Showing 1 - 10 of 10 Movie Blogs
0 Comments | Send This |
0 Comments | Send This |
0 Comments | Send This |
NO love for Up in the Air! I decided that would be the first thing I'd mention since, in a lot of ways, it was the only thing that "stood out" last night, as it was the only surprise. Every indication from the precursors pointed in the direction that Jason Reitman would take home the Oscar for his adapted screenplay. Heck, the Golden Globes don't even have separate awards for original and adapted screenplay (they just have one award called "Best Screenplay") and Up in the Air won that. But it was the Precious scribe who emerged victorious, and as good as Precious is, it feels like a bit of a travesty, because that movie's strength comes more from its performances than from its script. But not to worry... Jason Reitman is a young director/screenwriter, especially considering how much greatness he's given us already with only three movies, so I have no doubt we'll see him at the podium someday. But Up in the Air's loss was last night's sole upset. Sure, many expected The White Ribbon to take the best foreign film award, but after what happened last year (when the expected frontrunner Waltz with Bashir lost to the unknown Departures), it was expected that anything could happen here. That's what happens with a category in which Academy voters have SEEN all the nominees (because they have to), but we haven't.
I don't have much of a problem per se with the fact that the rest of the ceremony was utterly predictable. I was even happy for a lot of the people who I didn't think were the most deserving in their respective categories. Sandra Bullock's work in The Blind Side was not superior to the performances given this year by Carey Mulligan, Gabourey Sidibe and Meryl Streep... but it's hard not to be happy for her when you watch her give a speech as heartfelt as the one she gave last night. On a similar line, while I've already expressed elsewhere that I don't think The Hurt Locker was the very best of the year, it was impossible for me not to feel immensely proud to see a woman take the directing statuette, especially because I recently sat down to watch the film's DVD commentary by director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal (each of whom took TWO statuettes last night!), and after listening to the commentary, there was no doubt in my mind about how difficult a film it was to get done, and how much inspiration they had for it. I just realized that my review of The Hurt Locker is my "highest voted" review, which is kind of surprising, since even though I said I liked it, I didn't give it the rave that most others gave it. When it comes down to it, the truth is that The Hurt Locker HAD to win best picture. Aside from the pressing relevance of its plot, this was what you'd call one of those "little movies that could." Over a year ago, it had already been seen by many in the festival circuit, and there were doubts about whether it could get picked up for distribution... but then it did, and it managed to get an incredible amount of acclaim. It would've seemed pointless for it to go as far as getting so many Oscar nominations and then not win. It would be like giving an underprivileged kid with a lot of potential a scholarship to a great college, but then somehow not allowing him to graduate. Maybe not the best analogy, but it's the only thing that occurred to me.
So, like I said, I don't have much of a problem with the predictability of the actual winners, but I DO have a problem with the totally unexpected LACK of humor from co-hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. Are you kidding? Did they write the jokes at the last minute? To make matters even worse, a lot of the attempts at humor by some of the presenters fell flat. Consider the sheer hilarity of last year's presentation of the screenplay awards, during which we got to see Tina Fey and Steve Martin exchange some brilliant banter. This year, Fey was accompanied by someone else in giving that award, and I'm sorry to say that the humor was nowhere to be found. I don't know how well the show did ratings-wise, but I imagine a lot of people decided to turn in early and find out the best picture winner in the morning. Some may have stayed up for a while to see if Sandra Bullock would win, but that may be about it. There's no doubt that this year's ceremony was kind of a snoozer. But it was worth waiting for the end, because life was definitely injected into the ceremony when Bullock and Bigelow got their respective awards. Bigelow seemed, well, shell-shocked when her film won those final two categories. It was great to see how incredibly humble she was. I think a lot of people preferred seeing this reaction from a producer/director winner, rather than a smug James Cameron proclaiming himself the king of the world... again.
0 Comments | Send This |
[FONT=Calibri]Academy Award nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal!!!!
Sorry, but I felt like I had to say that before anything else, because it was easily the morning’s most pleasant (and huge) surprise. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance in Crazy Heart isn’t the best of her career, but the fact that she’s finally getting validation after the snubs for both Secretary and Sherrybaby is magnificent. This is easily the nomination that I was happiest to see.
Sure, I was thrilled that both A Serious Man and District 9 are among the 10 best picture nominees, but I’m having a problem that I suspected I would have ever since we found out on June of last year that the best picture category was being expanded to 10 nominees: plain and simply, it no longer seems like being a “best picture nominee” is a BIG DEAL. I don’t know whether or not 10 spots is too much, but it was probably too much for the year 2009, which was a relatively weak year in film. The expansion has led to the inexcusable nomination of The Blind Side for best picture. Are you serious? This is what Hollywood considers worthy of naming as one of its best? The movie is fine and reasonably entertaining and inspiring, but it’s completely NOT memorable. I’m glad that Invictus and Nine were snubbed (because they deserved to be), but it’s ridiculous that those snubs opened the door for something like The Blind Side to get in. On a similar line, while I did really enjoy Up and am glad that Pixar finally has a best picture nominee to its name, Up is certainly not a great movie, or even near-great. Last year’s WALL-E would’ve been much more deserving. My two favorite films this year were Inglourious Basterds and Avatar, but I didn’t mention them as “pleasant surprises,” because, well, they were both completely expected to make the list of 10. Now I just have to hold on to the hope that one of them can win.
The most outrageous thing that happened today was the complete snub of (500) Days of Summer, particularly in the screenplay category, where it was incredibly deserving. That movie, along with Star Trek, would’ve very easily been more deserving of one of the 10 spots in the best picture category. I suppose Star Trek didn’t get nominated because they probably felt they had enough of the mainstream movies (with both Avatar and District 9 making the top 10), but I’m very happy with all the validation Star Trek got in the technical categories, because it’s all very much deserved.
Aside from the Gyllenhaal nod, there were absolutely no other surprises in the acting categories, and I feel pretty satisfied with them (I would’ve loved Michael Stuhlbarg over Morgan Freeman, but that would’ve been asking the Academy for too much). The one complaint I DO have, as much as I’m not surprised by the nomination, is Stanley Tucci’s supporting actor nod for that unspeakably bad movie that I’d rather not mention in this post. This is the classic case of a great actor playing a character that we KNOW has all the potential to be a super meaty role, completely worthy of the best supporting actor statuette. But let’s be honest: Tucci wasted his turn as George Harvey, and he played a sad, bumbling idiot instead.
As for other surprises… what the fuck is The Secret of Kells?
It feels like the actual ceremony is so far away (over a month, actually). One of the more recent occasions during which the Oscars were celebrated as late as March was a couple of years ago when Crash beat Brokeback Mountain to everyone’s utter shock. I wonder if the fact that there’s a month left will make The Hurt Locker start to lose steam, thus weakening its position as the frontrunner. It seems like that would open the door for Avatar to win, although I’m wondering if that movie can also keep its steam going for another month. Yes, I know it’s a total juggernaut and that it beat out Titanic for box office gross, but will people be every bit as excited about in on March 7th? We’ll see. The praise that has been given to movies like The Hurt Locker and Up in the Air is based on the fact that both are very TIMELY movies. Both are good, in my mind, and Up in the Air even made my top 10 list. But it’s interesting to note the difference in that those two films have gotten accolades for being relevant to current issues, whereas my personal favorites Inglourious Basterds and Avatar have wowed people more because of their incredible quality as pieces of masterful filmmaking. I suspect that even if The Hurt Locker and Up in the Air have more success on Oscar night than the two true masterpieces of 2009, that won’t take away from the fact that the first two movies won’t be remembered much in 10 years, whereas the other two certainly will. Avatar is a landmark of technical accomplishment on film, while Inglourious Basterds is yet another addition to the long list of brilliant and original material that one of today’s best directors has given us.
So, while the Oscars will certainly be interesting to watch, they may not mean much in terms of which ones of these movies will be remembered most. Between now and March 7th, there’s not much of interest to look forward to, aside from Shutter Island, but it’ll be fun to watch whether or not The Hurt Locker retains its lead. Until then…
Before the year even ended, there were desperate attempts by critics and people on the blogosphere to get their "list of top movies of the decade" up as quickly as possible. Some even produced the lists without having seen some of the year-end movies, like Avatar (easily one of the decade's most important and defining films), which I think was a ridiculous decision, but well, that's just me. I won't be making a top 10 or a top 20 for the decade because I kind of think that it wouldn't be fair. It wasn't till 2007 that I started really getting into writing reviews and, well, "learning" more about movies, so I feel like it wouldn't be fair to the first six years of the decade. Sure, I have an all-time top 10, but everyone needs to have one of those, even if they haven't seen every film that's ever been made.
