It was a year in which the dominant cultural story was the sad but eerily almost-predictable drug-addled death of Michael Jackson. But there were a few good moments sprinkled in with the outrageous and the tawdry in 2009. My choices for cultural winners and losers this year:
Winner: Farrah Fawcett. Unlike Jackson, she fought and ultimately lost her battle with cancer with extraordinary grace, faith and dignity.
Winner: "Up." The elite and the people agree that Pixar films are sublimely entertaining. The eight-minute montage near the beginning of this film sweetly chronicling a loving marriage moved millions to tears from coast to coast.
In fact, animated movies continued to earn massive box-office receipts. "Up" drew almost $300 million, "Monsters vs. Aliens" and "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" came very close to $200 million, and the offbeat "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" grossed more than $120 million.
Loser: Michael Moore. His latest mockumentary, "Capitalism: A Love Story," grossed a miserable $14 million in theaters. (By contrast, his 2004 hit "Fahrenheit 9/11" grossed almost $24 million -- in its first weekend.) His Warhol moment is over.
Loser: "Bruno." Sacha Baron Cohen tried to satirize the backwardness of Americans once again, this time in the role of a gay Austrian blond Beatle fashion reporter. But this character was so unbelievably stupid and self-absorbed that the film set the cause of sexual "liberation" backward by a decade or two. The lowest point is a scene where a focus group watches as "Bruno" displays a long, drawn-out shot of a penis twirling around like a pinwheel, which then points at the camera and "speaks."
Winner: MTV's "16 and Pregnant." It was a stunning turnabout for MTV: finally, a reality show about sex and its consequences with a message parents could embrace. Crews filmed teenaged girls and their boyfriends trying to make decisions about unexpected pregnancies. The most moving story centered on giving a baby up for adoption.
Loser: MTV's "Jersey Shore." This was a much more typical MTV product: putting eight loud stereotyped Italian "Guidos" and "Guidettes" in a summer beach house. But what really rankled viewers was MTV's Internet exploitation of a female cast member getting punched in the face in a bar. Faced with bad publicity, MTV caved and dropped the footage from its Dec. 17 episode.
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