Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Favorite Films of the 00's Countdown: 2009

It all comes down to this.

At the end of 2009, filmwise, I am going to probably think of few things: 1) Is this the year of the Children's movie? There were at least four great kids' movies this year that appealed to adults, but far beyond what other kids' movies aim for. They also had filmmakers working on them that seemed an unusual fit-and for the most part, delivered unusual movies. Some of them we can argue over what makes or does not make a children's movie, but I think the landscape has definitely been changed as far as the way people look at or what they even consider a children's movie. Then again besides those four or so standouts (three of which appear below-I know, it surprised me too) they still crank out a lot of the same horseshit, so who knows what that "progress" is going to look like. 2) In the beginning of this year directors I usually enjoy and/or love like Michael Mann, David FIncher, and Judd Apatow made movies that I found disappointing. Eh, it happens. Then towards the end of the year, either directors I hadn't thought of for a while, like Kathryn Bigelow and Guy Ritchie surprised me with entertaining efforts. And, hopefully, through the help of a fox, Wes Anderson can return to form. And, James Cameron made a movie that, was, well, okay at best.

So, since I have people coming in tomorrow, and its not like I am going to see anything else new-Here is my top ten (in order) as it stands for 2009. It could change in the future but this is it for the time being:

10) An Education

Its a good sign when Peter Sarsgaard is the weak link in your movie. I mean, he's not terrible, I just still think they should have gotten an English actor for his part-but he hardly sinks it (obviously.) Carey Mulligan is spot on, as are Alfred Molina, Olivia WIlliams, and Emma Thompson. It looks amazing-set right before London became really "swinging", in the early 60s. I like the whole idea of a young girl's world being opened up in ways she likes, and then opened more when she learns too early what most of us have to learn as adults. In a succinct way, although this doesn't convey the ultimate impact: things are hardly ever what they seem. Its never quite that easy to be cool or cultured, there's a little give and take. All in all, great stuff.

9) The Brothers Bloom

I was lucky to catch this one at the Boston Independent Film Festival and even see a Q&A with the director, the man behind Brick, Rian Johnson. I feel like people really slept on this one. Of course it might be a personal thing, but I think it was saddled with 1) way too many unfair comparisons to Wes Anderson and 2) What people called a "twee overload". Which, I guess, depending on your point of view may or may not be true. What I took away is this: this is a beautifully shot and written, odd-ball take on the story of two con men brothers. Yeah, its whimsical, but it is always really well written, and acted by Mark Ruffalo, Adrian Brody, and Rachel Weisz. Its quirky and somewhat odd, but I feel like there is a breeziness about it. And I love a good movie about con men, even when its just in the small tricks and card tricks they have picked up over the years. These brothers go for the long con, its their expertise, and it eventually catches up to them, as it is wont to happen. The ending might make some angry, it took me a while to suss it out, but it doesn't kill it for me. In the end, I think it is both really good and highly enjoyable.

8) Up

You ever have to cry while wearing 3-D glasses? Watching Up gave me that experience. And it wasn't right in that first fifteen minutes, but even in the end, it never lost that poignancy. It makes it even more amazing because of all the insanity that happens when they are down in South America. People talk about heart, but Pixar being Pixar, supplies real heart to go along with the incredible visuals and crazy action-adventure details. I feel like the melding of these elements in a way that actually works, and works well is a real achievement. It must be hard for Pixar to keep coming up with amazing ideas-but there you go.

7) Coraline

Henry Selick is probably the best bet to adapt a Neil Gaiman story. This is interesting because, I don't think it gets the same acclaim as The Fantastic Mr. Fox
for its throwback style-in that the animation was all done by hand but it looks so good that it fools people into thinking it was CGI. Selick has the best sensibility and aesthetic for this creepy Gaiman story, and it ends up working out beautifully. If there were justice this would become the new Halloween classic.

6) A Serious Man

This was probably way too much spending time inside of the Coen Brothers' mind for some people. For me, I couldn't get this movie out of my head, and I think in look and feel it will someday rise above the minor Coens tag that some people have labeled it to really one of their best work. Although True Grit could come out and obliterate that thought. Ultimately about faith and its meaning or meaningless, with a protagonist (a great Michael Stuhlberg) who seems to stick with religion because the math seems to check out for him. Even though it ultimately only gives him inscrutable parables and confusing signs. But I think the film, in general, ultimately sides with Stuhlberg, oddly enough. To me its confounding, absurd, yet weirdly ingratiating.

5) Adventureland

Greg Mottola seems to be on quite a roll of late. This seems to be a semi-autobiographical look at the coming of age of a young man (here Jesse Eisenberg) at a lame amusement park. Eisenberg, Bill Hader, Martin Starr, even Kristin Stewart are all very good. I think this one didn't get the attention it deserved just because, again, the advertising was so off. They advertised it as a broad comedy, and while it has some elements of that, its a lot more down-to-earth than that, and I think ultimately it works really well.