However, nothing is getting in the way of making my usual top 10 for the year, and it seems like the right time to do it now, since next week are the Oscar nominations (which I'll probably blog about as well, unless they are just incredibly blah, but with the Best Picture category expansion from 5 to 10 nominees, I doubt that'll be the case). This year feels like it was slightly less impressive than last year. Sure, I didn't give a single 10/10 last year, whereas this year I've given it to two movies, BUT last year's top 10 only had one movie that I gave a 7/10 to, whereas this year there are three. Also, last year I felt like there were way too many great performances, so my list of top performances consisted of 21 names, whereas this year there are only 13. The good thing about the year being "not-so-impressive" is that whenever an above-average movie came along, it was always a wonderful surprise. Finding something like Humpday among the wreckage of boring and uninspired indie movies makes the effort of looking through that wreckage actually worth it.
RT endured some changes during 2009, but I have to continue admitting that it's the best resource not only to discover gems like Humpday, but even more importantly, to stay away from the crap. As unimpressed as I may be with this past cinematic year, I'd probably feel a lot worse if I had nothing to go on, and if I had to just venture out to see movies that may or may not be terrible. Thanks to that, there's no need for me to post a "bottom 10" list for the year. It's probably the only perk of being a non-paid critic who just does this as a hobby: you can just watch whatever you want, instead of being forced to sit through the likes of Old Dogs. It's because of this that, instead of a "list of the year's worst movies," what I like to do is a list of the biggest cinematic disappointments I experienced this year. The worst movie I saw in 2009 was Fired Up, but that won't be on this list because I had absolutely NO high expectations for that movie, and it was still terrible (and I only have myself to blame for watching it). Usually, the movies I do include on this list are films that I had somewhat high expectations for, yet they turned out to be completely forgettable. It's not that my expectations blinded me and made me expect too much. Plain and simply, these five movies were NOT good, even though they should've been.
The five biggest disappointments of 2009:
1. The Girlfriend Experience - Easily one of the most interesting premises for a movie... ever. And it's directed by Steven Soderbergh (who redeemed himself later in the year with The Informant). Who would've thought that a movie as ostensibly fascinating as The Girlfriend Experience would turn out to be so lackluster? Yes, I understand perfectly that these characters are supposed to be cold and detached because they are all driven by a desire for money and power, but that's no excuse to have the film be just as cold and detached. There's hardly an instance here in which one can feel any sort of emotional connection to this. No, it's not that we need to be able to relate to this (since probably not many of the people watching the film will have worked as call girls, anyway), but we do need to be able to at least feel something. The approach taken in The Girlfriend Experience is way too frigid and clinical (and it's not like this approach never works - just watch this year's Afterschool). The movie also makes the completely unnecessary decision to show events out of order even though that serves NO purpose to the film's plot. It works in films in which it makes sense; here, it makes no sense, and it feels like a cheap way to make the movie more sophisticated than it actually is. It runs less than 80 minutes, but boy, it feels a lot longer than that, and the deflating feeling that so much more could've been done with a story like this never escaped me as I was watching it.
2. Invictus - I debated whether or not to include this movie here, because last year, Changeling was among my list of disappointments, for similar reasons as the reasons why I'm mentioning Invictus this year, so it would seem like we should start lowering our expectations for Clint Eastwood. The thing is, though, that I did like Gran Torino, and come on, a biopic of Nelson Mandela with the evidently perfect Morgan Freeman playing him? This should've been at least very good. The problem is with the events that the films chooses to focus on. The rugby game is meant to be portrayed as the inspirational event that brought a country together, but this message is driven home with so little subtlety. Whenever a movie tries to hit me too hard in the head with what it's trying to tell me, that's when I stop believing it. It's obvious that Mandela's earlier experiences, including his years in prison, would've made for a far more interesting and effective drama. I'll say it again: Invictus may get some Oscar nominations, but it will be forgotten so quick, by March 7th people will be like "Oh yeah, THAT movie. It was okay." Not exactly something that a filmmaker like Eastwood should want to hear from his audience. Oh, and I have nothing against Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, but I don't think either of their performances is nomination-worthy.
3. Jennifer's Body - If it proved anything, it's that Diablo Cody should stick to scripting "drama comedies" rather than "horror comedies" (and those who think it's impossible for movies in the latter genre to be more than good, just take a look at Zombieland). To be fair, Jennifer's Body has some laughs (some of which I'm not sure were intentional) but the tone is so off during most of the film, and its last act is generally god-awful. So, to Cody, all I have to say is: Will you just do me a solid and stick to writing dramedies? Thanks.
4. The Lovely Bones - Ugh. What a disaster. Actually, if I hadn't seen Fired Up this would be the worst movie I saw this year, and that's saying a lot, considering that it was probably the one I was most looking forward to. The novel that this is based on is an amazing piece of literature, perfectly melding its emotional component with the ethereal images of Susie's afterlife. But there's a complete failure at that melding in this cinematic adaptation. I feel outraged, to be honest. How could Peter Jackson do this to us? It's not just that my expectations were rightfully high because The Lord of the Rings trilogy is my all-time favorite movie, but it's also the fact that this is right up Jackson's alley, as he gave us the masterpiece Heavenly Creatures in 1994. This should've been just as great. Everyone involved with this movie should feel the shame of having prostituted Alice Sebold's book. "Lovely" is the last word that comes to mind. This film should die and go straight to hell.
5. Medicine for Melancholy - I'm sure that not many will have heard of this one... but I have to mention it here because it looked like it would be this year's In Search of a Midnight Kiss (which many people have probably not heard of either). I can safely say that NOTHING happens in this film. It's largely about two characters talking to one another (but those who've seen Before Sunrise and Before Sunset know that something great CAN be made out of a premise like that), but there's no development and nothing worth even talking about. Even worse, the script has lines that mask as insight on racial dynamics, yet it's really just simplistic whining. You probably haven't seen it... but in case you ever come across it, I strongly recommend that you don't. I should've known from the hokey, pseudo-intellectual title, but oh well.
My favorite performances of 2009:
I use the word "favorite" because I know that a lot of these names won't necessarily be among the Oscar nominees in the acting categories, and it's important to note that I base this more on how a particular performance affected me, rather than the skill that actor may or may not have. I mean, apparently, the 4 people who will win the acting Oscars this year are all on my list, but that's only because they fit that criteria in my mind. I don't think I'm necessarily that good at assessing performance quality, but I definitely know when someone's portrayal of a character impacts me, and that's what the 13 people I'll list did for me. Before I do that, I'd just like to mention a few names that won't be on the list. I think that George Clooney and Vera Farmiga were fantastic in Up in the Air, but they won't be on this list, because during the movie I could hardly ever escape the feeling that a certain co-star (who IS on this list) was stealing the show from them. I agree that Sandra Bullock's performance in The Blind Side was a revelation, but in this case, in order for the performance to hit home for me, I think she needed a better movie. I thought that The Blind Side was incredibly blah, as much as people loved it. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of my favorite actors and I've been following his work for years. I loved, loved, loved his work in (500) Days of Summer. However, probably because I've been so impressed with what he's done in the past (in very small movies that most people haven't heard of) I don't think I can mention him here, simply because his work is so much less raw and devastating than what he did in the likes of Brick and Mysterious Skin. With that said, though, if he gets nominated for Best Actor (which is a longshot) I would jump for joy. I'm not even gonna talk about Stanley Tucci because I made my feelings on his performance clear in my review of The Lovely Bones. He should be getting nominated for Julie & Julia instead. But anyway, let's talk about the great ones now. Meryl Streep and Evan Rachel Wood are the only ones who are making my list for the second consecutive year.
1. Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart) - You forget he's Jeff Bridges and all you see is Bad Blake, who can make you laugh, make you angry and tug at your heartstrings, all within a short expanse of scenes. Congratulations on the Oscar win.
2. Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland) - I get incredibly pissed off every time I read a post on a message board saying "Bah, he's just like Michael Cera!" or "OMG, they probably wanted Michael Cera for this role but couldn't get him, so they got this guy!" Let's start off with the simple stuff: where did this idea that Cera and Eisenberg LOOK ALIKE come from? They're both white and skinny. I don't see any other similarities (the hair and facial structure are all completely different). But even more importantly... it's a mistake to say that these two actors play similar characters in their films. Cera plays awkward, shy guys and uses blank stares to convey humor (and he generally does all of that effectively), while Eisenberg tends to play overly-intellectual yet emotionally conflicted characters (which is much better and much more interesting than Cera's roles). Watch Eisenberg in Adventureland and notice how authentic and spot-on every look on his face is and the staggering perfection of his line delivery. He had a great year with this, The Education of Charlie Banks and Zombieland, but there's no doubt that this was his best work, as great as what he did in 2005's The Squid and the Whale. Oh, and for anyone who is still skeptical of the Michael Cera thing, this is verbatim from the Adventureland DVD commentary by Greg Mottola, who directed both Superbad and Adventureland, meaning he's worked with both actors: "Just for the record, I knew Jesse Eisenberg as an actor before I ever worked with Michael Cera." It may also be helpful to know that Adventureland began filming in the early summer of 2007, which is slightly before Superbad had its theatrical release. Therefore, when Adventureland started filming, Cera was really only well-known to fans of Arrested Development, and he wasn't quite yet known in the movie community, so it's ridiculous to think that Mottola wanted Cera instead.
3. Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) - What a shocker. "That girl from Twilight" shows up in this movie and totally steals the show. The best thing about Anna Kendrick's character in Up in the Air is that, in the first scene we see her, she looks like this frigid, calculating over-intellectual bitch, who thinks it's okay to fire people over a webcam chat, as if firing people in person weren't bad enough already, yet as we get to know her we get to witness her incredible warmth and vulnerability. It's a perfect depiction of the front that some of us put on in the workplace when we have to make decisions for financial reasons even if they don't make us look like we're humane. Kendrick reminds us that even someone who pretends to have a heart of stone can't go long without eventually crumbling. I can't wait to see what she does next, and by that, I don't mean the next Twilight movie, but well, you know, her next REAL movie.
4. Leslie Mann (Funny People) - This movie has been largely forgotten in terms of awards consideration because Judd Apatow chose to take a risk with it that many didn't appreciate (though I did). Leslie Mann is even more endearing and hilarious here than she was in Knocked Up. What elevates her performance, though, is that she goes beyond the comedy. Her dramatic work in Funny People is excellent, and several of the scenes in which she shares the screen with Adam Sandler alone are terrifically performed.
5. Mo'Nique (Precious) - Precious may not be the astounding, groundbreaking movie that many are hailing it to be... but its last 15 minutes feature the most astounding, groundbreaking, jaw-dropping performance of the year. Some won't think much of Mo'Nique's work during the early scenes in which she's angry and abuses her daughter, but the avalanche of emotions that comes during the movie's final moments all thanks to her bravura performance is almost too much to take.
6. Adam Sandler (Funny People) - As excited as I was this year about Judd Apatow's next directorial project, this is what I was most afraid of. Adam Sandler hasn't done much but mug at the camera in the endless spree of dumb comedies he's starred in. Who knew that he had this in him? The immediate reaction when we hear that a character in a movie is dying is to feel sorry for them, but what Sandler does here is brilliant, because even though we know George is dying, he still makes the audience laugh their ass off whenever he says something funny AND he also makes the audience angry whenever he gets too smug or conceited as a result of being a wealthy celebrity.
7. Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) - It's probably easy enough to feel sympathy for a character like Precious, because of the abuse she goes through and the horrible life she has to live. But Gabourey Sidibe gives us much more than that. She makes us have such an urgent desire for Precious to find happiness. When there are twinges of hope in the film and Precious smiles, the immense satisfaction that the audience gets as they smile with her is all thanks to Sidibe's pitch-perfect work. She made herself incredibly vulnerable with this performance, but the result is amazing.
8. Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia) - Yes, it's too "obvious" to include Meryl Streep on this list, but it'd also be completely dishonest not to include her, because as I said in my review back in August, her work as Julia Child is fantastic. She is as hilarious here as she was frightening in last year's Doubt, and once again, the accent, mannerisms and facial expressions are all spot-on. Since I know that it'll be tough for Tilda Swinton to even get nominated, Streep is who I'm rooting for to win Best Actress this time.
9. Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) - What an amazing combination of hilarious line delivery, frustration and desperation. Much like the film, Michael Stuhlbarg's performance may not be most people's cup of tea, but it sure as hell is mine. The Coens sure knew what they were doing when they cast this guy.
10. Tilda Swinton (Julia) - It's a shame that Julia is such a small movie that most people haven't heard of, and if they heard the title, they may even confuse it with Julie & Julia and say "Oh, I saw that already." It's not just that it's one of my favorite movies of the year, but if I had my pick for the winner of the Best LEAD Actress category, it would go to Tilda Swinton for her mind-blowingly fiery, paranoid work as the title character here. Alas, the movie is so unknown that she probably won't even be nominated, but that doesn't make her work any less unforgettable.
11. Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) - There's so much to say here. The range of Waltz's performance is mind-blowing: from the fear we experience during his first few minutes of villainy in the film, to his quiet-yet-deadly way of interrogating people, to his multi-lingual prowess, to his snorting and laughing endlessly when a German movie star tells him she broke her leg mountain-climbing, to the hilarity of "BINGO!!! HOW FUN!!!!!" We've gotten terrific villains in the last few years, with Javier Bardem, Heath Ledger and now Christoph Waltz, and what's great is how different those three villains are, even though they're all freakin' delightful. Waltz is only one of the masterful aspects of Inglourious Basterds... but holy scheisse! What an incredible and sophisticated performance.
12. Aaron Wolff (A Serious Man) - The Coen brothers' latest cinematic effort may not have worked as amazingly as it does if it didn't have great performances from its two most important characters, so thank God that this kid is so great. Performances from child actors aren't always easy to judge because you wonder how much editing came into play, but there's no doubt that Aaron Wolff is perfect in every scene he has in A Serious Man. Danny's reactions to the things that befall him are constantly authentic, a tough task for any actor to take on when the "things that befall him" are so unorthodox and hard to know what to make of them.
13. Evan Rachel Wood (Whatever Works) - I've always liked Evan Rachel Wood a heck of a lot, and I think she's one of the best young actresses out there, but what she does in Whatever Works is different from what we've seen before (and VERY different from what she did last year in The Life Before Her Eyes and The Wrestler). She plays this ever-perky, oblivious Southern girl with so much charisma and so convincingly, you forget about her other, more serious roles. I'd be thrilled if Woody Allen took a break from Scarlett Johansson and started using Wood as his muse instead.
My top 10 for 2009:
I like to specify the word "my" in the above title because a personal top 10 list is just that.... personal. I don't mean to say that I know for a fact that the movies on it are actually the best of the year, just like whatever list Roger Ebert comes up with isn't gonna have the best movies of the year, and just like when the Academy announces its 10 best picture nominees on Tuesday, those won't necessarily be the best either. There are some cases in which it's obvious that something is great or that something is crap, but there'll still always be someone dissenting. The way I decide which movies to put on the list and the order in which to put them is based on (1) quality (or what I think of as "quality" at least), (2) how much the movie impacted me, and (3) whether or not it's "my kind of movie." This last aspect is important because people say that they try to be objective and be open to anything, but I've realized this year that there's an inevitable reality, and it's that most people like "certain types" of movies better than others, and that's perfectly fine. I suspect that even professional critics have this problem, but they have no choice but to watch everything.
