THE TOP 13: Best of 2009
by Brian M. Sammons
First I must say that I’m honored to have been asked to compile this end of the year best of list. Second, these are my choices and may not reflect the opinions of anyone else here at The Black Glove. So if you think I’m totally wrong about something, if I missed one of your favorites from the year, or even if you think I got things right, feel free to leave a comment at the end of this recap (that’s why we’ve got a comment box after all) and let me know. Now that the disclaimer has been dealt with, let’s move on.
2009 was a great year for speculative cinema; that is if you knew where to look. While this list is not arraigned in numerical order counting down to my #1 movie of the year (just whittling down the list to thirteen was tough enough) it is arranged with some method to its madness. The first six films on the list came out in the North America this year and were big enough to have wide theatrical runs and thus were easy to find and watch. The next four were not so lucky. While technically some of these movies may have had small releases, or perhaps just toured on the film festival, sometime in 2008, it wasn’t until their DVD release this year that they really became available to the public and that it why they are on this list. The last three are foreign films and like the previous four, they might have come out in 2008 in their native lands but they didn’t hit North America until this year and since that’s where I live, and when I had c chance to see them, that is why they are on this list. Any questions?
Now before I get to the list proper let me run down some of the movies that just missed it and why they didn’t make the cut. Naturally the big blue elephant in the room has to be AVATAR and why it did not make my cut. While I think it was a fun movie and an experience I enjoyed at the theater, I think most of that was due to the dazzling special effects and the amazing 3D I was lucky enough to see it in. Take that away and what you’ve got is a perfectly serviceable movie with not enough left in it to make it one of the thirteen best. The same can be said for the STAR TREK remake, reboot, re-whatever. Once again a fine, fun film, but just a tad not good enough to crack this list. Since we are talking about remakes, let’s talk about two more; LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D. Now of those two movies, I’d have to give the nudge to LAST HOUSE as it actually far surpassed my expectations, which were admittedly low. However I also really enjoyed the bloody, slasher-romp, VALENTINE. But just like AVATAR, I think a large part of that might have been due to the 3D effects. There’s nothing like a ripped off lower jaw flying off the screen at your face to make you giggle. However since both were remakes, and neither surpassed the originals they were based on, they didn’t make the cut. Lastly there were two lesser known films that I would like to suggest for horror fans that also just missed being on this list. The first is LAID TO REST a fun slasher flick with a cool killer, a solid story, and some great gore effects. The other would be PANDORUM, a sci-fi horror movie that while not great was fun and entertaining. Both of these are easily worth a watch.
Ok, with all that being said, let’s start the show with a surprise smash hit.
13 – PARANORMAL ACTIVITY - Or as I like to call it, the little movie that could. This film came out of nowhere and smacked everyone upside the head with the fear stick. It showed, just like the movie it was inevitably compared to; THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, how a minimalist approach to movies can be well done. And talk about minimal: two people, one house, one very nasty entity, and that’s all there it so it. In this day of overblown budgets and overdone special effects, having a film succeed solely on its story, acting, and direction is refreshing.
12- DISTRICT 9 – However just because a movie has loads of eye-melting special effects doesn’t mean it can’t be great as long as it has other things going for it. In this case the film had an engaging story about aliens segregated and controlled by the government of South Africa. You don’t have to be a political science major to catch the real world connections with that premise. So it’s smart sci-fi that just happens to have mind blowing visual effects, some kick-ass action and a good dose of black humor? Please sir, may I have some more?
11 – ZOMBIELAND – I love zombies, I love comedy, and I loved SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but until Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright decide to make a sequel I have to be thankful for this fantastically fun flick. In all seriousness, ZOMBIELAND is a great movie in its own right and every bit the equal of the Pegg/Wright modern day classic. Equal parts gory and goofy; this film has a group of four, led by Woody Harrelson in one of his funniest roles, on a road trip across zombie infested America. Along the way there’s love, laughs, Bill Murray, Twinkies, roller coasters, and lots of zombie butts to kick. What’s not to love?
10 – WATCHMEN – The biggest movie on this list, in terms of budget, hype, and anticipation, is also one of the ones that I loved best. And before you ask, yes I read the graphic novel, yes I love it, yes I know the movie changed things, and no I don’t care. Books and movies are too different forms of media and one will never be able to completely replicate the experience of other, nor should they try. I like comic books for many reasons that are different than the reasons I like movies. That being said, this film was perhaps the most faithful adaptation of any graphic novel to date, a visually stunning movie, and a superhero film like no other. If you want to watch a movie about guys in masks that will make you think, then this flick is for you. For all those reasons WATCHMEN easily earns a place on this list.
9 – 9 –The only movie here that could be considered to be “child safe”, 9 is by no means a kiddy flick. In a post apocalyptic world a war machine has wiped out all of mankind. Tiny, inquisitive dolls made of wire and burlap survive as the last children of humanity and they are hunted by murderous machines that combine bone and metal to create ghastly automatons. Perhaps the best thing about this amazing film was the look of it. Its steampunk meets TERMINATOR set in a destroyed world where World War I signaled the end of man. Filled with originality, great animation, and fine voice acting, 9 is one animated film that really needs to be seen by all.
