Monday, January 11, 2010


#1 - A Serious Man

My #2 movie, 500 Days of Summer, was a great movie but was incomplete in a few ways. A Serious Man is complete. It's perfect. Everything works.

I've enjoyed some Coen Brothers movies in the past. My favorite is Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? But I've also been bored by some. I couldn't make it through The Man Who Wasn't There. While they certainly hit more than they miss, I don't know if I've ever been more than a casual fan.

If I had any problem with this movie it's that I'm not Jewish so I probably didn't catch some things here and there. But even if that's the case, it was presented for everybody. So if you're a gentile worried that you won't get it, worry no longer.

I knew the basic idea of the story going in. The Coen Brothers were retelling the story of Job. In case you don't know his story, God gets a long term case of diarrhea and uses Job instead of a toilet.

But even though I knew that this guy was going to get crapped on, it was still filled with plenty of surprises. There's a great scene involving a couple cars driving along. You know what's going to happen, but not really.

Every scene is essential and perfect, filled with a lot of fantastic, snappy dialogue, particularly from the rabbis (rabbanim? rabbii?) that Larry goes to visit.

For the lead, they couldn't have cast Larry Gopnik any more perfectly that Michael Stuhlbarg. He's basically an unknown. I see from his IMDB page that he was in Cold Souls and a couple episodes of Studio 60, but I didn't recognize him. And that's the way it needed to be. He needed to be an everyman. Jake Gyllenhaal, Shia LaBeouf or Corey Feldman couldn't have been Larry Gopnik. That's right. I chose the Tochnit Av Triumvirate of Jake, Shia, and Corey as my token Jewish actors.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


#2 - 500 Days of Summer

The narrator warns at the very beginning that, "This is not a love story." And it isn't. But still is.

The makers of 500 Days of Summer took a lot of chances. They tried a bunch of little tricks throughout the movie. I can totally understand if someone were to watch this movie and say that they didn't work. But for me, they were excellent.

Some examples include the little movie montages, as if you're watching an old documentary. They throw in a little bit of a Ingmar Bergman parody (combined with its IKEA scenes - makes we wonder if I liked it only because I had just returned from Sweden). There's a great split screen scene showing Expectations vs. Reality.

One of the best parts of the movie is that isn't out of chronological order. Now this isn't unique, but they do it for all the right reasons. They lay out a series of expectations that they slowly shatter as the context is revealed. The order of the scenes is very carefully and beautifully choreographed.

My absolute favorite scene of 2009 (just ending out the opening of Inglourious Basterds) brings out the full cheesiness of Hall and Oates You Make My Dreams. For those of you who have seen it, I'm embedding the video of this scene below for you to relive its glory. If you haven't seen it, go watch the movie instead. Save the scene for the context of the movie.

To be honest, not every bit of this movie works, which is probably why it hit #2 instead of #1 on my list. I'm not a huge fan of the supporting cast. And there are a few bits of dialogue that are too sit-com for me. But the leads, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, are perfect. The story is perfect. And the 95% of the movie that does work is excellent.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


#3 - Inglourious Basterds

Much like Up, Inglourious Basterds is on my list because of the opening scene. Christoph Waltz is brilliant as "The Jew Hunter," Hans Landa. If we don't see Waltz holding up the Best Supporting Oscar trophy this year, it will be the Academy's most egregious error since Saving Private Ryan didn't win Best Picture.

The only question might be whether he's only a supporting actor. Is Brad Pitt the lead? I think that Waltz is probably in this movie more than Pitt is. I'm still blaming Pitt for the really crappy Benjamin Button, but he's pretty good in this as well. He might get that Curious Case of stink off of him sometime soon.

He's actually great in every scene he appears in, but the opening is his showcase. It sets the mood right up front that moves through the rest of the movie. I could easily see this scene showing up as a one act play. I dread watching that high school production, but at least Waltz's performance will be ready to wash it away.