Before I get to the list, a word about this year's predicted best picture winner. The Hurt Locker is easily the most successful take on the Iraq conflict to be brought to the screen. I think that the Academy might be more prone to rewarding social relevance and importance over quality, which is why The Hurt Locker would win over Avatar and Inglourious Basterds (which are definitely the two best, most groundbreaking films of the year). How could they give the Oscar to a movie that changes the historical events of a war that happened 60 years ago instead of giving it to a movie about a military conflict that the U.S. has been facing over the last few years? It makes sense, and it's perfectly fine, but speaking in strictly cinematic terms, The Hurt Locker is GOOD, but far from groundbreaking. I've seen it three times now, and while there are some edge-of-your-seat action sequences, they take too much precedence over the dramatic development (of which there's some, but the movie needed even more to be great). This is a fine cinematic achievement, but it's no Saving Private Ryan (which didn't even win best picture). Therefore, just like Slumdog Millionaire, the apparent best picture winner won't be on my list this year. Nevertheless, here's what I loved in 2009:
Honorary Mentions: Broken Embraces, Crazy Heart, Sin Nombre, Zombieland
#10. Up in the Air - When I found out about Up in the Air, heard that Jason Reitman was the director, and read what it was about, I knew that it had all the potential in the world to be my favorite movie of the year. The emotional dilemma of deciding whether it's best to wallow in the comfort of being alone and not letting people into your life versus taking the risk and making yourself emotionally vulnerable is one that I've had a lot of time to think about, and I knew it'd be a pleasure to see it treated in a movie, especially by the guy who helmed Thank You For Smoking and Juno. Alas, Up in the Air isn't quite as strong as Reitman's prior two movies and it's not always as great as it should be, but there's no doubt that it's a wonderful piece of dramatic filmmaking. The blend of humor, smart dialogue and poignant observations about life is too good here to dismiss it.
#9. Paranormal Activity - I stepped out of the theater after watching an afternoon showing of Paranormal Activity, and at that point, I don't think I was yet aware of the effect that the movie had had on me. I thought "Sure, that was very scary, much better than the gorefest we get from horror films nowadays." But the effect didn't come until the next few nights. It had been so long since I had been scared of being in a room alone at night. Paranormal Activity's brilliance is a result of how realistically it delivers its scares. I'm skeptical about the sequel (since we all know what happened with Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2), but even if it's a turd, nothing can take away from how frightening this film is.
#8. Julia - I'll say this one more time: NOT to be confused with Julie & Julia starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. The other source of confusion here is the fact that RT has identified it as a 2008 film, even though the film's release was in May 2009, so for all purposes, it's eligible for this list. It's easily the best thriller of the year. What could've been a simple Lifetime movie about a kidnapped kid is instead so dark and given so much depth and complexity. The title character is the epitome of the flawed character that I love seeing depicted on film, and thank God that the movie doesn't give her a clear redemption at the end: we're left wondering whether she really has changed or not, and that's a credit both to Tilda Swinton's terrific performance as it is to the filmmakers.
#7. A Serious Man - I laughed, I gasped, I was weirded out... all in the best way possible. You have to love the fact that Ethan and Joel Coen never give in to convention. A Serious Man is a wild, unorthodox ride on the train of unconventionality, and if that were that, I wouldn't be too impressed, but the fact that they pull off so much dramatic effectiveness and send the message they're trying to send so intelligently makes this even better. It's hard to be, um, serious while watching this film because the laughs generally overtake everything else, but there's never any doubt about what Sy Ableman would call the eminently excellent script and performances.
#6. (500) Days of Summer - For those who thought that maybe I had set my expectations too high for movies like The Girlfriend Experience and The Lovely Bones, here's the perfect example of a film that I had high expectations for (it was probably my most anticipated movie of the year), and it essentially met all of them. This movie is blessed with such a witty-yet-subdued script, and it moves along at a nimble pace, yet its decision to show events out of order never confuses the viewer. If anything, it makes some things even easier to understand and the movie more interesting. Sometimes in life, it's easier to understand things in retrospect. That's the reason why (500) Days of Summer benefits so much from the moments in which it shows the sad reality first and then takes us back to the blissful past. It's an inevitable truth that when we're feeling blah in the present moment, we start thinking about how the past was so much better, without realizing that the memories we're focusing on from the past are probably just the good ones, and that there were probably just as many blah moments in the past. (500) Days of Summer recognizes that this is a problem that afflicts people and isn't afraid to depict it. When we think too much about what we WISH for, the results can often be frustrating, which is easily why the "Expectations vs. Reality" segment is easily one of the best cinematic sequences of 2009. Oh, and did I mention that the movie also has a fantastic soundtrack?
#5. Star Trek - Now, this I didn't expect. The sci-fi genre is hardly ever my thing, and Star Trek just looked like another summer blockbuster movie. I wasn't prepared for what a thoroughly entertaining film this would be. Some would've thought it'd be impossible to balance out what was wanted by diehard fans of the series with the expectations of newcomers, yet that is exactly what was done. It's even more amazing that even though there was so much narrative prefacing to be done in this movie, it was still so freaking awesome, and at the same time, that makes me think that the sequel could be even better - I'm incredibly excited about it.
#4. Humpday - I'd be surprised if anyone else's top 10 list for 2009 features Humpday. Those who haven't heard of it, don't get freaked out when you see the poster: it's not gay porn. Far from it. It doesn't even have anything to do with homosexuality. It has to do with how we see ourselves, how we want to see ourselves, and how we want others to see us. Why is it that, when people get married, the side of their personality that most "clicks" with their spouse seems to take over who they are and they essentially "lose" a big part of who they were before they decided to settle down? What about people who choose to rebel and not get married and instead be hippies who travel to a bunch of different countries and claim that they grow a lot from experiencing cultures and having weird sexual experiences? Do they actually get fulfillment out of that, or is it out of a desire to be seen as cool? The best thing about Humpday is not just the fact that it addresses those questions, but that it does so with a dollop of both realism and hilarity.
#3. Adventureland - If Quentin Tarantino and James Cameron weren't such brilliant bastards and if they hadn't both released a film this year, there's no doubt in my mind that this would've been at the top of the list. What I'm about to say will make me sound ridiculous, but it doesn't make it any less true: I'm in love with this movie. Head over heels. I've watched it several times, and I can't get tired of it. I'm in love with its authenticity, its honesty and its refusal to give in to slapstick cliches. It's a shame that it's also because of all those things that the movie did poorly at the box office and that most people think it's nothing special. It sucks when what you love bores other people. It sucks when people love the loud explosions in Transformers better than something as masterful as the dialogue and the performances in Adventureland. The movie deals with those aimless, angst-filled post-college months that I had just recently been experiencing, and the accuracy of its depiction of that toilsome moment in one's life is just shocking. There are so many scenes in this movie that make my heart melt. Greg Mottola achieved comedic greatness with Superbad and now dramatic greatness with Adventureland. As I said in the review, my only problem with the movie was the ad campaign, which plastered "From the director of Superbad" all over it and made it look like a comedy, thus leading to the disappointment of those who saw it and failed to see what a brilliant drama it is. On the DVD commentary for the film, Mottola says: "My point wasn't to make something that was 'cool.' There's a lot of cool stuff out there for people who want 'cool.' This is for the uncool people. We need something, too, you know?" Yes, we do; thank you, Greg Mottola, and I mean that sincerely. I hope you continue making films like Adventureland, regardless of what the studio heads tell you.
#2. Avatar - I'm not so adept at noticing cool or even great special effects in movies, and the thing is, that even if I do, I don't often care much. Special effects don't impress me as much as other things in movies, like great acting. But you'd have to be blind not to be flabbergasted by the technical accomplishment that is Avatar. The special effects here aren't just great; they are mindblowing. If that were it, it wouldn't be enough to call Avatar a masterpiece... but that's not all. This movie is a perfect blend of relentless entertainment and staggeringly intelligent social commentary on several fronts. Think about what a tough task James Cameron had having to fulfill expectations of, um, Titanic proportions (literally). I can't believe he pulled it off. Those who are calling the plot cliche are failing to see the freshness of the film's insight on political and environmental concerns. Avatar is a cinematic milestone in every way imaginable.
#1. Inglourious Basterds - Plain and simply, this movie is heaven for cinephiles. Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to produce something so bold, so unabashedly entertaining and so intelligent. The ironic thing here is that, of all the movies in my top 10 list, Inglourious Basterds is the only one I didn't review. Why? Part of it is because I was at a busy time in my life when I first watched it, but I think that there's an even more important reason, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I don't think a review that I write would do this film justice. I'm not smart enough. You see, I think Pulp Fiction and the Kill Bill movies are just as brilliant, and I have watched those SEVERAL times, yet I really don't think I'd even know where to start if I had to write a review for them. But the fact that I don't know what I'd write in a full-length review of Inglourious Basterds doesn't take away at all from how much I freakin' love it. It's so sophisticated and every scene is teeming with scrumptious dialogue and pitch-perfect performances. As those who have seen it know, the last line of the film is "I think this may be my masterpiece," which I think is actually Tarantino giving himself too little credit. He's given us masterpieces before. This just happens to be another one, and it also happens to be the best film of the year.