4) District 9

I feel like this movie is getting forgotten in the end of the year hustle. But this has got to be (maybe besides The Dark Knight) one of the best examples of "having your cake and eating it too". I mean here is a populist scientific entertainment with real serious themes and issues at its core, but also has kick as action elements to it. When I first saw it it blew me away-it was deep and the action themes were amazingly exciting. Sure certain things didn't make sense and they probably shouldn't have included the little, "cute", baby alien-but that is all a truly minor quibble. Neill Blomkamp is one to watch and Peter Jackson has a good eye for talent. Besides everything he was able to do pull off for $30 million (I thought about this a lot after I saw it this Summer, THIS cost $30 million and Funny People cost $75 million. Ugh.) Oh and I would be remiss to not mention Sharlto Copley's performance as the low level bureaucrat who got thrust into the middle of the action. Seriously, it was like David Brent suddenly becoming an action hero. Some low-level employee becomes the catalyst to the entire movie. Just remarkable.

3) The Hurt Locker

Maybe this and Paul Greengrass' Green Zone might get people interested (or more interested) in Iraq movies. Although I think what people needed were not to have a GOOD movie about Iraq come out. Kathryn Bigelow directs a movie that is a war movie, set in Iraq obviously, that works well as that and works exceptionally well as a thriller. The thriller aspects to this are amazing. As is Jeremy Renner's performance as the head of the bomb diffusing squad, Sgt. William James. His performance deserves to be seen much more than it has been. His character is awesome, amazingly written, and infuriating all in one big, bold package. A ridiculously good comeback from Kathryn Bigelow (although she might hate to have it called that).

2) The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Yup. The very definition of a latecomer. But its so good. Who knows where this will slide on this list as the years go on, but, for now, it is right here. From what I said, yesterday:" It balances Anderson' trademark melancholy with an almost insane optimism, in the end its pretty life-affirming. I thought it was a pretty amazing achievement."

1) Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino just might be my favorite living director. Even with the four films this decade he just keeps topping himself. This is a movie about the power of movies to shape the perceptions and directions of world events, and it ends with a twist that gives cinema the ultimate victory over history. The brilliance of Inglourious Basterds is that while setting up this layered look at World War II archetypes, Tarantino also delivers a revenge thriller, with great characters, huge setpieces, and just amazing dialogue, much of it in foreign languages. It’s a daring, clever stunt. Tarantino reestablishes himself as the rare (only?) filmmaker who can turn a trip inside his own head into a cultural event. I wish people were still talking and arguing about this like they were when it first came out, instead of just talking about Avatar which truly has nothing on this.

Just missed: Star Trek, The Road, Where The Wild Things Are

Not seen: The Informant! , A Single Man, Up In The Air

Two Awesome Opening Scenes From Movies Not In The Top Ten


(sorry I couldn't find one where the embedding wasn;t disabled)

Anticipated Entertainments for 2010

The Killer Inside Me
Lost Season 6
Shutter Island
The Green Zone
Frightened Rabbit, The Season Of Mixed Drinks
Iron Man 2
Toy Story 3
DOOM/Mos Def Tour
Tron Legacy
Pavement reunion tour
The Green Hornet
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Nailed/The Fighter (new David O. Russell-maybe?)
There's probably more, but thats enough for now.


My Top 20 Favorite Albums of 2009

In Order Numerically,

20) Blakroc , Blakroc

The Black Keys are cool. And this proves they are even cooler than I thought. We saw them play the Roots Picnic this Summer in Philadelphia, and it makes me wonder if this whole project started there, perhaps with help from Questlove. Questlove, its almost official, is the center of the music world, he knows and seems to be friends with anyone. That being said, this is a latecomer, hence the high number here, but it is way good: RZA, Raekwon, Mos Def appear on here with the Black Keys as a backing band. Some of their best stuff involved Nicole Wray and they way they make a background beat straight from Booker T. combined with something from a 70's blaxploitation soundtrack. It works, her doing a song with Jim Jones sounds like Shane MacGowan singing with Kirsty MacColl, beauty and the beast. And, frankly, I probably wouldn't listen to Jim Jones on a solo record, but it all seems to work here. This one of the better rock/rap collaborations you are likely to hear, I guess the Black Keys just know how to lay down the good beats.

19) Passion Pit , Manners

Cambridge, MA's native/favorite sons. Seems like a novelty act at first, but in the end, Manners is as catchy as the best electronic dance-rock, as trippy as the best psychedelia, as colorful as the best club music gets, most importantly, as heartfelt as the best indie rock gets.

18) Doomriders , Darkness Comes Alive

This shouldn't work out as well as it does, but this is probably the best intersection of metal, hardcore, and classic rock that anyone could have come up with.

17) The XX , XX

Promising debut albums are a dime a dozen; fully formed ones are much more rare. It’s entirely possible that xx is the most perfectly realized debut since Is This It, a perfect combination of sparse electronic-y (sort of) instrumentation and a strangely sexual vibe.

16) Deerhunter , Rainwater Cassette Exchange (ep)

Bradford Cox and his pals in Deerhunter can't stop making new music. And what may be tiring for them is good for the rest of us. Case in point: this five-song EP. Cox, in a Pitchfork interview, professed his love for Animal Collective and Rainwater Cassette Exchange definitely has a bit of that dubby, underwater lilt perfected by those dudes.

