okay. It’s filled with 2002’s best CGI, gratuitous cleavage, rushed pacing, a few unintentionally hilarious moments, bad actors acting badly and good actors slumming it. I never want to see close-ups of Justin Chatwin’s hideous face ever again.
The visuals are nice and all. However, the great voice cast is squandered since the neutered run time and all-action story leaves next to no room for characters. So we’ve got a cool looking world inhabited by little but some neat explosions.
50. Wonder Woman
All right for direct-to-video animation. The relationship between Diana and Steve is the best part. The rest is underdeveloped with an overreliance on mythology and “Look how PG-13 we are” violence, to the determent of story, pacing, and general logic.
The whole idea of a movie all about books is mildly subversive. The story has a lot of potential and the cast is capable. However, the movie feels content to stay within the accepted perimeters of the book-based family-fantasy genre. That’s a shame too cause this could’ve been special.
52. Book of Blood
Despite good performances and some eerie music, this one drags and has generally stale direction. There’s a nice opening and a mostly good ending but, over all, it’s slow and uneven.
You’d be better off reading the short story.
The ending doesn’t cop out and there are several tense or visually impressive moments. But Nicolas Cage’s laden performance and a number of goofy scenes do the movie no favors. I can’t decide if this is an interesting half-success or total failure that has some polish.
54. The Haunted World of El Superbeasto
Everyone seems to hate this but, come on: Nice animation, lots of cartoon nudity, monsters, zombie Nazis, Yakkity Sax, countless references, and the look of Tex Avery on meth. Sure, it sputters out before the end and starts to do what the fuck ever, but if we can’t have fun with any of the above ingredients, what can we have fun with?
55. The Last House on the Left
This movie tries to have it both ways. Visually, its music video slick but story wise, it wallows in recycled cruelty and expensive gore gags. The two aspects don’t mesh very well. The commendable cast makes this better then it otherwise would’ve been but it says nothing new about the original’s themes or subject matter.
56. The Box
What starts out as an intriguing moral dilemma soon degrades into Richard Kelly’s trademark art-silliness and cosmic claptrap. (Dude needs to stop trying to remake “Donnie Darko.”) We regain some of that urgency before the end but by then we’ve stopped caring. Cameron Diaz’ twang is stupid.
57. Laid to Rest
Inventive, super wet death scenes and a potentially iconic killer go a long way but slow pacing, a lack of interesting characters, or any legitimate story make the evisceration-free parts of the movie a real drag.
58. Halloween II
A half-baked mixture of random weirdness, thin pop-psychology, Rob Zombie’s trademark vulgarity, brutal gore, almost decent character development, and generic slasher parts. I liked asshole Dr. Loomis (and Weird Al!) but hated grunting Michael Myers.
59. Black Devil Doll
The plot is just an excuse for nudity and racist jokes, the acting is bad, the effects are crude, the movie is designed to be as crass and childish as possible. Which was obviously the filmmakers’ goal so… Good job, guys.
60. Terminator: Salvation
Even with zero expectations, I found it humorless and brainless. A talented cast is wasted and it doesn’t feel like “Terminator” until Arnold’s “cameo.” As a generic action-er, it works better, since there’s explosions and robots getting fucked up. As part of the franchise, it’s totally limp.
61. Alien Trespass
The look/tone of a ‘50s creature feature is close. But, sadly, if this had actually been made in that era, it wouldn’t be a classic but would’ve shown up on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” The pace is laborious and there’s far too much padding. The Theremin laden score is the best part.
62. The Final Destination
The increasingly routine nature of the franchise has sucked all the unpredictable fun out of it. Sure, some of part two’s dark humor is back but it’s not enough to save the movie from contrived ridiculousness. You can’t even enjoy the gore because most of it’s been CGI’d to death (ha) in order to make room for lame 3-D effects.
The second story in this horror anthology is the sole stand out, a babysitter in peril/killer clown combo that has solid atmosphere and some legitimate creepiness. The rest of the movie is complete shit. The final girl is cute.
64. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
The awful first act, derivative action, and embarrassing CGI worried me. Stuff picks up in the middle and actually gets good for about a half-hour before going to shit again at the climax. (Why did they do that to Deadpool?) And, since this is a prequel, there isn’t any resolution. Meh.
