Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ben's Top 25 Movies of the Decade

At last! I know I'm a little late to the party with this... but frankly, I think it's better this way because while other lists that were published in late December/early January have already been forgotten, my humble list can now swoop in and pick up the slack! Muahahaha!

Seriously, though, the past decade -- the '00s, the Aughts, whatever you want to call it -- was, to say the least, a wild rollercoaster ride in all facets of life, and movies were no exception. It was a decade of superheroes and sequels. We welcomed back old icons and discovered new ones. We saw the return of the movie musical. We were invaded by Japanese horror flicks and crappy Americanized remakes. We witnessed the dominance of Pixar, the rise of Miyazaki, and both the sad dissolution and triumphant resurrection of traditional Disney animation. We rode the Hogwarts express, trekked through Middle Earth and expanded the Star Wars galaxy. We watched the Twin Towers fall and the U.S. go to war, followed by a slew of movies about those topics from a myriad of perspectives -- some good, some bad, some satirical, some painful to watch. I saw a grand total of 1,095 different movies on the big screen from 2000 through 2009. Allow me to let that number sink in for a moment...... yowza. Now, after all that, here are the movies that have entertained me, thrilled me, devastated me, filled me with awe, made me laugh, cry and fall in love more than any others. Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you my Top 25 Movies of the Decade.....


The greatest of the "ass-kicking Jews" sub-genre, this is an examination of what happened after a group of Palestinian terrorists murdered several Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Loaded with intensity and moral ambiguity, it is as much a cautionary tale as it is a story of vengeance. Tremendous performances, taut script, impeccable filmmaking... it's Spielberg at his dramatic finest. (NOTE: This was my #1 movie of 2005.)


Edgar Wright's zom-rom-com masterpiece. Hilarious, deliciously gory, surprisingly poignant... it's got everything you could possibly want from a zombie thriller, buddy flick and romantic comedy all in one. (P.S., you've got red on you....)

One of the best superhero origin stories ever. Bruce Willis is great as an everyman who comes to realize that he has real-life superpowers -- and Samuel L. Jackson is a perfect foil as his polar opposite (read: arch-nemesis) who is cursed with brittle bones but superior intellect. The film is a study of superhero mythology and the relationship between hero and villain, and M. Night Shyamalan's deepest and most masterful work (and, unfortunately, his last great film before his rapid decline began).

The general who became a slave... the slave who became a gladiator... the gladiator who defied an emperor... the epic that KICKED ASS. Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe give us insane gladiator battles, all sorts of Roman political intrigue, fantastic performances -- yes, I am indeed entertained!

Judd Apatow's big screen directorial debut is still his best. What could have been just another dumb, mindless sex comedy is brought it to a whole new level thanks to an incredible cast, eminently quotable dialogue, and Apatow's uncanny ability to wield both hilarious R-rated dialogue & hijinks and an innate sweetness that sets it apart from the rest.

One of the most under-appreciated movies of the decade, Paul Thomas Anderson gives us this bizarre but fascinating character study starring Adam Sandler as a troubled soul whose life is transformed and given meaning when he finds love. It's like a deeper, more complex version of a typical Adam Sandler character, which is kind of amazing in itself. (NOTE: This was my #1 movie of 2002.)

Another highly underrated film, this movie tackles the never-ending battle of the sexes. Campbell Scott is fantastic as a cynical misogynist who thinks he knows how the world works and agrees to show his naive nephew the ropes... only to have his night take a dark turn as his preconceptions about women and life are turned upside down. (It's also worth noting that this movie features Jesse Eisenberg doing the "Michael Cera/so-awkward-it's-cute" thing about a year before anyone had even heard of Michael Cera.)

The movie that clearly defined Wes Anderson's trademark style (oft-copied by others with far less success throughout the decade), and one of the great dysfunctional family movies ever. Poignant and devastating as well as funny and quirky, and supremely well-cast... it's the best "Wes Anderson Film" we've been blessed with so far.

(2004 / 2008)
I have to cheat here and give props to both of these films, which rise above and beyond the vast crop of comic book/superhero films of the decade. SPIDEY 2 is the pinnacle of that series and a perfect storm of greatness from Raimi & Co., providing everything you could possibly want in a Spider-Man film. And Jon Favreau clearly has his finger firmly on the pulse of geekdom with his triumph... though Robert Downey Jr, in the role he was born to play, had a little to do with it, too!

The Coen Bros.' deepest and most personal work, this is the story of a man who experiences non-stop misfortune while trying desperately to make some sense of it all and come to terms with his own morality, spirituality and good old fashioned Jewish guilt. Devastating, gripping, funny, poignant and easily the most entertaining ride through a downward spiral of despair that I've ever had. (NOTE: This was my #1 movie of 2009.)

We've all felt directionless or stagnant at some point in our lives, and Sofia Coppola illustrates those feelings perfectly, not just on an emotional level, but by literally putting Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray in the heart of one of the craziest and most surreal cities in the world. Fantastic script and top-notch performances... not to mention the greatest opening shot in movie history.

Yet another triumph based on a Phillip K. Dick story, and another notch in Spielberg's sci-fi cap. It's a remarkably vivid, fast-paced vision of a future in which murder can be predicted and stopped before it happens. It's also a reminder that while Tom Cruise may have turned into a thetan-obsessed lunatic, he has also given us some pretty kick-ass movies over the years.

Guillermo del Toro's adult fairy tale, set during the rise of Spanish fascism in the 1940's, about a little girl who creates a fantasy world in order to escape from -- and cope with -- the brutal reality that surrounds her. Filled with incredible imagery, memorable characters, and powerful performances, it is as thought provoking, terrifying and heart-wrenching. (NOTE: This was my #1 movie of 2006.)

The State and friends give us their take on the '80s summer camp teen sex movie genre, and the result is sheer genius. It's one of the funniest and most quotable movies of the decade, and a clear reminder that there is none higher than The State. This movie also marked the beginning of my man crush on Paul Rudd, which has only gotten stronger over the years. Now finish up them 'taters, I'm gonna go fondle my sweaters....

Really, I could probably find a way to include ever Pixar movie of the decade in this list... but this one is particularly miraculous on so many levels. On the surface, it's a superhero story with a twist -- and a brilliant one at that. In fact, I'd go as far as to rank it one of the greatest superhero movies of all time. But above all, it's a story about the ups and downs, the triumphs and pitfalls, the love and sheer power of FAMILY.

This outrageous take on Homer's ODYSSEY, set in the deep south in the 1930s, tempered with nods to other literary and cinematic works, and brought together by a hilarious script, memorable characters and a fantastic soundtrack, is a work of mad genius that only the Coen Bros. could deliver. George Clooney is in perfect slapstick mode as the charismatic leader of a trio of chain gang escapees who embark on a series of wild misadventures and encounters with bizarre characters. This is right around the time that Clooney really started to show the range of brilliance that has since turned him into one of the best, coolest, full-fledged movie stars of our time.

