Sunday, January 31, 2010

This Year's Grammys Are Brought To You By The American Top 40

The Grammys this year have proven to be something of a popularity-over-quality contest (though a good number are both popular and quality). I haven't actually been watching the ceremony though; instead I had to drive back to school through some wicked snow and ice (we here in North Carolina do not understand snow, you see). So I don't really have much to say about the performances, other than I looked up Lady Gaga and Elton John on YouTube and thought it was AMAZING! You can watch it here:
I'm also wondering why the Grammy eligibility period was cut a month short this year, going from October 1, 2008 to August 31st, 2009. This means that next year's will start on September 1, 2009 right? There were great albums released last September (Jay-Z, Kid Cudi, Muse) that deserve some attention.
- Kings of Leon really cleaned up tonght, winning three awards: Record of the Year, Rock Perfomance by a Duo or Group, and Rock Song. All of which were for "Use Somebody," which was not the best song in any of those categories. My guess is that they really wanted to honor them last year, but couldn't because it was (the far superior) Coldplay's year, so they just held out until this year. Which is a shame, because Green Day and Dave Matthews Band had much better rock recordings, and Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me" was a better record.
- Speaking of DMB, I'm surprised they lost to Green Day in Best Rock Album (though I realize I may be in a minority here). I'm also surprised that the wonderful "Funny The Way It Is" failed to even be nominated; why honor the album as a whole with a Rock Album and an Album of the Year without mentioning any of the fantastic tracks? Truly befuddling.
"GREEN DAY!?!?!?!"
- I'm also probably in a minority in that I'm glad that Taylor Swift won Album of the Year for Fearless, even though it was probably a sympathy trophy. Still, in a perfect world, I would have given all of the nominees a trophy, since this was just such a fantastic category this year.
- Speaking of Album of the Year, the nominees went 4/5 in their respective genre album categories, which is exactly how I predicted it to go (though I had Kelly Clarkson upsetting the Black Eyed Peas rather than Green Day over DMB).
- I can't get behind the two songwriting wins (Song of the Year and R&B Song) for "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)," because I don't really think its a particularly well-written song. It's a great performance by Beyonce, but the writing is mediocre. In fact, out of the Song of the Year nominees, I would say it was the least well-written.
- Zac Brown Band won Best New Artist; tie that in with Taylor Swift's four Grammys and it was a big night for country music.
- Phoenix's breakout year was justly rewarded, though I still can't figure out why David Byrne and Depeche Mode were included here and Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear were left out.
- Just for the acceptance speech, I was rooting for "I'm On A Boat" to win Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.
Potentially the best rap satire ever.
- When Jay-Z's The Blueprint 3 is eligible for next year's Grammys, he is going to clean. Up. Majorly.
- Was the Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow" video really that amazing? No. Coldplay had a much better (and much more creative) video, and I'm not just saying that because I'm an unabashed Coldplay fan and still thinks that Viva la Vida, one of my favorite albums of all time, got ripped off for Album of the Year last year.
What did you think? Was Lady Gaga more deserving than Taylor Swift? What would you have changed instead? Comments more than welcome.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Obnoxiously Long Grammy Predictions!

