Friday, January 1, 2010

Tossing 2009

Top Ten lists I don't do. But I do show what I labeled a "Full-Price Ticket" or a "Matinee," and do a bit of review that the opportunity of time affords. The rest I give to the winds to scatter, like Auld Acquaintance.

Here are my "Full-Price Tickets" for 2009. It is safe to say that when they're released for home viewing you "might" have a good chance of enjoying them. Lest you read anything into it, the order is alphabetical, merely:

(500) Days of Summer
Bright Star
A Christmas Carol (2009)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Gran Torino
The Hurt Locker
In the Loop
Inglourious Basterds
The Princess and the Frog
The Road
A Serious Man
Star Trek
Sherlock Holmes
Up in the Air

"Benjamin Button" and "Gran Torino" were, by the score-card, 2008 releases, but I include them because they were released in Seattle in 2009. When confronted with the reality of this list, my first thought was "I'm more bi-polar than I thought:" cartoons and comic books and "A Serious Man" and "The Road." But, I wouldn't edit this list out of shame, because the results are too rock-solid—each of these films moved me in ways that enhanced my film-watching life and, in some cases, my life. And the ones that have aged, have aged well. No apologies for "Star Trek"—it was one of the few tv-to-movie translations that dramatically upgraded the material and exposed what was great about it in the first place, while exploring new territory with it. "Watchmen," for all its furrowed seriousness and "slavish devotion" was a perfect upgrading from 2-D to 3-D formats that seamlessly made the transitions between comics-panels work (something "Sin City" attempted, but only to the denigration of the source material). "Button" marked David Fincher's emergence as a "mature" film-maker (something that couldn't be said of Robert Zemeckis and "Forrest Gump" for you nay-sayers), and "Gran Torino" was the perfect cap-stone for Clint Eastwood's acting career (in a way that no one has mentioned yet and will be revealed when I finish up "Now I've Seen Everything: Clint Eastwood"—coming in 2010). "Coraline," "Up," "The Princess and the Frog" and "A Christmas Carol," each in its own way, pushed the technology of movie-making and its uses for communication and story-telling in fascinating and entertaining ways.* "Inglourious Basterds" is the best film Quentin Tarantino's ever made (his Top 8 for 2009 is below). "Up in the Air" may be the best film of the year, were it not for "A Serious Man," maybe the best and most multi-layered film of The Coen Brothers. And "The Road" made me cry...and slapped the crap out of me for crying.

The most controversial one of the list is "(500) Days of Summer," which I was told...often...was no great shakes. They didn't like Zooey Deschanel, they didn't like "the guy" (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), it reminded them of their past--that's "supposed" to be a good thing in movies, by the way--it wasn't all "sweetness and roses in love"--to which I say "You just wait..."--and they thought the "greeting card" business was too obvious a target. Only if you don't consider that "greeting cards" are in the business to make relationships as work-free and un-personal and "easy" to accomplish, a "token" relationship—qualities which the immature lead character is blissfully unaware that he shares. He wants the "greeting card" relationship. He wants love to work—no, thinks it works—the way it does in "The Graduate," that is, intent is all, make a pest of yourself to show you're interested. She expects more and will not accept less. And I find that far more real and far less shallow than the way the similarly arced Judd Apatow comedies treat their women characters (I've got to finish that Judd Apatow article!). If you didn't like "(500) Days of Summer"—what can I say?—you deserve every Kate Hudson rom-com in your future.

Here is a list of lists of Top Ten movies of 2009, courtesy MSN.

Now, here are the Matinee's: the almost-but-not-quite's.


Away We Go
The Blind Side
Capitalism: A Love Story
The Damned United
District 9
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Informant!
The Merry Gentleman
The Men Who Stare at Goats
Paranormal Activity
Pirate Radio
Rachel Getting Married*
Sunshine Cleaning
Taking Woodstock
Where the Wild Things Are
Whip It
The Wrestler*