A story of love and nostalgia and indecisiveness and making Top 5 lists of all kinds... at the risk of turning this blog into a confessional, this movie is as close to being a story of my life as any. John Cusack is awesome as Rob Gordon, who, while going through a difficult breakup, decides to rank all of his ex-girlfriends and track them down as a self-cleansing exercise. Amazing. I love the Nick Hornby novel, too, but this is one rare instance where the movie is even better. (NOTE: This was my #1 movie of 2000.)

Baz Luhrmann single-handledly revived the movie musical with this insane, vivid, wildly over-the-top spectacle. A tragic tale set in 1899 Paris, during the height of the bohemian revolution, starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor as star-crossed lovers, incorporating contemporary pop songs in all sorts of crazy ways... this movie is sheer madness, but in the best possible way. When I first saw this movie at the Ziegfeld Theatre, people were so caught up in the story, the music, the colors, the overwhelming excess and beauty of it all, that they were literally leaping from their seats and swooning in the aisles... it was awesome.

Quite possibly the most quotable comedy of all time, this movie is goes so far past the realm of ridiculousness that it becomes a work of sheer genius. Produced by Judd Apatow, directed by Adam McCay, and written by McCay and Will Ferrell, this is like an ode to the '70s, Walter Cronkite and women's lib, all mixed up into 100 minutes of insane hilarity. Ferrell has never been better, and the supporting cast is perfect, too (especially Paul Rudd, the only actor to appear in three movies on this list). I love lamp!

Paul Thomas Anderson's epic, chilling, awe-inspiring character study of an turn-of-the-century oil man and his dealings with ambition, family and what happens when one completely loses his sense of humanity. From its gritty opening sequence to explosive ending, this is a devastatingly perfect movie in every way, and definitive proof that Daniel Day-Lewis is the absolute greatest actor alive today. I drink your milkshake! (NOTE: This was my #1 movie of 2007.)

Pixar's greatest masterpiece in a decade full of masterpieces. The first act, set in a fully-realized dystopian future, is virtually dialogue-free -- but still says more than most talkfests we'll ever see. Then it goes off in a completely unexpected direction and gets even better. This movie is, all at once, a triumphant sci-fi epic, cautionary tale about the dangers that humanity faces as we lay waste to the planet, and of course, love story -- the relationship between old, broken-down WALL-E and sleek, futuristic EVE is one of the decade's greatest and most heartfelt romances. (NOTE: This was my #1 movie of 2008.)

I somehow missed this movie when it was originally in theatres and finally watched it towards the end of 2007 on DVD. I was only half paying attention because I was, ironically, busy compiling my top 10 list for the year... and the next thing I knew, I was watching in awe as Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova performed "Falling Slowly." In the movie, their characters were struck by the fabled "thunderbolt" at that very moment... and in real life, so was I. Few movies (and music) have ever captured my heart and dominated both my DVD player (and iPod) the way this one did and continues to do. Realistic characters and situations and incredible music that will make you swoon -- I am still obsessed with this movie to the point where I have since seen Glen & Mar perform twice at Radio City Music Hall.

Charlie Kaufman had already asserted himself as a wildly original and fascinating screenwriter earlier in the decade, but he really sealed the deal with this masterpiece, which illustrates the true, raw, often destructive power of love -- that is to say, while you may be able to erase someone from your mind, the heart does not forget. Kaufman's brilliant, mind-bending script, Michel Gondry's amazing, dreamlike (and occasional nightmarish) visuals, and incredible performances from Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet (not to mention Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood and Tom Wilkinson), all add up to a love story that is as hopeful as it is heartbreaking. A true work of art. (NOTE: This was my #1 movie of 2004.)

(2001 to 2003)
The greatest cinematic achievement of the decade, hands down. Peter Jackson managed to not only turn Tolkien's seemingly-unfilmable magnum opus into a movie, but did it so perfectly, so magnificently, so memorably, that it still boggles the mind. Jackson & Co. had their fingers so perfectly on the pulse of the source material that it's almost as they opened the pages and sprinkled the characters, settings, and overall feel of the book onto the screen. This trilogy was so huge that by the time the third installment rolled around, my anticipation level was so high that it actually equaled my excitement for the Star Wars prequels -- which, coming from me, is high praise indeed. (NOTE: THE RETURN OF THE KING was my #1 movie of 2003.)

...and finally....

Simply put, this movie is pure bliss, love and happiness in movie form. The story, the characters, the music (Fun Fact: Yann Tiersen's soundtrack is the most-played album on my iPod, because I used to listen to it every night as I drifted off to sleep), the vibrant colors, the magic and whimsy of Paris, and of course, the cutest of the cute, Audrey Tautou in her defining role... the mere thought of this movie brings a smile to my face. Amelie Poulain represents the dreamer in all of us and the unending belief that while happiness and love may be elusive, they DO exist. This movie is sheer perfection, one of my very favorite movies of all time, and the clear choice for my most beloved movie of the past decade. (NOTE: This was my #1 movie of 2001.)


Other Noteworthy Titles (in alphabetical order):

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. About a Boy. About Schmidt. Adaptation. Almost Famous. American Psycho. An Education. The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford. Atonement. Avatar. The Aviator. Bad Santa. Batman Begins. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Best in Show. Borat. The Bourne Trilogy. Bowling for Columbine. Brick. Bring It On. Brokeback Mountain. Broken Flowers. Burn After Reading. Capote. Cars. Casino Royale. Cast Away. Catch Me If You Can. City of God. Closer. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Dancer in the Dark. The Dark Knight. The Departed. District 9. Doubt. Drag Me To Hell. The Dreamers. El Crimen del Padre Amaro. Elegy. Elf. The Emperor's New Groove. Enchanted. Eurotrip. Everything is Illuminated. Fanboys. Fantasia 2000. Fantastic Mr. Fox. Far From Heaven. Final Destination. Finding Nemo. Finding Neverland. (500) Days of Summer. Flags of Our Fathers. The Fountain. Frost/Nixon. Gangs of New York. Ghost World. The Girl Next Door. Gone Baby Gone. Good Night and Good Luck. Gosford Park. The Hangover. Happy Feet. Hard Candy. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. The Harry Potter Series. Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The Hills Have Eyes. Hot Fuzz. Hotel Rwanda. The Hours. The Hurt Locker. In America. In Bruges. In the Bedroom. Inglourious Basterds. Irreversible. Jesus Camp. Juno. Kill Bill. King Kong. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Kinsey. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Knocked Up. Kung Fu Panda. Lars and the Real Girl. The Last King of Scotland. L'Auberge Espagnole. Letters From Iwo Jima. Lilo & Stitch. The Limits of Control. Little Children. The Lives of Others. Love Actually. The Lovely Bones. Malena. Man on Wire. March of the Penguins. Maria Full of Grace. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Match Point. Mean Girls. Memento. Michael Clayton. A Mighty Wind. Milk. Million Dollar Baby. The Mist. Monsters Inc. Moon. Mulholland Drive. Napoleon Dynamite. National Treasure. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist. No Country For Old Men. Ocean's 11. Old School. Orphan. Paranormal Activity. Paris, je t'aime. Persepolis. The Pianist. Pirates of the Carribean Trilogy. Precious. The Prestige. The Princess and the Frog. Ratatouille. The Reader. Requiem for a Dream. Revolutionary Road. Road Trip. Rocky Balboa. The Rules of Attraction. Russian Dolls. The Saw Series. The School of Rock. The Science of Sleep. Seabiscuit. Sideways. The Simpsons Movie. Slumdog Millionaire. Speed Racer. Spellbound. Spider-Man. Spirited Away. The Squid and the Whale. Star Wars: Epsode III - Revenge of the Sith. Step Brothers. Superbad. Superman Returns. Super-Size Me. Swimming Pool. Synecdoche, New York. Talk to Her. Team America: World Police. Transformers. Tropic Thunder. 21 Grams. The 25th Hour. 28 Days Later. United 93. Up. Up in the Air. Vanilla Sky. A Very Long Engagement. Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Watchmen. Winged Migration. The Wrestler. Zodiac. Zoolander.