With the Grammys airing tonight, here are my predictions on who should and will win each category. For the record: I actually sat down and listened to each of the following nominees over the last month, and trust me, it was grueling work.
So originally I was going to include notes on every category about what I liked and what I didn't. But there's not enough time for all of that, not to mention I don't remember why I rated some things the way I did. But I will do this for the biggest four categories, which, if you notice, reveal my unabashed fondness of Taylor Swift.
"Halo," Beyonce
"I Gotta Feeling," The Black Eyed Peas
"Use Somebody," Kings of Leon
"Poker Face," Lady Gaga
"You Belong With Me," Taylor Swift
Should win: "You Belong With Me"
Will Win: "Poker Face"
I really think that the Grammy committee made a huge mistake with Beyonce here. "Halo" seems more fit for Song of the Year, and her nominee in that category, "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" would be a much better fit here. "I Gotta Feeling" was fun and popular, and "Use Somebody" was the highlight of Kings of Leon's Only By The Night. However, "Poker Face" was arguably the biggest hit of the group, which is why it will win, though "You Belong With Me" is a perfectly-crafted pop nugget.
I Am...Sasha Fierce, Beyonce
The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies), The Black Eyed Peas
The Fame, Lady Gaga
Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, Dave Matthews Band
Fearless, Taylor Swift
Should win: Fearless
Will Win: I Am...Sasha Fierce
This is the best Album of the Year group since 2006, when Gnarls Barkley, John Mayer, Justin Timberlake, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the Dixie Chicks. Honestly, I'd be happy if any of them won, but I liked Taylor Swift the most. However, Beyonce has a career behind her and a big year, which means she's most likely to take the lead here.
"Poker Face," Lady Gaga
"Pretty Wings," Maxwell
"Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)," Beyonce
"Use Somebody," Kings of Leon
"You Belong With Me," Taylor Swift
Should win: "You Belong With Me"
Will win: "You Belong With Me"
We all know that Lady Gaga is an impressive songwriter, but it's her album's deeper cuts that prove this, not really her first singles ("Poker Face" included). The best choices here are "Pretty Wings" and "You Belong With Me," with Swift having the slight edge.
Zac Brown Band
Keri Hilson
Silversun Pickups
The Ting Tings
Should Win: The Ting Tings
Will Win: Zac Brown Band
I love the Ting Tings and MGMT, and Keri Hilson is an inspired choice here. However, when it comes down to voting, MGMT, Silversun Pickups, and the Ting Tings will split the alt-rock vote, leaving the win open to Zac Brown Band.
"Hometown Glory," Adele
"Halo," Beyonce
"Hot N Cold," Katy Perry
"Sober," Pink
"You Belong With Me," Taylor Swift
Should win: "You Belong With Me"
Will win: "You Belong With Me"
"This Time," John Legend
"Love You," Maxwell
"Make It Mine," Jason Mraz
"If You Don't Know Me By Now," Seal
"All About the Love Again," Stevie Wonder
Should win: "This Time"
Will win: "All About the Love Again"
"I Gotta Feeling," The Black Eyed Peas
"We Weren't Born To Follow," Bon Jovi
"Never Say Never," The Fray
"Sara Smile," Hall & Oates
"Kids," MGMT
Should win: "Kids"
Will win: "I Gotta Feeling"
"Sea of Heartbreak," Rosanne Cash & Bruce Springsteen
"Love Sex Magic," Ciara & Justin Timberlake
"Lucky," Jason Mraz & Colbie Caillat
"Baby, It's Cold Outside," Willie Nelson & Norah Jones
"Breathe," Taylor Swift & Colbie Caillat
Should win: "Lucky"
Will win: "Sea of Heartbreak"
The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies), The Black Eyed Peas
Breakthrough, Colbie Caillat
All I Ever Wanted, Kelly Clarkson
The Fray, The Fray
Funhouse, Pink
Should win: The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies)
Will win: All I Ever Wanted
"Boom Boom Pow," The Black Eyed Peas
"When Love Takes Over," David Guetta & Kelly Rowland
"Poker Face," Lady Gaga
"Celebration," Madonna
"Womanizer," Britney Spears
Should win: "Poker Face"
Will win: "Celebration"
Divided By Night, The Crystal Method
One Love, David Guetta
The Fame, Lady Gaga
Party Rock, LMFAO
Yes, Pet Shop Boys
Should win: The Fame
Will win: The Fame
"Beyond Here Lies Nothin'," Bob Dylan
"Change in the Weather," John Fogerty
"Dreamer," Prince
"Working on a Dreamer," Bruce Springsteen
"Fork in the Road," Neil Young
Should win: "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'"
Will win: "Fork in the Road"
"Can't Find My Way Home," Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood
"Life in Technicolor II," Coldplay
"21 Guns," Green Day
"Use Somebody," Kings of Leon
"I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight," U2
Should win: "Life in Technicolor II"
Will win: "Can't Find My Way Home"
"War Machine," AC/DC
"Check My Brain," Alice In Chains
"What I've Done," Linkin Park
"The Unforgiven III," Metallica
"Burn It To The Ground," Nickelback
Should win: "The Unforgiven III"
Will win: "What I've Done"
"Dissident Aggressor," Judas Priest
"Set To Fail," Lamb of God
"Head Crusher," Megadeath
"Senor Peligro," Ministry
"Hate Worldwide," Slayer
Should win: "Set To Fail"
Will win: "Hate Worldwide"
"The Fixer," Pearl Jam
"I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight," U2
"21 Guns," Green Day
"Use Somebody," Kings of Leon
"Working On A Dream," Bruce Springsteen
Should win: "21 Guns"
Will win: "Working On A Dream"
Black Ice, AC/DC
Live From Madison Square Garden, Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood
21st Century Breakdown, Green Day
Big Whiskey And The GrooGrux King, Dave Matthews Band
No Line On The Horizon, U2
Should win: Big Whiskey And The GrooGrux King
Will win: Big Whiskey And The GrooGrux King
Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, David Byrne & Brian Eno
The Open Door, Death Cab for Cutie
Sounds Of The Universe, Depeche Mode
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Phoenix
It's Blitz!, Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Should win: The Open Door
Will win: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
"Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)," Beyonce
"It Kills Me," Melanie Fiona
"That Was Then," Lalah Hathaway
"Goin' Thru Changes," Ledisi
"Lions, Tigers & Bears," Jazmine Sullivan
Should win: "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)"
Will win: "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)"
"The Point Of It All," Anthony Hamilton
"Pretty Wings," Maxwell
"Sobeautiful," Musiq Soulchild
"Under," Pleasure P
"There Goes My Baby," Charlie Wilson
Should win: "Pretty Wings"
Will win: "Pretty Wings"
"Blame It," Jamie Foxx & T-Pain
"Chocolate High," India.Arie & Musiq Soulchild
"Ifuleave," Musiq Soulchild & Mary J. Blige
"Higher Ground," Robert Randolph & The Clark Sisters
"Love Has Finally Come At Last," Calvin Richardson & Ann Nesby
Should win: "Chocolate High"
Will win: "Blame It"
"At Last," Beyonce
"Soul Music," Anthony Hamilton
"Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," Boney James & Quinn
"Sow Love," Ann Nesby
"Woman Gotta Have It," Calvin Richardson
Should win: "Soul Music"
Will win: "At Last"
"Daykeeper," The Foreign Exchange
"All Matter," Robert Glasper & Bilal
"Pearls," India.Arie & Dobet Gnahore
"A Tale of Two," Eric Roberson, Ben O'Neill & Michelle Thompson
"Blend," Tonex
Should win: "Blend"
Will win: "Pearls"
"Blame It," Jamie Foxx & T-Pain
"Lions, Tigers & Bears," Jazmine Sullivan
"Pretty Wings," Maxwell
"Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)," Beyonce
"Under," Pleasure P
Should win: "Pretty Wings"
Will win: "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)"
The Point Of It All, Anthony Hamilton
Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics, India.Arie
Turn Me Loose, Ledisi
BLACKsummer'snight, Maxwell
Uncle Charlie, Charlie Wilson
Should win: BLACKsummer'snight
Will win: BLACKsummer'snight
I Am...Sasha Fierce, Beyonce
Intuition, Jamie Foxx
The Introduction of Marcus Cooper, Pleasure P
Ready, Trey Songz
Thr33 Ringz, T-Pain
Should win: I Am...Sasha Fierce
Will win: I Am...Sasha Fierce
"Best I Ever Had," Drake
"Beautiful," Eminem
"D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)," Jay-Z
"Day 'N' Nite," Kid Cudi
"Casa Bey," Mos Def
Should win: "Beautiful"
Will win: "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)"
"Too Many Rappers," Beastie Boys & Nas
"Crack A Bottle," Eminem, Dr. Dre & 50 Cent
"Money Goes, Honey Stay," Fabolous & Jay-Z
"Make Her Say," Kid Cudi, Kanye West & Common
"Amazing," Kanye West & Young Jeezy
Should win: "Make Her Say"
Will win: "Crack A Bottle"
"Ego," Beyonce & Kanye West
"Knock You Down," Keri Hilson, Ne-Yo & Kanye West
"Run This Town," Jay-Z, Rihanna & Kanye West
"I'm On A Boat," The Lonely Island & T-Pain
"Dead And Gone," T.I. & Justin Timberlake
Should win: "Dead And Gone"
Will win: "Run This Town"
"Best I Ever Had," Drake
"Day 'N' Nite," Kid Cudi
"Dead And Gone," T.I. & Justin Timberlake
"D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)," Jay-Z
"Run This Town," Jay-Z, Rihanna & Kanye West
Should win: "Dead And Gone"
Will win: "Dead And Gone"
Universal Mind Control, Common
Relapse, Eminem
R.O.O.T.S., Flo Rida
The Ecstatic, Mos Def
The Renaissance, Q-Tip
Should win: The Ecstatic
Will win: Relapse
"Dead Flowers," Miranda Lambert
"I Just Call You Mine," Martina McBride
"White Horse," Taylor Swift
"Just A Dream," Carrie Underwood
"Solitary Thinkin'," Lee Ann Womack
Should win: "White Horse"
Will win: "Just A Dream"
"All I Ask For Anymore," Trace Adkins
"People Are Crazy," Billy Currington
"High Cost Of Living," Jamey Johnson
"Living For The Night," George Strait
"Sweet Thing," Keith Urban
Should win: "High Cost Of Living"
Will win: "Living For The Night"
"Cowgirls Don't Cry," Brooks & Dunn
"Chicken Fried," Zac Brown Band
"I Run To You," Lady Antebellum
"Here Comes Goodbye," Rascal Flatts
"It Happens," Sugarland
Should win: "It Happens"
Will win: "Cowgirls Don't Cry"
"Beautiful World," Dierks Bentley & Patty Griffin
"Down The Road," Kenny Chesney & Mac McAnally
"Start A Band," Brad Paisley & Keith Urban
"I Told You So," Carrie Underwood & Randy Travis
"Everything But Quits," Lee Ann Womack & George Strait
Should win: "Start A Band"
Will win: "Start A Band"
"All I Ask For Anymore," Trace Adkins
"High Cost Of Living," Jamey Johnson
"I Run To You," Lady Antebellum
"People Are Crazy," Billy Currington
"White Horse," Taylor Swift
Should win: "White Horse"
Will win: "White Horse"
The Foundation, Zac Brown Band
Twang, George Strait
Fearless, Taylor Swift
Defying Gravity, Keith Urban
Call Me Crazy, Lee Ann Womack
Should win: Fearless
Will win: Fearless
Cadillac Records
Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds
Slumdog Millionaire
True Blood
Should win: Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds
Will win: Twilight
"Mr. Hurricane," Beast
"Boom Boom Pow," The Black Eyed Peas
"Life In Technicolor II," Coldplay
"Wrong," Depeche Mode
"Her Morning Elegance," Oren Lavie
Should win: "Life In Technicolor II"
Will win: "Wrong"

