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The Five Best Films of Spring 2009

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Thursday, Apr 30, 2009

Compiling Best-of Lists is always tough. No matter what you pick, no matter the rest of the critical consensus on the issue, someone comes along who knows a whole lot better than you and proceeds to call the compilation on every misguided choice and each obvious, awkward exclusion. Opinion can never, ever please all the people all the time, but when one goes out on a limb and declares a collection of movies, albums, performance, hamburgers the cream of the cultural crop, someone’s guaranteed to crap all over your determination. Apparently, it’s hard to remember that this is meant as some manner of individual perspective, not a mandated media benchmark by which all other conclusions are judged and joked about.


That being said, Spring makes such issues double tough. As we mentioned yesterday, Hollywood has tried over recent years to broadside the usual tally of terrible titles with occasionally inspired surprise hits. In 2008, Cloverfield and Forgetting Sarah Marshall made the January to May season totally tolerable. In 2007, we got Zodiac and Hot Fuzz. So it’s no surprise that SE&L could find five films that represent the top of the typical Tinsel Town trash heap. What remains incredible is the number of entries that barely missed out. Fans of the serious science fiction format were rewarded with Alex Proyas’ intriguing Knowing, though the final 15 minutes probably turned this doom and gloom thriller from a positive to a problem for many. Similarly, Crank: High Voltage is one of those ‘love it or loathe it’ efforts that will have so called film snobs snickering in half-hearted disbelief.


Monsters vs. Aliens was a hollow 3D treat, while I Love You Man proved the bro-mantic comedy could tolerate a little more seriousness. Horror even got some help in the popularity department with the cruel, crazy My Bloody Valentine update. In the end, the final five represents, at least from our perspective, what will be the most memorable, meaningful films come a final end of the year reconsideration. Of course they will stir controversy. Naturally, some of you will think we are insane. But the truth is - no list is conclusive. It’s all subjectivity passing itself off as objectivity, especially to people who enjoy piling on. So get your argumentative knives ready as we prepare to die the death of a thousand cinematic cuts. Here are the films Short Ends and Leader felt represented Spring 2009’s best, beginning with:




5. Friday the 13th 2009


Along with our selection at Number Three, this will probably be our most controversial and debatable choice, especially for those misguided few who still insist on calling the original franchise anything more than a cheesy splatter diversion. Sure, it hit a cultural nerve, but it can’t hold an aesthetic candle to such obvious ‘80s classics as The Evil Dead, Hellraiser, or The Thing. So when Marcus Nispel signed on to do the same to Sean Cunningham’s signature film as he did with Tobe Hopper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, fright fans had a reason to be cheerful. And when they finally got a chance to see the sadistic slice and dice result, their faith in the slasher genre was instantly reinstated. Nispel should indeed be the go-to guy for any future macabre remake. He instinctually understands the genre and his eye for evil is laser sharp. The best horror film of 2009 so far, without question.



4. Coraline


Henry Selick really should be more popular than he is. Part of the problem is that his one great masterpiece - Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas - was not a major success during its original run, and has since almost completely been given over to the marquee name on the title (though beyond creating it, said savant had little to do with the actual production). No, Selick suffers from his love of a lost artform - stop motion animation - and the limited outlet for such imagination…until now. Rendered in ridiculously lush 3D and sporting a darker than usual story from Neil Gaiman, this rowdy, raucous allegory about children and their dissatisfied family affairs literally leaps off the screen and settles right down inside your sense of aesthetic bliss. It betters everything that makes Nightmare so classic while keeping in line with the author’s outsized view of youth. The combination is crackerjack.




3. Watchmen


Okay - here comes the second of SE&L‘s ill-conceived choices, though we have to admit that Zack Snyder could never live up to the hype generated by a web world of Moore/Gibbons purists. Argue all you want to over the cast, the last act removal of the oft-complained over squid, the leaving of certain subplots to a stand-alone DVD release, or the near religious faithfulness with which the Dawn of the Dead/300 director approached this material. Whatever your argument, pro or con, it’s hard to deny the visionary work on display here. Snyder stepped up and actually gave the Watchmen universe a realistic, authentic sheen. Even elements like Dr. Manhattan’s private parts make sense within this look at a society so sick with it can’t see the saviors within it. For our money, this is the second more important comic book movie after The Dark Knight, another example of mutating the genre to fit more meaningful mainstream goals.




2. Adventureland


Coming of age stories are a dime a dozen, and this critic believes that many who dismissed this film failed to see the key aspect that makes this look back at life circa 1987 so unforgettable - these are COLLEGE kids we are talking about, not numbskulled high school graduates. It’s one thing to see teens haggle over the family car. It’s another to see someone with a sheepskin experience the same socially emasculating reality. Greg Motolla creates the anti-Superbad here, a film that’s exceedingly sweet where his previous hit was scatological…maybe to a fault. Jesse Eisenberg’s pitch perfect performance, a turn that takes a master of understated sarcasm to pull off, leads us deep into a local amusement park populated by real people with even more recognizable issues. And that Motolla doesn’t supply any easy answers is the sad-sweet icing on this amazing masterwork’s creative cake.



1. Anvil: The Story of Anvil


An unusual choice, but then again, this stellar music documentary is a rarity in unto itself - a heavy metal story that’s less about the hand signs and more about the men striving to get fans fired up. Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner were lost teenagers in Canada when they vowed to rock until they made it to the top. Now, after a brief stop over at ersatz stardom circa the early ‘80s, the more than middle aged musicians are still trying to convince an uncaring industry that they really do matter. The fans definitely think so. The filmmaker here - ex-roadie turned Hollywood heavyweight Sacha Gervais - put enough Spinal Tap references in to make one think they are witness to another memorable meta-put-on by a group of great actors. When the truth comes out (Anvil has never quit, producing 13 albums since they formed) it’s both heart breaking and hilarious. Rooting for the underdogs has never been so much fun - especially when said runners-up didn’t deserve to be forgotten in the first place.

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