And now... my top 10 WORST films of the Aughts....

10. THE ROOM (2004) -- The product of Tommy Wiseau's madness would be the #1 worst if it wasn't so damn entertaining. But it's still fantastically bad in every way a movie can be bad.
9. ALEXANDER (2004) -- They say that the director's cut of this steaming shitpile is much better... but I say you can't polish a turd.
8. BATTLEFIELD EARTH (2000) -- Scientology sucks, and movies about Scientology starring prominent Scientologists are even worse. Just... wow.
7. THE HAPPENING (2008) -- M. Night Shyamalan is the only filmmaker to have a movie in the Top 25 and Bottom 10. This was the final nail in his coffin as far as I'm concerned, but it's another one that would have been ranked lower had it not spawned the hilarious SNL skit with Andy Samberg lampooning Mark Wahlberg's laughably bad performance.
6. FIREWALL (2006) -- A sad, pathetic conglomeration of every "family in peril" movie Harrison Ford has ever made. So remarkably bad, you almost forget that it stars a man who was once responsible for some of the greatest characters in movie history. Sigh.
5. GUN SHY (2000) -- All I remember about this movie is that Liam Neeson had a farting problem. That pretty much sums it up.
4. HALLOWEEN (2007) / HALLOWEEN II (2009) -- If I was above the law, Rob Zombie would be one of the first people I'd punish severely for doing what he did to one of the all-time great slasher films. The first one is a travesty, and the sequel is, incredibly, even worse.
3. TIPTOES (2003) -- Holy... shit. I just watched this movie on DVD tonight, and it is being added to this list mere moments before posting. Matthew McConaughey as a regular-sized person from a family of dwarfs. Kate Beckinsale as his pregnant, freaked out girlfriend. Gary Oldman digitally transformed into a dwarf. Lots of other dwarfs, including Peter Dinklage as a French Marxist. Material that tries to be PC but ends up making fun of dwarfs half the time. Unintentional hilarity. Unintentional ridiculousness. I cannot believe this movie actually got made and I hope that all involved are sufficiently ashamed of themselves!
2. HANNIBAL RISING (2007) -- One of the greatest, most purely evil movie villains of all time, Hannibal Lecter, is demystified, overly-humanized and completely ruined in this unnecessary, god-awful origin story. Samurai training, really??
1. THE LOVE GURU (2008) -- My most reviled movie of the decade is a wretchedly unfunny piece of crap. There's no other way to put it... it's just flat-out NOT FUNNY to the point of being embarrassing, not just for Mike Myers, but for those of us who gave him the benefit of the doubt and sat through it. It's so mind-numbingly bad that I can't imagine him ever recovering. It saddens me to say that Mike Myers, creator of such beloved classics as Wayne's World and Austin Powers, is dead to me.

I was going to end this with my usual "random movie thoughts" -- you know, "Most Overrated," "Biggest Guilty Pleasure," etc. -- but, eh, I've written enough already. And with that, we can officially close the book on the '00s and look forward to what goodness, horror and craziness the next decade has to offer. So... what do you think? Agree/disagree? Am I worthy of calling myself a movie buff or have I completely lost my mind? I'm sure I accidentally left some good stuff out of that massive list of noteworthy titles... what are they? Comment, comment, comment! And to paraphrase my grandfather, the late, great Tony Sarnicola, "May the best of the Aughts be the worst of the Two-Thousand Tens!"

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Golden Globe Quick Picks

Holy shit, the Golden Globes are tonight! Who knew? Well, here is a quick, commentary-free look at my predictions for the movie categories (I'll save my usual long-windedness for the Oscar noms):

Best Picture - Drama: UP IN THE AIR
Best Picture - Musical/Comedy: (500) DAYS OF SUMMER
Best Actress - Drama: Carey Mulligan, AN EDUCATION
Best Actor - Drama: George Clooney, UP IN THE AIR
Best Actress - Musical/Comedy: Meryl Streep, JULIE & JULIA
Best Actor, Musical/Comedy: Michael Stuhlbarg, A SERIOUS MAN
Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, PRECIOUS
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
Best Animated Film: FANTASTIC MR. FOX
Best Foreign Language Film: BROKEN EMBRACES
Best Director: Jason Reitman, UP IN THE AIR
Best Screenplay: DISTRICT 9
Best Original Score: UP
Best Original Song: "The Weary Kind," CRAZY HEART

Ohhh okay, just a little commentary: For the record, I think that THE HURT LOCKER will probably win Best Picture & Director, and I can't argue with that (that movie just missed my Top 10 by a couple of spots)... but I'll be rooting for UP IN THE AIR. (Or even AVATAR, just for shits and giggles, though it is more deserving of a special achievement award of some kind.) Really, you can't go wrong with any of the Drama nominees. Musical/Comedy, on the other hand, is more of a crapshoot... and by that I mean, a couple of the nominees are actually crap.

As for the TV awards... um... I guess I'll be rooting for THE OFFICE wherever it is nominated, as well as Jane Lynch for GLEE. Other than that, these awards will be my drink/snack/bathroom breaks because frankly, my dears, I don't give a damn.

We'll see what happens!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ben's Top 10 Netflix Rentals of 2009

Goddamn, I love Netflix. Whether I'm catching up on new stuff that I missed in theatres, watching or re-watching old stuff, or just vegging out to crappy sex comedies or bizarre French art films, it has literally changed my life over the past few years. In 2009, I watched a total of 104 movies that were either sent to me in the little red envelope or via the wonders of streaming video. I would have watched a lot more, but my DVD player broke in late November AND I went on a big-screen movie-watching rampage towards the end of the year. But whatever... that's still a lot of movies, and here are my top ten favorites....

10. THE ROOM (2003) -- We may never know if writer/director/star/mastermind Tommy Wiseau intentionally set out to create the "best worst movie" of the past decade, or if he was actually trying to make a serious drama about relationships and deception... but suffice to say, he succeeded in the former. This movie, which I added to my queue after a recommendation from my friend Matt, is a glorious mess of ridiculousness. It makes absolutely no sense, the acting is laughably bad, there are non sequiturs upon non sequiturs, scenes and characters that are completely out of place (one scene where a group of guys toss around a football while wearing tuxedos for no apparent reason is a highlight)... and, really, everything about it is absolutely horrendous... and I mean this in the best possible way, because it's also fucking hilarious!

