Sunday, January 31, 2010

My favorite 20 films of the 2000s: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

These are my 20 personal favorite films of the 2000s and they are not being ranked according to any criteria, other than I love them. So here they are, in alphabetical order:

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Completely overlooked by me when it was released, I didn’t see this comedy until almost 1 year after everyone else was talking about it, and now I’ve probably watched it 5 times. One of things I thought of most with my list: Is the movie one I want to re-watch again and again without it becoming tiresome? This is one of the few comedies in recent memory that I think gets better each time. The simple story of boy loses girl, boy finds new girl, boy almost gets old girl back, boy gets new girl is given a fun slant in this film that, along with great dialogue and good performances, gives us wonderful scenery of Hawaii. It doesn’t hurt that we get to look at Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell either. A funny movie that never crosses that ‘over-the-top’ line that so many comedies this decade always seemed to do, it is impossible to Forget Sarah Marshall.

My 20 favorite films of the 2000s: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

These are my 20 personal favorite films of the 2000s and they are not being ranked according to any criteria, other than I love them. So here they are, in alphabetical order:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

The timeless emotion of love has been written about since the written word took form. Films are no exception in their use of love as the driving force behind many plots and with this masterpiece of a story we are given every angle you can have, from the good to the not-so-good to the bad of this fickle emotion.

Jim Carey and Kate Winslet turn in wonderful performances as a couple/not couple who have had their memories altered in an effort to forget and to move on – but can you ever fully move on from your ultimate emotions? In this Charlie Kauffman script we are taken for a typical wild ride and trying to figure this film out in a linear fashion could cause a potential rupture of the brain – just let that part go and enjoy the film. This is simply not for everyone to enjoy, and for those who do not, no hard feelings I say, but for those who get into these type of movie I think you will find a spot for this among your all time favorites.

My favorite 20 films of the 2000s: The Bourne Identity

These are my 20 personal favorite films of the 2000s and they are not being ranked according to any criteria, other than I love them. So here they are, in alphabetical order:

The Bourne Identity (2002) – I like the entire series but the first is my favorite

Finding himself with no memory of who he is or where he came from, Jason Bourne is thrown into a world filled with non-stop action on an international level. The film focuses more on thought-provoking action than dialogue and the balance is perfect as we come to learn of Treadstone and the secret US spy programs that members like Bourne were trained to undertake. Adapted from the exciting novel by Robert Ludlum this thriller never gets old as we partake in a mystery that unravels before our eyes in stunning locations and fast-paced, non-stop action. Matt Damon seems to have been born to play the title role and he does not disappoint in any aspect as he pieces together the puzzle of his seemingly improbable alias.

My favorite 20 films of the 2000s: Adaptation

These are my 20 personal favorite films of the 2000s and they are not being ranked according to any criteria, other than I love them. So here they are, in alphabetical order:

Adaptation. (2002)

Oscar-worthy roles are everywhere in this Charlie Kaufman piece which features a double-role for Nicolas Cage as a ‘serious’ writer struggling to adapt a ‘book about orchids’ into a screenplay. Throw in his helpless brother, also played by Cage, as everything the other despises and you’ve got yourself a premise. Remarkable roles by Tilda Swinton , Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper help fill out this strange tale that you pretty much cannot fully grasp with just one viewing.

Cage haters may even find themselves loosening the noose slightly after they see what he is actually capable of, in the hands of a good script, a good writer, a good director, and, of course, a great hair stylist. With a screenplay by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze it would be improbable for everyone to like this movie, yet somehow everyone I 542`know who has seen it eventually tells me they are really glad they saw it.

My favorite 20 films of the 2000s: A Serious Man

These are my 20 personal favorite films of the 2000s and they are not being ranked according to any criteria, other than I love them. So here they are, in alphabetical order:

A Serious Man (2009)

It is no coincidence that the bearded figure who plays a prominently minor role in the Ethan Coen and Joel Coen directed film A Serious Man, holds the last name of Ableman. He is after all, an able man, an all-knowing, community-respected, and generally speaking, a serious man, one who can sort of back door his way into taking your wife away from under your nose and still bring wine to your house for dinner and give you a lesson on how to enjoy it. Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), upon learning all about Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed) and a plethora of sticky life situations, wants to also be a serious man, of sorts - how to go about it, that’s the problem.

