Yeah. Somewhat incomplete.
To be fair, having to follow as phenomenal a year of movies as 2008 turned out to be is a daunting task to begin with, some may even claim it sisyphean, but still… come on. Let’s see some effort, eh? But no, this year (2009) pretty much just failed. Simply put, this was a supremely crappy year for films. Don’t believe me? The hands-down number one box office draw this year is one of the stupidest, most incoherent, witless pieces of idiot-bait ever made, not too mention blatantly racist at parts (Transformers 2). While the most expensive movie this year (Avatar, coming in somewhere in the ballpark of 400 to 500 million dollars of Fox’s money) spends nearly three beautifully rendered hours droning on and on and on about the evils of capitalism and Corporations. (Rolls eyes)
So, yeah, I didn’t make as many movies this year, even to some of the purportedly better ones that I was excited to see, and my list will definitely reflect that. So bear that in mind as you read on, my Dear and Gentle Readers…
Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti are a big enough reason to make this film. Julie Roberts… eh… not so much… but you know what? She’s good. And so is the rest of the film. It’s a nice, clever little corporate espionage thriller. It’s a little Mamet-y and a little Altman-y and in all the right places. Great twists, great fun, really cool. It is something I plan on revisiting… and, I guess that’s all I have to say about it…
Here’s the thing, first off, I enjoyed the movie a great deal. Is Watchmen a failure… yes, maybe, but I still think it’s the best and closest adaptation we’re ever going to get. Also, I don’t think any of the choices, besides the song choice during Dan and Laurie’s Owl-ship sex scene, were bad, wrong, or didn’t accomplish the exact same thing any ways and often times in a more succinct and palatable manner for the non-comic book audience to enjoy. And honestly, the love for the source material is apparent on the screen. We’ll be lucky if we can get even half that effort for the inevitable day The Dark Knight Returns is made. Plus, its ugliness is absolutely beautiful.
Obviously, I have a severe soft spot for films of this nature, (Non-intelligent Zombie Apocalypse) but I rank this one pretty low on the list, and honestly, despite its charm and fun, if I had seen a few more films this year, it might not have even made it. Not that it was bad, it’s good. It’s fun. I really enjoyed it. No, more so its problems are two-fold: 1. It’s a little bit forgettable. It faded pretty quickly from my mind once the film was over. And 2. Well, this is geeky, but I hate the “dressing up as a zombie in order to fool the real zombies” ruse almost as much as I hate intelligent zombies. Plus, the characters all make some really stupid decisions that the professional zombie survivalist in me balked at, big time. I mean, deciding to scare a well-armed survivor of a zombie apocalypse by pretending that you are a zombie? Ah… bad idea. And while it is a funny moment, the obvious stupidity of the move somewhat telegraphs the joke. Woody is great, though.
7. Paranormal Activity
This one shocked me. It shocked me that I enjoyed this film even a little bit. It shocked me even more that I actually liked it. I mean, this film has a lot of things that I should hate. First off, it’s a POV (Point of View) film, which means that one of the characters is operating the camera. Now, 99.9999% of the time, this alone is more than enough to ruin a film. Why? Because eventually, at some point, you will find yourself wondering aloud: “Why the fuck are they still filming? Run, dummy! Run! Put down the camera and run!” (although REC gets a little bit of a pass because the character operating the camera is a camera operator by profession). Also, like most POV films, for some reason this movie is entirely populated with douchebags (Cloverfield). The girl is that familiar type of dumpy, screechy, hanger-on sorority chick follower and the guy? He plain ol’ sucks. Also, it was made for like 15 grand or so and uses one of the crew member’s actual apartment as the location. This usually means it’s a backyard film and, well, quality isn’t exactly Concern One in those cases. However… this flick pulls it off. It really pulls it off. A subtle slow build, but fun, creepy, and unnerving, with some fantastic tension, it’s all around well done. Sure, sure, it ends like all POV films: A whole bunch of screaming and camera jostling followed by a sudden end cut, but watch it alone in your house with the lights off and try to pretend like you didn’t crap your pants at some point. AND right when you would begin to question the characters’ concern with the camera? It’s done.
6. Sherlock Holmes
Someone asked me if this was Guy Ritchie’s big comeback flick. And I don’t think it is. In fact, Ritchie (for once) thankfully melts into the background. There are some familiar Ritchie directing flairs, but they work well, especially in the visualizations of the way Holmes’ mind works as he observes and plans. Other than that, Ritchie works hard at providing Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law a franchise and the two of them run away with it, dominating the film. They have a wonderful chemistry and the best part is not the speed of the wit that flies between them, it’s the ease of their interaction. There’s a very real sense that their characters actually know each other and have for quite some time. Now, it’s true, some folks might find it too talky. Others might find it too action-y. Me? I enjoyed it immensely and I applaud the idea to stick much closer to the actual Holmes found in the source material, despite the fact that most of the audience aggressively confuses the actual Holmes with the Basil Rathbone cinema Holmes, some even to the point of pouting about it. I know I was certainly glad to see that the Deerstalker hat was nowhere to be found. Yes, this is a modernized Holmes, but it is still firmly, firmly grounded in the original stories and it is a heck of a fun ride.
