Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Belated Top Ten(s) of 2009 part two (#5 - #1)

Welcome back to I Liked The Trailer Better’s belated Top Ten of 2009.  This is Part 2: Revenge of the Stalin.  It’s really too bad no Russian films made our lists, otherwise that might have been funny.  Please read Part 1 if you haven’t already. 

But to recap: Brian picked movies that may or may not exist.  McFilmerstein picked films that made him cry.  Menopause is really getting to him.   McFilmerstein is Brian's father and cut off his hand.  With the hand he still has, Brian is hanging off a cliff ready to tell you his top 5 movies.  McFilmerstein is combing through his blackberry contacts to see what other names he can drop as this will be the determining factor in his remaining choices. 

Okay, if you’ll remember, McFilmerstein's #6 was ADVENTURELAND. 

BRIAN: Yay ADVENTURELAND!  Ah, nostalgia for the 80’s… I did a lot of coke in grade school, that shit ain’t funny. 

5.  AVATAR.  The movie doesn’t have much staying power – the story is too stale from repeated use and the characters don’t have any of the iconic presence of The Terminator or Ripley.  I think I’m okay with that.  It is a pure movie-going experience for the experience itself.  The fact that the movie doesn’t live on in my head the way Frenchy McQuiet moments do isn’t a bad thing: this is a movie that demands to be experienced.  The memory of it should only pale in comparison.

GOLAN: First of all, I’d like to commend you for finally selecting a film that was made for more than $18 and the remnants of a coat pocket.  Now, you realize that putting this on your list will get you kicked out of the Cassavetes AV Club, right?  Be careful – this one made some money, which may go against your sensibilities.

As for the flick, I’ve already spoken my piece about it in our last post (, but more than that, if you look back at our big AVATAR post, you’ll find a very thorough explanation of why it shouldn’t be this high on your list.  That being said, with you choosing a big budget studio blockbuster for your top ten list, I guess beggars shouldn’t be choosers and I should just be happy you didn’t put an Iranian film about a rock as your #5.

Speaking of which…

5.  INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.  “You probably heard we ain’t in the prisoner-takin’ business; we in the killin’ Nazi business. And cousin, business is a-boomin’.”  Brad Pitt was utterly ridiculous in his role as Aldo Raine, as were most of the Basterds themselves.  With the exception of the basement scene, this movie, for me, was about three people – Mélanie Laurent’s Shosanna Dreyfus, Academy Award-winner Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa (oops, did I spoil the surprise?) and Daniel Brühl’s Fredrick Zoller.

Before I get to all of them, though, I want to point out that this film should put all the naysayers to rest about whether or not Tarantino is the real thing.  Like it or not, and many still don’t for whatever reason, he has now helmed RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION, JACKIE BROWN and KILL BILL, all of which go on the top ten lists of their respective years.  And that’s forgetting about all the other fun projects he’s had a hand in – the script for TRUE ROMANCE, the best scene in FOUR ROOMS, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, FROM DUSK TIL DAWN, etc, etc.

He’s been around in our public consciousness as a filmmaker and as a generational voice for nearly 20 years and still seems fresh whenever he comes out with a movie.  Actors still clamor to work with him, financiers still jump to bankroll his movies and studios still give him final cut.

Anyway, my point is that this movie should show those in doubt that he is just one of those guys that grabs a pen, churns out a script, gets behind the camera, and simply knocks it out of the park time after time.  Sure, people will say that GRINDHOUSE ain’t that great, or some other such nonsense, but that’s like me talking up Billy Wilder (the best director of all-time for those of you not in the know) and having the response be, “Yeah, but IRMA LA DOUCE wasn’t the best movie ever.”  Okay, but it’s still better than most for what it was trying to be!  And so was GRINDHOUSE, so if that’s the best ammunition you have against QT, step off and stop being such a hater.

But, as usual, I digress, Waltz’s Landa was one of the best characters of the year performed by one of the best actors of the year.  His emotional ups and downs, his genteel brutality, his grasp of seemingly every language under the sun made him so unique and interesting and just plain cool that I am now able to say a phrase I thought I never would: “My favorite character of the year was a Nazi!”

Laurent’s Dreyfus may seem simple, but she encompassed fear, regret, mourning, anger, shame and a thirst for revenge in ways that most actors can’t on their best day.  The way her neck tensed up at just the right moments – almost imperceptible if you weren’t looking for it – revealed volumes about a character that could have been very stock.

The last guy, Brühl’s Zoller, was a surprise to me.  I didn’t realize the depths that existed within the character until my second or third viewing, and they surprised the hell out of me.  This guy who was branded a hero by the Nazis and reveled in and enjoyed his fame (or infamy) also hated that he had become a star by being a murderer.  He understood the blood-lust the Nazi high command had and – despite his hatred for their ideals – knew that he had to embrace his label of favorite son in order to do better things in the future.  And then, in the end, when push came to shove, after being unable to watch a filmic recreation of his own massacre of the American soldiers, he then succumbed to his murderous and violent nature when rejected by a woman!  What a great representation of the struggle we all have within ourselves… cut me off and I may let it go because I’m a good person and maybe you didn’t do it on purpose… but if you cut me off and then flip me the bird to illustrate that you really did it deliberately, and I then see you later in a place where there are no witnesses… you may get a hurt brought down upon you that harkens back to biblical tales.  Sweet.