To understand and appreciate music, especially classical music, one must be able to appreciate tension and release. Great music builds you up to a point where you almost can't handle it anymore, but gives you the critical release. That's also the key to some other things in life, but kids read this, so use your imagination.

Quentin Tarantino gives a clinic on tension and release in movies. Each scene, not just the first one, is its own short film. Each scene gives the characters reason to squirm. But more importantly, so does the audience. While you might not like the way he releases the tension, but he does.

Honestly, I haven't read or heard anything really negative about Inglourious Basterds from anybody who I consider to be intelligent. I guess, in that case, if you've been around me and had bad things to say, that tells you what I think. If anything? It's too long. However, since you can view it like a bunch of individual films, it will be easy to watch on DVD. You can easily break it into parts and still be satisfied.


#4 - An Education

An Education was a real surprise for me. I threw in this movie near the end of the year on a whim. I wanted to get some delicious Cheeseboard, so I figured I might as well go see a movie while I was in Berkeley. This was the only movie I hadn't seen that I had even the mildest interest in watching.

It turned out to be excellent. In the lead role, Carey Mulligan makes the entire movie work. She's a wide eyed young woman getting in a situation that's way over her head, but she's smart. It's not enough to just have the script put words in someone's mouth to show us that they're smart. There has to be something in their eyes.

Any teacher can tell you the same thing. There are some people who you can just tell whether anything is going on inside their heads by looking into their eyes.

I've been watching the TV show Veronica Mars. It stars Kristen Bell from the excellentForgetting Sarah Marshall. She's hot. But I've seen commercials for her over the last week or so for her upcoming movie When in Rome. She is still hot, but doesn't look as hot. I think it's because on Veronica Mars, she's smart. Her character in this new movie looks like your typical cliche romantic comedy role. The type that the extremely untalented Kate Hudson would usually play. That's why Bell is hotter as Mars.

This is the first time that I've seen Carey Mulligan, but we'll see more from her. She handles the character and everything it goes through like a pro. An Education is actually a similar story to Up in the Air. But it presents a totally different way of looking at it. Obviously, I recommend both movies.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


#5 - Up in the Air

Up in the Air is the third movie from Jason Reitman. I just wrote about his first movie, Thank You for Smoking, in my best of the decade blog. I liked his second movie, Juno, quote a bit, though not as much. I've since discovered that it's mostly the pretentious soundtrack that turns me off.

I liked Up in the Air for a lot of the same reasons that I liked Thank You for Smoking. George Clooney's character, Ryan Bingham, is as real to me as Aaron Eckhart's Nick Naylor. He's a confident character in his profession. He knows exactly what he's doing every step of they way while he's working. But then when it comes to his personal life, that's a bit more of a disaster.

Ryan Bingham's has no real personal ties. He has family members who are more like acquaintances. Friends are mostly people he meets on the job, and therefore more like acquantances. They know who he is on the outside, but not much about who he really is. This is a theme that I found in common with those from Funny People. And perhaps I'm again drawn to it because it might be a bit personal.

The trailers for Up in the Air don't appeal to me. In reality, a lot of what they show is out of context. They present it as a light,quirky comedy. But it's more than that. It's more of a drama that's light on the outside but has a bit more of the darkness of real life. And by that I don't mean that it's a dark comedy. It has some real moments that I lot of people might find to be a bit uncomfortable, even though its best notes are quite subtle.

I've read a lot of what the critics have had to say, but I haven't heard from any "normal" folk who have seen it. I have a feeling that the average film goer might be a bit lukewarm after seeing it, mostly because it isn't just that light hearted comedy they're looking for. Near the end, Up in the Air takes a turn that is going to bother people. The movie isn't wrapped up in a neat package with a tight bow.

