Looking back over my movie-watching habits in 2009, I was surprised at how little I’d actually seen, whether at the cinema or on TV or DVD. My calendar never lies: I sometimes went weeks without sitting through anything of feature length. It could be a testament to the improving quality of television that I got my cinematic fill from the likes of Mad Men et al, but let’s be realistic: I’ve just been lazy about it (the stack of unwatched DVDs on the shelf is proof enough). The first quarter of 2010 has been more of the same, alas, though I’ve still got nine months left to make up for it.
But back to 2009. The year began, as years often do, with Oscar-fodder. The Wrestler I would have seen anyway for obvious reasons, regardless of its critical acclaim; I would have preferred less of the schmaltz, but a masterful performance by Mickey Rourke as the titular grappler made up for that (not to mention the film’s sympathetic portrayal of an oft misunderstood subculture).
No doubt it was robbed by not getting a Best Picture nomination among the likes of seventies real-life dramas Milk and Frost/Nixon, both of which ticked all the boxes for me. It must be said for the latter: Michael Sheen simply was David Frost, just like he was Tony Blair and Kenneth Williams. It’s an uncanny ability, for sure.
Most of last year’s JDIFF passed me by except for Religulous, which was a big disappointment. I knew it was a film with an agenda — religion’s bad, mmkay? — but my lasting impression is that anti-religious rhetoric of this kind can lead us down some dangerously blind alleys. Bill Maher and company give Christianity and Islam a much harder time than Judaism, which severely undermines its premise. And was providing an uncritical platform to someone like Geert Wilders — with zero reference to his own notoriety — really a good idea? I walked out with a bad taste in my mouth.
Crazy Korean genre mashup The Good, The Bad, The Weird was a bit of a mixed bag. I liked its irreverent take on the western and the over-the-top tone, but it was a good half hour too long; the watch was glanced at more than once before the credits rolled. Watchmen, on the other hand, I could have watched all day. Was it really three hours long? The time flew by! To be fair, I was already familiar with the source material. And it was by no means perfect (some of the dialogue decisions and soundtrack choices were cringe-inducing, and THAT ENDING!) but still a massive achievement. I’ll go so far as to say even Alan Moore might appreciate it for what it is.
The middle of the year saw the quality take a bit of a dip for me. Monsters vs Aliens was a fun enough romp but not particularly memorable, while the 3D was too subtle to make it really worth the extra couple of euro. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is best forgotten; boring it wasn’t, but with time comes the realisation that it was pretty rubbish. Public Enemies was even worse; never mind the two-dimensional characters and clunky dialogue, I’ve seen better editing on You’ve Been Framed!
What can I say about Star Trek, other than I’m sure Star Wars fans loved it. A solid action sci-fi flick, indeed, but really not a Star Trek movie. However, Karl Urban was unquestionably perfect as Bones McCoy; I’ll watch the sequel just for him. Also: JJ Abrams sure does love his lens flares and Century Gothic, doesn’t he?
Drag Me to Hell was a nice surprise, silly ethnic stereotyping aside, and probably the most fun film of the year for me — a good old-fashioned thrill ride that Sam Raimi clearly had a whale of a time making (Raimi needs to do more like this; he’s wasted on the big-budget franchise stuff). Also catching me unawares was Man On Wire, a superb documentary about one man’s quest to do the unthinkable.
And then there was UP. Anything I could offer has already been said a million times over; suffice to say it’s a harrowing, beautiful masterpiece that had me blubbering into my 3D specs. James bloody Cameron only wishes he could make a film like this.