Happy Oscar nomination day, everybody! Although I suppose it's not particularly happy, as to be honest, some pretty bad movies were nominated (especially for Best Picture). Obviously it would have been impossible to predict, but even if the Best Picture category had remained a 5 movie thing, I would still have trouble picking 5 out of this 10 that deserve to be in a shortlist for the best movies of the year. Avatar, District 9, Inglourious Basterds, THE BLIND SIDE?!!? Are you serious? I haven't seen Precious, but I have seen everything else and am comfortable saying that A Serious Man and Up are the only movies of the 9 that deserves any sort of real praise. You want me to nitpick and get my hate on for the Best Picture nominess, you say? Well, if I must.
The Blind Side - What? I acknowledge that Sandra Bullock is fun in this movie, but you have seen the movie before. Does Sylvester Stallone get royalties anytime a new sports movie blatantly steals the Rocky formula? To me it is telling that Michael Oher, the now-professional football player that this movie is about, has no intention to ever watch the movie about his life. He has said that it's a story that happens all the time, it just so happens to be that this is the one getting notice. That's a fairly potent metaphor about the movie: Friday Night Lights may have been an infinitely better movie (in that it was actually good), but it's the Blind Side that gets the love. Ugh. If I didn't inexplicably like Sandra Bullock as much as I do, I would be Avatar-mad about this one.
District 9 - I have always been a big fan of the fake documentary format, and thoroughly enjoyed its use in the first half of District 9. But somewhere in the middle of the movie, they drop the style completely and we are suddenly getting privileged shots that no documentary crew could possibly get. At least they keep the handheld aesthetic the whole time, I suppose. The idea of the movie is great, with the aliens/impoverished citizens being moved by the government, but that doesn't mean that the movie is necessarily as good as its idea. It's a decent action movie, yes, and I always want to see a good action movie taken seriously, it just so happens that the Academy is honouring the wrong one.
An Education - I like this movie. It was fun, it was funny, and Carey Mulligan was great. Best Picture? Probably not, but at least it is good.
The Hurt Locker - This is a great action movie, as scenes involving bomb defusing are always incredibly suspenseful, and the Hurt Locker does not change that. The problem I had with the movie is that it is little more than an action movie that features a fairly obvious message which is really drilled into your head by the time you leave. There is a 10 minute period of the movie that could have been completely removed and the movie would have been infinitely better. As it is though, it's a good movie, but not as great as it should be.
Inglourious Basterds - This movie looks gorgeous, has a number of Spaghetti Western references, and also features a great performance by Brad Pitt... Too bad the rest of it is painful to sit through. I have liked every Quentin Tarantino movie to date, but holy shit was this one awful. The endless dialogue scenes have lost their charm to me it seems, and the last line of the movie is a huge "fuck you" to anybody who likes the far better movies Tarantino movies Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs.
Up in the Air - Again, a good movie, but far from great. I love George Clooney, and as per usual he does his Clooney thing, but the movie is only good outside of one scene that I would put among my favourite scenes in the last couple of years. The rest, however, is just a good little comedy that, like Jason Reitman's previous film Juno, does not quite deserve the acclaim its getting.
Avatar - The movie looks very cool, and the 3D is outstanding. Whew, I'm happy that part of this is over. Ahem… Fuck James Cameron and his ridiculous haircut. His "pro-environmentalism" movie cost $300 million, creating who knows how much waste in merely the production stage. And when leaving the theatre I saw it in, I watched as an usher punched down into one of three full garbage cans next to him, so that Avatar's audience could throw more of their garbage into it. I recognize any multi-million dollar movie about environmentalism is a contradiction in some way, but at least some of them don't feature dialogue that sounds like it is being exchanged by Amidala and Anakin in Attack of the Clones. And as for the anti-capitalist message of the film? It is now the highest grossing movie of all time, and who knows how much of that goes right to Cameron. Go light a million dollar bill on fire for your own personal enjoyment, you fucking hypocrite.
So, how would I have handled things differently, you say? I do recognize that this has not been a great year for movies, and I would have trouble finding five movies that I would actually think should be remembered decades down the line. But fear not, for I will tell you what I liked the most anyway. I didn't do many categories, but I am singling out elements of certain movies that I feel deserve mention.
As I stated in my previous post, my favourite movie from the past year was the Brothers Bloom, but there are other serious contenders. A Serious Man is a truly great movie, and I can't wait for it to come out on DVD so that I can watch it again and try to decipher it some more. The Coens have shown in the last few years that they are capable of not only making great movies, but also making incredibly dense ones as well. Like No Country for Old Men, watching A Serious Man can lead a viewer to come to any number of conclusions as to what the film is about (A Serious Man even more so), and chances are the viewer is right. Here are some other movies I really liked this year, with mini-reviews:
The Road - This was a great, gorgeously executed movie that I think is better than the book (which I did happen to like quite a bit). It is unrelentingly depressing, yes, but I think there are potent ideas in there, even though the movie pretty much removes the environmentalism elements of the book. It felt like Terence Malick making a post-apocalypse movie with the way parts of it were shot and the voiceover work throughout. And while I am not a fan of Viggo Mortensen, he is unbelievable in this movie, and one of his scenes with Charlize Theron is unbelievably crushing.
Adventureland - I love a comedy that tries to be a little serious, as I feel that combination is the closest movies ever get to emulating real life. I get suspicious of any drama that doesn't feature any jokes, because even on the shittiest days of my life, I can recall joking around at least a little bit. Shit, the Road is about life after the apocalypse, and even it has a couple of jokes in it. Adventureland is a great comedy that is also a great movie, and that is pretty rare… I don't have much more to say about it other than "see it."
