Thursday, March 11, 2010

Oscar Thoughts and Reactions

-The two best moments from before the ceremony both came courtesy of the Precious cast, but they were great moments for totally opposite reasons. The “good” great moment was from Precious herself, Gabourey Sidibe, who was bubbly, engaging, and clearly having a great time. When asked about her dress (which she looked great in:, she said “if fashion was porn, this dress would be the money shot.” That was obviously going to be the best quote of the night and the night hadn’t even started yet. The “bad” great moment came during the Barbara Walters Special, while she was interviewing Mo’Nique. When Walters asked her interviewee why she doesn’t shave her legs, Mo’Nique inexplicably hiked up her dress to show off the untamed jungles that she calls her shins. Walters literally looked like she was watching someone get stabbed to death; check it out at the 25-second mark of this clip:

-Between the stage setup and Neil Patrick Harris’ opening song and dance number, it seemed that this year’s producer (Adam Shankman—director of Hairspray) was going for a return to the 1930’s “backstage musical” style of showbiz. Speaking of the great NPH, he was clearly auditioning for next year’s hosting gig, right? I’m good with that as long as he leaves the sparkled tux at home.

-The blogosphere seemed pretty lukewarm on the Steve Martin/Alec Baldwin hosting duo, but I thought they did a good job. They’re no Billy Crystal, but I’d give them a solid B+. I thought they benefited from being able to banter with each other. They’re best moment: telling Christoph Waltz that he had hit the Jew-hunting “motherload” by being in the Oscar audience.

-I thought it was fascinating that in a few cases, the actors who presented the Best Picture nominees had starred in movies that directly competed for a nomination with them (and lost). For example, Chris Pine, star of Star Trek, presented the clip of District 9, the movie that likely killed Trek’s chance at a nomination. Colin Firth presented the clip of An Education, which likely stole many votes from his own A Single Man, and Jeff Bridges introduced A Serious Man, which might have received its nomination at the expense of Bridges’ Crazy Heart. It could have been pure coincidence, but an interesting one at the very least.

-Tina Fey and Robert Downey, Jr. were probably the best presenting duo of the night. It’s just too bad Fey’s dress came from the costume department of Tarzan.

-It’s sad that The Hurt Locker (a movie whose greatness came largely from its suspense, direction, and editing) and Precious (a movie that made its most direct impacts with acting and subject matter) won the two screenplay awards over Inglorious Basterds and Up in the Air, which were both built around some of the best dialogue of the year. I don’t mean to insinuate that the screenplays for The Hurt Locker and Precious were worthless, just that they were less impressive than the movies they beat.

-The John Hughes tribute was fantastic. It managed to do two things: remind you how memorable his movies were, and illustrate how many great actors got their start in his movies (and how many bad actors- yikes!).

-At every Oscar ceremony, there are inevitably a few categories that nobody cares about because they don’t understand them: the awards for animated, documentary, and live action short, and the awards for sound mixing and editing. This year’s ceremony created short videos explaining the importance of those categories prior to announcing their winners, which was very informative and helpful. And getting Morgan Freeman to narrate one of those short videos? Come on… now you’re just spoiling us!

-I saw Ben Stiller’s Avatar riff show up on lists for best moments of the show and worst moments of the show, so people definitely felt pretty strongly about it. I enjoyed it. Anything that makes James Cameron look uncomfortable is a plus.

-Is Best Make-Up a completely dead category? Typically, the nominees in this category created either impressive creature/horror effects (now done predominantly with CGI), or impressive aging/de-aging of actors (also now done predominantly with CGI). If you have to nominate The Young Victoria just to get to three nominees, it might be time to get rid of the category.

-I have mixed feelings on the moving of the honorary awards to a different night. On the one hand, it allows a lot more time and energy to be spent on those awards. More honor, if you will. But on the other hand, it robbed Roger Corman, creator of Attack of the Crab Monsters and Women in Cages, of his chance to give a speech at the Oscars.

-Mo’Nique’s decision to thank the Academy “for proving that it can be about the performance, not the politics” was by far the ballsiest acceptance speech quote of the night, but one that is totally justified. Too often, acting Oscars seem to be decided by a collective feeling of who should own an Oscar, rather than the nominated performance. This year, less so.

-On a night when people with no discernable acting talent like Taylor Lautner and Miley Cyrus were allowed to present at the Oscars, it was refreshing to see a real actress like Sigourney Weaver present Best Art Direction.

-Even though it was clearly only there to pander to ratings, the horror movie montage was nice. A genre unfairly ignored 98% of the time finally got its Oscar moment, and, as with the John Hughes tribute, it reminded us how many great actors have worked in the genre.

-Did the sound guy for The Hurt Locker steal Tom Cruise’s wig from Interview with the Vampire?

-Elizabeth Banks—definitely the best dress of the night: Yowsers!

-The decision to have an interpretive dance troupe perform the Best Original Score nominees was useful but poorly executed. On one hand, it was nice to hear the scores prior to the award so the audience has an immediate opinion on who should win. On the other hand, the dances, though impressive, were too long and way too bizarre. Let’s see a bit of fine-tuning on this segment for next year.

-When Star Trek won Best Make-Up, a snippet of its score was played, reminding me how good it was. Why wasn’t it nominated? Interestingly, the Star Trek score was by the same guy that won Best Score for Up—Michael Giacchino. Not a bad year.

-I enjoyed last year’s advent of having five past winners talk about the acting nominees, but it led to a few non-sequiters (why was Goldie Hawn talking about Taraji P. Henson?). This year kept that great idea but improved on it; instead of past winners, we had people with very personal connections to the nominees. It allowed Tim Robbins to honor his Shawshank Redemption co-star.

-The greatest “life imitates art” moment of the night was the revelation that Jeff Bridges was not only The Dude in The Big Lebowski, but he apparently is in real life as well, man. It’s too bad he didn’t come to The Oscars in a bathrobe and pajama pants.

-Have standing ovations jumped the shark? I counted at least four—for Mo’Nique, Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock, and Kathryn Bigelow. I’m good with the ovation for Bridges, a beloved actor from a beloved Hollywood family who’s had a great career and earned his first nomination a whopping 38 years ago. I’m also okay with the ovation for Bigelow, who became the first woman to ever win an Oscar for directing. But Mo’Nique and Sandra Bullock? Really? Standing ovations? Mo’Nique’s performance was phenomenal, but it’s really the only impressive thing she’s ever done. And I don’t care that Bullock’s been acting for twenty years… what’s her best movie? Seriously, what’s her best movie? Speed? Remember, a long career and a great career are not the same thing. Audiences at awards shows should be allowed only one standing ovation per night, except in very rare circumstances, when a second one can be permitted. This year Bridges should have gotten the one allotted ovation, and Bigelow received the “rare circumstance” ovation. For the record, here’s the complete list of current actors and directors that I would accept a standing ovation for, given their careers up to this point: Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Quentin Tarantino, Bill Murray, Michael Mann, Ridley Scott, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep (for when she eventually wins her third Oscar), George Clooney (for when he eventually becomes the only person to own Oscars for acting and directing) and whoever becomes the first African-American to win an Oscar for directing. That’s it. If you just throw them at anyone, they lose all meaning.

