Thursday, December 31, 2009
Now, these films aren’t my proclamations for “best movies” of the year, just those that I thoroughly enjoyed and ones which managed to rise above most of the fluff and drivel. This also can’t be considered a comprehensive list, as I still have a post-it note here with at least ten movies that round out my must-see films of 2009. Nevertheless, I give you my favorite flicks (thus far) of 2009:
In truth, Sunshine Cleaning is a 2008 movie, but it didn’t hit wide release in theaters until March of 2009. This quirky, Indie drama follows Rose (Amy Adams), a single mother desperately searching for the finances to send her precocious son to a private school. In order to raise the money for tuition Rose teams with her sister, Norah (Emily Blunt) to start a biohazard removal/crime scene clean-up service. As the sisters work to clean up the messes left behind by the chaotic lives of others, they must learn to reconcile their own differences and overcome a troubled past if they hope to prosper in their newfound venture. The film deals with some dark subject matter and poignantly explores grief and family dysfunction but maintains a positive outlook and contains some solid situational laughs. Alan Arkin also turns in another noteworthy supporting role as the sisters’ eccentric father.
Listed third on Moviefone’s poll of 2009’s best movie of the year, The Hangover was the summer’s big comedy smash hit. When three friends (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis) finally regain consciousness after a riotous night of bachelor-party carousing, they can't seem to locate their friend, Doug (Justin Bartha), who's supposed to be tying the knot in a matter of days. As the trio frantically searches for Doug, they begin to unravel the crazy shenanigans that occurred the night before in their drunken escapades. The Hangover is a flat out funny movie, chock-full with humorous situations, hilarious dialogue, and a breakout performance from Zach Galifianakis as Doug’s scruffy, soon-to-be brother-in-law.
Up, Disney-Pixar’s latest in a line of impressive animated films, follows 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner), who sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America. By tying thousands of helium balloons to his house, Carl flies away on his voyage with Russell, an 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer, unexpectedly in tow. Together, the improbable duo embarks on a thrilling adventure full of unfamiliar terrain and jungle creatures. The nearly four minute montage in the beginning of the film is some of the finest filmmaking I’ve ever seen and Michael Giacchino’s score beautifully complements the lush images, making it my favorite film score in years.
Julie & Julia
This movie chronicles the story of Julia Child's start in the cooking profession in Paris (1949) alongside that of blogger Julie Powell's year-long challenge (2002) to cook all the recipes in Child's culinary classic “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Writer-director, Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail) has a gift for making movies that are simple pleasures and Julie & Julia is no exception. Like the food within it, this movie provides comfort and warmth powered by its superb cast. Meryl Streep’s cheerful performance as Julia Child proves once again that she can nail any accent and Amy Adams as Julie Powell does a fine job of “playing into a cliché so that it becomes tolerable, even viable” as Michael Phillips so deftly put it. Stanley Tucci shines (once more) as Child’s adoring husband and Jane Lynch’s brief appearance as Child’s sister adds even more charm and laughs! Julie & Julia has already nabbed two Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture and Best Actress – Musical or Comedy.
I’ll admit, I was a little weary going into this sci-fi thriller that seemed to be garnering so much buzz. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised to see that District 9 lived up to all the hype. When aliens land on Earth (over Johannesburg, South Africa, to be specific), the human inhabitants of the area force the “Prawns” into a rigid containment zone known as District 9. In time, Wikus Van Der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is selected by his company to lead a field operation and forcibly evict the population of aliens from the refugee zone. The events that take place during Wikus’ inspection of the alien slums leave him in a precarious position, isolating him from his family and colleagues and causing him to rely on the help of the Prawns. District 9 rises above the typical alien invasion movie and, instead, writer-director Neill Blomkamp delivers a unique, semi-documentary style film that is both provocative and innovative.
