A Look Back at 2009:
Once upon a time…
…in 2008, while the world economy went into a tailspin, Hollywood delved into super-depressing, self-important mode and the Davies Awards asked sourly, “Why So Serious?”
But then the Brothers Coen and Quentin Tarantino looked around with their impish grins and wondered, “Why can’t we be a little serious but have fun, too?” Meanwhile, The King of the World, James Cameron awoke from a decade long hibernation to deliver us into a fantastic world we had never seen and finally made a film where 3D technology rose above gimmick status. All the while, his ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow masterminded the ultimate coup-d’etat. Will a woman director finally take home Oscar…for a war film?
But these golden days seemed so far far away back in January…
2009 began ominously. The multiplexes seemed a dark abyss. Slick Euro-trash like Taken (ugh) and idiotically operatic American nihilism in the form of Watchmen (easily the year’s most odious film) took filmgoers hostage. But the dark winter gave way to spring, and the summer, though glutted with the usual soulless prepackaged sequels (Angels & Demons and Harry Potter and the Whatever, it’s like I never saw you…and thankfully, Transformers 2, I didn’t), also offered some genuine surprises…not just original and daring films like Inglourious Basterds and District 9 but films that remembered what it meant to have fun like Star Trek (meh) and Drag Me to Hell (hell yeah). The summer also saw timely films like The Hurt Locker (harrowing) and In the Loop (hilarious) that made deep cuts and took biting jabs through their respective genres by riffing on recent/current events. The summer paved the way for a contemplative fall and an end of the year that saw both rousing escapist crowd-pleasers (Avatar, which I had previously thought would be a disaster) and top notch Oscar-bait (from slick populist entertainment like Up in the Air to cold foreign entries like The White Ribbon).
It was a watershed year for the niche film. For sci-fi fans, 2009 was a Renaissance with the likes of Star Trek, District 9 and Avatar reminding us science fiction can still resonate if it has fun, holds a mirror to our humanity or dazzles us with alien worlds and never before seen technology. Meanwhile, horror comedy was finally done right with Drag Me to Hell and Zombieland that proved gore and laughs go hand and hand and a little satire doesn’t hurt either. Most notably, many of those trailblazers who first wowed us in the ’90’s, came back firing on all cylinders in 2009 as mature, middle-aged auteurs. The Coen Brothers gave us their best film since Fargo with their wickedly dark and subversive modern-day Jewish morality tale, A Serious Man while that fiery SOB with ADD Quentin Tarantino reached what I believe will be looked back on as a career pinnacle with Inglourious Basterds. Showing hope for a bright future, many globally minded up-and-coming auteurs flooded the art-houses with pictures focusing on our shared humanity and the up-sides and down-sides of culture clash with intensely intimate films like Silent Light, Goodbye Solo, Jerichow and Sin Nombre.
Much like 1999 (and hell, 1989, too) there was no single film that totally blew me away (like There Will Be Blood did in 2007), but the depth and breadth of quality and imagination on display in both the art-houses and the multiplexes was refreshing and much needed after the overly dour year in film that was 2008. There’s something about the end of a decade that drives filmmakers to pull out all the stops with big gambles, and audiences rejoiced and rewarded Hollywood with boffo box office returns despite the continued global economic struggles. Only time will tell how well the films from 2009 will be remembered in another ten years, but right now I feel like I just went on a hell of a ride. And the bottom line for Hollywood was “business is a-boomin'”.
Written by David H. Schleicher
The Year in Pictures:
Take your Golden Globes and shove ’em. Sit on it, Oscar. The Schleicher Spin proudly presents:
The 4th Annual Davies:
Awarding Excellence and Idiocy in Film for the Year 2009.
