2009 Film Review: 10 Surprises & Guilty Pleasures

But if the year was full of disappointments, it didn’t lack of surprises either; namely, the spectacular rise of science-fiction in all of its fronts, from the more mainstream –the rebirth of the Star Trek franchise- to the art house –Duncan Jones’ debut ‘Moon’-, which next to commercial and creative successes such as ‘District 9’ brought back the best qualities of a genre considered by many as minor and almost confined to comic adaptations in recent years. Horror kept on going stronger during the summer at the US box office and a series of Catalonian directors took it by assault; some of them leaving behind the limitations of trashy B-movie-like filmmaking and producing more than decent works such as ‘Orphan’. Elsewhere, among the landslide of stereotypical pictures masterminded for the family; children or female audience clusters we were able to find the odd unexpected jewel.

The next 10 movies were the biggest surprises and guilty pleasures the film industry provided in 2009.

Jaume Collet-Serra

Catalonian horror has found a direct way into the American box office and has begun generating more than notable works; far more sophisticated than what it could be expected by the teen B-movie audience they were aimed to.

Jaume Balagueró kept on collecting accolades with [REC] and Jaume Collet-Serra improved notoriously on his rather modest debut ‘House Of Wax’ and provided a classy collection of thrills in ‘Orphan’, which fully recalled those typical movies from the seventies based on the arrival of an evil presence to a typical middle-class American home.

Terry Gilliam

After years of enduring troubled projects –Don Quixote- and films that didn’t do any justice to the renowned imagination of its creator –Tideland-; Terry Gilliam partially recovered with this return to the upper levels of his baroque inventiveness in which bad luck stroke again when the lead star, Heath Ledger, died at the beginning of the shooting.

Gilliam came up with a witty trick out of his hat that would allow him to use three different A-list stars to complete the role Ledger had left halfway and managed to get away with it. The top-notch cast and the experience of the veteran director have helped him find his way back to the right trail.

hangover-poster8-THE HANGOVER
Todd Phillips

Right when Judd Apatow and his comic entourage seemed to have monopolized the making of comedies in the states and his mellifluous style was getting in our nerves; this nasty and crazy comedy arrived, beating box-office records during the summer and putting all the team involved on top of the Hollywood map. ‘The Hangover’ even crossed the gates of the Golden Globes, remaining right outside the Oscars’ by a narrow margin.

We hope it sets an example, as there’s still plenty of room to explore this refreshing and edgier new vein, while shaking off the blandness dominating today’s comedy establishment.

Ruben Fleischer

Every time we think the zombies’ subgenre has stretched itself as far as it was possible, there comes a new movie that proves us wrong.

‘Zombieland’ was a witty horror comedy aimed to a nerdy, teenage audience in which the continuous superposition of an imaginary catalogue of rules to survive in the event of a zombie attack; next to the hilarious road-movie a diverse group of survivors embarks in their search for a non-infected place; and, above all, the presence of Bill Murray playing himself; altogether made for a refreshing take on the world of the living dead and reaped a generous reward at the box office.

Larry Cohen

The inescapable hype surrounding comedian Sacha Baron-Cohen’s latest creation set the expectations sky high and finished with the final product being a disappointment for the majority. ‘Bruno’ repeated the winning formula Cohen mastered with ‘Borat’, travelling around the states and provoking explosive confrontational situations. In this case with the alibi of an ultra-gay main character was the perfect bait to take the piss of the sexual prejudices in Deep America.

The element of surprise, though, was somehow lost and some of the situation had little concern for respect or good taste; but despite all that, or maybe thanks to it, no matter how wrong it turned out to be, most of it was still hilarious.

julie-julia-movie-poster5-JULIE & JULIA
Nora Ephron

The queen of ‘chick-flicks’, once responsible for the unforgettably funny ‘When Harry Met Sally’ and since then just specialized in the making of sugary and bland romantic comedies to major glory of Hollywood marketing, pleasantly surprised us once more by crafting a more than decent film.

‘Julie & Julia’ was mostly lifted from average fare thanks to two excellent performances: Meryl Steep’s impersonation of Julia Child – the cook who introduced French Cooking to American tables- could earn her a long-awaited third Oscar –Sandra Bullock not nicking it-; and Amy Adams as the young woman who sets a blog describing how she cooks a recipe a day from Child’s iconic cook book.

whatever-works4-WHATEVER WORKS
Woody Allen

After the notable improvement that was ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’, everybody expected some more signs of Allen’s return to form. ‘Whatever Works’, though, was nothing more than another minor work, yet discreetly funny. The big news here, after decades looking for someone who was able to impersonate him, Allen found him in ‘Seinfeld’ writer Larry David.

It may have been their share of Jewish background, but what no other Hollywood star has been able to achieve –Woody is rather inimitable on his wit and wisdom-, David got it effortlessly, transformed into a grumpier, more aggressive version of the director, but perfectly acting within his same comic range. American Audiences didn’t respond well, and there are rumours of Owen Wilson being the star of his next movie. However, Woody should consider David in the future, when he’s got a better screenplay to offer.

Zach Snyder

When we found out our favourite graphic novel was being taken to the big screen, we couldn’t hide our happiness. When we knew it was going to Zach Snyder’s hands, the joy turned sour. After all, Snyder is responsible for ‘300’, one of the worst movies we’ve seen in recent history. ‘Watchmen’ shared the same big flaw of ‘300’, an attempt to be totally faithful to the original source, without adding the depth that characters and plot needed to work well in film format. His audiovisual version wasn’t the masterpiece the comic surely deserved, but many agree the complexities of Alan Moore’s work would have required a whole TV series to make it justice. However, the nearly obsessive attention to detail with which Snyder copied the story board, vignette to vignette, made it impossible for anyone who enjoyed the original to be offended.

where_the_wild_things_are_poster2-WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
Spike Jonze

One of the most acclaimed classics of children’s literature in the Anglo-Saxon world found in Spike Jonze’s inquisitive innovation the best vehicle for its audiovisual adaptation. The director behind ‘Being John Malkovich’ managed to translate into powerful images Maurice Sendak’s monsters; which according to the book were created by the imagination of a lonesome child in a rebellious moment.

Jonze dived in his childhood’s spirit and unleashed the best qualities of the short story; whereas the design of the monsters and the excellent vocal cast giving them life (from James Gandolfini to Catherine Keener) helped take this film beyond the boundaries of children’s books, making it a treat for everybody.

star_trek_poster-21-STAR TREK
J. J. Abrams

It seemed impossible this day and age, after decades of exhaustive exploitation of Gene Roddenberry’s creations through all sort of TV series; movies and alternate versions, that anyone could add anything new to the Star Trek franchise.

The brains behind ‘Lost’ labyrinth plot managed the impossible, through this prequel that focused on the first steps of the immortal characters: Captain Kirk; Spock; Uhura; etc. with a dynamic and fresh look and an excellent screenplay which, curiously and against all our rules against sequels, gave us back the will to follow the next interstellar trips of the Enterprise.

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