In 2008, the box office numbers were astronomical, settling in the $9.6 billion range domestically. Few experts thought that 2009 had much of a chance to top it.
But when the final figures are published, 2009 will have surpassed 2008…by a wide margin. According to the trade bible “Variety,” the $10 billion level is in the rear view mirror and Christmas weekend was the biggest in movie history, up over 35% in revenue and over 5% in attendance from 2008.
Is it due to the fact that patrons are looking for modestly priced entertainment options in a shaky economy? Is it the emergence of high-tech digital projection, IMAX and 3-D options that are drawing in new audience members? Is it simply that ticket prices are a bit higher this year?
Regardless of the reasons, Hollywood is on a roll.
“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” was the box office champ, taking in nearly $834 million worldwide.
But that number will likely be topped by James Cameron’s 3-D sci-fi spectacle “Avatar.” In its first ten days of release, the total worldwide box office for “Avatar” surpassed $615 million.
Along with “Transformers,” there were a few other ‘tentpole’ franchises like “Harry Potter, ” “Night at the Museum” and “Twilight” that padded Hollywood’s bankroll.
But there were some surprises, too. A modest gross-out comedy called “The Hangover” took in $460 million and “Paranormal, Activity” a horror flick made on a miniscule $15,000 budget, has made $107 million so far.
Locally, the trend was the same.
Patrons enjoyed the new all-digital AMC Mainstreet theatre in Kansas City’s downtown Power and Light District. This outstanding facility that rose from the ashes of the old Empire Theatre may well be the all-round best movie house in the country.
Local movie buffs and entrepreneurs Butch Rigby and John Shipp took over two of the old screens at the former Crown Center Cinema, now called the Screenland Crown Center. They’ll feature art, foreign language and documentary films.
A case could be made that there are better movies at the theatre this year. Whether or not that’s true is, of course, largely a matter of taste. Here are your humble critic’s picks for the best films of the year, as well as titles to avoid when browsing at the local video store.
THE BEST MOVIES OF 2009:
MAKE IT 10-FOR-10 FOR THE FOLKS AT PIXAR. “UP” IS A BEAUTIFULLY CONCEIVED AND EXECUTED ANIMATED FEATURE THAT COMES AS CLOSE TO “ART” AS ANYTHING YOU’RE LIKELY TO SEE. HEARTFELT AND JAM-PACKED WITH IMAGINATION, “UP” IS AN EPIC TALE THAT LIFTS OUR SPIRITS AS IT SOARS INTO THE STRATOSPHERE.
2) UP IN THE AIR
GEORGE CLOONEY IS EXCELLENT AS A CONSULTANT WHO FIRES PEOPLE FOR A LIVING. THIS BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN COMIC DRAMA HAS ITS FINGER SQUARELY ON THE AMERICAN PULSE AND IS PERFECTLY IN SYNC WITH ITS TIME.
THE PERFORMERS ARE SPLENDID IN THIS OUTSTANDING DRAMA ABOUT AN OVERWEIGHT AFRICAN AMERICAN TEEN AND HER STRUGGLES WITH POVERTY AND ABUSE. “PRECIOUS” IS HARD STUFF THAT EARNS ITS “R” RATING, BUT IT’S AN UNFORGETTABLE CELEBRATION OF THE TRIUMPH OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT.
4) STAR TREK
J.J. ABRAM’S REBOOTING OF THE ORIGINAL STAR TREK FRANCHISE DELIVERS BIG TIME. IT DOESN’T JUST APE THE OLD SHOW’S DIALOGUE AND CHARACTERIZATIONS, IT ARTFULLY RECAPTURES THEM.
5) 500 DAYS OF SUMMER
A LIKABLE CAST, SHARP SOUNDTRACK AND UNIQUE APPROACH MAKE “500 DAYS OF SUMMER” A WINNING ROM-COM FOR A NEW GENERATION. IT’S ENOUGH TO RESTORE YOUR FAITH IN CHICK FLICKS.
6) AWAY WE GO
SAM MENDES’ LITTLE QUIRKY ROAD MOVIE ABOUT A COUPLE EXPECTING THEIR FIRST CHILD FEATURES A SHARP PERFORMANCE FROM “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE” ALUM, MAYA RUDOLPH.