The Top Ten Films of 2009:
- A Serious Man (The Coen Brothers)
- Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas)
- The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)
- Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
- The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke)
- Up In the Air (Jason Reitman)
- In the Loop (Armando Iannucci)
- Goodbye Solo (Ramin Bahrani)
- Jerichow (Christian Petzold)
- Sin Nombre (Cary Fukunaga)
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
- Avatar (James Cameron)
- Away We Go (Sam Mendes)
- Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog)
- District 9 (Neill Blomkamp)
- Drag Me to Hell (Sam Raimi)
- Observe & Report (Jody Hill)
- Sunshine Cleaning (Christine Jeffs)
Best Picture: A Serious Man
Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker
Best Actor: Nicolas Cage for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Best Actress: Melanie Laurent for Inglourious Basterds
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds
Best Supporting Actress: Vera Farmiga for Up in the Air
Best Comedic Reading of Dramatic Lines: Christoph Waltz’s and Brad Pitt’s end of the film “negotiations” in Inglourious Basterds
Best Dramatic Reading of Comedic Lines: Fred Melamed as “sooth-talking” Sy Ableman, the level-headed adulterer trying to talk some sense into A Serious Man
Worst Reading of Lines: Jake Gyllenhaal screaming at the police, “He’s my brother! I’m your brother! You’re my brother!” in…well, would you look at that — Brothers.
Best Original Screenplay: The Coen Brothers for A Serious Man
Best Adapted Screenplay: Armando Iannucci et al. for In the Loop
Most Underrated Film: Sunshine Cleaning
Most Overrated Film: (500) Days of Summer (two hours was too much, let alone 500 days)
Best Editing: The Hurt Locker (talk about tension)
Worst Editing: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (and edited with a hacksaw)
Best Original Music Score: Michael Giacchino for Up
Best (Un)Original Music Score: The recycled greatest hits of Ennio Morricone for Inglourious Basterds
Best Cinematography: (tie) Alexis Zabe for Silent Light and Christian Berger for The White Ribbon
Best Special Effects: Avatar
Best Guilty Pleasure: G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra (I don’t know about you, but this was the best IQ-decreasing Saturday morning cartoon with Sienna Miller in a skin-tight outfit I’ve ever seen)
Best Horror Film: Drag Me to Hell
Best Sci-fi Film: District 9
Best Comedy: In the Loop
Movie Trend I Thoroughly Enjoyed: Cutting edge auteurs from 1990’s, the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino, settling into middle-age with their most thought-provoking works to date with A Serious Man and Inglourious Basterds.
Movie Trend I Completely Ignored: The Sandra Bullock Box-Office Bonanza Comeback Tour (The Proposal and The Blind Side)
Biggest Disappointment: Public Enemies
Worst Picture: Watchmen
Results from past Davies Awards can be found by clicking below:
The 3rd Annual Davies Awards in Film
The 2nd Annual Davies Awards in Film
The 1st Annual Davies Awards in Film
We encourage feedback and suggestions for categories next year.
Reviews for many of the films mentioned here can be found under the “Movie Reviews” category.
Tell us what your pick was for Best Film of 2009.
What movies would make your Top Ten List?
Speak your mind and join the discussion by leaving a comment!
If you’re a fellow film blogger with your own awards, top ten list or 2009 wrap-up share your links in the comment form.
I don’t have my list entirely sorted out yet (and I don’t know why I didn’t see Sin Nombre when I had the chance), but I’ll probably have my picks wrapped up by the end of the week and link it here. Still, having not seen four of your top 10 picks, it’s pretty telling that all of the remaining six are currently in my top 10.
I couldn’t entirely get behind District 9, I’m sorry to say. I felt that it’s interesting ideas and gripping structure fell to the wayside in the action-y, sequel-establishing finale (not to mention the dubious turn its racial message took by suddenly showing all black characters in menacing close-ups practicing voodoo and running with the familiar trope of the white man saving the noble but disorganized foreigners). I thought Moon was far and away the best sci-fi offering, even if its debut-film flaws were immediately evident. Moon is the only one of this year’s crop of sci-fi films that I think has lasting resonance.
And if Christian Berger’s cinematography is worthy of a tie with Alexis Zabe’s then I don’t know how I’m going to wait for The White Ribbon to come my way or — God forbid — the long gap before home video release.