9. THE LIMITS OF CONTROL (2009) -- Jim Jarmusch gives us this bizarre mystery in which we follow an assassin known only as the "Lone Man" (Isaac de Bankole) as he travels around Spain, receiving clues from various accomplices and piecing together the true nature of both the job and life itself. The Lone Man is intently focused on his work, yet the events that surround him take on an almost dreamlike feel, thanks to the lush cinematography, purposeful repetitions ("You don't speak Spanish, do you?"), and the strange characters he meets along the way, with their cryptic, philosophical monologues about life, love, film and science. Sounds vague and weird and borderline pretentious? Well, it is all of those things, but somehow it works.

8. THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS (2008) -- Yeah, yeah, I know that Holocaust movies are semi-cheating because they are automatically powerful -- doubly so when they involve children -- but this one was particularly good. It's about an eight-year-old German boy named Bruno whose family lives adjacent to a concentration camp. One day, he encounters and befriends another boy, Shmuel, who lives behind an electric fence and wears striped pajamas. Bruno knows this friendship is forbidden but can't understand why, and he begins to question everything he has been taught about Nazism. The story is deeply moving, the kids are fantastic, and their relationship culminates in what amounts to a suckerpunch to the gut.

7. DINER (1982) -- I re-watched this movie as a tribute to Mickey Rourke shortly after he got robbed of the Best Actor award for THE WRESTLER. Fantastic film about a group of friends who hang out at the diner as an escape from the harsh realities of life. Awesome cast, including Daniel Stern, Steve Guttenberg, Kevin Bacon and of course, Rourke (almost unrecognizable compared to how he looks nowadays) as the smooth-talking ladies' man. Awesome conversations about sex, music and life in general that make me nostalgic for my own youth when my friends and I would hang out at the diner for hours on end and talk about anything and everything. I believe this was Barry Levinson's first film -- and arguably his best.

6. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983) -- I don't know how I ever could have called myself a horror fan without having seen this cult-classic, but fortunately, that was rectified in 2009. The plot is simple: Awkward, shy Angela goes to summer camp with her protective cousin Ricky. Shortly after their arrival, a series of bizarre, bloody deaths occur. This movie has it all -- gruesomely creative kills (ladies, you'll never look at a curling iron the same way again), plenty of gore, ultra-cheesy acting & dialogue, and one of the greatest shocker endings in horror movie history. Plus it was surprisingly ahead of its time with themes of gender and sexuality. Tremendous fun.

5. MAN ON WIRE (2008) -- A incredible documentary about Philippe Petit, the French stuntman who walked across a wire that he illegally strung up between the Twin Towers in 1974. The story is presented almost like a heist film, documenting Petit's life and past stunts before focusing on the incredible lengths to which he went to pull off this crazy endeavour -- sneaking the heavy equipment into the World Trade Center, hiding from guards, etc. I can't imagine this kind of thing happening again in this day and age, and rightly so... but Petit's journey is fascinating and riveting, and of course the film serves as a nice tribute to the fallen towers whose simplistic grandeur will always be missed.

4. POPEYE (1980) -- Can somebody please explain to me why Robert Altman's brilliant take on everybody's favorite spinach-chomping, big-forearmed sailor never gets mentioned among the best live action cartoon/comic movies of all time? Because it totally is. Robin Williams has had a great career, but Popeye is the role he was born to play -- he is perfect, particularly when he's just mumbling under his breath between lines (clearly all ad-libbed). Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl, with her weird-looking lankiness, is also eerily well-cast. All in all, it's as vibrant, fun and memorable as any such movie I've ever seen -- there need not ever be another Popeye movie, because no one will ever do it better.

3. ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) -- It's a shame that Roman Polanski is, y'know, an evil child rapist who deserves to be wiped off the face of the earth, because goddamn he is a great filmmaker. Around the time of his, um, legal troubles last year, I watched a bunch of his movies, and it shouild come as no surprise that this classic tale of terror and paranoia is his very best -- creepy and unsettling and expertly crafted, clearly one of the great psychological horror films of all time. It's also easy to see why Frank Sinatra got so pissed at Mia Farrow for making this movie -- it WAS some f'd up shit. But sorry, Frank, it was worth it!

2. NETWORK (1976) -- Peter Finch gives one of cinema's most memorable performances as Howard Beale, a network news anchor who basically loses his mind on the air and proceeds to go off on a series of outrageous rants... which in turn boosts ratings and makes him a household name. Clearly ahead of its time and a harbinger of things to come in today's world of reality TV, trashy news and corporate everything, it's a tremendous film that features one of the most memorable bits of dialogue in ANY movie, ever: "I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it and stick your head out and yell, 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!'" (Side note: The Mets used to use that scene as a rally cry at Shea -- instead of "I'm as mad as hell..." a "Let's Go Mets" chant would begin. They didn't bring it over to Citi Field, but I think we, the fans, should resurrect it in its true form in 2010... we need it now more than ever!)

...and finally....

1. CARNAL KNOWLEDGE (1971) -- I went on a big Mike Nichols kick in 2009 in which I watched seven or eight of his movies, and it was a great ride indeed. His first four movies alone -- WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, THE GRADUATE, CATCH-22 and CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, would be enough classics for most people's entire careers... but he kept going over the next three decades with films like SILKWOOD, HEARTBURN, BILOXI BLUES, WORKING GIRL, POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE, REGARDING HENRY, THE BIRDCAGE, PRIMARY COLORS, CLOSER and CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR. Sure, there were rare missteps like WOLF and WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM, but all in all, I think it's safe to say that Mike Nichols is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. CARNAL KNOWLEDGE (which I had somehow never seen before) is a sordid, brutally honest, downright depressing tale of two men and their relationship issues throughout life. Like many of Nichols' best, it is driven primarily by scathing dialogue and outstanding performances. Jack Nicholson is at his best as a charismatic misogynist, while Art Garfunkel is more of a romantic -- together they become friends and embark on a journey through empty relationships and affairs that leave them emotionally unsatisfied and unhappy. Candice Bergen and Ann-Margret are scintillating as the two main women in their lives, but this movie is unrelenting towards both sexes with its ravaging, cynical outlook on love, sex and relationships. THE GRADUATE remains my favorite Nichols film (and, indeed, one of my favorite movies of all-time), but CARNAL KNOWLEDGE is a masterpiece in its own right and the creme de la creme of my 2009 Netflix experience!


Other Noteworthy Titles (in random order):

Anvil: The Story of Anvil. Coraline. Working Girl. Midnight Cowboy. Postcards from the Edge. Harvey. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The House of Yes. From Here to Eternity. The Color of Money. Candy. Silkwood. Baghead. Hannah Takes the Stairs. Catch-22. Love Liza. Marley & Me. The Last House on the Left. Biloxi Blues. Valkyrie. The Fall. The Girlfriend Experience.


And now... my Top 5 WORST Netflix Rentals of 2009!

