Imagine E.T. recast as a low-rent comedy, conceived by the cheerfully profane Shaun of the Dead co-stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and you should have some idea what to expect from Paul, their first big-screen collaboration as screenwriters.
Absent the subversive touch of Edgar Wright, who directed and co-wrote Shaun (2004) and the pair’s buddy-cop parody Hot Fuzz (2007), Paul is a slighter diversion, as much a loving homage to geek culture as a gentle send-up of the genre’s lesser entries, including 1988’s Mac and Me.
This has been heralded as the year of the animated movie, and with good reason: Fantastic Mr. Fox, Coraline and Up, among others, proved as engaging for adults as for children, validating a genre unfairly dismissed as kiddie fare by some critics and too many Oscar voters.
To me, 2009 was most memorable for its documentaries. Tyson, Capitalism: A Love Story, The Beaches of Agnes and The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers entertained as well as informed, and all remain worthy candidates for end-of-the-year accolades. Consider them (as well as Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are) runners-up to my list of the year’s best films.
Those expecting another hormonally charged, cheerfully outlandish sex comedy from Superbad director Greg Mottola may be surprised to discover that Adventureland, despite a deliberately misleading ad campaign, is nothing of the sort. It is a far more grounded, even somber affair, populated by thoughtful, unaffected characters whose misadventures ring invariably true. It is also one of the year’s best films.