Last year on my original Exploitation Nation Blog (still nested on the Today.com set of bogs if anyone is interested to go read them) I did an experiment where I had my immediate circle of friends that I hang out with nearly every weekend give me their top ten picks of the year as well. I posted them as I got them in. I'm going to do that again this year. Naturally I will be starting today with my own list. So here goes the top 10 films of 2009 by Andy Copp
Actually, this year was a fantastic year for movies and picking just ten was damn near impossible. I had it nailed down then at the last minute I saw one more movie that I felt had to be put into the list and that shuffled things around again. I still need to see THE HURT LOCKER and MOON both of which I missed on their theatrical runs (MOON barely played Dayton, and I just missed THE HURT LOCKER even though it was from one of my favorite filmmakers, which is inexcusable). So I am doing eleven movies. Sue me. It is my blog and I do what I want when I want... So here we go!
11) DEADGIRL - This independently produced sleeper horror film is dividing fans much like the film MARTYRS. For some reason lots of horror fans are just seeing it as a male masturbatory rape fantasy, while many others are seeing a brilliant study of male pack behavior, sexual politics, and high school peer pressure all wrapped up in a very disturbing, pitch fucking black zombie film. Either way people are having a hard time with a movie that deals with teen boys who are keeping a zombie girl as a rape toy, only to start pimping her out to others. Ugly, unpleasant, filthy, smart, sad, and at times really beautiful, this is what independent horror should be aspiring to. When most independent zombie films play for laughs, this plays for keeps.
10) PONTYPOOL - Canadian director Bruce McDonald makes my list two years in a row, last year with the experimental THE TRACY FRAGMENTS, and this year with his witty and savage zombie film that almost has no zombies. PONTYPOOL is actually more of an intellectual exercise in semantics about language and separation between people when it breaks down. Yet also succeeds in being a damn scary and tense movie all the way through. The tension continues to get ratcheted up, wisely never really showing the menace until almost having to, and then just briefly. Almost unbearably tense, with just enough humor to get you through, and a humanistic message in the tail.
9) FANTASTIC MR. FOX -Wes Anderson’s incredibly dry humor take Roald Dahl’s children’s book perplexed parents and families who went to see this old school stop motion animated flick. But I’m sure it delighted his fans. For me personally it was the first time I had encountered his work and I had loads of fun with it. The laughs are not roll on the ground funny, but sort of a sideways look at life, and by having them be animals it is even more interesting and bizarre. The characters are all really well developed, yet contain distinctive elements of their animal personalities beyond just being say, the cute opossum, or what have you. There is a rather high level of violence for an animated ‘kids” movie and the Foxes do indeed do what they are known for, which is kill chickens, which is never glossed over. Which, I am sure, is another reason parents stayed away in droves. The stop motion is totally old school, done by hand, using puppets with real fur, which gives it a beautiful, very real look to it that is very fresh in this slick computer age. The entire film feels so real you want to reach up and touch it.
8) AVATAR - No one is as shocked as I am about this. The trailers for AVATAR tried to sell it on the special effects and hardware involved. The “wow” factor for the wii generation was supposed to pull you into the theater, but in fact had the opposite effect on me and turned me off completely. Had I not started hearing these rabidly negative reviews bitching about the film’s “Socialist-Liberal” (yes, that is how I have read it described) agenda and pro ecology rants I would have never bothered to see it. The story arc is too familiar, but what does with that familiar story arc is quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The creation of a whole world that we have never experienced is so nuanced and complete that it is consistently breathtaking. Yet, all this special effects muscle is being used to put across a deeply felt message about how we treat the world (maybe the universe?) and that just because we can go into an indigenous area to take what we want doesn’t mean we should. That the eco-system is really the life-line of any planet and greed will destroy that, until quite possibly the planet is forced to fight back itself. The clear jabs at America’s out of control sense of manifest destiny that has overlapped into the constant “War on Terror” are loud and clear and well represented here. Next to the original James Cameron THE TERMINATOR which is a sentimental favorite, I think this may be Cameron’s best film.
