In honor of tonight’s Golden Globes win for James Cameron’s latest…
I really don’t get the people who say Avatar was the best film of 2009, some even saying the best movie ever? (SERIOUSLY!?) But that’s what’s great about motion pictures, and art in general.. everyone has their own interpretation and impression. And just to get your panties riled, here’s mine.
Avatar was a great moviewatching experience, probably one of the best yet (I watched it in IMAX 3D). But it certainly wasn’t a great movie. It was a typical White Guilt picture with a science fiction slant: a Dances with Wolves / Last Samurai/ District 9 meets Matrix / Apocrypha / Ferngully? Just the fact that this movie immediately brought so many other cinematic works to mind bothers me. The problem with a storyline like that is it leads little to the imagination. I thought the point of movies was to tell a riveting story, a virtual page-turner… but when you can already figure out whose gonna die and fall in love, how the underdogs are gonna win, and how it’ll all end, by the close of the first chapter, isn’t that a little… boring?
So this movie is really about the CGI, and unfortunately, that turns me off. It bothered me with George Lucas’ return to Star Wars, and it certainly doesn’t get any better with Avatar. The overwhelming use of computer graphics leaves the film feeling very distant and detached, like a 3-hour long video game. Personally, it’s hard for me to relate to characters who look and gesture like cartoons. I would have been much more happier with an actual Pixar film or actors wearing prosthetics. But maybe that’s just me.
Overall, it was a great ride. If you’re one of the 3 people left on Planet Earth who haven’t seen it, definitely watch this in the theater and in 3-D. This is an amusement park experience, a roller coaster, it’s fun and scintillating to watch. But I highly doubt it’ll impact your life viscerally in any way. And again, different people watch movies for different reasons, so maybe you just want a fun escape. Film is art to me, and the purpose of art is to make you think, feel, and potentially change. 5 minutes after you walk out that theater, you’ll be raving about how cool the big red bird looked, but the odds are you won’t be dissecting the protagonists’ dilemma or how you connected with the emotionally unstable girlfriend.
In the spirit of the Oscar race, in no particular order, these are my favorite movies from 2009. [Caveat: I have yet to see Zombieland, Bad Lieutenant, or A Single Man].
Up: Speaking of Pixar, this was their ’09 masterpiece. It’s not as good as 2008′s Wall-E but the silent montage chronicling a love story that opens the cartoon is one of the most masterful returns to vintage cinematic storytelling in recent memory. Plus, the 3-D on UP was waaay better than that other cartoon, Avatar.
Moon: Sam Rockwell has fast become my favorite actor (Ed Norton, Kevin Spacey, where art thou?) and this movie was his opus. For some reason, the public and critics alike seem to have overlooked this sci-fi thriller about a man isolated on the moon. It’s like an existential Spacey Odyssey 2001 subtitled with an eerie undertone,.. without being scary or jumpy.
500 Days of Summer: I fell for it. 500 Days is hipster formula and I drank the Kool-Aid. The anti-love story about the sweet but venomous girl-next-door is every indie music nerd’s fantasy, with a strategic soundtrack to boot. 2 things: this is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s turn to shine (not so much Zooey’s), and the romanticized homage to downtown Los Angeles leaves me inspired to learn more about our historical buildings. When was the last time a trendy coolguy movie did that?
The Watchmen: If there was ever a comic book movie to make, this one shouldn’t have been it. But somehow, Zack Snyder turned a story that was never supposed to hit the screen, into a strikingly good reality. I liked the comic, I did like the movie, and I now own it on Blu-Ray. The only thing that bothers me is how Watchmen’s original author Alan Moore was against the idea of his work being bastardized into film, but dude… Carla Gugino!
An Education: Peter Sarsgaard is like sun-dried tomatoes to me (I’m a sucker for any Italian dish with sun-dried tomatoes in it). This man can do no harm, and An Education was far from painful. The story follows a young high-school girl (Carey Mulligan) as she falls in love with a man twice her age (Sarsgaard), and is set in 1960s’ suburban London. The period piece is worth watching for the style and setting alone, it truly does a good job of transporting your time and reality to this charmed but troubled world. And for once, Sarsgaard is slightly outshined.. by the captivating Mulligan. (Oh yeah, Alfred Molina is up to his usual radness).
