2009 Hits and Misses: Movies

I probably say the same thing every year. Despite the fact that I see 30+ movies in the theatre (which is only 2.5 movies per month, so not really that much), they continue to disappoint me. Many of the ones I intended to see got such mediocre reviews that I decided not to go (I’m not a movie critic who gets free screenings, after all). Each trip to the cinema costs me a bit of hard-earned money, and a few hard-earned hours of free time. Sad to say, this year no movies really “wow’d” me. Sure, I really enjoyed the spectacles of Avatar and Star Trek, and Pixar’s Up was wonderful, but I didn’t feel amazed when the lights came up (maybe I’m becoming too jaded). Nevertheless, here are my picks for movies that hit the mark (and a few that completely missed — so disappointing!).

Hits

Up

Pixar continues its track record of making unlovable things (e.g. rats, monsters, fish) quite lovable. Sure, who doesn’t find a warm-hearted little boy scout endearing, but an old curmudgeon? That’s a bit of a stretch. Applause to them for really moving me with this fresh and well-animated tale of Mr. Fredricksen’s crazy quest to fulfill a lifelong dream. At once fun, cute, and great to look at, tied together with a soft “carpe diem”-themed ribbon. Pixar definitely knows how to put warmth, depth and heart into its characters and story so that you forget that it’s computer animation.

Star Trek

With all the rebooting going on, I was a bit worried about JJ Abrams taking on such a beloved franchise as Star Trek. He was even going to use the characters from the original series — which are far from my favourite. However, I should not have doubted Mr. Abrams (especially since I’ve enjoyed almost everything that he’s been involved with, from Felicity to Fringe). This new Star Trek movie was fun and young-hearted in a way that hasn’t been a part of the Trek franchise in a very long time. A lot of the credit goes to Chris Pine as Kirk. I am also not a fan of the old Kirk, but Pine’s portrayal of him as a capable, charming risk-taker (I realize that’s also how Shatner had portrayed him) really won me over. Add some other good performances as well as a slick style and we have an excellent reboot on our hands. (Now if only we could get another Trek TV series out of this.)

Avatar

Is there much truth to all the hype about James Cameron’s latest magnum opus? You bet. Visually beautiful, stunning, and incredibly life-like. I was especially impressed by the facial expressions on the computer-generated characters. Cameron’s team has been able to use computer animation to depict strong emotions to the point that we respond with genuine emotions as well — that’s an achievement! Also, the world of Pandora has breath-taking scenery, fascinating creatures . The only thing missing was a truly inventive story. That side of things was pretty predictable. However, with all that was going on before my eyes, I barely had the time to notice.

Sherlock Holmes

Surprisingly more of an action-adventure than a mystery movie, it was good that Robert Downey Jr. (playing Holmes) and director Guy Ritchie were both able to tone down their typically excessive styles to produce a fun and engaging movie. Even though her role was not as juicy as it could be, I always love to see Rachel McAdams in a movie (she plays Holmes’s ex-lover and rival/antagonist).

Watchmen

Glossy and big, the film version of a supposedly unfilmable comic book series lived up to my expectations and (IMHO) even improved on the original ending from the comic. Because the tone was dark and heavy, it wasn’t your typical movie. That made the film better in some ways, since it explored the darker threads of selfishness, pride, and power, but at the expense of the kind of joyride that a typical superhero movie can be.

The Princess and the Frog

Though set in the less-than-lavish environs of the Mississippi bayou, this movie successfully revives the dormant “musical princess” movie that was a staple for Disney’s animated movies for so many years. (I really miss the singing animals.) After this, I’m very much looking forward to Rapunzel (due later this year).

District 9

While I can’t give it as much credit for originality as it’s received, this story of a South African bureaucrat whose life gets unbelievably messy after getting involved with residents of the alien ghetto known as District 9, was the best science fiction of the year. I’ll never look at crustaceans or hear the word “prawns” the same way again.

9

In a year of odd overuse of the number/word “9” in movie titles, this movie held so much expectation for me that even though it disappointed me, it still kept itself in the upper ranks. An animated post-apocalyptic fantasy with a whole new kind of creature (living burlap puppets) as the main characters. This had “fresh and imaginative” stamped all over it. Unfortunately the concept was underdeveloped and the movie just didn’t live up to its potential. Nevertheless, the movie was great to look at and I really enjoyed all the characters. I just wish there were more of everything.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Another one of these disappointment with high expectations movies. I am still a huge Potter fan, but I really don’t think this installment lived up to the rest of the franchise. Even the original book is a bit scattered. Much of the story centres around Dumbledore and Harry’s quest to understand the nature of Lord Voldemort’s evil.

Duplicity

I have always been a fan of twisty plots and cat-and-mouse chases. This movie about two corporate spies who also happen to be lovers and their schemes against and with each other was clever and enjoyable. While I wouldn’t say that the two leads (Julia Roberts and Clive Owen) have the most chemistry ever, but they were both pretty believable — plus I enjoyed the way the ending played out.

Misses

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

I was hoping that introducing the werewolf element to the vampire/teen romance mix would have livened things up, but it really didn’t. Unfortunately, this movie was just dull. As I mentioned before, I enjoyed the scene in Italy, but it seems like part of a different movie.

The International

With so much going for it, this movie squandered its capable leads (Clive Owen and Naomi Watts) and made international intrigue a snoozer.

Bruno

As expected, Sacha Baron Cohen once again took up his pop-cultural spade and dug up America’s narrow-mindedness and political incorrectness, all the while pushing the squirm-inducing boundaries to the limit. Compared to Borat, this movie (and the Bruno character) seemed even more clueless and outrageous, but that seemed to be its only objective. Still not that funny.

Where the Wild Things Are

Well-realised “wild things” made this movie a visual treat, but the indie-film pacing and the introspective script made it heavy and ponderous. Hardly the poignant kids story that it was based upon. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine any kids enjoying this film (I know the kids in my theatre didn’t like it — some even left early).

Knowing

Nic Cage plus ridiculously illogical plot equals the dumbest movie I watched in 2009. One mystery compounds another and not only are the explanations a bit irrelevant, the ending went so far beyond where you’d reasonably expect a movie like this to go. It seemed like it was going to have a relatively grounded plot. So much for that!

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