Enough of this rambling.  What’s your #4?

BRIAN: Funny you should ask.

4.  INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.  Well, I’m not so sure he seems all that fresh with every new movie.  Upon hearing that he was at work on a WWII movie that he was calling his masterpiece, I was incredibly curious to see how such a pulpy, movie geek would treat such heavy subject matter.  I was sort of expecting, maybe hoping for, the maturation PT Anderson demonstrated when he did THERE WILL BE BLOOD.  Nope, still the same pulpy filmmaker – WWII is little more than the backdrop of another revenge tale.  Same shit, different time period.  So we don’t get to witness a great filmmaker becoming better, but we do get a great filmmaker remaining great.  No one can build the suspense in a conversation quite like him.

And other fans may attest to the film’s supposed deeper, subversive meaning.  I don’t think I buy it.  In fact, doing so only opens it up to more charges about how superficial or incomplete his message might be.  Best to take it as a mere genre exercise, and here’s why: after the endless spate of self-serious Oscar bait attempting to memorialize the Holocaust, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS unwittingly offers a better alternative in coping with such unspeakable tragedy: trivializing it.  And sometimes, that’s exactly why we go to the movies. 

GOLAN: Wow!  I really like that we’re kind of on the same page here, although I don’t totally agree with your assessment of the film.  It would be like watching PULP FICTION and pretending that it didn’t have storylines that touched on redemption, or that there wasn’t a resurrection theme running throughout.  I don’t know if we should give Tarantino all the credit, but to not give him any credit is, I think, a tad overboard.  Anyway, I’m glad we liked the same movie.

4.  WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.  I’ve talked a lot about this one in our other posts, but it bears repeating.  Brilliant, moving, deep and affecting.  Because I’ve already said so much, I’ll just point out that making a fantastical movie about non-human creatures that act very much like humans and then look to a human child to save them from their own humanity… whew!  Never thought I’d see the day.  When I first heard they were making this film, I was worried.  How do you take a book that holds such great memories for me (and millions of others) and turn it into a feature-length movie?  Is it by taking a big dump on the author’s chest, a la THE CAT IN THE HAT or THE GRINCH?  Is it by being super faithful, and therefore, making something that never should have been made, a la BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA or CHARLOTTE’S WEB?  Is it by throwing tons of money behind it and making it into such a spectacle that it doesn’t matter that it came from a book to begin with a la THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE or the new PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF?  Or do you do something more subversive like taking said tome and turning it into something deep and different and interesting and awesome?  Two movies I have not seen, FANTASTIC MR. FOX and CORALINE, apparently do just that, but I can’t imagine that they do it even half as well as Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze.  ‘Nuff said.  Moving on.

BRIAN: Despite the titular pulp in PULP FICTION, it’s a deeper film than INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.  I’m not stripping Tarantino of any credit, I don’t think.  The story itself has layers of complexity, but I think the meta-movie subversion that many fans attest to is overreaching in its interpretation. 

As for WILD THINGS, yeah, I think it will be a watermark in film adaptation.  It’s a great example of a screenwriter understanding the material beyond just the text, but uncovering the essence of a piece and extrapolating from that.  It manages to be wildly interpretive while remaining respectful.  As for your not being able to imagine FANTASTIC MR. FOX doing it half as well…

3.  FANTASTIC MR. FOX.  It does do it half as well, actually much more than half.  It doesn’t have quite the level of difficulty that Eggers and Jonze had in adapting it, but Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach do just fine.  I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know exactly which parts belong to the original source, but I can absolutely recognize the fingerprints of Anderson and Baumbach all over the project.  Their intelligence, understanding of family dynamic, and original humor are evident throughout. 

Wes Anderson’s films are controlled and composed to the very last inch of the screen.  Thus, a stop-motion animation film, in which every movement is painstakingly altered 24 frames per second, must be in some ways a perfection of his vision.  With no room for accident, the film’s movie language is stripped to its etymological roots, laying bare the function of his go-to techniques.  It’s just like the scene in the movie when the animals tap into their true potential when they recall what the scientific Latin name of their species is – this film is Wes Anderson’s imagination fully realized.

GOLAN: Wow.  Can’t wait.  Another one I have at home that I really have to get on.  Also, I’ve already made it clear that I haven’t seen it yet, so thanks for ruining that scene where the animals tap into their true potential for me.  By the way, Darth Vader is Luke’s father and Kevin Spacey is Keyser Soze.  Dick.

