MOVIE REVIEWS- 2009 in review: Recession? What recession?

Steve Warren's smiling face

While Americans reportedly had less money to spend in 2009 than any year since 1821, we spent more of it at the movies than ever before. December wasn't half over when the total box office for the year passed $9.7 billion, setting a new record.

This obviously left us less money for food, yet there was no reported drop in our national obesity level.

I'm glad I write about movies, so I don't have to analyze this data. Analyzing the movies is a tough enough gig. I recently spent a frustrating evening rewatching a few minutes each of several of my 2009 favorites, refreshing my memory on their virtues so I could put a "best" list in some sort of order.

It's not easy to compare animated apples with live-action oranges, not to mention computer-generated grapes. How does a lavish spectacle match up against a gritty drama? A comedy is funny, but is it Art? Should that matter? Is photographing true events more praiseworthy than recreating them? And if they want their film appreciated in America, should we make them speak English?

All this to ponder at the end of a stressful week in which distributors (who already make us wait until the last minute to see their films) made us wait an extra hour in one case for the print to arrive, an extra quarter-hour in another while everyone entering the theater was searched for recording devices.

Security is far more important to the studios than quality these days. Paranormal Activity proved that audiences will still pay to see anything. Of course, there will be a sequel, because seven of the year's 10 highest grossers (at presstime–- one or two may be surpassed by the end of the year) are sequels or, in the case of Star Trek, a franchise reboot. These figures do not encourage Hollywood to take chances.

Although I was able to show some love for performances I saw later, the latest I previewed any of the films that made my Top Ten was Nov. 17. Avatar might have fared better if it hadn't been screened in the same 72-hour period as Sherlock Holmes, Broken Embraces, Nine, A Single Man and The Maid; but who knows?

If the box office total ends up over $9.9 billion, as appears likely, it will be a fitting end to The Year of the Nines, which saw Nine, 9, $9.99, District 9, Cloud 9, One Nine Nine Four and, in some festivals at least, The Nine Lives of Marion Barry, Nine Dead, The Back Nine and 9/9/09.

Anyway, here are my choices for the best of a pretty good year. I didn't intentionally exclude franchises, but only the new Star Trek made it into the Top 20. I'm sure the others would rather have their share of $9.7 billion (and counting) than my approval.

A few titles in the various lists haven't arrived here yet or never will. Watch for them on DVD or the various forms of new media that the unions are still fighting for a piece of. Everyone needs their stimulus.

Top Ten:

1. Up

2. Inglourious Basterds

3. The Hurt Locker

4. Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire

5. Goodbye Solo

6. Summer Hours (L'heure d'été)

7. Fantastic Mr. Fox

8. A Serious Man

9. District 9

10. Every Little Step

Honorable Mention (listed alphabetically):

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

An Education

(500) Days of Summer


Red Cliff

Star Trek

State of Play

Taking Woodstock

Up in the Air


Best Foreign-Language Film: Summer Hours (L'heure d'été)

Runners-up: Red Cliff, Everlasting Moments

Best Documentary Feature: Every Little Step

Runners-up: Anvil! The Story of Anvil, The Cove

Best Animated Film: Up

Runners-up: Fantastic Mr. Fox, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

Runners-up: Lee Daniels, Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire; John Woo, Red Cliff

Best Actress: Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia

Runners-up: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side; Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire

Best Actor: George Clooney, Up in the Air

Runners-up: Morgan Freeman, Invictus; Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine 

Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire

Runners-up: Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air; Julianne Moore, A Single Man

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher McKay, Me and Orson Welles

Runners-up: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds; Woody Harrelson, The Messenger

Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Runners-up: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, (500) Days of Summer; Bob Peterson & Pete Docter, Up

Best Adapted Screenplay: Nick Hornby, An Education

Runners-up: Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire; Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

Breakout Actor: Christopher McKay, Me and Orson Welles

Runners-up: Souléymane Sy Savané, Goodbye Solo; Ben Foster, The Messenger

Breakout Actress: Carey Mulligan, An Education

Runners-up: Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire; Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air

Best Cinematography: Barry Ackroyd, The Hurt Locker

Runners-up: Lu Yue & Zhang Li, Red Cliff; Robert Richarson, Inglourious Basterds

Comedies You Saw: The Hangover, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Paul Blart: Mall Cop

Comedies You Should Have Seen: Extract, Black Dynamite, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard

Not to Be Confused With...:

The Informant!/The Informers, A Single Man/A Serious Man, Push/Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire (originally titled Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire)

Best. Fall. Ever: George Clooney (Up in the Air, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Fantastic Mr. Fox)

Highs and Lows: Sandra Bullock: The Blind Side, The Proposal/All about Steve

Runner-up: Woody Harrelson: The Messenger, Zombieland/2012, Management

Best and Worst Performance in One: Nicolas Cage, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Transformer: Matt Damon, adding 30 pounds for The Informant, then turning it into muscle for Invictus

Runner-up: Taylor Lautner, bulking up for The Twilight Saga: New Moon

New Sci-Fi Queen: Zoe Saldana, Avatar and Star Trek

Showbiz Nostalgia: The Great Buck Howard, Me and Orson Welles, Every Little Step, Is Anybody There?

Improved Sequel: Angels & Demons

Unimproved Sequels: The Pink Panther 2, Halloween II, Terminator: Salvation, The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Lightning Strikes Once: Sacha Baron Cohen, Brüno

Remake This!: The Stepfather, Fame, The Last House on the Left, Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine

Bottom Ten:

1. Antichrist

2. Paranormal Activity

3. All about Steve

4. Chandni Chowk to China

5. Observe and Report

6. Outlander

7. Halloween II

8. Free Style

9. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

10. Post Grad

Dishonorable Mention (listed alphabetically):


Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant

The Fourth Kind


The Informers


Little Ashes


Two Lovers