15) MC Paul Barman , Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud

Definitely his best stuff since Its Very Stimulating. It includes some stuff that has been sort of floating around for a while (like his collaboration with DOOM, Guacamole, which is awesome by the way) After a bit of a layoff he just seems to have returned to form with his unique wordplay and spacey out-there subject matter (back to back he has songs that are anti-circumcision and about AIDS) Its really no wonder he is such good friends with DOOM and Michel Gondry, they share the same sort of strange aesthetic.

14) We Were Promised Jetpacks , These Four Walls

I saw these guys at Great Scott and I was surprised at the crowd they pulled in. First off, it was packed, originally I thought it was for The Twilight Sad who were headlining. But a good chunk of the audience left after they played. And not to mention the seeming frat boys that were standing besides Lee and I. We both agreed we definitely did NOT have a finger on the pulse anymore. Also, its funny to see such beautiful singing coming out of a man (boy, really, man their young) that looks like he just punched out of some factory in Edinburgh. The Scottish scene (its the new Canada!) continues to produce youngsters who love noise, hard drumming , and vocalists who switch easily from talking casually to screaming passionately about something that happened to them when they were young(er). Fans of The Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit will likely find them pretty familiar. That doesn’t make These Four Walls any less good.

13) Cut Off Your Hands , You & I

It has a sort of late 80's, post punk, feel to it. I might have ditched the two acoustic songs, they don't add much, but I think this a good start to something good from these New Zealand youngsters. Sad, though, how everyone is a youngster to me these days.

12) Jay Reatard , Watch Me Fall

Jay Reatard kind of caught me surprise. I feel like I slept on him for the whole decade and then discovered a gem our of nowhere. Now I know him as a catankarous garage rock dude who gets into fist fights with his band and his fans. But he does raise a beautiful ruckus-garage rock with a sweet sensibility and a foul mouth, with just a smidgen of a new wave influence.

11) Future Of The Left , Travels With Myself And Another

Spawned from the ashes of McLusky, no band sneers as well as Future of the Left. There’s plenty to like on Travels With Myself And Another, even as it pummels. There’s insane glee in Arming Eritrea and and hearing You Need Satan More Than He Needs You is like watching a black comedy in song form. A band that can make nastiness this much fun and catchy and maybe even danceable, in a herky-jerky way is a rare thing that should be cherished. Even if the word "cherished" would get you kicked out of the Future Of The Left clubhouse.

10) Mos Def , The Ecstatic

From what I wrote previously: "For the past decade, Mos Def has tried experimenting with a variety of different ideas and styles, from his abandoned Black Jack Johnson Project band among others. Most everything he put out has been hit or miss at best, leaving listeners to say, "Well, at least he's trying something new." But this album is the return to form that people have been waiting for, wiping the slate clean and showing the youngsters how it's done. Finally, it's nice to have him back."

9) Yeah Yeah Yeahs , Its Blitz!

At 41 minutes, It’s Blitz! is a short, adventurous record that feels like two EPs-one filled with soft-core melodies and orchestral pop, and one that wants to rock, kind of softly like a Debbie Harry song/album. But it works as a whole in a way that maybe it wasn't supposed to.

8) ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead , The Century of Self

To be perfectly honest, Trail Of Dead really haven't put out a bad album this decade. The absolute apex, to me, was Source Tags and Codes, of course, and it has to be hard to not only evolve and make something as amazing as that, but also, in a sense, to duplicate that success. But then again, I am quite sure Trail of Dead aren't basing their music making out of what pleases me. I will say that even though they still are who they are, each album definitely has a different feel to it, also hard to do but also an important distinction. In Century Of Self they make a righteous noise, once again, and it works out pretty perfectly. Almost. But when they let loose and use that quiet-loud structure to that insanse works so very well.

7) Sunset Rubdown , Dragonslayer

Who knows what's going to become of Wolf Parade? Both of their albums this decade were great, this one edging out At Mount Zoomer by the slimmest of margins. And with the awesome Dragonslayer, who knows. Sunset Rubdown might replace Wolf Parade as Spencer Krug's main band. The amount of thought and effort put into the album-the track list says there are only eight songs, but there are at least twice as many terrific melodic morsels bundled up inside each one. Krug’s miniature prog-rock epics have never been more accessible or listenable

6) The Twilight Sad , Forget The Night Ahead

One of the (many) things I like about this new brood of Scottish bands is the fact that when they sing you can actually recognize their Scottish brogues. I don't know why I find that so appealing. An album of dark, brooding, swirling tales of despair. Yes, this album is an epic downer, but it's also smart and musically rich. They still make an epic noise with their quiet-loud to explosive song structure. Seeing them live it will blow you away with not only how loud they can get but also how invested they are in the music. How much it means and effects them.