And in the end, can the average person really believe that some people actually like being alone? We do exist. And that's probably why I like this movie as much as I do. I'm actually looking forward to watching this again. i have a feeling that I'm going to like it even more the next time, and I might even like it as much or more than Thank You for Smoking.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


#6 - World's Greatest Dad

I don't want to say too much about World's Greatest Dad because you need to go into it without knowing what's going to happen. So I'll be vague.

The first thing that immediately popped into my head when first learning about this movie is the movie Fathers' Day. Clearly, this is because they both start Robin Williams and have a father in the title. I didn't see that movie, but it doesn't look very good.

This is not that movie.

This is probably my favorite Robin Williams role. He is different from anything else he has done before here. I would even say that if you don't like Williams, you'll still like this.

World's Greatest Dad was written and Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. Many of you might only know him from the Police Academy movies. You only know him by his "Grover voice," as Goldthwait calls it. In that case, you don't know him. He isn't like that all the time. One of his standup shows is even called Is He Like That All the Time?

This is a dark, messed up movie. The only reason to skip World's Greatest Dad is if you don't like black comedy. If you do, check it out. Get ready for some Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuce! (Hornsby, not Springsteen)

Monday, January 4, 2010


#7 - Funny People

I'm finding it difficult to explain why I liked Funny People as much as I did. It's kinda funny, but not necessarily hilarious. It has a good story, but not really great.

Perhaps it is the emotion that goes along with it. Adam Sandler plays a guy that is pretty much alone. He doesn't really have any close friends or family that he can really confide in. The more I hear comics (or people who know them) talking about comics, then more I understand how tortured they often are. It's this torture that drives their comedy.

While I doubt anyone will agree with me,, I feel the same about Funny People as I did about Lost in Translation. Both movies deal with comics in a more serious role as a sad, lonely comic. Both have this lonely person meeting someone who fulfills that loneliness for awhile.

I liked Funny People when I saw it in the theaters, and something about it keeps popping back into my head, increasing how much I liked it. I haven't seen it since the first time. I'm curious what a repeat viewing will reveal for me.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


#8 - Up

Is Up in my top ten only because of the first ten minutes? Absolutely. The opening of this movie is perfect. From the newsreel to the music, frame by frame it's perfect.

But the rest of the movie is pretty good as well. My lack of knowing anything about the movie helped as well. I knew that there was a guy who put balloons on his house to make it go up. But I had know idea where it was going, so that made the movie a bit of a surprise for me.

With all Pixar movies, there's a good mixture of comedy with the emotion. My favorite line? Dug (the dog) said, "Hey, I know a joke! A squirrel walks up to a tree and says, 'I forgot to store acorns for the winter and now I am dead.' Ha! It is funny because the squirrel gets dead." That's good stuff.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Decade of Movies

I thought I'd go ahead and throw a quick list of my favorite movies of the decade that I saw in the theaters. I didn't start keeping track until 2004. For 2000 to 2003, I had to scan a list of movies and see what I had seen. I probably missed several, so I have a lot more from 2004 on. Also, I didn't go to the movies as often early in the decade. This means that movies like American Psycho, Memento, and City of God that I saw at home aren't on this list. And finally, I'm just throwing it together quickly, so whatever.

I have three that came close, but I chose to leave them off. They are my number 1 and 2 from this year (which I'll get to in just over a week) and The Aristocrats. Quite a few of the comedians were guests on Penn Jillette's radio show, so got to "know" many of them even more. It is a good introduction to many comedians as well. Really, really funny movie.

10. Gangs of New York

I enjoys Scorsese movies, but I love me some Daniel Day Lewis. He drinks my milkshake. I'm still not convinced that Leonardo DiCaprio is such a great actor, since no matter how much he ages, he's still Luke from Growing Pains. But in Gangs of New York, he needed to naïve. I love the setting and the look of old New York.

9. Thank You For Smoking

I love Nick Naylor, the character. Aaron Eckhart is perfect in a role that should be a horrible person, but he isn't. He has a horrible job. Jason Reitman showed up what he could do before Up in the Air, which I also loved. It will make an appearance in my top 10 for 2009.

8. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

The funniest movie of the decade. Yeah, I said it. It's the most quotable as well. I've had this movie with me on road trips and just listened to it while I drive.

7. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Crazy movie. it never takes itself seriously, and I like that. The dialogue is all smart ass,and I feel close to that. Watch it to see why Robert Downey, Jr. is one of the best. I haven't seen this in a while, something that I need to correct soon.

6. In Bruges

When I made my list for 2008, I came down to the top four and kept switching around the order. I picked Slumdog Millionaire at the time. I didn't pick In Bruges, most likely, because it had been awhile since I had seen it. After rewatching both over the course of this year, In Bruges sticks out. It has its moments of crazy, but Ray (Colin Farrell) is a GREAT character. Speaking of Colin Farrell, he had one of the best cameos in 2009. His role might actually be bigger than a cameo. But don't go looking for it on IMDB - that will spoil it for you (through it wasn't the best cameo of the year - that was in Zombieland).

5. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

I loved absolutely everything about it. I even liked all of the endings. if you think about it as 20+ minutes to end a three hour movie, that's overkill. But it's 20+ minutes to end three three hour movies. In that case, is it so much? I even liked the extended versions on DVD. And yes, this really is for all three movies. But each one was better than the last, so I agree with the Academy and I'll give it to Return of the King.

4. Sin City

See Avatar? I can enjoy a movie that is nutty for CGI. For me, my reaction watching this movie was the one I read about from other people with Avatar. Except this was almost five years ago. And I think it's a more beautiful movie. I like how the stories fit together. I like the characters. But most importantly, it looks perfect. Possibly my favorite few seconds of a movie of the decade? Watch here starting at 1:55. Stuka's (the guy who gets hit) reaction is priceless.

3. Garden State

This, along with my #2, are mostly about the music. I love the soundtrack to Garden State. A lot of the songs appeared scattered throughout Scrubs as well. It's a soundtrack that sets a definite mood. But I also love Zack Braff and Natalie Portman in here. Here's a quote from Braff character, Andrew Largeman. "I spent 26 years waiting for something else to start." How many people wait 26 years to start living? Or even more? Time to wake up.

2. Once

My expectations were raised before I saw this movie. I liked it quite a bit, but didn't love it. Then it started to sink in, and I bought the soundtrack. Over the next couple months I started to love it. I've watched it a few times since, and it doesn't get old. I love the music even more. I love the characters even more.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I've come close to answering "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" when I've been asked my favorite movie. I've always hesitated because it seems too new. But it's been more than five years, so I'm going to go ahead and declare right here that it's my favorite. Since I talked about music for the past couple movies, I love it here, too. I love the soundtrack. Take a listen:

And I love the music video with Light and Day from The Polyphonic Spree. It's kinda creepy, but fits alongside the movie.

Why do I love this movie? It's everything. It's the Academy Award winning script from Charlie Kaufman. It's Jim Carrey's perfect performance as Joel. He isn't too subtle, and he isn't over the top. It's Kate Winslet's perfect performance as Clementine. You fall in love with her along with Joel, and you want to forget her for all the right reasons - because you're in love with her, too. It's the great scenes and images that not even Lacuna, Inc. could make you forget.

I've flipped movies around on this list a few times. Every year, I state that my list is never really complete - I just have to make a decision before I post it. But Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has never moved from the number one spot on this list.


#9 - The Hangover

For a brief moment, I considered bumping The Hangover from the list. Then I decided to watch a few minutes of this a couple nights ago. I ended up watching the whole thing. And it held up really well.

There were plenty of funny moments that were still funny ("What is this? A snakeskin?"). There were funny moments that I had forgotten about ("I didn't know they gave out rings at the Holocaust."). There were funny moments that I don't think I noticed the first time around ("I'll hit an old man in public!").

