Friday, February 26, 2010

Top 10 of 2009: #'s 5-1

5. Crazy Heart

The best acting performance of the year occurs in this understated, authentic film.  That performance is by Jeff Bridges, who plays Bad Blake, an aging country singer who has fallen from grace in the music industry.  I’m a sucker for sympathetic down-on-their-luck characters almost as much as I am a sucker for films with great, original music.  Put those two together, and you can see why I loved this film. 

4. An Education

Following my favorite male performance of the year is An Education, which contains my favorite female performance of the year in Carey Mulligan.  This film is a classic combination of a great story and great acting—no bells or whistles here.  The story succeeds because the characters are so well written that we genuinely feel for them (even the “bad” characters).  It was a little difficult at first for me to accept the major premise of the film (Mulligan’s 17 year-old character being in a serious relationship with someone in their mid-30’s), but then I found out it was based on a true story, so bad job by me.  The fact that Sandra Bullock is probably going to win best actress for “The Blind Side” over Carey Mulligan is just about sinful. 

3. Coraline

Beating out Up and Fantastic Mr. Fox in the animated category for me is Coraline, a haunting little stop-motion animation film with heart.  I always like movies that take the most basic themes (a child’s relationship with her parents/the family dynamic in general) and find new and exciting (and bizarre, in this case) ways to explore them.  It doesn’t pack quite the emotional punch that Up does, but what separates the two for me is the completeness of the writing—all of the characters and subplots bring meaning to the story and make it a well-rounded film, and they are portrayed in such a new, interesting, and eerie way that it’s hard not to appreciate it.  

2. The Hurt Locker

The Oscar battle for best picture this year is waged between two camps: The Hurt Locker and Avatar.  You can see which side I belong to.  This is easily one of my favorite war movies, and easily my favorite movie about the Iraq war.  It’s psychological, it’s intense, and it’s everything you want in a war movie that you didn’t know you wanted in a war movie.  To illustrate this, let me relay to you a facebook transaction that occurred a few months ago, between C, a friend of mine and J, an avid reader of this blog who actually served in Iraq:

C: “The Hurt Locker was disappointing.  The characters went around doing nothing the whole time, it was boring, had no ending, and was pointless.” 

J: “hmmm…doing nothing for hours, boredom, and no resolution...yep, pretty much sounds like Iraq.” 

This illustrates it perfectly for me.  The reason many people probably don’t like it is the same reason that it works, as exemplified above.  The only thing I disagree with is that I wasn’t bored at all watching this.  The tension level was really high for most of the film, and when it wasn’t a particularly tense moment we were learning something interesting about the psyches of the characters.  I also think it’s pretty awesome that a woman (Kathryn Bigelow) directed one of the best war movies to come out in years (rivaling Letters From Iwo Jima for me).  Hopefully she will be the first female to take home the Best Director award at this year’s Oscars. 

1. Goodbye Solo

So I have a new completely scientific factor to use when judging movies, which I call “The Smile Factor.”  It’s something I’ve noticed about myself over the last few years when watching transcendent films: they are so excellent in one way or the other that I can’t help but just grin from ear to ear as I’m watching them, while feeling so lucky inside to have the privilege of watching them.  The only films in 2009 that passed my Smile Factor are: Goodbye Solo and…..that’s it.  I stated in my snippet for An Education that one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much was because it was driven by a great story and great acting.  That’s how I feel with Goodbye Solo, except multiply it by about 20.  It’s the simplest story of a foreign cab driver in Winston-Salem befriending a one of his regular customers, a down-trodden older man.  Souleymane Sy Savane gives an incredibly inspiring performance as Solo, a character so warm and charming that it makes you empathize with everything that happens to him.  I really hope you will go out and rent this one if you haven’t heard of it before.  It’s not for everyone, and I could see how some people could say it drags in some places, but for me it was a reminder of just how good movies can be, and that well-written characters and strong acting will always, always win.  

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Top 10 of 2009: #'s 10-6

            So, after doing a little research for this post, and trying to put the year in movies in perspective, I realize that I might have a problem.  I’ve seen 55 movies that were released in 2009.  55.  I’ve seen 55 movies from 2009.  Look again…that’s not the number of movies I watched in 2009…that would probably be somewhere in the range of, oh, ~175.  Seriously, how am I still married?  I’m baffled.  Yes, there are a couple of award winners that I have yet to see (including BP nominee Precious, and foreign-film The White Ribbon (which I would kill to see)).  But overall, when you read blog entries like this one, you can be pretty sure that I’ve at least seen enough movies to have perspective on the issue.  The only thing I ask is that you keep reading my blog so that least I can justify watching that many movies.  If I can justify it, then I might stay married a little longer.  So in essence, by you reading my blog, you’re really saving my marriage.  Are we clear?  Thanks.  Today I’ll discuss my 10-6, and tomorrow or the next day I will release my 5-1.  As always, everyone feel free to comment on mine and give me your personal top 10. 

