Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Films of 2009


Top 5

Up (Peter Docter, Bob Peterson) - A lot has been said and written about the perfection of Up's opening montage, and for good reason. If the lights came up after those 4 minutes, I would have been surprised, but not too unsatisfied. Instead, a story followed that was full of wonder, humor, adventure, and meaning. Everything about this movie after the first 4 minutes should be completely foreign. A house that flies? Talking dogs? A lost, unknown land? Despite all this, I accepted everything without question. That's because the circumstances weren't really important. This is a movie of moments and expressions. It's a movie about people (and dogs and birds) dealing with their personal demons, developing relationships and learning. Done well, these universal themes can touch hearts no matter where the characters are or what they're dealing with. In a sense, I think that Up is one of the most "anime" of any American animated feature. What the best Japanese anime has always been able to accomplish that American animation has not, is to marry the completely bizarre and fantastic with the common and day-to-day seamlessly. Miyazaki could have directed Up. I can't think of a better compliment than that.

District 9 (Neill Blomkamp) - The Hurt Locker did a masterful job of creating tension and suspense, but to me it paled in comparison to the nonstop intensity of District 9. It's been a long time since I've actually had to force myself to relax my grip on the armrests at a movie. Add to that a story that is both action-packed and true intelligent science fiction and not just a reason to blow stuff up. It's also a movie that shines a light on the harsh depravity of mankind in a way that is both believable and horrific. Like most real people, it's heroes and villains aren't good or evil.. they're just looking out for themselves.

The Hangover (Todd Phillips) - Hilarious, interesting characters and situations make this comedy/mystery fun and engrossing. Zach Galifanakis' Alan character makes it into my greatest movie personalities of alltime list alongside Jesus Quintana and Napoleon Dynamite.

Moon (Duncan Jones) - What are you afraid of? Loneliness? Loss? Impending death? What if you had a nightmare and woke up to find that the nightmare had followed you into real life? What if your life was a nightmare? Moon asks these questions and more with a quiet, unrelenting pace that is at first puzzling, but then really lets you absorb what's faced by the protagonist. And how he got into that situation will make you think very hard about where all of us are headed.

Avatar (James Cameron) - Reading fantasy novels in middle school (back when I was still imaginative and un-jaded) took me to new worlds with fantastic creatures and magical powers. The good ones were able to take me to places that seemed far greater and more wonderful than the world I lived in. Novels can focus on beauty without the annoyances of reality. For example, living and sleeping in the great outdoors is amazing.. It becomes magical when you take the sweating, mosquitoes, hard ground, poison ivy and crapping in the grass out of the equation. I've seen a lot of movies since then, but none of them have brought back that feeling of transportation like Avatar. Yes, the movie sometimes feels like 5 other movies stitched together and colored blue.. but at least it's a hodgpodge of good movies. I only have 2 complaints about the movie. 1. The arm-in-arm chanting and swaying in unison was lame. 2. A huge opportunity for awesomeness was wasted in the "nature fights back" moment. You mean to tell me that on a planet as diverse as Pandora, only 3 creatures are available to fight for Eywa? And they have to be the same 3 creatures that were introduced earlier in the movie? Where were the massive 6 legged behemoths that can crush a tank with one step? Why weren't there bugs swarming the soldiers? How come the plants weren't joining in the battle? Couldn't sea creatures have been involved somehow? This moment could have been 20 times more awesome.

Honorable Mention

Up in the Air - entertaining, meaningful and clever.
Precious - a window into the lives of people and problems that probably occur within 15 miles of me, but I have no comprehension or awareness of.
Funny People - surprisingly honest and thoughtful.
Inglorious Basterds - Tarantino does what he does best: put together amazing dialogue and characters.

Bottom 5

1. Echelon Conspiracy - Why on earth did I watch this? It was a free screening. I would've considered walking out if it weren't for the fact that the director was in the audience. I should have walked out anyway
2. GI Joe - Just plain terrible and a disgrace to my childhood memories.
3. X-Men Origins: Wolverine - see above.
4. Transformers 2 - Better than the first one.. or maybe it's because my expectations were even lower.
5. Terminator Salvation - Shame on me for thinking that the man responsible for the Charlie's Angels movies could do something good with this franchise.


Best 5

1 Up in the Air (Jason Reitman): A thoughtful character analysis that continues to make you think and care about the characters long after the film ends. I am also curious to know how Ryan Bingham became this way. In the end, however he may have brought this onto himself, I did feel for him. I also liked how the film ended with a glimmer of hope and potentially even redemption. Sidenote: this film would not have 'worked' without the female lead being able to hold her own against Clooney and Vera Farmiga just does that, if not more.

2 Up (Pete Docter, Bob Peterson): Despite some pacing issues and slow moments, it did tug at the ol' heartstrings - damn you Pixar! P.S., Russell rocks.

3 District 9 (Neill Blomkamp): This film caught me off guard initially as I was not sure what to expect. Completely unconventional and original. The pacing was also excellent. If I had to nitpick, there was one scene when Wikus does something out of character (I think the scene involved Wikus abandoning or not helping the little son).

4 Moon (Duncan Jones): I am a sucker for sci-fi flix (also see above) and this one intrigued me since I first saw the trailer. Lots of nodding and winking towards 2001. Sam Rockwell was impressive in this. It definitely deserved more attention that it actually received. I liked Duncan Jones use of 90's one hit wonder "I am the One and Only".

5 Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino): I orginally had The Hurt Locker here but swapped it out the last second because although H.L.maybe more cohesive, I have more to say about I.B. First of all, Christoph Waltz indeed gave an incredible performance particularly the scene where he Shosanna are eating in the restaurant. I really like the way there is so much tension built into the scene already given their past and the ambiguity of not knowing whether Col. Hans Landa knows if it is her or not (i think he does). Plus i like the way eats the cake. Speaking of tension, the entire bar basement scene was a film school lesson in building suspense. It reminds me of PTA's Boogie Nights drug deal scene and De Palma's The Untouchables train secene and perhaps better than both. Bonus: Italian scene was hi-larious.

Honorable Mention

The Hurt Locker
Fantastic Mr. Fox

Worst 5

1. (500) Days of Summer: bratty girl
2. Where the Wild Things Are: bratty kid
3. Duplicity: too clever for its own good
4. What Just Happened: unlikeable main character or people for that matter
5. Bride Wards: i'm on team hathaway