3.  UP IN THE AIR.  If you’d ask me to make this list last month, this would have been my #1 of the year.  Maybe even last week.  But in the interim, I really started thinking about what affected me the most in cinema in 2009, and suddenly, certain things started to slide.  It’s still phenomenal (as evidenced by being my #3 of the year), and I should make it clear that it dropped two slots by virtue of the other two films that have yet to be named being so good, not by this lacking anything.  I know without even seeing your next two selections that this won’t make it anywhere near your top ten, and that’s okay.  This is not a film for everyone.

Yes, I can fall back on the tried and true company line that this is a film that really is “of the moment,” but that’s not why it spoke to me.  Despite touching on economic woes, the recession and all things layoff, this movie seemed timeless to me.  How many of us have compartmentalized our lives, only to have something (or someone) rock us off our foundation?  How many of us have believed ourselves to be happy, only to realize that we were, in fact, missing something fundamental and necessary?  Tons of us!  And probably tons more that haven’t had the revelation yet.

This movie hinges on a guy that is doing his best when the world is at its worst.  That, as people are falling by his hand – lives ruined, family’s falling apart – he is chasing a goal that couldn’t be more frivolous and pathetic.  He doesn’t even realize that the goal he’s chasing, while useless in the long run, is all about him leaving his mark on the world so that people knew he was actually there.  Because he is desperate to make a connection.  To have a lasting purpose.

I love the fact that he is oblivious to the fact that the new girl’s idea of firing people via iChat is just pushing the world further into his already-isolated corner, and that while he claims to revel in seclusion, he is desperate for the human contact he gets with the people he terminates, if only for a moment or two.

People have complained that the ending is ambiguous, leaving you with a sense of longing for a resolution, or that things in the film are a bit too calculated… To them I say two things – one, the name of the film should have given you a hint that it was not going to be handed to you wrapped in a neat little bow… and two, shut up.  And yes, I'm talking to you.

BRIAN: Yeah!  I take full credit in knocking this overpraised film off your top spot!  For the uninitiated reader, see our previous exchanges about the film and you’ll see why.  Or to summarize: You write above, “not a film for everyone.”  I say that’s bullshit: the film was meant for everyone and therefore too afraid to offend anyone, playing it safe every step of the way. 

That being said, it’s a good movie.  It makes my “it was fine in 2009” list.  Here are the others:  (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, BRIGHT STAR, MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY, HARRY POTTER 6, and UP.  So there you go.  Boy, I really hope none of these make your list.  That would be a travesty. 

2.  THE WHITE RIBBON.  Reducing this film to the thematic logline critics have been attaching it to – that it’s a look at the roots of Fascism – is a bit tricky.  Sure, it very well might be, but Michael Haneke only lightly traces the causal relationship of the film’s events to the rise of the Nazi party.  Instead, he presents circumstantial evidence, with the audience as jury to give their own verdict on the film’s events.  The title refers to the ribbon tied around the preacher’s son’s bicep to remind him of his “purity” (and also tied to a bed post at night to prevent him from masturbating – did I mention it’s also a hilarious comedy?).  It’s an allusion to the swastika arm band and the purity of race that identify the Nazi party – a lovely example of the understated foreshadowing of events that happen well after the movie’s setting is over.

GOLAN: The real travesty is that you include UP IN THE AIR and UP amongst your “fine in 2009” list.  I think you may be in full-on anti-popularity mode here – it stars superstar George Clooney (and not as an animated character), therefore it can’t be in my top ten.  It comes from movie juggernaut Disney, therefore even though it was clearly a masterpiece, it can’t be praised.

By the way, I think you couldn’t be more wrong about UP IN THE AIR being made for everyone.  The fact that everyone (with a smattering of cynics here and there being the exception) seems to like it is not a weakness!  As in his previous films (which should have been much more polarizing because of the potentially controversial subject matters), Reitman defies the odds and manages to cull together a film that works on all levels.  To fault him for that would be like faulting Da Vinci for the Mona Lisa being too popular.

As for THE WHITE RIBBON… I know you love Haneke, and I know you love his lack of resolution, but here I found it pretty excruciating.  There are very few filmmakers in the world today that can hit you over the head with an obvious message, while at the same time revealing nothing.  Haneke is #1 when it comes to that.  As usual, his characters are despicable – was there a sympathetic one in the bunch?  I get that as bad things happen, we are more likely to become afraid and give over to the authorities.  I get that our own rotten nature as people (and yes, I think that Haneke believes that we’re all horrible) leads us to allow a greater evil to take over… an evil that may have more power, but may also lead to – gasp – things like the Holocaust.  Blah blah blah blah.  This movie was fucking boring.

Speaking of movies that are the opposite of boring …

2.  THE HURT LOCKER.  What a film.  Finally, someone cracks the “how to tell the Iraq War story onscreen” puzzle.  By not addressing the politics of the situation and just making a movie about pure, unadulterated war!  I know that this is the opposite of what you said when you named it #6 on your list (“The other Iraq war movies got knocked for either being too polemical or conveniently sidestepping the politics altogether.  THE HURT LOCKER does neither.  For a soldier in an all voluntary army, politics is not why we fight; instead, war is a drug.”).