"Bon Apetit!": Julie & Julia (2009)

I must first make a disclaimer that I am a straight male. I am also a cinephille, and will watch any movie, whether its amazingly brilliant or dreadfully terrible. Therefore, I have seen my share of romantic comedies or other "girl movies," and there have been some that I have liked.
I don't want to call any movie a "guy movie" or a "girl movie," because a movie is a movie, but I can't deny that Julie & Julia was definitely marketed toward women. Which is unfortunate, because it was not the romantic comedy that the advertisements made it appear to be; instead, it is a thoughtful, well-crafted portrait of two women who find an escape in food. You could argue female empowerment ensues, but it doesn't; Julie Powell and Julia Child don't delve into their respective projects because they want to make a feminist statement, but rather so that they can do what they love. For both of them, food is a gateway to their dreams.
The movie tells two stories: the first is of Julia Child, who, after working for the OSS with her husband in WWII, falls in love with France, joins the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, and helps write the first French cookbook published in English. Meryl Streep plays Julia with a joie de vivre of a woman who is not one for letting things get in her way, and nails Julia's mannerisms and voice perfectly. Streep completely disappears into the role, which is her best since appearing as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada (another "chick flick").
Is the resemblance not amazing?
The second story revolves around Julie Powell, a failed writer in contemporary New York who is now doing temp work. To keep herself from losing her mind, she decides to challenge herself: she will cook her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year, and write a blog about it. At first her blog recieves no attention (I can sympathize), but over time she becomes popular, leading to book deals (including the memoir on which the film is based). This is, of course, not without meltdowns along the way. Amy Adams is charming enough, but she isn't really given the best material to work with.
Which is my main complaint about the movie: only half of it rises above being merely decent. But this is no fault of writer/director Nora Ephron, who has proven herself plenty capable of crafting great female-targeted films such as When Harry Met Sally... and Sleepless in Seattle. It's simply that Julia Child is a more interesting subject than Julie Powell, and Streep's performance is much more captivating that the always-charming Adams' (honestly, I feel like rainbows are made whenever she smiles).

You feel happier now, don't you?
Julie & Julia does succeed, however, at essentially being porn for foodies. The dishes that are prepared and served are lavishly shot, with each exquisite fillet lovingly recieving a close-up so that you can see every detail. It's enough to make anyone extremely hungry by movies end, particularly for the kind of fine dining that I can't afford (I settled for potato chips).
Though there is plenty of love for Streep's performance, the unsung hero of the film is Stanley Tucci, who plays Julia's husband, Paul Child. In what is truly a supporting role, Tucci plays Paul as a man who is not only completely in love with his wife, but also completely supportive of her endeavors, no matter how unconventional they may be. Even when the threat of being moved out of France looms, Paul remains completely behind his wife, and Tucci knows better than to get in Streep's way, but also manages to keep some attention on himself by making sure that Julia is not ignored. It's a phenomenal performance from an always-reliable actor.
Overall, Julie & Julia provided an interesting look at two women facing the same dilemma, with one inspiring the other. Unfortunately, it only ended up being half-great, half-decent. My grade: B-

Final Oscar Predictions

With the Oscar nominations being announced in three days (three days!), its time I posted my final predictions. I've struggled with a lot of these, mainly because the awards season has really heated up and forced me to change some of my wishful thinking and accept reality. It's also helped that I have seen more of the films in contention, allowing me to make my judgments.
However, a lot of what I had previously predicted has remained unchanged, mostly due to their dominance over the past month (or the general lack of better choices). Without further ado, here they are; I hope I do better than last year.
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Up in the Air
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
A lot of these films (Up in the Air, An Education, Precious, Nine, A Serious Man, Invictus) have already faced some backlash, and now it seems that The Hurt Locker is beginning to see its own backlash begin. None of this should hurt any of their chances at a nomination, but the expansion to 10 has not prevented this from being narrowed down to a few-horse race. The only iffy one, to me, is Nine, which has suffered a lot since its release, but recognition from the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild doesn't hurt its cause.
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
Nothing really new here.
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
I actually had the opportunity to see Julie & Julia last night. Believe it or not, I enjoyed it, and thought that Streep really did turn in a fantastic performance as Julia Child. But more on that later. I find it interesting that this race has evolved into Bullock vs. Streep, especially with the amount of major awards Bullock has been winning lately.
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Matt Damon, Invictus
I'm bringing Matt Damon back into the fold; two Globe nominations and a SAG nomination are too much to ignore anymore (speaking of ignored: Alfred Molina was dropped, if you notice). However, I notice that Damon's not really in this to win it anymore, it seems. Though I can't blame him: he's up against Christoph Waltz!
Mo'Nique, Precious
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Julianne Moore, A Single Man
Penelope Cruz, Nine
This category is suddenly up in the air (ba-dum-DUM) after I boldly proclaimed it set in stone. Moore and Cruz are the iffy ones; Moore is still an Oscar favorite, so I don't think they'll pass over her, and even though Nine has been eviscerated by critics, Cruz has still picked up key nominations for her turn in it. If the Academy does decide to pass over them, Diane Kruger, Melanie Laurent, Samantha Morton and Marion Cotillard (up yours, category fraud!) are waiting in the wings.
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Lee Daniels, Precious
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
James Cameron, Avatar
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Clint Eastwood is still the spoiler here. Watch your back, Daniels. PS- Please let Bigelow win this.
Check back here on February 2, when I'll give my reactions to every category (even Make-Up!)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Avatar (2009)