-I went 16/24 on my predictions. I missed one award (documentary short) because I knew nothing about the nominees and just guessed. I missed two awards where I predicted upsets that didn’t happen (original screenplay and lead actress), and I missed five awards that were genuine surprises that went against almost every prediction (adapted screenplay, cinematography, foreign film, sound editing, and sound mixing). Not bad, but not as well as i expected.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Oscar Preview and Predictions

Best Picture

An Education


The Blind Side

District 9

The Hurt Locker

Inglorious Basterds


A Serious Man


Up In The Air

Who Will Win? Put simply, I don’t know. Not only is this the first time in years that nobody has any idea what movie will walk away with the Best Picture Oscar, but the stakes and symbolism in the race are fascinating. Most everyone knows that the race is basically down to The Hurt Locker vs. Avatar, but that means it’s also effectively a race of art vs. commerce, the most expensive movie ever made vs. an indie film made on the cheap, a critical darling vs. a massive financial juggernaut, the way movies were made in the good old days vs. the way they’re about to be made, and, of course, James Cameron vs. Kathryn Bigelow, who, by the way, used to be married to each other. The fact that both movies were fantastic doesn’t make it any easier to try and predict, but I have a feeling The Hurt Locker will come out on top. However, there is an outside chance of an upset. Since going to ten nominees this year, voters no longer just pick one movie to vote for. Instead, the movies are ranked from 1-10, so if any movie manages to pick up an inordinate amount of second and third place votes, it could make a big difference.

Who Should Win? I picked The Hurt Locker as the year’s best, so I think it’s the one that deserves to walk away as the winner. But if Avatar wins, it won’t be a huge disappointment. Both movies will stand the test of time, and either one would be a well-regarded winner.

Who Got Screwed? Of the ten Best Picture nominees, eight of them also made my own top ten, so The Academy really did a pretty good job. While A Serious Man was #16 on my list, it was still a good movie made by some of the best filmmakers of the last few decades, so I really can’t moan too much about it’s inclusion. The Blind Side is the one that’s troubling. Every critic I like panned this movie to the extent that I couldn’t even justify spending the money on it, so I stayed away. But when critics are calling it things like “a Hallmark Card disguised as a movie,” and talking about how its message is abhorrent when juxtaposed with the message of Precious, I’m gonna guess it didn’t deserve a Best Picture nomination. If there were justice in the world, that slot would have gone to either (500) Days of Summer or A Single Man, two great and original movies by first time directors that I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more from. But in nominating The Blind Side, the Academy achieved the goal it had in mind when it expanded the Best Picture race from five movies to ten—if major box office hits get nominated, the public has a much greater interest in watching the Oscars. For the first time ever, five Best Picture nominees surpassed 100 million at the box office (Avatar, Inglorious Basterds, Up, District 9, and The Blind Side).

Best Director

Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker

James Cameron – Avatar

Lee Daniels – Precious

Jason Reitman – Up In The Air

Quentin Tarantino – Inglorious Basterds

Who Will Win? In keeping with the number of ways the Avatar vs. Hurt Locker debate continues to fascinate, consider this: James Cameron, a past winner, is up against Kathryn Bigelow, who could become the first woman to ever take home a directing Oscar. Even if Avatar pulls out a Best Picture win, I suspect Bigelow will win this category no matter what. I just don’t think the Academy will pass on the chance at a first ever female victor, especially one so deserving.

Who Should Win? Bigelow; in a movie with not much dialogue, very little score, and infrequent action, it was her talent behind the camera that made everything so perfect.

Who Got Screwed? Well, the five directors nominated were responsible for what I picked as the five best movies of the year. So it’s hard to say anyone was undeserving of their nomination. That being said, I would have liked Lee Daniels’ spot to have gone to either Marc Webb for (500) Days of Summer or Tom Ford for A Single Man. While I picked Precious as the overall better film, the acting is what made it so great. I feel like Webb and Ford were more directly responsible for the quality of their films than Daniels was for his.

Best Actor

Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart

George Clooney – Up In The Air

Colin Firth – A Single Man

Morgan Freeman – Invictus

Jeremy Renner – The Hurt Locker

Who Will Win? Jeff Bridges has it in the bag.

Who Should Win? Oscars for lead acting often come down to the same debate: do you reward only the nominated performance, or do you consider the career as well? It’s really a tough call, because I think Colin Firth gave the year’s best lead acting performance, but can I really say he should have an Oscar over Jeff Bridges? No, I can’t. Honestly, all five of these performances were strong enough to be conceivable winners, but being of sound mind and body, how could anyone root against The Dude?

Who Got Screwed? Actually, no one. I really think the five most deserving performances received nominations. Sharlto Copley has the most right to wish there were six nominees, as his work in District 9 was outstanding, while Daniel Day Lewis (Nine), Sam Rockwell (Moon), and Viggo Mortensen (The Road) all turned in their usual great work, but none quite deserved to break into the top five.

Best Actress

Sandra Bullock – The Blind Side

Helen Mirren – The Last Station

Carey Mulligan – An Education

Gabourey Sidibe – Precious

Meryl Streep – Julie & Julia

Who Will Win? The race seems to be either a third Oscar for Streep (who last won for 1982’s Sophie’s Choice) or a first Oscar for Bullock, who’s never been nominated before. All of the talking heads on the Internet seem to think Bullock will pull it out because she won the SAG award, but I don’t place any credence in that. Remember, Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Pamela Anderson all have SAG cards and can vote for the awards. For all we know, the four of them have a party every year where they get drunk, do a few lines of blow, and then fill out their SAG ballots. Fact #1: Meryl Streep has been nominated for sixteen acting Oscars, far more than anyone else, male or female. Fact #2: Streep is currently riding a 27-year/11-nomination losing streak. Sooner or later, she’s getting a third Oscar, and I think it’s going to be sooner. Like, Sunday night sooner.