As a former soldier myself, I can say that whether or not the service is voluntary is rarely the issue.  Once you’re in it, you crave the excitement of something other than sitting around the barracks, or standing guard.  I remember being excited about just shooting a gun in a firing range, because it seemed cool and dangerous, even in a controlled environment.  It is a drug, and it always be one, no matter where or when in the world you are.  Even if you hate it, even if you fear it, even if you don’t believe in the cause you’re fighting for, even if you can’t wait to get out and go back to your normal life, it is still a drug.  And the more we become a society where first-person shooter games and paintball guns become a way of life, the more that drug will take hold.  Half the people who join the army now do it, in addition to their other reasons, because it’s like living out a video game fantasy.  And this movie is the quintessential version of that.

This movie could take place in any country, in any war, in any year.  Hell, on any planet with any species.  This is a movie that could even be remade by other countries as an indigenous story without having to alter so much as a word.  The characters were people, not American soldiers.  The disarming of each subsequent bomb akin to potentially deadly art.  The outpouring of emotion, however manly and quiet, universal.

Plus, tension like I’ve never seen on screen.  Kathryn Bigelow (who must have been born with very good genes) directs the hell out of this movie.  If she doesn’t win best director this year, it will be another blight on the Academy’s record.  Even people who don’t like this movie (and I don’t know many) were gripping their armrests in the theater as Jeremy Renner took off his flack jacket to get into that car.

I could go on and on about this flick, but I’ll just end with this… I’ve been thinking about this movie since I saw it.  And I probably won’t stop anytime soon.  It somehow manages to be both delicious junk food and healthy brain food all at once.  And maybe it’s about time we learn, as a filmmaking community, to straddle that line a little more.

BRIAN: Oh, come on, if I was really guilty of faulting movies for their popularity, why did I like AVATAR more than you?  Ditto THE DARK KNIGHT, which you bear some sort of personal resentment towards.

I will finally concede one point on UP IN THE AIR though: I can appreciate Reitman’s attempt at making the film as accessible as possible (if seen in the tradition of 40’s studio system movies), especially after hearing about the darker tone of the novel it was based on.  He is taking purposeful steps in making the material more relatable, even if that means playing it safe throughout.  It’s the exact same way America can appreciate Jay Leno. 

I guess that was pretty passive aggressive.  I feel good about it.  Hey, you just compared the film to Mona Fucking Lisa; I figured I go the other way.

Resolving the mystery in THE WHITE RIBBON is not simply Haneke’s way of saying “Fuck you” to conventional audience expectations.  It wouldn’t have made any sense to identify who the culprit of the violent acts was.  His whole point is to suggest a social responsibility, not just an individual one.  It would be like saying Adolf Hitler is the only man responsible for the atrocities of WWII, as if he were the devil incarnate.  Furthermore, by doing so, he is not pinning the roots of evil on “the rotten nature” of humanity, but rather examining how evil can sprout from sequestered, innocuous settings.  If anything, he sees the historically vilified people as victims here, not horrible perpetrators just following their inhumane instincts.  And while there are some despicable characters, there are plenty of sympathetic figures in the movie – many Haneke followers and critics have noted the unexpected warmth of the film, surely not an emotion the director is known for.  The romance between the narrator and his love interest is surprisingly sweet, as are several of the interactions between the kids and their siblings or parents.  As for the film being fucking boring, I’ll admit – there really wasn’t enough locker room towel-snapping done with the titular white ribbon.  Why didn’t the kids use the white ribbon to strangle their overbearing parents in their sleep?  I can’t believe none of the characters figured out how to turn that white ribbon into a machine gun to blow up the bad guy with lasers. 

HURT LOCKER!  Great movie, but I should clarify the quote you misread.  I’m saying that it doesn’t get political (which is what you’re also saying), but that it also doesn’t sidestep – or conveniently ignore – the politics the way a film like JARHEAD does, seeming more like an exercise in filmmaking than a movie about war.  The way the film does this is by acknowledging the political vacuum of combat for these soldiers – when we get glimpses of their civilian life, it is decidedly apolitical, particularly in contrast to the crusaders they are fighting.  Kathryn Bigelow has spoken about the distinction of this war being fought by, for the first time, an all volunteer army, and thus the motivation for these soldiers to enlist is central to the film’s thesis.  There may be universalities shared among the soldiers of different wars, but I do think Bigelow is specifically drawing a character portrait of the American soldier in today’s wars.  And that’s how, for me, she was able to finally crack the Iraq War film. 

1.  WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.  Fantasies primarily function as an escape – and there have been plenty of movies and books to explore this concept.  This movie (much more so than the short book) exposes the limits of that function.  The fantasy sequence is a product of Max’s imagination, and the filmmakers never forget that Max is a child.  They could have opted to fabricate an Alice in Wonderland type narrative with characters and setpieces far more sophisticated than a child’s mind could ever dream up.  While it would have arguably made for a more appealing movie, this would have been false.  Instead, there are gaps and holes in the plot; the story turns on somewhat arbitrary events, as Max is likely making it up as it goes along (just like the rambling story he tells his mom in the beginning about the grown-up vampires biting into buildings). 