Reactions to Sunday night's telecast of the Oscars have been mixed across the press and the blogosphere. Some have praised the changes as exciting and innovative and claimed that they made the ceremony move at a rapid pace, while others have said that the modifications didn't really do much to help the show's drawn-out nature. I watch the Oscars not because I'm interested in the glitz/glamour/spectacle element of the whole thing, but because of the movies. And it's because of that reason that every time I watch an Oscar ceremony I always either have my computer on or make sure to keep busy doing other things because there are several segments that don't interest me in the least bit. When awards are being presented, I put aside whatever I'm doing and give the TV screen my full attention. Therefore, I don't have much to say about the "show" aspect of the ceremony, because I don't really care about it. I don't have an opinion on Hugh Jackman's dance numbers, and I don't feel the need to have one either.
The one part of the "show" aspect that I did thoroughly enjoy was the Judd Apatow-helmed "2008 in comedy" segment. Before this segment was shown, I was thinking "Bah, I wouldn't be surprised if Pineapple Express only gets a very short clip, since people have hardly given it the credit it deserves, whereas they've overpraised mediocre films like Tropic Thunder." Fortunately, not only was I wrong, but Pineapple Express was basically used as the vehicle for the segment. James Franco and Seth Rogen laughing at clips from Doubt and The Reader was simply hilarious. This segment makes me get even more excited for 2009's Funny People, Apatow's next directorial project (Adam Sandler's presence in the cast worries me, but I think it'll be interesting to see what he does when directed by a guy who can actually make extremely good comedies).
The Pineapple Express segment, coupled with the Tina Fey/Steve Martin award presentation, made for the most laughs of the evening, while other serious moments made for deep emotional resonance. Dustin Lance Black's acceptance speech brought me to tears. It would've been too unrealistic to expect Milk to defeat Slumdog Millionaire in the best picture race (considering all the precursors the latter had on its side), but it was great to see it recognized in the best original screenplay category, in which it was up against extremely worthy titles like Frozen River and WALL-E. But I'm not too miffed about the best picture Oscar not going in the direction I wanted it to because, shock of all shocks, this year, ALL FOUR acting Oscars went to the people I thought were most deserving.
While Heath Ledger was a shoe-in, none of the other three categories was a lock. I wasn't too worried about Best Lead Actress, because although I was rooting for Kate Winslet (who gave the best performance of the year in The Reader, and yes, it was a LEAD performance), the potential spoiler would've been Meryl Streep, and I wouldn't have had a problem at all with her winning. But I was quite worried about the other two - people can continue praising Mickey Rourke all they want, but Sean Penn was better, and that's that. A great comeback performance should win the top prize only if, aside from being a great comeback performance, it also happens to be the best overall of the year. Sean Penn's transformation represented superior work. As for supporting actress, though predictions had Penelope Cruz as the frontrunner for her work in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, there were rumors that an upset would take place (and it's happened more than once in this category: Juliette Binoche for The English Patient, Judi Dench for Shakespeare in Love, among others). Woody Allen's film would've had nothing that made it worth seeing if it weren't for Cruz's fiery, deliciously neurotic work, and I'm extremely glad that she was rewarded, and I absolutely loved what she had to say in accepting the award. I have a feeling there's a lot of great work yet to come from her.
A word about Heath Ledger. To be honest, it's pointless to debate whether or not he would've been the unquestionable winner if he hadn't been taken from us last year. I have a feeling that he would've surely been nominated, but that his win wouldn't have been as assured, and it's quite possible (given the Academy's lack of love for The Dark Knight) that he wouldn't have won. I was a fan of Ledger before he was all too well-known. He was one of those actors that I always wanted to see every movie he was in. I remember that, back in 2003, on the Saturday after I took my SATs, I went to theaters to see The Order (yes, terrible movie), but that proves how long I had been following his work. Many will say it makes no sense to get emotionally affected by his passing if you didn't know him in person, and my rebuttal to that is that acting gives way for you to feel an emotional connection with the person doing it. I'm not just talking about his wonderfully villainous work as The Joker (which I don't think was the VERY BEST performance he gave in his lifetime), but also about his unrecognizable work in Lords of Dogtown and his heart-breaking turns in films like Candy, Monster's Ball and Brokeback Mountain. In the latter film, he did so well at portraying a reticent individual who had so much heartache and frustration bottled up inside of him. The best acting he ever did was that last scene in Ennis Del Mar's trailer, and if you don't think that a film like Brokeback Mountain sounds like your "cup of tea," I still recommend watching that last scene (which features no gay sex, in case you were concerned about that). So, even though I didn't know him in person, the fact that he obviously had such artistic sensibility does make me feel emotionally invested in the whole affair, just as I would feel if an actor like Chris Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Joseph Gordon-Levitt or Naomi Watts (all of whom have made equally searing impressions on me in various films) were to pass away. I think the Oscar was given to him because, considering his amazing body of work at such a young age, there's no doubt he would've continued giving masterful performances, and his death unfortunately made it so that this was the only opportunity for the Academy to reward the greatness we would've continued getting from him if he'd lived. With all that said, it'll be interesting to see what they do about The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, if it'll even be released: will we get to see the late actor's final performance?
Bring on 2009...
0 Comments | Send This |
Kudos to the Academy. I'm not being sarcastic. I'm as satisfied as I can reasonably be with these results, and there's more than one decision that Academy voters made with these nominations that I have to applaud.
Last year's Oscars had the lowest ratings that the ceremony's ever had, so it was expected that the Academy would nominate for best picture a more mainstream film that would draw a lot of people to want to see the broadcast. It was because of this that many expected The Dark Knight to earn a best picture Oscar nomination. While the film was one of my honorary mentions this year, and it is undoubtedly one of the best pieces of mainstream entertainment we've seen in a while, there's no escaping the fact that it simply is not worthy of being named one of the five overall best films of the year. It has a handful of flaws, some of which I mentioned in my review of it back when it was released in July, and others that I've noticed during repeated viewings. An amazing performance doesn't necessarily make for a great film, and that's exactly the case here. Still, it's a very good piece of cinema, and it earned a whopping 8 nominations, all well-deserved, so I don't really think people should be complaining. My main point is, though, that I'm very proud of Academy voters for not being tempted by the desire for ratings and giving it a nomination: they felt that smaller films like Frost/Nixon and The Reader were better and picked the films they truly thought were the best.
The best picture nomination for The Reader was certainly surprising. At 60% on the tomatometer, the film is on the brink of being "rotten" yet Academy voters clearly took notice of what a beautiful and well-made movie it is, and I have to admit I don't have a problem at all with the nomination. If it weren't for its third and final act (which adds unnecessary plot elements to the film and features a lackluster performance by Ralph Fiennes) the movie would've probably been at the very top of my list.
Speaking of The Reader, the MAIN thing that the Academy deserves heaps of praise for is the decision to place Kate Winslet in the lead actress category. How is it possible that the Golden Globes and so many other awards considered her to be supporting? Her character, Hanna Schmitz, is the heart and soul of that film. Not only was the Academy wise in doing the category shift, but they also nominated her for the correct film, which also makes me feel pretty good about myself in the fact that maybe I'm not so off in my assessment of performances: I pointed out in my reviews of Revolutionary Road and The Reader that, in the former film, Winslet gives a slightly off-the-mark performance in the early scenes, never quite measuring up to her co-star, while in the latter film, she's absolutely incredible and gives the best performance of 2008. I'm very glad to see that the Oscar voters were also wise enough to note the performance for which she actually did deserve to be recognized and that they placed her in the correct category. She absolutely, completely, undoubtedly deserves to finally win her first Oscar for her astounding work in The Reader. Furthermore, the other AWESOME thing about this is that, with Winslet in the leading actress category, it opens the door for Penelope Cruz to win Best Supporting Actress for her riotous turn in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. So, it turned out perfectly, in my opinion.
Speaking of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, I can't say how glad I am that that's the only nomination it got, because it's the only one it deserved. There seemed to be a consensus that Woody Allen's script would get nominated in the best original screenplay category, and that would've upset me like you can't even imagine. Here's yet another great decision by the Academy: they decided to nominate Courtney Hunt's screenplay for Frozen River, a very small indie film that very few people have seen, but when it comes out on DVD in a couple of weeks, I hope a lot do, because it's amazing. Also, in contrast to the Golden Globes, the Academy was wise enough to realize that both Happy-Go-Lucky and In Bruges were far better-written comedies than Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and followed suit by nominating both in that category.
