Dread Central's Best & Worst of 2009
2009 provided a bounty of some truly amazing films … unfortunately very few of them were of the horror variety. And to add insult to injury, the best of those that were horror-related took a bit of effort to find. With only a couple of exceptions, the genre offerings that made my Best of list weren't theatrically available to the masses. I either saw them via DVD, on a screener disc, or at a film festival/convention. That might be seen as bending the rules a little, but I have to call 'em like I see 'em. And when it comes to the Best of the Year, these are what I believe to be the highlights worth seeking out and remembering for future reference:
Paranormal Activity/Trick 'r Treat (tie) - I see these two films as the yin and yang of the movie business in the new millennium. On one hand we have Paramount's savvy and successful midnight rollout of Oren Peli's creepy and now widely beloved Paranormal Activity that resulted in huge new box office records for indie films. And on the other we have Warner Bros.' cold shoulder to Mike Dougherty's outstanding Trick 'r Treat anthology that is destined to become required viewing on Halloween night (if it isn't already). Aside from being a breath of fresh air, it has one of the hottest actresses on TV right now, True Blood's Anna Paquin, in a key role; and still their marketing people didn't see its potential. Nor did they put much stock in horror audiences, who have embraced both of these films for one reason and one reason only: They kick copious amounts of ass!
Moon - Sci-fi/horror hybrids often provide an opportunity for an actor to shine, and this year Sam Rockwell gives an award-worthy performance in Duncan Jones' debut feature. Out of all the portrayals I saw during 2009 (and believe me, I saw a LOT!), his haunting … and haunted … astronaut Sam Bell left the most lasting impression. Rockwell is stellar from start to finish, as is the film itself. It's atmospheric as hell and quite stirring. Seek it out, and watch it with friends since there's a lot to talk about afterwards.
The Revenant - I caught this nearly perfect gem at Austin's Fantastic Fest, and although it's a tad too long and drawn out at the end, I knew immediately it would show up right here as one of the year's best. Keep your eyes peeled for a proper release hopefully sooner rather than later.
I Sell the Dead - This is one of those movies that draws you in with characters that take their time to grow on you. I love its stream of consciousness, kitchen sink approach with vampires, graverobbing, and even an alien. Dominic Monaghan is awesome, and Larry Fessenden makes you question why he ever leaves the front of the camera for directing. He's that damn good as the ghoulish Willie Grimes.
District 9 - Yes, another horror/sci-fi mash-up makes the Top Five, but seriously, can you name a film that was smarter and more unique than this simple yet tightly complex tale from New Zealand that's set in South Africa? How does one even begin to describe it? I said smart. How about intelligent? Clever? Actually, Nomad summed it up best in his review: "District 9 is a thoroughly original, super realistic, sci-fi-tinted tale of woe; and at the end of the day we have to applaud such originality as loudly as we possibly can."
Honorable Mention: Embodiment of Evil, The Burrowers, Pontypool, Alien Raiders, Disney's A Christmas Carol 3D (sue me; it's a blast the whole way through … and really pretty spooky, too!)
Biggest Surprise: Showtime's Dexter (Season 4). Holy shit! Just when I was thinking Dexter's glory days were behind him (although certainly not Michael C. Hall's, who continues to shine week after week), John Lithgow pops up as the chilling and utterly compelling Trinity Killer, Jennifer Carpenter is a standout as Deb's life-changing story arc forces her to run the gamut of emotions, and those damn writers throw us for a loop at the end that pretty much nobody saw coming. Hooray! Add in True Blood, Supernatural, and BBC America's Being Human, and it's obvious quality horror TV is thriving. It's just good to see a familiar back at the front of the pack.
Only three films that I saw in a theatre were bad enough to warrant inclusion on my Worst of the Year list, including the Dishonorable Mentions. Yep, seven out of the ten turkeys of 2009 were direct-to-DVD only. So if you let your Netflix membership lapse and were too lazy to visit Blockbuster (if there's even one still left in your home town), then chances are you dodged some major bullets. Here's what you might have luckily missed:
The Cell 2 - This movie is soooo bad! There's nothing but stilted dialogue and over-enunciation by the actors. Very dry and dull -- worse than a Lifetime knock-off. What was good in the first Cell has totally disappeared and been replaced by torture porn wrapped in bright colors. Most obvious killer in recent memory.
Horsemen - How a flick can start out so well and look so good, but then go to such shit, is beyond me. At first it's a solid little mystery, but then it delves into "emotion" and connections between the characters that are totally unbelievable. YAY, Platinum Dunes, for continuing your record of producing nearly unwatchable tripe. The saddest part is that Dennis Quaid almost gives a good performance.
Friday the 13th - No one denies this franchise reboot has a good … no, make that a great … opening, but then it's all downhill from there. There aren't more than two even semi-memorable kills. Padalecki is wasted. Mears is wasted. Viewers' time is wasted. It's a textbook example of what not to do to pay homage to a classic and endear yourself to fans.
Jennifer's Body - If pitiful best describes this year's F13 redux, then the only word for Jennifer's Body is lame. It was poorly shot, has ridiculous dialogue, and proves how one-note Megan Fox's acting abilities really are. Amanda Seyfried and J.K. Simmons are the only good things about this flick, and even they could have done better.
Diagnosis: Death - I kind of feel bad for disliking Diagnosis: Death so much because I think its intentions are good and harmless, but it just is not fun in the least, and for a horror comedy to be successful, viewers have to be having a good time. I did not have a good time. It's uneven and dull and feels twice as long as it is. Admittedly, there are a few good ghost effects and not a bad storyline, but they don't outweigh the terrible acting, script, and pacing.
Dishonorable Mention: Voices, Shuttle, Elsewhere, The Canyon, the last few minutes of The Last House on the Left remake
Biggest Disappointment: The Box. Richard Kelly had never let me down before, so I may have possibly let my expectations run too high, but I found his adaptation of Richard Matheson's short story surprisingly muddled and pretentious. Uncharacteristically for the writer/director, it rings rather hollow, and Cameron Diaz's performance doesn't help. Marsden is okay but vanilla, and a script that over-explains some things and doesn't explain others enough only makes matters worse. But no hard feelings, Richard. They can't all be Donnie Darko and Southland Tales!