The best and worst movies of 2009

December 30, 2009 

James Gandolfini, left, and Max Records bring new life to a children’s book favorite, “Where the Wild Things Are."

WARNER BROS.

Another film year has come to an end, leaving in its wake both memorable movies and those that should be forgotten.

The surprising part about this year's batch of good movies was how many filmmakers pushed past the expected. A movie like "(500)" Days of Summer" stood out against all of the other romantic efforts because director Marc Webb dared to use animated fantasy and captivating film techniques.

"Hurt Locker" proved that good war movies can still be made and "Where the Wild Things Are" took familiar children's material and brought it magically to life on film. Maybe the most shocking was how J.J. Abrams gave new life to the much beloved "Star Trek" franchise.

A lack of originality was the key to picking the worst movies. Just casting familiar names is not enough to justify asking moviegoers to pay hard-earned money. These movies lacked originality, energy and style.

Here's a final look at the best and worst of 2009.

10 Best

1. "Where the Wild Things Are": Director Spike Jonze took the frugal writing in Maurice Sendak's book about a young boy's escape to a magical island and expanded it to feature length without damaging the source material. This fanciful and engaging offering spoke to the child in everyone.

Action/Adventure, Family
Running time: 1hr 34min
Rated: PG for mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language.
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Cast: Forest Whitaker, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Tom Noonan
Produced by: Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Maurice Sendak, Vincent Landay, John B. Carls
Directed by: Spike Jonze
Written by: Michael Goldenberg, Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers

2. "The Road": Although it wraps itself in a cloak of despair, the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel about a father and son's quest to find a better place does what every great film should do: It stays with you long after the final credits. An Oscar-worthy performance by Viggo Mortensen helps.

Drama, Suspense/Thriller
Running time: 1hr 51min
Rated: R for some violence, disturbing images and language.
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Cast: Charlize Theron, Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Produced by: Nick Wechsler, Paula Mae Schwartz, Steve Schwartz
Directed by: John Hillcoat
Written by: Cormac McCarthy, Joe Penhall

'The Road' is powerful, has much to say

3. "Hurt Locker": Kathryn Bigelow's unblinking direction and stomach-churning storytelling works with a taut, fierce screenplay by Mark Boal. She focuses on three U.S. Army team members in Iraq who defuse roadside bombs that have become such a part of life in Baghdad.

Action/Adventure, Drama, Suspense/Thriller
Running time: 2hr 10min
Rated: R for war violence and language.
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Cast: Guy Pearce, Anthony Mackie, Ralph Fiennes, Jeremy Renner, Brian Geraghty
Produced by: Greg Shapiro, Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by: Mark Boal

Provocative 'Hurt Locker' carries a heavy punch

4. "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire": Director Lee Daniels pulls no emotional punches as he turns Sapphire's novel about an abused teenager into a gut-wrenching experience. It's fueled by the powerful story and award-worthy performances by Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe and Mo'Nique.

Drama
Running time: 1hr 49min
Rated: R for child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language.
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Cast: Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Mo'Nique, Lenny Kravitz, Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe
Produced by: Lee Daniels, Gary Magness, Sarah Siegel-Magness
Directed by: Lee Daniels
Written by: Sapphire, Damien Paul

5. "Star Trek": It took a brilliant effort by J.J. Abrams to create something so original out of a franchise that has become so familiar. He found the exact balance of paying tribute to the original series and putting his own stamp on the work.

Action/Adventure, Drama, SciFi/Fantasy
Running time: 2hr 6min
Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence and brief sexual content.
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Cast: Zoe Saldana, Winona Ryder, Simon Pegg, Bruce Greenwood, John Cho, Eric Bana, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Ben Cross
Produced by: J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, Stratton Leopold
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, J.J. Abrams, Gene Roddenberry, Eric Jendresen

6. "Fantastic Mr. Fox": In a great year for animation, this adaptation by Wes Anderson of the work by Roald Dahl about a fox who won't retire is as sly as a fox and more fun than a barn full of chickens. It works because it basks in absurdity.

Animation
Running time: 1hr 27min
Rated: PG for action, smoking and slang humor.
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Cast: Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, George Clooney, Jason Schwartzman, Wally Wolodarsky
Produced by: Scott Rudin, Wes Anderson, Allison Abbate, Jeremy Dawson
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Noah Baumbach, Wes Anderson, Roald Dahl

'Fantastic Mr. Fox' is a sheer joy to watch

7. "(500) Days of Summer": Marc Webb takes a traditional boy-meets-girl story and gives it life through some of the most creative filming of the year. And he does it while not allowing the film's style to overpower the sweet and painful story.

Drama
Running time: 1hr 35min
Rated: PG-13 for sexual material and language.
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Cast: Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Clark Gregg, Matthew Gray Gubler, Minka Kelly
Produced by: Steven J. Wolfe, Mason Novick, Mark Waters, Jessica Tuchinsky
Directed by: Marc Webb
Written by: Michael Weber, Scott Neustadter

'(500) Days of Summer' a lovely dose of reality

8. "Up in the Air": A steady directing hand by Jason Reitman and a first-rate cast — paced by George Clooney — made the film compelling despite its story line about a man who makes his living firing others, which should have made it too painful to watch.

Drama, Comedy
Running time: 1hr 49min
Rated: R for language and some sexual content.
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Cast: Vera Farmiga, George Clooney
Produced by: Jason Reitman, Ivan Reitman, Joe Medjuck, Daniel Dubiecki, Tom Pollock, Jeffrey Clifford
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Jason Reitman, Walter Kirn

'Up in the Air' finds humanity in heartbreak

9. "Watchmen": Superhero movies will never be the same. Director Zack Snyder's stunning adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic comic creates a world where those who fight injustice suffer with the same emotional problems as mere mortals.