5. LOL (2006) -- Early in '09, I enjoyed a movie called HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS (and developed a crush on soon-to-be-better-known actress Greta Gerwig, but I digress), which in turn led me to this movie by the same director, Joe Swanberg. This one was not very good... but I still enjoy this whole "mumblecore" thing in general.
4. RIGHTEOUS KILL (2008) -- Thirteen years earlier, Pacino & DeNiro were on screen together for the first time in HEAT and it was awesome. This time... not so much. Terrible, generic shlock and an insult to their past greatness.
3. HOUNDDOG (2007) -- Also known as the "Dakota Fanning Gets Raped" movie... though if it wasn't for that, it wouldn't be known as anything because it's just flat awful.
2. UNDERGROUND COMEDY MOVIE (1999) -- I watched this sketch-comedy clusterfuck out of morbid curiosity because it was written & directed by Vince Offer, aka the ShamWow/SlapChop pitchman. That should pretty much sum up the suckitude of this debacle.
1. THE ROOM (2003) -- Naturally... and for all the same reasons I already discussed. It may be the BEST worst movie... but it's still the worst!

Thoughts? Criticisms? Coffee? Tea? Lemonade? Do tell. And I fully expect to watch considerably more Netflix this year, now that I own a shiny new Blu-Ray player that has built-in streaming Netflix capabilities... f'ing sweet.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Ben's 2009 Movies By the Numbers

Now is the part where we go through my dorkaliciously-detailed records and take a look at some of the stats from my 2009 movie-going experience! (You may recall that I have a spreadsheet that contains a year-by-year ranked list of every movie I've seen since 1994; in my daily planner, I record every movie I see, where & when I see it, and with whom; and to top it all off, I have two photo albums filled with every ticket stub from every movie I've seen since 1994. It's all very in-depth and probably a little insane... but hey, it's fun.) Ready? GO!

I saw 107 different movies in theatres in 2009... though I actually went to the movies 108 times, because I saw HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE twice. This sounds like a lot (and it is), but it is actually only my seventh-highest total since I started keeping track of such things back in 1994. Of course, this also marks the NINTH consecutive year that I surpassed the 100-movie mark, a remarkable record for which I am quite proud!



January: 4
February: 8
March: 6
April: 6
May: 7
June: 10
July: 9
August: 10
September: 10
October: 14
November: 9
December: 15

This breakdown is pretty indicative of the kind of movie year we had in 2009. It got off to a very slow start, and even the summer was kind of underwhelming. I was well below the 100-movie pace for most of the year, and for a while there, I was more or less convinced that my streak would be over. But over the final four months, the quality of films drastically improved (a big influx of free screenings in October helped, too) -- I mean, the quality almost always improves when Oscar-bait season rolls around, but it seemed more dramatic than usual. Anyway, as a result, I went on a huge movie-watching tear, and passed the century mark by mid-December. Huzzah!



• Full price admissions: 60
• Free advance screenings: 20
• Free passes/awards programs/gift cards/etc.: 28

Last year was a big one for free advance screenings -- the biggest ever, in fact. That is cool, because a free movie is a good movie. And in some cases, a free movie is a GREAT movie, as I was lucky enough to see advance screenings of my #1 and #3 movies of the year, A SERIOUS MAN and DISTRICT 9, as well as such films as THE LOVELY BONES, ORPHAN and I LOVE YOU, MAN. (On the other hand, I also saw advance screenings of the two WORST movies: AMELIA and WHEN IN ROME -- this was even luckier since I didn't have to pay for them!)



Monday: 8
Tuesday: 17
Wednesday: 15
Thursday: 17
Friday: 37
Saturday: 10
Sunday: 4

No huge surprises here. Friday is obviously the biggest movie day of the week. Love getting $1 popcorn from Regal theatres on Tuesday and FREE popcorn from AMC on Wednesday. The only real change from past years is that I used to see a lot more movies on Sunday. But this past year, Sunday was my girlfriend Rachel's day off from work, so we'd typically spend it together... see, I do have other priorities aside from movies! Awww!



Loews Lincoln Square: 30
AMC Empire: 29
Regal 42nd St. E-Walk: 8
Regal Union Square: 6
Lincoln Plaza Cinema: 5
Ziegfeld Theatre: 5
IFC Center: 5
Landmark Sunshine Cinema: 4
Loews 34th Street: 3
Angelika Film Center: 2
Regal South Plainfield (NJ): 2
Loews New Brunswick (NJ): 2
Clearview Chelsea Cinema: 1
Loews 84th Street: 1
Loews 19th Street: 1
Regal Battery Park: 1
Coliseum Theatre: 1
Paramount Screening Room: 1
Tribeca Grand Hotel: 1

The biggest surprise here is that, for the first time since it opened in the year 2000, the AMC Empire on 42nd St. was NOT my most-visited theatre! This year, that honor goes to LOEWS LINCOLN SQUARE (68th & Broadway), which is crazy! There are two reasons for this: (1) Lincoln Square has NYC's only TRUE IMAX screen, in whose presence I basked SIX times (also a new record in itself), and (2) Rachel works right across the park, so it was the most convenient for when we'd go to the movies together. (Again: Awwwww!) I'm also happy to see that I hit the Ziegfeld and the IFC Center more often this year -- I love those theatres! I also expect the Coliseum Theatre to get more of my business in 2010 -- located on 181st & Broadway, it's the closest theatre to my apartment in upper Manhattan. Granted, it's kind of bizarre, ancient and run-down... but only $9 for first-run movies ain't too shabby! (And of course, I haven't forgotten my roots -- always happy to go back to Regal South Plainfield and Loews New Brunswick when I'm visiting the 'rents & friends in NJ!)



I saw 12 double-features during the year, two fewer than last year... but unlike past years, none of these were by design for any reason other than that the showtimes/locations were convenient! Still, at times they made for some unusual pairings....


I also saw one TRIPLE-feature: SURROGATES followed by the TOY STORY 3D DOUBLE-FEATURE! You're my favorite deputy!

I was also far more social this year than I've been in many years -- I attended 45 movies with someone, and 63 by myself. Wow! Of course, having a girlfriend gives me a built-in movie buddy -- I saw 40 movies with Rachel alone! Say it with me one more time, with feeling: Awwwwwwwww! :)

COMING SOON: More list-mania, including my Top 10 Netflix Rentals of 2009... and then, the granddaddy of them all, my TOP 10 (or maybe 25, I haven't decided yet) MOVIES OF THE PAST DECADE! And who knows, maybe even some -- dare I say it? -- MOVIE REVIEWS!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Ben's Top 10 Movies of 2009

Heyyy everybody, what's shakin'? Happy New Year and auld lang syne and all that good stuff. Okay, okay, look, I'm not even going to bother making excuses as to why I haven't written a goddamn movie review in however-many months. Let's chalk it up to a stifling combination of laziness and writer's block and Beatles Rock Band and Charlotte Fever and call it a day... or decade, as the case may be. The important thing is that the year of our lord 2009 is in the books, and I have to say, despite a slow start and a remarkably weak summer, the last year of the Aughts turned out to be a damn good one -- one of the better years of the entire decade, in fact, in terms of overall quality. I saw 107 movies on the big screen, and narrowing down my Top 10 was an arduous task indeed... it causes me physical pain to have to leave some titles out... but without further ado, let's take a look at the list....

