Category Archives: Lists

Stand-out performances from 2009

With the announcement of the Oscar nominations just around the corner (February 2), I thought it an opportune time to bring attention to a few fine performances from last year that are likely to be shut out of the running. Some of these performances stand an outside chance of grabbing a nomination (a hunch tells me Anthony Mackie might steal a spot in the Supporting Actor category); others are clearly nowhere near being in the race, by virtue of appearing in “lowbrow” or strictly commercial fare. All together, the following comprise ten of my favourite male and female performances of 2009.

Alison Lohman in

Drag Me to Hell

Provided a blessedly soothing, sweet-tempered presence amidst a maelstrom of blood, flames, and witch vomit. ______________________________________________

Zac Efron in

Me and Orson Welles

Proved his ingenuousness (already traceable on his always-flush, emotion-stained face) by way of a beautifully poignant vocal and ukulele number. ______________________________________________

Beyoncé in

Obsessed

Made fiery, fierce red hair iconic; upgraded her fierceness with a rousing (if ideologically loaded) defense of domesticity by fisticuffs.

______________________________________________

Tobey Maguire in

Brothers

Manifested post-traumatic stress with paranoid, spectral eyes; scared the hell out of me and broke my heart, often in the same scene.

______________________________________________

Charlotte Gainsbourg in

Antichrist

Went to the limits for a no-class director; transcended his bullshit by channeling rage and madness on an almost super-human level.

______________________________________________

Omari Hardwick in

Next Day Air

Rendered a potentially trite drug kingpin character fully dimensional, with humour, style, and moral complexity to spare.

______________________________________________

Abbie Cornish in

Bright Star

Did justice to Keats’s effusions in her beauty and charm; clarified Fanny Brawne’s own passion in moments ranging from tranquil to devastating.

______________________________________________

Anthony Mackie in

The Hurt Locker

Unforgettably expressed a soldier’s anxieties in his final, heart-wrenching breakdown in front of Jeremy Renner’s (seemingly) unflappable bomb defuser.

______________________________________________

Rachel Weisz in

The Brothers Bloom

Rather amazingly shaped a ludicrous mess of quirks into a tolerable, even beguiling character.

______________________________________________

Johnny Depp in

Public Enemies

Eschewed his recent streak of commercial showboating in favour of a more refined, fascinating intensity; redeemed a misguided gangster narrative with movie star charisma.

Honourable mentions: Nicolas Cage in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans; Zoe Kazan in Me and Orson Welles; Sam Rockwell in Gentlemen Broncos; Shoshana Bush in Dance Flick; Richard Kind in A Serious Man; Edith Scob in Summer Hours

Cam

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Dishonour Roll 2009 – Part 2 of 2

Somebody helpfully pointed out to me that there’s no way a lot of the films on this list could be the year’s “worst.” Fair enough: I’m sure there were plenty of awful teen comedies, horror film remakes, and Michael Bay/Stephen Sommers/Wolverine movies released in 2009. Only I didn’t see them. So what you have in this list are some of the worst movies I did see in ’09–or perhaps the most frustrating (a movie like I Love You, Beth Cooper, which I thought was terrible, is too innocuous really to frustrate me–hence, not on the list). And to reiterate something I said in Part 1, the underlying motive behind this list is to take aim at certain films critically and popularly celebrated last year that I felt were undeserving of such positive notice. Tell me I’m wrong.

FIVE MORE OF THE WORST MOVIES OF 2009:

The Invention of Lying

Directors: Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson

Screenplay: Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson

A “philosophical comedy,” containing neither any worthwhile philosophy nor any comedy to speak of—just high-concept doltishness. The idea here seems to be that only once Ricky Gervais’s character learns to lie can he really begin to tell the truth. Except this movie’s versions of “truth” all belong to the Big Book of Hollywood Crocks: that love between a pudgy idiot (Gervais) and Jennifer Garner (playing a repulsively superficial character) is possible; that marriage and childbearing are the true goals of any human life; that an actor’s (Gervais) crying real tears on camera necessarily denotes honest, earned emotion. As a diehard atheist, even I thought Gervais’ desecration of Judeo-Christianity—a condescending, wiseass sermon featuring the Ten Commandments scrawled on Pizza Hut boxes—was among the most willfully insulting, moronic acts perpetrated on audiences this year (outside of Antichrist). All this and the movie looks amateurish, directed without grace, style, or wit.

District 9

Director: Neill Blomkamp

Screenplay: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell

A yucky apartheid video game. Unspeakably ugly, from its camera-splattering violence, to its racist undertones (you see, these hideous prawn creatures are just like the black South Africans, scrounging about for cat food in landfills; but at least they’re not so despicably gross as those cannibalistic Nigerians!), to its haphazardly-used, pretend-vérité aesthetic (wait, wasn’t this a documentary a minute ago?), on loan from a million mediocre television commercials and sitcoms.

