Bob looks back

It’s 2010, and our movie reviewer fondly remembers both the year past and the last decade

illustration by Michael Grimm

The “Aught” decade wasn’t the greatest of decades for film, or much of anything, for that matter. I hadn’t realized the scarcity of truly mind-blowing cinema until a scan over my popcorn ratings through the years. With some noted exceptions, it was a rather uninspiring stretch.

Now, any decade that produces something like The Lord of the Rings isn’t all bad. But, seriously, it wasn’t that hard to pick the films I thought were the best over the last decade. They sort of rose to the tops of my year-end lists, and my feelings stayed the same as the years clicked off.

No doubt, 9/11 threw a monkey wrench into the works, essentially causing Hollywood to take a pause on ultra-violence for a couple of years. They also did stupid stuff like removing the Twin Towers from Zoolander, one of my picks for lamest moviemaking decisions of the decade. There was a writers’ strike, and plenty of Screen Actors Guild strike threats, too. Basically, there was a lot of whining and delays from the people who get to entertain us for a living.

Most importantly, there just weren’t that many breakthrough, maverick artists. The likes of Wes Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola made their initial marks in the ’90s. While they directed some good films in the past decade, they made significant marks the decade before. What new directors in this past decade are working their way towards household name status? Name one … I dare ya.

I suppose the breakout director of the decade award would have to go to Jason Reitman, who delivered the likes of Thank You For Smoking (2005), Juno (2007) and this year’s Up in the Air. Reitman has made some very good films, but he lacks a truly distinctive style. All of the directors in the prior paragraph have one. You could probably do a blind taste test with their films, and most movie buffs could identify who made what.

And, I want to make this perfectly clear, by “blind taste test,” I’m not encouraging you to actually eat movie prints. That would be scary, stupid and hell on the colon. No, I meant comparing movies the way people take the Pepsi Challenge.

You would, say, line up a bunch of people who saw Coppola’s Lost in Translation, Jonze’s Adaptation and Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums, but hadn’t seen Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are and Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. You would then make them watch the latter movies, and give them five bucks if they could identify who directed them. I’m quite sure the majority would get the answers right, and you would lose a lot of Lincolns.

But, wait … if they were doing the Pepsi Challenge, that would mean they were blindfolded, and physically unable to watch the movies. OK, ignore that whole Pepsi Challenge deal. That was just silly.

Anyway, I guess that’s one of the problems with the decade. It lacked style and finesse. The best films of the decade—listed later in this article—have some, but they didn’t have many brethren boasting the same traits. Many of the films of the past 10 years were good, even very good. But there were very few films I could call masterpieces.

This is the decade where hi-res video started looking real nice, and people figured out how to make movies for, like, $17 and a pack of Altoids. This year, the capper year, saw Paranormal Activity, made for a paltry $15,000—the mega hit that has many a studio head questioning that $150 million sure-thing they just greenlit for the asshole director who demanded a Jaguar and whores. And, by Jaguar, I mean the wild cat and not the awesome car.

While new 3-D technology has added a nice layer to movie going these past couple of years, nothing was more disheartening to me than the empty-headed bluster that was Avatar. I just couldn’t get it on with Cameron’s environmental fantasy. The Lord of the Rings started the decade off with a brainy big blockbuster bang, and Avatar finished it off with a mega-million-dollar fart out of Big Hollywood’s butt.

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As far as film year rankings in this decade are concerned, I would rank 2009 as the third best year of the decade (2007 and 2001 were the best). There were plenty of embarrassing failures, not the least of which was Avatar, but a lot of good movies, including one bona fide masterpiece.

So here’s a list of the best and worst for 2009, followed by the same for the entire decade. This comprises much movie trivia, so make sure to drink a big coffee and shoot some eye drops before reading. And, please, don’t snack on any movie prints while reading.

The Best of 2009

1. Up: This brilliant animated movie had me crying in the first 15 minutes, and it had me laughing hard throughout. When I first heard about Pixar’s latest, a movie about an old man sailing away in his house via thousands of little balloons, I had my doubts. One should never doubt Pixar. Doubting them is a waste of good energy.

