7. Australia (2008)
• Simply put, it was an epic-period-piece-romantic-war-drama.
• Directed by Baz Luhrmann – his first film since his critically-acclaimed Moulin Rouge! released seven years prior (which also starred Nicole Kidman).
The Reaction: Though its production values were certainly striking, the film was met with mixed reviews due to its excessive running time and cliché love story. It could have been worse, but considering the high anticipation (mostly associated with the director), many were disappointed.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55%
Oscar nominations: One (Best Costume Design)
8. Seven Pounds (2008)
• Starred Will Smith in his first drama since his Oscar-nominated turn in The Pursuit of Happyness (also directed by Gabriele Muccino).
The Reaction: Many were taken aback by the film’s grim premise and bizarre plot turns, especially New York Times film critic A. O. Scott, who called it, “what may be among the most transcendently, eye-poppingly, call-your-friend-ranting-in-the-middle-of-the-night-just-to-go-over-it-one-more-time crazily awful motion pictures ever made.” Interestingly, the film’s relatively high rating on IMDb indicates that its negative reception among professional critics was hardly universal. If it will be remembered for anything, however, it might just be that this was the film that officially ended Will Smith’s astonishing streak of eight consecutive films that grossed over $100 million.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 27% (but 7.7/10 on IMDb)
Oscar nominations: Zero
9. Amelia (2009)
• Starred two-time Oscar-winner Hilary Swank as one of the most well-known figures of the 20th century.
• Directed by acclaimed and respected Indian filmmaker Mira Nair.
The Reaction: On paper, it seemed to have all the hallmarks of your typical Academy Award-winning biopic… until it was released. Critics called the film “dull” and “superficial,” maintaining that it never truly capturing the soul of its inspiring and ultimately tragic title figure.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 20%
Oscar nominations: Zero
10. Invictus (2009)
• Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela… Need I say more?
• Okay, one more thing: Director Clint Eastwood.
The Reaction: Another example of a good – though not quite great – movie about an iconic historical figure. It wasn’t a biopic (that would come just four years later with the release of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), but Eastwood’s film captured the heart of Mandela’s strengths through its narrow focus on the internationally significant 1995 Rugby World Cup. Freeman was unsurprisingly excellent in the role he seemed born to play, as was Matt Damon as the captain of the rugby team, though neither performance could completely elevate this sports drama above general expectations (high as they were).
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%
Oscar nominations: Two (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor)
11. The Lovely Bones (2009)
• Adapted from the award-winning best-selling novel by Alice Sebold.
• Directed by Peter Jackson, it was his first drama since his epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, leading many to speculate it would be similar to his acclaimed early work, Heavenly Creatures.
The Reaction: The film was divisive, to say the least, with most of the criticism falling on Jackson’s decision to indulge in CGI-heavy special effects to depict the afterlife, which many felt detracted from the story as a whole. While the tonal shifts largely came off as jarring, most agreed that the film benefited from its strong performances, particularly Saoirse Ronan’s as the doomed protagonist and Stanley Tucci’s as a repulsive child murderer.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 32%
Oscar nominations: One (Best Supporting Actor)
12. Nine (2009)
• A cast comprised almost entirely of Oscar-winners (Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman)
• Produced by the Weinsteins and directed by Rob Marshall, whose last musical was the Oscar-winning Chicago.
• Adapted from a Tony Award-winning musical.
The Reaction: Not to be confused with the 2009 animated release of the same title (9), Nine was not completely overlooked by the Academy, scoring a pretty decent total of four nominations. But given the overwhelming degree of talent involved, the critical reception was still shocking. When the music is the weakest aspect of your musical, you know you’re headed for trouble…
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 37%
Oscar nominations: Four (Best Supporting Actress, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, Best Original Song)
13. The Road (2009)
• Adapted from a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy, the author whose last film adaptation was the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men.
• Starred Viggo Mortensen, who had recently gotten his first Oscar nomination for Eastern Promises, and Oscar-winners Charlize Theron and Robert Duvall.
The Reaction: Though its release date was moved several times (often a bad sign), The Road was hardly a bad movie. While its post-apocalyptic premise and story are undeniably bleak, it was a rather faithful adaptation of the acclaimed source material, and moving at that. So what went wrong? Could it have been perhaps too bleak? Some felt that no cinematic adaptation could have adequately measured up to the stark elegance of the book, no matter how expertly it was adapted, while some simply found the movie too dull and/or slow.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%
Oscar nominations: Zero