The Obligatory Year-End Post, Part 1

The S.A. Film Commission‘s annual Holiday Party, our last big film event of the year, happened on Tuesday night.  It was a lot of fun – if you were there, I hope you had a great time, and if you weren’t, I’m sorry you missed it.

With the party over, and all but one of the End of Year Blockbusters in theaters (I’ve not yet seen Avatar and have some doubts about Sherlock Holmes, which is still yet to open, but I’m still counting that one for now – we are talking about Robert Downey, Jr., after all), it’s just about time to call a wrap on 2009.  All told, I thought it was a pretty good year for movies – I don’t have enough info to agree or even disagree with Roger Ebert’s now near-infamous tweet that it is/was “one of those magic movie years like 1939 or 1976″, but I did notice a few hopeful trends in the films I did see…

I’m a sci-fi geek, so I tend to keep up with what’s going on in genre films.  And of course, 2009 had its share of check-your-mind-at-the-door flicks, which are always fun to talk about, if not always fun to watch.  Somehow, as it often does, the genre found room in its margins for more substantial fare, but this year those films didn’t stay in the margins.

One of those surprises, Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, embraced a classic tradition of science fiction and used its aliens-as-immigrants allegory to explore who we are as human beings, and who we want to be.  And if it didn’t answer all the questions it raised, well, maybe that’s the point.  Each of us could be Wikus, or Christopher Johnson, or any of the MNU bureaucrats, but it’s not in Blomkamp’s power to tell us what we’re going to do about it.  We’ll have to figure that one out on our own.

Less political than existential, Duncan Jones’ Moon provided even more of a head trip for its audience, thanks to production design that evoked the great films of the 60s and 70s (think 2001 and Alien and Silent Running), a script and direction that recalled the if-I’m-not-me-then-am-I-even-human paranoia of Philip K. Dick, and (of course) a brilliant performance by Sam Rockwell that turned what could have been a merely really good film into the best pure science-fiction film I’ve seen in years.  More than that I can’t say, except for “See it.  Now.”

If it wasn’t as thought-provoking a film as Moon or District 9, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek was nonetheless a thoughtful film, a rare thing for a Summer Blockbuster.  Promoted as a reboot of a tired franchise, the film didn’t relaunch the brand so much as resurrect it.  Between the perfectly-cast actors and a spot-on script and yet another amazing score by Michael Giacchino, Star Trek succeeded on all levels, paying tribute to the crew we’ve known and loved for over 40 years while giving them new life and new energy and new resonance.  And, most importantly of all, it was just a lot of fun.

Three films.  All sci-fi, but otherwise very different.  And I loved them all for very different reasons.  But together, they helped make 2009 a very good year for the genre.

And with that, I’ll let you go.  For now, anyway – there’s still time left in the year, and I’m planning to use some of it to talk about the year in animated film.  Hope you’ll come back for that one.  Until then…

“Since my customary farewell would appear oddly self-serving, I shall simply say – good luck…”

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