Upon meeting editor-in-chief Eric Shirey for the first time, it was made clear to me that Movie Geek Feed was specifically about action, horror and science-fiction films. There would be no accolades shown to TOKYO SONATA or REVANCHE here. That's fine, I understand the need for niche. Genre films have been a backbone of cinema for as far back as that first train robber who fired a pistol into an unsuspecting audience. And 2009 was actually a great year for really good genre films. It also made room, as most years do, for some mightily disappointing ones...but we'll get to those later.
Sure, there are some masterpieces of 2009 that I could try to pigeon-hole into this...INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and THE HURT LOCKER will be at the top of a different list of mine, found elsewhere, but they both have action elements with which I could have tried to sway Eric. But I want to adhere to the rules of the house, and so I offer you:
TEN OUTSTANDING 2009 GENRE FLICKS YOU SHOULD NOT MISS
10 - TRICK R TREAT
A gruesome but loving ode to Halloween lore that stretched taboo boundaries enough times that distributors balked at a theatrical release. That's usually a sign that they just don't get the joke. TRICK R TREAT is devoted to an old-school belief that horror can be grotesque and dark and still make you laugh, while you grip the seat in suspense.
9 - DISTRICT 9
So polished. So cheaply made (by comparison). It didn't seem possible that an alien allegory for Apartheid could be so slick and entertaining and still manage to offer emotional and dramatic heft. Shame on those who immediately talked about sequels. Why can't genre movies stand on their own anymore? Oh, and it's fun, too.
8 - STAR TREK
This re-launching of the revered science fiction staple was a success for many reasons: terrifically astute casting, an engaging story that was not entirely predictable, and a sense of fun that made you not mind re-living something that seemed all-too-familiar. One of the few summer films in 2009 that was worth the price of admission.
7 - KNOWING
Nicolas Cage gets a bad rap for doing Disney blockbusters, and Alex Proyas' excellent films often get overlooked. So when the two worked together on this mostly quiet, frequently thoughtful drama about the end of the world, too few critics saw it for the small masterpiece it really is. Cage does some of his best acting in years here, and Proyas creates yet another world where the easy answer will not be found. The film also happens to be beautifully shot, with some devastating moments.
6 - TIMECRIMES
Is it The Time Travel Film As Murder Mystery? Or just a more fun version of PRIMER? TIMECRIMES is a creeping, mysterious slice of low-budget, foreign science-fiction that immediately was sought for remake by Hollywood, because Hollywood knows when they've been beaten by simple, elegant quality.
5 - SALVAGE
Again, at the heart of an otherwise nerve-jangling horror/action film, we find the purest human emotions. Something is loose in a small U.K. village, and the locals face both this unknown evil and military troops who kill on sight. So what's a failed parent to do when their child comes to town for Christmas? Yes, this is a holiday film.
4 - WATCHMEN
There are many fictions that have been deemed un-filmable. Alan Moore's WATCHMEN is one. But Zack Snyder has proven again that he is a filmmaker to watch, taking the entirety of Moore's alterna-history superhero drama to the screen and making it seem easy. Vast, colorful, perfectly shot and in certain cases (I'm looking at you, Crudup, Haley & Morgan), exquisitely acted. WATCHMEN is the closest thing genre has to a David Lean epic.
3 - [REC]2
This Spanish horror sequel is to its predecessor what ALIENS was to ALIEN. Which is to say a more beefed-up, highly-charged version of a classic original. To say anything about what goes down in the quarantined apartment building this go-round would be saying too much. Let it suffice that if you can find [REC]2 anywhere, run to see it. "Nail-biting" and "hair-raising" may be hyphenated clichés, but this film manages both, in spades.
2 - CARRIERS
An apocalyptic road film that offers no easy answers and takes no prisoners, but does so with great characterization and depth of emotion on a seeming shoestring budget. Like TRICK R TREAT, it was mismanaged for theatrical release, but is available on DVD. Find this film. It is greater than its horror-themed intentions.
1 - CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE
It's all about commitment, baby. Neveldine/Taylor made a giddy, outlandish joke with the original CRANK, the action-film-as-energy-drink: consume, excite, throw away. But with this sequel, they create something far more visceral, wild...quite possibly insane. CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE is the flaming fist of unyielding commitment. And it's aimed at your face.
...and EIGHT 2009 GENRE FLICKS YOU SHOULD NOT MISS DEFINITELY AVOID
8 - SURROGATES - How funny they should make a film about robots that has no heart. An empty shell of science-fiction intentions. An argument against comic/graphic novel adaptations.
7 - BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE - A feature-length, live-action version of an excellent 30-minute animated film. Unfortunately, it stinks. With effects work that looks like a SyFy reject.
6 - PUSH - Paltry, silly and un-engaging take on the I've-got-better-mental-prowess-than-you-do-despite-your-ability-to-see-the-future-because-I-can-make-guns-float-in-the-air genre. Wait, is that a genre? PUSH is the absence of fun.
5 - PANDORUM - I have a lot of love for Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid (both of whom were in other, far better films in 2009), and PANDORUM had a strong finale. But I found this science-fiction tale steeped in noise and flash-editing that made it painful to watch. It attempts to hit the EVENT HORIZON target, and misses by light-years.
4 - TRANSFORMERS 2 - Clang clang clang. Awkward attempt at humor. Clang clang clang. Slow-motion running while something explodes in the background. Clang clang clang. 'Nuff said.
3 - WOLVERINE - The Wolverine of comic books had character. The film version of Wolverine is a pallid execution of that source material. Perhaps it is the best we can expect in this PG-13-is-more-consumer-friendly-than-R world we live in. But WOLVERINE the movie was a bland endeavor that only promised good (if not great) things, then barely delivered. It creates in its target demo the need for a better film. In Hollywood, this should be considered failure. In its wisdom, they are planning a sequel for one character and a spinoff for another.
2 - PARANORMAL ACTIVITY - Watching people sit in their living room and quietly disagree is possibly the worst narrative tactic a genre film can take. This isn't a Ken Loach film. Between such discussions are creepy, time-elapsed shots of a couple in bed. And occasionally something sort-of scary happens, and in the end, something else. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is a film that trucks in constant anticipation, but that only works with sufficient payoffs, which the film sorely lacks. Don't believe the hype: a movie in 2009 that trades off of an early viral video from the 90's is not new or creative or good. You have drunk the Kool-aid, America. It is bitter disappointment, personified.
1 - DEAD GIRL - The only reason I dislike this movie more than the let-downs and failures of every film above is that DEAD GIRL represents nothing more than an extended vision of ugliness. It is a repellant film, short and simple. But for those attracted to films that are supposed to be bad, let's put it this way: two dudes find a "living" dead girl chained up in an abandoned hospital's basement, and decide to use it as a sex toy. Now, if that sounds like fun, we have no more to say. Steve Norwood - content provider for the Asian Film Festival of Dallas - AFFD)