5. Star Trek
I am a long time Star Wars nerd from way back, despite George Lucas’s repeated and continued efforts to dissuade me, so even when old Star Trek was “good”, it would have never have made one of my Top Ten lists. Never. Also, JJ Abrams? He and I do not like the same things, or actually, we do like the same things, but he only likes the sucky parts. I mean, Alias? Come on, there’s no crying in the Spy business. There’s no crying in the Spy business! And Cloverfield? Ugh… awful. Awful. Awful. Awful. Stupid. And don’t get me wrong, I love Lost, but really, I only love Lost from Fourth Season on, you know, as in when they brought in people to fix all the problems of the first three seasons? So, anyway, fast forward to now and color me shocked when JJ Abrams’ new Star Trek, one featuring the original, classic characters but played by a young and pretty cast, turned out to be ridiculously fun. Ridiculously fun! Sure, sure, the science was uber-stupid, (Red Matter? Wah…?) but when has Star Trek NOT been doused in liberal amounts of idiot techno-babble? And yeah, the bad guy was really just a cheap construct used to help facilitate the franchise’s new start, but so what? Either way, all of that stuff was totally eclipsed by what turned out to be an exciting and inventive jump-start for a doddering, and quickly dying, old franchise that immediately left me wanting more. This movie was a total blast, a perfect summer flick… now, if only someone would come along and do that with the Star Wars Prequels. Oh yeah, and Karl Urban? From the first moment you heard him… he was Bones. It’s amazing. Also, Winona Ryder is in it… sigh…
This is the second film to appear on my list starring Jesse Eisenberg, otherwise known as the poor man’s Michael Cera. But despite this film’s complete lack of zombies, I have scored it the higher of the two. It was a sweet, funny, and sadly nostalgic film about a college kid between semesters, forced to return to his parent’s house and his old high school life due to financial reasons, and work a long and slow summer at a crappy amusement park. Touching life lessons ensue. For the most part, this was a quieter film, despite it’s inclusion of celebrity hair-tucker Kristen Stewart and contained a plethora (A plethora? Si, El Jefe… you have a plethora.) of great performances. Ryan Reynolds as the has-been, never-was maintenance man. Great. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as Bobby and Paulette, the park managers. Hilarious. But the real stand-out is the always superb Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks), whose dry wit and delivery is pure comedy gold. This is just a good, small, funny little film, and it is totally worth your time.
3. District 9
If you read my blog at all, then as you know, I’ve covered my feelings on this film here and here. But, you know, for the new kids: It’s totally awesome.
I am more than willing to say: Everything Pixar has done is great. Even Cars, which is probably their by-far weakest film, is still better than most. The funny part is, just about across the board, pretty much every time they put out the trailer for their next film, it only makes me go: "Meh…" In fact, some of their films I put off and I put off and I put off, because there was no initial spark of interest. But when I finally saw them? Magic. Pixar walks that fine line of being able to entertain everyone in the room without treating anyone as an idiot. This is a studio with fantastic animation, sure, but more so, they are even better story-tellers. I don’t think I’d even want to work there, if I were given the opportunity, because I wouldn’t want the magic spoiled. I’d rather just watch and listen. Up is a tale of friendship and love and pure adventure. I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t see it. Go. It’s brilliant.
1. Hurt Locker
I have already covered my feelings for my number one pick of the year here. But just in case you are super, super lazy, I will reiterate: This is truly a fantastic film. It works as both a statement on Iraq AND as an edge of your seats, nail-biting action flick. Well done, all around. Jeremy Renner is awesome. I can not wait for the chance to sit down and re-watch this again at home. Even if this was a somewhat anemic list this year, and even if I had seen everything else I wanted to, I strongly suspect that this film would have easily held onto the top spot. Easily. It is well deserved Best Picture material. Now, from what I hear, Up in the Air might give it a bit of a run, but I’m betting right now that The Hurt Locker gets the statue this year.
So that’s it. My list. I think these are all good films, so you should check them out. Also, I’d like to give a little nod to a couple I saw and liked but didn’t make the cut.
Public Enemies: Not bad. Not great, but not bad.
Jennifer’s Body: I support Diablo Cody. I love her work and she makes me tingle. So, despite some flaws, I found Jennifer’s Body to be a good waste-of-time flick.
Push: Not bad. Really not bad. Actually pretty good. A nice little modern day superhero among us type of flick. I love Superheroes in hoodies. Some good power usage. Some cool ideas. Lot’s of fun action. Ambitious, too, maybe too much so, as it is obviously hoping for a sequel that probably isn’t ever going to happen.
The movies I wanted to see, but missed for some reason:
Up in the Air
Drag me to Hell
500 Days of Summer
Where the Wild Things Are
I know, I know, it's a huge amount of possibly really good films... What can I say? I've been busy. Also, you know... just as a side note... if you wanted to, you could re-read this whole post, but in a sarcastic tone of voice and it's a whole new experience. Just sayin'...