Over the past few years, an awful lot of awardworthy scripts have fallen into the doom-and-gloom category: “No Country for Old Men”; “There Will Be Blood”; “The Reader” — the list went on and on. Sometimes in the deep midwinter, you had to decide whether to hang the mistletoe or yourself, or maybe the execs who greenlit all that coal for your holiday stocking.
The year 2009 marked a sea change. Plenty of sunny-light entertainments came along thanks to some upbeat screenwriters: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson and Thomas McCarthy’s “Up” celebrated adventure’s ageless spirit; Nora Ephron’s “Julie and Julia” the sensual pleasures of food; Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber’s “500 Days of Summer” the renewing power of romance.
But even the year’s serious scribes took a leaf out of “Slumdog Millionaire’s” joyous book to agree to put on a happy face despite the gray skies.
Films setting out to explore serious contempo issues somehow managed to find a positive spin. Screenwriter Mark Boal gave us grunts we could root for while anatomizing the Iraq ground war in “The Hurt Locker.” Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner granted the dismissed employees hope and the professional dismisser redemption in “Up in the Air.” Geoffrey Fletcher left “Precious” down but not out, empowered even as the odds remained against her. And even Tom Ford and David Scearce have the tormented Colin Firth put away his gun and thoughts of suicide before fate takes a hand in “A Single Man.”
The battle of the sexes played out differently this year, Nick Hornby finding a way to infuse an older man’s affair with an underage student with groovy 1960s fun in “An Education.” Whereas last year’s “Revolutionary Road” spotlit young marrieds duking it out like long-termers, Nancy Meyers’ “It’s Complicated” presented a middle-aged couple as blissfully randy as if they’d just graduated college.
Even the genre pictures got into the act, Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell bringing the war of the worlds to a reasonably optimistic conclusion in “District 9.”
The real World War II ended satisfyingly enough, but wasn’t it even more fun to see Quentin Tarantino 86 the entire Nazi hierarchy in one helluva night at the movies, courtesy “Inglourious Basterds”?
Practically the lone dissenters from the sanguine road were the Coen brothers’ comedy “A Serious Man,” which ends with a gathering storm ready to annihilate everybody, and “The Road,” Joe Penhall’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s postapocalyptic Pulitzer winner that became, for many moviegoers, “The Road” Not Taken. Cannibalism and despair? They’re so 2007.