5) White Rabbits , It's Frightening

There weren’t any new albums from Spoon or The Walkmen, in 2009, which left it to White Rabbits to hold it down for sophisticated, soulful rock. To put it more clearly, Fort Nightly was awesome and It's Frightening is even better. Their best move might have been having Britt Daniel help with the producing duties, but still it works, super well.

4) Raekwon , Only Built For Cuban Linx Part II

For years, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt II was the hip hop Chinese Democracy a buzzed-about, troubled project whose prospects of actually being released seemed to grow dimmer by the day. Raekwon surprised everyone by dropping a Cuban Linx sequel worthy of the original. It’s an ambitious album lousy with story-telling detail, great production from the likes of J Dilla and Pete Rock, and plenty of showcases for Raekwon and Ghostface Killah's amazing chemistry. Clocking in at over 70 minutes, it seems like its too much of a good thing, but people into hip hop who were looking for a return to Wu-Tang's golden age aren't complaining.

3) Animal Collective , Merriweather Post Pavilion

Like I said before: Sort of like Sea Change, this album is both a leap forward for Animal Collective, but also an aberration in their catalog. Merriweather Post Pavilion, oddly, their most accessible album without really trying - accessible in only the most inaccessible ways, strangely danceable while being miles away from being any sort of regular dance album. Animal Collective, and this album in particular, is going to be pored over, dissected, and perhaps obsessed over for a long time.

2) DOOM , Born Like This

Not touching the heights of Madvillain but I mean thats unfair, few things will scale those heights. Perhaps the rawest DOOM has sounded in a long time. Probably his best full album in 5 years. Yeah thats about right. His voice seems raspier than before, which gives it that extra push into antagonistic malice. Its a borderline comic book reboot of the nut as we know him. The complex rhymes, and truth flipping are still DOOM's lyrical catalysts, but this time he takes his persona and takes the sort of sci-fi, true-crime trappings and put its it through a sort of ringer of surreal dementia.

1) Japandroids , Post-Nothing

This fought tooth-and-nail with DOOM for the number 1 spot (because, well its DOOM, at the top of his game, or near it...), and in the end these young Canadians won the battle. Its rare when you can hear a band putting its absolute all into the making of an album, but its almost visceral here. The eight songs come and go in less than 36 minutes, with little opportunity for Post-Nothing to sag. Huge, propulsive, hooky songs like Young Hearts Spark Fire and Heart Sweats show Japandroids at their best. You've rarely heard just two people rock this hard, and make this much joyous noise. They play, particularly live, like their lives depend on them. Their joy in making the music is infectious. I also think they and Ghostface and Raekwon should go on tour and call it the "BFF Tour", because these guys LOVE eachother. For a two man band, they sound fuzzy and different enough to, in a sense, create their own sound from whole cloth without aping other two-man acts. Because of the this infectious joy, it also makes their live act that much more awesome. Goodness all around.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Road (2009)


Ok? All right, here is my thesis (Thesis! College!) on the ending of The Road in (now) both its forms: some people have debated the ending and some people argue about whether or not the ending is "uplifting" or not. Like anything else when discussing these things, its pretty subjective. My take is this: in both the movie and the book the ending is actually uplifting not because the son lives. No, although thats part of it, but because the father dies. This might seem cynical, but I think McCarthy was basically saying that the Father had taught the son (or "boy" and "man" but whatever...) but in the end he was actually holding back his son from evolving as a compassionate human being, and from holding him back he was also, in a sense, holding back humanity from regrouping once again, by being suspicious of everyone. As the book (and movie) progress the boy starts to become wary of this worldview, especially after they have some food they found that they could share with fellow travelers, but the man still treats everyone with suspicion and sometimes with downright malice, often for no reason. Sure, the boy is young and obviously sees the world in a less cynical manner, but maybe that is what the world, or THIS world needed. And it isn't until the very end when the Father (man) passes away, that barrier falls and meets up with a kindly new family, opening himself up in a way his Father wouldn't allow when he was alive. It took the Father dying, the passing of the old world so to speak for something maybe, possibly to be reborn. But who knows, after this whole trip if there is anything else besides death, but thats beside the point, I think.

That being said, people thought this movie was going to be a disaster. Pushed back a year, with a trailer that it made it look like , I don't know, a zombie apocalypse movie or Mad Max or something like that. I can see why there might have been trouble marketing this movie because its not so much an adventure really-although I guess you could say it sort of is. How do you market this movie outside of the people who have already read the book? People are certainly going to be put off by it, besides the whole father-son trying to survive aspect of it. But, in the end, it is a really faithful adaptation of the book. I truly wonder how it plays to people who haven't seen it? Parts of it are like a horror movie, certain parts seem like they would be worse because of the anticipation of what you know whats coming. Basically, its the world's most bleak road movie, as the father-son push through this wasteland after an unnamed disaster occurred which basically has brought, well, the end of the world. People are trying to survive, they have resorted to cannibalism-its as bleak as all get out. I think the movie does a good job of capturing that. The book is episodic in nature as it follows the two leads on their journey "south" or "the coast"-where they dream that things will somehow be better-but probably won't. Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee have the weight of the whole movie on them and they do an admirable job of portraying a father-son relationship in the most extreme circumstances possible. (An odd sidenote: there are only two leads, obviously, but its crazy how stacked the filmmakers have cast the other characters they encounter: Michael K.Williams, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, and Charlize Theron-all show up). Its odd, since it is all so gray and sad, but the visuals are actually pretty amazing to see, it "looks great" in the saddest sort of way. It makes me want to check out John Hillcoat's The Proposition (Also, I forget if this was in the book or not, but the Earth is literally dying so trees just randomly crack and fall apart, and the movie is punctuated with that sound-like the death rattle of the Earth-its kind of eerie.) In the end, while seeming sort of aimless and bleak, it does what it sets out to do, and is one of the more faithful adaptations of any book I can remember. There seem to be only a few filmmakers who could adapt a Cormac McCarthy book with any degree of success (few should try-please don't even try to make a Blood Meridian movie) but it works, in an odd way, it works, to make a really sad, sometimes hard-to-watch movie.