Action/Adventure, Drama, SciFi/Fantasy
Running time: 2hr 43min
Rated: R for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language.
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Cast: Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Billy Crudup, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Produced by: Lloyd Levin, Lawrence Gordon, Deborah Snyder
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Alan Moore, Alex Tse, Dave Gibbons

10. "Up": This tale of a senior citizen's emotional and spiritual trip soars because of beautiful animation and a smart script. It's as touching as it's funny.

Action/Adventure, Animation, Comedy
Running time: 1hr 36min
Rated: PG for some peril and action.
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Cast: John Ratzenberger, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Ed Asner
Produced by: Jonas Rivera
Directed by: Pete Docter
Written by: Bob Peterson

Animators go extra mile to make 'Up'

10 Worst

1. "Year One": Two caveman stumble into a few Biblical moments. Not only does the movie break six of the 10 Commandments, it features the worst performances ever by Jack Black and Michael Cera. That's saying a lot.

Comedy
Running time: 1hr 40min
Rated: PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, brief strong language and comic violence.
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Cast: Jack Black, Michael Cera
Directed by: Harold Ramis

'Year One' a wreck of biblical proportions

2. "Imagine That": Imagine how nice it would be if this Eddie Murphy movie about a dad who turns to his young daughter for business tips had never been made.

Comedy
Running time: 1hr 47min
Rated: PG for some mild language and brief questionable behavior.
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Cast: Eddie Murphy, Thomas Haden Church, Ronny Cox, DeRay Davis, Nicole Ari Parker
Produced by: Lorenzo di Bonaventura
Directed by: Karey Kirkpatrick
Written by: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon

'Imagine That' - another Eddie Murphy bomb

3. "Law Abiding Citizen": The script about a man who spends 10 years plotting revenge is so criminally bad that it would be cruel and unusual punishment for anyone to watch it.

Drama
Running time: 1hr 48min
Rated: R for strong bloody brutal violence and torture, a scene of rape, and pervasive language.
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Cast: Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx, Viola Davis
Directed by: F. Gary Gray

'Law Abiding Citizen' should be locked up

4. "Pink Panther 2": Steve Martin learned nothing from his first miserable efforts in the classic role of Inspector Clouseaucq. The movie is wrong on so many levels.

Comedy
Running time: 1hr 32min
Rated: PG for some suggestive humor, brief mild language and action.
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Cast: Steve Martin, Emma Bunton
Produced by: Shawn Levy
Directed by: Harald Zwart
Written by: Blake Edwards, Scott Neustadter

'Pink Panther 2' could use a fresh litter box

5. "Old Dogs": Robin Williams and John Travolta as business partners trying to tend to a couple of kids. Being a groin test dummy on "America's Funniest Home Videos" would be better than watching this train wreck.

Comedy
Running time: 1hr 28min
Rated: PG for some mild rude humor.
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Cast: John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Ella Bleu Travolta
Produced by: Peter Abrams
Directed by: Walt Becker
Written by: David Diamond, David Weissman

'Old Dogs' should be put to sleep for old jokes

6. "I Love You Beth Cooper": There's nothing to love about this story of a nerd who manages to get close to the girl of his dreams. When it comes to high school movies this effort should have been held back a year.

Comedy
Running time: 1hr 42min
Rated: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, some teen drinking and drug references, and brief violence.
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Cast: Samm Levine, Hayden Panettiere, Lauren London, Andrea Savage, Alan Ruck
Produced by: Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Mark Radcliffe
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Written by: Larry Doyle

It's hard to love 'Beth Cooper'

7. "Observe and Report": Seth Rogan's turn as a bipolar mall cop is as entertaining as setting fire to your eyelashes. Mental illness is rarely a good basis for comedy.

Comedy
Running time: 1hr 46min
Rated: R for pervasive language, graphic nudity, drug use, sexual content and violence.
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Cast: Ray Liotta, Anna Faris, Seth Rogen, Michael Peña, Collette Wolfe
Produced by: Donald De Line
Directed by: Jody Hill
Written by: Jody Hill

'Observe' the seamier side of the mall

8. "Land of the Lost": Will Ferrell continues his string of flops. This one -- a big screen version of the campy TV series -- would have been better off being lost.

Action/Adventure, SciFi/Fantasy, Comedy
Running time: 1hr 33min
Rated: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and for language including a drug reference.
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Cast: Will Ferrell
Produced by: Jimmy Miller, Sid Krofft, Marty Krofft
Directed by: Brad Silberling
Written by: Dennis McNicholas, Chris Henchy

9. "Battle for Terra": There's so much wrong with this story of Earthlings invading a planet it's hard to decide where to start. Bad voice casting, lame visual effects and a host of other problems leave it lifeless.

Action/Adventure, Animation
Running time: 1hr 25min
Rated: PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and some thematic elements.
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Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Brian Cox, Luke Wilson, David Cross, Justin Long
Produced by: Keith Calder, Jessica Wu, Dane Allan Smith, Ryan Colucci
Directed by: Aristomenis Tsirbas
Written by: Evan Spiliotopoulos, Aristomenis Tsirbas

10. "New In Town": The jokes are suppose to come from a woman from the big city moves to a small town. The characters are so bland and the story so recycled, this isn't a laughing matter.

Comedy, Romance
Running time: 1hr 36min
Rated: PG for language and some suggestive material.
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Cast: Renée Zellweger, Nathan Fillion, Harry Connick Jr., J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, Renée Zellweger
Produced by: Lions Gate Films
Directed by: Jonas Elmer
Written by: C. Jay Cox, Ken Rance

The writers can be reached at rbentley@fresnobee.com or dmunro@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6355.

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