I’ll be the first to say that I had my doubts about Avatar when I first heard of it. For one, it was an original sci-fi tale, something that does not occur often anymore (though this year happened to be a banner one). Secondly, it seemed to me to be all hype around the technology used to create it, but no substance; I feared that the film would exist only to showcase James Cameron’s latest filming achievements, without any story or decent performances to anchor it. And when it was announced in 3D, I worried that it would be just another hodgepodge of “wow, look at how it comes out at you!” moments which have a quasi-story built around it.
When it started cleaning up awards that were not just technicals, I was surprised, and intrigued. At first I thought it was just honors for James Cameron making another movie, and that it was popular, and the awards groups wanted to make up for missing The Dark Knight and Wall-E last year.

Avatar left me jaw-dropped. Yes, of course it was a beautiful movie, I was expecting that ahead of time. But what I didn’t expect was the intricate, studied level of detail that was applied to that beauty. The world of Pandora and everything that exists in it, from the recreational area for avatars at the human base to the Tree of Souls, glowing bright pink amongst the darker hues of its enclave deep within the majestic Hallelujah Mountains, are so fully realized that getting lost in the visuals is impossible to avoid. This is a truly incredible feat, to me at least, since most movies nowadays feature effects that are made to appear real, but still retain a synthetic aesthetic that makes it impossible to fully accept it as real; this is most prominent in the blockbuster genre to which Avatar belongs.
It is because of this that Avatar is above its fellow blockbusters. Not only does it feel as if it’s a real world, it also makes great work of the action and interactions of the characters. The story is nothing new, but the details surrounding it create a new experience (again, the level of detail is mind-blowing). And despite its clich├ęs, the central story, about an ex-Marine who enters the Na’vi’s society through his avatar, falling for Neytiri, the chief’s daughter, is moving and engaging.
Sam Worthington, as Jake Sully, does a decent meathead-with-heart performance, and Zoe Saldana, as Neytiri, delivers a great performance even though she never appears on screen as herself (though there is a campaign for her to receive an Oscar nomination, I don’t think its nomination-worthy; how much of her performance is really her, and how much is the animators’?). The rest of the cast play stock roles, but they play them well.
Overall, though, this isn’t an actors’ movie, nor was it ever intended to be. The true feat here belongs to Cameron, who has elevated himself from an excellent director to an auteur. Though he is no master of dialogue (see: Titanic, True Lies, either of his Terminators), he is a visionary director: no one else creates worlds with mythologies so complete. Even if he isn’t creating his own universes, as in Aliens, he expands the existing mythologies, taking them to new heights. As he showed in Titanic, something as stoic as the traditional drama can become an eye-opening experience in his hands. If Avatar proves anything, it’s that James Cameron is, in my opinion, the greatest director of epics of our time, if not all time (my apologies to Cecil B. Demille).
If I have any complaints with Avatar, it’s that it handles its themes and stabs at relevance a little too heavy handed. The film takes on environmentalism, the military-industrial complex, capitalism, xenophobia, terrorism, imperialism, the Middle East oil situation, and religion, which is a lot even for the almost three hour running time. It almost seems as though Cameron was trying to make it as topical and relevant as possible, and ended up missing a few of the marks. And as I previously stated, the dialogue is really nothing to marvel at.
Does it deserve the awards it’s received so far? Personally, I like Inglourious Basterds and The Hurt Locker more when it comes to general movies. And as much as I hate to admit it after supporting Kathryn Bigelow all season, I do think Cameron is deserving of recognition as well for his incredible direction in this film.
However, Avatar is the best epic I have seen in a very, very long time. And I’m going to make a bold statement: Avatar has achieved a status that ranks the highest amongst epics, thanks to its groundbreaking visuals, fully-realized universe, complex mythology, and astounding popularity. That’s right kids: Avatar is our generation’s Star Wars.
Disagree? Agree? Comment.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Poor Foreign Relations