Who Should Win? As previously stated, I haven’t seen The Blind Side, but I’ve always thought Bullock was a shitty actress, so I don’t suspect she deserves an Oscar all of the sudden just because she dyed her hair and played a rich WASP instead of someone’s ditzy love interest. And honestly, I don’t think Streep deserves to win either (unless we’re rewarding her career more than her performance); Julie & Julia was a perfectly fine movie, but I thought Streep’s acting was a bit too much of a straight up impersonation, without any real feeling of her own. The other three nominees, though, were all great. It’s a tough call who’s most deserving because Sidibe was so vulnerable in Precious and Mirren, always great, perfectly straddled being loving and caring with being plotting and hysterical as Leo Tolstoy’s wife, the Countess Sofya, in The Last Station. But my vote would go to Carey Mulligan for her star turn in An Education. For the audience to feel involved in her dilemma, we have to buy into her intelligence as a woman, while simultaneously understanding her naiveté as a girl. It’s a hard combo to pull off, but Mulligan did it perfectly.

Who Got Screwed? Emily Blunt was wonderful as the titular character in The Young Victoria, and probably should have received the nomination that went to Bullock. And while I don’t necessarily think she should have been nominated, was I the only person who thought Amy Adams was just as good as Streep in Julie & Julia?

Best Supporting Actor

Matt Damon – Invictus

Woody Harrelson – The Messenger

Christopher Plummer – The Last Station

Stanley Tucci – The Lovely Bones

Christopher Waltz – Inglorious Basterds

Who Will Win? Anyone not named Christopher Waltz is just happy to be at the ceremony. And with Waltz’s victory, that will make three straight years that this award has gone to one of the greatest movie villains in memory. Javier Bardem won two years ago for his terrifying Anton Chigurgh in No Country For Old Men, while the late Heath Ledger posthumously earned the award last year for his psychotic Joker.

Who Should Win? Waltz. The quadri-lingual Hans Landa is a fine addition to the recent trend of this Award going to the year’s best villain. However, The Messenger never came to Indianapolis, so I haven’t seen Harrelson’s performance, which some people believe may have a shot at pulling off an upset.

Who Got Screwed? It seems that every year, this is the most difficult category to whittle down to five names. Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker), Alfred Molina (An Education), and Jim Broadbent (The Young Victoria) were all in contention, and I didn’t even see Christian McKay’s well-regarded turn as the title character in Me & Orson Welles. But I can really only be upset about one performance not making the final cut: Brad Pitt, as Lt. Aldo Raine, leader of the Basterds, stole every scene, and indeed, every line, that he was given. No good actor gets less respect for his talents than Pitt, who has worked hard to rank among the best of his generation.

Best Supporting Actress

Penelope Cruz – Nine

Vera Farmiga – Up In The Air

Maggie Gyllenhaal – Crazy Heart

Anna Kendrick – Up In The Air

Mo’Nique – Precious

Who Will Win? If Mo’Nique walks away empty handed, it would be the biggest shock of the night.

Who Should Win? Much as I loved Anna Kendrick as Up in the Air’s neurotic Natalie, and think that she could have won in most other years, nobody compares to Mo’Nique, whose performance is like watching molten lava erupt out of a volcano.

Who Got Screwed? I love me some Penelope Cruz, and I couldn’t take my eyes off her in Nine, but the ogling was less because of her performance, and more because her costume design looked like it came from Frederick’s of Hollywood’s spring catalogue. There was nothing wrong with her acting, but the sex appeal was what stood out, and, last I checked, Oscar nominations weren’t supposed to be doled out for sex appeal. I would have given her slot to Melanie Laurent’s performance as Shosanna, the revenge seeking French Jew who watched her family get slaughtered in Inglorious Basterds (the scene where she has strudel and a glass of milk with Col. Landa at the French café was absolutely terrifying). I also felt like Maggie Gyllenhaal, though good, was slightly less deserving than Julianne Moore (A Single Man), or, much as it pains me to admit it, Mariah Carey’s turn as a Jewish social worker in Precious.

Best Original Screenplay

The Hurt Locker – Mark Boal

Inglorious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino

The Messenger – Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman

A Serious Man – Joel & Ethan Coen

Up – Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, & Tom McCarthy

Who Will Win? It’s firmly between Boal and Tarantino, but I just can’t imagine Tarantino losing this award. Boal did a fine job, but the Hurt Locker simply isn’t a movie where the dialogue stands out.

Who Should Win? Inglorious Basterds, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of movie where the dialogue stands out. Tarantino should be walking away with his second screenplay Oscar (Pulp Fiction was the first).

Who Got Screwed? It’s unfathomable to me that (500) Days of Summer wasn’t nominated. It was more deserving than anything other than Basterds, so take your pick what it should have knocked out—I would say A Serious Man.

Best Adapted Screenplay

An Education – Nick Hornby

District 9 – Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell

In The Loop – Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, & Tony


Precious – Geoffrey Fletcher

Up In The Air – Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner

Who Will Win? Up in the Air has won this category at every single awards ceremony this season, so don’t expect the Oscars to be any different.

Who Should Win? Air is probably most deserving, but it’s a shame that means Nick Hornby’s great treatment of An Education will go home empty handed. Its dialogue exchanges about the purpose and struggle for a great education were remarkably well handled.

Who Got Screwed? This is probably the right five, although A Single Man and Crazy Heart could have easily been included as well.

Best Animated Feature


Fantastic Mr. Fox

The Princess And The Frog

The Secret Of Kells


Of course Up is still the shoo-in, but it’s refreshing to see a Pixar film finally compete against some decent competition. Pixar’s dominance, though, is staggering. I recently saw a funny “fake poster” for Up in which the tagline read “Suck it Dreamworks! This shit comes to us in our sleep!” Sad but true: Pixar just makes it look too easy.

Best Foreign Language Film


The Milk Of Sorrow

Un Prophete

El Secreto De Sus Ojos

The White Ribbon

Sadly the only one of these that has found it’s way to Indianapolis so far is The White Ribbon, which was masterful, but also a bit trying to get through. Its French director, Michael Haneke, is surely this era’s Michelangelo Antonioni, a filmmaker who thrives on the systematic alienation of his viewers. Even though Ribbon was the big winner at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, I don’t suspect Oscar voters will think so highly of it. Instead, I expect the French prison drama Un Prophete to walk away the winner. Having garnered extraordinary early reviews, I’m looking forward to it’s opening here in a few weeks.

Best Documentary

Burma VJ

The Cove

Food, Inc.

The Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg And The Pentagon


Which Way Home

I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t seen any of these, but I can tell you the winner will be either The Cove or Food, Inc. I suppose it just depends on what moves people more: being afraid of what they’re eating, or the slaughter of dolphins. Bet on the dolphins, and The Cove.

Best Art Direction


The Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus


Sherlock Holmes

The Young Victoria

In most of the technical categories, I’m expecting an Avatar sweep, and art direction is no different. The deserved winner, though, is probably Imaginarium. Directed by Terry Gilliam (Brazil, 12 Monkeys, Monty Python), the movie was only average, but the visuals were extraordinary. Plus, Tom Waits played the devil.