I feel bad for being as overly skeptical as I am sometimes; in my review of The Visitor, I pointed out that I doubted the Academy would recognize Richard Jenkins' excellent work in that movie because it was such an early year release. Thank God I was wrong, though. I'm very, very happy for Jenkins (this is one of those actors that I really can't wait to see what he does next because he's great in everything I've seen him in). The only thing that disappointed me about the Best Lead Actor nominations was the absence of Leonardo DiCaprio for Revolutionary Road, though at the same time, it was great to see Michael Shannon nab a surprise nomination in the supporting category for that film.
The main thing I was hoping for that didn't end up happening was a Best Picture nomination for WALL-E, but I suppose it was a longshot. The existence of that Best Animated Feature film category makes it really tough for any of them to be contenders. The folks at Pixar are bound to continue doing amazing work, though, so let's not give up hope. Since the foreign-language Waltz with Bashir was NOT nominated in the animated movie category, WALL-E will have an easy win against Bolt and Kung Fu Panda (neither of which I've seen, but WALL-E's victory just seems like a total no-brainer, just like Heath Ledger's win in the supporting actor category).
As it turns out, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button nabbed the most nominations, an impressive 13, followed by Slumdog Millionaire with 10, and then The Dark Knight and Milk are tied for third place with 8 nominations each. All signs continue indicating that the very-good-but-overrated Slumdog Millionaire will walk away with the top prize. I'll freely admit that I'd be ecstatic if either Benjamin Button or Milk pulled off an upset. Those are my top 2 films of the year, and it was incredibly hard to decide which one got spot #2 and which one got spot #1. In my opinion, Benjamin Button represents the best achievement of 2008 in terms of storytelling and cinematic artistry, whereas Milk is the year's most socially insightul and triumphantly relevant movie. After seeing both films a second time, though, I determined that Milk was definitely my favorite movie of the year.
As I said, I'm still pretty satisfied with the outcome, and while it may not turn out to be the most unpredictable Oscar ceremony ever, it should still be exciting to watch, and I do hope the ratings are better this year. The Academy didn't succumb to worrying about last year's ratings and nominated the films they felt were the best, and that's extremely commendable, as I've said. Perhaps Hugh Jackman's presence as host will be enough to draw viewers - we'll see.
0 Comments | Send This |
Keeping in mind the possibility that at least one of these three titles will be mentioned this Thursday morning when the Oscar nominations are announced, I thought I'd write up my thoughts on them, since I saw them during the last few days. Interestingly enough, all three of these movies feature a relationship between the main character and a dog, AND the dog happens to be a Labrador in all three cases (seriously, how coincidental is that?).
Gran Torino - 6/10 - Here's a rare example of one of those movies that actually gets better as it goes along. Gran Torino starts off sloppily, with the same feeling of things being "too obvious" that I got from Clint Eastwood's Changeling earlier this year. However, once it starts focusing more on the mentoring, father-son-like relationship between Walt (Eastwood) and Thao (Bee Vang) it becomes more heartfelt and honest. Eastwood's acting is good, but nothing worthy of an Oscar nomination, and if the Academy does choose to give him a nomination it'll simply be to honor his body of work (which they don't get tired of doing) and because the actor-director has stated this is the last movie he'll actually act in (though he'll continue directing). The acting talent of the supporting cast, I'm sorry to say, ranges from so-so to laughably bad in some scenes. I have to say, however, that I was shocked by the climax of Gran Torino - not only did the opposite of what I expected happen, but the way it was handled was totally surprising, and I mean that in a good way. (Oh yeah... fun idea for a drinking game, for anyone who rents this: have a drink every time Walt says "UGH" in an uber-pissed off way)
Marley and Me - 4/10 - I don't take well to emotional manipulation. Make no mistake about it: Marley and Me uses its tear-inducing final 20 minutes to try to seem like a good movie, and its makers assume people will forget about how crappy it is prior to those last 20 minutes. Without spoiling anything, I'll just say that the ending of this movie has made and will make many people cry SIMPLY because the events happen to a cute dog; if anyone went into a showing of Marley and Me during the final 20 minutes and saw what happens, without having seen anything that came before that, he/she would still get emotional, because it's just a sad event. There's nothing that happens in the film that makes you care about the dog or the family - the ending is just sad because it's impossible NOT to find something like that sad, and that is exactly why it is such a terribly convenient and manipulative ending. Sure, tragic events like that can be great in giving a film dramatic potency, but this is a case in which a movie that is half-assed in every respect, with sub-par acting and horrible editing, tries to use an ending that would be sad in any scenario and tries to make people forget about all the mediocrity that came before it. Everything that happens prior to the final tragic moments involves either 1) scenes of the titular dog chewing on something or jumping someone, and these scenes are definitely tired and repetitive with no sense of creativity in terms of at least coming up with funny gags, or 2) John's (Owen Wilson) attempts at succeeding in his job as a columnist, and these scenes are even more boring than those involving Marley. There's very little in the way of comedy here (I think I had about two or three "hehes") and it's not dramatically effective either. Jennifer Aniston holds her own, and she's proven in the past that she can be a good emotional performer, but Owen Wilson is simply not talented in that department; he should stick to comedy... which Marley and Me is not.
Wendy and Lucy - 6/10 - If you're lucky enough to have this showing in a theater near you, please go see it. Despite the title, as opposed to Marley and Me, the dog doesn't actually have much screen time. This story is really about Wendy (Michelle Williams), even if much of what she does is based on her love for her dog, Lucy. The RT synopsis describes the film as a sort of "female counterpart" to Into the Wild since it features a young woman who is on her way to Alaska (even though the movie focuses strictly on what happens to her while she's passing through the state of Oregon). Into the Wild had the problem that the secondary characters were easier to appreciate than the protagonist, whereas the problem with Wendy and Lucy is the opposite: by focusing only on Wendy and not really giving us any supporting characters to fill in the gaps, we're left with a film that, though mostly engaging, meanders more than it should sometimes. It's short, but it could've been even shorter. Still, this is very much worth seeing to witness how greatly Williams makes this character her own (this is her best work since her supporting role in Brokeback Mountain). Unlike Marley and Me, this film gives us a tragic ending that is entirely realistic and absolutely not manipulative, and that, I feel, makes it a more genuinely heart-breaking conclusion.
0 Comments | Send This |
While it?s far from being my favorite year in cinema, 2008 still featured a heck of a lot of movies that I liked a lot, and I can say without hesitation that I absolutely adore the 10 movies on my top 10 list and my four honorary mentions, even if I don?t feel there was much else that was all too great released throughout the year. I feel that last year we saw a lot more success in terms of great plot development and storytelling, and this has been more of an acting year, with dozens of outstanding performances in several films.
At the end of each year, professional critics usually post a top 10 list and they complement that with a ?bottom 10? list, featuring the very worst movies that they unfortunately had to sit through. I guess if you look on the bright side one of the perks of not being a working professional critic is that you don?t have to watch all the garbage that gets dumped on multiplexes. If I were an actual film critic, I?d currently have to be reviewing Bride Wars and The Unborn, two of 2009?s initial releases, both of which look ghastly. So, thankfully, professional critics have done the job for me and helped me stay away from watching anything that?s crap, and I suppose that?s the reason why I didn?t give out any 2?s, 1?s or 0?s this year, and only gave a 3 to two films. You really have to consider what a great resource RT is: it can help save you from spending miserable hours in a movie theater and from paying money to spend said miserable hours. So, while I can?t come up with a ?bottom 10? list, since I generally steered clear of what looked to be the terrible movies that came out this year, I still have to mention a couple of movies that weren?t necessarily painful experiences, but still far from reaching the expectations I had for them.
The seven biggest disappointments of 2008 (alphabetically):
1. 21 ? How can you possibly drain a film that had every bit of potential to be an intensely suspenseful experience and turn it into ridiculous, boring melodrama? Well, the makers of 21 did just that. The fatal flaw here is that we?re never given a reason to root for any of the characters to succeed at what they?re doing, so it removes any tension from all of the scenes in which they?re on the verge of getting caught cheating at the game of Blackjack. Jim Sturgess, who was very good in his lead role in Across the Universe, fails miserably as the main character, and a supporting cast (including Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne) is equally bad. On a personal level, this was quite a disappointment because some of the film?s scenes were shot on location at the college I attended, in the spring of 2007 when I was still a student there, so it would?ve been really cool if this had turned out to be a good movie.
