There were far more 2009 films that were just plain bad, rather than merely disappointing. But in a way, the disappointments sting worse than the bad movies. Most of the time, when walking into a bad movie, the badness is expected. But disappointments are a different beast. Expectations are elevated, hopes are high, and the possibility for greatness is tangible. And then, for whatever reasons, hope fades and the greatness evaporates.
The lists that follow commemorate the 2009 films that coulda, woulda, shoulda...but didn't. Here are films whose ambitions were high, whose intentions were virtuous, whose potential was unquestionable, but who couldn't quite deliver. ~ J and K
Presenting the Most Disappointing Films of 2009, with analysis to follow:
The disappointments were crushing in 2009, and they came from a large group of some of the our finest filmmakers. Any knowledgable film lover must enter the year expecting a fair share of near-misses, but 2009's group stung especially badly, since films with such intriguing subjects, extraordinary performances, and powerful, important intentions never quite accomplished their lofty goals.
Brothers, in my view, was unquestionably the year's biggest disappointment, tackling complex family issues and deep moral quandaries of our nation's military and adding some of the year's most astounding acting work from Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal, and young Bailee Madison. But the film gives away all its powerful secrets, and ends when the real story is just beginning.
Lars Von Trier's Antichrist runs in a close second, a film of staggering beauty in which von Trier inches ever closer to openly discussing his twisted gender issues, and yet the film descends into a jumbled mess of purposeful confusion. And Precious, that film of such great literary pedigree and unending cinematic potential, lands with such an overwrought thud in the third slot.
Rounding out my sad list of 2009 disappointments, Richard Kelly's The Box is another pretentious-yet-intriguing mind-bender that becomes unintentionally laughable; Capitalism: A Love Story is the first time Michael Moore seems to be following the trend of the times rather than defining it; Michael Mann's Public Enemies is a sprawling crime epic but isn't ever that involving; Nancy Meyers' It's Complicated has a message that was too complicated and a plot that was oh-so-simple; The Girlfriend Experience is a failed Soderbergh experiment; Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock takes the build-up and payoff of the greatest concert of our time and makes it tepid and boring; and Away We Go, directed with sincerity by Sam Mendes and acted with subtlety by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, is enjoyable but not totally fulfilling.
There were quite a few movies this year that did not live up to the grand expectations I had for them. Whether it was the over-indulgence of Nine, the irritating blandness of Invictus, the sleep-inducing A Christmas Carol, the gloss-over, boring Taking Woodstock; the pretentious and too-weird Antichrist, the surprisingly not-so-powerful Capitalism: A Love Story, the annoying and cloying Away We Go, the nauseating drivel and one-dimensional He's Just Not that Into You, the laughable, simplistic characterizations and dialogue of Avatar (not to mention its hypocritcal message of peace while simultaneously engaging in a 30-minute bloodbath), or the sheer inanity and beffudlement of The Box, the films on this year's list all exhibit one common trait -- they could have been and should have been so much more. So much more.
When a movie earns a spot on the worst list, it's not typically painful. It is what it is. But this list is different. When you have the amazing caliber of actors, directors, writers, and producers, when you have the sorts of ideas, concepts, and technology that these movies possess, it is all the more heartbreaking to know that this potential is squandered.