Here's where things get tricky. These aren't exactly golden, may even be a bit tarnished or blemished or maybe there's something that doesn't quite come together, like unpopped kernels in the bottom of your popcorn.***Put all the "also-ran's" together and you immediately see what deserves it's place and what doesn't. "The Men Who Stare at Goats" and "Surrogates" should drop a level to a rental (maybe even a cable-watcher), "Whip it," despite its sophomore feel, is a better film than "Where the Wild Things Are" (and has a better message) but WTWTA remains because it looks so darned good on that big screen. "Paranormal Activity" is the simplest concept in movies short of an Andy Warhol art-film, but efficiently exploits its audience's dread (like all good horror movies) that it deserves its place, fluke though it may be. "Zombieland?" Just damned clever and funny, far funnier than a ball-dropper like "The Men Who Stare at Goats," a wasted opportunity to an extraordinary concept. "Every Little Step" is a better film of "A Chorus Line" than "A Chorus Line" was and relieves us the burden of a remake (though a good comedy concept would be somebody wanting to make a dramatic version of "Every Little Step"...for the stage...) "Invictus?" The stodginess-staginess of Morgan Freeman's performance hurts the film, although its sub-text is far more interesting than its sports-story. Its high reputation among critics may be a result of what gad-fly critic Armond White accused them of in his review of "Precious:" white guilt. If "Invictus" doesn't move up, is there any that should? Yeah. The icky, squishy sci-fi parable "District 9" that tells us no matter what marvels the Universe may bring us, we're still only human, and to change we have to have walk around in the other guy's mandibles, which, for me anyway, told that story far better than "Avatar."

I would direct you all to take a look at MSN's "Moments Out of Time:" a feature where Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy share some of the flickering images from 2009's cinema that have found purchase in their vast film-memories. I would add a couple:

The final two shots of "Where the Wild Things Are:" Max has come home to a bowl of soup "still warm," and as his exhausted mother lets herself sleep for a moment, the child watches over her. "The parent becomes the child, and the child, the parent."

Meryl Streep's effervescent Julia Child only enhances the love for the original in "Julie & Julia.".

"Watchmen:" The original Night-Owl stops the murder of two socialites by a common thug in a movie theater's back alley—"Holy 'Well, the times they are a-changin'!'"

The entire performance of Robert Duvall in "The Road."

The sheer brio of the act and Quentin Tarantino's indelible representation of it: "Inglourious Basterds." I will never get that shot out of my head. Thanks, QT.

80 hz—"Paranormal Activity" and the horrific power of an image standing still through fast-forward.

Wanting the soundtrack of "Pirate Radio," but especially "The Princess and the Frog," and "Sherlock Holmes"—there's still some good music being written out there.

The revelation of what the Coen Brothers were doing in "A Serious Man"—I felt like my head would explode looking inside their kaleidoscope.

Regrets, I have a few: Films I wanted to see, but missed: "The Brothers Bloom," "Red Cliff," "Coco Before Chanel," "New York, I Love You," What Just Happened, "Black Dynamite." Things I should've written but didn't: A smattering of old reviews, that thing on Judd Apatow, and Hollywood's tendency to double-down. Probably in 2010.

People I could watch a whole movie of: Liev Schreiber's butch transvestite in "Taking Woodstock," Joel McHale's deadpan FBI-guy in "The Informant!" Rorshach, Dr. Manhattan, and the original Silk Spectre from "Watchmen," Nelson Mandela's body-men from "Invictus."

Best Sound Design 2009: Skip Lievsay, "A Serious Man," and Tom Myers, "Up."

I'll watch any movie with these women in it: Amy Adams, Taraji P. Henson, Emily Blunt, Vanessa Redgrave. Men: Robert Downey Jr. , Sam Rockwell , Billy Crudup, Jackie Earle Haley.

I drank the Kool-Aid for Quentin Tarentino (and wonder if he'll write about anything other than movies) and gave up on ever seeing an original idea from James Cameron.

Movies I would own in my house: "Inglourious Basterds," "Bright Star," "Star Trek," "A Serious Man," "Up," "Up in the Air," "Watchmen."

Here (without comment)***, is the list of films worthy of Preservation in the National Film Registry for 2009, by the Library of Congress.
1) Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
2) The Exiles (1961)
3) Heroes All (1920)
4) Hot Dogs for Gauguin (1972)
5) The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
6) Jezebel (1938)
7) The Jungle (1967)
8) The Lead Shoes (1949)
9) Little Nemo (1911)
10) Mabel’s Blunder (1914)
11) The Mark of Zorro (1940)
12) Mrs. Miniver (1942)
13) The Muppet Movie (1979)
14) Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
15) Pillow Talk (1959)
16) Precious Images (1986)
17) Quasi at the Quackadero (1975)
18) The Red Book (1994)
19) The Revenge of Pancho Villa (1930-36)
20) Scratch and Crow (1995)
21) Stark Love (1927)
22) The Story of G.I. Joe (1945)
23) A Study in Reds (1932)
24) Thriller (1983)
25) Under Western Stars (1938)

Some favorite bits of writing from 2009. For some, context is all, and you have to be there.