AMPAS released its shortlist for the Foreign Language Oscar this year, with nine films selected out of a field of 65. The following nine will be whittled down to five on February 2, when the Oscar nominations are announced.
  • Argentina (5 noms/1 win), El Secreto de Sus Ojos
  • Australia (0 noms/0 wins), Samson and Delilah
  • Bulgaria (0 noms/0 wins), The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner
  • France (35 noms/9 wins), Un Prophete
  • Germany (15 noms/3 wins), Das Wiesse Band
  • Israel (8 noms/0 wins), Ajami
  • Kazakhstan (1 nom/0 wins), Kelin
  • The Netherlands (7 noms/3 wins), Winter in Wartime
  • Peru (0 noms/0 wins), The Milk of Sorrow
Overall, I don't think this is a necessarily bad group. However, that doesn't mean that Oscar didn't screw this up, nor does it mean they can't screw it up further. But before I rant on what didn't make this list, there are a few curiosities that I want to share first.
Now that Japan has finally won an Oscar (for Departures last year; it can be argued that another film should have won last year and that Japan should have already had a Foreign Language Oscar, but these are arguments for another time), Israel is now tied with Poland for the most nominations without a win. If Israel is indeed nominated this year, it will advance past Poland, and it seems unlikely it will win if it is, considering the competition.
Kazakhstan's entry, Kelin, apparently has no dialogue. If Oscar does nominate it, that would be a bold move for them.
Peru has the most interesting concept of a film from this list: The Milk of Sorrow is an allegory, in which women produce a disease through breastfeeding as a result of rape and abuse during war. If it ever comes Stateside, I'm going to make a point to see it.
Now, on to my rant. The Foreign Language Oscar serves as a way to honor the fact that great cinema doesn't just come from Hollywood, it comes from every corner of the globe. And yes, there are more than just five great foreign films made every year; surely there are hundreds. So there's no real way that the Oscars can recognize all of them. However, it is possible for them to recognize the accomplishments of other cinemas, and so far, the Oscars have done an excellent job at recognizing long-standing giants (notably European) and ignoring the blossoming developing cinemas (one of which is European).
It's undeniable that right now, of the major European cinemas, Germany is creating the highest quality films (France may get just as many nominations, but let's face it: some were just because they were French). Case in point: Downfall, which may be one of the best foreign films of the last decade, and The Lives of Others. What makes German cinema so great now, rather than in the past, is that German filmmakers have finally taken on the task of looking back at the past 100 years of German history. It may not be flattering, but as a nation Germany has recently started to accept its past, and as a result cinema has prospered from the themes of tragedy and redemption. As history itself dictates, you have to look back in order to move forward. And the Oscars are recognizing Germany's place as a cinematic power (as well as its international cousin, Austria).
The problem is that, both in international buzz and Oscar nominations, smaller cinemas usually are not recognized. These cinemas can produce quality films, but they may not ever find an audience abroad. This is the case of countries like Brazil, Cuba, Iran, South Africa, and Thailand. However, some of these smaller cinemas are flourishing internationally, and the lack of recognition is befuddling and irritating. There are two big examples of this, and as it turns out, neither have ever been nominated for an Oscar, both had a chance to get their first nomination this year, and neither is one the aforementioned shortlist.
The first such cinema is Romania. In film history, critics describe a period of reinvention in a country's cinema as a "new wave." And right now, by those terms, Romania is in the midst of a glorious new wave. Romania has used semi-documentary style filmmaking to explore the reality of post-Communist society, and the results have been nothing short of incredible. Films like The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days have earned international acclaim, and this year's Police, Adjective has continued Romania's winning streak. But no Oscar nominations at all? I say that it is finally time for Romania to be recognized as one of the highest-quality cinemas in the world today.
The second is Korea. When it comes to East Asia, Korea has always been the least significant of the region (apart from North Korea, but North Korean films are usually made only for North Koreans, and aren't usually exported). This is true for cinema as well. For example, look at the number of Oscar nominations for East Asia:
  • China: 2 nominations, 0 wins
  • Japan: 12 nominations, 1 win (plus 3 honorary awards)
  • Korea: 0 nominations, 0 wins
  • Taiwan: 3 nominations, 1 win
  • Hong Kong: 2 nominations, 0 wins
Notice that Korea is the only East Asian state to not have an Oscar nomination (for the record, I consider Mongolia to be Central Asia). And it's not because Korea produces low-quality films: from the films I've seen, Korean cinema is booming at the moment. Even their kitschy comedies are better produced than some American ones, since (to me at least) it seems as though all involved embrace the silliness completely. This year was especially fruitful, given the international success of Thrist and Mother, which was Korea's official submission. All in all, I think its time for Korea to get its due.
It may seem like I'm unhappy with the shortlist, and to an extent I am. But I'm not completely. I hope Das Wiesse Band and Un Prophete get nominations, and I hope one of the never-nominateds (Australia, Bulgaria, Peru) manage to sneak in. And I do think that this is a good survey of blossoming world cinema, especially since they passed over old favorites such as Italy, Sweden, and Spain. Hopefully, Oscar will get something right here this year.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Golden Globes 2009

