Many moons ago I asked readers to cast their votes for best and worst movies of the summer season circa 2009. First: Best.
- Eric Bana Is: An Especially Tetchy Romulan – 7 (25%)
- Quentin Tarantino Presents: Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece - 7 (25%)
- Christopher Johnson and Wikus Van Der Merwe’s Excellent Adventure – 4 (14%)
- That’s No Moon; It’s Hott Sam Rockwell’s Talent! – 3 (11%)
- Pixar’s The Bucket List – 4 (14%)
- Cover Me With Drool, Drop An Anvil On Me, Then Drag Me To Hell – 2 (7%)
- G.I. Joe: STOP THE NANOMITES, JOES! – 1 (4%)
- Hangover: (n. painful & unamusing experience) – 0 (0%)
- Publicity Hungry Enemies (Now In Grainy-o-Vision) – 0 (0%)
- When Anti-Matter Met The Vatican – 0 (0%)
- STREEP, TUCCI & LYNCH vs. a Blogger and her Annoying Husband – 0 (0%)
- Night at the Museum: Sound, Fury, & Nothing – 0 (0%)
- Futile and Fatuous – 0 (0%)
- Dad! My Guinea Pig Sounds Like Tracy Morgan! – 0 (0%)
- The Shaking [Cameras] of Pelham 123 – 0 (0%)
- Klansformers: Revenge of the Fratboy – 0 (0%)
- X-Men Franchise Sabotage: WTFverine – 0 (0%)
- Eric Bana Is: An Absentee Time-Travelling Husband – 0 (0%)
- The Ugly Truth Is That Katherine Heigl Is Not Charming – 0 (0%)
- Terminator 4: When Third Acts Collapse – 0 (0%)
- Harry Potter And The Toenail of Effervescence – 0 (0%)
- Eric Bana Is: An Endearing Aussie Cuckold – 0 (0%)
- Final Destination: We’re Trying To Get Inside Your Eyeballs – 0 (0%)
- Zooey Hall – 0 (0%)
- Oh Will Ferrell. A TV Show Remake? We Want Anchorman 2 KTHXBAI – 0 (0%)
The number of high votes for Star Trek are no surprise at all. People have been calling for a light, fun movie with some substance during summer for years now, and Star Trek‘s blindingly bright visuals and hectic tone hit the spot, disregarding the fact that all of the fun surrounds the genocide of several billion Vulcans in the middle of the film. Yay summer movies! I’m a little more surprised that Inglourious Basterds (or, as the TV spots would have us believe, Inglourious!) got that many votes. Not because it doesn’t deserve them: more because many who liked it only seemed to just about like it, not love it with a passion. Perhaps there are more of us out there who think it’s a flat-out masterpiece and one of the greatest movies of the decade. Did the former camp vote for it because they thought “good enough” made it better than everything else on the list?
It was a great summer for genre fans, with the release of two audacious low-budget SF movies that were good enough and popular enough to stop nerds complaining about the success of less intellectually ambitious mainstream SF movies like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and — later in the year — Avatar. Ha ha! Only kidding. Nerds will never stop being mad about mainstream filmmakers making money off their beloved genres. For a while there it felt like the only reason Moon and District 9 were being praised by nerds was that they were not Michael Bay movies, and indeed Duncan Jones’ film was the anti-thesis of big budget pyro-movies. The rush to praise them for what they were not meant it took a while for anyone to spot that there were problems with both of them. Moon‘s considered pace was refreshing, but at times faltered on the wrong side of slow, and it was perhaps not as surprising as it thought it was. District 9‘s problems were more glaring: the sub-plot about how Nigerian gangs dabbled in prostitution and cannibalism was horribly ill-judged. I could see where Neill Blomkamp was going with it — i.e. painting a picture of all of humanity as a broken, venal species with no compassion to spare — but by explicitly stating it was Nigerian gangs running the show in District 9, that bleak message of living creatures as selfish and brutal became unpleasantly specific.
That said, despite those flaws, both movies were terrific, and I would never argue that those flaws overshadowed the things Jones and Blomkamp got right. Moon was a lot of fun even just to look at, with those Gerry-Anderson-esque production designs and lo-tech FX. It also featured possibly the best performance of the year, with Hott Sam Rockwell giving what might be his best work ever. For that alone, I’ll be eternally grateful Jones took us on his genial ride. District 9 risked more, caused me more agita over its racial politics, but in the end thrilled me far more. With all of humanity — and Prawndom — portrayed as singularly awful, the whole movie boils down to a single act of sacrifice. The final action scene of District 9 was powerful enough to overshadow my concerns over Blomkamp’s tone-deaf error, and even managed to make me cry, completely catching me by surprise. All of that despite sitting next to the most inconsiderate woman in film-going history, who spent the entire movie narrating the onscreen events to her annoyed boyfriend, and then got pissy with me when I asked her to be quiet an hour in. The kind of behaviour that makes me wonder why I bother going to the cinema.