2. Moon: This sci-fi classic stayed under the radar, which is a shame because Sam Rockwell deserved to be among the contenders for year-end awards. His performance as a stressed-out moon miner is, in my humble opinion, the performance of the year, but nobody really saw it, so there you go.

3. Star Trek: While people heap year-end praise onto Avatar’s petulant, bloated back, let us not forget the best fantasy adventure the year had to offer. J.J. Abrams rebooted this beloved franchise with confident command, taking some crazy steps to make Star Trek a formidable franchise again. Please J.J., waste no time getting to the further adventures of the new/old crew. And, yes …WE WANT SHATNER!!!

4. Fantastic Mr. Fox: Director Wes Anderson transfers all of his quirky charms to this stop-motion animation classic. The sequence where characters jam out to “Petey’s Song” by Jarvis Cocker had me giddy. George Clooney’s voice added a lot of charm to the title character, but Jason Schwartzman gets my “Best Animated Feature Voice” award for the year.

5. Inglourious Basterds: Definitely the trippiest film of the year. Quentin Tarantino—who, like Pixar, has never made a bad film—mixed elements of Spaghetti Westerns, WWII action films and propaganda movies into the twisted scenario of an all-Jewish platoon hunting Nazi scalps. This might actually get Christoph Waltz an Oscar for his role as the Jew Hunter, perhaps the most suitably vile character seen on screens this year.

6. A Serious Man: The Coens made another great movie. I’m thankful that they experienced financial success with No Country for Old Men because no studio would’ve greenlit this eccentric movie otherwise.

7. Up in the Air: I firmly believe that many years from now, people will look back on George Clooney with this film the way we look back on Jimmy Stewart for It’s a Wonderful Life. This is a career-defining role for Clooney, who had himself a banner year.

8. Where the Wild Things Are: Of all the movies this year, this seems to be the one with the biggest split. You love it, or you hate it. I, for one, think Spike Jonze nailed the fright and wonder of being a kid.

9. The Messenger: Woody Harrelson had a great year. Loved him in Zombieland, enjoyed him as the frothy DJ nut in 2012, and honestly feel his work as a stressed-out soldier in this film is his best work to date.

10. The Hangover: Yep, the AFI and I have no problem putting this one in our top 10. It’s a movie so consistently funny it crosses over into near genius territory. All hail Zach Galifianakis!

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And now, because space allows, we are going all the way to 20 …

11. The Lovely Bones: I had equal parts love and hate for Alice Sebold’s novel. Director Peter Jackson capped off a fine decade by figuring out what worked best in the book and jettisoning the crap. Saorise Ronan is heartbreaking as a murdered girl watching over her family from the “In Between.” Stanley Tucci is scary as shit as her suspected killer.

12. Crazy Heart: Jeff Bridges has a serious shot at his first Oscar for this one about a has-been alcoholic country singer, and major props to Colin Farrell in a supporting role as his protégé. Both actors did their own singing, and they are pretty damn good.

13. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call-New Orleans: Crazy Nicolas Cage comes roaring back with a vengeance as a drug-addicted cop trying to solve a murder while coping with enormous back pain. Bug-eyed, having sex in public and staring down iguanas … this is the stuff we used to love about Cage.

14. Two Lovers: Joaquin Phoenix says this is his last movie as an actor. If such is the case, he went out on a good note.

15. (500) Days of Summer: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are irresistible in this funny and sometimes dark look at a failed romance.

16. The Road: John Hillcoat had a daunting task bringing Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic novel to the big screen. Thanks to Viggo Mortensen and some stunning art direction, he succeeded. But then Reno never got to see it.

17. Watchmen: In another difficult adaptation, Zack Snyder filmed Alan Moore’s “unfilmable” graphic novel quite well, thank you very much.

18. The Hurt Locker: I thought this was a very good action film with an excellent performance by Jeremy Renner at its core. However, you will not see me trumpeting this as the year’s best picture, as many have.

19. Thirst: This is one crazy-assed vampire movie, the perfect antidote to all of that Twilight crap. Director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) continues to be a force to be reckoned with. Kim Ok-bin is amazing as a timid girl who reacts to vampirism in the strangest of ways.

