Rewinding 2009: The Best & Worst

2009 hasn’t been a year with that many great movies, though box office takings have been on the rise. With the usual slew of movie sequels and rom-coms, much of the movies that hit the local cinemas have been mediocre at best. In fact, I had to spend a lot more time trying to think of titles to place in the Best of list, compared with the Worst of list. It’s also been a poor year for Asian releases (barring a few gems), with horrible films like Storm Warriors and Treasure Hunter coming late in the year but unfortunately immediately becoming some of the worst movies I have had the misfortune of catching this past year. Without further ado, this is my Best and Worst of 2009:

Best of 2009:

Honourable Mentions: Pandorum, Zombieland, Moon, The Informant!, Taking Woodstock, Taken

10. The Hurt Locker: It’s a great character piece and the tension doesn’t let up, and this look into a bomb disposal squad stationed in Iraq never takes sides, which leaves a very “pure” viewing experience that focuses on the story and its characters. Although the shakycam could be a bit hard to handle, the action sequences are very well done, and the denouement leaves quite some food for thought.

9. Inglourious Basterds: What an audacious movie this was! Quentin Tarantino proves he hasn’t lost the magic with this “what if?” WWII war film – awkward spelling aside, Inglourious Basterds is bursting at the seams with great cinematic moments, some really well-written lines and (as always) a cool soundtrack. But what truly makes Basterds an unforgettable movie is Christopher Waltz’s bone-chilling performance as the villainous Hans Landa – it would be a heinous crime if he doesn’t at least get a Best Supporting Actor nomination this year at the Academy Awards.

8. An Education: The best thing about An Education is surely the outstanding performance by Carey Mulligan – the 22 year old manages an extremely convincing portrayal of a 16 year old girl, and the breezy directorial style really makes for great viewing. The story is not new or surprising by any measure (it’s based on a true story though), but it manages to engross through the short 95 minute running time. Special mention must also go to Rosamund Pike for a pitch-perfect portrayal of a simple-minded girl caught up in the glitzy world of confidence men. 

7. Up: This is admittedly not Pixar’s finest work, but even a middling Pixar animation is pretty darned good. The first 15 minutes of Up is grade AAA+ material, and managed to evoke more emotion than many movies could muster in their entire running length. It’s a tough act to follow and the rest of the film simply can’t quite measure up, but Up still is a lot of fun and readily enjoyable by both adults and children alike.

6. District 9: Sci-fi films feature strongly in my top movies this year, but the one that really came from left field is District 9, coming from a first-time feature film director and a cast completely made up of unknowns (and very organic aliens, polar opposites of the Na’vi in Avatar). The political allegory may be a bit overt, but District 9 surprises time and again, with a very assured directorial (mockumentary) style and excellent acting all round – yes, including the aliens.  An engaging film from beginning to end, District 9 is certainly the best debut feature that I have seen in a long while.

5. The Princess and the Frog: Surprisingly, Disney’s return to its 2D roots actually worked very well. The Princess and the Frog channels the older Disney films like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, and mixes in some beautiful 2D animation with a good dose of humour and songs (however, no one will be remembering these tunes once they step out of the cinema as they just aren’t that catchy). Much has been said about how this cartoon is the first Disney one to feature an African-American heroine, but given that she spends 80% of the movie being a frog, this is really a non-issue to begin with. 

4. (500) Days of Summer: Yes it’s almost like every other romantic comedy out there but this is a film where the off-kilter narrative structure really helped to elevate the movie. Augmented further by the excellent chemistry between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel and a great soundtrack, this is a breath of fresh air in a genre that has seen few innovations for many years.

3. Star Trek: Of all the summer releases this year, Star Trek has the honour of being the most impressive of them all. After what seemed like years of mediocre Star Trek movies that simply capitalized on Trekkies’ love of the franchise, this reboot by J J Abrams is refreshing and new to both Trekkies and “normal” moviegoers alike. An excellent blend of action, adventure, humour and romance, my faith in the Star Trek franchise has been restored and I am eagerly looking forward to the next Trek installment.

2. Departures:  Who knew that a movie about Japanese funeral/embalming rites could be such a moving, bittersweet tale? Departures won the Best Foreign Film Oscar for 2009, and deservedly so. It’s a brilliant film and deals with the painful topic of death with such tenderness that one cannot help but be moved (to tears, multiple times, for me), and yet amidst all the tragedy there exists hope, and eventually a sort of redemption for almost every major character in the film. It’s an amazing movie that does not diminish with the passage of time.

1. Avatar: Hands up who wasn’t skeptical about Avatar before actually watching the movie? I shared similar sentiments but I am pleased to say that James Cameron’s film managed to blow my expectations out of the water. Yes, it’s a truly clichéd plot (Dances With Wolves… in Space) and the political allegory is heavy handed, but James Cameron is a master storyteller and manages to engage the audience with both action and a strong emotional core. Throw in some groundbreaking technology, excellent visual effects, and the best implementation of 3D in a film bar none, calling Avatar a game-changer and the best film of 2009 is not hyperbole.

Worst of 2009:

Dishonourable Mentions: Street Fighter: Legend of Chun Li, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Twilight: New Moon, Echelon Conspiracy

10. Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen: I didn’t find the first movie enjoyable and this soulless sequel is even worse. The same flaws that permeated the first movie endures in the second – bad storyline, meaningless visual effects, and piss-poor action choreography that’s so confusing it’s impossible to figure out what’s going on.  That it’s such a long movie only adds insult to injury.

9. 2012: What looked rather promising as THE disaster movie of the year became nothing more than a showcase for CGI (and dodgy CGI at times), with paper-thin characters that I felt absolutely no emotional investment for. The film throws everything but the kitchen sink at the audience, and by the end of the long, drawn out movie, I felt nothing but boredom at the incessant disasters that the protagonists have to undergo. To describe the movie in one word would be “overkill”.

8. Obsessed: Beyonce really should stick to singing if her “thespian talent” in this movie is anything to go by. This is a terrible, terrible take on the typical Fatal Attraction sub-genre, but it’s marred by stupid lines, stupid people doing stupid things, and general stupidity. And let’s not even get into the ultimate showdown between Ali Larter and Beyonce, possibly one of the most contrived girl-on-girl fight scenes I have ever had the misfortune of viewing.

7. Dance Flick: I must confess: I absolutely loved the first Scary Movie and it actually ranked in my Best of list that year. However, it’s been a downhill slide ever since, and Dance Flick is such an unfunny movie that even its short running time could not diffuse the painfulness of sitting through this dreck. This is also the first of such spoofs where I failed to laugh even once in the entire film. Absolutely terrible piece of filmmaking.

6. Bruno: Borat was lowbrow but still relatively enjoyable (though I had issues with the streaking sequence). Bruno seemed really promising in previews, but the end result is this messy film which had nothing going for it. Bruno is offensive for the sake of being offensive, and its supposed aim of poking fun at homophobes quickly goes awry. There was nothing appealing in the film save for a couple of mildly amusing sequences but these are too few and far between to save the show from hitting bottom of the barrel.

5. Horsemen: The film started out well enough, presenting a rather intriguing murder mystery, but then unravels very quickly with some really implausible plot twists and terrible enunciation from Zhang Ziyi. And the “shock” denouement is a slap in the face, eschewing logic for a final surprise that well and truly insults the intelligence of anyone who was gullible enough to shell out money for this horrible film.

4. Old Dogs: One wonders what part of the script managed to convince both John Travolta and Robin Williams to sign up for this one. It’s an uninvolving movie with a really hollow social message, and even a whole bunch of comedic veterans couldn’t help to disguise the fact that this is well and truly one of the most desperate films I have managed to see the whole year. Oh, and the less said of Seth Green’s sad, sad performance the better.

3. Murderer: The first hour of the film is actually rather well done, but this murder mystery starring Aaron Kwok (who has the dubious honour of appearing twice in this list) becomes a farce in the second hour, once the “big twist” is unveiled. It’s an unbelievable twist and dragging an additional hour out of the script based on what ensues after this reveal is painful and unwarranted. One wonders who in the world greenlit this ridiculous project and managed to get Aaron Kwok to sign on – much kudos to him or her.

2. Storm Warriors: Eleven years and this pile of steaming excrement is what we get?? The original Storm Riders is already not that great a movie, but man, Storm Warriors really takes the cake. Ridiculous, unintentionally hilarious dialogue, annoying female leads, bad special effects, and a conclusion that cheats the audience (laying the ground for – horrors – a third installment) makes this a truly horrible moviegoing experience. 

1. Treasure Hunter: Words fail me on how bad this movie really is. Were the producers on crack? Was Kevin Chu high when he directed this film? How did Jay Chou and Lin Chiling manage to get by the whole movie without a smidge of acting talent between the two of them? Why did this cheap looking movie cost millions of US dollars to make? Where did the money go? This is a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad movie with NO redeeming points whatsoever.

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