Hillcoat actually tries to flesh out the relationship with The Father and His Wife (Woman, The Mother) with flashbacks, I actually think that works for the adaptation. What doesn't is definitely the narration by Mortensen that is scattered throughout the film, sort of randomly. It seems like something that was added by some producer in post-production and seems somewhat out-of-place in that is overexplains things too much.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Wes Anderson's best movie since The Royal Tenenbaums. Although you sort of get the sense that Roald Dahl, as this Slate piece points out, probably wouldn't have liked it so much. Its weird saying this about a children's book, but I wish I had reread the source material before I had seen it. I know that Anderson takes a lot of plot detours to stretch things out, and I am pretty sure of what they were-but I'd like to see just how much Anderson had changed things around. Or maybe I would have liked to revisit something I loved when I was younger. Roald Dahl really was the king when I was growing up. I think it takes someone with Wes Anderson's aesthetic and viewpoint to make it work. I think he and Noah Baumbach (also weird!) did a good job in the adaptation, marrying both their styles with Dahl's story, and coming up with something completely entertaining. Just as everyone else has already pointed out the Rankin-Bass-style of animation makes it feel very special, and in a strange sort of way..tactile. If that makes sense. But its not only a nice way to tell the story, amid the influx of C.G.I. its also amazing in its "quaintness". For a Dahl story, one might hope they would get a cast of British actors (I saw a preview for a movie by the writers of "Sexy Beast" that had Ray Winstone, John Hurt, and Ian MacShane, start there) But I thought the voice actors were all really spot on for their roles, I especially liked Jason Schwartzman, Wallace Wolodarsky as Kylie and Eric Chase Anderson as Kristofferson. (Big ups for making a Jarvis Cocker puppet too! And having Brian Cox along too!) It revels in music, dance, friendship, and family. It balances Anderson' trademark melancholy with an almost insane optimism, in the end its pretty life-affirming. I thought it was a pretty amazing achievement.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Blockbuster Monday: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

So we hopped on the T, went to Anna's and decided to have a double feature. (And burritos). This was after we went to see the below at the Boston Common.

Who would have thought that in the battle of the holiday blockbusters, Guy Ritchie would make the superior product? This was actually a pleasant surprise, it being so much better than the trailers would let on. It didn't seem like it, but Robert Downey Jr. was riffing a lot less here than they would have led you to believe. I like this sort of Victorian era/sort-of gothic horror tale/mystery-I like the atmosphere they created here. I mean they turned Holmes into much more of an adventurer, who has bare knuckled boxing matches and jumps out of windows. But I liked Jude Law, probably a bit better her than Downey,I liked how Watson is a friend and more than a sidekick-just as smart as Holmes is. I liked Rachel McAdams character, and I enjoyed the steam-punkish aspects of it. Interestingly enough, besides Guy Ritchie's attempts to "modernize" things, mostly in the pace and the action setpieces (although they are mostly well done) the actual character of Holmes, oddly enough, seems to be actually pretty close to Sir Doyle's original creation.

I liked small things that might be goofier than they should be-like Holmes' little case he has for checking out cadavers and picking locks. I mean its a big Holiday blockbuster, probably a bit too "modern", to speak, so its not without its goofy elements. But, for the most part, Ritchie manages to reign in his worst stylistic tics. Perhaps it will make people seek out the source material, at the very least. Don't expect anything much greater, but I feel like it is better and even somewhat darker than the usual fare. I am a sucker for a smart, adventurer in another time. I'm probably overstating it, but as far as escapist fare goes you could probably do worse.

I thought that Sir Thomas was played by the original Jackal himself, Edward Fox, turns out it was actually his brother James Fox. I am always confusing the two.