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Director: Mark Waters

Screenplay: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Not really worth wasting a lot of words on why the latest Matthew McConaughey stoner-stud rom-com dud belongs on this list. Everything here has the ring of plastic, right down to the facelifts of Anne Archer and Michael Douglas as a prowling cougar and a whoring Robert Evans type, respectively.

Antichrist

Director: Lars von Trier

Screenplay: Lars von Trier

To borrow a friend’s term, this is puckish misogyny masquerading as art. Yet even the façade of Lars von Trier’s “gorgeously lensed” exploitation of toddler-death, mother-guilt, genital violence, and the director’s own “despair” is utterly artless; in truth, it’s mostly designer-disgusting and/or boring. If not for Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s commendable efforts (she especially summons a stunning volatility), this is likely the year’s least defensible film. Hands down, most risible movie line of 2009: “Chaos reigns.” Oh, give it a rest.

Up

Directors: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson

Screenplay: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson

Pixar’s latest, and possibly worst, audience-manipulator. Emotionally reductive in that uniquely Pixarian way, where an “awwww” and a “sniffle” sum up the range of one’s entire affective experience. I can’t see how this is any step up from the sentiment found on the average Hallmark card–it’s cute and trite in equal measure. I find it hard not to gag on this brand of baby formula. And if we’re talking visual dazzle and outstanding use of 3-D, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs had Up beat last year.

There you have it. Thank you for reading.

-Cam

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Dishonour Roll 2009 – Part 1 of 2

Oops. I’m only on my first post and I’m already violating one of the terms of the Wipe manifesto (see below): namely the promise that we Wipe writers will not openly encourage or discourage the reader from seeing a movie by means of any sort of rating system. Well, I’m offering you below part one of a list of films that I’m tempted to call “The Worst of 2009”–which could be construed as a neat and tidy, systematic way of instructing the reader to avoid said films.

The idea behind Wipe’s eschewal of traditional ratings systems, as I understand it, is to keep the reader invested in the substance of what the critic has to say in favour of or against the film under review, rather than trained on the easily consumable, final-verdict summary of the thumbs-up, the four-star, the five-popcorn-tubs, or what have you. I hope by labeling the below films the “worst,” and by bashing each of them in admittedly bite-sized summaries, I am not discouraging you from seeing any of them (let’s face it, you already have in most cases), or closing the book on critical readings of them. I guess the main reason I’m posting this list is to challenge–in short, huffy bursts–a lot of received thinking about many of the films contained therein–some of which were massive box-office hits and/or have been making the rounds lately on ’09 Top Tens all over North America. So indulge me this once. (And in Part 2.)

FIVE OF THE WORST FILMS OF 2009:

Couples Retreat

Director: Peter Billingsley

Screenplay: Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Dana Fox

A bunch of Hollywood friends abused their clout to make this sham enterprise, which is plainly a front for a free, three-month vacation in Tahiti. (Check out the grins on those lucky ducks!) Vince Vaughn fails to elevate Retreat with the sheer enthusiasm and mouthiness of his comic persona, as he did in 2008 with Four Christmases (no, really)—an all the more disheartening fact given he co-wrote and produced this ’09 wash-out himself.

The Hangover

Director: Todd Phillips

Screenplay: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Scuzzy. Mean-spirited. A “laff riot” by and about assholes, promoting the type of obnoxious, boys-will-be-boys antics that make Las Vegas the favourite destination of assholes everywhere. It’s saying something when Heather Graham (as a breast-feeding hooker) hits a career low in your movie. And when every female character in sight is either a bitch, a bride, or a prostitute. But what else is new in Hollywood these days?

Star Trek

Director: J.J. Abrams

Screenplay: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman

This box-office smash-cum-critical darling sets about spoiling the modest, nerdy appeal of the original Star Trek’s B-grade acting and F/X with sexed-up, flash-flaring, CGI-pimping nonsense. Featuring the hopelessly incoherent action sequences and camera movements of J.J. Abrams, and a swaggering, pretty-faced cast worthy of the CW Network.

The Informant!

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Screenplay: Scott Z. Burns

A sub-Coens, let’s-all-laugh-at-pathetic-losers comedy (Matt Damon wears a toupee—what a dork!) that is also deluded enough to think price-fixing and corporate corruption are prime material for knee-slapping, self-satisfied yuks. Dig that sarcastic exclamation point! (And the ones I’m using to describe this insincere movie!)

Where the Wild Things Are

Director: Spike Jonze

Screenplay: Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers

Mopey, fun-killing, laborious. Jim Henson with a serious case of SAD. Would any kid in his/her right mind fantasize about a race of creatures so fearsomely bummed-out? (Probably not, but isn’t it all so edifying?) The hip wailing of Karen O on the soundtrack offers no levity either.

Part 2 coming up tomorrow.

-Cam

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