"Nah, that's not going to work" -- "Up" (The longest sustained laugh from the adults in the audience)

"Garfield...maybe" -- Zombieland

"'Roses are red, violets are blue... Fuck you, whore!' What IS that?" -- (500) Days of Summer

"Actually, Werner, we're all tickled to here you say that. Frankly, watchin' Donny beat Nazis to death is is the closest we ever get to goin' to the movies." -- Inglorious Basterds

"The clocks stopped at one seventeen one morning. There was a long shear of bright light, then a series of low concussions. Within a year there were fires on the ridges and deranged chanting. By day the dead impaled on spikes along the road. I think it's October but I can't be sure. I haven't kept a calender for five years. Each day is more gray than the one before. Each night is darker - beyond darkness. The world gets colder week by week as the world slowly dies. No animals have survived. All the crops are long gone. Someday all the trees in the world will have fallen. The roads are peopled by refugees towing carts and road gangs looking for fuel and food. There has been cannibalism. Cannibalism is the great fear. Mostly I worry about food. Always food. Food and our shoes. Sometimes I tell the boy old stories of courage and justice - difficult as they are to remember. All I know is the child is my warrant and if he is not the word of God, then God never spoke." The Road

"Don't pander to me, kid. One tiny crack in the hull and our blood boils in thirteen seconds. Solar flare might crop up, cook us in our seats. And wait till you're sitting pretty with a case of Andorian shingles, see if you're so relaxed when your eyeballs are bleeding. Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence." -- Dr. Leonard McCoy , Star Trek

"I have a conscience" -- John Keats in "Bright Star"

Clive's Father: Culture clash. Culture clash.
Larry Gopnik: With all respect, Mr. Park, I don't think it's that.
Clive's Father: Yes.
Larry Gopnik: No. It would be a culture clash if it were the custom in your land to bribe people for grades.
Clive's Father: Yes.
Larry Gopnik: So-you're saying it is the custom?
Clive's Father: No. This is defamation. Grounds for lawsuit.
Larry Gopnik: You - let me get this straight - you're threatening to sue me for defaming your son?
Clive's Father: Yes.
Larry Gopnik: But it would...
Mr. Brandt: Is this man bothering you?
Larry Gopnik: Is he bothering me? No. We're fine. Thank you, Mr. Brandt. I, uh... See, if it were defamation there would have to be someone I was defaming him to, or I... All right, I... let's keep it simple. I could pretend the money never appeared. That's not defaming anyone.
Clive's Father: Yes. And passing grade.
Larry Gopnik: Passing grade.
Clive's Father: Yes.
Larry Gopnik: Or you'll sue me.
Clive's Father: For taking money.
Larry Gopnik: So... he did leave the money.
Clive's Father: This is defamation.
Larry Gopnik: Look. It doesn't make sense. Either he left the money or he didn't.
Clive's Father: Please. Accept the mystery.
Larry Gopnik: You can't have it both ways!
Clive's Father: Why not?
-- A Serious Man

"How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you're carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life... you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV... the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home... I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office... and then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack, feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets, the compromises. The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks." -- "Up in the Air"

"I LOVE my babies. Why would I want to PUSH them away from me?" -- LN, from Away We Go

"He's got his little cannons and he's got his little guns, and... This is the problem with civilians wanting to go to war. Once you've been there, once you've seen it, you never want to go again unless you absolutely fucking have to. It's like France." Lt. Gen. Miller -- In the Loop

"It's amazing how fast the world can go from bad to total shit storm." -- Zombieland

"Out of the chair..." -- Spock, Star Trek

"My name is Lt. Aldo Raine and I'm putting together a special team, and I need me eight soldiers. Eight Jewish-American soldiers. Now, y'all might've heard rumors about the armada happening soon. Well, we'll be leaving a little earlier. We're gonna be dropped into France, dressed as civilians. And once we're in enemy territory, as a bushwhackin' guerrilla army, we're gonna be doin' one thing and one thing only... killin' Nazis. Now, I don't know about y'all, but I sure as hell didn't come down from the goddamn Smoky Mountains, cross five thousand miles of water, fight my way through half of Sicily and jump out of a fuckin' air-o-plane to teach the Nazis lessons in humanity. Nazi ain't got no humanity. They're the foot soldiers of a Jew-hatin', mass murderin' maniac and they need to be dee-stroyed. That's why any and every every son of a bitch we find wearin' a Nazi uniform, they're gonna die. Now, I'm the direct descendant of the mountain man Jim Bridger. That means I got a little Injun in me. And our battle plan will be that of an Apache resistance. We will be cruel to the Germans, and through our cruelty they will know who we are. And they will find the evidence of our cruelty in the disemboweled, dismembered, and disfigured bodies of their brothers we leave behind us. And the German won't not be able to help themselves but to imagine the cruelty their brothers endured at our hands, and our boot heels, and the edge of our knives. And the German will be sickened by us, and the German will talk about us, and the German will fear us. And when the German closes their eyes at night and they're tortured by their subconscious for the evil they have done, it will be with thoughts of us they are tortured with. Sound good?" -- Inglourious Basterds

