Mexican gang life, the return of Hugo Stiglitz, orchestral synesthesia, cider cellars, Butoh dance, metal on metal, set phasers to stun, a button of death, picks of destiny, and a particular set of skills. These are the best films of 2009.
The Playboy Mansion, a house on the left, death to Wyoming, elderly teenagers, warm beer, parody blues, Columbus discovers awful, Heigl feminism, Christian horror, and Theta Pi must die. These are the worst films of 2009.
Having embraced both “Revolver” (a wild brain tickler of a mystery) and “RocknRolla” (its diluted, but funky cousin) in the face of worldwide derision and miniscule box office returns, I can understand director Guy Ritchie’s sudden craving to make an accessible feature film. Thank heavens he found “Sherlock Holmes.” A vivacious adventure picture, “Holmes” funnels Ritchie’s visual gifts into an engaging reawakening of the world-famous consulting detective, bringing the iconic sleuth to a new generation of filmgoers by way of fisticuffs, homoerotic tension, and cunning star power.
Writer/director Nancy Meyers has purchased herself one heck of an insurance policy by casting the likes of Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, and Alec Baldwin for “It’s Complicated.” It almost feels like she’s cheating to win over audiences. As sneaky a move as it is, “It’s Complicated” is saved by three consistent, surprising performances, gelling superbly together in a tepid, but comfy sweater adult-oriented comedy; better with intimate acts of submission than it is with broad strokes of slapstick.
“Crazy Heart” was called up from the studio minor leagues this Oscar season when Fox Searchlight couldn’t find much in their year to push for awards. They sniffed out gold in Jeff Bridges’s portrayal of a boozy, greasy, at-the-end-of-his-rope country singer, hurrying “Crazy Heart” into release to roll around in the assured accolades. And Bridges is exceptional here; it’s the movie itself that’s less urgent and awkwardly defined, throttling Bridges’s impressively discombobulated performance, leaving one to wonder why there’s even a plot to “Crazy Heart” in the first place.
It’s strange to recall that 2007’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks” wasn’t just a standard, “it’s winter, get me out of the house” hit, but one of the highest grossing films of that year. Seems Chipmunk fever was waiting for the proper moment to strike back from cultural obscurity. Two years later we have the goofily titled “Squeakquel,” which tries to replicate the…er, magic of the original film by repeating essentially the same story, only updating the pop tunes performed and the lead character. Otherwise, it’s the same chipmunk business, only the novelty, if there was any to begin with, has worn away.
With “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” director Terry Gilliam makes the sort of the picture he’s been pumping out since 1998: borderline unendurable. Coming off his career-torching work with 2006’s “Tideland,” it’s comforting to observe “Parnassus” assume a less abrasive attitude when it comes to specifying the pageantry of the subconscious. However, that doesn’t mean Gilliam has dropped his defenses. “Parnassus” remains steadfastly tedious, noisy, and incomprehensible, only cushioned from total disaster by Gilliam’s sporadically comforting visual fetishes.
I’m sure there will be much hullabaloo accompanying the release of Mike Judge’s “Extract,” as the film is a return to the workplace blues genre that made Judge a cult hero with the 1999 picture, “Office Space.” The comparison needlessly reduces “Extract” to an afterthought when it’s actually a sturdy, uproarious comedy that solidifies Judge’s voice as a relaxed filmmaker with impeccable timing and a valuable interest in blending the absurd with the awkwardly real.
The screenplay for “G-Force” seems to fumble the joy of the concept, hunting for a more impactful way to tell a very silly story. This might be the reason there’s a frantic, suffocating thinking that ends up marring the picture. This is a team of super spy guinea pigs getting into all sorts of hijinks, there’s little need to add pathos or rigid character arcs. “G-Force” feels the urge to present audiences with a sympathetic portrayal of talking animals, when it’s clear that potential viewers, both young and old, would rather see these heroes in all stages of miniature combat and furry teamwork instead.
If there’s a single sin to zero in on while watching “Nine,” it has to be the way it makes Federico Fellini feel absolutely insufferable. The Broadway musical “Nine,” a shadow of the 1963 Fellini film “8 1/2,” makes its cinematic debut after nearly 30 years of wowing audiences with its lurid behaviors and zesty Italian style. While I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing the stage show, I’ve suffered through its filmic incarnation, which douses everything plausibly irresistible about the original material (and “8 1/2”) in a sickly goo of glum behavior and dodgy characterizations, scored to a jukebox of graceless songs. A boldly chic celebration of sultry 1960s Italy and its lush cinematic persuasions this film is most certainly not, no matter how many hindquarters are thrust into the air, skinny ties are tied, or cigarettes smoked.
The mild delights of 2007’s “Music & Lyrics” notwithstanding, it’s always cause for alarm when writer/director Marc Lawrence and actor Hugh Grant find the time in their busy schedules to make movies with each other. “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” is their third collaboration (a trilogy that includes the sour 2002 film, “Two Weeks Notice”), and holds the distinction of being not only their most disastrous duet, but also one of the worst films of the year. I’m not exactly sure why the well is poisoned every time these fellows get near each other, but “Morgans” is a fantastic reminder to institute some sort of restraining order. Make it a legal issue, guaranteeing Grant and Lawrence will never team up again.
While encrusted with common period trappings, “The Young Victoria” is a consistent machine of scandal, heartache, and English monarchy power plays. Lavishly produced and dutifully written by Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”), the picture is a solid piece of drama, giving fans of the genre a ripe core of hesitation to sink their teeth into, while also bringing actress Emily Blunt to the forefront with an impressive depiction of uncertainty and immaturity thrust into the spotlight of uncontested power.