Most importantly, the characters in the fantasy are half-formed in their identity and their motivation.  They vaguely resemble the people in Max’s real life, and he fills in what he doesn’t understand about their motives with his own.  A key process of child development is when the kid gains a more advanced form of empathy, able to understand others as well as himself.  The “pretend” that Max is playing out in his head gives him a better understanding of the world.  Thus, while the film surveys the limits of fantasy as escape, it also explores a different function of fantasy: working out the complexities of waking life.  Fittingly, the film is always grounded in reality (as I’ve written in earlier posts, I’ve never seen a fantasy this tactile in its realization), and the fantasy never strays too far away from its inspiration.  The reason Max’s journey must end is due to his inability to sustain that fantasy, but also: the kid got hungry.  There’s a running motif of characters threatening to eat each other, perhaps a representation of his appetite.  The last shot is of Max eating his dessert. 

Spike Jonze’s goal was to capture the feeling of being a 9-year old.  Given how adult audience members are reduced to tears by the end of it, I say he succeeded. 

GOLAN: Not to beat a dead horse, but I still don’t think Reitman set out to make UP IN THE AIR accessible – the fact that it resonated for many different demographics speaks to his skill as a filmmaker.  And yes, Mona Lisa was over the top.  But, damn – Leno?  That was below the belt!

As for THE WHITE RIBBON, I don’t disagree with most of what you’re saying.  You actually are saying, more or less, what I said… but that doesn’t change the fact that I still found the film boring, as I do a lot of Haneke’s stuff.  I can’t help it.  A little machine gun laser masturbation bad guy towel-snap strangling might have helped!  Next time I see Haneke, I’ll mention to him that you suggested it.

And I did indeed misread your quote on HURT LOCKER.  A rare admission of fault, so savor it.  In the end, it sounds like we’re on the same page.  What a nice way to approach the end of this particular blog entry.  With mutual appreciation (zing!).  That being said, if Bigelow is going to claim that her thesis applies only to Iraq, my retort would be thus: Spoken like someone that’s never been in combat.

I have to admit I love that our respective number ones are both films that could easily have been mistaken for kid’s movies, but transcend categorization, affecting adults as well as children.  Which brings me to…

1. UP.  UP!  UP UP UP UP!  I’m going to keep this short, and just say that you need to see this movie.  If you haven’t, you’re missing out.  The opening sequence, almost entirely sans sound, aside from Michael Giacchino’s beautiful Oscar-winning score (oops – another spoiler!), in which we watch the courtship, romance, aging and eventual parting of Carl and Ellie is one of the most beautiful sequences I have ever seen committed to film.

Pete Docter and Bob Peterson have made what is quite possibly my favorite animated film of all-time.  Admittedly, I have a strange list of favorite animated films (with THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE and MULAN at the top), but this one had such heart and soul and brains that it leaps into the top spot.

One of my favorite things about the flick is that there are so many elements that, admittedly, shouldn’t work together – an old widower making his house fly with helium balloons, a weird loner Asian boy scout, a maniacal octogenarian vying for glory, dogs that talk, a giant big colorful flightless bird – but damn if they not only work… they soar.

Beyond the awesome visuals (some of the best I’ve ever seen – you can really tell they went to South America to location scout), the great characters (when was the last time an old man with a walker was at the heart of a cartoon) and the amazing creativity (whoever thought up the interior of the Zeppelin deserves an Oscar for production design), this movie succeeds because of the genuinely heartwarming and touching story.  I cannot tell you how many times I cried during this movie, but watching it in 3-D was made all the more difficult by me having to remove my special glasses to wipe my eyes every 10 minutes.

The movie doesn’t shy away from real fears, real issues or real sadness, which are all things that scare the hell out of studio executives.  I credit this production team for going there.  Over and over again.

When a talking dog brings you to tears just by being honest, you know you are watching a masterpiece.

P.S.  When I walked out of the El Capitan Theater, the first thing I did was go next door and buy an UP hat, to display my support for the film.  I think that may be why it got a Best Picture nomination.  Thank you, Pixar.  Keep up the good work.

[Editor’s note: And that’s it for I Liked The Trailer Better’s Top Ten List of 2009!  What’d you think?  Feel free to post your own top ten in the comments section.  And check out their runners-up below.  And don’t worry about who the editor was this time.  Stop being petty.] 

BRIAN: My runner-ups:

HUMPDAY. Funny, honest, and daring.
STILL WALKING. Modern-day Ozu (Japanesey McQuiet).
PONYO. Round tummy.
TWO LOVERS. Team Gwyneth.
THE HEADLESS WOMAN. Lucretia Martel's follow-up to her masterpiece, The Holy Girl. 

