It's not too much of a stretch to suggest that most awards-season movies are a bit on the safe side. They come from famous novels or are based on some very serious topic, and they usually come with lots of familiar stars or at least a respected director. Many of these films are good, but very few of them really go very far in breaking the rules or opening up new horizons. So let's remember some of the nuttier films from 2009 while we can, before they're forgotten in the Oscar rush.
Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are (235 screens) may not have been so wild, but you have to admit, it was a bit crazy to adapt a classic children's book into something not quite definable. I'm sure some parents took their kids to see it and perhaps some kids liked it, but it was decidedly not a children's film -- or at least not one with the familiar "kids movie" sights and sounds that we've come to expect. (Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox achieved roughly the same thing; what a great double-bill!)
Then there are the truly lunatic performances that we generally overlook while praising the latest biopic, lunatic performances like Nicolas Cage's in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (71 screens). For my money, it's Cage's best work in years, up there with Raising Arizona and Bringing Out the Dead. Cage really worked for this paycheck; this is the kind of frenzied, extra-credit acting that's hard to come down from. He may even be too exhausted for Oscar campaigning. The same goes for Tom Hardy in the little-seen Bronson (50 screens); this is one cat you don't want to mess with.
Meanwhile, the certified loony Woody Harrelson is generating some Oscar buzz for his performance in the excellent The Messenger (50 screens), but what about his performance in the equally excellent Zombieland (257 screens)? How many actors could re-load a gun clip in such a cool way, all the while pining for Twinkies? You could see that Twinkie-lust in his eyes!
How about some accolades for Shauna Cross, for her screenplay for Whip It (30 screens)? She was a real-life roller derby star who wrote a book and then wrote the screenplay based on the book. I would love to have seen that pitch meeting. I hope the guys in suits cringed when she walked in! While we're at it, we should consider Drew Barrymore as Best Director, as well as the wonderful Kristen Wiig for her tender, sensitive performance as "Maggie Mayhem" in that same movie; she bashes skulls in the rink, and gives soulful pep talks off the rink.
I think the foolhardy, ingenious Inglourious Basterds (194 screens) deserves a whole bunch of Oscars, from Tarantino, Brad Pitt to Christoph Waltz, to whoever it was that designed that indelible image of Melanie Laurent's face projected into a cloud of smoke after the movie screen burns up. Finally, why not a pat on the back for some of this year's superb horror films, a genre that never gets any mainstream respect, starting with The House of the Devil (7 screens), a film so bold that it hardly gets started for nearly an hour?
OK. Time to go back to all those sensible films now. At least I had fun for a little while...