Saturday, August 29, 2009

Favorite Movies of 2009 (So Far)

1. (500) Days of Summer

This may come back to haunt me. Like Garden State in 2004, this might be my flavor of the month. However, with much respect to the cast and crew and screenwriters of (500) Days of Summer, I say that this movie defines my tastes here and now. This is how I wish I could write - moments that only happen in movies grounded in emotional truths (found in the performances of leads Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel and the script). It's witty, sad, funny, conventional and yet altogether new. I grow fonder with each viewing. There are a spade of "indie" movies hitting theaters right now - complete with quirk, hip soundtracks, and stylish aesthetics. I say now that (500) Days of Summer is the best among them - all these staples of the new movement coupled with skill and deep introspection. All props given to Joseph Gordon Levitt (the best male performance of the year to date) and Zooey Deschanel (beguiling and maddening in the best ways possible).

Dear Joe and Zooey,
Work together often and I will never ask a thing of you two again.


2. The Hurt Locker

I followed the buzz right into the theater and was not disappointed. I didn't expect much from director Katheryn Bigelow having seen her earlier works Point Break and Strange Days. She, in turn, gave me a true vision of war from the soldiers up. Working from an ace script from journalist Mark Boal, Bigelow creates a real tension that never lets up from the first frame to the pulsating rock of the final shots. It's not all visceral. There's an emotional depth to the plight of the Iraq bomb squad played by Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty. Their job seems to be the most dangerous in the world, and yet is it cyclical in its danger. Once escaping certain death, they return at a moment's notice to face it again. The real drama comes from deciding what kind of men it takes to be under that constant state of duress. It's harrowing to the point where your heart will beat emphatically of its own accord all the way home from the theater.


3. Inglorious Basterds

There was a big chance I wasn't going to like this movie. The trailers were fun without promising more than a genre-and-style sendup from cinefile QT. Thankfully, I was given a lesson in grand suspense and astute dialogue and theatrics. Basterds is less an exercise in genre than Grindhouse. Instead, QT makes his own mark in the storied World War II genre. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Basterds was not the star vehicle for Brad Pitt that I had imagined prior to my viewing. Rather, Basterds is an ensemble piece shifting focus from Pitt's Lieutenant Aldo Raines' "Apaches" to the verbose SS Colonel Landa's polite viciousness to the victim-turned-opportunist Shosanna Dreyfus's lust for vengeance. And instead of grandstanding scenery chewing, Pitt's character fits quite perfectly into the tone of the movie. It's (quietly) his best performance in years. And Christoph Waltz's performance as Landa is deservedly generating the biggest Oscar buzz of the young year.

The scene I can't quite help myself from raving out loud about - the slow-paced German bar tension build. LOVED IT!!!


4. Duplicity
5. I Love You, Man
6. Watchmen
7. Star Trek

8. Funny People

Has there been a better movie to receive a badder rep this year? I think not. I found Apatow's third film to be another addition to his body of trend-setting comedy with all the heart, guffaw-inducing crude humor, and subtle graces of his past films. It might not be as FUNNY as 40 Year Virgin or Knocked Up, but I find it to be truer and leaner - surprising for a film running nearly 2 and a half hours. Props to Adam Sandler for willing to play an incredibly flawed character. I don't know how much of the real-life Sandler can be found in his fictional George Simmons, but I have to hand it to him for how layered he made a Hollywood buffoon. Seth Rogen continues to improve his chops. He's becoming elastic, able to be both the punchline and jokemaker with equal skill. He's an underdog worth rooting for and an everyman inserted into the zany Hollywood life of Simmons. This was an incredibly poorly advertised film. While I found this film to be incredibly funny, more enjoyment and entertainment is found diving into the lives of FUNNY PEOPLE. They are flawed AND funny human beings operating differently than the casual joke teller. Their interactions are constant rehearsals of material both good and bad. And apparently they are incredibly reliant on humor derived from the discussion of genitalia. That said, there is gravitas to the story here. What other comedy with dick and fart jokes will send you home contemplating your own mortality? Besides Dude Where's My Car(?)?


9. Away We Go

Dan Walton, you are correct. This is another one of those quirky indie comedies trying build on the popularity of Juno, Garden State, and Little Miss Sunshine. It may be worse than any of those movies, but let me say now that it is dear to me. I don't understand love or the complex state of home, but I think this movie knows why. It's different for everyone and there are no easy answers. That's an admirable wisdom even in its simplicity. While the cast of characters along the way may be dialed "up to 11", I must say that I was able to stay engaged and intrigued due to the performances of the leads, John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph. Matty Ballgame and Adam K over at Filmspotting can't seem to find any truth or skill to these performances, but I found each to be winning. While the cloud of quirk swirls wildly around them, Krasinski and Rudolph are able to interact and not be sucked into its doldrums. That isn't to say they aren't funny. They are funny "AHA!". But there's a nuance to the performances whereas their friends and casual acquaintances are funny "ha". It's an unbalanced film, but one I found to be touching and funny. And if you're gonna go quirk, it's okay with me to go Mendes.


10. State of Play