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Best Movies, 2009

Well. I saw close to 60 new releases this year, most thanks to working at the movie theater. However, since the theater I work at is one of four in Humboldt County–a place seemingly devoid of truly independent features–I have mostly only seen mainstream and fringe mainstream films. Not to say this is a bad thing, it’s just that you won’t find Precious or the Road or Nine or whatever on these lists because they haven’t been released up here–if they ever will be.

Some movies struck me in a different way than most critics. I am willing to assume this is either due to age or experience. Perhaps when I am older, I will revisit Up in the Air–a movie on several year-end lists–and find it more enjoyable or at least relatable. So this best-of-the-year list is me, now.

Top 19 of the year:

19) 9: I mentioned in my Where the Wild Things are review that this movie was essentially Jungian Archetypes: the Movie, which was pointed out to me by my girlfriend. This is very true. And, after acknowledging that, I was much more satisfied with the film as a visual parable than as a film with a three-act story. I guess it could’ve also been called Voldemort’s Horcruxes as performed by socks and gloves but that’s a too esoteric, I guess.

18) Gamer: Boy, this is one flawed but awesome movie. With a supporting cast of underdeveloped characters and two very well written main characters, this movie created one of the coolest bad guys of the year as well as offering some more revoltingstrange imagery that the NevaldineTaylor team has become known for with their Crank movies. Definitely one I look forward to owning.

17) District 9: A story that has been told before but without such an awesome flow. The beginning of this film is shot much like a documentary and, as the story slowly evolves along with Van der Mewe, the cinematography becomes steadier and steadier until it is shot on tripods like an average film. It is interesting details like this that help to elevate it above and beyond other films about aliens and their implications. I really liked the way that the story was handled.

16) Adventureland: A very personal film from the guy that did Superbad and from a school that I hope will become my MFA alma mater (Columbia). The characters in this movie are very relatable and instantly likeable… except Ryan Reynolds who plays the guy that all the kids love but the adults (and people his age) don’t care too much for. Anyone who’s ever had a summer job or lived through high school can relate to at least one thing in this very strong film.

15) Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: Honestly, this movie might have been funnier than anything I’ve seen this year. It was that hilarious. The story drags ass in its third act as the evil food-making machine gets its ass whooped, but the first and second portions of the movie made me laugh. I was impressed with how well done (and how socially conscious) this movie was–the second computer animated film (Monster House was the first) not made by Pixar to steal my heart.

14) The Hangover: Surprisingly hilarious, well written, well acted, and well directed. What else is there to say? The moment this film hit theaters, it entered into the comedy canon of films that are able to make a lot of people laugh. I remember enjoying my theater checks for this film because everyone was always laughing. The first comedy in a long time to hit a lot of funny bones. Hopefully the sequel will be just as kickass.

13) Where the Wild Things are: When I wrote about it, I talked about its symbolism and its strengths. Given that, and how beautiful it is, I still found it to be kind of boring. Needless, it is a beautiful film that has a lot to say and has been done in such a way to cull emotions from childhood for even the coldest of hearts.

12) Fantastic Mr. Fox: This movie was one that showed that Wes Anderson could adapt himself to any format he wants, adapt any books he wants, and still remain Wes Anderson. The animation is arcane yet awesome because it accentuates the story in such a way that it stops short of becoming just another Wes Anderson quirk-fest.

11) A Serious Man: The only movie on this list to even be remotely considered indie (damn you Humboldt County!), the Coen brothers offer a strange fable of cyclical, parallel, stories of a father and son trying to deal with Jewish faith and growing up and dealing with a divorce and other strange tragedies.

10) Inglourious Basterds: This movie would have slotted higher had Tarantino not relinquished the beauty of this film in favor of paying homage to shitty violence by repeating their shitty violence with pisspoor effects. I understand where he’s coming from, but these moments in the film were entirely disengaging. Yet, still, this is an awesome film built out of long dialogue sequences told in chapters that almost collide near the end of the film. A film that can open with a 20 minute dialogue in French and English without being disengaging in this day and age should be admired–especially for a wide release summer film. The language, mind you, was one of my favorite things in this film: instead of everyone speaking English (I’m looking at you, Valkyrie), Tarantino chose to do this film in four languages and acknowledge the barriers between them.