8 – DRAG ME TO HELL – And speaking of family friendly spookiness…ok DRAG isn’t as bad as all that, but it was a more watered down experience than what I was expecting and hoping for director Sam Raimi’s triumphant return to horror. However while Raimi’s splatter silliness was toned downed a little bit it wasn’t altogether absent. Luckily his trademark slapstick approach to horror, his always innovated use of the camera, and his love for good old fright fun has never been clearer. The story, involving gross old gypsy ladies, curses, demons, the sacrifice of cute fuzzy animals, truly diabolical flies, and a hell of a goat, grabs you quickly and holds on tight even when the movie switches from scary to ridiculous and back again at breakneck speeds. I said it before but it bears repeating, this is a fun horror film and that is not only a good thing, but a great thing.
7 – GRACE – While any movie about a dead baby can’t really be called ‘fun’, it can be called great if it is as well made as this one was. This film about a woman who loses her unborn child but is determined to deliver it anyway is creepy, atmospheric, sometimes sickening, but always hard to look away from. The movie is expertly filmed and doesn’t reveal too much about poor baby Grace for a good long time, leaving it up to the audience to decide if the unbelievable horrors they are witnessing are real or just the figments of a grief stricken, but deranged mother. While the end of the film eliminates all doubt, one of the few things about GRACE that I didn’t care for, the movie as a whole is superb and should be seen by anyone looking for a different type of horror film.
6 – THE BURROWERS – I love this movie for many reasons. First it’s a western horror movie, a rare subgenre that is hardly ever utilized. Second the cinematography is beautiful. Third it’s very well acted, with an amazing performance by Clancy Brown stealing the show whenever he’s on the screen. Forth it’s original. Fifth it has great monsters in it; the “burrowers” from the title. These dog, gopher, crab-walking, critters don’t just kill and eat you. That would be far too nice. No, the fate for anyone unlucky enough to be grabbed by these beasts is truly horrifying. This movie wins on all counts and I would highly recommend it to anyone…unless you hate westerns, in which case I have nothing more to say to you, so let’s move on.
5 - DEADGIRL - This indie darling hit DVD shelves in September and is easily the most off kilter movie on this list. The story involves two high school friends who are outsiders in many ways. One bored day they investigate an abandoned hospital/asylum and find a pretty naked girl chained to a bed in one dusty, forgotten room. She doesn’t talk, doesn’t mind them ogling or touching her, oh and she doesn’t have a pulse. So with a sexy, naked girl that doesn’t feel pain all chained up for them what do you think two disillusioned malcontents would do with her for fun? Yeah, this film isn’t for the kiddies, but it is hilarious, horrifying, and sometimes oddly touching.
4 – SPLINTER – Debuting on Halloween of 2008 for a small run, this monster movie came to DVD April. It is about a new kind of monster that gets big points for being both original and very creepy. The critter is a mold, or virus, that once it infects a person it grows from the inside out and soon completely takes over the host body, making them shamble and contort in very unnatural ways. A young couple on vacation and another couple on the run from the law meet up and have to survive the horrifying onslaught in a deserted gas station. The film really is as simple as that, but the wonderful, innovated monster is what makes this movie work.
3- LET THE RIGHT ONE IN – A Swedish film that came out in its homeland in January 2008. While it had a small theatrical run in North America, it wasn’t until it came out on DVD in March of 2009 that most people saw it. This is a great movie, simple as that. The direction, acting, look, story, and effects are all superb. The story revolves around a young boy always beset by bullies making a new friend in a strange little girl…a girl who just so happens to be very pale, only comes out at night, and can’t enter his home unless invited in first. Yes she’s a vampire, but in this age of overly romanticized bloodsuckers, this little undead tyke is a great change of pace. The relationship between the two kids, even though one has been a “kid” for a long time, is perhaps the best thing about this movie. It seems real and believable and just watching two such young actors pull it off was amazing. I really can’t say enough good things about this film. If you haven’t seen it by now you’re really missing out.
2- MARTYRS – First let me warn you that if horrible graphic violence and torture offends you then do not see this movie. I cannot stress that enough. While a lot of movies want to be called “brutal” but this one really is. However, despite its graphic nature it’s not just another Torture Porn flick. There’s actually a great story, wonderful acting, and an ending that makes you think to be found here, not just blood and guts. Trying to discuss this film without giving any of its secrets away is hard, so I’ll just say that it’s about two girls. One of the girls escaped unimaginable torture as a child and the other young woman is trying her best to help her get past the trauma. The rest I leave for you to discover. This fantastic French film has been available on DVD since April and I highly recommend it, but again only to those with strong stomachs.
1 - DEAD SNOW – I was lucky enough to see this Norwegian import at a film festival and while it’s not out on DVD yet (it comes out on February 23, 2010) and therefore breaks the rules of this list, I do so only to give you all the heads up on this is a great little film. A group of friends go to a isolated cabin (when is that idea ever a good one in any movie?) for some winter fun but soon end up facing frozen Nazi zombies. Yes, I said Nazi Zombies! Nazis and zombies always go good together and this film is just bloody good fun, and often very funny, from start to finish. When DEAD SNOW comes out on disc do yourself a favor and pick it up.
--Brian M. Sammons