"What do you want for breakfast?" -- the most up-beat line in "The Road"

"My master made me this collar. He is a good and smart master and he made me this collar so that I may speak *Squirrel!*[looks to distance for a few seconds]...My master is good and smart." -- Dug, "Up"

"While the essence of our culture has been saved in the elders who now reside upon this ship, I estimate that only about 10,000 Vulcans have survived. I am now a member of an endangered species." -- Spock, Star Trek

"In those moments where you're not quite sure if the undead are really dead, dead, don't get all stingy with your bullets. I mean, one more clean shot to the head, and this lady could have avoided becoming a human Happy Meal. Woulda... coulda... shoulda." -- Zombieland

Rabbi Marshak's advice from "A Serious Man:" "When the be lies...and all the joy...within you...dies..."

"Twelve thousand troops. But that's not enough. That's the amount that are going to die. And at the end of a war you need some soldiers left, really, or else it looks like you've lost." -- Lt. Gen. George Miller, In the Loop

"People don't realize this, but loneliness is underrated." -- (500) Days of Summer

"Well, if this is it, old boy, I hope you don't mind if I go out speaking the king's" -- Inglourious Basterds

"I HATE coconut. Not the flavor, but the consistency." -- Zombieland

The way Chris Pine says: "Bones! Buckle up" -- Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek

"You know, fightin' in a basement offers a lot of difficulties. Number one being, you're fightin' in a basement!" -- Inglourious Basterds

"This is a story of boy meets girl. The boy, Tom Hansen of Margate, New Jersey, grew up believing that he'd never truly be happy until the day he met 'the one.' This belief stemmed from early exposure to sad British pop music and a total mis-reading of the movie 'The Graduate'. The girl, Summer Finn of Shinnecock, Michigan, did not share this belief. Since the disintegration of her parent's marriage she'd only love two things. The first was her long dark hair. The second was how easily she could cut it off and not feel a thing. Tom meets Summer on January 8th. He knows almost immediately she is who he has been searching for. This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know upfront, this is not a love story." Opening narration to (500) Days of Summer

"Don't ever call me fucking English again." -- the vile Malcolm Tucker "In the Loop"

"The stars will wheel forth from their daytime hiding places; and one of those lights, slightly brighter than the rest, will be my wingtip passing over." -- Up in the Air

"My name is Shosanna Dreyfus and THIS is the face... of Jewish vengeance!" -- Inglorious Basterds

"Since my customary farewell would appear oddly self-serving, I shall simply say... 'Good luck'" -- Spock "Prime," Star Trek

"I'm not great at farewells, so uh... that'll do, pig." -- Zombieland

* "A Christmas Carol" for finally bridging the gap that made Zemeckis' pixel-people look like animated mannequins—expression. "I can imagine
Robert Zemeckis - whose botched motion-capture animated features The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol were full of rubbery, dead-eyed, freakish-looking human constructs - watching James Cameron's Avatar with an expression on his face not unlike F Murray Abraham's Salieri listening to his first Mozart composition in Amadeus." Alonso Duralde for IFC: "From a technical standpoint, Avatar is a game-changer, a paradigm shift, the greatest thing since sliced 2001.... I just wish it were a better movie." This says to me two things 1) Duralde didn't see "A Christmas Carol," and 2) he doesn't acknowledge that Cameron hedged his bets by giving his Na'vi the expressive make-up of fauns, big eyes and hinged jaws, but no laugh-lines, wrinkles or pores. I'll send him a new set of eyes for Christmas and a new box of superlatives (the ones he's using are getting a little musty!). He's right about "The Polar Express," but that was two Zemeckis motion-capture movies ago. Get out much, Alonso?

** These were 2008 releases, but not in the wild west of Seattle.

*** These "un-popped kernels" mainfest themselves months later, like "Paranormal Activity:" there's a scene where "Micah" (played by Micah), does some post-coital commentary about the couple's love-making to his partner's embarrassment. That scene always bothered me as false, without knowing exactly why. Then I flashed on it-if they'd had such a great time, he wouldn't have rushed to the video camera, they'd still be doing it. Wah-wah.

**** I'll comment next week. I can't help myself.

No comments: