LISTFUL THINKING: Ten Under – Best of 2009

1 01 2010

It is hard to nail all the great movies of a year in ten slots.  So, in order to fully honor 2009 in movies, I have also concocted a list that would be the equivalent of my #11-20.  I call it “Ten Under.”  When you someone is ten under in golf, it’s a great thing.  So rather than focusing on the fact that these movies are not in the top 10, I want to celebrate their merit in a positive way.

Note that rather than ranking them, I will present them in alphabetical order.

“ADAM”

Tender but never maudlin, “Adam” is unparalleled in the number of “aww”s elicited.  Hugh Dancy’s affectionate performance as the titular character with Asperger’s syndrome is the crucial element to the movie’s success, and you can feel the care put into every twitch and line.  It is sure to warm your heart, if not melt it entirely.

“AVATAR”

James Cameron’s “Avatar” will be remembered not just as a movie but as a watershed in the history of cinema.  The movie’s astounding effects are enough to make you forget some of the flaws in the script, and they really do have the power to create a new world.  Cameron goes all out to make sure Pandora is not just brought to life, but also flourishes.  How quickly can he get to work on the sequel?

“THE COVE”

“The Cove” is a powerful documentary that alerts us to a crisis we need to correct – and it is completely void of Al Gore lecturing.  While systematically running down everything wrong with the slaughter of dolphins in Japan, the filmmakers show us how they verified the massacre.  This never feels like a documentary because they wisely set it up like a crime/heist film, and the excitement builds up until it breaks and we feel nothing but a fervent urge to aid their cause.

“DISTRICT 9″

Thank heavens for viral marketing because without it, I would never have seen “District 9,” which appeals and amazes on all fronts.  Smarts?  An elaborate Apartheid metaphor and undertones of racism, check.  Acting?  An incredibly physically and emotionally committed performance by South African actor Sharlto Copley, check.  Visuals?  Aliens that make James Cameron’s output look like the Smurfs putting on a production of “Cats,” check.  There is no doubt about it, “District 9″ has the goods and delivers.

“DRAG ME TO HELL”

For me, “Drag Me to Hell” was the year’s biggest surprise.  I’m not usually the horror movie type, and I generally consider mixing horror and comedy about as toxic as drinking and driving.  But Sam Raimi’s movie made me reexamine my policy.  “Drag Me to Hell” is scary good, frightening and hilarious often at the same time.  Featuring electrifying action scenes and some purposefully atrocious one-liners, it’s a movie that keeps getting better the more I think about it.

“FANTASTIC MR. FOX”

Who would have thought that Wes Anderson’s humor would transfer like carbon paper to animation?  Anyone who instantly recognized that “Fantastic Mr. Fox” contained the same spirit as previous projects surely did.  It’s the same undeniable, albeit a little peculiar, fun that Anderson has sharpened with each movie.  There’s never a dull moment here, and whether it’s filled with clever wordplay or amusing animation tricks, this stop-motion joy delights at soaring levels.

“FUNNY PEOPLE”

I’ll admit to not being entirely won over by Judd Apatow’s “Funny People” at first sight.  But I think “Up in the Air” shed some light on the director’s aim with the movie.  I have concluded that it fell victim to my incredibly high-expectations after “Knocked Up” rocked my world.  “Funny People” tones down the laughs and amps up the deep thoughts.  Adam Sandler’s comedian George Simmons is absolutely miserable in his isolation, and the news that his life will end soon only makes him realize how alone he actually is.  Over the course of the movie, which never feels as long as it actually is, Simmons tries to forge a meaningful relationship with a green comic played by Seth Rogen.  It doesn’t quite have Jason Reitman’s insight, but “Funny People” is an impressive rumination on similar themes.

“I LOVE YOU, MAN”

If a bromantic comedy genre ever catches on, “I Love You, Man” will be its “The Great Train Robbery.”  The movie follows the relationship between Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) and Sidney Fife (Jason Segel) that forms after the former’s wife worries about him not having any guy friends.  Their adventures are dastardly hilarious, but the movie’s unforeseen strength is its brain.  “I Love You, Man” is a brilliant satire of how we see relationships, executed by the juxtaposition of a romantic partnership and a casual friendship.  Slowly but surely, the functions of both of Peter’s relationships begin to switch.  If we weren’t aware of the context of Sidney and Peter’s male camaraderie, would we see them as lovers?  Would the casual observer?  Look deeper into “I Love You, Man” because it is the most understatedly brilliant movie of the year.  Slappin da bass?

“THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG”

The hand-drawn animation glory days are revived with great verve through “The Princess and the Frog.”  There is plenty to evoke these classics of my childhood, but even more is new – and no, I’m not talking about the race of the princess.  The movie is as lively as its New Orleans setting, with some larger-than-life characters that amuse and enchant.  Randy Newman’s jazzy score is a vivacious addition to a vibrant movie, and the songs aren’t too shabby either.  With Anika Noni Rose’s silky smooth voice behind the tunes, “The Princess and the Frog” is a high-spirited time as only Disney can give us.

“WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE”

Spike Jonze’s adaptation of the classic children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” earned plenty of enemies for its rather despondent outlook while aiming to entertain the youngsters.  It packs plenty of rollicking fun for that demographic, but the movie definitely means more to those who can look back on childhood for what it really is.  While there is plenty of bliss in this time, our youthful years are also filled with questioning and struggles.  Jonze gets the big picture, and his movie provides one of the few honest portrayals of childhood in cinema.  Stark and grim as it may be, we can’t argue with it.





Oscar Moment: Screenplays

22 11 2009

NOTE: This “Oscar Moment” is a tad different from any of the prior ones.  Rather than focusing on a specific movie, this post focuses on a particular category – in this case, screenplays.

A part of the Oscar season that I particularly love is watching the studios promote their movies.  Thankfully, my friends over at Awards Daily do a fantastic job of monitoring the “For Your Consideration” ads that are placed in Variety and other indudstry magazines.  But as the Internet becomes bigger and more present in our lives, the studios have adjusted campaigns slightly over the past years.  Now, they have set up “For Your Consideration” websites designed to promote their movies to the voters but also provide a place for average moviegoers to learn more about the movies simultaneously.

A recent feature that most studios have graciously included on these sites is access to the screenplay of that movie in its entirety.  Personally, I find these a great way to learn about the different styles of moviemaking in the race.  Some movies draw heavily from their screenplay, others use it as merely a guideline.

Therefore, I feel it to be my duty to impart the knowledge of this treasure trove of movie gold to any interest moviegoer reading this blog.  Click on the links below and they will take you to the screenplay for that movie (I will update this page periodically with new screenplays when they become available).  Enjoy, because the race is just beginning!

NOMINEES for Best Screenpalay:

Click here to read the screenplay for “Precious.”

Click here to read the screenplay for “An Education.”

Click here to read the screenplay for “The Hurt Locker.”

Click here to read the screenplay for “Inglourious Basterds.”

Click here to read the screenplay for “A Serious Man.”

Other Screenplays:

Click here to read the screenplay for “A Single Man.”

Click here to read the screenplay for “Nine.”

Click here to read the screenplay for “It’s Complicated.”

Click here to read the screenplay for “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Click here to read the screenplay for “The Informant!”

Click here to read the screenplay for “The Road.”

Click here to read the screenplay for “The Blind Side.”





REVIEW: Where the Wild Things Are

29 10 2009

Let me start off by addressing the chief complaint with “Where the Wild Things Are“: I am sick and tired of hearing people talk about how it is not a kids movie.  It is.  But director Spike Jonze is an auteur, not willing to follow the conventions of typical light, kiddie fare.  He has made a movie that portrays childhood with blunt and sometimes brutal honesty.  He dares to show the bleaker side of being 9 years old, desiring to be grown up but unequipped and somewhat oblivious to handle the realities of the adult world.  The reason there is such an outcry is because movies for children have been so dumbed down that childhood itself is just reduced to the fun and games.  But when a movie like “Where the Wild Things” comes along and shows the full spectrum, American families mistake it for pompous art-house fare in disguise.