10. AN EDUCATION -- I had a hard time deciding what movie to put in this spot, because there were several vying to make the cut. But in the end, I decided to go with this excellent story of a girl's coming of age in Britain in the early 1960's -- just before the "swingin' '60s" really took hold. My newest crush, the lovely & talented Carey Mulligan, perfectly embodies Jenny, an ambitious, straight-laced schoolgirl on her way to studying at Oxford and following her pre-set order of life. But then she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard in an equally solid performance), a charming older man who throws her for a loop by introducing her to the finer things in life and opening her up to a new, changing world. Nick Hornby has long been one of my favorite authors, and he gives us one of the year's sharpest screenplays -- a vibrant portrait of a society filled with promise. Carey Mulligan is enchanting and carries the movie with charm and grace -- whether or not she is the next Audrey Hepburn remains to be seen, but I, for one, will be following her career with great interest.

9. PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL "PUSH" BY SAPPHIRE -- I'm not just including this movie because it prominently features my apartment building, lobby and living room window (though that is pretty damn cool). No, this story of an illiterate, pregnant African American teen who tries to escape a life of unspeakable abuse is one of the most potent films I've seen in some time. It's one of those movies that is so unflinching and agonizing to watch that I'm not sure I need to ever watch it again (REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and DANCER IN THE DARK are two other such movies).... but if anything, this is a testament to the movie's power. Plus, it features at least two Oscar-worthy performances -- particularly Gabourey Sidibe, who makes Precious the most tragic character of the year, and, in a performance that must be seen to be believed, Mo'Nique as her massively-screwed-up mother. Tremendous film, but not for the faint of heart.

8. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY -- Anyone who's been following my movie adventures over the past few years should know that it has been my quest to find a scary movie that really, truly scares the bejesus out of me -- and this year, a $15,000 indie film managed to do just that. With its BLAIR WITCH, cinema-verite style, unsettling visuals and escalating sense of forboding, this film taps into the basic human fears of (a) things that go bump in the night and (b) situations over which you have absolutely no control. Katie and Micah are a twentysomething couple who come to believe that their home is being visited by a demonic presence. They decide to use a video camera to capture this supposed paranormal activity on film... a project that ends in unspeakable horror. Director Oren Peli clearly knows his stuff, as he eschews typical gore and scare tactics and takes a more subtle approach -- little bits of creepiness here and there (a rippling bedsheet, a cracked picture frame), punctuated by, say, Katie getting ripped from her bed in the middle of the night and dragged down the hall. The film is well-crafted, perfectly paced and remarkably effective. Katie and Micah are likeable and believable (even Micah's alpha male attempts to goad the demon into revealing itself are understandable, albeit occasionally as infuriating as, say, going skinny dipping in Crystal Lake at night). Sure, it requires some suspension of disbelief, but it all adds up to a legitimately scary experience, which is pretty much the highest praise that I can give to such a film!

7. FANTASTIC MR. FOX -- Now, I've never read the Roald Dahl story, so I cannot comment on whether or not this is a faithful adaptation... but that is neither here nor there, because as a movie, this is Wes Anderson at his absolute best -- clever, funny, wacky, loaded with memorable characters and bursting with imagination. Frankly, Anderson's style had been growing stale and self-indulgent recently, but this is a tremendous return to form. The vibrant stop-motion animation fits the story perfectly, and the script (co-written with Noah Baumbach) is razor-sharp -- it's a kiddie film at heart, but the sophisticated humor is surprisingly adult. George Clooney is perfect as the roguish Mr. Fox, and the supporting cast is equally impressive (Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe... the list goes on). FANTASTIC MR. FOX is more than just fantastic -- it's an absolute joy to watch and a veritable clustercuss of fun that will surely stand the test of time.

6. THE HANGOVER -- The funniest movie of the year, without a doubt. The plot is simple: Four guys go to Vegas to celebrate a bachelor party. They wake up in the morning with their hotel suite in shambles, a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet, the groom missing and absolutely no memory as to what the hell happened. Classic. The hijinks are f'ing hilarious, the characters are awesome and impeccably-cast, the dialogue is eminently quotable, and the whole thing is flat-out fun. Sure, the series of events is over the top, but that's the thing: Since it happens in Vegas, it's almost plausible that this shit COULD (and probably does, to some extent) happen on a daily basis! If OCEAN'S 11 is a love letter to the glitz & glamour of Las Vegas, then THE HANGOVER is a drunken text message to Sin City's insanity!

5. UP IN THE AIR -- Man, 2009 was another great year for George Clooney. Two movies in my top 10, and a third (THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS) that is very good in its own right -- he is, simply put, one of the two or three best actors working today, and my pick for this year's Oscar. In this movie, he plays Ryan Bingham, a professional axe man who spends most of his days traveling from city to city, helping companies fire their employees. It's a lonely existence but Bingham seems to make it work for him... or so it seems on the surface... until his encounters with a fellow traveler and a new co-worker cause him to rethink his philosophies. With its themes of isolation and the choices we make in life and relationships, UP IN THE AIR is superbly-written (whip-smart dialogue permeates the film), timely (possibly the quintissential movie about the current economic climate), and manages to be both uplifting and profoundly sad at the same time. It's another tremendous directorial effort by Jason Reitman, who, over the past few years, has become one of the more reliable filmmakers around. As an added bonus, this movie made me finally fall in love with Vera Farmiga, an actress who had been on my radar for some time. Her performance is scintillating, a perfect foil for Clooney, and one of the most smoking-hot onscreen presences of the year.

4. AVATAR -- I admit, I was skeptical of the hype surrounding James Cameron's first movie in 12 years. I found the trailers to be visually incredible, but everything else about it just seemed kind of... blah. But after I saw it in all its IMAX 3D glory, all I wanted to do was meet Mr. Cameron and apologize for ever doubting his genius. What Cameron has done with AVATAR is nothing short of miraculous. He has taken motion-capture animation to new heights, not to mention 3D technology. It's an astonishing triumph of creation and innovation -- there's a level of detail that went into creating this world, its people, creatures, wildlife, ecosystem and history, not to mention this vision of our own future, that would make Tolkien proud. It's a mind-blowing visual orgasm... an epic spectacle that fully engulfs the senses... the very definition of the term EVENT MOVIE. The story is simple but effective -- South Park's "Dances With Smurfs" episode was funny, but misses the point. The only knock against the movie (which, indeed, may have cost it a spot or two on this list) is that the dialogue is very pedestrian and unquotable, which may not bode well for its status in the geek pantheon, since, y'know, we need to be able to quote stuff. But in every other conceivable way, AVATAR is an amazing, wildly entertaining movie-watching experience!