7) DISTRICT 9 - The Summer Blockbuster comes of age with the incredible, smart Sci-Fi thriller that takes on racism, apartheid, and other racially motivated marginalization by way of replacing minorities with aliens. A simple tactic really, but the brilliant directing and flawless effects couple with the ability to imbue the alien characters with actual performances makes this simply, amazing. This takes what could have easily been tired cliches (the “handheld” story telling device, the old one man becomes part of the “other side” and helps to fight for them) and really redeems them. But at the end it is those rich characters, especially the lead, that are steeped in shades of grey, that makes this so stimulating.
6) OBSERVE AND REPORT- The bravest comedy in years. Advertised as a frolicking Seth Rogan feel good yuck fest in a mall ala Paul Blart Mall Cop. What you get, is Taxi Driver for the consumer generation. A movie that invites you to laugh at things totally fucked up in our culture but then turns you around and shows you just how fucked up those things are and implicates you for laughing. Is mental illness funny? Is racism funny? Is drug abuse funny? Is broken home life and destruction of the family unit funny? Nope. But you will laugh and maybe not feel so good about yourself for doing so. And maybe think about the things you laughed at. This is also one of the most well directed movies to come from mainstream Hollywood in a longtime, especially with the use of music. Just brilliant. The reference to OLDBOY was a nice touch too.
5) MARTYRS - For some reason MARTYRS has become the most attacked horror film in recent years. The people who hate it, hate it with a passion, like the movie was made purposefully to hurt them on some personal level. The movie is roundly considered to have gone way too far, to have pushed to envelope and is just “torture porn” (the stupidest fucking term in the history of journalism). What it IS, is among the most uncompromising, relentless, terrifying, brutal, and SMART horror films in recent memory. While it is not as good as ANTICHRIST, it is still one of the most impressive horror features in many a moon and I think a turning point in the genre. Yes, it is too much for most audiences. But those audiences do not have to watch it. This isn’t TWILIGHT for god’s sake. This is for that segment of horror fans who can take it, and demand entertainment that is deeper in meaning than the average Hollywood cesspool. That’s where audiences get lost, is that by the midpoint the movie makes a HUGE demand on the audience to stick with it. The film is challenging you to stay on board at that point. Making a commentary on the "torture" films surrounding it. Saying "Hey if you like this kind of stuff, then HERE IT IS!" Then if you CAN stay on board, the story goes places new and strange. But I think most audiences tune out, get offended and can’t handle what they are experiencing. And the movie IS forcing them to experience it. It is commenting on the wave of “torture” films more than participating in them.
4) WATCHMEN - If there ever was a movie that has people gunning for it before release this was it. This was NEVER going to satisfy the comics fan base unless it was a seven episode mini-series on HBO and even then I doubt any director could deliver anything that fans would agree worked. What Zack Snyder DID deliver was an amazingly faithful adaptation that shocked audiences that were unfamiliar and expecting BATMAN, pissed off conservatives who couldn’t handle sex in superhero stories or the political content, and angered comic nerds because the final third of the movie was different than the totally unfilmable comic. What the movie delivers is dead on characters, with great performances (Rorschach, The Comedian, Nite Owl and Dr, Manhattan are all perfect, The Jupiter Women are both very good, though Sally Jupiter’s old age make up is regrettably a little off). Fans complained that the action scenes were out of place, but for fucks sake it IS a comic book movie after all, there needs to be action. For a three hour super hero movie to not have any would be absurd. The movie builds a world unlike any other comic movie ever made, with an unique point of view. It is faithful to the source material to a fault. There is not much more one can ask than that.