Many people consider the Golden Globes to be great Oscar precursors. The truth is that they are predicting nominees, not winners. For example, in the past five years, only one Globe winner has also won Best Picture at the Oscars (that would be last year's Slumdog Millionaire). And this year's bizarre cast of winners seems to further indicate that the Globes, though not always an accurate barometer, are always good for a surprise.
Winners are in bold.
  • Avatar
  • The Hurt Locker
  • Inglourious Basterds
  • Precious
  • Up in the Air
All aboard the populist bandwagon! It's not hard to discount Avatar's win here as a move to honor the film as it prepares to take its place as the highest-grossing film of all time. This will definitely transition into an Oscar nomination, but a win? Its looking ever more likely. My pick: Inglourious Basterds.
  • Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria
  • Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
  • Helen Mirren, The Last Station
  • Carey Mulligan, An Education
  • Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
All aboard the populist bandwagon! Two months ago, a win for Bullock over Mulligan or Sidibe was considered laughable. Nowadays, in her overrated momentum, she can't be stopped; there's even talk of her upsetting Meryl Streep at the Oscars (highly doubtful, says I). Either way, she's a lock for a nomination now. My pick: Gabourey Sidibe.
  • Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
  • George Clooney, Up in the Air
  • Colin Firth, A Single Man
  • Morgan Freeman, Invictus
  • Tobey Maguire, Brothers
The standing ovation for Bridges when he picked up his win here was inspiring, and he is a worthy recipient. He's got some good mojo right now, and with any luck, that will result in his first, long overdue Oscar win. As an aside, I'm still upset that the Globes ignored Jeremy Renner. But this is a more star-oriented ceremony. Another aside: I wonder how Maguire feels about not being Spider-Man anymore? It should give him an opportunity to spread his wings as an actor, as he did here with Brothers. My pick: George Clooney.
  • (500) Days of Summer
  • The Hangover
  • It's Complicated
  • Julie & Julia
  • Nine
Its amusing to look back on my Globes preview, in which I said only Nine would likely be a Best Picture nominee, and see how much has changed since then: now it seems that none of these will make it into that category. Even thoughNine's reviews have been mediocre at best, The Hangover as winner is truly a baffling choice. Yes, the film had its amusing moments, but was it the best comedy of the year? Not even close. Once again, all aboard the populist bandwagon! My pick: (500) Days of Summer, which was by far the superior film here.
  • Sandra Bullock, The Proposal
  • Marion Cotillard, Nine
  • Julia Roberts, Duplicity
  • Meryl Streep, It's Complicated
  • Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Aside: I finally saw The Proposal. In a word: overrated. Moving on, it really isn't a surprise to anyone that Streep won this one. Ultimately, the only concievable upset here was Streep winning for It's Complicated rather than Julie & Julia(both of which I will be viewing soon). My pick: Marion Cotillard.
  • Matt Damon, The Informant!
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine
  • Robert Downey, Jr., Sherlock Holmes
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Summer
  • Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man
I didn't pick Downey Jr., but I am glad that he won. A lot of what made Sherlock Holmes an above-average period action film was his performance and his chemistry with Jude Law, and he's been on a roll lately at the height of his career. He's also a fantastic (and fantastically funny) actor, so I'm good with this one. At least it wasn't Day-Lewis. My pick: Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
  • Penelope Cruz, Nine
  • Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
  • Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
  • Mo'Nique, Precious
  • Julianne Moore, A Single Man
Who didn't see this one? See you at the Oscars, Mo'Nique. My pick: Mo'Nique.
  • Matt Damon, Invictus
  • Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
  • Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
  • Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
  • Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Another obvious award choice. Was it just me, or did Tarantino seem more openly excited about Waltz's win than Waltz did himself? Not saying that the guy is in reality just as heartless as his Col. Hans Landa, but come on, man, you just won a Golden Globe. It's okay to crack a smile. My pick: Christoph Waltz.
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
  • Coraline
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • The Princess and the Frog
  • Up
This is a big one for Up, especially since Fantastic Mr. Fox has picked up a significant amount of awards as well, andCoraline has its fair share of supporters as well. Overall, I think its safe to say its been an incredible year for animation; let's hope it continues to grow as a medium. Aside: wasn't Paul McCartney hilarious in introducing this category as being for "children and adults who use drugs?" My pick: Up.
  • Baaria (Italy)
  • Broken Embraces (Spain)
  • The Maid (Chile)
  • Un Prophete (France)
  • Das Weisse Band (Germany)
This is a really strong foreign language category; let's hope that the Oscar category is equally as strong. German cinema is on fire this past decade, and its wonderful that the brilliant Michael Haneke has been recognized (finally!) in the United States. Will an Oscar follow? My pick: Das Weisse Band.
  • Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
  • James Cameron, Avatar
  • Clint Eastwood, Invictus
  • Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
  • Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Hop on the populist bandwagon! Well, sort of. The innovation in filmmaking technology is important, and he has proven that he knows a thing or two about fashioning a good epic, but Cameron just was not the best director of 2009 (that would be Spike Jonze in my opinion, but more on that later). I actually thought Eastwood would win this one, but they resisted. Maybe next year, Clint. My pick: Kathryn Bigelow (which is a big deal, since I am an avid Tarantino fan and usually want him to win anything he can).
  • Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell, District 9
  • Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
  • Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
  • Nancy Meyers, It's Complicated
  • Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
I've already quibbled about the Globes' lack of distinct adapted and original categories. But the vote of confidence in Reitman as a writer is good, since he's proven himself to be one of the best serio-comic writer/directors of our time (think Thank You For Smoking). Though Reitman echoed my own feelings when he reached the podium and said, "Quentin, I'm still waiting for them to call your name." My pick: Quentin Tarantino.
  • Michael Giacchino, Up
  • Marvin Hamlisch, The Informant!
  • James Horner, Avatar
  • Abel Korzeniowski, A Single Man
  • Karen O and Carter Burwell, Where the Wild Things Are
These were actually great scores this year, though I was certain that Horner would win this as part of an Avatartechnical category sweep. But Giacchino's lovely score for Up is a great choice, especially when one considers how the perfect "life montage" scene would not have nearly been as poignant without his score. My pick: Karen O and Carter Burwell.
  • "Cinema Italiano," Nine
  • "I See You," Avatar
  • "I Want to Come Home," Everybody's Fine
  • "The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)," Crazy Heart
  • "Winter," Brothers
First of all, I find it amusing that there were two Ryan Binghams at the Globes (The Weary Kind songwriter and George Clooney's Up in the Air character), and there will most likely be two at the Oscars as well. Again, I was expecting Avatar or Nine to win this one, with the outside chance of Brothers (everyone loves U2, remember). But this is a lovely ballad. The real question is, how many of these will carry over to the Oscars? One? None? My pick: "Cinema Italiano," even though Kate Hudson's vocal were a little grating.
  • Big Love
  • Dexter
  • House
  • Mad Men
  • True Blood
Of course its Mad Men, everybody loves Mad Men, remember? I know its good to honor a show multiple times, but (and this is aimed at the Emmys too) I think its okay to show that there's more than just one good drama or comedy on TV. Why not show some of the other guys, like House and Dexter, some love too? My pick: Dexter. BEST ACTRESS - DRAMA
  • Glenn Close, Damages
  • January Jones, Mad Men
  • Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
  • Anna Paquin, True Blood
  • Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer
Not at all what I was expecting, but strangely not all that surprising. Margulies was a Globes mainstay during her ERyears, and The Good Wife has earned her some glowing reviews. But its still something of an upset, considering the veterans she was up against. Good for her, I suppose. My pick. Anna Paquin.
  • Simon Baker, The Mentalist
  • Michael C. Hall, Dexter
  • Jon Hamm, Mad Men
  • Hugh Laurie, House
  • Bill Paxton, Big Love
Michael C. Hall's standing ovation was also inspirational. And his win is probably won of the most deserved of the night, since he has been doing quality work in everything he's been in since Six Feet Under. His performance as Dexter is easily the best on television, and its about time that he's been honored for it. Will Emmy follow suit? Aside: Hamm + beard = ew. My pick: Michael C. Hall.
  • 30 Rock
  • Entourage
  • Glee
  • Modern Family
  • The Office
Glee's win was a well-deserved one, and proves me wrong in that the same shows are always honored (the Globes at least recognize that there's more than one good comedy on TV). In a perfect world, there would have been a tie between Glee and Modern Family, but at least one of them won. My pick: Modern Family.
  • Toni Collette, United States of Tara
  • Courteney Cox, Cougar Town
  • Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
  • Tina Fey, 30 Rock
  • Lea Michele, Glee
Toni Collette wins another, after last year's surprise at the Emmys. Since that win, I have finally seen the show (albiet the first two episodes), and I have to say that she is surprisingly good. Either way, she or Fey were the favorites here, with a slight chance of Falco. My pick: Tina Fey.
  • Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
  • Steve Carell, The Office
  • David Duchovny, Californication
  • Thomas Jane, Hung
  • Matthew Morrison, Glee
Even though he is routinely hilarious, Alec Baldwin's stranglehold on this category (he's won this category three of the last four years) is one of those situations where honoring another actor would be nice. Carrel is also an old favorite, so a win for Morrison or Duchovny would be refreshing. Aside: do you think that the Globes nominated Jane just so that the he would be announced "Thomas Jane, Hung?" My pick: Matthew Morrison.
  • Georgia O'Keeffe
  • Grey Gardens
  • Into the Storm
  • Little Dorrit
  • Taking Chance
HBO wins another. I'll have to check out Grey Gardens sometime. My pick: Into the Storm.
  • Joan Allen, Georgia O'Keeffe
  • Drew Barrymore, Grey Gardens
  • Jessica Lange, Grey Gardens
  • Anna Paquin, The Courageous Heart of Irena
  • Sigourney Weaver, Prayers for Bobby
The Globes honor Barrymore, while the Emmys honored Lange. So the two of them must really be that good. Aside: Barrymore's really not used to winning things, is she? My pick: Jessica Lange.
  • Kevin Bacon, Taking Chance
  • Kenneth Branagh, Wallander: One Step Behind
  • Chiwtel Ejiofor, Endgame
  • Brendan Gleeson, Into the Storm
  • Jeremy Irons, Georgia O'Keeffe
Kevin Bacon has long deserved one of these. So good for him for finally winning. My pick: Brendan Gleeson.
  • Jane Adams, Hung
  • Rose Byrne, Damages
  • Jane Lynch, Glee
  • Janet McTeer, Into the Storm
  • Chloe Sevigny, Big Love
I can't believe who won this! Chloi Sevigny? She wasn't even nominated! NBC's embarrassing typo aside (which is the least of their worries right now), I am actually surprised that Sevigny won. Its no disrespect to her, I think she looks wonderful in Big Love (which I will soon be catching up on), but I was expecting Lynch to take home a win for her riveting, scene-stealing turn in Glee. My pick: Jane Lynch.
  • Michael Emerson, Lost
  • Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
  • William Hurt, Damages
  • John Lithgow, Dexter
  • Jeremy Piven, Entourage
Emerson won this one at the Emmys, and I was expecting an encore here too. But I'm glad that Lithgow won instead; I've heard wonderful things about him and I'm amped about catching up with season 4 of Dexter. I hope that one day Harris will finally win something for his stellar HIMYM work. And Hurt's Globes beard: not okay. My pick: Michael Emerson.
Comments? Complaints? Sound off!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

