Surprising trends include child abuse and obesity

When talking about the films of 2009, people in January either concentrate on grosses or awards potential. But if you look at the films with a sociologist’s eye, there are some surprising trends.

It was a difficult year for cold-blooded professional assassins, who were routinely outsmarted by out-of-shape academics, journalists and mall cops (“Angels and Demons,” “State of Play” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” respectively).

Subtitled sequences were de rigueur: “Avatar,” “District 9,” “Fast and Furious,” “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Precious,” “A Serious Man,” “A Single Man.”

The news was mixed for Amelia Earhart: “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” was a big hit, “Amelia” wasn’t. The year was groovy and far out for the 1960s thanks to “An Education,” “A Serious Man,” “Nine,” “Taking Woodstock,” “A Single Man” and “Pirate Radio.”

It was a tough time for kids, who were dumped onto the floor by grandma (“Precious”); had their heads banged against a cop car (“The Hangover”); were threatened with murder (“Orphan”) and with being eaten (“The Road,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” “Zombieland”); were slammed around in a kung-fu fight (“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”); were thrown into the furniture (“New Moon”); had their mouths sewn shut (“Coraline”); were poisoned, hexed and pursued by Death Eaters (“Harry Potter”); were beaten and molested (“The White Ribbon”); fell to their deaths from windows (“Antichrist”); battled cancer (“My Sister’s Keeper”); died (“Astroboy”) and were raped and murdered (“The Lovely Bones”).

And 2009 was good for adult mutilation, with scissors, scalpings, baseball bats, bolt cutters and hacksaws (“Antichrist,” “Inglourious Basterds” and “Law Abiding Citizen”).

Thanks to “Star Trek” and “Avatar,” pointy ears were back in fashion.

Also fashionable were fatty acids, with lovable protagonists who were overweight (Russell Crowe, “State of Play”; Matt Damon, “The Informant!”; Patton Oswalt, “Big Fan”) or obese (“Paul Blart,” “Precious”). And in “Julie and Julia,” two women found meaning in their lives by preparing calorie-laden meals, with Amy Adams’ character gushing, “You can never have too much butter!”

Comfort food was celebrated, as the near-starving father and son in “The Road” feasted on a treasure trove of Cheetos and Spam, with a dessert of Del Monte fruit cocktail. And they exulted in their Coca-Cola — which was also the drink that a child murderer used to lure his victim in “The Lovely Bones.”

It was a milestone year for corn, as filmgoers heard the word “gluconate” more in “The Informant!” than in any previous film in Hollywood history.

It was a disturbing time for couples trying to escape the rat race given “A Perfect Getaway,” “The Canyon” and “Couples Retreat.”

South Africa was on the map, though not always favorably, thanks to “District 9,” “Invictus” and “Skin.” Alas, European capitals were nearly obliterated from the map: Paris saw its landmarks destroyed in “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “G.I. Joe,” and London suffered a similar fate in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Meanwhile, Vatican City went through hell in “Angels and Demons” and “2012.”

There were plenty of films loaded with showbiz references: “Nine,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Broken Embraces,” “Me and Orson Welles.”

It was not a good year for the terms “stereoscopic 3D” and S3D, which are precise and accurate but still haven’t caught on.

It was definitely not a good year for distinct titles, with “The Other Man,” “The Answer Man,” “A Serious Man” and “A Single Man”; “Nine,” “9,” “District 9,” “Cloud 9,” “9.9.09,” “$9.99,” “The Nine Lives of Marion Barry” and “Nine Miles Down”; “Julia” and “Julie and Julia”; plus “Up” and “Up in the Air.” But it was the first time that a film’s Oscar-screenplay category was described in the title: “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.”

As a sociologist, what does this mean? I have no idea. But I made myself hungry just thinking about last year’s films, so I’m going to go have some Cheetos and Del Monte fruit cocktail. I’d advise you to do the same.

Read previous columns at Variety.com/Gray

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