Jake, for whatever reason, I didn’t get a chance to see MOON yet, but it’s at the top of my list “to see”. Berger’s cinematography for THE WHITE RIBBON is the polar opposite of Alex Zabe’s for SILENT LIGHT, but both are perfectly composed and haunting. I look forward to seeing your list. –DHS
Excellent list. Very artfully written and beautifully presented with The Year in Pictures. I missed out on some of the movies mentioned in the list and am more than curious to go watch them. Specially, District 9.
Prakash, thanks! I imagine you might enjoy DISTRICT 9 very much. –DHS
Nice piece as always. I missed a few of these, so I’m motivated to seek them out, particularly “Bad Lieutenant.” That one’s been on my list for awhile, but played an extremely limited run in my neck of the woods.
I second Jake’s vote for “Moon.” Do see it when you have a chance, as it’s superior.
Also, you mentioned that “Avatar” was one of the first 3D films to avoid gimmicks. I can’t remember if you reviewed “Up.” But that’s actually the first 3D movie that I remember seeing where things weren’t jumping out at you. Rather, the filmmakers used the 3D effects to give the movie depth of field.
Happy New Year!
Forrest, Happy New Year to you as well. Thanks for pointing that out about UP. I saw it on DVD so I was not aware of the original 3D presentation in theaters. –DHS
What a very interesting…list too!
Just like with the films on Sam Juliano’s list I have to check out your selections too!…Thanks, for sharing!
D.H. said,”All the while, his ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow…
Wow…I didn’t know that director Kathryn Bigelow, was his (Cameron) ex-wife. 😕
“Take your Golden Globes and shove ‘em. Sit on it, Oscar. The Schleicher Spin proudly presents:
The 4th Annual Davies…”
Worst Reading of Lines: Jake Gyllenhaal screaming at the police, ”He’s my brother! I’m your brother! You’re my brother!” in…well, would you look at that — Brothers.
I most definitely will be seeking out the film In The Loop.
DeeDee, yes it will be interesting to see if Cameron and Bigelow go head-to-head for the Best Director Oscar! She gets my vote for sure. –DHS
David, – a magnificent review. Haven’t seen all your choices but “The Hurt Locker”, “A Serious Man” and “Up in the Air”, “Avatar” are worthy choices. “In The Loop”, “The White Ribbon”, “Drag Me to Hell”, “Bad Lt”, and “Sunshine Cleaning”, “District 9” are all on my to watch list. Tarantino’ film I had mixed feeling about in all honesty. You’re the second person to recently, at least for me to have noticed, say good things about “Observe and Report”, will have to check it out. Glad to see “Away We Go” get some recognition. Sad to here you did not like “500 Days of Summer.”
John, OBSERVE & REPORT is a strange film…very dark comedy and potentially offensive to many…but also (upon a second viewing) it emerged as a very “accurate” portrayal of bi-polar disorder. –DHS
Ouch, you were tough on WATCHMAN!
For me the Best Horror film was THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, but the Raimi film you chose is a most worthy selection. LOL!!! I love the comment you wrote for 500 DAYS OF SUMMER, and my opinion on the film isn’t far from yours. Your #1 choice is admittedly a great film, and oddly despite all our agreement this year on so many films and performances, it’s the only overlap in out Top 12. (I actually had 12 films in my Top 10).
I had four different acting choices:
Actor: Colin Firth, A SINGLE MAN,
Actress: Yolande Moreau, SERAPHINE
Supporting Actor: Paul Scheider, BRIGHT STAR
Supporting Actress: Julianne Moore, A SINGLE MAN
You have a great list, but I wonder if you will be making any revisions down the road when certain films are managed.
I just bought a rare copy of an out-of-print Region 1 DVD of SERAPHINE today on Amazon. I assure you that you will be seeing the film! Ha!