In the Loop
This political satire, based on the popular British TV series, “The Thick of It,” chronicles the (fictional) coordinated build-up to the Iraq war through a series of absurd meetings between U.S. and U.K. assistant secretaries of state and defense. When a docile British Cabinet Minister, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) makes a series of slip-ups and inadvertently appears to back the war on prime-time television, he immediately attracts the attention of the Prime Minister’s venomously belligerent communications chief, Malcolm Tucker. Soon, the Brits find themselves in Washington, where diplomatic relations collide with trans-Atlantic spin doctors and a game of back-and-forth political discourse quickly spirals into an insurmountable “mountain of conflict.” In the Loop is a scathing, but sharp comedy that’s definitely worth seeking out!
I’ve steered away from most Quentin Tarantino films, not believing he’s as great as others (and the director himself) like to believe. So I was hesitant to see Inglorious Basterds, but, instead I came away from it fairly impressed. In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a group of Jewish-American soldiers known as "The Basterds," led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) are chosen explicitly to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and brutally killing Nazis. Meanwhile, in Paris, a Jewish cinema owner, Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) is forced to host a Nazi movie premiere. Seeing a golden opportunity, both Shosanna and The Basterds plan to carry out a score-settling scheme to take out the group of high-ranking Nazis, but “The Jew Hunter," Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) could be the one adversary to stand in their way. Tarantino gives viewers a new, audacious take on a World War II story with a provocative alternate ending, combining different elements to create an interesting nod to the art of filmmaking. Christoph Waltz’s performance was chilling and fantastic, one that will quite possibly bring him Oscar gold.
Where the Wild Things Are
A lot of anticipation and buzz surrounded Spike Jonze’s long-awaited adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book. While faithful to the look and feel of the book, Jonze also added his own special touches to Where the Wild Things Are, exploring so adeptly the imagination, emotions and basic needs of young kids. In Where the Wild Things Are that young kid is Max who envisions running away from his mom and sailing to a far-off land where large talking beasts crown him as their king, play rumpus, build forts and discover secret hideaways. Along the way, Max’s collected experience as a young child come together in this imaginary world he’s created and is represented in the Wild Things around him. Ultimately, Max moves to take control of his world and figure out the right thing to do. Jonze creates a beautifully realized film from Sendak’s book, especially with the significant technical achievement of the creatures, a combination of computer-generated effects and muppetry (costumes created by The Jim Henson Company). The soundtrack from Karen O also lends to the wonderfully exuberant feeling of the film. Essentially, viewers (of any age) can identify with the essence of childhood (both the good and the bad) captured in this unique rumpus!
Up in the Air
Selected by the National Board of Review as the Best Film of 2009 and already receiving six Golden Globe nominations, Up in the Air has certainly garnered widespread accolades. Director, Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, Juno) continues to surprise and delight at the helm of each new film. Up in the Air is a smart, timely adult dramedy that follows Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man who leads an empty life out of a suitcase and racks up major miles flying around the country firing employees on behalf of companies. When an arrogant young college grad, Natalie (Anna Kendrick) develops a method that will allow termination without ever leaving the office - essentially threatening the existence Ryan so cherishes, he’s determined to show the naïve girl the error of her logic by taking her on one of his cross country firing expeditions. As Natalie starts to realize the disheartening realities of her profession, Ryan begins to see the downfalls to his own way of life. Vera Farminga, who plays fellow frequent flyer, Alex, with whom Ryan bonds, is quickly becoming one of my favorite contemporary actors and she proves why with her solid performance in this film. And George Clooney is always nice to look at (along with his fine acting). Do yourself a favor and go see what all the buzz is about with Up in the Air.