20. An Education: Carey Mulligan got a lot of accolades for her turn as a high school student who gets involved with an older man (Peter Sarsgaard) in 1960’s England. Those accolades are much deserved.

The Worst of 2009

Now it’s time for the worst. Congratulations Michael Bay! I think your movies have made more of my worst lists than any director! You suck!

1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: I actually almost liked the first Transformers film. It was the sort of film going situation where I hit the breaking point somewhere in the last 15 minutes and decided, “Say, you know what? I’m just not liking this.” Such was not the case with the sequel. I hated every minute of this piece of junk. It’s Big Hollywood at its very worst, and the shits will just keep on coming because people are going to these things in droves.

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2. Angels and Demons: Ron Howard and Tom Hanks, you must stop screwing around with these lame-assed, quasi-religious fantasies. They are boring, they are useless, and they are giving the Pope a bad name. I truly believe that the lady who tackled the Pope on Christmas Eve was pissed off about this movie.

3. Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert Experience: No year-end, worst-of list would be complete without giving mention to these little Satanic bastards. I’ve noticed that some of these little pricks are splintering off and doing solo gigs, like a spreading virus. This means that at any given time, the awful Jonas sound could be poisoning the sky in all corners of the Earth.

4. Amelia: I love Hilary Swank, but she stunk up the place as the infamous pilot who, according to this film, was kind of an asshole when it came to her men. Swank delivered all of her lines with a forced, goofy characterization that made her sound like she should’ve been announcing a Chicago Cubs baseball game.

5. Avatar: Technically, there were a lot of movies worse than this. But I have to put this on my worst list this year for the sheer level of disappointment and depression it inspired. When this movie failed in my eyes, the year took a major hit, and the holidays were ruined. I also got the flu and a serious head cold. I honestly think Avatar weakened my immune system. Fuck you, James Cameron!

6. The Twilight Saga: New Moon: Kristen Stewart’s hyperventilating performance is my pick for year’s worst acting, just edging out Robert Pattinson’s dull and sullen work in the same film. I don’t care how good the books are supposed to be, and I hear they are good. (I believe you, Stephenie Meyer fans!). These movies are awful, and the mere thought that there are more coming gives me intestinal distress.

7. Year One: Jack Black and Michael Cera in a Harold Ramis movie about biblical times. How could you go wrong? Not only could you go wrong, you could go deadly wrong to the tune of being the year’s worst comedy. And this is a year that also saw Pink Panther 2, so that’s no small feat.

8. Nine: One of the year’s best performances is in one of the year’s worst movies. Penelope Cruz is so hot in her musical number, you forget for a moment how awful this film is. Daniel-Day Lewis looks lost in this musical with not one good song and the dumbest plotline for a musical since Cannibal: The Musical— a film that I loved … but it did have a stupid plot).

9. Halloween 2: I really did have high hopes for this one. Rob Zombie’s first crack at the John Carpenter classic was almost good. I thought another chapter would give him a chance to fix the mistakes and deliver the goods. I am an idiot.

10. The Ugly Truth: With this vile experiment and his involvement in Gamer, Gerard Butler seems determined to make people hate him. As for Katherine Heigl, I already hate her lots. I swear, you’ll want to take a shower after this one. Actually, please remember to shower every day. You have little buggies on you, and they need to die in a Dial soap tsunami. You also stink on the third day, and that’s just rude.

Best of the Decade

So with 2009 wrapped up, it’s time to examine the entire decade.

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003): For some people this was just an invitation to slumber. For geeks like me, Peter Jackson’s tackling of the J.R.R. Tolkien universe stands right next to the first Star Wars as an all-time great movie experience. Movies didn’t get better than this in the past 10 years but, seriously, did they really have a chance?

2. There Will Be Blood (2007): Contains, hands down, the best overall performance by anybody in the past 10 years … actually, ever. Daniel Day-Lewis dented my skull as Daniel Plainview, an oil maverick with serious self-esteem issues. I’ve had fights with many over the “I’m finished!” finale. I think it was brilliant.

