Column: Year in review: Fine in ’09

As 2009, and the decade of the ‘- whatever they decide to call it, thousands? ‘- comes to a close, it’s a logical time to take a look back at some of the cinema of the past year. As just one year, it wasn’t particularly different from any other in recent memory. There was good, there was bad, and oh, yes, there was ugly.
Over the past semester or so, in this column and in various reviews for The News, my focus has usually been on highlighting the less popular, but higher-quality works I see come along, and I’ll be doing some of that in this retrospective, for sure, but it’s also a great time to give Hollywood some deserved kudos.
In 2009, the big studios affirmed that the definition of ‘blockbuster’ doesn’t necessarily include ‘fluff,’ or, well, ‘crap.’
‘Watchmen’ proved that not all is lost in the never-ending adaptation of graphic novels. The source material was mature, and so was the product. It had its problems, but after years of largely inane superhero blockbusters (excluding 2008’s entertaining ‘The Dark Knight’), the interesting theme of superheroes as vigilante pariahs is fleshed out here further than ever before.
In mainstream comedy, ‘The Hangover,’ proved an elusive cure for the industry’s own morning-after woes following years of tired slacker-dude comedies. The all-out absurdity is refreshing, and the celebrity-cameo twist featuring (spoiler alert!) Mike Tyson has already shown itself to be influential ‘- ‘Zombieland,’ anyone?
Early in the summer, ‘Star Trek’ gave a needed warp-speed makeover to one of science fiction’s most venerable institutions. The casting was, in a word, superb. Director JJ Abrams (‘Lost,’ ‘Cloverfield’) brought a new slickness to the table without losing the pure soul and explorer’s ethic of the original series and movies. The film’s feelings of pure energy and triumph are uplifting, hopeful and, more importantly, a blast.
Speaking of pyrotechnics, 2009 saw the latest entry in Quentin Tarantino’s list of things he can get away with at the box office:’ ‘Inglourious Basterds.’ The film manages to court both film nerds (guilty) with endless esoteric, cinematic jokes, references, and shameless borrowing from post-war exploitation films (‘The Dirty Dozen,’ ‘The Inglorious Basterds,’ among many others), and the rest of the world with cutthroat action, plenty of revisionist history and Brad Pitt. The film was self-consciously problematic and lengthy, but neither of those things took away from its punch.
In animation, ‘Up’ maintained Pixar’s dominance in the field of the cutting-edge yet gloriously heartwarming CGI, but it was far from the only good animated feature of the year. Legendary Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film ‘Ponyo’ was brought to the states with little mainstream fanfare. Though not his best, the film is gratuitously cute and has a beautiful animated style reminiscent of classic Disney. For animation fans of any age, ‘The Fantastic Mr. Fox,’ is just that:’ fantastic. I won’t say much, (my review ran in last week’s issue of The News), but the film is a victory for director Wes Anderson and the medium of stop-motion animation.
Lastly, I’d like to throw in a brief plug for ‘In the Loop,’ a strikingly poignant and hilarious British comedy taking on the intricacies of international relations and conflict. It’s brilliantly written, with unapologetic irony and brutal wit. The film does beautiful and hilarious things with language, mostly in the form of glorious insults and poetic strings of profanity let loose in wonderful accents. There’s also James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) as an American general who in one scene makes war calculations on a speaking children’s toy calculator at a house party. The best, and scariest, part of this film is that some of it is utterly believable.
Unfortunately, I would be remiss to speak of 2009 without taking a moment to remember those lost in the film and entertainment industry. Perhaps most notable was the passing of John Hughes, an auteur in his own way, who directed, and often had a hand in writing, such legendary teen flicks as ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,’ ‘Sixteen Candles,’ and ‘The Breakfast Club,’ ‘- the list goes on. The versatile Patrick Swayze, sadly, is now ‘Dirty Dancing’ in the sky, and martial arts maven David Carradine, who’s recent screen credits included the villainous title roll of the ‘Kill Bill’ films, is also gone from the world (Uma Thurman likely not involved). And though he wasn’t a film star, the passing of the King of Pop was a shock felt throughout the world of entertainment:’ ‘This Is It’ was Michael Jackson’s blockbuster swansong.’ ‘ ‘
Yet despite all this loss, one can’t help but feel hopeful after witnessing some of the prime filmmaking that has taken place this year. And as always, a year full of films is a gift that keeps on giving. I, personally, will be catching up on notables that I missed well into 2010, including the critically acclaimed and uplifting ‘Precious,’ and Lars von Trier’s sickening tour de force ‘Antichrist.’ Anything else I missed? Feel free to drop a line at the e-mail below. I don’t bite.

‘- Taylor Adams can be reached at inside@huntington-news.com.

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