Best Cinematography


Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince

The Hurt Locker

Inglorious Basterds

The White Ribbon

I’m so irate that A Single Man was snubbed that I can’t even rationally think about this category. I suppose The Hurt Locker will and probably should win, but I just can’t get myself enthused about a cinematography race in which one of the most beautifully filmed movies of the decade won’t be in competition. Just look at these images:

Best Costume Design

Bright Star

Coco Before Chanel

The Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus


The Young Victoria

First off, the absence of Where the Wild Things Are from this category should warrant an FBI investigation. Both Nine’s Colleen Atwood and Victoria’s Sandy Powell have been nominated quite a few times and won twice, so I would expect their dominance to continue. This award usually goes to a period drama, so I’m picking Powell. But I’m a little disheartened that the velvet pimp suits and polyester shirts showcased in Black Dynamite didn’t get no love.

Best Editing


District 9

The Hurt Locker

Inglorious Basterds


In a category where pacing and the building of suspense mean the most, it should be down to The Hurt Locker’s Bob Murawski (The Spider-Man trilogy) vs. Basterds’ Sally Menke (veteran of every other Tarantino film). Neither has ever won, and both are deserving, but I’d give the slight edge to Murawski for The Hurt Locker. The big snubee was Alan Edward Bell, who, with (500) Days of Summer, helped piece together a chronology inspired by memory and emotion.

Best Makeup

Il Divo

Star Trek

The Young Victoria

Ummm… Star Trek, I guess? Pretty lame category this year if making Spock’s ears go all pointy is all it takes to win an Oscar.

Best Original Score


Fantastic Mr. Fox

The Hurt Locker

Sherlock Holmes


I’m shocked to see The Hurt Locker here because I actually thought the movie didn’t have a score. Not only can I not recall a single time music was playing, but I actually thought the lack of music was an inspired artistic decision. Needless to say, it shouldn’t be winning. And Avatar’s score distinguished itself to me only for being soooo similar to the Titanic score (both were by James Horner) that I was legitimately horrified at the thought of Celine Dion’s voice showing up at some point, which might have inspired me to gauge out my own eye. Of the remaining nominees, I suppose Up is the most deserving, and will probably win. But, I thought the year’s best score (in an admittedly weak year for the category) was for A Single Man. You can hear the gist of it in the previous link (under the cinematography section) to its trailer.

Best Original Song

“Almost There” – Randy Newman (The Princess And The Frog)

“Down In New Orleans” – Randy Newman (The Princess And The Frog)

“Loin De Paname” – Reinhardt Wagner & Frank Thomas (Paris 36)

“Take It All” – Maury Yeston (Nine)

“The Weary Kind” – Ryan Bingham & T Bone Burnett (Crazy Heart)

The only new song in Nine was completely unmemorable, and the two Randy Newman songs should cancel each other out (though “Down in New Orleans” is by far better). The Paris 36 number is a fun, Moulin Rouge style song, but it has no chance at beating out the phenomenal “The Weary Kind.” Really, the big surprise in this category is that songs from Crazy Heart didn’t take up all five nominations. The movie had enough great music, and its worst song was better than any of the other nominees. With only one nomination, though, it should dominate the vote. It’s unfortunate that the song nominees won’t be performed at this year’s ceremony, as Jeff Bridges sang and played the song himself, and could have just as easily done so at the Oscars. It’s a song so good that it deserves exposure to the wide audience that the Oscar telecast could have given it. Check it out at

Best Sound Editing & Best Sound Mixing


The Hurt Locker

Inglorious Basterds

Star Trek

Up/Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen

Two categories that I know nothing about, except that I expect Avatar to win them both.

Best Visual Effects


District 9

Star Trek

Again, it’s gotta be Avatar.

Best Animated Short

French Roast

Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty

The Lady And The Reaper


A Matter Of Loaf And Death

I’ve actually seen all five of these, and I’m pleased to say that all five were really good. Some people think A Matter of Loaf and Death will win because it’s a “Wallace and Gromit” movie, and therefore has a built-in fan base. But I just don’t see how anything could beat Logorama, the year’s most original vision. Who knows how long this will last before it gets taken down due to copyright violation, but here’s part A:

And part B:

Best Live Action Short

The Door

Instead Of Abracadabra


Miracle Fish

The New Tenants

Again, I’ve seen all five of these! Kavi, about modern-day slavery in India, was like a Red Cross commercial with better production values. Abracadabra, about an awkward aspiring magician in Sweden, was funny but forgettable. Miracle Fish sucked. The Door, about the Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine, was moving, but for me, The New Tenants has to be the winner. Chronicling the bizarre first day a gay couple spends in their new NYC apartment, Tenants is funny, surprising, moving, and the only movie of the year in which someone mistakes a kilo of heroin for a bag of flour.

Best Documentary Short

China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears Of Sichuan Province

The Last Campaign Of Governor Booth Gardner

The Last Truck: Closing Of A GM Plant

Music By Prudence

Rabbit A La Berlin

Sorry, haven’t seen any of these and don’t know anything about them. But the one about the GM plant sounds interesting… I bet it’ll win.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Third Man’s Top 30 Movies of 2009

Disclaimer: The Messenger never came to Indianapolis, Un Prophete doesn’t start here for another two weeks, and Broken Embraces, Me and Orson Welles, Ponyo, Brothers, and The Lovely Bones I missed in theatres (sorry, but trying to see EVERY movie is difficult, time consuming, and pricey; something always has to give). It’s possible that one or more of those films may have factored into this list had I seen them.

Warning: I’ve tried to avoid completely giving away any endings, but, nevertheless, plot spoilers run rampant in many of the following critiques.

Group A: The Great Movies

1. The Hurt Locker – Directed By Kathryn Bigelow

Perhaps more than any other reason, The Hurt Locker is the best movie of 2009 precisely because it doesn’t feel like it came out in 2009. Sure, it takes place in the current climate of the Iraq War, and it absolutely utilizes the best of modern-day production values, but, aesthetically speaking, it feels more like a product of the 1970’s heyday that has come to be known as the “The Film School Generation.” Amidst all of today’s hyper-speed ADD moviemaking, The Hurt Locker, which is constructed entirely around only ten scenes, takes its time drawing you in. Hitchcock famously once said “if you see a bomb under the table and it goes off, that’s action; if you see a bomb under the table and it doesn’t go off, that’s suspense.” Because there’s the proverbial bomb under the table during almost every minute of The Hurt Locker, the suspense is pretty palpable. Using long takes, stretches with very little dialogue, and almost no score, Kathryn Bigelow and her editing team crafted a movie that you simply can’t take your eyes off of. But just as compelling as the movie’s craft is its study of character, particularly in Jeremy Renner’s Sgt. William James. I have always believed that the meaning of life is to find out exactly what creates and/or provides meaning in your life, and then pursue that with all the zeal you can muster (provided it doesn’t infringe on the autonomy of others and yadda yadda—I’m trying not to turn this into a philosophical discussion); The Hurt Locker, then, is a film about a seriously crazy son of a bitch who may be less crazy than he seems… because he’s figured out the meaning of his life. Sgt. James gets out of bed and puts his pants on in the morning just so he has the pleasure of diffusing bombs that might kill him. He’s even in the habit of keeping the detonator switches of the bombs that really impress him—much the same way I keep an album of concert tickets. The Sgt.’s attempt (or lack thereof) to suppress this aspect of himself makes for a compelling story, and the movie’s final shot will go down as one of the classics. This movie will be remembered and studied for years to come.