3. DISTRICT 9 -- While AVATAR is the most visually-stunning sci-fi EVENT of the year, the best overall sci-fi picture is a much smaller one that came out of nowhere and completely blew my mind. Twenty years ago, a massive alien spacrcraft appears over Johannesburg, South Africa. After some time of puzzling inactivty, humans decide to cut their way into the ship and discover a race of grotesque aliens (nicknamed "prawns") -- starving, suffering and unable to return home. Our solution: Bring them down and house them in a shanty town, District 9, that quickly devolves into a crime-ridden slum. When the situation begins to spiral out of control and government officials, led by Wikus Van De Merwe (previously-unknown Sharlto Copley in a performance for the ages), decide to relocate the aliens to another, larger camp, things go very awry and all hell breaks loose. Everything about this movie is brilliant -- from the incredible story to complex character development to some truly impressive special effects (especially considering the relatively low budget) to the obvious parallels with South Africa's apartheid. A wildly original creation by Neill Blompkamp, under the tutelage of Peter Jackson, DISTRICT 9 is a remarkable achievement that is sure to go down as a landmark film in the annals of science fiction.

2. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER -- This self-proclaimed story of boy-meets-girl that is NOT a love story is also one the greatest cinematic examples of the mysterious, glorious, fucked-up workings of the "thunderbolt" that I have ever seen. Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon Levitt at his most likeable) has long put the concept of "love" on a pedestal, and when he meets Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel at her most irresistable), he is convinced that she is "the one." However, she is skeptical that love really exists and states right off the bat that she has little interest in anything serious. Nevertheless, they develop a relationship that quickly becomes more and more intimate and emotionally intense... or does it? Tom thinks so; Summer's feelings are another story, and thus, trouble ensues. The film uses several interesting techniques to drive the story and examine the ups and downs of their relationship, including non-linear time structure, quirky (in a good way) visual representations of what's going on in Tom's head, and a brilliant "expectation vs. reality" split-screen comparison of a critical moment (perhaps the best scene in the movie). The script is clever and fun and runs the gamut of emotions, and the acting is superb across the board. It's a smart, honest film that rises high above and beyond the typical romantic comedy. (And as an added bonus, it pretty much nails a relationship I once had that followed a similar -- and equally ill-fated -- emotional rollercoaster and included such eerily specific details as their random excursions through IKEA. Damn you, Summer!)

...and finally....

1. A SERIOUS MAN -- After all these years and countless memorable films, the Coen Brothers never cease to amaze. If anything, they've become even more amazing over the past few years. First they take their filmography in a whole new direction with the Oscar-winning NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN... then they revert back to classic madcap form with BURN AFTER READING... and now, this year, they give us what may be their deepest and finest acheivement yet. It's the story of a man who experiences misfortune upon misfortune, while trying desperately to make some sense of it all and come to terms with his own morality, spirituality and good old fashioned Jewish guilt. It's as devastating as it is gripping, funny, poignant and easily the most entertaining ride through a downward spiral of despair that I've ever had. It's loaded with outstanding performances ranging from tragic (Michael Stuhlberg, previously unknown and now Oscar-worthy) to reviled (Fred Melamed, whose Sy Abelman is up there with the most despicable characters in recent memory), woven by the Coens' most personal and thought-provoking screenplay and capped by a jaw-dropping ending that has been haunting my movie thoughts since day one. A SERIOUS MAN is a riveting, unforgettable movie experience that sticks with you for a long, long time... and my pick for the best movie of 2009. All hail the Coen Brothers!


Other Noteworthy Titles (in no particular order):

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Fanboys. Orphan. The Lovely Bones. Drag Me to Hell. I Love You, Man. The Princess and the Frog. Watchmen. Up. Star Trek. Moon. Ponyo. The Hurt Locker. Inglourious Basterds. Sugar. The Informant! Michael Jackson's This Is It. Julie & Julia. The Blind Side. State of Play. The Girlfriend Experience. Broken Embraces. Crazy Heart. Two Lovers. Coraline. The Men Who Stare At Goats. The Last House on the Left. The Young Victoria. Jennifer's Body. Observe and Report. Taken. The Limits of Control.


And now... The Top 10 WORST Films of 2009:

10. INVICTUS -- The obvious brilliance of casting Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela is overshadowed by the fact that the movie is terrible in pretty much every way -- bad writing, bad acting, a horribly-miscast Matt Damon, and to top it all off, it made rugby even more confusing to me than it already was. That's two terrible movies in a row for Clint Eastwood... could it be time for him to quit while he's ahead and call it a career?
9. OBSESSED -- A ridiculous thriller about a crazy bitch who becomes dangerously obsessed (yeah) with a co-worker. The catfight between Ali Larter and Beyonce is mildly entertaining, but overall this is pretty worthless. (Would have avoided the bottom 10, though, if Ali had worn the whipped cream bikini just once!)
8. THE BOX -- Disfigured Frank Langella goes to Crippled Cameron Diaz's house, gives her a box, and tells her that if she opens it, she gets a million bucks but a random person will die. Naturally, hijinks ensue. Intriguing premise that quickly devolves into ridiculousness -- the end result being that Richard Kelly is now officially dead to me.
7. A PERFECT GETAWAY -- This film left me wondering if it was meant to be a spoof on the whole "tourists fall into peril while on vacation" genre, or if the filmmakers did some serious drugs about 2/3 of the way through production. A bad film with a bizarre (but not in a good way) final act.
6. MY BLOODY VALENTINE -- Another year, another crappy remake of an '80s horror staple... only this time it's in digital 3D, which turns what would've been a forgettable movie into... well, a forgettable movie in digital 3D. Pretty bad stuff.
5. FRIDAY THE 13th -- Another unnecessary and disappointing reboot of one of the most classic slasher films of all time (not to mention one of my personal favs). All I ask from a FRIDAY THE 13th movie is that Jason give us some good, gory kills, and they couldn't even do that right. Now they've f'ed up HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY... this does not bode well for the upcoming NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET reboot... sigh.
4. THE FINAL DESTINATION -- The original FINAL DESTINATION was pretty awesome and refreshingly original, and even the first two sequels had their moments... but now it's like they're not even trying anymore. Even seeing this in 3D couldn't make it remotely entertaining... let's hope it really is THE final installment.
3. THE INFORMERS -- Bret Easton Ellis himself penned this screenplay, based on one of his earlier books, and... well... it's bad. The movie is a failure in pretty much every way; in particular, it features some of the most poorly-written and executed dialogue in recent memory. Not even Mickey Rourke as a creepy child abductor and a frequently-naked Amber Heard could save this one.
2. THE UNBORN -- At first I thought this film, about a girl possessed by a demon spirit of her unborn twin, was yet another remake of a Japanese horror flick. But turns out it's an "original" screenplay that simply rips off aspects of every horror flick ever made, Japanese or otherwise... and does it very, very badly. Features a cameo by Gary Oldman as an exorcist-performing rabbi... which isn't nearly as cool as it sounds.
1. AMELIA -- The story of a fascinating figure, starring Hilary Swank and a solid supporting cast, directed by Mira Nair... by all powers of the universe, this should have been a fine film. Instead, it was a spectacular failure, plagued by awful, laughable writing, forgettable performances, formulaic execution, and worst of all, it was just flat-out BORING. Seriously, Amy Adams's comic portrayal of Amelia Earhart in the NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM sequel was better than anything in this stinking turd of a biopic that, mercifully, came and went very quickly. No Oscar for you this year, Hilary... but perhaps a Razzie?