2. Changeling ? Clint Eastwood is normally a master of great drama. With Million Dollar Baby, he accomplished the tough task of giving freshness and potency to a conventional storyline. But his Changeling is an incredibly manipulative motion picture. Am I the only one who feels insulted whenever a film makes an effort to stay focused on a character?s face for a few seconds longer than necessary to clue the audience into the fact that he/she is a villain? I hate it when a movie treats me as though I have half a brain, but I guess most people are okay with it. Angelina Jolie?s solid work is pretty much the only thing that made me give this a 5.
3. Cloverfield ? When trailers for Cloverfield were released, I was extremely excited. It was an early-year release, which is normally a bad sign, but it followed the same documentary-style approach as The Blair With Project (which is tied with John Carpenter?s Halloween as my favorite horror film), so I thought it had potential, and reviews seemed to agree. Blair Witch was astoundingly great because of the realistic eeriness with which it operated, and because it made the correct decision of never letting us see whatever it was that was haunting the protagonists. The makers of Cloverfield make the horrible decision to give us several blatant shots of the creature that is wreaking havoc in the film, thus curtailing the amount of dread. Also, a lot of people really liked the film?s ending, but I hated it ? a film that is trying to convey relentless realism with the documentary-style approach should not end with a cliched, emotionally manipulative scene. It should?ve ended with more disastrous chaos instead of having characters placed in all-too-convenient positions, saying all the lines we?ve gotten used to hear at the end of so many other movies. This was a wasted opportunity.
4. Mamma Mia! ? Were it not for the unforgettably laugh-free Strange Wilderness (which isn?t on this list of disappointments, because I fully expected that to be bad), this would?ve been the worst film I saw this year. I felt it on a more personal level because I had seen the musical and loved it, and because I am a fan of ABBA?s tunes. It?d be okay if the only people who didn?t like the movie were those who hate their songs, but I like them a lot, and the dance sequences of Mamma Mia! are totally lacking in pizzazz and excitement. This could?ve been one of the most fun pieces of cinematic fluff this year; instead, it?s just boring fluff.
5. Nick & Norah?s Infinite Playlist ? Here?s the biggest of all the disappointments. Not because it?s the worst film on this list of seven, but because it?s definitely the one I was looking forward to the most. This had all the potential in the world to be this year?s Lars and the Real Girl, the subdued dramedy that wows me to no end. My main reasons for wanting to see it were the two leads, Michael Cera and Kat Dennings, because I love the work they?ve done, and the most frustrating thing about it is that they actually are awesomely charismatic in the film, but everything else is disastrously bad. If you put aside the interaction between the two title characters, this film is just a gross-out, pointless and uninventive comedy.
6. Quantum of Solace ? In 2006, Casino Royale was a shocker for me. Never did I expect that a James Bond movie could be so thrilling, so classy, and so dramatically effective. I figured that this reinvention would bring further vast improvements to the franchise, but Quantum of Solace elected the route of standard, mindless action. The absence of the great Eva Green was felt strongly because she was a wonderful leading lady in the former movie. While Quantum of Solace is sort of fun for what it is, it?s more than a few notches below its predecessor.
7. Vicky Cristina Barcelona ? Hidden agendas bother me, especially when people think they?re being incredibly sly in concealing them. Woody Allen?s latest film poses as a sexy tale of exotic romance and is nothing but a sermon that wants to get across the prejudiced message that Americans are unsophisticated and obsessed with trivial things while Europeans are awesome and bohemian and fun. The film?s horrible voiceover repeats this message a bunch of times and it?s more and more painful each time you have to hear it. Are we finally going to understand that you can?t just say that everyone in a country is a certain way? If Allen thinks of himself as open-minded for making a film like this, he is severely mistaken because all he does is provide an incredibly generalized message. Still, I admit it deserves to be seen for Penelope Cruz?s awesome work, but other than that, it?s a terribly uninsightful movie.
On the positive side, there were some movies that surprised me, turning out to be far better than what I was expecting them to be, whether it was because the trailer was horrible or because it just looked like a bad idea for a movie. Here are the ones that most stood out.
The five ?surprisingly good? movies of 2008 (alphabetically):
1. Let the Right One In ? Yes, it has an insanely high tomatometer, but I still was skeptical of it, because after watching Twilight, the idea of watching another movie about a human being falling in love with a vampire was probably the last thing I wanted to do. As it turns out, it?s the second best foreign film I?ve seen this year (after The Edge of Heaven). The atmospherics are awesome, and it?s nicely sublime, yet has some incredibly frightening moments. Even if you start watching and don?t like it, I advise watching it all the way to the end, because the last scene is shockingly cool (probably one of the loudest gasps I?ve let out while watching a movie this year).
2. The Other Boleyn Girl ? The trailer for this one looked terrible. It looked like an over-the-top, costume soap opera? and it is! But it?s still incredibly entertaining, and if this is your kind of thing, you?ll like it a lot. It moves at a ridiculously fast pace, sprinting through some important plot developments, but that turns out to be a good thing because it keeps it from being a boring period drama.
3. Sex Drive ? This fell under the radar, didn?t do well at all at the box office, and I don?t even think I know anyone else who saw it, but wow, it was surprisingly sweet and funny. Much has been talked about the comedies that came out this year, and this was definitely better than overpraised movies like Role Models and Tropic Thunder. It looked like another one of those aimed-at-teenagers comedies full of sex gags, yet it has some really good characters and a handful of funny scenes. When it comes out on DVD, I?ll definitely rent it on a day that I just want to have an unchallenging, relaxing movie-watching experience.
4. Speed Racer ? Yeah, I know I?m pretty much alone here, but whatever, I liked it. There?s always a bombastic, dumb movie that I end up liking each year, and it was Speed Racer in 2008. Many complained that it was too loud and that the special effects were annoying, and I suspect that the reason why I liked it is that I didn?t see it in theaters and waited to rent it. Maybe it?s just not such a good movie to watch on the big screen (some say the same thing about Cloverfield ? maybe I should rent it and give it a second try). Oh, and Emile Hirsch plays Speed? so, chances were I was gonna like it no matter what. :)
5. Under the Same Moon ? I went to see this because my parents wanted to, and I was seriously dreading it. The trailers made it look like such a schmaltzy, cute movie that I was just like ?Oh God, I might develop diabetes just from watching this.? As it turns out, it certainly is somewhat corny, but not in a bad way in the least bit. It has that rare quality of honest sweetness that we got from Juno last year, and the last scene of the movie features a standard-order happy ending that, despite the cliché factor, is executed perfectly. If I were making a top 20 list instead of a top 10 list, Under the Same Moon would be on it.
Before getting to the top 10, there?s another list of sorts I want to get out of the way. Like I said, it was an impressive year for acting, and I tried to come up with a list of the 10 best performances, but that would?ve forced me to leave out too many great ones, so instead, I?m listing 21 names (alphabetically again) of my favorite performances of 2008 with a short comment for each, and asterisks for the two best:
1. Amy Adams (Doubt) ? Quietly powerful.
2. Russell Brand (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) ? Priceless.
3. Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) ? Outrageously delightful.
4. Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road) ? Gut-wrenching and honest.
5. James Franco (Pineapple Express) ? Comedic perfection. ?Nuff said.
6. Andrew Garfield (Boy A) ? Painful. Heart-breaking.
7. Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married) ? Surprisingly nuanced and raw. Far and away her best work to date.
8. Emile Hirsch (Milk) ? No bias here, I swear. Scene-stealing, spunky and dead-on.
9. Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) ? Excellently subdued; the film is an amazing character study thanks to Jenkins? relentlessly perfect portrayal of Walter.
10. Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) ? A flawless rendition.
11. Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight) ? Evil and madness of the highest caliber; a performance that will be discussed for years.
12. Melissa Leo (Frozen River) ? Unflinchingly realistic.
13. Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) ? One of the best underdog performances ever, an incredible accomplishment for such a young actor.
**14. Sean Penn (Milk) ? A tour de force of a transformation. Un-fucking-believable. The best performance by a male this year.
15. Michael Pitt (Funny Games) ? Devilish perfection.
16. Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight) ? Extremely underrated. Gives the film much of its dramatic potency in several key scenes.
17. Craig Robinson (Pineapple Express) ? Uproariously hilarious.
18. Meryl Streep (Doubt) ? Demonically electrifying.
19. Naomi Watts (Funny Games) ? Searingly painful. Watts acts her ass off, and if the film weren?t so taboo, she?d be a contender.