9) Observe and Report: This is the darkest comedy I’ve seen in a long time. It’s also the funniest movie I saw all year. Seth Rogen does an amazing job as a mentally unstable mall cop whose megalomaniacal delusions and dissertations help to heighten the humor as the movie kicks into high gear for a back half that had me laughing and cheering this movie to the end. But, be forewarned, this movie is not for everyone. It is fucked up and it is sad, but it is played with such awkward and insanely risky timing that it becomes funny. In any other context, this film is as serious as a heart attack. But, in this universe, this film is a riot.

8 ) Paranormal Activity: I about crapped my pants four times during this film. Not since the Blair Witch Project have I been so scared out of my mind and so terrified for an hour and a half straight. Seriously, don’t see this shit alone. But see it nonetheless. The horror is in your mind and, as a result, it stays with you much longer than Saw VI ever would.[1]

7) Moon: I love a movie that will twist and convulse into itself until it makes perfect sense while making no sense at all. That’s exactly what happened in Moon. Normal things happen then weird things happen then crazy things happen. And, through it all, Sam Rockwell is the only one in this film aside from the voice of Kevin Spacey–this is an amazing thing because he carries the weight of an entire film with the dirty-hipster ease that he’s always had. His turn as Charlie Ford made me a fan, this made me an advocate. The director of this film, Duncan Jones, also happens to be the son of Ziggy Stardust. This was an awesome sci-fi film.

I’m still working on 6-1. They seem so fluid. Tomorrow. I promise.

[1] Interesting note: These two films were playing in side by side theaters when they were released up here. Walking out of the tomb of silence in Paranormal into the Saw VI gore and guts fest was a very odd experience that seemed to be rather indicative of the two extremes that horror is falling into these days… Just a thought.

blood simple

Ever since No Country for Old Men, I’ve had a hardon for the Coen Brothers. Though I had seen O Brother Where Art Thou before knowing their names, No Country was truly my first Coen Brothers film. I knew who they were at that point…

And, with Blood simple., I have completely fallen head over heels in love with their works. (Well, okay, except the Ladykillers. That movie sucked.)

Blood simple is anything but simple. When Abby (I guess Frances McDormand was hot when she was younger. Who the hell knew) and Ray start fooling around at random, there’s already a Private Investigator hired to follow her. Abby’s husband, Marty, doesn’t know who she’s fuckin’ around with, but he senses she’s fuckin’ around. It just so happens that he’s right.

So the Private Investigator is hired to kill the two of them for $10,000. But instead of doing that, he fakes a photograph of their deaths and attempts to shoot Marty. And things just get crazier from there. I refuse to let on anything beyond that because I’d ruin most of the suspense (and there is a shit load).

What so beautiful about this movie is how nobody knows what anybody’s doing. They think they do, but they say all the wrong things and run into trouble because of it. The wrong gun is left in the wrong place. The wrong money is not taken. Everything just goes wrong. Everything just gets fucked up.

And maybe that’s a testament to Eastern Texans. Or maybe it’s just the type of people the Coen Brothers like to make movies about: people getting waist deep in shit when they can only really handle it up to the palms of their feet. It was the same thing with Fargo and Hudsucker Proxy (though that one turned out much better) and the Big Lebowski. People demand revenge but then forget why. It’s pretty awesome in that way.

And on top of the content being superb, I absolutely loved the cinematography. The way the camera moves in this movie is brilliant. It keeps the angles close and claustrophobic enough for one to wonder what’s around the corner. It hints enough that you almost know what’s coming.

It really is amazing that this was their first feature film. It’s very well done and it has all shades of Coen auteurity (sic) to come. Some people say that it comes off as a “video movie,” or a “Movie of the week” because of how straight forward the noir-plot is. But, at the same time, the Coens do as they usually do and take the basics and toss its salad until its barely recognizable.

Plus, it’s pretty goddam funny.

oscar coverage from a bus going north

let’s talk Oscars. On the bus ride home, Kelley was sending me results since I couldn’t view the actual program. I’m glad that the Coen brothers finally won Best Director(s). It’s an award they’ve deserved for almost every movie they’ve done (except the Ladykillers. What was that shit?!)

In the Best Supporting Actor category, I thought Paul Dano was nominated for his role as Eli Sunday in There Will be Blood. But he wasn’t. And that was probably a good thing because it was already a hard enough category between Casey Affleck (one of my new favorite actors after Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and Javier Bardem. Both did a great job–I was rooting for Affleck more so than Bardem simply because of the last 45 minutes of TAOJJBTCRF truly break your heart. Affleck thought he’d be received as a celebrity. But instead it’s the opposite. He’s treated like scum because he killed a national star.