With a typical Cohen feel this film moves from the tame to the implausible and back leaving you with the feeling that you just saw something pretty cool but you can’t quite grasp what it was. Perhaps this film isn’t for everyone but I doubt I can find one person who didn’t have his/her smirk-of-the-year moment when Larry, teaching his students, turns towards them and proclaims that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle “proves that we can never really know anything” – and behind him is a mathematical formula that he has just finished writing which takes up the entire chalk board the size of an Imax screen.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A mini-movie review: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Director - Guy Ritchie
128 min; PG-13
Sherlock Holmes - Robert Downey Jr.
Dr. Watson - Jude Law
Irene Adler - Rachel McAdams

A typically loud and boisterous film by director Guy Ritchie (RocknRolla; Snatch; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), the first attempt in years to put the wonderful stories of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to the big screen, is a resounding fail. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law have pretty good chemistry as the tag-team crime-stopping duo, but Rachel McAdams as the mysterious love interest Irene Adler brings nothing to the table, and it is unfortunate because I like most of the roles she plays. The dark and brooding tone of the film are probably correct, but it becomes trying on the eyes and your soul as the bleakness of London is shoved down your throat.

Perhaps the greatest issue I have comes from the plot, and I'm not giving much away when I say that taking a a supernatural approach to the story and then giving it a typical twist ending is not worthy to the type of film this could have been (and yes, I understand that a twist ending to a Sherlock Holmes film is reasonable) - the film was simply made to make way for a franchise and I do not doubt that more are already in the works.

At 128 minutes I wanted this film to be 89 minutes and better. I want my $10 back.

** out of 5

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My top 10 films of 2009 with Honorable Mentions

I saw 51 films in 2009, listed below. I also listed films I did not see which got postive reviews, which I obviously did not consider for my list, because I haven't seen them yet. Reviews for all these films can be found on the right side of my blog by searching. Any comments?

Films seen in 2009

1. 2012
2. 500 Days of Summer
3. A Serious Man
4. Angels and Demons
5. Antichrist
6. Avatar
7. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
8. Brothers
9. The Brothers Bloom
10. Cold Souls
11. Crazy Heart
12. Disgrace
13. District 9
14. Duplicity
15. Earth
16. Funny People
17. The Girlfriend Experience
18. Gran Torino
19. The Great Buck Howard
20. The Hangover
21. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
22. Hunger
23. The Hurt Locker
24. The Informant!
25. Inglourious Basterds
26. Jennifer's Body
27. Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen
28. Julie and Julia
29. Knowing
30. The Men Who Stare At Goats
31. The Messenger
32. Moon
33. My Sister's Keeper
34. Observe and Report
35. Powder Blue
36. The Proposal
37. Public Enemies
38. Push
39. The Road
40. Star Trek
41. State of Play
42. Surrogtaes
43. Taken
44. Terminator Salvation
45. Trucker
46. Tyson
47. Up!
48. Up In The Air
49. Watchmen
50. X-Men: Wolverine
51. Zombieland

Films I did not see and could not consider for my list

1. A Single Man
2. Adventureland
3. An Education
4. Big Fan
5. The Blind Side
6. The Damned United
7. Flame and Citron
8. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
9. Invictus
10. Me and Orson Welles
11. Nine
12. Precious
13. Sherlock Holmes
14. Where the Wild Things Are
15. The White Ribbon

The list (2009)

Honorable Mention

Cold Souls

Top 10

10. Zombieland
9. 500 Days of Summer
8. Tyson
7. The Great Buck Howard
6. Disgrace
5. Up In The Air
4. Inglourious Basterds
3. Crazy Heart
2. The Hurt Locker
1. A Serious Man

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A movie review: Crazy Heart (2009)

Crazy Heart (2009)
Director - Scott Cooper
112 Min; R
Bad Blake - Jeff Bridges
Jean Craddock - Maggie Gyllenhaal

Jeff Bridges has a career that spans many decades and includes about 70 credited films, so there is quite a bit of room to like some of his movies and loathe others. Thankfully his new film Crazy Heart is one to love. As a character actor in many of his roles Bridges has an ease that really pulls us in and makes us forget he is playing a part – anybody who has seen The Big Lebowski knows exactly what I am talking about. It is with this seemingly effortless way that he becomes Bad Blake, a country music star who has seen better days.

Blake used to be the main attraction playing in front of large crowds, but now he is a 57 year old alcoholic, alone and in failing health, driving from small town bar to small town bowling alley to play gigs in order to make a little money, of which he has none. McClure’s whiskey is his drink of choice and in one great scene he lovingly caresses a bottle in a store, then puts it back and picks up a much cheaper version of the drink and we realize he can’t even afford to buy it. His life is in shambles, but he can still bring it when it’s time to go on stage, or at least until he has to vomit.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is a local reporter who interviews Blake for a piece in the small town newspaper, something Blake hasn’t done in over 3 years. She’s young, pretty and beaten down by life in many ways, including a string of bad men and bad choices which have left her with a young son to raise on her own. A mutual attraction between the two takes place in an unlikely way, and this story line helps tie together the themes of tragedy and redemption which are prevalent throughout the film.

A string of wonderful supporting roles by various actors really bring this film together, including a stint by Robert Duvall as manager of Blake’s Texas hometown bar and a surprisingly well done portrayal of Tommy Sweet by Colin Farrell, in a small but vitally important role. Bad Blake taught Tommy Sweet everything he knows about country music, and the two spent many years working and touring together. Circumstances happened and now it is Tommy at the top of the world and Blake looking in from the outside. Their relationship in the film is done very well and is very believable.

