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Filmstalker's 2009 Review

Fireworks2009.jpgI thought this year I'd leave the Top Tens to the Filmstalker readers who are brave enough to step up and let their lists be published for all to see, be it the best films, the worst films, the funniest moments, the best performances, anything at all. So what would I do?

Well I am going to look back at the films I've reviewed this year and look through the Best, the Worst and the Biggest Disappointments of 2009.

The Worst
I saw some bad films this year, some really bad ones, some films that just shouldn't have been made and some films that really did make a mockery of the talent involved, for there have been some terrible films made with some really good actors, and they've been terrible. So what made the list?

Brüno (Filmstalker review)
What a terribly contrived film which feels forced and staged throughout the sketches, sketches which aren't that funny and are there to insult and embarrass the seemingly real people in them. A truly terrible moment for Sacha Baron Cohen and I really do hope he redeems himself in 2010.

Nature's Grave (Long Weekend) (Filmstalker review)
Oh my, what a terrible mess of a film that really didn't know what it was trying to be, comedy, horror, thriller, and the story was so bad it was painful, with me it gained no stars at all, an honour indeed. You have to wonder what Jim Caviezel was doing when he agreed to the film, after all he had to have read the script beforehand, and that script is terrible.

I think the worst moment in film for me, tied with the one in Boogie Woogie which I'll come to, is the concept of a dead sea cow creeping a few feet every night being the big scare of the film. Ridiculous. It's almost laughable, but it's not even funny.

Boogie Woogie (Filmstalker review)
Boogie Woogie celebrates a cast of great actors with Amanda Seyfried, Heather Graham, Danny Huston, Stellan Skarsgård, Alan Cumming, Heather Graham, Gillian Anderson, Gemma Atkinson, Christopher Lee, Joanna Lumley, and comes from a novel that some people hold in pretty high regard, however the film is a different matter. Plot threads fly in and out and are left hanging with little regard for the audience.

There are some interesting moments and some strong performances, I liked watching Anderson, but overall it's a mess of a story and it fights for the worst moment of the year with the embryo twin in a jar thread that appears and disappears in a breath leaving you wondering what the hell it's all about.

The Biggest Disappointments
There were some films I was really looking forward to last year that just didn't come through in the end, and they delivered varying degrees of disappointment, but these are the films I walked into hyped up to the eyeballs and excited for, but when I walked out I it was disappointment from mild to galore, and these are the ones that hit me.

Paranormal Activity (Filmstalker review)
This was the latest disappointment of the year, a horror film that everyone was screaming about and saying that it was going to be the scariest thing I'd ever seen, and in the end I wasn't scared by a single scene. Around me the audience laughed, and I was so pushed away by the lead male and had no sympathy for the lead female that the film lost me. Of course I could appreciate what it was doing in various places and the way it was doing it, but it never captured me. It also struggled with the far from natural use of the camera above everything, even when she seemed to be in mortal danger, the camera was up and in use throughout. The ending left a lot to be desired too, resorting to some cheap reveals and after all the subtlety from the rest of the film it hit you with a brick, and a twenty second warning bell.

Pandorum (Filmstalker review)
Christian Alvart was the big draw for me on this film, and second to that was the appearance of the excellent of Dennis Quaid, and in third place, Ben Foster. Alvart had delivered Antikörper or Antibodies (Filmstalker review) which had really caught my attention, and so I was keen to see how Pandorum had turned out, unfortunately it hadn't turned out at all well. It's far too dark, and I mean brightness wise, to see half of the action related moments, it borrows too much from the average Hollywood film and doesn't deliver the big surprise well enough. Okay the first twist is good and comes through well, but apart from that the punch is missing throughout a lot of the film. This could have been so much more and wasn't.

Inglourious Basterds (Filmstalker review)
I've now reviewed Inglourious Basterds, mis-spellings on both words that I didn't realise until recently, once from the cinema viewing and then from an iTouch viewing, and second time the film did feel a lot less problematic. On first viewing though I was wishing every scene would pick up and stop the unnecessary dialogue or the individual scene side story that it often leapt into, that and the continual desire by Tarantino to slap a large and loud personal stamp on so many moments. I was also disappointed that the film didn't follow the Basterds and instead was about the Nazi Colonel and his ongoing hunt, and that the Basterds completed their job only because someone else had already planned an executed their surprise perfectly. The story didn't live up to the title, and if Tarantino had stepped away just a little bit it would have been far better.