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3. Mulholland Dr. (2001): Over on the actress side, Naomi Watts mesmerized as a star-eyed actress getting mixed up in a murder mystery. Or is she a broken down, jilted lover who hires a contract killer? Just what the hell is she? Trying to figure out David Lynch’s puzzle movie inspired some of the best film discussions this past decade. And Watts, with her work here and in King Kong, Funny Games and 21 Grams, is my pick for actress of the decade.

4. Up (2009): Yep, I’m placing this year’s best movie high up on my decade list. No other movie got to me on equally humorous and emotional levels like this animated movie.

5. Requiem for a Dream (2000): I didn’t see this drug addiction fever dream until after I had compiled my top 10 for 2000. If I had, it would’ve edged out the likes of Traffic and Almost Famous for the No. 1 slot. Darren Aronofsky had an amazing decade, and I would put him as runner up to Peter Jackson as the decade’s best director. Ellen Burstyn delivered one of cinema history’s most devastating performances, and that’s no exaggeration.

6. No Country for Old Men (2007): The Coens finally got their Oscar!

7. 21 Grams (2003): In the past decade, Naomi Watts was picking projects better than any actress. Her work in this film as a grieving wife was a shotgun blast through the heart. And while Sean Penn won Oscars for Milk and Mystic River this past decade, I think this film contained his best performance in the past 10 years.

8. Lost in Translation (2003): Bill Murray broke hearts as a weary actor passing the days in Tokyo and meeting up with probably the most beautiful woman in the world (Scarlett Johansson). In many ways, this is the decade’s best romance.

9. Wet Hot American Summer (2001): When I first saw this film, I liked it just fine. A few days later, I couldn’t stop laughing at certain gags. Since then, I’ve probably watched it 12 times, and I laugh harder with each viewing. David Wain, Michael Showalter and the rest of The State gang, with help from the likes of Janeane Garofolo and David Hyde Pierce, delivered the funniest movie of the decade.

10. King Kong (2005): I like director Peter Jackson, and I’m a sucker for the big ape. This epic remake made me happy, even with the stupid brontosaurus stampede scene. Kong doing the “Beautiful!” sign language atop the Empire State Building was crushingly sad.

11. Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2 (2003-2004): Let us take this time to mention the decade’s most bizarre celebrity death story. Rest in peace, David Carradine, you kinky son of a bitch.

12. Shaun of the Dead (2004): While I gave this one a big positive review, I have only grown to like it even more since its release. Best horror comedy of the decade.

13. Almost Famous (2000): In the past decade, Cameron Crowe delivered this, perhaps his best film since Say Anything. … Go back and watch this movie to see just how much hope and optimism some of us had about Kate Hudson’s career. She tanked like Titanic after this movie. She is hot though, so she’s got that going for her.

14. Traffic (2000): Steven Soderbergh’s excellent war against drugs drama got beat by Gladiator for Best Picture that year, and that was one of the decade’s biggest award show travesties.

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15. The Fountain (2006): Darren Aronofsky’s ode to love is simply one of the bravest films of the past 10 years. How Hugh Jackman failed to get noticed for his work here is beyond me.

16. In Bruges (2008): Colin Farrell made up for all of his prior missteps with his performance as a haunted hitman in this dark comedy.

17. The Dark Knight (2008): Not much more can be said about this one, so I will just salute its greatness, and remind you that it has Batman in it.

18. Brokeback Mountain (2005): The shirt hanging in the closet still haunts me.

19. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000): Easily one of the decade’s best looking and sounding films. Yes, I love the Coen brothers.

20. The Departed (2006): While this isn’t even close to being Martin Scorsese’s best, it did finally get him his coveted Oscar, and it’s still good enough to make this list.

Worst of the Decade

And now … let us give special mention to the worst films of the decade.

1. Pinocchio (2002): When this movie came out, I believe I called it the worst movie I had ever seen. I stand by that proclamation. Roberto Benigni’s take on the childhood classic is a nightmare, made even worse by the sound of Breckin Meyer’s voice coming out of Benigni’s mouth, as he played the title role. Still can’t believe anything like this could’ve ever happened.