65. Donkey Punch
Of all the apocryphal sex acts to base a horror movie on, I guess this is the most logical. (Though Hot Karl: The Movie has potential.) The one-note characters make it hard to care about anything that happens and they often make dramatic decisions for little to no reason. The flare gun scene was cool.
ONE AND A HALF STARS:
66. Sorority Row
What does it say about a movie when its most clever move is handing Princess Leia a shotgun? The flick invests an awful lot of time into its utterly asinine characters, leaving the most annoying alive as long as possible. At least there’s some decent gore and tits.
67. The Stepfather
A totally shallow take on the original. There’s too much teen-drama, hackneyed attempts to create suspense, and a rushed, ridiculous finale with a stupid epilogue. I honestly expected to hate it a whole lot more though. The acting is decent and there’s lot of Amber Heard in a bikini.
68. Feast III: The Happy Finish
Better then two but that’s not saying much. There’s an extended strobe-light sequence but the movie doesn’t have the good sense to keep the hot naked chick alive. It gets an extra point for the ending. Overall, “Feast” was a franchise of wasted potential from beginning to end.
69. Jennifer’s Body
A horror-comedy version of “Heathers” that isn’t scary, funny, or, you know, good. With the exception of the Amanda Seyfield sex scene, the whole thing comes off as trite and false. Diablo Cody has outlived her usefulness and Megan Fox was never useful to begin with.
70. Midnight Movie
The movie-within-a-movie might make you think this is a postmodern slasher, but that’s nothing but a cheap gimmick to distract you from the unthreatening killer, rubbery gore, and the goofy-ass story that just gets goofier-assed as it progresses. I liked the biker character and the nerdy girl’s boobs.
71. Simon Says
This not-a-comedy features awful framing, ridiculous deaths, ludicrous effects, a Wilhelm scream, and the most clichéd set of spam-in-a-van slasher fodder I’ve ever seen. And right in the middle of it is Crispin muthafuckin’ Glover, at his most hammy, crazy, and over-the-top.
72. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
All the potential the “Transformers” franchise has and instead we get three hours of robot fart jokes. Michael Bay doesn’t see the Autobots as characters but as just more props to explode. The Racism Twins, the literal exposition machine, Unicron-sized plot holes, the skank bot… I could go on and on.
73. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li
What we’ve got here is a boring, blandly acted mess of worn-out clichés that only occasionally slips into laugh-out-loud stupid and takes next to nothing from its source material. The 1994 movie Hadokens the hell out of this weak-ass shit.
And that’s the end of that. Before we totally close the book on the naughties, the zeroes, or whatever the fuck you want to call them, let me play movie critic some more and show off my list of Favorite Films of the Decade. Because why the hell not right? (This was a really hard list to put together, by the way. Some many movies I love and adore had to be cut simply for the sake of brevity.)
2. Pan’s Labyrinth
4. Shaun of the Dead
5. The Fall
6. Hard Candy
7. Kill Bill
8. The Incredibles
10. The Royal Tenenbaums
Now, lets look forward to the future. To the immediate future. Like, right now. This year, 2010. What films am I looking forward to, you ask? Well, I’m glad you did!
1. King Shot
3. The Expendables
5. Iron Man 2
7. Shutter Island
8. The Rum Diary
9. House of the Wolf Man
And the rest:
25/8, 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams, The A-Team, Alice in Wonderland, And Soon the Darkness, Black Death, Book of Eli, Burke and Hare, Centurions, Clash of the Titans, Colin, Cop Out, The Crazies, Creation, Cropsey, Daybreakers, The Descent 2, Dead of Night, Frozen, The Ghost Writer, Green Hornet, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part I, Hot Tub Time Machine, The Hole, I Love You Philip Morris, Inception, Jonah Hex, Kick-Ass, The Last Airbender, Let Me In, Life During Wartime, The Losers, The Loved Ones, The Lovely Bones, Money Never Sleeps, Mother's Day, Night of the Demons, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Peacock, Piranha 3-D, Prince of Persia, Puppet Master: Axis of Evil, Rapunzel, The Resident, Robin Hood, Scot Pilgram vs. The World, Shanghai, Somewhere, Splice, The Strangers 2, Survival of the Dead, Trash Humpers, A Town Called Panic, Toy Story 3, Tron Legacy, The Ward, The Wizard of Oz, Youth in Revolt
And it was. Enjoy your lives, boys and girls, and I wish you the best of luck in all of your endeavors within this year and the next. As always, thank you for reading.