The other three movies gaining votes were Up (a movie I didn’t care for on first viewing due to terrible projection in a crappy NJ cinema, but loved when seen in IMAX), Drag Me To Hell (Sam Raimi’s delirious instant horror classic), and G.I. Joe: Road To Nowhere. Seeing that get a vote made my soul cry. Still, it got another vote, in the Worst Summer Movie List, as seen below:
- Klansformers: Revenge of the Fratboy – 7 (30%)
- X-Men Franchise Sabotage: WTFverine – 6 (26%)
- The Ugly Truth Is That Katherine Heigl Is Not Charming – 4 (17%)
- When Anti-Matter Met The Vatican – 2 (9%)
- G.I. Joe: STOP THE NANOMITES, JOES! – 1 (4% )
- Publicity Hungry Enemies (Now In Grainy-o-Vision) - 1 (4%)
- Hangover: (n. painful & unamusing experience) - 1 (4%)
- Dad! My Guinea Pig Sounds Like Tracy Morgan! – 1 (4%)
The rest of the movies on the list got no votes, so let’s just move on. It doesn’t surprise me that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen topped this list. It had been treated like a soiled nappy long before it was even released, and though I wasn’t crazy about it, I certainly didn’t hate it either. If people really hate it that much, more power to them (and certainly whenever I think about those fucking racial-stereotype-bots I feel like putting it at the top of this list as well), but I suspect a lot of Internet commenters who rail against it just haven’t seen enough bad movies this year. Of course, if that’s the case, they’re lucky. We’ve seen so many shitty movies this year that T:ROTF doesn’t even get on our bottom twenty list, let alone bottom ten.
It certainly doesn’t beat out X-Men Origins: Wolverine as worst movie of the summer. Who’s to blame for that farrago? I’m willing to let director Gavin Hood off the hook, as his work was so often compromised by Fox executive Tom “Nerd-Sauron” Rothman. He has long interfered in the making of Fox’s slate of superhero movies and been rewarded with high box office grosses despite the shitty quality of those films. X-Men Origins was the worst yet. David Benioff and Skip Woods’ script was impossibly bad. Could there be a draft of it that wasn’t a morass of cliches and tired jokes? Did there ever exist a single line given to Sabretooth that wouldn’t make me risk breaking bones through convulsive super-cringing? Compared to this disaster, T:ROTF was a source of almost endless delight. I truly wish it killed off the X-Men movie franchise, because now it has made money we’re looking at yet more soulless, brainless movies soiling our memories of those fantastic original stories.
I also have no problem with the simply appalling Ugly Truth getting some votes, and would like to think that my renaming of it helped. Gerard Butler is not very good in that film, but he’s Rudolph Valentino compared to Katherine Heigl. Her appeal is completely alien to me. Spiky, charmless, and unable to sell even the most basic of jokes, her continued success is a mystery. I know Grey’s Anatomy is very popular, but even if every fan of that show traipsed out to the cinema to catch the latest Heigl movie, would that account for the high box office The Ugly Truth managed? (We’re talking a worldwide gross of $203m on a budget of $38m.) Rail against the success of T:ROTF all you like, but that did everything it could to attract and entertain a certain sub-section of the audience (i.e. fans of BIG). The Ugly Truth did the bare minimum to get the job done and is technically far more profitable. Yay for cheaper movies, but boo for movies that are crafted with such lazy indifference towards their audiences, that said nothing about gender politics, that think a lumbering joke about vibrating panties was classifiable as entertainment.
What else got votes? Two for Angels and Demons, which was a passable enough thriller, and was certainly more entertaining than the flat-as-Holland Da Vinci Code. I can’t get angry with it, even when it was being very silly (i.e. for much of its length). A vote for The Hangover, which ranks alongside Up In The Air as most overrated movie of the year. The one thing I liked about it — that it is a comedy with a well-developed script and fascinating initial premise — meant nothing when the jokes were so lazy and the characters so unappealing (other than Zach Galafianakis’ Alan Garner, who was a delight). Watching Graham Linehan rail against it on Twitter during the summer made me feel a lot less alone. After that we get a vote for G.I. Joe, a movie I did not like at all, and single votes for Public Enemies and G-Force, both of which I liked to varying degrees.
Thanks to everyone who voted. What now? No poll for a bit (I usually add polls after the Oscar nominations are announced), but more lists. Been working on the damn things all year.