GOLANAnd here are mine in alphabetical order:

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER. It made me smile.
CRUDE. Great documentary from a great documentarian.
THE HANGOVER. I like laughing.
SIN NOMBRE. Team Cary.
Straight up stunning work.  Probably should have made my top ten.  STATE OF PLAY. Totally underrated flick.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Belated Top Ten(s) of 2009 part one (#10 - #6)

Welcome to I Liked The Trailer Better’s belated Top Ten of 2009 round-up.  This is part one – selections ten through six.  They will be listing off their favorite movies in ascending order.  Will they agree on anything?  Has Golan seen any of Brian's picks?  How high will TRANSFORMERS 2 be on Golan's list?  Oh my god, the suspense is killing us!

[editor’s note: the editor for the above paragraph was Brian]

BRIAN: First, I want to give props to our editor.  He’s brilliant. 

10.  A SERIOUS MAN.  The Coen Bros. have been knocked for the cruel misanthropy in their films, inflicting pain for sake of comedy or condescending to their Midwestern characters.  Well, this film addresses that bleak worldview.  It’s a modern day tale of Job, and the Coens take delight in finding new ways to make a man suffer.  Suddenly, their trademark misanthropy makes a whole lot of sense when they're essentially playing god.

GOLAN: That editor, by the way, can suck it.

As for A SERIOUS MAN, I am super sorry to say that I haven’t seen it, which starts out belated top ten of the year list off with a real bang.  I can’t discuss it.  I can’t critique it.  I can’t argue with you, leading to hours of fun for our readers.  I can, on the other hand, let them all know that I do have a copy of it at home, and intend to watch it, at which time we will have a rousing debate about it, to their delight.

Now that that run-on sentence is over, my turn!

10.  THE BLIND SIDE.  Yes, you heard me right.  The blatantly commercial, overtly sugary and unashamedly heartstring-yanking flick that took middle America by storm is my tenth favorite movie of the year.  It was a tight race, with a few films inched out that people will undoubtedly yell at me about.

The interesting thing to me is that a bit ago I ridiculed the Academy for nominating THE BLIND SIDE for Best Picture, and now I’m making it one of my ten best of the year.  So I retract my afore-mentioned snarkiness.  I get it.  It affected me.  It made me cry.  It made me laugh.  It made me – amazingly – like Sandra Bullock.

Seriously, though.  This is one movie that just simply touched me and made me smile, in spite (or maybe because) of it’s awesome feel-good clichéd syrupy goodness.

BRIAN: Wow.  Our tenth pick is a nice summation of how the two of us enjoy movies:

A SERIOUS MAN – what an apt description for my pretentious taste! 

THE BLIND SIDE – the only way your favorite movies work is when the audience is blind to the artificial manipulation of an audience’s emotions!  Fuck yeah!

And another thing I’m curious about: the movie made you laugh and smile?  Aren’t you repeating yourself here?  When a movie makes me cry, does it score extra points for making snot come out my nose?  Shut up with your stoopid BLIND SIDE.  That’s my argument, since I haven’t seen it.    

9.  ADVENTURELAND.  One of the best coming-of-age films I’ve seen in a while.  When you’re growing up, sometimes it’s a lot easier to be defined by what you’re not than what you are.  The characters don’t quite know what they want to be, but they are definitely not carnival barking wage slaves, even if that Adventureland uniform offers them the only real identity they can hang onto.  The film also shows how fun it is to be miserable, a coming-of-age rite of passage.  The characters root in their misery, wallow in it: the mixtape Jesse Eisenberg’s character gives to Bella (…wait, that’s not right) is labeled “J's Favorite Bummer Songs.”* And this job is essentially a bummer gig: it’s the perfect way to harness and coddle their anxiety and frustrations.  When you’re confused and rudderless in life, cleaning puke off a ride seat is the only thing that makes sense.   

*Great fucking soundtrack, by the way.  The Replacements are my favorite 80’s band, and it’s nice to hear “Bastards of Young” open the movie, and then to hear “Unsatisfied” accompany the climax. 

GOLAN: Love love love ADVENTURELAND.  I’ll get there soon enough.  I almost don’t want to comment on it now because of what I have saved up for when I get to it on my list.  So, for now, I’m just moving on to…

9.  AVATAR.  Another big dumb mainstream studio movie!  Yay my non-indie sensibilities!  I don’t have too much to write about this one since there’s a whole entry of me talking and bitching about the flick.  Suffice it to say that it is technically amazing, visually stunning, big, dumb and studio.  Yay money.

BRIAN: I feel like I’m writing a bit more than you are in these entries, no?  It’s time to ask myself, Am I getting out of this relationship as much as I’m putting in?  Is it something I’m doing wrong?  Have I gotten too comfortable and put on a few pounds?  Is it my cankles?  (Write MORE, you douchebag!)

