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The best and worst: Goodbye 2009, and goodbye YES! Weekly

by Glen Baity

The last year of the aughts is almost behind us. How’d we do?

Let’s put it this way: My personal Top 10 contains only two films that previously existed in some other medium. I wouldn’t go so far as to call 2009 the year originality returned to cinema (two words: Saw. Six.), but for people who are sick of superhero movies, it was at least a year of blissful respite.

In any case, space is limited and time is short, so let’s get started.

The Best

10) Drag Me To Hell. Gross, funny, and deeply, deeply disturbing. The Sam Raimi of Evil Dead rears his head in this gooey, screaming masterpiece. I didn’t have more fun at the movies all year.

9) Where the Wild Things Are. Frustrating, sad, joyful and a little boring — yes, watching Spike Jonze’s movie is just like re-experiencing childhood. Screenwriter Dave Eggers adapts a wafer- thin book by imagining the Wild Things as extensions of young Max’s personality. The result is a dense, beautiful movie for adults about the kids they used to be.

8) (500) Days of Summer. I won’t argue with anyone who found this film irritating and smug; I still can’t decide what I think of its tone. But its central point — that our romantic failures are every bit as important as our successes — is something far too many rom-coms ignore. The film’s gambles pay off more often than not, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt can make almost anything worth watching (GI Joe being the glaring exception).

7) Paranormal Activity. Real terror on a shoestring budget, this indie is the first credible heir to The Blair Witch Project. If the scream at the end doesn’t make your skin crawl, nothing will.

6) Anvil: The Story of Anvil. This stouthearted documentary about an ancient hair metal band that refuses to go down quietly is the surprise inspiration of the year.

5) Inglorious Basterds. Revenge is a dish best served at knifepoint in Tarantino’s devilish, suspense-filled alternate history. Brad Pitt is a riot, and Christoph Waltz rockets into my personal Top 5 Movie Villains list with his turn as Hitler’s headhunter.

4) Goodbye Solo. A poignant story of an unlikely bond between two strangers, this Winston-Salem-set drama doubles as an astute comment on the differences — and similarities — in the lives of old and new North Carolinians. Haunting, powerful and unforgettable.

3) Star Trek. A candy-colored update of the beloved franchise that was wall-to-wall fun, and a reminder of why it’s sometimes still worth it to go to the movies in the summertime.

2) A Serious Man. Joel and Ethan Coen return with another perfectlycrafted nugget of existential dread.

Michael Stuhlbarg is great as the Job figure whose dull but comfortable life is reduced to rubble by forces beyond his comprehension.

1) The Hurt Locker. An unblinking look at bravery most people cannot fathom.

Or is it insanity? The lines blur in Kathryn Bigelow’s heart-stopping suspenser about the fog of war and the men who walk through it. Jeremy Renner turns in one of the best performances of extensions of young Max’s personality. The heart-stopping

Honorable Mentions

Up in the Air elegantly explored the unbearable lightness of being a frequent flier….

Fantastic Mr. Fox offered the same dose of Clooney with sunnier, funnier results….

District 9 was smarter than almost all of its summertime competition, even with a few glaring plot holes….

Zombieland was pure escapism, bolstered by a grade-A celebrity cameo and the inimitable Woody Harrelson (who also showed stunning dramatic chops in The Messenger)…. Up continued Pixar’s decade-plus winning streak….

Observe and Report set Taxi Driver in a mall, with all the black-hearted humor that implies….

Coraline captured the spirit of Neil Gaiman’s magical book with Henry Selick’s gorgeous animation….

Precious was manipulative but resonant thanks to an impressive cast…. And The Invention of Lying offered a glimpse of what advertising would look like in a world where no one knows how to lie (Coke: It’s Very Famous).

The Worst

I hate to disappoint everyone who was waiting for me to eviscerate it, but Transformers 2 wasn’t the crappiest movie I saw this year. Here are a handful that sucked worse, in no particular order:

Fired Up. Weird, unfunny and ageinappropriate, I now admit that I walked out of this Bring It On knockoff about 2 minutes before the end credits. I’m sorry. I just could not take it anymore.

Wolverine. What could possibly suck worse than the third X-Men movie? The fourth one, that’s what. Free advice: If the film you’re seeing contains the words “starring will.i.am” in the opening credits, gather your belongings and run for the fire exit.

Couples Retreat. I didn’t laugh less at any comedy in 2009. This cumbersome mess made paradise look and feel like hell on earth.

2012. Roland Emmerich solidified his status as K-Mart’s answer to Michael Bay in this bloated ‘splosion-fest.

Orphan. Ignore the lame stabs at dramatic tension — when things go wacky in the last 20 minutes, just try and hang on. The best bad movie of the year, and the only one of this bunch that I honestly recommend you watch.

And with that, I’ll close the books on 2009, and on my run as your humble film critic (see the staff column in this week’s Voices section for more on that). Next week and hereafter, I leave you in the capable hands of my colleague Mark Burger, who will be taking my place in this spot. Thanks for reading — I hope you’ve enjoyed it like I have.

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