Blockbuster Monday: Avatar (2009)

I'll get this out of the way: Pandora does indeed look amazing. The best aspect of this movie is definitely the fully realized world that James Cameron has come up with here. I thought it was a cool idea that the world acted sort of like a mainframe and/or database that the denizens of the world could directly link into in a literal rather than figurative way. It didn't look as much like Toon Town as the first trailers made it look. And, yes, there were some definite moments of amazement, and the end battle was exciting, for the most part. Here's the thing: perhaps James Cameron meant the visuals were the game changers, because the story and the writing definitely are not. Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, and Zoe Saldana are good enough, I suppose. The worst parts have to be whenever something is happening at the human base, really great swaths of the dialogue are just embarrassing, often bordering on cringe-inducing. Jeffrey Wells was right, I wish I had a time machine so I could somehow go back and watch this as a 14 year old. Because it would have been my favorite movie of the year this year. My nephew this weekend proved that, he loved it. But besides some of the visuals, I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes. Its basically "Dances With Wolves" in space.

I was telling Tina on our walk to the T, and we were breaking down the movie. The whole thing basically was summed up in the line from Dazed and Confused when the stoners were talking about how the founding fathers were into aliens, and one goes, "We're the aliens, man, we're the savages". Thats the basic premise right there. Sure it kicks ass to see the noble, indigenous people take it to the corporate marines or whatever, but, yeah...we get it.

The worst aspects of the script can be summed up by the name they gave the element that they were trying to mine "Unobtainium". Are you kidding me? Is that a joke? Because this isn't satire, its not "Dr. Strangelove" and James Cameron certainly isn't Kubrick.

This is going to end up being the Tron of this generation. We all (well a lot of us) thought Tron was so amazing and such a great leap forward in science fiction, but 27 years removed from when it came out, it has about the same reputation as Krull.

My Favorite Films of the 00's Countdown: 2008

Almost there.

I should have put these in some sort of actual order, but, yeah, still in alphabetical.

1) Be Kind Rewind

I can understand why people might get annoyed with Michel Gondry. I mean, not everything he does is a homerun, but really nothing anyone does is. Sometimes he might seem oppressively whimsical, and sometimes that might be true. The more whimsical aspects of this can probably be seen that way. I mean it is a weird even that sets the main events of the story in motion. But, here's the thing, I think its a matter of misdirection, particularly in the marketing of the movie. In the end, I think the movie is more about the power of community, of people working together, in this case in a poorer neighborhood, then simply about people making super low budget versions of hollywood movies. Even in that instance, it is as much about people seizing the opportunity to be creative and create their own art instead of relying solely on Hollywood. Its as much about people rising above corporatism and doing themselves. Its funny, I think Jack Black and Mos Def (in a part that was originally supposed to go to Dave Chappelle) end up being a good, mismatched comic pair, and in the end, its moving as well.

2) Burn After Reading

Minor Coen Brothers to be sure, and definitely another in their line showcasing their very dim view of humanity. But there are some good performances here, especially by George Clooney who isn't just playing his usual smarmy self, or even Brad Pitt who is playing dumb-for-laughs instead of sexy. It includes one of the best laugh-out-loud moments of 2008 too. It doesn't really mean anything, in the end, but thats sort of the point. Oh and J.K. Simmons and Richard Jenkins are awesome as usual.

3) The Dark Knight

I'm still of the opinion that people that didn't like this movie are just being contrarian to be contrarian. One of the rare instances where critics and moviegoers actually agreed on something. Christopher Nolan managed to make the best comic book/superhero movie yet, and in some ways redefined the superhero movie. Good and evil battle for the soul of a city. Except that good takes the form of a vigilante with questionable methods, and evil, in the form of the late Heath Ledger’s nightmarish Joker. The action scenes match the grand themes he raises of a corrupt, self-serving political landscape.

4) Doubt

This probably could have been unleashed a bit from its theatrical staging. But it seems rare in this day and age that a screenplay would allow so much ambiguity in a story, where it allows the audience to ultimately make up its own mind of what happened within the story and who was right and who was wrong. Its all bolstered by amazing performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Meryl Streep, and even Viola Davis in her small part. I was surprised, really, it ended up being much more powerful and interesting then I thought it was going to be going in, really. It was a the most pleasant kind of surprise.

5) Forgetting Sarah Marshall

I slept on Forgetting Sarah Marshall for a long time, but then I finally caught it and it was as funny and moving as people said it was. I think we can all thank Judd Apatow for leading the way with this sort of comedy, with helping along with the careers of these funny, younger people, and just helping to make this type of comedy, I guess, viable. Jason Segel wrote this, and its an amazing script, and his performance, along with the rest of the cast makes it special. Its just like the best Apatow efforts, funny, but also makes you invested in the characters so you are moved in the end as well.

6) In Bruges

I couldn't believe the rave reviews this was getting until , of course, I actually saw it. The ad campaign made it look like a third rate Tarantino rip-off. But it is so much better than what it seemed like it was going to be. An amazingly written, beautifully shot story of two hitmen who are whisked off to the seeming purgatory of Bruges to hide out for a while. Or so it seems. In turns heartbreaking and very funny, and made me aware of Martin McDonagh. He needs to adapt more of his work.