Guy Ritchie has had his share of flops and, though I’d never seen any cinematic adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's infamous characters, I was a little worried that Ritchie would reinvent them with an updated, edgy, rough and grimy touch…and he did…but it works! Sherlock Holmes pulled in $65.4 million in its opening weekend, making it the best Christmas opener in history. The movie definitely has a contemporary feel to it, with fast-paced, swashbuckling action sequences, quick cuts, dazzling special effects, and rapid dialogue (though full of Holmes’ usual wit). In this incarnation, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Watson’s (Jude Law) most recent case concerns Lord Blackwood, a man who murdered in the name of his black magic. Finally hanged for his crimes, it comes as an unpleasant surprise when he literally rises from his grave. And so it is up to Holmes and Watson to find him and stop him before his killing spree devours the whole of England. Ultimately, Sherlock Holmes should be enjoyed for what it is: a rollicking good time! It may not rake in a bunch of awards, but it’s an entertaining crime adventure.
2009 movies still on my list to see:
(500) Days of Summer, A Single Man, An Education, The Young Victoria, The Lovely Bones, It’s Complicated, Invictus, NINE, Precious
Have a very Happy New Year! Wishing you all the best in 2010!
Friday, December 18, 2009
In this yuletide installment of National Lampoon’s vacation movies, Clark, the leader of the Griswold clan, is determined to provide his family with the most perfect Christmas ever. Clark decides to invite his whole family to have 'the most fun-filled, old-fashioned family Christmas,' but all the good intentions in the world can't save the Griswold family from disaster. Clark's continual bad luck is worsened by his obnoxious family guests, but he manages to keep up his holiday cheer knowing that his holiday bonus is on its way. When Clark’s bonus isn’t quite what he expected, he snaps and soon his perfect Christmas looks to be in jeopardy.
Countless versions of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale exist, but of all those I’ve seen, the Muppet’s account stands as my favorite! Undoubtedly everyone is familiar with Dickens’ story about an elderly miser, Ebenezer Scrooge (played here by Michael Caine) who is held accountable for his reprehensible ways during night-time visitations by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.
Another family comedy for the holidays written by John Hughes, Home Alone follows an eight year-old, Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) who is accidentally left behind while his family flies to France for Christmas and has to defend his home against idiotic burglars.
Talented character actors, John Heard and Catherine O'Hara play Kevin’s parents, with Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern as the buffoon criminals and a small, charming performance by the great John Candy as the “Polka King,” Gus Polinski.
Not typically known as a holiday movie, Bridget Jones’s Diary (based on the hilarious, best-selling novel by Helen Fielding) is the story of an everyday, 30-something woman living the single life in London. As part of her New Year’s resolution, Bridget (Renée Zellweger) decides to keep a diary to try and take control of her life. The events that ensue in her year-long pursuit are nothing short of hilarious, awkward, and charming. What makes Bridget Jones’s Diary one of my favorite go-to movies is its imperfect heroine and the fact that it so perfectly captures the inner workings of the female mind (especially the single female)!
Though Bridget Jones’s Diary may be considered a “chick flick,” it’s still a witty, irreverent and engaging film and the audiences can’t help but to like Bridget, “just as she is!”
In Stalag 17, Billy Wilder illustrates, once again, his exceptional skills as a director at mixing broad comedy and high-tension drama. While the subject matter at the heart of the film is serious, the everyday escapades of the bored and restless prisoners manages to bring vitality to the movie, led by the two Barrack clowns, Animal (Robert Strauss) and Shapiro (Harvey Lembeck). The action takes place leading up to Christmas, with the zenith coming on Christmas Day. Despite the conflict within the camp (or perhaps because of it), the prisoners take time to celebrate Christmas in their own way, holding a party within the Barracks. Stalag 17 is a highly entertaining film that’s a mystery, a thriller and a dark comedy all at once, and one that I can’t help but get the itch to watch during the holidays! “At eaaaase!”
Wishing you all the best during this holiday season!
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
A perennial favorite in my family, this musical comedy (shot in gorgeous VistaVision) follows a showbiz team (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) that meets a pair of song-and-dance sisters (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen). The fellas travel with the sister act to a Vermont lodge where the ladies are scheduled to perform a Christmas show. The foursome arrives at the New England inn and encounters an old friend who’s down on his luck. A series of romantic mix-ups ensue as the performers join forces to help deliver a bit of a Christmas miracle.