2. Inglorious Basterds – Directed By Quentin Tarantino

Allow me to get this off my chest: I had to spend a significant amount of time talking myself out of putting this at #1. While I finally settled on Inglorious Basterds not quite being the best movie of the year, it was definitely my favorite movie of the year. Why did I like it so much? Well, to start with, it’s a movie featuring an alternate history in which WWII was won by American Jews and French film geeks; as I represent both of those groups, it sort of felt like this movie was made especially for me—it allowed me to be the action hero that real life (and genetics) has cruelly denied me. But beyond how much Basterds obviously catered to my own small demographic, it is still undoubtedly a great movie. Howard Hawks, one of the greatest filmmakers of Hollywood’s golden age, once said that the mark of a great movie was to have three great scenes and no bad ones. While that statement does oversimplify things a bit, it’s still an extremely useful idea as a sort of “great movie barometer,” as in, if a movie doesn’t have three great scenes, or does have a dud in there, then a burden of proof may exist on behalf of anyone arguing said movie’s greatness. Basterds, though, fits Hawks’ ruling perfectly. No scene was less than very good, while three of them stood out as true classics—the opening interrogation at the French dairy farm, the basement shootout (“fighting in a basement presents certain disadvantages, number one being, you’re fighting in a basement.”), and the reveal of the Basterds’ prowess with the Italian language when they arrive at the climactic movie premiere. And like all Tarantino movies, a great soundtrack (pilfered from vinyl dollar bins and old Ennio Morricone scores), fantastic camera work with some truly memorable individual shots, and heroes and villains so classic they’ve already entered the cultural consciousness are all standard fare. Much ado has been made of Tarantino’s decision to blatantly rewrite history (major spoiler: Hitler doesn’t die by his own hand in the movie), and while it never bothered me, I now feel very strongly about it as an artistic choice after recently revisiting the great 2007 film Atonement. That film ends with the reveal of a character having rewritten history to give long dead people the proper ending they never received in life. While it may not have even been intentional on his part, I feel that Quentin Tarantino has given the Jews that proper ending they never got the first time around; the chance to be the heroes, to end WWII themselves, and to kill Hitler before he could do it himself. No matter how fake the reality, there is serious value in the creation of that feeling. So why did I talk myself out of ranking Basterds number one? Because even though I love it all, I recognize that the film’s violence, absurdity, and stylistic arrogance may turn off some viewers, while The Hurt Locker is just classic filmmaking through and through. (Side tangent: I really think Howard Hawks would have liked Tarantino’s movies had he lived long enough to see one of them. They both place an emphasis on great dialogue as the foundation of great cinema. Tarantino even cited Hawks’ His Girl Friday as one of his own favorites in a 2002 poll.)

3. Up In The Air – Directed By Jason Reitman

In 2009’s only great movie about the world we live in right now, George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham, a loner employed by a soulless corporation to spend more than 300 days a year traveling from place to place for the sole purpose of informing people they’re fired, just so their own bosses don’t have to bother with it themselves. Not only does Bingham feel his job has real value to people—he helps them “transition” into a new life in which a fresh start will help them find their inner nirvana—it’s also speedily helping him reach his own life’s goal of earning ten million frequent flier miles (“more people have walked on the moon than have hit that number,” he tells us). But even though he believes himself to be the most streamlined of people, having disposed with any object or relationship that he didn’t need, Bingham becomes a metaphor for the lack of meaningful personal interaction in today’s overly digitized, on-the-go business world. He’s against the idea by fresh college grad Natalie (Anna Kendrick, in a subtly powerful performance) to start firing people via web-link, citing the need these people have for the personal touch that he can provide, but he doesn’t allow that personal touch to permeate his own existence. Only when he meets Vera Farmiga’s Alex does he begin to reevaluate himself. Three movies in (Thank You for Smoking and Juno were the first two), Jason Reitman—son of Ghostbusters director Ivan—has proven himself to be one of the best directors of the new century, and he’s gotten a little bit better and more self-assured with each movie. Working from a script he co-wrote, Reitman drew out the best acting of Clooney and Farmiga’s careers, pieced together a great soundtrack that improves the scenes without overwhelming them, and created the best opening credits sequence in recent memory—the kind that’s so good it makes you love the movie before it’s really even began.

4. Avatar – Directed By James Cameron

The first time I saw Avatar was a 7pm show on opening night, Friday, December 18th, and the theatre was maybe 30% full. I saw Avatar a second time exactly thirty days later, a Sunday afternoon show on January 17th, and I ended up in the far back corner of a sold out show. How many movies can do that? How many movies anymore feel like true cultural events? I understand the complaints levied against James Cameron’s futuristic epic—it removes the human element of moviemaking; it’s too preachy in its politics and messages; it’s about the white man rescuing a technologically inferior native culture; it’s a blatant remake of Dances With Wolves/Pocahontas/Fern Gully. People don’t realize, but similar complaints were levied against Star Wars back in ’77: it was racist, Mark Hammill couldn’t act, its plot was stolen from old Kurosawa samurai movies, etc. But Star Wars overcame these complaints by combining a classic hero myth with cutting edge special effects that captured the imaginations of audiences all over the world. It’s easy for people to scoff at the notion of comparing Avatar to Star Wars, but why? Visually, Avatar is every bit as groundbreaking. The CGI is so good at times that I literally lost the realization I was watching CGI. And even though I disagree with James Cameron that his motion capture techniques will be the future of acting, they are undeniably mesmerizing to watch. The only major thing that Star Wars did better than Avatar was its creation of a true mythology. With Avatar, you basically feel like you’re brought in at the beginning of the story, or at least as much of the beginning as you care about seeing. Part of the genius of Star Wars was the idea that it brought you in at the middle. There was a history there that Avatar didn’t manage to create in the same way. I was a bit frustrated at some of the minor thefts—a speech that hero Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) gives towards the end of the movie to unite the tribes felt like a word for word swiping of the “they can never take our freedom!” speech from Braveheart, and the climactic fight against the villain in the robot armor suit was so much like the end of Cameron’s own Aliens that I was legitimately expecting one of the characters to shout “get away from her you bitch!” But the biggest reason I have Avatar ranked 4th is that even though it feels bigger than any of the movies in the top three, it’s less of a complete work in the sense that it doesn’t draw strength from every avenue of filmmaking the way the top three do. Things like dialogue, acting, and music, while not awful, are certainly not Avatar’s best qualities. Ultimately for me, the importance of Avatar boils down to one thing: in 2005, in his review of Peter Jackson’s King Kong, Roger Ebert said “This is the kind of movie that makes people fall in love with going to the movies.” That’s what Avatar is—a movie that will make people fall in love with seeing movies, whether all over again, or for the first time.

