Fuck 2009. In all the years Iíve been obsessively logging the movies I see in a dog-eared notebook, this is the first on record where I failed to award four stars to single picture. Yeah, I saw some good ones, and even some that surprised me, but at no point was I so blown away that I walked away saying, Yes, this is what the cinema is meant to be. Nothing Iíll likely remember in the years ahead, though, thanks to HBO, Iím becoming even more fond of the 80ís Action throwback, Taken. In many ways, itís the yearís most representative movie: a last gasp of the Bush era, and the closest weíll get in the decades to come of Dick Cheney speaking from beyond the grave. In one guilty gulp of swill, it justified torture, demonized immigrants and France, and so sold us on government corruption and inefficiency that weíll be begging for mercenary justice by the mid-terms. In many ways, itís the one theatrical experience that made me happy from beginning to end, never straying from its perverse, reactionary vision. Itís perhaps the only movie that was honest about its twisted agenda.
Perhaps dishonesty, then, best defined the year in movies. Where we were sold on the idea that a new day had dawned, only to see race relations sent to the back of the bus once again. Where blacks are evil, illiterate, and prone to criminality unless touched by the power of a white Jesus. And in this, a year of pain, unemployment, and social breakdown, only Up in the Air had the balls to discuss Where We Are Now, and even then it had to punish a man who rejected marriage and family. No one could go all the way, though Lars Von Trier came close, and his Antichrist, frustrating and bizarre as it was, provoked in a way I had forgotten was possible, especially in this age of timidity and restraint. At best, the cinema hinted at our fundamental avoidance of truth, and how weíre all gaming the system to our own ends; our identities merely functional and transitory, as if we gave up trying to establish anything permanent. As such, the messages conflicted, overlapped, and ran aground. Art is bullshit, but itís all thatís left us. The victims are the perpetrators. Altruism is the new gimmick. From Moon to Big Fan to The Messenger, we no longer have the ability to recognize ourselves from the wallpaper, so we hide out in types; bathed in italics or the suffocating irony that passes for connection.
Needless to say, I had to return to the past to find any satisfaction at all, and DVD became my salvation. If the tea leaves are any guide, Iíll spend 2010 in their company once again, immersed in a nostalgia I swore Iíd never believe in.
Best Films of the Year:
Anvil! The Story of Anvil
The Girlfriend Experience
Worst Films of the Year:
Away We Go
The Blind Side
Heís Just Not That Into You
Julie & Julia
Life During Wartime
The David Duke Memorial Award for the Accidental Promotion of White Supremacy:
Precious, which has the additional honor of turning everyone within earshot against AFDC, Medicaid, food stamps, and empathy altogether. Thanks again, Oprah.
Proof that Charles Bronson is Alive and Well and Living in Paris:
Liam Neeson, Taken. Yes, Natasha, a pissed, depressed, nothing-to-lose Liam Neeson is a Liam Neeson worth dying for. So glad you could be of service.
Best Performances of the Year:
Christian McKay, Me and Orson Welles
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Patton Oswalt, Big Fan
Sam Rockwell, Moon
Mike Tyson, Tyson
Worst Performances of the Year:
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Nicolas Cage, Knowing
Quinton Aaron, The Blind Side
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
The Empire of Japan, The Cove
ďIíve seen Taxi Driver. I know Taxi Driver. Taxi Driver is a favorite film of mine. Youíre no Taxi Driver.Ē
Observe & Report
The Wes Anderson Award for Proving that Animation is No Barrier to Smug, Self-Satisfied Arrogance:
Wes Anderson, Fantastic Mr. Fox
Movie Most Likely to Live on as a Cult Classic:
Orphan, if only because it makes daughters hitting on their fathers damn near acceptable again.
As Bad as it Gets Here, You Could Be There:
Afghan Star, where a woman removes her head scarf on television, leading to death threats from everyone with a penis. Just in case you forgot why your son died over there.
The Best Film You Saw All Year that Just Happens to be Older than Your Mother:
Make Way for Tomorrow, which, unlike todayís Hollywood, shows that our seniors end their days in loneliness, despair, pain, and horrifying sadness. As God intended.
Scenes to Remember:
The Virgin Auction, Taken
ďShoot him again, his soul is still dancing,Ē Bad Lieutenant, Port of Call: New Orleans
Vagina as Thanksgiving turkey, Antichrist
Telemarketing Rock God, Anvil! The Story of Anvil
When Dolphins Cry, The Cove
Love Life Sickness Death, Up
Closing Credits, The Hangover
Everything You Wanted to Know About Weaves, Conks, and Wigs But Were Afraid to Ask:
Good Hair, which just might stand as the most educational movie of the year. At last, Iíve heard the inside scoop about why black women really hate white chicks. And it isnít just because they take all the men not dead or in jail.
All Foreplay, No Orgasm:
Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, which promised to be the definitive account of one of the most famous headlines of all time, as well as an exploration of a titanic athletic showdown in the midst of social upheaval. Whatís that you say? Just a replay of the game with talking heads repeating what we see for ourselves? No commentary, subtext, or insight? Impossible to care about if you werenít on the field, an alum, or looking to be bored shitless?
Christians prefer their blacks compliant, stupid, and possibly retarded in The Blind Side. They also like to walk around the globe with giant crosses, sobbing uncontrollably whenever the mood strikes in The Cross. Catholicism is murderous hypocrisy with a dollop of sexual dysfunction in both Angels & Demons and Nine. Jews worship a silent, sadistic G-d in A Serious Man, that is, when they arenít eccentric hoarders who shake up the art world in Herb & Dorothy. Jesus and Mohammed arenít the only con-artists separating the gullible from their dollars in the New Age shit storm School of Thought. And, at last, women are the deceitful, manipulative, devilish beasts of the Bible, and itís up to us men to set it all straight in Antichrist.
Sure, itís still likely unfilmable, but The Road didnít suck. Star Trek not only respected the original series, it killed of the stink from the inferior follow-up shows. And when the hell did Paul Rudd become so huggable? I Love You, Man was made watchable because of his Rush-obsessed everyman. I gave Tarantino up for dead after the execrable Death Proof, but at last, heís saved the best for last. Inglourious Basterds not only upped the ante, it at last revealed the ultimate truth: movies donít reflect life, they are life. Weíre inconceivable without them.