#10. Fantastic Mr. Fox

            I’m not a huuuuuuge Wes Anderson fan (I liked Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, but loathed The Life Aquatic and was ambivalent about The Darjeeling Limited and Bottle Rocket).  Fox, though, is probably now my favorite of his films.  It’s a great commentary on the male desire to be a “fox” while simultaneously being a great husband and father.  Somehow, Clooney gives one of his best performances just by using his voice, and the stop-motion animation is nothing short of spectacular. 

#9.  Up In the Air

            Following Fox is Clooney’s live action film directed by Jason Reitman of Juno and Thank You For Smoking fame.  The story and directing are pretty good, but what really pushes it over the top for me is the acting.  Clooney gives the second best performance of his career (behind Michael Clayton) and Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick are stellar.  All three were nominated for Oscars.

#8.  Inglorious Basterds

            I can’t resist Quentin Tarantino films, and although this isn’t my favorite of his by a long shot, it was a really enjoyable movie.  The thing with Tarantino is that you know what you’re getting when you walk in: gratuitous violence and great dialogue.  This one doesn’t disappoint with either.  Christoph Waltz gives an amazing performance as the villain Nazi colonel, and is the frontrunner for the best supporting actor Oscar.  What really makes the film is the dialogue-heavy scenes that are riddled with tension; it keeps you on your toes about what is going to happen next.

#7.  In the Loop

            One of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time.  Based on the British TV show by the same name, this political satire has some of the wittiest (and dirtiest) dialogue of any film I’ve ever seen.  It’s sort of shot in a mockumentary style, which really works because it almost makes you believe that politicians really are this clueless.   If you are into smart comedy, this is the movie for you.

#6.  Up

            Pixar strikes again with this one.  Of all the good things I could say about this movie, let me just say that the first 10 minutes of the film is possibly the best, most emotional 10 minutes of film as there is out there.  The only reason it’s not higher up on my list is because I felt like some of the more “kiddie” aspects of the film got in the way a little too much, like the talking dogs and the huge bird they were after.  Having said that, this is the only film since I can remember that made me cry…(alright, fine, besides Marley & Me).

Come back tomorrow for #'s 5-1

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

2009 Movie Awards

I’m not gonna lie: there’s not just a whole lot that made me excited to be a fan of cinema in 2009.  In a couple of days I will release my top-10 of the year list and talk about this a little bit more, but since it didn’t particularly excite me to make that list, I thought I’d mix it up a little and make some of my own special awards.  This is what I came up with; hope you enjoy. 

Worst Movie: Whatever Works

Best Comedy: In the Loop (honorable mention: Zombieland)

Most Underrated movie you’ve never heard of: Big Fan

Most Underrated movie you have heard of: The Informant!

Biggest Letdown: Public Enemies

Best Guilty Pleasure: Paranormal Activity

Best Extremely, Utterly Embarrassing Guilty Pleasure: 17 Again (judge me)

Most Ridiculous Premise: Did you Hear About the Morgans?

Best Documentary/Only Documentary I’ve Seen: Food, Inc.

Best Movie Directed By an Annoying Actress With a Lisp: Whip It (Drew Barrymore, in case you were wondering)

Two of the Best Child Performances I’ve Ever Seen That Didn’t Get Enough Recognition: Kodi Smitt-McPhee (The Road), Max Records (Where the Wild Things Are)

Best Movie That Makes Women Look Like Complete Morons: Bride Wars

Most Quotable: Tie, The Hangover & In the Loop

Best Popcorn Flick: Star Trek

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Carey Mulligan, An Education

Most Original: Inglorious Basterds

Most Unoriginal: Avatar (duh)

Biggest Douche in Hollywood: James Cameron (just had to throw that shot out there)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly and New York City

              I got so tired after writing 500-word essays about each of the Top-10 films of the 2000’s that I had to take a 12-day sabbatical to regain my blogger strength.  Between that post and today, I took a 4-day weekend trip (sorry, law school) to Washington D.C. and New York City to visit my two best buds and, despite the worst weather of the winter forcing me to improvise my plans a little bit, was still a pretty epic weekend.  To waste time on the plane, I watched a movie that I’ve wanted to see for awhile, 2007’s The Diving Bell and The Butterfly.  This French film is based on the true story of a French magazine editor who suffered a stroke and became fully paralyzed, save for one eye.  The movie flashed back to his pre-stroke life, but mainly focuses on his post-stroke life—how he learns to communicate through blinking and writes a book with the help of a very patient scribe who writes letter-by-letter.  If I had to go back and redo my top-10 foreign language films of the 2000’s list, this one is easily be #2 behind City of God, and if you know me at all I wouldn’t take something like that lightly. 

            Basically, I’ll put the movie in these terms for you:  in a weekend where I got to hang out with my two best friends in D.C. and Manhattan, went to the top of Rockefeller Center, had some great laughs at one of NYC’s premiere comedy clubs, ate the best crepe of my life, saw Ground Zero, went to Century 21, ate some authentic NY pizza, hit some of Greenwich Villages hotspots, rode the 4AM train out to Long Island Sunday morning with the drunkest/craziest of New York’s crazies, and generally had an amazing time just talking about the good ole’ days and busting each other’s chops for girls we used to date, I would STILL place watching The Diving Bell and The Butterfly in the top-10 best parts about the weekend. 

            So there’s a glowing recommendation for you.