In Supporting Actress, I’m sad that Blanchett lost. She was an awesome Bob Dylan. And I love me some Bob Dylan (well, before his 80’s phase. Reaganomics even turned the music into shit!).

The Best Score award was skewed because of Greenwood using, say, thirty seconds from his previous composition (Popcorn Superhet Receiver. It’s actually pretty cool) in his score for There Will Be Blood. And that definitely was one of the best musical compositions for film I’ve heard in awhile.

But, as in previous years, at least one of my favorite films had to be completely ignored. Last year, it was The Fountain and Inland Empire. This year, it was the Darjeeling Limited.

And that’s okay because the Academy doesn’t make your opinions. You do.

best movie of the year?

That’s tough. I have three favorites, two I’ve already written about and the third one isn’t quite a comedy so I couldn’t toss it in that category.

My top three movies of this year, in a tie for first place are:

The Darjeeling Limited
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

These three movies together show why I love some movies more than others. They all have themes and visual metaphors and some beautiful cinematography. The way that India was filmed and talked about in Darjeeling was beautiful. The way that the brothers never changed clothes yet had all of their fathers’ luggage was beautiful. Some critics said that it was Wes Anderson doing a parody of Wes Anderson. But I say they can go fuck themselves. This was probably his best film, edging out the Royal Tenenbaums. He’s definitely one of my favorite film makers and this, so far, was his pinnacle. He was able to capture everything about being a family so perfectly. And the way that they were able to finally let go their grief about their father’s death was awesome. They realized that they couldn’t get on the train, continue on their journey, with all the (literal) baggage of their father. So they just threw it off them and watched it fade from view.

And I liked that the three of them had their things that they could hide behind. Francis had his bandages and the most visible damage, Jack had his moustache and his words and Peter had his Father’s sunglasses that, even though they were the wrong prescription, he never took them off.

2007 was a great year in cinema. I hope 2008 is just as good, though I’ll be able to see less movies in the theater since I’ll be up at school most of the time. I’ll see what I can with what money I can, but I know that the Netflix cue will have plenty coming its way when some of these movies come out on DVD.

westerns, horror, animated 2008

So last year, I did a straight top ten list of my favorite movies… But this year, I’m going to give out “awards” and then choose my favorite of the year.

In 2007, I saw 41 new films. That’s nothing compared to what some reviewers see in a single month, but it’s still a solid amount of movies to make an opinion out of. But I know I’ve missed some really good ones and a lot of the movies I saw this year were ones I finally got around to seeing (like Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys, the Prestige, Factotum, The Saddest Music in the World, etc).

2007 also had a solid amount of Westerns released–all of which I dragged my friends to. There were three typical westerns (There Will Be Blood, 3:10 to Yuma, and the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and one atypical neo-western (No Country for Old Men). So, the first category will be “BEST NEW WESTERN,” and it will be a shoot-out between these four films.

4) 3:10 TO YUMA — A great, badass, slick movie. Christian Bale has really come into his own as an actor and I really enjoyed all the various elements of this film involving his son and Russell Crowe’s character and how everything ended. There was nothing overly magical about this movie: it was rough and quintessentially western.

3) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford — You choose the show-time you wish to see the movie knowing its ending, you buy the tickets knowing the ending, you sit through the movies 2 and a half hours knowing the ending. So why did people subject themselves to this movie? Because it’s a commentary on today’s culture of Thirsty Scavengers looking for any and everything they can read about their favorite stars. All the gossip, all the trash, is contained in this film and is embodied by Casey Affleck’s character who in the kills Jesse James and then subsequently lets it eat him alive. What we let consume us will eventually finish us off. We always let the beast in, but it’s our choice whether it escapes with everything we have. And this movie tried to get at people in the same way, as if to say, “Do you see what you’re doing to the actors? They’re just people, goddammit!” And having Brad Pitt play Jesse James was a priceless meta tool through this whole movie-game of “Look at yourselves.”

