6 Favorite Stories of 2009: STV's Picks

While 2009 was by no means an especially slow cultural news year (Michael Jackson and John Hughes died, and Tiger Woods may as well have), the amount of stories that really intrigued me was at an unusual minimum. That could just as easily say something about me as it does about the year past, but for now, it's best to accentuate the positive. Hence my favorite stories of '09 -- the curious, the crazy, the thought-provoking and the altogether memorable.

[In chronological order]

· Smoke 'Em If You've Got 'Em

The American Medical Association Alliance continued its quixotic quest to vilify smoking in the movies, as if we smokers were the stuff of slasher films or some other cultural blight. Like the characters in these films in question (Angels and Demons, AMAA? Really?), I take responsibility for my actions and am conscientious about my one and only vice. Then and now, I refuse to be rated R.

· Avatar, Thy Name is Delgo

Readers are still squabbling about what debt, if any, James Cameron's potential Biggest Box-Office Success Ever owes to the makers of the Biggest Box-Office Failure Ever. But me? I just like looking at the pretty pictures. Avatar Day would never be the same.

· Save Sacramento

Because someone had to rescue my hometown from Katherine Heigl, Sandra Bullock and, well, itself.

· The Roman Polanski Culture War

This was a hell of a year for sex scandals, but neither Woods nor David Letterman nor anybody on Earth polarized folks the way Roman Polanski did. It wasn't just the teen-sodomy rap, either. The 76-year-old filmmaker's arrest Sept. 26 in Switzerland set a new standard for vindictiveness or delayed justice, depending on whom you asked. Yet as Polanski idled in his detention cell before finally being released to house arrest (his extradition to L.A. is pending and most likely imminent), the fashionable indignation cooled off, thus cheapening the very idea of how and even if a condemned man can ever be redeemed. It was a perfect controversy for an era in which exploiting the exploiters isn't simply fair-play turnabout -- it was business. And boy, did we ever get rich.


· Wes Anderson, Cyberauteur

This illustration was actually in support of Mark Lisanti's brilliant work, a satirical e-mail correspondence between the Fantastic Mr. Fox director and his frustrated animators and crew. I've never had as much fun losing myself in Photoshop. Needless to say, Fox Searchlight was not pleased.

· 2012: The Year Emmerich Made Contact

I flat-out loved catastrophe kingpin Roland Emmerich's masterpiece 2012. Why wouldn't I? Why wouldn't anybody? It's got humor, imagination, spectacle and an almost alchemical blend of sincerity and self-effacement, from John Cusack's unlikely action hero to Chiwetel Ejiofor's contemplative scientist to Oliver Platt's cutthroat bureaucrat. All of them embrace and shatter their archetypes by daring to match Emmerich's mind-blowing CGI crises note-for-note, which is more than you can say for such historic disaster-genre paycheck-cashers as Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, Tommy Lee Jones, Bruce Willis or even Dennis Quaid in Emmerich's previous apocalypse effort The Day After Tomorrow. Everything clicked with this film conceptually, and its summary dismissal by critics who thought (and still think) themselves too good to submit to such 20/20 blockbuster vision -- such mad, magnanimous genius -- should have their word processors taken away in 2010. They know who they are.

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