The Best in Romantic Comedy 2009
[Our Astas are named for the terrier film star who upstaged Cary Grant in such screwball classics as Bringing Up Baby and The Awful Truth. Award winners from 2008 can be found here, 2007 here, 2006 here, and 2005 here.]
A fairly thin year for our genre, with only two romantic comedies that are likely to endure and find their place in the greater rom-com canon, one a trailblazer and one decidedly old guard traditional. Herewith, the categories.
Best Female Performance: Yes, it's been Sandra Bullock's year, but I'd say the funniest, sexiest woman on screen in '09 was the unsinkable Meryl Streep, who gives It's Complicated the emotional credibility it needs, along with some peerless mugging, just for fun.
Best Male Performance: It's taken me years to warm up to this guy, who I initially dismissed as just another pretty six-pack, but I gotta admit that - while Bullock got all the attention - Ryan Reynolds showed new depth in The Proposal (Best Romantic Comedy to Watch on an Airplane) and did a great supporting turn in Adventureland, as well.
Best Couple: This year's Best Rom-Com Chemistry lit up a non-romantic comedy. There's no denying that George Clooney and Vera Farmiga generated the year's most memorable sparks in Jason Reitman's Up in the Air, bringing a sorely missed Golden Age gleam to their wittily erotic encounters. 2009's Best Cute Meet is also found in this dramedy, a deftly played scene in that most mundane of milieus (they meet in a bar, fer chrissake) with timing and tones that positively sing.
Runners-Up Couple was also in a non-rom-com - Stanley Tucci and Meryl Streep, delightfully married in Julie & Julia, which also featured the year's Worst Couple: the spark-less "Why is He With Her and Why Should We Care?" duo of Chris Messina and Amy Adams.
Best Bellamy: It's always fun when a romantic comedy features a good Mr. Wrong for our heroine to tangle with, and in the interest of non-spoilage (and a hat-tip to the movie's canny triangle-tweaking), the Asta goes to both Wrong-But-Maybe-Right-Guys Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin in It's Complicated.
Best Performance by an Octogenarian: Bless her heart, how great is booty-shaking Betty White, who gamely transcended the ridiculous excesses of her role in The Proposal?
Best Future Stars of Romantic Comedy: Ginnifer Goodwin made the most of a tacitly thankless role as the embodiment of the title in He's Just Not That Into You, suggesting she's a rom-com lead to watch for in the 'Teens; Jesse Eisenberg gave Michael Cera some Future Tom Hanks competition in Adventureland.
Best Meta-Rom-Com Moment: Sooner or later, someone had to do it, so let's give props to the totally nude "Crash Into You" scene (a wry commentary on the time-honored sex-gag high jinks that invariably ensue in such pics) in The Proposal.
Best Clinch: Meanwhile, the most deeply satisfying resolution to a rom-com storyline was found on the small screen at the end of Curb Your Enthusiasm's just-about-perfect season finale, as Larry David, literally within seconds of finally reconciling with ex-wife Cheryl Hines, proved just how precarious their happily-ever-after would be.
Best Teen/Twenties Rom-Com: The Old Wine in New Bottles winner of '09 was Greg Mottola's warm, wise Adventureland, a stealth missile of rom-com pleasure that brought an uncharacteristic level of sophistication to a sub-genre that's like, not necessarily known for that.
Best Bromantic Comedy: No competition - Paul Rudd and Jason Segel's pas-de-dudes made John Hamburg's I Love You, Man the best in a still-hardy brother genre, a movie that out-Apatow-ed Judd Apatow, whose overblown Funny People was only half of a great movie.Best Rom-Com Hybrid: I realize I'm in a minority here, but must cite Tony Gilroy's clever Duplicity as the year's best "It's a Breath Mint And a Candy Mint" cross-breeding of genres.
Rotten Tomatoes Sidebar: We interrupt the Bests with special Astas to be bestowed on 2009's Most Overrated Romantic Comedy, He's Just Not That Into You, the Ugliest Rom-Com Ad Campaign, for the equally gross The Ugly Truth, and the year's Best Trailer That Saved You From Actually Having to See the Movie: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.
Worst Romantic Comedy: There was stiff competition at the bottom of the barrel in 2009 (from hideous chick flick Bride Wars to quirky-ed to death indie All About Steve) but hands-down winner was the execrable Couples Vacation. Vince Vaughn, my life called, and it wants the two hours I wasted watching this piece-o-hack movie back.
Best Direction: Marc Webb proved that video directors can indeed make a full-length feature snap, crackle and pop with his impressive helming of (500) Days of Summer, one of the most visually entertaining romantic comedies of the decade.
Best Screenplay: (500) Days of Summer, written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, breathed fresh air into a sometimes deflated genre, being alert to detail (e.g. from the parens of the title to the use of the numbers-titles device throughout) and delivering the substantive goods - it's a romantic comedy that's actually about something: in part, the danger of buying into the ethos of romantic comedies.
Best Romantic Comedy: For the first time in Astas history, it's a tie - between (500) Days of Summer, the Youthful Rom-Com of the Year, and It's Complicated, a Triumph of the Ageless. The films also share Best Rom-Com Set Piece awards, one for Summer's nifty "You Make My Dreams" musical number, and one for Complicated's delirious pot-smoking sequence. Some day, someone (keep your eye on Jason Reitman) may marry the edgy cinematic panache of Summer to the savvy Old School showboating of Nancy Meyer's movie to create one platonic ideal of rom-commery, but in the meantime, these two pics together form an inclusive portrait of Funny Movie Love in 2009.
Disagreements? Secondings? Outraged "How could you overlook...?!" comments? Tell Living the RomCom, as we bid 2009 adieu and send happy new year's wishes out to you.