CATEGORIES Best & Worst of 2009Critics get it wrong sometimes. Maybe more often than sometimes. Occasionally, they just don't get a film whose virtues may become more apparent after a second or third viewing. We're not talking about movies that critics hated but were big hits anyway. (Admit it: deep in your heart, you know the critics were right about 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' and 'New Moon.') Rather, we're talking about decent or better-than-decent movies where critics may have missed the boat.
We found many such movies this year, movies that undeservedly earned a score under 75 percent at Rotten Tomatoes. Check out the 10 most underrated movies of 2009 below. After all, they deserve another look. Critics get it wrong sometimes. Maybe more often than sometimes. Occasionally, they just don't get a film whose virtues may become more apparent after a second or third viewing. We're not talking about movies that critics hated but were big hits anyway. (Admit it: deep in your heart, you know the critics were right about 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' and 'New Moon.') Rather, we're talking about decent or better-than-decent movies where critics may have missed the boat.
We found many such movies this year, movies that undeservedly earned a score under 75 percent at Rotten Tomatoes. Check out the 10 most underrated movies of 2009 below. After all, they deserve another look.
10. 'Sunshine Cleaning'
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 72 percent
This Sundance fave, about two sisters (Amy Adams and Emily Blunt) who start a crime-scene cleaning business, may have been too self-consciously quirky for some critics. But Adams and Blunt had great chemistry, and the film was warm and funny in unexpected ways. No wonder Showtime is adapting it into a cable series.
9. 'Away We Go'
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 66 percent
Like 'Sunshine Cleaning,' this indie tale of a bohemian couple (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) anticipating their first child may have seemed to deliberately quirky. But it has a smart script (co-written by Dave Eggers), surprisingly unfussy direction from the usually grandiose Sam Mendes, and a glowing performance from Rudolph, who was always so versatile on 'Saturday Night Live,' and who finally gets the big-screen showcase she deserves here.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 64 percent
Heaven forbid reviewers should actually have to think during a movie. So it is with Zack Snyder's carefully wrought adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' revisionist superhero saga, with its tricky timelines, alternate history, rich visual symbolism, philosophical underpinnings, and murky moral ambiguity. Maybe you had to read the graphic novel to follow the story, or maybe the film really did work on its own considerable merits, which included indelible performances by Jackie Earle Haley and Billy Crudup.
7. 'The Girlfriend Experience'
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 63 percent
Critics were so distracted by Steven Soderbergh's stunt-casting of a bona fide porn star (Sasha Grey) as a full-service call girl that they neglected to notice that he actually built a movie around her. An experimental and emotionally chilly movie, to be sure, but one that fit the subject matter: the search for real intimacy in a world defined by simulations, technology, and money.
6. 'Pirate Radio'
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 60 percent
Richard Curtis' valentine to the rock 'n' roll of the '60s, and to the DJs who cheekily defied the British government to put it on the airwaves, is an unusually sweet and sentimental coming-of-age tale from a wirter/director known for astringent romantic comedies. (Maybe some of Curtis' tart wit was snipped out on the journey across the Atlantic; the US version is at least 15 minutes shorter than the director's UK cut.) Still, it has some wonderful performances, especially from Rhys Ifans as an eccentric DJ and the always delightful Bill Nighy as a dandyish rock godfather. And the seminal soundtrack sandpapers over all sins.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 58 percent
There were a lot of post-apocalyptic nightmare movies this year, but only one whose characters appeared to be made of burlap. Imagine 'The Matrix Revolutions' reenacted by bespectacled beanbags, and you'll have an idea of the nature of Shane Acker's visual epic. The story may have been familiar (and perhaps too scary for kids), but the execution was endlessly inventive and imaginative. Maybe there were just too many movies this year called 'Nine.'
4. 'The International'
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 58 percent
Critics complained about this thriller's far-fetched plot, even though its premise, about an international bank that launders money for terrorists, was based in fact. Tom Tykwer's film isn't as formally daring as his 'Run Lola Run,' but it does feature some terrific action set pieces, including a shoot-out amid the spirals of the Guggenheim Museum. Clive Owen gives a typically intense performance as an obsessive sleuth who learns just how far he'll go to bring the bank down, while fellow cop Naomi Watts tries, in vain, to keep him grounded.
3. 'The Soloist'
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55 percent
Critics distrust sentimental movies that offer easy uplift and redemption. Not that this one did; this true-life story about a reporter (Robert Downey Jr.) who encounters a gifted but unstable cellist (Jamie Foxx) living on the street avoided the usual pieties and clichés about homelessness and mental illness. Plus both actors are at the top of their game these days, and both are full of surprises throughout this movie.
2. 'The Men Who Stare at Goats'
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 54 percent
C'mon, this George Clooney movie was frickin' hilarious, the funniest film about U.S. forces bogged down in Iraq since Clooney tackled the first Iraq War in 'Three Kings' ten years ago. Jeff Bridges was funny, too, throwing himself into full Dude mode as a New Age warrior, but it's the deadpan-serious Clooney who stole every scene. Perhaps the movie's punchline - that we don't know what the hell we're doing in the Middle East, and that perhaps diplomacy might be a more effective tactic than indiscriminate killing - was lost on some reviewers.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 50 percent
A lot of critics reviewed Christopher Wallace's life (and found it appalling) rather than reviewing the movie about his life. Sure, it's a piece of pop mythmaking about how Wallace (Jamal Woolard) transformed himself from drug dealer to rap icon Notorious B.I.G., but then, every other music biopic of recent years is its own exercise in pop mythmaking as well. Why shouldn't Biggie be granted the same shot? More than most pop genres, rap is about self-reinvention, and few understood that better (or more fatefully predicted their own downfall in song) than he did. The movie may not be true to life, but it's true to his elusive art. That said, it's grounded in real emotion in the performances of Woolard and Angela Bassett, as Wallace's fierce mother and the keeper of his flame.