January 25, 2010

Best of 2009: Part 1

I don't know why I created a five-part "Best of 2008" series last January, but it was simple and thorough, and with a few changes I'm copying it for 2009 as well. One thing that made 2009 unique was just how few new releases I actually saw, significantly compared to 2008 (130+ new releases) but also relative to any year in at least the last five or six. I can't put my finger on one particular reason; there were just so many times I planned on seeing a movie before I either lost interest or lost time. Incredibly, I think I only visited a theater three times during the month of October - other years I might have done so three times a week during October.

Whatever the reason for my decreased theater attendance this year, though, I really don't feel like I missed much of significance. Just take a gander at the 50 highest-grossing films of 2009, for example. Pretty painful, and though box office numbers rarely match up with quality anyway, my point is that 2009 was still desperately lacking in worthwhile wide releases. So I can only go with what I've seen for the lists to come this week - feel free to let me know what I've missed or forgotten... 

The Most Overlooked Performances of 2009:
...why these received so little attention is a mystery to me...

Naturi Naughton, Notorious
John Malkovich, The Great Buck Howard
Sam Rockwell, Moon
Red West, Goodbye Solo 
Alison Lohman, Drag Me to Hell
Maya Rudolph, Away We Go
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker
Peter Capaldi, In the Loop
Arta Dobroshi, Lorna's Silence
Joaquin Phoenix, Two Lovers
Letekidan Micael, Heart of Fire 
Mohammad Amir Naji, The Song of Sparrows 
Michael Fassbender, Inglourious Basterds 
Nisreen Faour, Amreeka 
Martina Gusman, Lion's Den 
Matt Damon, Invictus

The Best & Worst Titles of 2009:

                                  Best:                                                                                      Worst:
                                   Up                                                                              Paul Blart: Mall Cop
                           Public Enemies                                                                   I Love You, Man
                    (500) Days of Summer                                                                Knowing
                         It Might Get Loud                                                                    Two Lovers
                          American Casino                                                                       Fighting
                           A Serious Man                                               Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
                              (Untitled)                                                           The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard
                           An Education                                                      The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
                          Up in the Air                                                                          Love Happens
                             Food, Inc.                                                         Did You Hear About the Morgans?

The Pleasant Surprises of 2009:
...despite my indifference or ignorance, they quickly won me over...

Julie & Julia
In the Loop
The Messenger
Crazy Heart
Sherlock Holmes
Blind Loves
Heart of Fire
The Necessities of Life

The Major Disappointments of 2009:
...I'd hoped these would be such great movies walking in...

The International
Observe and Report
State of Play
The Soloist
Rudo y Cursi
Terminator Salvation
Public Enemies
Cold Souls
District 9
Art & Copy 
Paper Heart 
New York, I Love You
The Box
The Road

Favorite Places Traveled in 2009:

Buenos Aires, Tetro
Cape Town, Invictus 
Viennese Countryside, Revanche
Johannesburg, Jerusalema
Victorian England, Sherlock Holmes
Tahiti, Couples Retreat
Tokyo, Tokyo Sonata

Rwanda, Munyurangabo
Tehran, The Song of Sparrows
Mexico, Sin Nombre
Pandora, Avatar
Outer space, Star Trek & Moon 
Madrid, Broken Embraces


  1. To be honest, I didn't fall in love with Goodbye Solo, but the performances certainly did win me over. I thought West and Savane were equally good, even though their characters were basically polar opposites. It was an interesting character/relationship study, but I wasn't totally satisfied by it.

    Love to see someone else that saw (and enjoyed) The Great Buck Howard. It's nothing revolutionary, but it's perfectly entertaining and well-performed.

    I recently saw Moon on Blu-ray, and although the story didn't entirely convince, I will say that it was a visually stunning film -- especially for only a $5 million budget. Rockwell was terrific as usual. It was great to see him get a meaty lead role.

  2. As usual, an excellent retrospective. I think the most succinct way to put it is this: you really know how to put together a post, to make it interesting for both the brain and the eyes, if only they were totally disconnected. Looking forward to the rest, and thanks for giving me some further motivation to get my Best of for 2009 done (you and I were amongst the latest ones last year as well, if I recall correctly).

    For a second there, I misread your Best and Worst Titles and thought you'd actually seen Did You Hear About the Morgans? et al. I was all set to give you a hard time, especially given the lower viewing total for this year. Phew - glad I was wrong on that.

  3. Danny, I shared some of the same hesitations about Goodbye Solo, but as I noted in my review I think further examination of those characters reveals some really interesting insights about love, independence, family, etc. In other words, the movie wasn't so much about the likelihood of the friendship, but the possibilities of what that friendship could produce.

    And The Great Buck Howard...um, ha, well I obviously think Malkovich stood out, but I wasn't too thrilled about the movie as a whole. I suppose we were pretty close on that one.

    Moon - now that's a movie that probable deserved more love, especially because of the shoestring budget. Rockwell was getting a lot of early Oscar buzz at one point, too. Guess that was all forgotten by the end of summer, unfortunately.

  4. Fletch, thanks for the feedback. I actually wish I was a little more savvy with formatting so I could make these posts look a little cleaner (I have to admit I like how Part 2 looks, though), but if people are getting the general idea then it's probably good enough.

    ...unless of course anybody actually thought I saw Did You Hear About the Morgans?, or Fighting, or Love Happens. It's interesting to think about titles - when I went through the Worst of the Decade list it was clear to me (in the "Additional Observations") that the worst movies often have the worst titles.

  5. Nice job here Dan!

    You know I think that full name of PRECIOUS (I can't even remember it anymore) may well be the worst title of the year, but you certainly do have some humdingers there.

    Of course I did love that visit to Pandora, and won't ever forget that trip back to Romantic Era England, for that short fling between John Keats and Fanny Brawne. Of the wonderful treks backward that you provide here, I can also only add the trip to Provincal France in the early 1900's, the setting for Provost's SERAPHINE.

    As far as your "disappointments" I will say I was with nearly every time this year Dan! The agreement was remarkable. The only film on your list here that I part company with you on is DISTRICT 9. But kudos to you on all the rest.

  6. Thanks, Sam, and wow what a terrific choice in "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire". That really deserves top consideration as the worst title of 2009. It was so bad that I only ever referred to it as simply "Precious", so it's no wonder I didn't think of it in making that list.

    Sounds like Bright Star and Seraphine really had some nice production values. I heard Nine took a nice trip to Italy, but I skipped it based on the awful reviews.

    We were truly in lock-step a lot of the time in 2009, weren't we? Eh, District 9 - I was a little far out on my own on that one anyway.

  7. I absolutly love your categories and how you've broken up this post.

    Very nice. I love the look at titles and places especially!

  8. Thanks much, RC. The categories could be endless (last year I had "Most Annoying Characters" - random), and if you make it personal enough it doesn't have to be any declarative statement about the last year in film. Just what worked and didn't work for me personally from what I was able to see.


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