This is a thing that I do. I keep track of all the movies, TV shows, and books I consume over the course of the year, then add them up and reflect upon them. Why would I post something like this, something that is clearly only of interest to me and no one else? Because it’s my website and I can do whatever I want to. (For reals: My name is right there in the URL.) Besides, I like to encourage obsessive stalkers to learn all they can about me.
I watched 392 movies in 2009, down from last year’s total of 430, but still an average of more than one a day. In fact, there were 104 days where I didn’t watch any movies, so those 392 were actually crammed into 261 days. I watch a lot of movies, is my point.
I also watch a lot of bad movies. This struck me as I compiled the lists below. Being a film critic means seeing a fair amount of stinkers anyway, since stinkers are one of Hollywood’s chief exports. But then I also do the Eric’s Bad Movies column at Film.com, which means intentionally seeing 52 more bombs a year. Sometimes for inspiration I’ll watch “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” which is usually very funny but which entails watching a bad movie, too.
Luckily, there are also many pleasant movie-watching experiences. This year I saw the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup” for the first time — I think it’s the only one of theirs I’d missed — on a warm summer night on the roof of a downtown Portland hotel, where there’s a weekly film series during the hot months. I saw “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Raising Arizona” on the big screen (actual theatrical prints, too, not DVDs) thanks to Cort and Fatboy‘s monthly midnight movies at the Bagdad Theater. I saw “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” often considered the worst film ever made, heckled by the guys from RiffTrax (formerly the guys from “Mystery Science Theater”), live via satellite when it was beamed to hundreds of theaters around the country.
When “The Wizard of Oz” was released on Bluray, in conjunction with the movie’s 70th anniversary, Netflix made it available for 24 hours to be streamed online or through a Roku player or the other devices that use Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature. So I invited a few friends over and we watched it on my high-definition TV. The colors were stunning — probably even more vivid than they were in 1939 — and the quality was doubly impressive when you consider that it was getting to my TV by way of wireless Internet. We live in the future!
As some of you know, I suffered a major depressive episode in late August and early September. For perhaps the first time, I came to truly appreciate the value of movies as a means of escape. No matter how awful I felt, a good movie could distract me from it, at least for a while. At first I sought out movies that I knew would be gentle and non-abrasive: “Casablanca,” “It Happened One Night,” “The Magnificent Seven.” I caught a Hitchcock I’d never seen before (“Frenzy”), re-watched “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” for the first time in about 20 years, and finally saw Steve McQueen in “Bullitt.”
It was also during this time that I tried to do some work by watching “Wing Commander,” starring Freddie Prinze Jr., for Eric’s Bad Movies. I learned that I can’t do Eric’s Bad Movies in this frame of mind. “Wing Commander” is terrible, no question. But watching it, I couldn’t think of anything funny to say about it. All I could think about was how much I hated watching it. And if you’re going to watch a bad movie without being able to make fun of it, well, what’s the point? Rather than distract me from my depression, it added to it. I still want to do “Wing Commander” for Eric’s Bad Movies, but it will be a while before I can muster the strength to watch it again. In the meantime, you’ve won this round, Mr. Prinze Jr.
2009 releases that I saw and reviewed:
If you want to see the whole list, just go to the Archives and filter the date to only include “2009.”
2009 releases that I saw but did not review (with probable grade, where my memory is sufficiently clear):
Sundance Film Festival:
“Arlen Faber” (D)
“Big Fan” (B+)
“Good Hair” (B)
“Cold Souls” (C+)
“The Missing Person” (B)
“When You’re Strange” (B-)
South By Southwest Film Festival:
“Ong Bak 2” (C)
“The Overbrook Brothers” (B-)
“Modern Love Is Automatic” (C)
“The Slammin’ Salmon” (B+)
“Lesbian Vampire Killers” (C-)
“Four Boxes” (C-)
“Anvil!: The Story of Anvil” (B)
“The Paranoids” (C)
Tribeca Film Festival:
“Tell Tale” (B-)
“Wonderful World” (C+)
CineVegas Film Festival:
“Saint John of Las Vegas” (C)
“Vegas: Based on a True Story”
“The Square” (A-)
“The Headless Woman” (B)
“Sunshine Cleaning” (B+)
“Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder” (direct to DVD)
2009 releases that I watched twice:
“Drag Me to Hell”
“Fantastic Mr. Fox”
“The Hurt Locker”
“In the Loop”
“Observe and Report”
“A Serious Man”
“World’s Greatest Dad”
