Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Best Films of 2009 / Review: Up In The Air

I'd like to preface this year's list of my favorite films of 2009 by stating that I barely saw more than 10 movies altogether. Junk like Paranormal Activity and Bruno did not make the list, but my #10 movie was not very memorable for me at all. I do think it was a down year for movies overall but I just didn't have as much time (I'll call this the Becca factor) as in previous years to watch movies. Now that I have a Bluray player from my Mom, I plan on starting up the old Netflix queue again and will try to cut back on TV shows I follow to get in more movies watched in 2010. (I know I badmouthed Netflix a few months ago, but with the temptation of Bluray, I can't settle for low-def DVDs from Redbox anymore)

Without further ado, here is my personal 10-best for this year in reverse order as usual. This list may change (and I may end up revising my post) after I see some of the Oscar contenders over the next few months. These are all movies I have personally seen. Those of you who see holes in this list, keep in mind there are several critical faves that I haven't seen yet.

#10 - State Of Play - This flew under the radar all year and Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck weren't enough to drive the box office gross for this political thriller. It's a shame more people didn't see it as all who were involved gave great performances (including Rachel McAdams and Helen Mirren). The entire movie is set in DC so it was even more appealing for me. I thought Affleck's performance may be the career rejuvenating role he needed. We'll see.

#9 - Up - Pixar's yearly offering once again makes my top 10 but just barely. Up is not "up" to par compared with the preceding Pixar classics like Wall-E, Ratatouille and Cars. The visuals are phenomenal but the great story of the first act unravels into a ludicrous and wacky chase movie in the second half. Still better than all other animated movies this year.

#8 - I Love You Man - My bromance with Paul Rudd continues in this above average comedy. Jason Siegel and Rudd play off each other well as they develop their own bromance on-screen. I feel as if I have to go see every movie Paul Rudd is in just on principle.

#7 - Adventureland - My financial advisor hates this film but I thought it was one of the freshest and most realistic takes on the 1980's I've ever seen. From the spot-on soundtrack to the hairstyles and clothing, this is the 80's I remember. The acting is great all around and the story is both touching and humorous throughout. Read my review if you want to know more and please add this to your Netflix queue immediately.

#6 - Up In The Air - I just saw this movie earlier today so I'll post my full review in this spot on the list.

Jason Reitman does a fantastic job of depicting the modern road warrior in the monotonous world of air travel. George Clooney is a solid lock to win Best Actor with his performance as Ryan Bingham, a frequent flier who works for a corporation that send out their workforce to fire employees for other companies. Both Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick play off of Clooney in supporting roles as his love interest and co-worker respectively.

The interplay of all the characters throughout the film is very engaging and Reitman worked in some witty dialogue into a smart screenplay. All the pieces come together to form one of the year's best movies that seems to fall apart slightly at the end. While I do like that the ending is a bit ambiguous, the main plot twist towards the end is a gut shot that the audience never gets a chance to recover from.

Many critics are putting Up In The Air at the top of their year-end lists but I just don't think it's THAT good of a film. It's on-par with Reitman's last effort (Juno) and he does have a real shot at winning Best Director this year, thrusting the young director towards the top of the list of great filmmakers working today.
As for Best Picture, it's still the odds-on favorite right now but similar to Slumdog Millionaire last year, I think there are other more deserving films that are being overlooked. All in all, I give Up In The Air 4 out of 5 JRs. This is THE role that Clooney was born to play. Anyone who has experienced the grind of work travel will appreciate this even more.

#5 - Avatar - The more time that passes since I saw this movie, the more I think I may have underrated it. I really need to see this again in 3D sometime (and not at Midnight) to fully appreciate the technical and artistic achievement. This movie earns this spot on the list primarily because of the visual spectacle it is. EVERYONE needs to see Avatar in the theaters and in 3D. If you miss it and attempt to rent it on Bluray or *gasp* DVD (I'm already a snob), you're not experiencing James Cameron's full vision. I hope the Academy nominates this movie for Best Picture.

#4 - The Hangover - Hands down the funniest film of 2009. The sleeper comedic hit took audiences by storm and I managed to finally see it on video a few weeks ago. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis play off each other so well that you really believe the predicament they put themselves in during their Vegas romp. It's not surprising that a sequel has already been green lit. This is right up there with Oceans Eleven as the quintessential Las Vegas movie.

