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Originally published January 1, 2010 at 7:54 AM | Page modified January 1, 2010 at 1:32 PM

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Dubious Achievements in Cinema, 2009

Here's a year-end list you're not likely to find elsewhere, including such categories as "Best performance in a lost cause," "Best use of a Segway," "Worst adaptation" and "Best werewolf." By Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald, in the tradition of longtime movie critic John Hartl.

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Continuing a tradition begun years ago by my honored predecessor and friend, longtime Seattle Times movie critic John Hartl, here's a roundup of a few of 2009's cinematic accomplishments that don't tend to get recognized on awards shows ...

Best performance in a lost cause: Patricia Clarkson in "Whatever Works," Ginnifer Goodwin in "He's Just Not That Into You," Emily Blunt in "The Great Buck Howard," Peter Sarsgaard in "Orphan," Jason Schwartzman in "The Marc Pease Experience."

Best performance by an animal: The very poised cat in "The Ugly Truth" and the ill-fated dog in "Easy Virtue" — plus, a real-life nod to the six scene-stealing pugs featured in the documentary "Valentino: The Last Emperor": Milton, Monty, Maud, Margot, Maggie and Molly.

Best performance by an animated animal: Dug, the dog in "Up" (in or out of the Cone of Shame), and that suave talking cat in "Coraline."

Best performance by an article of clothing: The gorgeous ribbon-belted Vera Wang wedding gown, trying so valiantly to make "Bride Wars" worth watching.

Stalest rom-com plotline: Isn't it just hilarious when urbanites go visit someplace not so urban? "New in Town," "The Proposal" and "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" all dragged us through this city-gal-goes-somewhere-without-a-Saks-Fifth-Avenue scenario, none with much wit.

Oddest retirement: Joaquin Phoenix, who in several meandering interviews announced that he was done with acting, and that "Two Lovers," released last spring, would be his final film. (A shame if true; he was terrific in it.)

Best kid performance: Elle Fanning in "Phoebe in Wonderland," Kodi Smit-McPhee in "The Road," Hee-yeon Kim and Song-hee Kim in "Treeless Mountain," Max Records in "Where the Wild Things Are."

Best werewolf: Well, I just made up this category because it's amusing to imagine Hugh Jackman's Wolverine and Taylor Lautner's Jacob fighting, valiantly and shirtlessly, to the death. Wolverine has the nail advantage and would probably win, though Jacob has that buff wolf pack behind him.

Worst adaptation: The hopelessly dreary L.A. story "The Informers," based on a Bret Easton Ellis novel.

Best outfit: It was a sea-green velvet Belle Epoque gown, worn with a long necklace and matching hat, designed by Consolata Boyle for Michelle Pfeiffer in "Cheri," and I want one just like it.

Best debut: Gabourey Sidibe, who hauntingly brought us along on her character's journey from near-illiteracy (she spoke in almost unintelligible mumbles) to hope in "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' By Sapphire."

Best breakthrough: Carey Mulligan in "An Education"; Anna Kendrick in "Up in the Air."

Snappiest dialogue: "In the Loop," "Duplicity," "Black Dynamite," "The Invention of Lying," "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "Up in the Air."

Best popcorn movies: "Star Trek," "Up," "The Hangover," "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," "(500) Days of Summer."

Best musical moments: Joseph Gordon-Levitt's giddy morning-after dance in "(500) Days of Summer"; Marion Cotillard's moving rendition of "My Husband Makes Movies" in "Nine"

Best Amelia Earhart depiction: Believe it or not, this one goes to Amy Adams, whose giddy Earhart in the otherwise pointless "Night at the Museum 2" had more life than Hilary Swank's earnest portrayal in the disappointingly lackluster "Amelia."

Best depiction of a well-known person who is not Amelia Earhart: Meryl Streep's irresistibly joyous Julia Child in "Julie & Julia," Morgan Freeman's thoughtful Nelson Mandela in "Invictus," Christian McKay's blustering Orson Welles in "Me and Orson Welles."

Best reminder that coolness alone does not make a movie: Jim Jarmusch's "The Limits of Control," in which a crew of very cool actors sat around coolly gazing at nothing and saying things like, "Sometimes I like to see films where people just sit there, not saying anything." For two hours.

Oddest resemblance: I know he looks this way in the comic book, too, but why does Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl II, played by Patrick Wilson) in "Watchmen" look exactly like Michael Caine in "Hannah and Her Sisters"?

Best special effects: No doubt, James Cameron's groundbreaking "Avatar."

Best use of a Segway: Kevin James in "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," who swooped around corners like a uniformed bird of prey.

Oddest use of a Segway: Well, it certainly looked like Queen Victoria was riding on one in a crowd scene in the otherwise lovely "The Young Victoria."

Worst timing: Just who thought it would be a good idea to release "Confessions of a Shopaholic," a giddy, brainless comedy about a young woman who blithely charges too much on her credit cards, during the worst months of a recession?

Best film made in our own backyard: Lynn Shelton's wonderfully acted bromance "Humpday," mostly shot in a Phinney Ridge house; the film was released nationwide last summer.

Best chemistry (romantic): Julia Roberts and Clive Owen in "Duplicity"; Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski in "Away We Go"; Jeff Daniels and Lauren Graham in "The Answer Man"; Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in "(500) Days of Summer."

Best chemistry (otherwise): Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in "Sherlock Holmes"; Penélope Cruz and the camera in "Broken Embraces."

Worst chemistry: Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper in "All About Steve"; Nia Vardalos and Alexis Georgoulis in "My Life in Ruins"; Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn in "Management"; Evan Rachel Wood and Larry David in "Whatever Works."

Most alarming sign of a looming apocalypse: Matthew McConaughey, appearing in only one movie this year ("Ghosts of Girlfriends Past"), remained fully shirted throughout.

Most vivid reminder that newer isn't always better: Despite the presence of Denzel Washington and John Travolta, this year's remake of "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" couldn't hold a candle to the original. Likewise the new (and oddly squeaky-clean) "Fame."

Best cameo: Leonard Nimoy's wise Spock in "Star Trek," with an honorable mention going to Mike Tyson and his tiger in "The Hangover."

Most welcome sight: Julie Christie, breaking a three-year absence from the screen with a lovely, brief appearance as a woman haunted by the past in "New York, I Love You."

Saddest goodbye: We lost many luminaries in 2009, but the one still foremost in my mind is Natasha Richardson, who died after a skiing accident in March at the age of 45. Though it wasn't her final film appearance, I'll always remember her for her role in the last Merchant/Ivory film, "The White Countess" — a delicately regal portrayal of a faded noblewoman, the likes of which we'll rarely see again.

Best reasons to look forward to the new year: Tim Burton's 3-D "Alice in Wonderland"; Christopher Nolan's "Inception" (the film that's the reason we'll have to wait awhile for a "Dark Knight" sequel); and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I" (though I hope they trim down that very long camping trip in the middle of the book). Welcome, 2010.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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