Franklyn (Filmstalker review)
Boy did Franklyn look like a stylish film when the clips and trailers were on, and with a tag line attached to some of the advertising that went "...the writer/director Gerald McMorrow is the new Terry Gilliam..." it's hard to think that this film could be a disappointment, and yet it was. The build-up didn't stop there either, the cast, the plot threads within the film, the acting, it was all working to be a great film. Then the reveal came and it happened far too quickly, all of a sudden. The film had been building to this point and it was delivered in a flash, all too quickly, and it spoiled the film somewhat for me. Admittedly it is far from as big a disappointment as the other films here, but it still struck me as one. Still worth seeing though.

Star Trek (Filmstalker review)
Oh yes, I know this is the one that might cause the most controversy, but I do view Star Trek as a disappointment. It was a Mission: Impossible film in space, a J.J. Abrams action thriller with character and plot development woven into the action sequences and hardly any time given to the relationships between the characters and developing those strengths, that's something lost from the original films that I felt couldn't afford to be. Another very important aspect that couldn't be lost was the baddie, his motivation against the crew had to be strong and you had to feel a threat from him, not so here.

Sure Star Trek was a great action/adventure, but it wasn't a Star Trek film, for proof of that watch The Undiscovered Country and see how the main characters connect and are given time to develop out with the action, and how the bad guy is built and the relationship between him and his adversary Kirk is developed, superb. Not with Star Trek though.

The Best
So those were the worst and the most disappointing, what about the good? What about the best? Well for me that's where this list gets interesting.

Avatar (Filmstalker review)
Knock the story all you want, but the film, the complete package, is stunning. Those who want to knock it and say that the story has been told before by this film or that film are selectively ignoring what is happening in their film industry year after year after year. All the films around them are remaking others, using the same stories, everything can be ripped apart to a very small number of stories, so what? Are they going to criticise the crap being churned out around them? No, they praise standard American comedy X and remake number two million. Avatar is stunning, for me it's one of the best films I've seen this year.

Mesrine: Killer Instinct (Filmstalker review)
Vincent Cassel is stunning in this film about Jacques Mesrine, an ex-soldier who gets involved with the local gangsters and over time becomes Public Enemy Number 1 throughout France. It's a fantastic film, filled with great style, direction, writing and great performances. There's the downside that the second film isn't as strong and there's a big disconnect between the first and second films that feels like it should be an intermission and not a second film. Still, it's a superb opener and should be seen with the second right after.

Surrogate (Filmstalker review)
This is a beautiful film that is wonderfully written and directed. It's a thought provoking and touching film that'll stay with you well after you've watched it. It's a film about people, relationships, emotion and healing. Forget the crap that people have thrown at this film undeservedly, this is a fantastic piece of film-making from start to finish and delivers a beautiful story.

Moon (Filmstalker review)
Yes, Duncan Jones' film makes the best of the year list, and why the hell not, it's a marvellous achievement and a great film, moulded in the style of all the great epic space films but focusing on a very small aspect of it, one man alone on a mining station on the Moon and a strange accident one day that leads him to a greater understanding that will touch those on Earth too. Sam Rockwell is superb, absolutely engaging and enthralling to watch. As I said after the first review:

"Moon is an excellent film from the scripting to filming to scoring, it hardly puts a foot wrong and delivers great pacing and keeps the confines of the story perfectly controlled when it could have ballooned into something much bigger on a number of occassions, but it doesn't, and it's that restrained story and story telling that really helps Moon become such a great film."

The Hurt Locker (Filmstalker review)
The Hurt Locker is an entertaining, realistic, powerful, thought provoking and intelligent film that's not just about war. It makes you feel from the first bomb blast and takes you right into the lives of these characters. An excellent thriller that gives a different and potentially real view of people in combat. I hope we don't have to wait so long again for something of this strength from Kathryn Bigelow.

Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) (Filmstalker review)
I think I'm overusing some of my descriptive words for these great films, so to say that this is a beautiful is, I hope, not getting tiresome, but it is. It's beautifully written, directed and acted story especially by the younger cast members, and every shot looks gorgeous, fantastic cinematography. There are some problems with the film, a missing plot line with a seemingly gratuitous nude shot, are the main parts, but they pale behind the rest of the film and the several subtly written layers to the relationships. Excellent, and if you don't like subtitles, get over it.

Religulous (Filmstalker review)
I was surprised by this documentary, not knowing a lot about Bill Maher I couldn't think what this would deliver, however I was very surprised. Maher is an excellent guide to this journey looking at the more extreme examples of the effect of religion, and it builds to an even more powerful ending. Comedy aside, and it is funny, the documentary does a great job of chronicling his honest and open to a conclusion we should all be aware of.

Watchmen (Filmstalker review)
Undoubtedly the best and most faithful adaptation of a comic we've ever seen, and I applaud Zack Snyder for managing to do this so perfectly. He's delivered a stunning film that so wonderfully represents the comic and brings it to life on the big screen almost without flaw. That's where the critics arise of course, while fans of comic books, and books for that matter, are very vocal when a story is adapted and changed on screen, they are equally vocal when it's adapted perfectly, and here it is.

Frost/Nixon (Filmstalker review)
I was so surprised to see such a strong story arrive from this historical event, and one that successfully carries through the entire film. I was also surprised at the emotional connection that developed between myself and the two main characters, and just how well it all could be filmed when it was basically a series of interviews. Superb performances from Frank Langella, Michael Sheen and the full supporting cast, particularly Kevin Bacon's brief opening up scene, a wonderful script, great direction, etc, etc. This is a nigh on perfect film.

Worth a Mention
A few films that almost made it into that best list but didn't and I really want to give them a quick mention in the hope that you'll take a look at the review, but more than that to actually check out the film itself.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (Filmstalker review)
A fantastic performance from Robin Wright Penn that makes you wonder why she hasn't been leading films more than she has, and I damn well hope that she does after this. It's a well written film with some excellent dialogue and some surprising moments.

Outrage (Filmstalker review)
Another superb documentary from Kirby Dick that looks at the politicians in America who are gay but either hide it or pretend to be heterosexual and vote against gay rights issues, even against AIDS research. It's a powerful documentary, would you expect anything less from Dick?

Pontypool (Filmstalker review)
Different, intelligent, visually engaging, funny and at times very tense, it uses the idea of being locked in radio station hearing about events in the outside world to great effect. Well worth watching for Stephen McHattie alone.

The Dead Outside (Filmstalker review)
A great Scottish horror film that is about the psychological horror of loneliness, survivor guilt, distrust, and so many other things rather than a straight up zombie horror. This is much better than some of the British horrors we've been producing, equal budgets or higher.

Den du Frygter (Fear Me Not) (Filmstalker review)
A very effective thriller that's slow building with a great performance from Ulrich Thomsen and a great story with some nice turns behind it.

District 9 (Filmstalker review)
I did feel at the time that this film was slightly over-hyped, and I still think that. It's a very good film though, despite some clichés and Hollywood moments. Great design, great effects, good story and a strong leading performance have this interesting story about aliens on Earth with a strong look at apartheid and immigration.

Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 (Filmstalker review)
A strong second half to the Mesrine story, but not quite as strong as the first, but together they deliver a great story.

So that's my review of 2009, a personal review that looks at what I've seen and what I've loved. I think it's ended up a rather interesting list of the entire year, what do you think?



You know what I missed out in my 2009 list above? Milk (Filmstalker review).

I can't believe it because it was such a great film and I remember watching it and not only getting fired up, but being incredibly moved by it too. A superb story, really well written and true to boot.

It brought forward an issue that was not only personal but also something much bigger and more political, and it also is very relevant as the same things are happening in America again today. It's quite shocking.

Add in there a great Sean Penn performance, and Milk was definitely a 2009 highlight.



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