3) LIFE IS HOT IN CRACKTOWN- The most unjustly maligned movie of the year. Not because it got bad reviews. But because it was just simply ignored. By festivals, by critics, by audiences at large, and a distributor that just didn’t have the power to push it out there enough. Buddy Giovanazzo’s dream project based on his incredible book of short stories is probably even more powerful that expected as he managed to do something the book didn’t really do. Find the heart and soul of even the most despicable characters in the work. The book is about the horrors of street life and drugs. The movie is about the humanity of the people who live the lives involved in those horrors. Where this could have been two hours of living, breathing hell, it instead manages to be filled with a bleak hope as we watch people with pride, dreams, goals and self worth. We watch them love, live, party, work and struggle to get by. There is violence, some of it brutal, ugly and extreme. The gang rape that opens the movie has a LOT to do with why the movie was passed on by film festivals the world over, though so totally important to the tone of the film. Without it those characters would be completely off balance. The performances here are without peer and deserve Oscar nods especially Kerry Washington as the proud transsexual struggling with her heroin habit. It is sad that the movie PRECIOUS (while not a bad film at all), which shares a good deal of themes with this movie, managed such a good deal of steam (thanks to big name support of Oprah and Tyler Perry), while this was ignored. Buddy G should have said this was a true story.
2) ANTICHRIST - Lars Von Trier lives to be controversial it seems. But I don’t give a shit about all of that. I’ve only seen a few of his movies and don’t care about the controversy he drums up. I saw this without hardly any knowledge of the controversy surrounding him and this film. So what I got to see was basically just a pure movie as it was intended, not colored with the hoopla and craziness. What I got was the most powerful horror film in years and one of the most moving and disturbing treatises on how humans deal with grief, how women have been treated throughout centuries, how sexuality has been repressed and abused, and just how far humanity will go to control one another to avoid their own accountability. A bleak, dark, uncompromising, powerful, assault, filled with meaning and imagery that is impossible to forget. This movie is not for the weak of heart and especially the weak of mind. Which is why so many critics hate it. They want to join the club and be part of something, the elitist group that feel the are smarter than this smart-alec art filmmaker who has dared to cross boundaries that good taste has dictated. They don’t seem to understand that conservatism has no place in art or horror. They didn't take the time to see the layers to the film and the true brilliance of everything on screen.
1) WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE - I can almost safely say that there has been no other movie in recent years at which at no point did I stop and think about the craft of which the movie was made. Where I was simply drawn into the movie so utterly and completely to the point that I was struck with awe and lost, that my film geek side was put to rest and the little kid inside of me that loved movies so much was woke up so completely that I was taken into the movie and lost. No real world, just the one in the movie. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE did this for me. Granted I was predisposed to loving it. The book meant soooo much to me as a kid that it is pretty much a genetic code to who I am today. My Mom read it to me daily until I was able to read it myself. So when the Wild Things showed up the first time in the movie I literally wept. Seriously, full on tears of joy at seeing something so powerful from my childhood born into reality so perfectly. By the time Max leaves them at the end and they all howl together saying good bye I was full on bawling like a baby, not wanting to leave them either. I’d been happy to spend the rest of my days in that theater, sleeping in a pile with them. None of this touches on the multiple layers of meaning and depth the movie has. I want to see it again so badly, but at the same time I am almost afraid to because I don’t want to taint that perfect experience of seeing it the first time. (Besides the guy snoring in front of us in the theater. Asshead.)
The worst movies of the year was actually a damn sight harder this time around to come up with as I didn't feel that I went to that many truly awful movies. I saw a few that I was ambivalent about like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, or ones that I liked but did not love like INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (I still don't see the brilliance that everyone else sees. Cut it by 20 minutes and loose the custie touches and make Eli Roth's character never speak and it might come a lot closer). But truly bad films? Well the following were in the shitpile...
FRIDAY THE 13th (remake) - It is almost a cheat to put this on the worst list as I in no way expected it to be good. Directed by shit-hack extraordinaire Marcus Nispel whose bowel movements are even an artistic embarrassment and probably more entertaining than his films. To call him a hack is insulting to true hacks who are trying to just earn a living. At least it had righteous titties, and a funny unintentional subplot that inadvertently makes Jason Vorhees look like he’s a pissed off pot farmer.