5. Precious – Directed By Lee Daniels

I truly believe that great movies can influence who we are, and the best movies can even change our lives. Precious is that kind of movie. The story of Precious (newcomer Gabourey Sidibe), a barely literate sixteen year-old girl living in Harlem in 1987 who was recently impregnated by her own father for the second time and gets routinely mentally and physically abused by her own mother, this movie really makes you feel with a capital F. It’s a story about how important it is to just be polite, to not only value people but to make them feel valued. While Sidibe is great as Precious, it’s Mo’Nique’s performance as her mother, Mary, that must rank as the year’s very best. For the first half of the movie, Mary is basically the antichrist, even going so far as to throw a TV at Precious and her newborn baby. But in the tearjerking climax, Mo’Nique’s jaw-dropping performance creates sympathy for her evil character even while it’s revealed that she knew her husband was raping Precious. The word powerful gets thrown around too often when describing movies, but no word could be more appropriate for Mo’Nique’s towering performance. A minor quibble: why was the movie set in 1987? Even if that’s when the book took place, the movie should have been moved to a contemporary setting. A period piece creates the subliminal perception that “this happened then, not now,” but people need to realize this sort of thing is still happening every day. So why is Precious stuck in fifth place? The top three movies on this list manage to simultaneously exist as both great art and great entertainment. Precious is not entertainment. I will likely never want to see it again, but I will just as likely never forget it.

6. (500) Days Of Summer – Directed By Marc Webb

An idiosyncratic comedy about getting over a love that never attainably existed, (500) Days of Summer is akin to Annie Hall for the Facebook hipster generation. Marc Webb (a music video veteran directing his first feature) draws on a wide range of styles and methods of moviemaking, using flashback, split screen, dance ensemble, animation, black and white, non-linear chronology, and differing points of view. What Summer does so successfully is create a feeling. I’ve long admired Almost Famous for so successfully recreating what it feels like to be in love with music. In that same vein, Summer perfectly captures what it feels like to be in love with someone that almost, nearly, just about… doesn’t quite love you back. Two scenes stand out as being perfect: the first, “best day ever” starts as Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Tom walks to work for the first time after getting in Summer’s pants. The happy-go-lucky stroll progresses from a few winks and high fives into a full blown song and dance number with what feels like the entire city congratulating him for getting laid, while Hall & Oates belt out “you make my dreams come true!” The second great scene chronicles two different versions of the day Tom believes he’s going to win Summer back. Done in split screen, the left side of the screen shows us how the evening would play out in Tom’s mind, while the right side of the screen is simultaneously revealing what really happened. Needless to say, the two halves of the screen are not symmetrical. With a fantastic soundtrack, plenty of funny moments, and winning performances from the stars (Zooey Decshanel plays Summer almost too well), (500) Days of Summer is the year’s best love story… except it’s not a love story. As the movie’s tagline tells us, it’s a story about love. Amen.

7. A Single Man – Directed By Tom Ford

The debut film by the world’s leading men’s fashion designer, you will never see a better looking movie. Every single shot and every single frame look like they were taken from a Vanity Fair photo spread. Colin Firth plays George Falconer, a British homosexual working as a college professor in 1962 Los Angeles. George’s lover of sixteen years perished in a car accident eight months ago, and after trying during that time to still view his life as worth living, he no longer sees the point. Chronicling, from start to finish, the day George has decided to end with his own suicide, A Single Man takes place almost entirely within George’s emotions. Subtly conveying everything he feels without ever completely letting his emotions boil over, Colin Firth gives the best lead acting performance of the year. The moment you realize how good he is comes during flashback, when George is informed via telephone call that his lover has just died. George doesn’t collapse in tears and screams, but rather looks like he can barely breathe. You can see it in his throat. Good supporting work is provided by best friend/fellow ex-patriot Charley (Julianne Moore) and bi-curious student Kenny (Nicholas Hoult—the nerdy kid from 2001’s About a Boy—all grown up and looking like a Calvin Klein model). Interviewed recently on Oprah, Tom Ford was asked about his motivations to go from fashion design to filmmaking. Fashion is fickle and ever changing, Ford explained, and even though it will always be his first love, he longed to create something permanent that could still be appreciated over time. He has.

Group B: The Very Good Movies

8. An Education – Directed By Lone Scherfig

In a movie about the ultimate value and purpose of a great education, Carey Mulligan turns in a powerful breakout performance as sixteen year-old Jenny, a bright young girl living in pre-Beatles London, 1961. Jenny is studying to get into Oxford, where she’ll be able to fully explore her love of jazz, great art, and great literature. But when a charming and wealthy older man named David (Peter Sarsgaard) begins seducing Jenny, she realizes she can live the life she’s dreamed of with him, and skip all of the hard work in between. Adapted by British novelist Nick Hornby (High Fidelity) from the memoirs of a noted journalist, An Education is a wonderful and thought-provoking film that features great supporting performances by Alfred Molina (Jenny’s father) and Emma Thompson (headmistress at Jenny’s school).

9. Up – Directed By Pete Docter

The latest in what is starting to feel like an assembly line of masterpieces from Pixar, Up is the story of a cranky old widower ready to go on his last great adventure. Like 2008’s Wall-E, all of the emotional complexity and beauty is packed into the first 15 minutes and then the fun really kicks in. Similar to The Hurt Locker, Up is a story about figuring out what creates meaning in your life, even if your wife has just passed away and it feels that your life no longer has any meaning. Featuring an army of talking dogs hunting exotic birds, a flying house touching down on a waterfall, a climactic confrontation on an air ship, and a heartbreaking four minute montage chronicling the entirety of a decades long relationship, Up is not to be missed.

10. District 9 – Directed By Neill Blomkamp

Using sci-fi and aliens to tell an edge of your seat apartheid parable, South African director Neill Blomkamp (guided by producer Peter Jackson) submitted a truly original vision. Sharlto Copley, one of the year’s best new acting discoveries, plays Wikus, a guy who normally sits behind a desk and is suddenly placed in charge of moving Johannesburg’s stranded alien visitors into a shabbily constructed camp meant to house them. After accidental exposure to an unknown substance, Wikus slowly begins to see the aliens’ viewpoint, quite literally. Feeling more like a fall drama than a summer action movie, District 9 is an exciting debut by a great new talent.

