HOLLYWOOD — Contemporary Hollywood can feel like a creatively stagnant place, stocked with remakes, sequels and vehicles inspired by toys and television.
But for anyone worried that the movie business has an originality problem, 2009 offered plenty of evidence to the contrary. Could that be a harbinger for the new movie year?
True, studios in 2009 ransacked the 20th century for time-tested properties like "Star Trek" and "G.I. Joe" and went back to the global-disaster well for the umpteenth time with "2012."
But amid all the familiar retreads and easy explosions came a surprising number of fresh ideas.
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With a microscopic budget and a simple haunted-house premise, the lo-fi "Paranormal Activity" elicited millions of gasps and screams. "The Hangover" combined seemingly shopworn elements — buddies on the road, a trip to Vegas, raunchy antics — and turned it into something subversive and wholly original (it also became the most successful R-rated comedy in history).
The surprises stretched outside of traditional male genres. "Julie & Julia," adapted from Julie Powell's book, took a seemingly esoteric subject of a cookbook writer in Cold War-era France and, by spicing it up with a culinary-minded everywoman, created a warm crowd-pleaser.
"Up" made a balloon-enthusiast septuagenarian its unlikely hero and in the process deflated the idea that animated movies need talking animals and frantic action.
"The Blind Side" showed that red-state audiences will come to a drama in droves if there's a touch of football, a dollop of Sandra Bullock and a wallop of sweetness.
These movies dominated the cultural conversation in 2009, and while it's impossible to know which will do the same in 2010, there's a fair share that could make a similar impact.
With that in mind, here's a rundown of films to keep on the radar moving into the new year.
If you liked "The Hangover," keep an eye out for "Due Date."
Mike Tyson's tiger, Zach Galifianakis' BabyBjorn and, of course, the photographs from the end credits are still burned indelibly in our brains.
Next November we'll get more outrageousness from Todd Phillips, the director of "Hangover," and Galifianakis, who's reteaming with Phillips for a new R-rated comedy. Robert Downey Jr. adds extra star power as a father-to-be who, thanks to a series of unhappy coincidences, must drive across the country with a slacker (Galifianakis) to arrive in time for the birth of his first child.
If you liked "District 9," keep an eye out for "Sanctum."
Even as James Cameron's "Avatar" continues to attract fans worldwide, Cameron offers his stamp as executive producer of a new movie: an underwater adventure called "Sanctum," about a father and son trapped in a cave. Like "District 9," new technology will make the film look spiffier than its $20 million budget. And like "Avatar," it's shot in 3-D.
If you liked "Up," keep an eye out for "Despicable Me."
Pixar will offer up the latest installment in its Buzz Lightyear mega-franchise when it releases "Toy Story 3" on June 18. That movie will no doubt bring more magic and earn a gazillion dollars to boot. But for an animated film this summer with a more adult feel, the one to watch is Universal's "Despicable Me."
The July 9 release, about a villain named Gru who plots to steal the moon, may play more like a straight comedy than the tender and sometimes melancholy "Up."
But "Despicable Me" also has a heart, as three orphans hope to find a father figure in Gru. With comic talents Steve Carell, Jason Segel and Kristen Wiig voicing characters, it promises to keep adults entertained too.
If you liked "Julie & Julia," keep an eye out for "Eat, Pray, Love."
There's a long, rich history of food stories on the big screen. But the cooking-as-therapy story line never got as full-on a treatment as it did in "Julie & Julia."
The trick could also be turned with "Eat, Pray, Love," scheduled for an August slot similar to that in which "Julie" succeeded. Julia Roberts stars in the adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling memoir, in which a woman finds solace in cuisine (as well as spirituality and romance) after a messy divorce. It could be just what gal pals seeking a night out ordered.
(There's also "Sex and the City 2" on May 28.)