Pre-2009 releases that I had seen before, and reviewed, that I re-watched this year:
“Best in Show”
“Boys Don’t Cry”
“Bringing out the Dead”
“Deep Blue Sea”
“Mickey Blue Eyes”
“Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace”
“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”
Pre-2009 releases that I had seen before but did not review, that I re-watched this year:
“The 13th Warrior”
“The Blood Waters of Dr. Z”*
“Boggy Creek II”*
“Do the Right Thing”
“The Empire Strikes Back”
“The Evil Dead”
“The Final Sacrifice”*
“Giant Spider Invasion”*
“The Girl in Gold Boots”*
“The Good Son”
“Horrors of Spider Island”*
“History of the World Part 1”
“Invasion of the Neptune Men”*
“It Lives by Night”*
“James and the Giant Peach”
“The Magnificent Seven”
“The Manchurian Candidate”
“Merlin’s Shop of Magical Wonders”*
“On the Waterfront”
“Overdrawn at the Memory Bank”*
“Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”
“Quest of the Delta Knights”*
“Red Zone Cuba”*
“The Screaming Skull”*
“South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut”
“Terminator 2: Judgment Day”
“This Is Spinal Tap”
“The Touch of Satan”*
“Track of the Moon Beast”*
“The Wizard of Oz”
*Watched via “Mystery Science Theater 3000”
Pre-2009 releases that I saw for the first time this year:
For Eric’s Bad Movies at Film.com:
“Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold”
“The Care Bears Movie”
“Death Wish: The Face of Death”
“The Forbidden Dance”
“The Garbage Pail Kids Movie”
“Howard the Duck”
“The Ice Pirates”
“Jack Frost” (killer snowman, not Michael Keaton)
“King Kong Lives”
“Leonard Part 6”
“The Neverending Story III”
“The Next Karate Kid”
“On Deadly Ground”
“The Other Sister”
“Power Rangers: The Movie”
“Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”
“Surviving the Game”
“Two of a Kind”
For other reasons:
“9 1/2 Weeks”
“The Basketball Diaries”
“The China Syndrome”
“Dazed and Confused”
“It Happened One Night”
“New Jack City”
“Plan 9 from Outer Space”
“The Seventh Seal”
“The Sword in the Stone”
“The Thing” (1982)
“Touch of Evil”
“The Trouble with Harry”
“The Unbearable Lightness of Being”
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
“Withnail & I”
I watched 345 hours of TV this year, up from 281 last year. Glad to see I’m getting my priorities straight. Those 345 hours represent only about 259 hours in front of the TV, though, since I watch everything on DVR and skip the commercials. That’s about 42 minutes a day, which still seems shamefully low given my status as a lazy American. Aren’t I supposed to be planted on the couch for like five hours a day? What’s wrong with me?
Shows I watched regularly in 2009:
“Curb Your Enthusiasm”
“Flight of the Conchords”
“Friday Night Lights”
“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”
“Law & Order”
“Law & Order: SVU”
“Life on Mars”
“Michael and Michael Have Issues”
“Parks and Recreation”
“Saturday Night Live”
“Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job”
I also quit watching a few shows this year, including “Heroes,” “Scrubs,” “Rescue Me,” and “The Mentalist.” Why would I quit those but keep watching the outrageously bad “Law & Order: SVU,” which more and more functions as a parody of cop shows rather than an actual cop show? I don’t know.
My favorite shows in 2009:
1. “30 Rock” (NBC). Despite some ups and downs in quality, this is still the show that amuses and impresses me the most, week after week. All comedy writers aspire to craft something this fast-paced and densely packed.
2. “Modern Family” (ABC). What a swell surprise this fall debut was! Nearly as funny as “30 Rock,” but more reality-based rather than absurd, and with an element of sweetness, too. All the characters are funny individually, as well as in their various combinations. A terrific comedy, right off the bat.
3. “Lost” (ABC). These last two seasons have been fantastic. The upcoming final season could turn out to be the best thing ever. EVER.
4. “Mad Men” (AMC). Is there a more exquisitely photographed, meticulously designed, and brilliantly acted series on all of television? Oh, there is? Well, did whatever show you’re thinking of feature a gruesome lawnmower accident in an office building? I DID NOT THINK SO.
5. “Parks and Recreation” (NBC). I watched the first couple episodes when it premiered in April and thought, “I already watch ‘The Office.’ I don’t need another version of it.” But a few weeks into the new fall season, I was alerted by several reliable people that “Parks and Recreation” had found its own voice and was now very, very funny. I started watching it again and came to the same conclusion. In fact, it makes me laugh more than “The Office” does.
Yikes. I only read 15 books this year. Considering I’m in a book club that makes me read one book a month, that means I only read three on my own time. I need to do more of that, though it will be hard if I’m also going to watch more TV.
I’ve asterisked the ones that I would particularly recommend. Links are to Amazon.