11. Star Trek – Directed By J.J. Abrams

In an effort to reboot the franchise, the plot of J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek was so blatantly stolen from the original Star Wars that during a scene with a young Kirk staring off in the distance at the construction of a new starship (The U.S.S. Enterprise, of course), they might as well have used archival footage of Luke Skywalker gazing at the twin suns of Tatooine. But if you can look past such an egregious theft, Star Trek is probably the most purely entertaining movie of the year. With great dialogue similar to what made Casino Royale such a successful reboot of the Bond franchise, strong character work, a brisk pace that barely scratches the two hour mark, and good CGI that never overwhelms the story, Star Trek is a nearly perfect popcorn flick. Best of all, though, is Chris Pine as the young Captain Kirk. It’s refreshing to see Hollywood finally get it right and give us a great young action star after so many years of getting it wrong (does anyone else remember a metro-sexual Orlando Bloom trying to carry Kingdom of Heaven?). Combining the rugged masculinity and swagger of Steve McQueen with the “how the hell did I get into this” everyman quality that Harrison Ford had a PhD in, Chris Pine proves to be the rare actor that can bring “star power” without actually being a star first. Take care of him Hollywood, he’s the real deal.

12. Crazy Heart – Directed By Scott Cooper

As Bad Blake, a journeyman country singer who’s seen better days, Jeff Bridges has found his best role since playing The Dude in the 1998 Coen Brothers classic The Big Lebowski. Relegated to playing gigs in bowling alleys, Blake spends more time drunk these days than trying to write new music, but meeting a young journalist played by Maggie Gyllenhaal inspires him to change his ways. With fantastic original songs written by T Bone Burnett (who also handled production of the soundtrack) and Ryan Bingham, the beautiful music is one of the best elements of the movie. The other, of course, is Bridges’ performance. To me, the best moment of the movie is when Bad Blake says to Gyllenhaal’s character, with genuine vulnerability, “I feel I oughtta apologize for bein’ less than you probably imagined me to be.” The amount of truth and pain in a statement like that is heartbreaking.

13. Logorama – Directed By H5

Is it possible that the most wholly original movie of the decade could be a sixteen minute animated short film? The last time I saw a movie that truly reminded me of NOTHING I had ever seen was over ten years ago with Being John Malkovich. Created by the French collective known only as H5, Logorama takes us to an alternate Los Angeles in which every single person, building, vehicle, tree, and object is an easily recognizable corporate logo. We are then given a short crime story in which Ronald McDonald holds Big Boy, Mr. Peanut, and the Pillsbury Doughboy hostage inside a Pizza Hut, while the Michelin Man police force attempts a rescue operation. Of course, a shootout occurs. And then an earthquake. The most amazing thing about Logorama has to be the legality of its existence. Ronald McDonald firing a machine gun while shouting “Die you fucking pigs?” Mr. Clean as a flamboyantly gay tour guide? Big Boy saying that the zoo “sucks balls?” The Jolly Green Giant with his jolly green dick barely covered up by a “parental advisory: explicit content” logo? How were these companies okay with this?!? I’ve sought an explanation on the internet but have come up empty. Not only is Logorama absurdly original and quite ridiculous, but the ending also plays with big themes and ideas. I have no idea if this will ever exist on DVD, but if it does, add it to your Netflix queue. You won’t be disappointed.

14. Moon – Directed By Duncan Jones

A minimalist Indie sci-fi flick about a remote engineer stationed on the moon discovering he may not really exist, Moon has a sort of Truman Show meets 2001: A Space Odyssey vibe. Sam Rockwell, as the movie’s only real actor, does a fantastic job holding the screen by himself (and sometimes with himself). First time filmmaker Duncan Jones created a compelling story of identity that will hopefully be the beginning of an interesting career. Just one complaint: given that Jones is the son of David Bowie, would it have been too much to ask for Rockwell’s character to be called Major Tom?

15. Black Dynamite – Directed By Scott Sanders

There’s a very fine line between loving homage and outright parody, and Black Dynamite straddles that line perfectly. What Grindhouse was to B-movies and Shaun of the Dead was to zombie movies, Black Dynamite is to Blaxploitation movies. Taking place in 1972 (and looking like it was made then), Michael Jai White stars as Black Dynamite (yup, that’s the only name he’s ever given), an afroed ex-CIA kung fu master who’s half Shaft/half James Bond. With orange tinted film, velour pimp suits, and kids going through smack withdrawal, Black Dynamite leaves no genre cliché left uncovered. The all-original music would have seamlessly fit onto a Sly & The Family Stone album from the era, and the surprise villain is hilarious. For some extra fun, try counting how many shots Dynamite gets out of his revolver during each shootout. To copy is easy, but to utterly recreate can be an art form. Black Dynamite is the latter.

16. A Serious Man – Directed By Joel & Ethan Coen

Oft-described as the most personal film those wacky Coen brothers have ever bequeathed to us, A Serious Man chronicles the ups and mostly downs of a suburban Minnesota Jewish family-man in the late 1960’s. Trying to juggle his wife’s infidelity, son’s impending Bar Mitzvah, brother’s ineptness at life, and upcoming decision on his tenure, Larry Gopnick (Michael Stuhlbarg) seeks the advice of three Rabbis and the Torah to help him manage a life that seems to be increasingly spiraling out of control. While the Coen brothers have usually found perfect ways to commence their films, my major complaint about A Serious Man is that the opening was poor. Even still, the typical Coen wit and quirk is present, and there’s a great scene featuring a rendezvous with the milf next door set to the classic Jefferson Airplane song “Today.”

17. Big Fan – Directed By Robert Siegel

The best and most heartbreakingly realistic sports movie in recent memory, Big Fan stars Patton Oswalt as Paul Aufiero, a truly insane fan of the New York Giants who lives for their game days when he can watch his idol, quarterback Quantrell Bishop. After a real life encounter with Bishop goes nightmarishly wrong and Paul ends up hospitalized at the hands of the violent athlete, Paul must decide if pressing charges is something he can really do, considering Bishop’s absence would hurt the Giants’ playoff chances. To some people, Big Fan may seem ridiculous, but it has a lot to say about the ways so many of us allow sports to permeate our identities to the extent that they end up informing our sense of self.

18. Coraline – Directed By Henry Selick

Adapted from the children’s book by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, Coraline is the best non-Pixar animated film that we’ve seen in quite a few years. An “Alice in Wonderland” style tale of a girl who finds a secret world that seems far superior to her own, Coraline perfectly recreates the visual style that McKean brought to the original book. Dazzling and kaleidoscopic in 3D, Coraline is a great movie for imaginative kids… or kids afraid of their imaginations.