NOTE: I have to include a brief footnote here, because in reality, the worst movie I saw on the big screen in 2009 was a film called WHEN IN ROME, starring Kristen Bell. I saw it at an advance test screening back in, like, February, and it was horrendously bad, unfunny, retarded, you name it. BUT... the movie will not be OFFICIALLY released until later this month... so, technically, it's a 2010 movie, even though I saw it in 2009. Get it? Good. Now let's move on....


And now... Some Random Movie Thoughts!

Biggest Guilty Pleasure: Without a doubt, this title goes to a little film called FANBOYS, the story of a bunch of Star Wars geeks who embark on a quest to break into the Skywalker Ranch and bootleg a copy of EPISODE I - THE PHANTOM MENACE. It's a perfect love letter to that era of Star Wars geekdom when we were so excited for what was, and remains, the most anticipated movie of all time... it's awesome and the most nostalgia-inducing movie of the year. I also have great love for ORPHAN, one of the best and craziest "evil child" movies ever. And then there's TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, which may have sucked, but dammit, anytime I can see Optimus Prime kicking ass in all his IMAX-sized glory, it brings a big goofy smile to my face!

Most Pleasant Surprise: I gotta admit, I may be a battle-hardened Star Wars fan, but I was stunned at just how much I enjoyed the hell out of the new STAR TREK. I won't go as far as to say that it turned me into a Trekkie, but it was an awesome movie -- pretty much the first time anyone has managed to make Trek readily accessible to everyone -- and I am very much looking forward to future installments. Gotta tip my cap to J.J. Abrams... now let's see if he can use this clout to get that rumored DARK TOWER project off the ground!

Biggest Disappointment: I'm sorry to say that this title goes to WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, a movie for which I had tremendous expectations, but turned out to be boring, bloated and woefully misguided. Probably my own fault for building my anticipation so much... but dammit, it's Spike Jonze! And that trailer was so freakin' good! Definitely one of the most monumental letdowns, not only of 2009, but of all time. A close second was FUNNY PEOPLE, a steaming turd and gigantic misstep for Judd Apatow, who has apparently gotten too full of himself, thus causing him to lose sight of his genius -- might be time for him to finally take some time off. I was also pretty disappointed with NINE, which managed to be profoundly dull despite the best efforts of Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz and even Fergie. And the less said about TERMINATOR: SALVATION, the better (CGI Arnie circa 1984 notwithstanding)... though I'm not sure you can consider that a "disappointment," because really, did anyone think it would actually be good?

Most Underrated Movie: I haven't seen nearly enough praise for THE LOVELY BONES, which seems to have come and gone very quietly. Granted, it was released during Oscar-bait season, and there were many other superior options out there... and from what I understand, Peter Jackson made some changes to the story that didn't make fans of the book happy... but I haven't read the book, so that is irrelevant as far as I'm concerned. As a movie, I found it to be excruciating and hauntingly beautiful, and featuring a stellar performance by Saoirse Ronan. Peter Jackson is one of the true masters of our time and he deserves a little more respect! Meanwhile, MOON was a great little sci-fi film that flew mostly under the radar, and SUGAR was a great little film about baseball and the American Dream, and THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS was pretty hilarious in a way that would make the Coen Bros. say, "Hey, not too shabby." I also really liked WATCHMEN more than most... but then, I had no emotional attachment to the source material. And while we're on the subject over underrated movies....

A Shout-Out to Harry Potter: I am apparently one of the few people to really like HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, which I believe was waaaaaay better than most HP fans seem to think. While it is the first installment since THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS to not make my top 10 of the year (it's actually #11, not to mention the only movie I saw more than once on the big screen in '09), I still think it's fantastic. Yes, yes, they changed a bunch of things from the book, some of which were jarring at first. But remember, we're working with two distinct storylines -- Book and Movie -- and the two have differed more and more as the series has progressed. HP6: The Movie was a direct sequel to HP5: The Movie -- NOT a direct adaptation of HP6: The Book. But as a movie, it was damn good, dark and powerful, and I am deliriously psyched for part one of THE DEATHLY HALLOWS in November!

Most Overrated Movie: I really, really, really don't understand all the praise I've seen heaped upon ZOMBIELAND. This movie was not funny -- it was stupid, poorly acted (Emma Stone... so bad), and if it wasn't for a certain awesome cameo appearance, it would have been almost completely worthless. I know we all love zombie movies, but come on, people... SHAUN OF THE DEAD, this was NOT. I also can't believe there has actually been award buzz for INVICTUS. If it wins any Golden Globes (or, god forbid, Oscars), it will be the first time a movie in my Bottom 10 has achieved such accolades. WTF, world?

Three 2010 Releases That I Saw in 2009 (Because I'm Cool): As you may or may not know, I see lots of advance movie screenings, and last year, I had three opportunities to see early test screenings of movies that won't be officially released until 2010. First was the aforementioned WHEN IN ROME -- a truly awful film, and a tremendous waste of Kristen Bell's talent and cuteness. Next was EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES, a sappy medical drama starring Brendan Fraser and a serviceable, if unremarkable, Harrison Ford. Lastly, I saw NEVER LET ME GO, based on the book by Kazuo Ishiguro -- a dystopian sci-fi romance that I will probably see again when it opens in a few months. Excellent, thought-provoking... and it doesn't hurt that it stars my girl Carey Mulligan!

A Quartet of Horror Goodness: Granted, this year was littered with the usual crop of crappy horror remakes and PG-13-rated bullshit. But this year, we were graced with not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR films that finally made sifting through the crap worthwhile. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY scared the pants off me, ORPHAN was campy fun, the disturbing THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT was the rare remake that actually lived up to its predecessor, and then there was DRAG ME TO HELL, Sam Raimi's triumphant return to his comedy-horror roots. Four tremendous films that were scary, unsettling, entertaining and gave me hope that the genre is not dead yet!

The Big Three Animation Planets Align: The past year was a particularly prolific one for animated films, with stuff ranging from generic fare like ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS and MONSTERS VS. ALIENS to the dark humor of CORALINE to the sheer brilliance of FANTASTIC MR. FOX. But we were also treated to the rare alignment of the three greatest animation giants: Disney, Pixar and Studio Ghibli. First, Disney made their triumphant return to traditional hand-drawn animation with THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG -- easily the Mouse's best film since THE LION KING and an absolute joy to watch. Pixar followed up their best film (2008's WALL-E) with the flawed but still exceptional UP, whose emotionally-charged opening 12 minutes may be the best individual sequence in any Pixar movie.... and thus, any movie, period. And to top it all off, Hayao Miyzaki graced us with his latest slice of genius, the delightful and ethereal PONYO. Hail Disney, Hail Pixar and Hail Miyazaki -- should be fun to see them all compete for the Best Animated Film Oscar!

...aaaaaaand there you have it. Thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Criticisms? What are YOUR picks for the best and worst movies of 2009? Hey chief, let's talk, why not?