2) There will be blood — Daniel Plainview is a sick, sick, asshole of a man. I don’t even know if he is a man, but instead an embodiment of greed. That can’t be true though, because there are moments in this film where that hard shell of meanness and money crack and you see that he really does love his adopted son. Eli Sunday is his synthetic opposite–he wants all the same things: money power and fame and control over the people, but he’s chosen the religious route instead of the Black Gold Route. This movie is long and slow and it tears at your patience, but if you’re able to sit through it without getting up and going out for a smoke or leaving altogether, you’ll come to realize that this is a great multi-character study set against a beautiful backdrop of the old west.

1) No Country for Old Men — The neo-western wins out. Why? Because I love how scary Anton Chigurh (as played by Javier Bardem) is in this movie. He made me shit my pants every time he spoke. He made me cry everytime he killed someone with his compressed airgun thing that they used to use to kill cows (see that creepy scene in the van in Texas Chainsaw Massacre). And Llewellyn Moss(as played by Josh Brolin) isn’t his antithesis, but instead, his equal. One who will kill and exploit to get out of his situation and do whatever it takes to bring vigilante justice. And one step behind is Tommy Lee Jones’ character as the elder sheriff, slowly realizing that this world is going darker and darker and darker by the moment and there’s nothing he can do about it. He hates it, but he knows that if he continues to work, it will just eat him. So he retires. And that’s how the movie ends. In anti-climax and letdowns galore. It was a big slap in the face to the viewers who wanted the final shootout and to have some sort of justice prevail. But that’s just more blood for the sake of it.

So those were the Westerns released this year, and the one that wasn’t even really a Western was my favorite. But it grew on me after I read a National Geographic article about how crazy West Texas is. This lady there lives at the end of a 40 mile dead-end road. No shit. People there are weird, and the murders are even worse.

Next up are the Horror awards. If I didn’t have to choose movies that were released in 2007 but instead the ones I saw in 2007, the award would go to Dawn of the Dead, the original from 1978. That’s one hell of a horror movie. Or it would go to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a beautifully atmospheric horror movie where not everything is killed by a chainsaw.

But I have to go with movies that were released this year, and so the list is as follows:

5) Planet Terror — Funnier and more fun that it was scary, but it exuded all the right horror elements: sex and gore and violence. It was great as a setup into Death Proof and as the first half of Grindhouse. But I don’t know about it away from the overall experience. However, there were some really good performances and some really great scares throughout the film.

4) 30 Days of Night — Scared the crap out of me. Maybe it was because all day I was psyching myself out for it by saying, “I’m going to get scared, I’m going to get scared” but it was actually really creepy. The methodology of the vampires didn’t seem to make any sense. Why would they want to kill everyone on the first night and then starve? Is a 29-day Disco Dance Party that much fun with out sustenance? Maybe it is, but I’m just hypothesizing. The scares were there but not much else was…

3) 1408 — Overall, not the best movie. However, I have to admit that I do have a soft spot of John Cusack after he was in High Fidelity. His character has a lot of skepticism and doubt going through this project, and all of it is torn apart by this single room of horror. Stephen King knows what we hate, and he does a great job of writing them. And then people do an even better job translating it onto the screen. Unless it’s DreamCatcher. That movie sucked.

2) El Orfanato — A horror movie in the vein of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Everything is scary but you don’t know why. The atmosphere just simply exudes fear. And the last third of the movie is when everything kicks into high gear and it just straight up kicks your ass.

1) 28 Weeks Later — I have to admit something else: I also have a soft spot for zombies. The zombies in the original “Dead” trilogy where this movie and its predecessor draw a lot from are scary in their ominous way, loafing around and gaining in numbers. The zombies in these movies RUN. They RUN. And that’s probably the scariest thing is that these zombies will sprint after you and chase you and keep at you until you fall and they have at you. One reviewer was right in saying that this movie makes you want to get into shape. Y’know, just in case something like that happened. But it wasn’t even the zombies that brought this movie to the top of the horror list. It was the US Government and the whole idea that they were running less from the zombies and more from the people who have a total moral and ethical code within them. But they’re trained opposite, trained in rage, and thusly become zombies to “The Man.” That idea fascinated me, for sure.

And let’s run out the one animated feature of the year that deserves any sort of mentioning….

Talking Rats! Talking Rats! I love Ratatouille. It was a great kids film about striving to be your best no matter the obstacles, no matter whose hair you have to pull (har de har). This film was so broad-base emotional that you couldn’t help but let Remy and his struggles wiggle their way under the door sill into your heart.

Okay. Comedy tomorrow or tonight. In a different post.