This is a film that stands firmly on its own feet as one of the best of the year, yet nobody can look past the obvious mirroring of the great film The Wrestler, which saw a down and out Mickey Rourke portray an aging and health-weary wrestler trying to get back to the top of his profession. The similarities are glaring, but that just means to me that there are now two great films to see that cover similar subject matter, and if forced to give my opinion on the two I prefer the Wrestler for its gritty realism, but I loved and enjoy Crazy Heart for the long shots of beautiful country, the wonderful soundtrack of which Bridges himself contributes, and the optimistic feel that we all know is never going to pan out for Blake.

***** out of 5

A movie review: The Road (2009)

The Road (2009)
Director - John Hillcoat
111 Min; R
Man - Viggo Mortensen
Boy - Kodi Smit-McPhee
Woman - Charlize Theron

Novelist Cormac McCarthy came into the mainstream when the film adaptation of his work No Country For Old Men won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2007, and now we are given another adaptation, this time of his work The Road, a story that centers on the relationship of a man and his boy in a post-apocalyptic world as they follow “the road” towards the ocean and look to avoid other survivors with ulterior motives, not the least of which is a cannibalistic appetite.

Director John Hillcoat was up against a lot when making this film, with perhaps the most daunting task being that of the portrayal of a world that is steeped in misery and covered in a sad and heavy dust. It would be nearly impossible for a film to capture the tone of the novel, and though it does a very good job, it never really moves past a film about a man and his boy trying to survive, unlike the novel which seemingly transcends this simple story and leaves a lasting impression you cannot forget.

Viggo Mortensen as the Man and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the Boy are both very good and the film is overall one I would recommend, though I do strongly suggest you read the novel first and then take a look at the film, since I am sure you will be much more pleased having the memories of the book in your head as you peruse this desolate world on screen.

**** out of 5

A movie review: Disgrace (2009)

Disgrace (2009)
Director - Steve Jacobs
119 Min; R
David Lurie - John Malkovich
Lucy - Jessica Haines
Melanie Isaacs - Antoinette Engel

When author J.M Coetzee penned the novel Disgrace the overwhelming difficulty was portraying South African culture just after the fall of apartheid, with lofty aspirations of bringing to paper a difficult piece of history and telling it in a compelling story. Where the novel succeeded with the highest of praise, the film version by director Steve Jacobs comes up just a little short, but only a little, and given the complexities of the material this film finishes strong and has my utmost respect for what it tries to accomplish.

David Lurie, an aging professor in South Africa, is played magnificently by John Malkovich in a role I feel is one of his finest ever. He is a sexual and deep-thinking man, and the combination of both those qualities puts him into some sticky situations, the worst of which pits him against one of his beautiful young students, Melanie (Antoinette Engel). Faced with a no-win situation Lurie leaves his post and ventures into the barren outer landscape of South Africa to visit his estranged daughter Lucy (Jessica Haines) who allows him to stay.

What transpires on her little farm over the course of the film is the subject of deep moral and racial confusion alongside black and white right and wrong, much like the world of South Africa as it grappled with the changes of a country no longer ruled by one class over another. The film does not quite capture the incredibly difficult choices and thoughts the characters experience in the novel, but it does a fine job with the material and Malkovich simply takes over this film and makes the character of David Lurie his own.

You’ll have to look hard to find this film and may very well have to settle for dvd or an online stream, but you will be glad you put in the effort.

*****out of 5

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A short movie review: Trucker (2009)

Trucker (2009)

Director - James Mottern
90 Min; R
Michelle Monaghan – Diane Ford
Nathan Fillion - Runner
Jimmy Bennett – Peter

A remarkable performance by Michelle Monaghan (Gone Baby Gone (2007)) as Diane Ford, a youngish female trucker from a small town life who lives hard and for not much else, is a little over-shadowed by the much too predictable story arc, but only slightly.

Given the news that her estranged 10 year old son is coming to stay with her “for a few weeks only” as his dad is dying of cancer, Diane must grapple with her complete inability or want to be a mother figure. What could lead to a terribly clich├ęd film is given new life when her son Peter (Jimmy Bennett – the young James T Kirk in Star Trek (2009)) arrives and plays the part perfectly of a jaded kid from a broken family. I appreciated the dynamic between these two as they go on a somewhat predictable adventure of coming to accept each other.

At just 90 minutes this film is a perfect length and you never feel that it is dragging nor that it needs more to keep you entertained. First time director James Mottern wrote the script and it does need some help, but the portrayal of small town life is pretty well done and the platonic love interest Runner (Nathan Fillion) brings a very strong supporting role.
I’m glad I saw this film and I think Monaghan deserves an Oscar-nod for best actress.


out of 5