2009's Best Scenes

When I was going over the 32 films that I had seen in 2009 to compile my top 10 list, I kept finding myself thinking "I really like the part where......but I just don't like the whole film." Or when I did love a film, a certain scene or image would immediately come to mind. It is because of this that I bring you this, my 10 favorite scenes of 2009. Some of them are from top 10 films, while some are from films that didn't make the cut for various reasons.
10. "Drill Jump," Star Trek
It's a shame that I can't find a good video of the whole jump, so you'll have to watch the movie to see it for yourself (you won't be sorry). This scene stands out as one of the most thrilling sequences in the reboot, and perfectly encapsulates the balance between old and new that Abrams was aiming for: though the action features an action-hero Kirk and Sulu (Chris Pine and John Cho, respectively) and much better effects, there's more than a few callbacks to the original series (you know what they say about red shirts). Here's the opening part of the scene, just before they jump onto a Romulan drill in order to prevent it from destroying another planet:
9. "Suicide Bomber," The Hurt Locker
The Hurt Locker is intense all the way through, but no scene truly captures both the intensity of the action and the nature of the characters, particularly that of SFC William James (Jeremy Renner), than this one. As James goes in to diffuse the bomb strapped to the man's chest, you can see the fear in every single person's eyes: this is a dangerous situation that none of them want to be involved in. James' humanism shines through the tension, and the ending of the scene is especially heartbreaking. Watch it here:
8. "Bill Murray's Mansion," Zombieland
The celebrity cameo is a tried and true comedic asset, usually used to give the audience a cheep laugh as someone famous parodies themselves. However, Zombieland is no average comedy, and Bill Murray's surprise appearance is no cheap laugh. Instead, we get a healthy dose of Murray nostalgia, accompanied with the realization that it's been way too long since Murray has made a decent comedy ("Any regrets?" "Garfield, maybe."). It's smartly written, and Murray steals the show with his performance. See it here: and here:
7. "Eviction," District 9
District 9, as we all know, is an allegory for aparteid in South Africa. Aliens have accidentally landed in Johannesburg, and the humans have seperated them from society, treating them like monsters even though they mean no harm. The world of District 9 is intricately layered and wonderfully displayed, as you can see in this scene where Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley, in a fantastic debut) hands out eviction notices to the residents of District 9 so that they can be moved to a new camp. Wikus is very much a company man, and even though they are (very good) special effects, you never stop to think that it isn't real, and the Prawn's reaction is one we can all sympathize with. See it here:
6. "Parent Interviews," Bruno
Bruno itself was an uneven comedy; a drastic fall of quality from its predecessor, Borat (though of course they were really different movies, but that's a discussion for another time). The film worked best, however, when Bruno surprised average Americans, and it was never better than when he interviewed parents for the "hottest baby photo shoot ever!" It starts off with a bang, and as Bruno's questions escalate in ridiculousness, what really shocks is the parents responses. If there were ever evidence for the need for natural selection, its this. See for yourself: (unfortunately, this isn't the whole scene).
5. "Dirt Clod Fight," Where the Wild Things Are
I'm still upset that this film, which was number two on my year-end list, didn't get a single nomination. Not for costumes? Not for direction? Best Picture? Original song? Original score? Visual effects? Nothing? Anyway, this scene is one of the best, capturing the childlike wonder of playing "war" while also proving to be a thrilling ride. The scene, though, ends in melancholy, as Spike Jonze also confronts the problems of this dysfunctional family known as the Wild Things. Alternating between excitement and emotional depth, the scene is a perfect representative of everything I loved about the film. Here's half of it (for the rest, rent the movie):
4. "Mary Goes to Social Services," Precious
Precious is a film that is full of great performances, and there are plenty of great scenes to choose from. But when it comes to raw emotional power, there is nothing more incredible than the end, when Mary Jones (Mo'Nique) goes to social services to request custody of Precious. After everything we've seen Mary do so far, to see her break down and show her emotions is almost sympathetic. I say almost because also based on what we've seen of Mary, we know she is manipulative, and the genius of Mo'Nique's performance is that we never really know whether she's being honest or not. Unfortunately, I can't find the scene online, so do yourself a favor and see the film when you can.
3. "Dance Sequence," (500) Days of Summer
This is probably the most infamous scene of the movie, and with good reason: it's a perfect metaphor for getting the girl you want. It's a perfect scene in a fantastic movie; this is another film that really upsets me to know that Summer did not get a single nomination. Honestly, just for this Joseph Gordon-Levitt deserves a nomination (and check him out on Saturday Night Live too). Ever since I saw this, I haven't been able to listen to "You Make My Dreams" without smiling. Enjoy it here:
2. "Hans Landa Meets Shoshanna," Inglourious Basterds
One of Tarantino's greatest motifs is his use of confrontation, and Basterds is full of great ones. And I know I've raved about the tension in The Hurt Locker, but there is no tenser scene in film this year than this one, where Col. Landa (Christoph Waltz) meets Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent), who escaped him years earlier, at a restaurant. Does Landa recognize her? It's not immediately given, but he does initiate an intense game of verbal cat and mouse. Shoshanna plays good defense, but its obvious from the the beginning that Landa has total control of the situation. Waltz and Laurent give a master class in acting, proving once again that Tarantino is horribly underrated as an actors' director. See it here:
1. "Married Life," Up
This may be one of the best scenes I've ever seen in my life. Seriously, its that good. Its definitely the most emotionally moving scene Pixar has ever put together, showing the life of Carl and Ellie in under five minutes. Its funny and touching, comedic and tragic. And what really makes it perfect is the fact that it is completely wordless, the only sound coming from Michael Giacchino's magnificently emotional score. This one makes me cry every time. See it here:
What do you think? Comments welcome.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Bob Loblaw's Law Blog

For the love of Motherboy, make this movie this year!

