...And now, the best of the rest. It looks like 2010 is shaping up to be the year of Avatar, last year it was all about blood sucking vampires pouting 90210 style. They are the latest fad and I've got to say one of the most bizarre ones I've seen, and I've lived through Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles twice. Either old age is setting in or mainstream filmmaking is becoming increasingly empty - with a few exceptions of course. Those exceptions are my Top 5 movies of 2009 (not including The Hangover because I have the DVD but haven't watched it yet).
5. The Watchmen
It looked like this film wouldn't see the light of day for the longest time. Now it has, in a new version every four months. There's the original cut, the directors cut, the ultimate cut and who knows what else and the movie has only been out for a year. Naturally The Watchmen couldn't live up to its hype or the graphic novel that spawned it, taken on it's own terms though it's good. Well cast, ably directed with a sleek appearance and effective in evoking the basic themes of the comic made The Watchmen watchable. Nicely done pulp fiction.
Liam Neeson dramatically threatens a kidnapper a continent away and then proceeds to kick more ass than he did in Star Wars, Darkman and Rob Roy combined. Carrying on like a post retirement Jason Bourne, Neeson outwits and outguns the trash who took his daughter with cruel efficiency. Even when the film completely goes off the rails in the last half hour, I was rooting for Neeson to win. Bonus for the down and dirty approach the director took to give Taken a more realistic feel. And also an extra award for having the best movie advertisements of the year. Those images of the daughter witnessing the kidnapping of her friend and awaiting her own while Neeson is on the phone with her is pulse pounding stuff. An extended commercial was used on tv that was so long you thought you accidentally changed the channel to a different show that you didn't want to change off of. Best marketing of the year!
3. Food Inc.
A disturbing documentary about the near omnipotence of the food industry over its own production, distribution and even media coverage. Food Inc reveals a world where the standards and operating conditions of the industry has sunk to Upton Sinclair The Jungle levels while we eat a billion variations of corn and beef from shit covered cows. The film offers no easy answers, just presents the dire situation. Tough stuff to watch but important viewing nonetheless.
2. Star Trek
So I'm guessing...no Star Trek Voyager movie? Just kidding, JJ Abrams effectively reboots the classic Star Trek crew with gusto in an update that jettisons everything high brow about it. Exploration? Looking for the common ground to communicate with others? Not here, what we do have is the Star Trek that Paramount execs have dreamed about for decades: lasers, explosions, gun fights, fist fights and a lot of running. That's not necessarily a bad thing though, the original Star Trek and its multiple variations had run its course. Star Trek was THE popcorn movie of the year and a ton of fun. More like a sequel to Starship Troopers than Star Trek.
This was one of the hardest movies to grasp based on the advertisements, once I saw the film I could tell why. Developing the motifs hinted at in Wall-E, Up takes CGI animation to a new emotional level. The opening minutes featuring a dialogueless montage of a couples' life from childhood meeting to the death of a spouse was one of the great moments not just of 2009 but all of cinema. Not a dry eye in the place after that, except for the kids that were too young to understand what was going on. After that opening, likable characters help carry an adventure filled with playfulness and touched by sadness. Awesome movie.
Now that I've gone over the movies, my favorites of tv in '09 were:
5. Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Into its second season, the animated series has improved by varying its plot lines more while developing its characters (the Anakin Skywalker from this series would have been much more believable in turning to the dark side if he was shown as the win at all costs shortsighted slasher he is here instead of the whiny crybaby in the actual films. Wah, I miss my Mommy let me take over the galaxy instead.). The action has zip that occasionally reaches the crescendo heights of the original Star Wars.
4. Flight Of The Conchords
The New Zealand duo stumbled a little in the second season, the songs weren't quite as consistently sharp as the first season. Then they go and pull out an incredible episode where Jermaine and Bret fight over a girl who has lost her epileptic dog culminating in a charity concert for epileptic dogs where the duo unleash a light show that seizures all the dogs in the house. Overall the Conchords retained their sense of naive fun and were able to serve up plenty of memorable moments (like the Art Garfunkel fetish, the coffee cup that leads to prostitution, etc) to make it a fun season.
3. Family Guy
Even stretched as thin as he is, Seth MacFarlane has been able to keep Fam Guy going. It's not quite as funny as it had been in the past but there is still good stuff to be found. Long John Peter was classic ("A-Ha!") as was the Patrick Swayze tribute ("Roadhouse!"). And the first episode of 2010 where Peter loses his memory and Meg tells a doozy of a joke was the best episode in a while. Still my favorite animated series on tv, though American Dad and The Cleveland Show are time passers at best.
2. The Big Bang Theory
Knock knock knock...Penny? Knock knock knock...Penny? The second best geek show on tv (or if you go by ratings, the best), Big Bang Theory was consistently funny every week as super nerd anal retentive Sheldon found new ways to misconstrue his surroundings. Having watched seasons 1 & 2 on DVD after Christmas, I'm eager for a new season of geeky fun.
Speaking of geeky fun, the second season of Chuck showed signs of slowing down until it hit a story arc about finding Chuck's dad and the mystery programmer Orion (both played by the always likable Scott Bakula). Like the fine souffle', Chuck mixed James Bond, workplace comedy and geek attitude to a frothy mix (and obviously I know nothing of souffle's). A great ensemble screw ball comedy with a veneer of spy stuff, Chuck is a great show that can't seem to find an audience. And it returns this Sunday in a two hour special!
And that was that in 2009. In tv the show Community came in at a very close 6th place, almost a tie except I abused the"tie" thing in the previous post. I've gotten some Christmas gifts worth reviewing, so reviews and more things to come. And below is the behind the scenes preview of Chuck. Looks awesome as ever.