X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE - As if Brett Ratner hadn’t fucked up the X-MEN franchise enough 20th Century Fox had to really rape and plunder it with this spin-off series launch pad. The problem here is the same thing that killed BLADE TRINITY. (Well, besides a director infatuated with his hunky stars abs.) The focus is not to make a good or coherent film, but to stuff as many franchisable characters into the flick as possible as to spin it off in the future to other money making series. So what you have is a movie that makes no god damn sense unless you read the comic books to understand who the hell everyone is. Then it pisses those fans off because it is completely unfaithful to those characters. The first five minutes are pretty good, and then it goes to hell in a hand basket as it clearly is being directed by committee. With some of the worst CGI special effects in a modern big studio release film ever. I Like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, he's great. He deserves a much, much better movie than this.
DRAG ME TO HELL - I refuse to be all fan geek and fall all over myself because Sam Raimi came back to the genre and made a horror movie. He really didn’t. This is still a slapstick comedy in a horror movie’s clothes, and this time most of the comedy is so goofy that is just makes your head hurt. To me this kind of horror/comedy stuff was dead in 1988. It also doesn’t help much that every single minority character in the movie is either so disgusting that you can’t look at the screen (drooling , spitting, snotting, etc) or lying, cheating, thieving, conniving scumbags out to make a buck while the white-bread heroes are just trying to outsmart them. Seems to me that someone's hometown aw shucks point of view has been mightily curtailed from directing $200 million dollar movies. I mean there is actually a scene where an anvil appears out of nowhere to be dropped on someone!?!?! Did Chuck Jones actually ghost direct this? I CAN however respect the last ten seconds, however predictible they may be.
H2: HALLOWEEN 2 - Rob Zombie what the hell are you thinking? Have you just gotten to the point that you have isolated yourself in your own little castle of money and horror goodies that you have no idea what you are putting out anymore? When you put out something that doesn’t work (say the HALLOWEEN remake?) you blame the studios, yet you claim totally autonomy on this sequel (that you claim you never wanted to make in the first place) and this is what we get? Get a good co-writer and take a workshop on writing characters and dialogue and come back and talk to us dude.
MY NAME IS BRUCE -Seems I’m shitting on the Sacred cows here, so I might as well continue. Bruce Campbell, fan boy icon. Shitty director. Seemingly has become a self absorbed assface. Or that is what he wants everyone to believe he has become and plays in the movies. But the shitty director part is still true, hence this damn near unwatchable and completely unfunny mess.
One great thing about this year at the movies was that I got to go to the drive in a LOT. The Dixie-Twin drive in for reason's I don't understand changed their policy this past summer from playing basically family friendly films to almost all horror/exploitation/sci-fi. Every horror film that came out during the warm months played there and we went there to see them all. This was as close to the glory days of From Dusk Till Dawn Trash nights as one could get anymore. So just the experience of being in your car watching horror on the outdoor screen made a turd like HALLOWEEN 2 that much more fun and passable. Hell, even something I wouldn't have bothered to see like SORORITY ROW got me to pay to see it because it was at the drive in. Best of all they had a retro-weekend where they showed & JOHN CARPENTER'S VAMPIRES, & KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE on one screen with GHOST & ROADHOUSE on the other (as a tribute to the fallen Patrick Swayze) with proceeds going to the local cancer charity. Pretty dope. The double feature of ORPHAN and THE COLLECTOR was like I had time warped into 1983 as both films were a total throwback to old school horror and seeing them at the drive in was perfect. I will be patronizing the Dixie Twin this upcoming year as along as the keep this kind of programming going. I was told they hope to do some more retro stuff this upcoming year.
So that's my year in review, we'll see what my friends have coming up. But I get the feeling that WATCHMEN is going to be an interesting bone(r) of contention...
Article © Andrew Copp