2. The Wicker Man (2006): I actually have grown to love this movie. It’s so gloriously bad that it has become a must-see. Nicolas Cage punches up an island of women, winds up in a bear suit, and ultimately provides a stirring homage to Burning Man.

3. Pay it Forward (2000): With this movie and the almost equally awful K-PAX, Kevin Spacey went from being a mighty acting force to an occasional OK curio in supporting roles. Can you also partially blame this film for Haley Joel Osment’s disappearing status? Oh yes, you can, but don’t forget to factor in that he looked kind of weird when he grew up.

4. The Village (2004): Remember the good old days when we thought that M. Night Shyamalan was, perhaps, a great director? Those days vanished forever with this, not to mention The Happening and Lady in the Water. Buh-bye, M. Night … buh-bye.

5. The Cat in the Hat (2003): Remember the good old days, when you thought Mike Myers was funny? Back when you would quote So I Married an Axe Murderer and Wayne’s World to the delight of family and friends? His participation in this train wreck is the moment his career went wrong. Dreadfully, horribly wrong. Since then, his headliner output includes The Love Guru. Buh-bye, Mike Myers … Buh-bye.

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6. The Transformer movies (2007-2009): A serious blight on humanity.

7. The Twilight movies (2008-2009): Another serious blight on humanity, and vampires, too.

8. She Hate Me (2004): I love Spike Lee, but this film was so vile, so misogynistic, he nearly lost my allegiance.

9. 88 Minutes (2007): The all-time worst moment in any movie of this past decade resides in the finale of this stinker. When Leelee Sobieski squinted her eyes and took aim at Al Pacino with her mighty pistol, I was instantly convinced that Pacino’s career as a reputable actor had come to an end. So far, he’s yet to prove me wrong.

10. 10,000 B.C. (2008): You know what? I’m going to bump this piece of shit about wooly mammoths up a notch past Adam Sandler’s Bedtime Stories, and call this the second lousiest film of 2008, and one of the decade’s worst. Adam Sandler, don’t say I never did anything for you.

So onward and hopefully upwards into the “Tens” decade, or whatever the shit they’re going to call it. This year we’ll get an Iron Man sequel, another goddamn Twilight, Harry Potter will have its penultimate installment, and Toy Story 3 will make us cry about things made of plastic and felt. Let’s hope the decade introduces some maverick directors so that I might have something cool to talk about 10 years from now.

Grimmy Awards for 2009

Best Actors: Sam Rockwell (Moon), Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), George Clooney (Up in the Air) Nicolas Cage (Bad Lieutenant), Viggo Mortensen (The Road)

Best Actresses: Kim Ok-bin (Thirst), Natalie Portman (Brothers), Carey Mulligan (An Education), Saorise Ronan (The Lovely Bones), Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria)

Best Supporting Actors: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds), Woody Harrelson (The Messenger), Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), Ed Helms (The Hangover)

Best Supporting Actresses: Mo’ Nique (Precious), Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), Samantha Morton (The Messenger), Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) Penelope Cruz (Nine)

Best Director: Duncan Jones (Moon)

Best Documentaries: Tyson, The Cove

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Overrated: Avatar, Invictus, Nine, This is It

Underrated: The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Lovely Bones, Observe and Report, Land of the Lost

Worst Actor and Actress: Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart (Twilight: New Moon)

Best Actor in a Bad Movie: David Cross (Year One)

Best Actress in a Bad Movie: Penelope Cruz (Nine)

Worst Actor in a Good Movie: Jimmy Fallon (Whip It)

Worst Actress in a Good Movie: Rachel McAdams (Sherlock Holmes)

Grimmy Awards for the Decade

Best Actor of the Decade: Daniel Day Lewis

Best Actress of the Decade: Naomi Watts

Worst Actor of the Decade: Kevin Spacey

Worst Actress of the Decade: Kristen Stewart

Best Director of the Decade: Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings, King Kong, The Lovely Bones)

Best Career Comeback: Sylvester Stallone for Rocky Balboa

Worst Career Comeback: (Tie) Sharon Stone for Basic Instinct 2 (What an asshole!), followed by James Cameron for Avatar (Boring!)