Writers Jonze and Dave Eggers (“Away We Go”) had all of 350 words from which to create a plot that could sustain a feature length film.  What the two spawn is nothing short of miraculous, paying the correct amount of respect to Sendak’s book while conceiving a new story that deserves to be remembered for years to come.  Rather than bore you with a plot summary that you could just as easily find on Wikipedia or Fandango, I will liken it to something that most cinephiles will recognize.  “Where the Wild Things Are” is like “The Graduate” of kids movies.  You might scoff at this comparison at first glance, but stick with me.  A boy on the cusp of two worlds is forced to confront the actualities of coming of age.  Yet this responsibility frightens him, and he reverts to the devices of immaturity associated with youth and naiveté.  Although each deals with in their own way – Benjamin Braddock with sexual affairs and Max by escaping into a place he could only imagine – both have to accept this juvenility is not a viable way to live, a revelation that occurs mainly because of the people around them.  Ultimately, he takes the steps towards entering the world which he once feared.  But the last shots of both movies suggest that with one foot in the door, they approach further only with great trepidation.
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Shameless Advertisement #3 – October

1 10 2009

Thanks to all 6 people who voted in the poll (half of which only came with prodding).  Just in case anyone has missed the explanation, at the end of my monthly preview post, I ask readers to pick the movie that they are most excited to see from that month.  The winner of this poll is shamelessly plugged on the site.

We have a clear winner this time.  Each receiving 1 vote were “The Invention of Lying,” “New York, I Love You,” and “Zombieland.”

The shameless (if it is later shameful, I’m going to be angry) advertisement of the month of October is…

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What to Look Forward to In … October 2009

29 08 2009

We give the movie industry late August and all of September to recover from the busy summer season, but in October, it starts to kick it into gear again.  Unfortunately, my most anticipated movie in October, Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” was pushed back to February.  But the month still puts forth several great movies for all tastes.

October 2

This week, I can promise you that I will be throwing my money not at a new release, but at the re-release of two staples of my childhood.  “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2″ will hit theaters again for a few weeks.  1 ticket.  2 movies. 3-D.  Need I say more?

The week also gives us “The Invention of Lying,” which could be a sleeper comedy hit. The movie stars Ricky Gervais, who was the lead of the British version of “The Office.” Around this time last year, he starred in “Ghost Town,” a comedy with a heart that you need to go rent now, that was dismissed by audiences. I have high hopes for his latest, in which he plays a man who tells the world’s first lie on an alternate Earth. He continues to wield the power to suit his own selfish needs. The movie also features Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, and the always funny Tina Fey.

And not to mention, the week delivers Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, “Whip It.” The movie stars the irresistible Ellen Page (“Juno”) as Bliss, a teenager weary of the beauty pageants that she is forced into by her parents. One day, she discovers the world of roller derby and she finds the happiness that she has been so desperately seeking. The movie boasts a hilarious supporting cast including Kristen Wiig (“SNL”), Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden, and Barrymore herself.

And it just keeps getting better.  The Coen Brothers (“No Country for Old Men”) are back with their latest feature, “A Serious Man;” they also wrote the original screenplay.  The movie seems to be a big risk.  It features no marquee names other than the Coens themselves. The trailer is cryptic, giving no indication of what to expect from the movie. I don’t mind an aura of mystique, but this is an aura of confusion. The movie is being marketed as a dark comedy, and I pray that it is the polar opposite of the Coens’ last foray into the genre, “Burn After Reading,” which I didn’t find funny at all. The movie starts in limited release and then will slowly expand from New York and Los Angeles.

The other major release of the week is “Zombieland,” a horror-comedy with Woody Harrelson.

October 9

The only exciting movie hitting theaters across the country this weekend is “Couples Retreat.”  A comedy centered around four couples at a luxurious tropical resort that is revealed to be a marriage therapy clinic, it appears to provide something for everyone.  It has pretty women (Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis) AND funny guys (Jason Bateman, Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau).  The movie is the directorial debut of Ralph Billingsley, best known for playing Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” and the screenplay is written by Vaughn and Favreau.  Hopefully it can provide some good laughs in a season usually replete of hilarious comedies.

Opening in limited release is “An Education,” a movie that has been garnering massive Oscar buzz for months now.  Most of it has centered on the breakout performance of lead actress Carey Mulligan.  In the movie, she stars as Jenny, a 17-year-old in 1960s England who is set on going to Oxford.  However, an older gentleman (Peter Sarsgaard) comes along and sweeps her off of her feet, introducing her to a lifestyle that she immediately loves.  But reality bites, and Jenny is left at a crucial crossroads.  The movie has also generated buzz around supporting actors Alfred Molina and Rosamund Pike (the red-haired villain of “Die Another Day”).  Raves are also flying in for the screenplay, written by author Nick Hornby, writer of “About a Boy” and “Fever Pitch.”  And with the 10 nominees for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, many people say it has a good chance of claiming one of the ten.

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