Along with Elf, this holiday classic helps bring cheer to the skeptics and captures the magical Christmas spirit for believers. At the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, the stand-in for Santa shows up smashed and unable to fulfill his duties, so Macy’s events coordinator, Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara) finds the perfect replacement, an eccentric, old bearded gentleman. The kind man is amazingly convincing as jolly Saint Nick and his services are expanded, being recruited as Macy’s store Santa. Doris soon learns that this man calls himself Kris Kringle and claims to be the actual Santa Claus. The cynical Doris, who discards all notions of belief and fantasy (passing on the same opinions to her young daughter – played by Natalie Wood), grows apprehensive, especially when the old man is committed to an asylum for insisting he is the real Sinter Klaas.
This television movie, based on the legendary children's books by Kay Thompson, follows little rabble-rouser Eloise (Sofia Vassilieva) during her Christmas escapades at New York’s Plaza Hotel, which she calls home, along with her faithful Nanny (Julie Andrews). Mr. Peabody, the owner of the Plaza, welcomes his newly engaged daughter Rachel home for the holidays. When Eloise learns that Rachel is an old flame of her friend (and Plaza waiter), Bill, she sets a plan in motion to help bring the young former couple back together. Other hijinx ensue, paired with an exhausting, but glorious holiday shopping spree, some fun Christmas musical moments, and plenty of laughs.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Festival passes officially went on sale today. The hope and reverie that formed with the revelation of this classic film lover’s dream festival was soon crushed when reading the details that continue to be announced. Prices for this unprecedented event range from $500 to $1,200 for four-day passes.
Before the price options for the passes appear, TCM dangles these tasty classic film treats in their press release:
The spectacular events will include the world premiere of a newly restored edition of George Cukor’s music-filled 1954 drama A Star is Born; the North American premiere of a restored version of Fritz Lang’s 1927 science-fiction silent masterpiece Metropolis; and a 50th anniversary screening of the influential French classic Breathless, the film that launched Jean-Luc Godard’s career.
As my friend scb so aptly put it upon reading of the festival pass prices, “Geep! It's appropriate that the film title just before the prices is ‘Breathless’ because that's how the prices make one feel!”
TCM’s primetime host, Robert Osborne said in a previous release, “This new festival will give those who love movies a way to connect with each other. It is a first-of-its-kind chance for TCM fans to experience the network in-person, meet others with the same interests and immerse themselves in a wide array of classic films.”
Unless Mr. Osborne and the people at TCM think that their typical, loyal fans are rolling in dough, I don’t see how they can expect a good majority of said viewers to make the trip out to Hollywood (one of the most over-priced tourist destinations in the world) for this festival, over which many of us fans are desperately salivating! Aside from the high price-point of the festival passes, attendees will have to pay for lodging, airfare, food, etc. – spending close to (if not more than) $2000 when all is said and done. This fact alone means, sadly, I won’t be making a trip to Hollywood this April. This isn’t Sundance and we’re not expecting Robert Redford, just Robert Osborne (don’t get me wrong, I love ya Bob)!
Hopefully in subsequent years, the TCM Classic Film Festival will work out the kinks and offer more reasonable prices for devoted fans. Perhaps in the coming weeks, TCM will unveil individual or open ticket pricing options. One can still dream!
In the meantime, is anyone planning on splurging and attending this inaugural fest?
Saturday, October 17, 2009
The interview provides fans with new insights into the mind, views and drollness of one of the 20th century’s most gifted filmmakers.
The site is still in beta, but it’s a great resource on Bass’ career and tremendous visual creativity.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Here’s a look at the delightful Dame over the years:
Friday, September 25, 2009
Talk about dancing with the stars!