Haley once stated that Bradley Cooper's character Phil reminded him of me, and I take that as a compliment. It's because of his attitude as he's trying to leave school for his weekend. "It’s the weekend, Budnick, I do not know you. You do not exist." And soon after, "Shut and drive before one of these nerds ask me another question."

And then there's Phil's outgoing message on his cell. If I didn't also use my cell for students and their parents, I would definitely change it to this: "Hey. This is Phil. Leave me a message. Or don't. But do me a favor. Don't text me. It's gay." Though I would probably change the name... But still, don't text me.

One thing I give the makers of this movie, especially the writers, credit for is telling the story they way they did. It's told from the next day as the characters are trying to put things together. And yes, I know that's the whole point. But your typical mainstream comedy would have just told the story through the night. After all, that's the most outrageous stuff. But we're only teased with that. And it worked for me.

Comedy is subjective, so I know it's easy to disagree. And I saw The Hangover before expectations are too high. That said, I invite you to read Nolan's counter argument, and I invite him to click on the "WRONG!" button on my new reaction meter down just above the comment link.

Friday, January 1, 2010


#10 - The Road

I started reading The Road several months back. In an attempt to make the future apocalypse more chaotic, author Cormac McCarthy does away with several conventions of grammar. For example, there is rarely any punctuation beyond periods, and never quotation marks. Things like that always feel like a gimmick to me, so it took me some time to get into it (in addition to my Reader's Block).

Once I made it to about the halfway point, I breezed through the rest of the book in a few hours. It's a deeply emotional book about these two characters. I feel like the ending for the father (who is unnamed) reaches the most logical and satisfying conclusion that it can. I'm not as convinced about the ending for the son (also unnamed), but it's really the father's story.

While watching the movie, I was forced to compare it with the book. I thought it was as faithful as it really could be, with one exception. Minor spoiler here: I felt that in the book, the material on the beach was the most emotional. This was especially true of the scene when they shoot off the flare gun like a firework. Most of this was cut from the movie.

After watching previews, I was worried that they were going to use the flashbacks too often. While they did show more than the book, I thought this was an improvement over the book. They certainly didn't show too much.

Viggo Mortensen was the best choice for the father. The father needs to show sadness, but hope when talking to his son. He did a great job in juggling those responsibilities.

There are some amazing shots in this movie when they show the desolate landscapes. I sometimes had to stop for a moment to remind myself that it doesn't really exist anywhere, so this has to be a special effect, either a CGI or matte painting. I've read a few people state that it's the most realistic vision of an apocalyptic future seen in movies. I don't know about that, as the circumstances of the despair (which aren't explained here) make a difference. But it does seem like a realistic possible future.

2009 - Honorable Mention

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans

This movie is simply nuts. When I wrote about Taking Woodstock and Extract, I mentioned that movie makers all seem to show drug trips the same way. They all use wavy camera trick. I wanted a movie that showed something different. Bad Lieutenant shows it differently.

I haven't seen the original Bad Lieutenant with Harvey Keitel, but from what I understand this uses little more than the title.

I'm convinced that Nicolas Cage isn't a great actor. He's a good actor, but he's insane. The guy picks bizarre movies. He named his child Kal-El. While that's the most awesome thing ever, it's still nucking futs. He married Lisa Marie Presley, and she only marries complete nut jobs.

But when the role calls for someone to be absolutely insane, Cage nails it. My favorite role of his was in Adaptation, where he played twins. But the part was rather insane. In Bad Lieutenant, very few people could have played Lieutenant Terrence McDonagh. The actor had to be fearless - they couldn't be afraid to go over the top and then keep going further. Well, fearless or insane.

This is such a bizarre movie. And I mean that in the best possible way. You will have no idea where its going, and you might not even be sure where you've been. But in the end it still makes sense. Sort of. Enough, at least, to enjoy it. I was sad that I couldn't find room for it in my top 10, but it deserves honorable mention for the year 2009.