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 911" 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 blonde 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 December 17 episode.
Winner: Los Angeles county prosecutors, for ignoring the Beautiful People and daring to nab director Roman Polanski on a child rape charge he fled in 1977 despite Hollywood’s claim that he had too much "empathy" as an artist to be bothered.
Loser: Whoopi Goldberg embarrassed herself mightily for saying of the act of sodomizing a 13-year-old girl, "It wasn’t rape-rape." And she wasn’t sane-sane.
Loser: David Letterman, who apparently still thinks we think it’s pretty funny that he sent the clear message to female employees that having sex with him would be a good career move, even after he got married. He couldn’t resist joking about the Tiger Woods adultery scandal, including a plea to Woods to stop calling him for advice.
Loser: That vile internet gossip Perez Hilton, for insisting every contestant has to accept every political whim of the gay left to have a chance at being Miss America. After surging to prominence with crude gossip and cruder pictures (often penciling in obscene images) on his website, aren’t his 15 minutes of infamy up yet?
Loser: Larry David, for taking his HBO show "Curb Your Enthusiasm" to ridiculous extremes. Take the plot where David’s character takes some drug that causes him to urinate wildly and, while using the bathroom at a co-worker's house, urinates on a painting of Jesus hanging on a wall next to the toilet. His co-worker then believed the portrait was a miracle -- a weeping Jesus. Even this show’s fans think David should take his bigotry elsewhere in 2010.