Best of 2009: Movies

2009 has come and gone, and with it came cinematic events both fantastic and traumatizing. As far as my personal viewing is concerned, I would say that this year is on par with the previous year. I've enjoyed this year, especially since 2010 should be interesting, since the consequences of 2007's writers' strike rears their ugly heads, but also because most of the stellar films this year were bursting with originality, rather than the usual humdrum mix of remakes and sequels (though there were plenty of those as well). Nevertheless, 2009 provided some excellent films, with my favorites below.
Honorable Mentions: Precious, Coraline, Bruno, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I Love You, Man, Food, Inc., Adventureland, Sherlock Holmes, Public Enemies, Moon
10. Zombieland: There's no way this film should have been as popular as it was. It was a zombie road trip buddy comedy featuring indie actors and Woody Harrelson. And yet with its mix of zombie survival tips, fantastic performances (especially Harrelson's gonzo-redneck bravura as Tallahassee), and a pitch-perfect cameo from Bill Murray, Zombieland succeeded as the best zombie movie of the year, as well as one of the best comedies of the year. The film also introduced director Reuben Fleischer to the world, whom we will hopefully see more from in the future.
9. (500) Days of Summer: The romantic comedy is an ailing genre, filled with cliches and dominated by good actresses playing shrill characters when they could be appearing in better films. But every once in a while, one comes along that ignores the conventions and proves that the genre still has storytelling power. (500) Days of Summer proved to be that film, and a breath of fresh air in a year of terrible rom-coms. Summer's strengths lied in its inventive narrative, told out of sequence, and terrific performances from stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. Summer also had the best music sequence of the year, bringing renewed joy to Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams."
8. The Hurt Locker: Who would have imagined that it would take a woman to revitalize the war movie? Kathryn Bigelow brings a stunning focus to the war on Iraq by observing the everyday lives of a group of soldiers who defuse IEDs, rather than making grand political statements. Bigelow layers the film with so much tension that every face in the background looks like a threat, and the defusing scenes are the most intense action sequences in recent memory. Its not just the direction, though. The entire cast, from rookie adrenaline junkie SSgt. William James (a top of his game Jeremy Renner) and uptight Sgt. JT Sanborn (an underrated Anthony Mackie) to a fantastic cameo appearance by Ralph Fiennes, delivers naturalistic performances that lend great tension to the film. The Hurt Locker is by far one of the greatest war films ever made, despite not featuring a single battle scene. (If you're a fan of Renner after seeing this, check out his before-anyone-knew-my-name portrayal as a difficult, dying punk star on the episode "Games" from the fourth season of House.)
7. Watchmen: Fanboys hated it. Everyone else just shrugged it off. But give Watchmen credit: it was one of the most ambitious adaptations ever made, and remained mostly faithful down to the frame of the original graphic novel. Plus, Watchmen took an admirable risk in changing the ending, making the movie stand alone from the source material (though it is thematically the same: what's the best way to save the world, ethically or efficiently?). But its also a great movie, featuring fantastic performances from Jackie Earle Haley as the morally ambiguous, gravel-voiced Rorshach and Billy Crudup as the blue radioactive Dr. Manhattan. Watchmen was the most underrated superhero film of the year.
6. Star Trek: This is how you properly reboot a franchise. Going back to the beginning and telling the story of how the Enterprise crew came together, the film rewrites Trek history while staying reverent to that same history. The story involves a lot of elements, including time travel (this is coming from J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman, of course) but it never gets bogged down by the curse of Too Many Ideas. Instead, Star Trek rides high on a buoyant atmosphere, a pitch-perfect cast, and exciting action. Star Trek is pure blockbuster entertainment, and proof that it is possible for a Star Trek film to be popular and great.
5. Antichrist: I was really hesitant to review this one, much less put it on the list. A dark, misogynistic film about a relationship that tragically (and graphically) disintegrates, Antichrist stirred up controversy upon its debut at Cannes, and again upon its release. Its a hard film to stomach, but a rewarding one. Director Lars von Trier supposedly wrote it in a fit of depression, and its themes of recovery and therapeutic methods of doing so show that he had very little faith in optimism. The film is the most gorgeously shot of the year, and Willem Dafoe and the radiant Charlotte Gainsbourg deliver heartbreaking performances. And, intentional or not, Antichrist turns out to be one of the best studies on the nature of evil ever put to film.
4. District 9: It's been a boom year for sci-fi, with such great films as Star Trek, Moon, and the ultra-successful Avatar reaching all audiences. District 9 is the crown jewel of the sci-fi revolution. Set in South Africa, the film flips genre conventions by having humans segregate the aliens after the latter accidentally land on Earth. It serves as an allegory for apartheid, but don't be fooled: its also a fantastic action movie that even provides emotional resonance (prawn Christopher's attempts to escape in order to save his son from abuse lends humanity to them). Sharlto Copley gives the breakout performance of the year as Wikus van de Merwe, a government agent tasked with evacuating the Prawns from District 9 into a new internment camp. Hopefully, director/co-writer Neill Blomkamp will have plenty of new films in the future.
3. Up: Pixar's winning streak seems to know no end. After the amazing Wall-E last year, they return again with Up, the heartwarming story of an old man who flies to South America in his house lifted by balloons. The film is gorgeously rendered, with heartbreaking performances from such memorable characters as Carl, Russel, Kevin the tropical bird and the hilarious Dug, a dog who can talk through a special box. A daring adventure, a terrific buddy comedy, and a touching story of remembering a lost loved one, Up is another win for the Pixar team.
2. Where the Wild Things Are: Another major trend in 2009 is miraculous reinventions of classic children's stories, as evidenced in Where the Wild Things Are and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Where the Wild Things Are was polarizing upon its release, but the film succeeds in that it is not a children's movie, as many expected it to be. Writer Dave Eggers and director/co-writer Spike Jonze took a huge risk in adapting Maurice Sendak's classic into a movie that's more than just Max's adventures with the Wild Things. It's a movie about being a kid, the wonder of a new world and the messy, complicated relationships that make up a family. It's the rawest portrayal of growing up all year, and stands as the archetype for artistic interpretation.
1. Inglourious Basterds: Quentin Tarantino can always be relied on to deliver a fantastically original movie that riffs on genre and the films he grew up loving. But Inglourious Basterds is his most original, balls-to-the-wall film yet. Telling the story of a group of Jewish-American soldiers in Nazi-occupied France, the film has the best cast of the year, with every actor giving a wonderful performance, especially Brad Pitt, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Melaine Laurent, and, best of all, Christoph Waltz as the sinisterly suave Col. Hans Landa, aka The Jew Hunter. Tarantino's screenplay sparkles with his usual Tarantinoisms, but he proves himself to be one of the best working writer/directors today by not only rewriting history, but also making it believable in the world of his film. It's a risky move, but just like the film's protagonists, there's nothing that it can't pull off.
Agree? Disagree? What were your favorites? Comments please. Soon I will post my favorite scenes of the year.