Away We Go - This is a fairly simple movie that is elevated by a number of good performances. While John Krasinski doesn't do much outside of his normal, he is really good at it so I don't have a problem with it. And as big of a fan as I am, I had no idea Maya Rudolph had this kind of a performance in her, as she is the anchor of the movie and does her job really well. The bit parts are also played perfectly, as both Alison Janney and Maggie Gyllenhaal are hilarious, and Chris Messina gets a great scene as well. Both Krasinski and Rudolph get a chance to show their abilities toward the end of the movie, and neither disappoints. I realize this is far from a great movie, and it is probably the worst of my choices, but something about it really gets to me, and I love it.
Fantastic Mr. Fox - See this movie immediately, for it is just massively enjoyable. It's hilarious, the stop motion is great, and Wes Anderson doesn't even have to tone down its Wes-ness. I'm not cussing with you, you need to see this movie.
Funny People - This was a decent movie that really should have been a million times better. It is very funny when it wants to be, and it is a great movie for as long as it deals with the friendship between Ira and George. The problem comes with another part of the plot, which totally derails the movie and forces us to literally watch the director's kid's ballet recital. Oh Judd, you'll make a great movie someday, I know it, but this one should have been it. I'm putting it on this list because what I liked about it, I liked a lot… It just so happens that it gets really bad at parts.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance in 500 Days of Summer was… incredibly believable. Maybe it was just the character, but he was flawless, and there were multiple situations in this movie where his reactions struck me as remarkably similar to how I would react in the same scenario. He is also the king of subtleties, of which this performance featured many. The people will learn he's not just the kid from 3rd Rock eventually, I'm sure of it. This is the best performance I saw all year, and second place isn't even close in my opinion.
However, Sam Rockwell absolutely dominated in Moon. It was a role that allowed for him to have a lot of fun, and he did just that. I loved the movie, and he is pretty much the only character in the movie, so he must have done his job well. The scenes where he is interacting with himself are incredibly entertaining, and as the conflict gets more intense, his performance never gets worse.
Martin Starr deserves a mention for his very small part in Adventureland. He probably had no more than five scenes, but there is one scene towards the end that he positively kills. Comedies like Adventureland hinge on one or two key scenes in order to be taken as more than just comedies, and the scene that relies on Starr is perfect, and it is all because of how he is able to convey his lines. Small roles can be pivotal, and Adventureland is as good as it is in large part because of Martin Starr.
In a movie I really didn't like, and playing a character type that I really hate, Zoe Saldana somehow made me really like her in Avatar. While "white messiah" movies are always a little painful in their treatment of the people that the hero has come to save, Saldana made Neytiri a legitimate character as opposed to merely just another racial stereotype. This however, is assuming she did a lot of motion capture for her role… otherwise I have to give Cameron and crew some credit, for the way Neytiri moved was a big part of me liking Saldana. Her movements really separated her from the rest of the Na'vi, allowing her to be much better than a role as a racial stereotype might generally allow.
Rachel Weisz in the Brothers Bloom was without a doubt the most adorable character I have ever seen in a movie. She is obviously gorgeous, but in playing the perpetually confused Penelope she was both cute and somehow identifiable. Like I mentioned in my last post, the main three actors are flawless in this movie, but I think Rachel Weisz was the best of them.
Finally, Carey Mulligan was pretty great in An Education. I love a shit-talking teenager as much as the next person, which she did throughout the movie, and when it was time for her to show some range, she did it well. I'm officially excited for her next role (well, whatever she happens to be in after the Wall Street sequel).
I may be biased because I've never seen a movie with a Nick Cave & Warren Ellis score that I didn't love, but their score for the Road was beautiful. Listening to it apart from the movie really brought the movie back into my mind, even more than a standard score does, and I think that's one of the better compliments you can give to a film score. Nathan Johnson's Brothers Bloom score deserves similar praise, but while the music in The Brothers Bloom features great themes, it isn't consistently great like the score for the Road is. Hans Zimmer's score for Sherlock Holmes deserves a mention as well, because it is really fun throughout.
A Serious Man was shot by Richard Deakins, who makes just about any movie he works on visually stunning. A Serious Man does not have many complicated setups, but there is something about the look of the movie that is perfect to me. There are multiple instances where the camera is actually tilted, and it doesn't just feel like a stylistic choice, but actually makes sense within the context of the story. What Deakins does with lighting is unbelievable by itself: for proof, watch the scene where Richard Kind's character opens the fridge in the middle of the night.
I love the look of digital video, and accordingly I loved the cinematography in Public Enemies (as I have for every Michael Mann movie since he started experimenting with it in Ali - it even makes Miami Vice watchable to me). I will more than likely do an extremely nerdy post about digital vs. film at some point in the future, because there is too much to touch on here. But for now just know I thought Public Enemies looked great and the visuals made up for a lot of the script's problems. So, credit to Dante Spinotti for making a biopic about the 1930s look modern.
Favourite Audio Edit
Yep, this is happening. I'm seriously picking out one audio edit to talk about. In the hippie dinner scene in Away We Go, the Stranglers' "Golden Brown" is playing throughout the scene, but once the argument kicks into high gear and Burt takes a stand, the volume of the music picks up and it goes from diegetic music to non-diegetic in about five seconds. While this is obviously not the first time this has been done, it really elevates the scene to have far more emotional impact than it may have otherwise, and I know at least for me it had a big effect.
Well kids, thanks for reading, and feel free to disagree with my choices below.