7) Milk

Milk had the miraculous effect of forgetting how annoying Sean Penn is in his regular life. He made me forget Sean Penn the person and made me think he had transformed himself in Harvey Milk. There were a lot of good actors up for oscars this year I might have preferred that it went to Mickey Rourke or Richard Jenkins, but I have no real problem with it going to Penn. Especially in service to a moving story that should be told. Penn is good, and so is Josh Brolin and James Franco. It falls into some of the traps that biopics tend to, but for the most part it focuses on one specific, important, part of Harvey Milk's life and works well to that end. He was fighting an uphill battle, and it made it even more poignant to know that even with all the strides he helped gay people make, that battle is still being felt. It was powerful, I remember sitting in the dark when we went to see it and just hearing people cry softly as the credits came up. In the end, a moving film that can't be denied.

8) Pineapple Express

I really like Seth Rogen. And, so far, I like what his writing team with Evan Goldberg produces. And this is no exception with a cast that includes Ken Jeong, Rosie Perez, Gary Cole, and Bill Hader-he and James Franco, the main focus sure, are still the standouts. He and Franco have such amazing chemistry, nearly everything they say to eachother made me laugh. Or anything they said in general, really. Sure, its about pot, and male friends as much as it is a send-up of 80s' action movies, and while it doesn't always work 100%, I guess, I found all aspects worked really well together. Your mileage will definitely vary, but I liked it a lot.

9) The Wackness

Not all of this works, but the coming-of-age story of a dorky potdealer coming to terms with growing up in the New York City of early to mid 90's New York City. He befriends insane psychiatrist, Ben Kingsley, who, himself is really funny. This might be one to be bumped off the list when I finally see the likes of Tell No One or Let The Right One In (I know, I know...) but I not only enjoyed their dynamic, and this story, though some parts of it don't work as well. But in the end is really good. Also has an amazing soundtrack as well, which might have helped push it further.

10) The Wrestler

On paper, this sounds likea niche-y jumble of cliches, but in execution it works out to a heartbreaking degree. And you can see why there was all this Oscar/comeback talk as far as Mickey Rourke went-he is amazing and sad as the broken down, former wrestling superstar who can't seem to make the right choices or get his life back on track. He seems to make the same mistakes over and over. This might have hit me differently too, being a fan of professional wrestling growing up. One of the many things they got right was in the art direction-especially in the flyers and magazines shown in the opening credits. Its rich in detail, looks amazing, and the performances match that. It really is an amazing, and really sad, achievement.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Christmas to you and yours!

Here's hoping your travels are safe if you are going anywhere. And that you get to see and be with the people you want to be with the most! Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

My Favorite Films of the 00's Countdown: 2007

1) The Bourne Ultimatum

I'm not sure, in the grand scheme of things, how good this movie actually is. But I can tell you that I thought it was a fitting ending to the Bourne trilogy (please don't let there be a fourth). He finds out what he has been looking for. Good triumphs over evil. The awesome ending, coming nicely full-circle, where his body starts moving as the Moby song comes up. It also has one of my favorite action scenes (in an action movie) of the decade-that ridiculous bike chase/rooftop chase/to awesome fight scene where there is just incidental noise-after he hops through a window to get to the bad guy. Amazing stuff here. And the mystery unraveling keeps you going. Paul Greengrass might be the best action director of the decade.

2) Grindhouse (Planet Terror/Death Proof)

Yeah I choose the whole enchilada-"The Grindhouse Experience"-so to speak. Fake trailers and all. To be honest it is probably because this might be the most fun I had in a theater that year. Sure, objectively speaking Death Proof is the better movie-Kurt Russell is awesome, to be sure. But I think it might be the weakest in the Tarantino canon, Like I said, its not bad, and its definitely enjoyable enough-but its not great. Its too slow by half-the dialogue isn't half as good as it is in the other of his talky movies like Kill Bill Vol. 2 or Inglourious Basterds , and besides Eli Roth (please stop hiring him as an actor) Tracie Thoms is not very good-and I can't tell if it just her or her dialogue. But there are gems in here, to be sure. It sounds like I hated it but I didn't, I just don't think he knocked it out of the park. I feel like Robert Rodriquez's half gets unfairly maligned where I think he just gave himself over to the silly grindhouse aesthetic maybe a little more. Some might say too much-but I thought his part was fun, and I thought the casting was too: Josh Brolin, Michael Biehn, and Jeff Fahey being particularly fun. I dunno, I think the whole is greater than its two parts. I mean you probably can't recreate the first time again on home video, and the longer version of Death Proof fills in the gaps a bit. But all in all, I have to go with the whole experience taken together as just an all around fun movie experience.

3) Hot Fuzz

Just an excellent parody of cop movie cliches, all around. I wonder if Edgar Winter, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost movies are going to always end up in my top ten for the year? If they are this good they will. Not only are Pegg and Frost awesome as the cops trying to solve some mysterious murders in a small town, but the cast is absolutely stacked with the likes of Bill Nighy, Paddy Considine (particularly great), Jim Broadbent, Edward Woodward (in one of his final roles), and even Paul Freeman and Timothy Dalton. They stay just on the right side parody as they ape some of the, lets say, louder aspects of big 80's action cop movies. The shootout in the grocery story is a particular favorite of mine. Fun, fun stuff.