Adventureland: I love this awesome Kristen Stewart teen flick, and I’m not talking about vampires. This is your typical adolescent summer job movie but something about the recipe makes it pretty unforgettable. Adventureland epitomizes the ’80s without coming off campy or derived… it’s to the 1980s what Dazed & Confused was for the ’70s. I just don’t think these types of movies are done very well anymore, but Adventureland captures that nostalgia, and fills that void, succinctly.
Inglourious Basterds: It’s safe to say that Basterds was my favorite movie of 2009. I had zero expectations going into it, except for the opinion that although I like Tarantino movies, I don’t necessarily LOVE them. So let me just say that I was pleasantly surprised. If you don’t know about this movie, it’s your boilerplate WWII Nazi Germany storyline flipped on its head. For starters, the Nazis are the ones who are brutally and inhumanely tortured at the hands of a merciless American squadron, headed by an illustrious Brad Pitt. I love how the story compellingly weaves through chapters that stack to a sublime finish… but the character work shines brightest, largely in the hands of the inimitable Christopher Waltz (who plays the despicable Nazi leader Hans Landa). Waltz deserves all kinds of Oscars for his work in this movie, it’s the finest acting performance of 2009. I’ll say it again: It’s the finest acting performance of 2009.
Star Trek: As far as summer blockbusters go, Wolverine was an utter disappointment (FAIL) and all I remember aboutTransformers 2 was Megan Fox and explosions yeah, Megan Fox. Star Trek entered the fray amidst snarky jokes and eyebrows raised, but JJ Abrams pulled it off with the biggest upset of the year. THIS is a big-budget action movie with a sensible plotline (that reinvigorates the entire Trek franchise in a creative interpretation) and a dialed cast that mirrors history while establishing it’s own personality. All I know is that I want more.
Funny People (part 1): I write “Part 1″ because we really could’ve done without the latter end of Funny People. To me, the heart of this movie is over by the halfway mark, so it just kinda drags from there on out. That being said, it’s worth the Netflix drop just to watch Apatow frame a poignant story, stylistically shot, around a young comedian who copes with cancer. It’s a revealing look at comedy and its intimate dance with tragedy. The cast is beautifully rounded out by Adam Sandler, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, and Aziz Ansari and is familiar Apatow (dick and fart jokes) in unfamiliar territory.
State of Play: This movie was hardcore slept-on and I still can’t figure out why. On the surface, it’s a dynamic political thriller following a Congressman’s mistress’ death. Everyone right in it: Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman, Robin Wright, and even a tolerable Ben Affleck in one of his more easier-to-swallow roles. So yeah, it’s a lot of fun and worth the rental, but I dug it for it’s baseline commentary on newspaper demise and the rise of web journalism. I didn’t tell you that part first because you would’ve stopped reading there.
Up in the Air: Yes, good movie. Great? Maybe. It should’ve just been called The Anna Kendrick Show because the actress is so convincing in her role that it’s impossible to think that in real life, she’s anything but. (Clooney’s decent but he’s Danny Ocean per usual). Okay let’s get down to it, this film is all about the writing. Young writer/director Jason Reitman is brilliant with the wordplay and the script’s text is only outweighed by the subtext. But would you have expected anything less from the guy who brought us Juno?
Sin Nombre: A Salvadorean City of God with a Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) edge. That’s all I got to say about that.
Where the Wild Things Are: What’s with the snub, Golden Globes? I know it wasn’t a traditional motion picture, you know, the kind that wins box office big because of popular talent or a formulaic plot. But the story was adapted magnificently (a kids’ movie for adults) by Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers, it had Sendak’s blessings, the soundtrack was perfectly tailored, and Max Records makes you want to adopt him. Hmph, you’d think the Foreign Press would’ve loved the story of a white male invading a faraway land, becoming the king of its indigenous people, and saving them all.