7) DISTRICT 9
THIS RIVETING SCI-FI ENTRY’S ALLEGORY ABOUT APARTHIED ISN’T SUBTLE, BUT IT’S EFFECTIVE.
8) WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
WHILE IT WON’T APPEAL TO THE SAME DEMOGRAPHIC AS THE FAMED CHILDREN’S BOOK, SPIKE LEE’S MOVIE IS A BITTERSWEET LOOK AT CHILDHOOD ANGST BEST OBSERVED FROM THE DISTANCE OF ADULTHOOD.
9) ME AND ORSON WELLS
CHRISTIAN MCCAY CHANNELS THE SPIRIT OF ORSON WELLS IN THIS CHARMING PERIOD PIECE THAT SERVES AS A LOVE LETTER TO THE WACKY WORLD OF THEATRE.
10) THE HURT LOCKER
KATHERINE BIGEL0W’S REALISTIC ACCOUNT OF A BOMB SQUAD IN THE IRAQ WAR IS A GRITTY, DISTURBING CHARACTER STUDY.
THE WORST MOVIES OF 2009:
1) ALL ABOUT STEVE
SANDRA BULLOCK HAD A GREAT YEAR IN 2009 (“THE PROPOSAL” AND “THE BLIND SIDE”). SO DID BRADLEY COOPER (“THE HANGOVER”). BUT WHEN THESE TWO CAME TOGETHER IN THIS AWFUL ROMANTIC COMEDY, THE RESULTS WERE ALL ABOUT STUPIDITY. THE FILMMAKERS CAME UP WITH NEW AND UNIQUE WAYS TO FAIL. THE STARS WILL SURVIVE THIS DEBACLE, BUT IT MAY COME BACK TO HAUNT THEM.
2) NEXT DAY AIR
IF THE FILMMAKERS THOUGHT THAT THIS VIOLENT MESS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY, THEN THEY’RE DUMBER THAN THE INEPT CRIMINALS PLAYED BY MIKE EPPS AND WOOD HARRIS.
NICHOLAS CAGE SUPPOSEDLY KNOWS THAT THE WORLD IS ABOUT TO COME TO AN END IN THIS SCI-FI DISASTER. HE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN THAT THE SCRIPT SUCKED.
4) OBSERVE AND REPORT
SETH ROGAN STARS IN THIS SO-CALLED COMEDY THAT PLAYS LIKE A RAUNCHY, VIOLENT VERSION OF “PAUL BLART: MALL COP”…BUT WITHOUT THE SOPHISTICATION.
5) THE GOODS
JEREMY PIVEN AND A TALENTED CAST WASTE THEIR TIME ON THIS WITLESS MESS ABOUT USED CAR SALESMEN. ANY STICKER PRICE IS TOO HIGH FOR THIS ONE.
6) THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT
THIS REMAKE OF WES CRAVEN’S DRIVE IN MONSTROSTITY FROM 1972 MADE YOU WISH THAT THE KILLERS WOULD EVISCERATE THE FILMMAKERS INSTEAD OF INNOCENT VICTIMS.
7) THE UGLY TRUTH
THERE’S SOMETHING DISINGENUOUS ABOUT A MOVIE THAT STARS KATHERINE HEIGEL AND GERARD BUTLER AND HAS “UGLY” IN THE TITLE. STILL, THIS ROM-COM WAS UGLY IN SPIRIT.
8) I LOVE YOU BETH COOPER
I LOVE YOU HAYDEN PANETTIERE, BUT DIRECTOR CHRIS COLUMBUS (“HOME ALONE”) MUST HAVE FALLEN ON HARD TIMES TO RELEASE A COMEDY THIS LAME.
9) SORORITY ROW
THIS IS THE TYPE OF CHEAP EXPLOITATION FLICK WHERE MOVIE STAR OFFSPRING (RUMER WILLIS AND BRIANA EVIGAN) GO SLUMMING.
10) LOVE HAPPENS
AARON ECKHART AND JENNIFER ANISTON ARE TALENTED, ATTRACTIVE STARS, BUT THEIR EFFORTS CAN’T ELEVATE THIS MOVIE’S SCRIPT. A COMPENDIUM OF CLICHES, IT PLAYS LIKE A REJECT FROM A SCREENPLAY FACTORY.