***20. Kate Winslet (The Reader) ? A triumph of monumental proportions. The film would have been an emotional failure without her anchoring it. The best performance by a female this year, and the best performance overall of 2008.
21. Evan Rachel Wood (The Life Before Her Eyes) ? Impressively poignant.
Top 10 List for 2008:
The only issue I want to make reference to before typing up my top 10 list is that of Slumdog Millionaire, which is not on my list for this year, yet its success at the BFCA and the Golden Globes seems like a good sign that it?s on its way to the Best Picture Oscar, barring any surprises (which, at this point, I?m hoping there is one). If I were making a top 20 list instead of a top 10 list, it would be on it (it would be #16). It?s one of the best-looking and best-sounding films of the year, and I understand that it?s given a heck of a lot of satisfaction to a lot of people, but plain and simply, I saw several movies that were better, and that?s that. I think that what it comes down to is that I probably am not much of a fan of happy endings, as my top 10 list features a majority of films that end tragically. I don?t think that a tragic ending is a condition I have in order to think a movie is worthy of being considered among the year?s best, though. I just gravitate towards the ones that get to me the most, the ones that I can?t help but feel like I adored as soon as I walked out of the theater. And here they are, for what it?s worth.
Honorary mentions: Burn After Reading, The Dark Knight, The Edge of Heaven, Frost/Nixon
10. Funny Games: Don?t let the title fool you. There?s nothing funny about Funny Games (well, there are some lines I consider sadistically amusing, but?). Here?s a film that is more likely to be on critics? bottom 10 list than their top 10 list. It?s a ?love it or hate it? film, but I suspect most will hate it. This is a diabolically sinister motion picture, and at the same time, it is a razor-sharp criticism of the movie-going audience?s obsession with violence, and it?s an accurate criticism, as there?s no doubt that people are attracted to mindless horror movies that feature nothing but blood and guts. Many will leave Funny Games dissatisfied because it refuses to show any on-screen violence, and that?s exactly the point. Yet in spite of not blatantly displaying any violence, it is an immensely disturbing motion picture, brilliantly executed by the wonderful French director Michael Haneke and flawlessly acted, in particular by Naomi Watts and Michael Pitt. I can?t recommend it to many people, but not including it on this list would?ve been like lying to myself, because there?s no doubt that it?s one of the most insightful and uncompromising films of the year.
9. The Visitor: This is a truly powerful exploration of the illegal immigration issue, and at the same time, it is an astounding character study, all thanks to Richard Jenkins? superb performance. Rarely is an actor so successful at just acting like a normal person: Jenkins gets every facial expression right, and though his Walter doesn?t even say much, we can always tell what is going on with our protagonist (particularly when he gets into so many awkward situations in which he?s forced to tell white lies), which is why that scene at the restaurant when he finally is able to be honest with himself is so great. As I said in my review, there?s not a single moment of falsity in the entire film; everything rings true.
8. Revolutionary Road: Sam Mendes? fierce examination of suburban/married hell is blessed with one of the best scripts of the year and with a score that constantly matches the emotional tone of every scene in the film. Here?s a film in which the lead characters? demons and nasty sides are exposed in a full-fledged manner, yet rather than feeling disgust, we feel for them so strongly, perhaps because we know exactly the kind of pain they?re going through, or perhaps because the actors convey it so perfectly. Kate Winslet misses a few notes in early scenes, but Leonardo DiCaprio is pitch-perfect, bringing an emotional power to his last few scenes in the film that is almost too much to take. The fact that it?s set half a century ago yet manages to be entirely relevant to the present time is a great credit to this timeless, intensely dark story.
7. Pineapple Express: Seems jarring to move from three serious dramas to a dumb comedy, doesn?t it? It might even seem wrong to place this above Revolutionary Road on the list: a dumb stoner comedy better than a serious relationship drama? First of all, though, you can?t really compare the two films because the ground they cover couldn?t be more different. I?m judging Revolutionary Road as a drama and Pineapple Express as a comedy, and both in the context of 2008, and this is just how it is. Pineapple Express was the best comedy of the year. The script is incredibly savvy, and the film is carried by James Franco?s laugh-riot of a turn as drug dealer Saul. The comedy is perfectly balanced with action sequences that are entertaining, yet never take themselves too seriously, which is the perfect decision for a film like this. With Superbad and now this, I can?t freaking wait for the next script collaboration between Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen. Those who thought Tropic Thunder was better can go smoke whatever crappy weed they?re on ? I?ll stick with Pineapple Express. :) This film is the apogee of the stoner comedy.
6. Frozen River: It?s a shame that I never got a chance to write a formal, full-length review about this one. It played for like two weeks at my local indie theater, and I would?ve absolutely loved to see it a second time, but never got a chance to. The DVD comes out in early February, and I advise you to rent it as soon as possible. What a powerfully naturalistic drama this is. Melissa Leo is nothing short of amazing. This movie is extremely timely in that it deals with current hot-button issues such as the tightening of the economy and illegal immigration, and it does all of this in a non-urban setting with a limited number of characters. Frozen River is the best kind of combination of drama and thriller, with the latter part never feeling contrived or lacking authenticity. This is a truly hair-raising, gut-wrenching motion picture that I can?t wait to see again.
5. WALL-E: A colossal triumph of animation. The folks at Pixar have managed to create a motion picture that works both as a super-cute, entertaining movie for kids and adults and as a piercing, cautionary tale. If that doesn?t sound like enough of a feat, they also created a supremely ravishing romance between? ROBOTS!!! How did they pull that off, with characters that would normally be drab and expressionless? The interactions between WALL-E and EVE are so heart-warming, it?s unfair. This is the best animated film since 2003?s Finding Nemo. To be quite honest, the fact that the Academy has a category for this genre is no excuse; if things were fair, WALL-E would earn a Best Picture nomination on Oscar morning.
4. In Search of a Midnight Kiss: I can?t help it. We?re approaching the top of the list, and we?re starting to get more and more into ?my kind of movie? territory. I adore this film. I like it more and more every time I watch it. While it?s not Before Sunrise, it?s still blessed with an immense amount of quirkiness and conversational insight. This isn?t just a lovely exploration of a one-night tryst, but an incredibly wise and observant examination of how people relate to each other. Awkwardness is a huge part of life and of our interaction with those who surround it; films fail constantly at portraying that, which always pisses me off. Thank God for movies like In Search of a Midnight Kiss. This was Alex Holdridge?s directorial debut, and if this is the approach he?s going to follow, please let him make more.
3. Boy A: This was probably the toughest movie for me to watch this year. Its power is uncanny. Boy A is one of the most masterfully-made, morally complex films I?ve seen in a long time. It is a perfect depiction of the enormously tough path one needs to tread to achieve redemption for a horrible deed, if it?s even possible to achieve it. Andrew Garfield is tremendously great as the protagonist. The editing is handled flawlessly, as the film gradually reveals past events, until it coalesces a pivotal moment of the past with the tensest moment in the present. Every single scene in Boy A is perfectly executed and performed, and the film carries a massive emotional weight.
2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: An extraordinary miracle of both storytelling and cinematography, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button should technically be #1 on this list, because of the fact that it is, without a doubt, the best-made picture of 2008. Here?s a film with a plot that greatly balances good humor with emotional insight. You know when you?ve thought about something deep a lot, yet you haven?t shared the thought with anyone, and then suddenly, you hear someone bring it up, and you?re like ?YES! I?ve thought about that, too.? That?s precisely what happened to me with this movie. The observations made here about life and the world resonated with me so much. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a beautiful ode to life, and it?s a visually majestic, richly enthralling work of art.
1. Milk: But it was Gus Van Sant?s unprecedented triumph of a biopic that most captivated me. Sean Penn literally transformed himself into this political figure, and gives one of the most stunning performances of this decade. What has been achieved with Milk is a monumentally amazing marriage between a fully accurate depiction of the toilsome journey to be elected to political office and delightfully sweet-natured drama that encapsulates the persona of this icon. Thanks to Van Sant and Penn, Harvey Milk and his great influence will now hopefully be known and felt by a lot more people out there. In what was such a rough political year, Harvey Milk?s message of hope is precisely the catalyst that we want to see propel us into a better future, and that is why Milk is not only extremely timely, but it is also a film of massive social significance.
0 Comments | Send This |