**“The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves,” by M.T. Anderson. Having loved “Volume I: The Pox Party,” I eagerly sought out the sequel and was just as delighted by the story of an African boy who gets involved in the Revolutionary War. Of particular note is Anderson’s ability to write prose that sounds like it could have been written in the 1770s, complete with jokes and ribaldry.
“Atmospheric Disturbances,” by Rivka Galchen. Told from the point of view of a psychiatrist who might be losing his own mind: He believes his wife is not actually his wife, but a “simulacrum” put in her place to deceive him. The descriptions of a man’s descent into craziness are fascinating, and I do love a story with an unreliable narrator, but I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I hoped I would.
**“Dear American Airlines,” by Jonathan Miles. This darkly comic novel takes the form of a letter of complaint written to American Airlines after a flight is canceled. In the process, the stranded passenger — a screw-up of a father who’s trying to get to his daughter’s wedding to redeem himself — reveals much of his life story. I found it all very funny, insightfully written, and a joy to read.
**“Fablehaven: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary,” by Brandon Mull. Part 4 of the story about an ordinary young brother and sister whose grandparents are caretakers at a secret preserve for magical creatures. The stakes get a little higher this time, though the series still isn’t nearly as heavy as Harry Potter, and Mull’s writing is still simple, witty, and fast-paced.
“The Forest of Hands and Teeth,” by Carrie Ryan. What a great title! Like so many young-adult novels nowadays, it’s set after the zombie apocalypse, where small villages keep themselves separated from the undead with fences and walls, but a teenage girl longs to see what else is out there. The writing style kind of bugged me. Lots of small sentences. Like this. All the time. But the story is terrific, full of adventure and thrills and just a little teen romance.
**“How I Became a Famous Novelist,” by Steve Hely. This is easily the funniest book I read all year. It’s about a guy who sets out to write an intentionally bad but generically crowd-pleasing novel solely for fame and fortune, and to produce envy in his ex-girlfriend, who is about to marry someone else. What’s surprising is that in Hely’s ruthless satire of bland fiction writers, he also expresses genuine admiration for what popular novelists do. The story doesn’t go where you’d expect it to, and there’s a satisfying maturity to it, in addition to all the laughs.
“How Right You Are, Jeeves,” P.G. Wodehouse. Everyone should read more Wodehouse books about Wooster, the carefree British gentleman, and Jeeves, his faithful valet who rescues him from all manner of social scrapes. I read a couple of these books during the Great Depression and found my spirits much lifted.
**“The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins. Another young-adult novel, another one told from the point of view of a teenage girl living in a post-apocalyptic world. This time, she’s chosen to represent her village at the country’s annual Hunger Games, where the winning district gets food and prizes to survive the next year, and the losing districts get nothing. Oh, and to win, you have to kill the other competitors. Brisk writing, fun story, and some legitimate surprises. Obviously sets itself up for a sequel, though, which is a little disappointing if you were hoping to have all the threads tied up.
**“In the Woods,” by Tana French. A crackling good police thriller about an Irish detective investigating a murder that has eerie similarities to something that happened to him when he was a kid, where two of his friends disappeared.
“Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit,” P.G. Wodehouse. The fun thing about Jeeves books is that the titles give you no clue what they’re about, so the only way to remember if you’ve read it before is to start on the first page and see if it looks familiar.
**“Johnny One-Eye,” by Jerome Cheryn. Historical fiction about a resourceful young orphan who was raised in a brothel, gets involved with both sides of the American Revolution (he’s a double agent!), and might be the illegitimate son of George Washington. Colorful characters both real and invented interact amusingly.
“The Monsters of Templeton,” by Lauren Groff. A young woman returns to her hometown, pregnant, just as her own mother did 27 years ago. Her attempt to learn who her father is takes her through several generations of genealogy, and we see the patterns that have repeated themselves throughout this family’s history. A good novel, if not a great one, and an engaging read.
“Serena,” by Ron Rash. George Pemberton sets out to establish a timber empire in North Carolina in 1929, joined by his new wife, Serena, whom he doesn’t really know very well. She proves to be alarmingly adept at overseeing the workingman and eliminating business competitors, giving the story an unsettling mix of beauty and violence.
“Silver,” by Edward Chupack. This is another kind of book I like: the story of a fictional person who was a supporting character in another novel. (See also: “Finn,” about Huck Finn’s dad.) “Silver” is about Long John Silver, the pirate scoundrel in “Treasure Island,” and is written from his distinct point of view. Quite a rollicking good time, though I was disappointed that Chupack didn’t adhere strictly to the events told in “Treasure Island.”
“Treasure Island,” by Robert Louis Stevenson. I was intrigued by the idea of “Silver” but figured I should read “Treasure Island” first, since I had never done so. I can see why boys of yesteryear loved it: pirates, adventure, buried treasure, all that stuff. Not a bad read at all.