Sam, I do feel like I missed out on many of the front-running lead actress performances this year for whatever reason. I always wrestle with going back and doing amendments to the lists. For instance, last year, THE EDGE OF HEAVEN would’ve been my number one pick had I seen it in time. But I think it would be best to leave them be (as time capsules) and make the “corrections of omissions” in my ever-expanding, often-changing “My Favorite Films” list that includes all my Best of the Decades lists (which I often make additions or slight changes to). –DHS
Indeed David, that is the best way to go about it, methinks.
In addition to SERAPHINE, I also now have an all-Region Masters of Cinem a2 disc DVD set of the excellent TOKYO SONATA. You will be seeing that soon as well! Ha!
David, you asked about the Herzog film at JAFB’s blog. It has been playing for weeks at Manhattan’s IFC Film Center, but I’ve avoided it, as even one Herzog-loving friend disliked it. But I won’t dare pass judgement, especially since JAFB apparently liked it.
Sam, ah, that blasted IFC Theater! One of these days I shall get to it and see something there. –DHS
Hi David. A good list that reflects an interest in many genres.
A few of the films on your list only open here in the coming weeks though… even months. Seeing as you rate it so highly, hopefully Silent Light will get a release here!
Regarding “In the Loop”, I thought that it was wickedly scripted and deliciously cynical. At the same time, I felt that while it would have been an explosive zeitgeist of a film 4-5 years ago, its impact was diminished in 2009 by both the horror of the carnage in Iraq at present and the fact that those political players parodied here no longer have a role in events.
Also, I think that there will be some great European films coming your way in 2010!
Longman, good point about IN THE LOOP…it did seem a tad bit late on arrival. SILENT LIGHT is very hard to find…it literally played at one theater in the States last January. I hope you are right about some great European films coming this way in 2010! –DHS
I think that In the Loop still works because 2009 was the year we really got to see just how badly the War on Terror went. Putting aside the whole “the surge worked” business, the relaxed feelings concerning our efforts there helped bring to light the staggering failure in Afghanistan, if anything as bad as Iraq and in some ways a great deal worse. ITL showed how the conflict was doomed from the start as everyone involved is so caught up in their sanctimonious bullshit (both the jingoistic, flag-waving neocons and the anti-war faction) to actually care about the consequences of their actions.
I was going to hold off on my list until two movies I’ve been dying to see — 24 City and You, the Living — hit DVD and Netflix Tuesday, but I went ahead and published my list (besides, I have a feeling both of those would knock some films I already laid out brief discussions for off my list, and both technically came out in other years anyway though my list is full of such films).
Jake, I essentially agree with you about IN THE LOOP (in regards that it worked despite the “timeliness” issue), but it was backward-looking in its satire instead of forward-looking (like, say, in the way something like NETWORK was). I’ll be heading over to read your list shortly. –DHS
Now having caught up with a few of the films that slipped through the cracks, I feel I can expand my Top Ten List (with honorable mentions) to a full on Top Twenty List…so here it goes:
1.A Serious Man (The Coen Brothers)
2.Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas)
3.The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)
4.Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
5.The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke)
6.Up In the Air (Jason Reitman)
7.In the Loop (Armando Iannucci)
8.Goodbye Solo (Ramin Bahrani)
9.Jerichow (Christian Petzold)
10.Sin Nombre (Cary Fukunaga)
11.Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog)
12.Bright Star (Jane Campion)
13.District 9 (Neill Blomkamp)
14.Drag Me to Hell (Sam Raimi)
15.Sunshine Cleaning (Christine Jeffs)
16.Crazy Heart (Scott Cooper)
17.Away We Go (Sam Mendes)
18.Amreeka (Cherian Dabis)
19.Observe & Report (Jody Hill)
20.Avatar (James Cameron)
Also, congrats to Kathryn Bigelow for her historic DGA win this weekend.
Post Script: Having finally seen Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum, it would’ve made my top ten. I probably would put it at #6, thus pushing everything else down, and alas, Avatar, out of the top twenty.
Interesting year – with greater distance now, Inglourious Basterds has held up far better than I ever suspected and might actually take the top spot. The White Ribbon has also proved to be haunting still six years later and would probably rand right there behind it.