Rotten Tomatoes Summer 2009 Wrap-Up
History may look back upon summer 2009 as one of cinema's weirdest seasons. Free of any discernible trends or patterns, Hollywood offered a wild smorgasbord, heavy with comedies and original material, light on tentpole flicks (shockingly, there was only one superhero movie). But let's not forget about the limiteds (which were excluded for contention for this article), movies like The Hurt Locker and Moon that fused philosophy and violence.
And now with the May-August period officially over, Rotten Tomatoes looks back on the passing of another summer season with our Summer Wrap-Up. In this article, you'll find the 10 best Tomatometers of the summer, the 10 worst, an analysis of how each studio fared, and our own favorite summer movie choices!
THE TOP 10 TOMATOMETERS OF THE SUMMER
10. The Hangover
The Hangover, featuring a cast of relative unknowns and opening smack dab in the midst of blockbusters like Up and the Transformers and Terminator sequels, performed beyond expectations. Audiences boosted box office numbers for the bachelor party-themed comedy, and critics like the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle were quick to dub it "the funniest movie so far this year." Some were put off by the film's raunchy humor and outrageous scenarios, but director Todd Phillips and gang had the last laugh, earning a solid 78% on the Tomatometer on the way to Certified Fresh status.
On the surface, Bandslam doesn't look particularly fresh. It's a mix of the old teen outcast underdog tale and "Hey gang! Let's put on a show!" tropes. However, it's all in the telling, and Bandslam proves to be winning, heartwarming, and smart -- in other words, fine family entertainment that's deeper than one might suspect. "Tidy, heartfelt direction by Todd Graff; astute song references; and a David Bowie cameo transcend the formula underpinnings and keep Bandslam buoyant, gratifying and, yes, rocking," wrote Andy Webster of the New York Times.
Cole Smithey of ColeSmithey.com felt "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the most balanced Harry Potter film to come along." Balanced is a fair word, as this, the sixth entry in the Harry Potter franchise, let go of the cagey threats and goofy monsters of the earlier films and focused on more intense battles, explicit dangers and obvious romances. The stakes are higher in Half-Blood Prince, the characters make clear which sides they favor (dark or light), and a staggering amount of snogging is going on, which surprisingly adds (not detracts) from all that magic we've come to love in the Potter films. So far, this one's the moody theme park ride of the franchise and were over that ugly pubescent phase. It wasn't as bad as it could have been, but even wizards suffer a little in junior high.
Both heavy hearted and light as air, the hip romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer is carved out of upbeat retro-pop, thrillingly euphoric highs and crushing disappointments. Making his feature debut, director Mark Webb clearly poured all his carefully observed, admiring, wounded fascinations with the ladies into this one, and we should thank him for focusing on twentysomething professionals instead of sensitive, irritable teenagers. Rene Rodriguez of the Miami Herald said, "This is a romantic comedy that makes the concept of romantic comedies appealing again -- that reminds you how resonant and transporting they can be when they're done right." The musical number set to Hall and Oates didnt hurt.
Welcome back, Mr. Tarantino! Your public has missed you. Yes, you gave us Death Proof just a couple of years ago, but the less said about that, the better; really, we've been waiting for something new from you since the second installment of Kill Bill finished slicing and dicing its way across our screens in 2004. So a little patience has been necessary, but it all paid off with Inglourious Basterds, a wickedly entertaining, typically violent cannonball of a movie that braids the white-hot rage of the revenge fantasy at the center of its premise with all the humor, gleeful pop culture references, and sharp dialogue you'd expect from a Tarantino film. Late August is usually where summer movies go to die; this year, Basterds gave us one last, glorious jolt. In the words of Antagony & Ecstasy's Tim Brayton, "This is filmmaking at its bravest, and whether Tarantino is a genius or a fool, he does nothing by accident."
5. District 9
With a viral campaign that turned local bus stops into quasi-political commentary, District 9 made allegory out of Apartheid three decades later and added a bit more comedy and space ships. The story of a mild mannered administrator and the journey that brings him increasingly closer to the aliens he takes pains to segregate, District 9 was based on a short by director Neil Blompkamp that producer Peter Jackson got behind in a big (feature length) way. The result is a mix of action, science fiction, drama and social satire. According to John Anderson at the Washington Post, "District 9 is A sci-fi-fueled indictment of man's inhumanity to man -- and the non-human -- District 9 is all horribly familiar, and transfixing. Its an actioner, but one surely offering more than explosions."
Ponyo may be the last film in the illustrious career of Hayao Miyazaki, and a fairy tale about a fish who wants to be human just might be the perfect capper. Its simple, elegant, straight-forward storytelling charmed critics and adults, but it's obviously a movie made for kids. A gift for the next generation, Ponyo is, as Philippa Hawker states in The Age, "an imaginative, exhilarating work, but its vigour and energy are achieved with surprising simplicity."
Clearly seeking a change of pace after the extravagance of the Spider-Man series (and the negative experience of the third one), Sam Raimi went back to his roots with this low-budget, button-pushing comedy/horror. The twisted tale of a young banker cursed to go to hell was given a PG-13 rating, sparking concerns that Raimi had gone soft. But as reviews started coming in, it was clear that Raimi had given us one of the most memorable horror movies in years, an effective, disgusting non-stop carnival ride. Brian Juergens from CampBlood.org notes that "[t]his fabulously compact little morality tale is the most fun you'll ever have analyzing our economic collapse."
2. Star Trek
As with many franchises these days, Star Trek got the reboot treatment this year when J.J. Abrams, the mind behind television shows such as Alias and Lost, dared to direct a prequel to the original Star Trek series. As it turned out, critics and audiences alike warmly embraced Abrams' take on the sci-fi adventure, and Star Trek landed in Certified Fresh territory. While some die-hard fans were a bit put off by some of the liberties Abrams took with the overarching mythology of the franchise, an overwhelming majority found the film to be, in the words of Tom Long of the Detroit News, "a film that should appeal to longtime Trekkies, sci-fi neophytes, and pretty much anybody who likes a good action flick."
It probably comes as no surprise to you that Up takes the top spot for the summer (and is a strong contender of taking the prize for the year). Pixar flicks have been dominating Tomatometer lists for 10 years running now and their latest, a story of a man, his house, a kid, and their journey to South America, is no exception. Audiences of all ages were thrilled by the film's stunning visuals, classical storytelling, and surprising bursts of emotion and heartbreak. "How much do I love this movie?" Philadelphia Inquirer's Carrie Rickey asked her readers, "If it were mathematically possible, I'd give it five stars out of four."