Group C: The Good Movies That I Really Wished Were Great

19. The Fantastic Mr. Fox – Directed By Wes Anderson

20. Where The Wild Things Are – Directed By Spike Jonze

Two of the most imaginative and groundbreaking directors of the last fifteen years tackling two classic children’s books, both featuring an all-star cast of voices? It’s possible my expectations were simply too high; I was ready for transcendent movies, and received movies that were only good. In both cases, I think there was on over reliance on the look of the characters providing the fun and humor, when the previews had already spoiled that possibility. Particularly in Where The Wild Things Are, I admired the ballsiness of taking a story with less than 400 total words and making a feature film out of it. The costumes and sets were outstanding, but the story and psychology were both too complex when the charm of the book was in the simplification and straightforwardness of the child’s melancholy. Really, the movie worked better as a trailer/Arcade Fire music video than as a feature, but all due respect to Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggars for shooting for the stars. Fantastic Mr. Fox, while being less ambitious, succeeds a little more, and I greatly enjoyed George Clooney as the title character. Like all Wes Anderson movies, the sets are remarkably intricate and could be stared at for hours, but the fun simply wears off too quickly.

21. Public Enemies – Directed By Michael Mann

After my holy trinity of Tarantino, Scorsese, and the Coen Brothers, Michael Mann (Last of the Mohicans, Heat, The Insider, Collateral) has always been a strong contender for my 4th favorite contemporary filmmaker. One of the greatest directors ever at setting film to music, and often the architect of some of the best camerawork ever captured on celluloid, Mann’s style has managed to lushly ravish my senses every time I’ve been subjected to it... until now. The problem with Public Enemies is that it just had no substance to it. All of the Mann trademarks were there, except the great story that he has always held up side by side with his resplendent visuals. I feel like Mann could see the look of the movie in his head so clearly that he basically treated the lack of a good script as an afterthought; after all, with Johnny Depp clad in a top coat and firing a tommy gun, what could go wrong? He was partially right—Mann and Depp make the movie completely watchable and decently entertaining when logic would dictate that it shouldn’t have been. But with that kind of director/star team-up capturing such a larger than life character, I hoped for greatness.

22. Invictus – Directed By Clint Eastwood

23. Nine – Directed By Rob Marshall

Funny how quickly things change—back in the fall (before anyone had actually seen them), everyone assumed these would be the two movies fighting each other for best picture. The directing prestige, subject matter, and acting talent were certainly all that you could you want, but the results… less so. Really, both movies suffered from versions of the same problem: Invictus is a sports movie with poorly executed sports scenes, and Nine is a musical with bad songs. Not only were the rugby match scenes in Invictus so poorly edited that the audience could never tell who was winning or how much time was left (or, in some cases, which match it even was), but the movie suffered from serious wishful thinking that an American audience would even understand the game of rugby. Sorry, but we don’t. Fantastic performances by Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, as well as a lofty subject with a feel good ending, do their part to make the movie fairly entertaining and enjoyable, but nothing more. Nine, adapted from the stage play of the same name (which was adapted from the 1963 masterpiece of Italian cinema, Federico Fellini’s 8 ½) is visually lush with great camera work and so many A-list actors that you literally lose track of them. But, you simply can’t have a musical in which the songs don’t have memorable melodies. As he so often does, Daniel Day Lewis turns in a performance so good that it nearly saves the movie from its flaws. Nearly.

24. The Road – Directed By John Hillcoat

A quick math equation for you: what do you get when you subtract the warrior from the 1981 post-apocalyptic action classic The Road Warrior? Both semantically and metaphorically, you end up with 2009’s The Road, a beautifully rendered film that lacks enough of a plot to truly make an impression. The imagery is stark and haunting, and Viggo Mortensen’s performance as a father just trying to help his kid survive in a dead world is powerful, but when the movie ends, you don’t totally feel like anything happened. Adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s 2007 Pulitzer winner, I suspect the only mistake director John Hillcoat (who also gave us the 2005 Aussie western The Proposition) made was in choosing material that wouldn’t translate well to film.

Group D: The Very Entertaining Movies

25. The Hangover – Directed By Todd Phillips

The latest in the recent plethora of truly hilarious R-rated comedies (Wedding Crashers, The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Borat, Superbad, Tropic Thunder, and Role Models have all been gifted to audiences over the last five years), The Hangover became the first of them to edge beyond “hit” and move into “box office conqueror” territory. Even though that financial status guarantees we’ll be seeing at least ten Hangover rip-offs over the next few years, for now, it still feels pretty original. Documenting the aftermath of a bachelor party that is never totally shown, The Hangover is sort of like Memento, except, well, hungover.

26. I Love You Man – Directed By John Hamburg

A funny and endearing movie about the deep need for a fulfilling bromance in every man, and the occasional desire to just retire to your man cave, crank up some Rush, and let fly with the air guitar. Bonus points go to Lou Ferigno for playing himself and to the most ridiculous group of groomsmen ever captured on film.

27. The Brothers Bloom – Directed By Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson thrives with bizarre amalgamations—his quite good 2006 debut Brick took the classic noir of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and set it in the labyrinthine world of a Beverly Hills, 90210-esque high school, while his new movie has a “Wes Anderson directs The Grifters” vibe. Both movies have had their share of style over substance faults, but both have also been eminently enjoyable, especially Rachel Weisz as Bloom’s Penelope—a loopy heiress whose hoarding of bizarre hobbies furthers her complete social ineptitude. Johnson is a very talented director who just needs to find his own voice.

28. Drag Me To Hell – Directed By Sam Raimi

Horror master Sam Raimi’s much ballyhooed return to the genre that sired him back in the 80’s (he debuted with the deservedly classic Evil Dead movies) after the unholy disaster that was Spider-Man 3 brings to mind the classic quote from The Shawshank Redemption about how a man can “crawl through 500 yards of shit-smelling foulness and come out clean on the other side.” Raimi’s best horror movies had always been two parts Exorcist vigorously stirred with one part Marx Brothers; at a time when so-called “torture-porn” has monopolized the genre, Drag Me to Hell was a refreshing and entertaining change of pace.

29. Taken – Directed By Pierre Morel

One of the year’s more preposterous movies (as another writer pointed out, the most ridiculous aspect of the movie may be the assumption that seventeen year-old girls would listen to U2), it is nonetheless 2009’s most entertaining pure action movie. Briskly moving along at barely 90 minutes, it’s all-killer, no-filler with a thoroughly badass Liam Neeson leading the way in some great action set pieces. It’s also surprisingly rewatchable as an HBO time-waster.

30. Zombieland – Directed By Ruben Fleischer

Anytime Bill Murray plays himself in a zombie movie that is partially about the search for fresh Twinkies in a post-apocalyptic world, you can count me in.