4) Joshua

Tragically overlooked horror movie. Sam Rockwell and Jacob Krogan as the titular character are so good. They found the perfect kid to portray the malevolent, Joshua. Its so creepy, you never quite know when or even why Joshua is going to do something. It would seem that he starts acting out because there is a new baby in the house and he is no longer the center of attention. But, and the film isn't explicit here, we start to realize there is much more going on here. It takes a domestic horror movie, without anything really supernatural going on here, and focuses on a father, who should really be able to outwit a little boy, and his troubles, not knowing exactly what to do as his life falls apart around him. Is it all because of Joshua? Or is it all in his head? Does Joshua really know more of what he is doing than he lets on. It keeps you guessing, and its really creepy.

5) Knocked Up

I feel like because of Katherine Heigel being weird, this was unfairly maligned with charges of sexism. I don't think the movie is sexist, I suppose on some level it offers a more conservative reading because the abortion option is only brought up once and never actually mentioned by name. But, thats not the movie Judd Apatow was trying to make. And in the end, he made a film that was actually about a few different things: a time when a man-child needs to grow up, and also it is about relationships: mostly changing relationships-what happens when we grow up and our relationships with friends are forced to change. And especially what can we do when forced, at first, into a relationship by extraordinary circumstances. The answers might be too pat in the end, for some, and to a degree I might agree, but I think it is both as funny and as heartfelt as anything Apatow has delivered before. Seth Rogen is great, as is Jay Baruchel, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Jonah Hill, Leslie Mann, even Katherine Heigel, who I don't think of too often in general. Apatow has this amazing way of creating all these endearing characters, and making it work in the end. And, also, for making the journey very very funny.

6) Michael Clayton

I have to admit, they just don't make these sorts of adult dramas anymore. Tony Gilroy and George Clooney are just clicking on all cylinders here. As the man whose life seems to be spiraling out of control, both because of things he has done and things he is trying to do. I like how it evokes that sort of underground New York nightlife that a lot of us (most of us) don't have any access too, in the card games in back of restaurants and the backdoor shenanigans at lawyer's offices and big business. They do it all here, and the final reveal how Clayton manages to turn the table is just awesome.

7) No Country For Old Men

Javier Bardem plays a human Predator here, a force of nature that seems like it can't be stopped, can't be killed, and plays by its own very strict set of moral guidelines. He is chasing Josh Brolin around the Southwest, all for a suitcase full of cash that Brolin happened upon. While Tommy Lee Jones stands off to the side as the older man, who is being passed by by this newer, brutal world. It is absolutely amazing to me that the Coens can followup two goofy movies like Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers with this semi-surreal tension delivery system. Its really an amazing feat what they were able to do with Cormac McCarthy's sparse source material. And it should really be shown as example of why they are masters at their craft, both in writing and the actual filming/look of the film.

8) Superbad

I have to admit I am a sucker for a couple things: 1) a well-done buddy/relationship movie where two (or three) friends grow closer to one another as they have to move a part and 2) a well-done "last night" movie where its the last night of school or a graduation party-and the main characters have to go through a series of trials to ultimately make it to said destination. When done badly, like any other bad movie, its bad. When done well, and the pieces fit, then, well, its great. And Superbad to me, is pretty great. It works all these elements well, with Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen working a script thats very much in the Apatowian vein. It definitely taps into Rogen's twin obsessions of male best friends and of growing up. Speaking of which Seth Rogen and Bill Hader's turn as the cops that follow the action all night are pretty great. Is it the greatest and most original movie ever made: probably not. But it works for me. Greg Mottola's vision probably works a little better when it hits more close to home ( Adventureland) but it works well here. I don't know why, maybe its having friend spread out all over the place, but two guys reasserting their friendship to one another just works for me. Speaking of which, Michael Cera is also good here. And, as usual, Kevin Corrigan plays a good scumbag. Also, the soundtrack is great.

9) There Will Be Blood

In the end, this movie is really enigma. A beautiful enigma, but an enigma nonetheless. It has similar strengths to Brokeback Mountain where it adapts a smallish part of an Upton Sinclair novel, and is able to reveal and revel in the passage of time. Especially as it wears on for Daniel Day Lewis' oilman, in a titanic performance, as the ruthless oilman who gains everything and loses his soul. Its an indictment of unchecked capitalism, as well as a character study of someone whose lust for money has absolutely no boundaries. It is different from anything else Paul Thomas Anderson has done, it is both epic and intimate in its scope. It really is a remarkable achievement. One that looks amazing. The score for the film is one of the best of the year, if not the decade.

10) Zodiac

Another film about time and obsession. This time, though the obsession isn't with money. (Obviously) Its about the few people who become obsessed with finding the still-mysterious Bay Area serial killer. It starts off with an amazing setpiece, the first murder, set to "Hurdy Gurdy Man"-it starts off, seemingly as a look at a specific time period where the Bay Area is gripped with fear over the murders. But it becomes even more fascinating as the case goes cold and only a few obsessives keep trying to solve it, and just won't let it go. Its an obsessive movie about the nature of obsession. And I will go out on a limb and say its probably David Fincher's best movie.