#3 - Star Trek - The master entertainer of the past decade managed to make an aging franchise fun and hip again. The reboot of Star Trek surpassed all expectations and is by-far my favorite Star Trek film overall. The casting of Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock may be the best Hollywood production decision of the millennium (take a minute and think about this statement and try to find an argument against it). The entire crew seems to be having fun throughout the movie and the pacing and action is good enough to make Star Trek THE action film of the year, completely trumping overblown disasters like Transformers 2.

#2 - Inglourious Basterds - Quentin Tarantino gives us the best dialogue of the year in this atypical WWII movie. Over-the-top violence combined with numerous funny exchanges help pepper the well-written script that sets into motion a series of events centered on the Basterds and their Jew-killing goals. Brad Pitt in the lead role is hilarious and the rest of the talented cast pitch in with solid performances (led by Best Supporting Actor front-runner Christoph Waltz). Any Tarantino fan (or just a fan of witty dialogue) should rent this immediately.

#1 - District 9 - The only 5-JR film of 2009 (only Benjamin Button in 2008 has also received a 5 rating) is a refreshing NEW concept in Science Fiction. The story of a group of refugee aliens living in Johannesburg, South Africa and infiltrated by a government organization is gripping from start to finish. Weta Digital and their technical wizards help make CGI characters seem real and allow them to be integral pieces of the plot. The documentary style look of the film adds to the realism and lifts Neil Blomkamp's masterpiece to the upper echelon of Sci Fi classics. I've begged and pleaded on this blog for you to see this movie. There's nothing more I can do. By a wide margin, this is the Best Picture of 2009 (and holding strong at #97 all-time at IMDB). A film I fear the Academy will completely ignore.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

DVD Review: Inglourious Basterds

Only Quentin Tarantino could take such a grizzly topic as the extermination of Jews in Nazi-occupied France during WWII and turn it into one of the funniest films of the year with a feel-good ending. Inglourious Basterds follows a group of American soldiers (the titular Basterds) led by Lt. Aldo Raine (played with a Tennessee drawl by the underrated Brad Pitt) who storm through the Third Reich, killing as many Nazis as possible. Pitt's character demands that his men get him 100 Nazi scalps each. The scalping process and other bursts of violence are classic Tarantino. If you've seen any of his earlier films (especially Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction), you'll know what to expect in the violence department.

What Tarantino adds to his trademark gore and over-the-top violence is a good dose of humor throughout. Christoph Waltz (portraying the main Nazi rival officer), Eli Roth (the director of Hostel and Cabin Fever) and Diane Kruger chip in to keep the film as light as a WWII movie could be. The film clocks in at just over 2.5 hours but the length gives Tarantino a chance to fully flesh out his scenes and utilize his talent for writing witty and engaging dialogue. The key scenes of the movie are played out in long takes that allow the main characters to interact and set up the scenes' climaxes well. In classic Tarantino style, the narrative is split throughout as the story passes between different moments in time and inter-connects amongst the key players of the film. The timeline allows Tarantino to explore a central story from multiple angles and the screenplay is extremely well written from top to bottom.

Tarantino gets some great performances out of his actors. Pitt is hilarious all the way through and turns in a funnier performance than Burn After Reading (especially nailing the scene near the end where he needs to go undercover as an Italian filmmaker). Weitz comes out of nowhere as a sharp adversary to the Basterds. His clever manner of interrogation and sleuthing as a Nazi officer dominates the scenes he's in.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. The opening half hour or so is very slow and I do think QT could have made a few cuts to get this thing closer to two hours. That being said, this is one of the best films of the year and earns 4.5 out of 5 JRs. Weitz will deservedly be nominated for Best Supporting Actor and I wouldn't mind seeing Tarantino earn another directing nod. This is probably his best work overall since Pulp Fiction. It's good to see a young director stay relevant and consistent through his career unlike what we've seen happen to a certain Sixth Sense director. The story in Basterds is far more engaging than what I just saw in Avatar. Perhaps James Cameron and Quentin Tarantino could collaborate on a 3D sci-fi adventure that might possibly become the greatest film ever made.