That being said, I’ll pull the same thing you did about ADVENTURELAND for AVATAR.  I almost don’t want to comment on it now because of what I have saved up for when I get to it on my list.  So, for now, I’m just moving on to…

8.  35 SHOTS OF RUM.  French filmmaker Claire Denis’ film about the relationship between a widower and his college-age, live-in daughter is an homage to the great Japanese director, Yasujiro Ozu.  Gracefully visual with very minimal dialogue.  So exacting is her filmmaking that the story’s conflict remains largely unspoken without ever becoming ambiguous.  The film has also been noted for its look at how France’s population is slowly changing.  The cast of characters is almost entirely black.  Denis returns to her exploration of her country’s history, as its remnants appear in the background.  The daughter sits through a classroom discussion about colonialism, just a few generations removed from the material.  But in her unspoken desire to break free from the codependent, near incestuous relationship she shares with her father, history is transposed onto her reluctant struggle for independence.    

GOLAN: What the fuck are you talking about?  35 shots of rum is what I had last night, not a film.  You fucking intellectual, wanna-be hipster douche.  Did you make this film up?  I’m a film guy and I’ve never heard of this thing.  I read the first two lines of your entry and then stopped because are you serious???  Then I tried to keep reading… and fell asleep.  “Gracefully visual with very minimal *SNORE*  See what you did?  I couldn’t even finish the sentence long enough to close my quotes on that one.  Yikes.  Suffice it to say I have not seen this.  Neither have you probably.  Trying to seem all artsy fartsy holier than thou.  Is this because my first two choices are patently commercial?  Are you just trying to show our readers how much smarter than me you are?  I went to collige – I is smart!

And talk about a nice summation of how the two of us enjoy movies!  AVATAR vs. Frenchy McQuiet.  Fuck yeah indeed.

8.  CRAZY HEART.  Before you even attack, I’ll acknowledge that this is one of those indie films that is basically mainstream.  Yes, I admit it.  I can pretend that this one brings me down to your hipster silence-is-golden level, but in the end we all know it’s still The Dude rocking out and humping Secretary with The Recruit and The Apostle jumping in for color.

And I fucking love it.  The performance Jeff Bridges gives in this thing is amazing.  It, along with T-Bone Burnett’s music, makes this #8 on my list.  Without those two elements, this doesn’t make my list at all.

I’ve always loved Jeff Bridges.  I loved him way back in LAST PICTURE SHOW.  Loved him in TRON.  STARMAN.  JAGGED EDGE.  FABULOUS BAKER BOYS.  THE FISHER KING.  And his performance in FEARLESS is one of the all-time greatest, if you ask me.  The man made me cry in STICK IT, for God’s sake.  The point is, he’s amazing, and I’ve only scratched the surface of his amazing performances.  Then I worked with him, which was a special treat.  I discovered that on top of being an amazing actor, he’s an amazing guy.  Great on his feet, cool as an ice cream sandwich fresh out of the freezer, and collaborative like you wouldn’t believe.

And after all that, he still managed to surprise me and move me in new ways in this flick.  His Bad Blake is an iconic character, mostly because of his flourishes – the way he hangs the phone on a lampshade while someone is saying something he doesn’t want to hear, the way he pukes into a garbage can and then reaches into it afterwards to fish out his shades that were on top of his head when he leaned in.  Stuff that I guarantee you was not in the script, that he brought to the table.

And he can sing.  I mean sing.  No joke, kids.  Buy the soundtrack.  I know I will.

I give AN EDUCATION a hard time because it’s essentially a fine (but not amazing) movie anchored by an incredible performance.  This one is much the same, but somehow his performance is so outstanding that it pushes the whole endeavor (that would be fine but not amazing without him) into the amazing category.

There, I wrote a bunch.  Happy?  I’ve given you plenty of time to start writing about your next pretentious movie that I’ve never heard of.  Zing!

BRIAN: I don’t have too much interest in seeing this movie, but “The Dude rocking out and humping Secretary with The Recruit and The Apostle jumping in for color” is probably the best logline I’ve ever heard.  I guess it’s pretty fun just watching a movie for the performance’s sake, though.  Back in the day, I watched SPECIES just for Natasha Henstridge.  Same thing, right?

Okay, you’re gonna hate me. 

7.  BEESWAX.  Andrew Bujalski’s third film is a bit of a departure.  The naturalistic speech patterns and rambling flow of dialogue are still there, but the one-take, handheld camerawork is replaced with more traditional scene coverage.  The camera is mostly static; the scene cuts back and forth between the actors.  The result is, just like when I saw his debut, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  Because the film no longer has the air of seeming improvised, the meandering conversations have a sense of deliberation, which is why some find this film to be Bujalski’s least accessible –  almost purposefully drama-deprived.  I found this choice to be part of an interesting evolution of a filmmaker like no other, and I found the evolution to match the maturation of his characters.  His films have always been great at capturing the rhythm of life, so it’s fitting that his style take the plodding form of his characters’ adult, working lifestyle. 

And once again, modeling his characters on real people he’s known for a while, and then casting those non-actors in those roles, yields another unsurpassable character study.  You walk away knowing these characters better than characters in almost any movie.  But even more than that: you know them better than some people in your own life.  

GOLAN: Now here’s where I get to surprise you.  I liked BEESWAX.  Seriously.  I did.  Not top ten of the year liked, but liked.  Thought it was a solid, interesting, indie, mumblecore flick.  I did appreciate the connection I felt to the characters, and I did appreciate the kind of raw starkness of Bujalski’s world.  There’s other stuff I didn’t love as much as you, but overall, I give it a thumbs up.

And now I feel closer to you.  Honestly, there’s no one I would rather write a blog with.  Awwwwwwwwwww.

On to my equally introspective, deep, and indie-friendly choice…

7.  STAR TREK.  Yay!  Fun!  Stuff blowing up!  Stuff flying at warp speed!  Stuff punching and kicking!  Stuff warping!  Stuff… um… driving off of cliffs…

Did I know what the hell was going on with Eric Bana’s revenge story?  NO!  Did I understand their concept of time travel?  NO!  Did I love the constant bombardment of fake lens flares?  NO!  Did I enjoy the almost total lack of reverence to science and moral quandaries that made the TV show so interesting?  NO!  Did I really need to see the characters as children?  NO!  Did I give a shit about the sometimes total lack of logic?  NO!

Did I care about all those things I just said “NO!” to?  NOT AT ALL!

Another big budget, studio, fun, action-packed, loud, energetic… smart, thrilling, epic movie.  Didn’t expect those last three adjectives, did ya?

There’s not too much to say about this flick, except to say that I will gladly watch the sequel and hope that it still has the same sense of fun and ambition.

BRIAN: Omg, re: BEESWAX, hold me?  Tighter. 

I have to admit, I fell asleep during a lot of STAR TREK (Jesus, I’m drawing myself as an indie caricature here).  Not because it was bad or boring – in fact, I liked what I saw – I was just dead tired when I saw it.  Plus, for a J.J. Abrams project, there was no Keri Russell.  Unforgivable.  Felicity 4ever.  I definitely plan to watch it, though. 

6.  THE HURT LOCKER.  I had a few problems with this movie.  There are some movie-ish plot clichés that would be more forgivable if Kathryn Bigelow’s direction wasn’t so grittily realistic.  It also seemed to drive home its central idea – that war is a drug – over and over again, without really deepening that idea as it went on.  The last reel seemed extraneous as a result – the chase sequence that results in a soldier’s near death seemed nothing more than a climactic way to further drive home that point. 

But: for the pure experience of what it must be like serving in Iraq, this is one of the great war films.  The other Iraq war movies got knocked for either being too polemical or conveniently sidestepping the politics altogether.  THE HURT LOCKER does neither.  For a soldier in an all voluntary army, politics is not why we fight; instead, war is a drug.  If the movie seemed too one-note to me, maybe that was exactly right: after that amazing first sequence, we spend the rest of the movie just chasing the high. 

GOLAN: So, just to recap: foreign and graceful = you’re all ears, STAR TREK = sleepy time?  You are one fascinating creature…

As for your number 6, now we’re talking!  THE HURT LOCKER is awesome!  Great great flick.  I’ll get to that soon enough on my own list.

In the meantime:

6.  ADVENTURELAND.  Told you I would come back to it eventually!  I guess I just liked it more than you did.  This was one that really hit home for me.  I was a dork in high school.  I couldn’t wait to get out.  Graduated early just to get away from the same people Jesse Eisenberg was trying to escape.  It was like eating a great stew – nice meaty pieces of funny with just the right amount of nostalgia, a quart of really spot-on acting, an ounce of intelligence, half a cup of honest emotion and a heaping helping of awesome soundtrack.  Garnish with something sweet and something bittersweet.  Serve over something poignant.

Sure, we’ve seen coming of age stories before.  We’ve even seen this coming of age story before.  But it doesn’t matter.  This is so well made, with such great writing, acting and directing, that it seems like I’m watching this genre for the first time.

On a personal level, I connected to so many parts of this movie.  When James finds out his degree in comparative literature won’t help him with shit in the real world, all I could think of was my own English major (luckily coupled with a fine arts major) and how it didn’t help me with shit in the real world.  When James had to get a crappy job to make ends meet, I was reminded of my own time working at a mini-golf establishment where the highlight of my day was being able to take a free mini-pizza from the snack bar around lunchtime.  When James liked a girl that ended up sleeping with the asshole instead, I was reminded of every girl I liked in high school!

But I digress.  This flick is imminently watchable because it doesn’t matter who you are – there is someone in it that represents you.  And none of the characters, even the afore-mentioned asshole, or the blonde bimbo bombshell, or the moron best friend, collapse under the weight of cliché or being villainized, both of which would have been very easy to do.  In giving these characters three full dimensions, it strengthens the characters that are at the fore-front, making it that much more relatable.

Thank you, Greg Mottola, for giving me a slice of my own childhood, but letting it have a happy ending.


And that’s it for the first half of our top ten of the year!  More to come, as we move on to numbers 5 through 1.  Hope you guys are enjoying it thus far.  We’d love to hear what you think of our picks so far – feel free to comment like crazy.  Speaking of which, the editor for this final paragraph is crazy awesome.

[editor’s note: the editor for the above paragraph was McFilmerstein]

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The 2010 Oscar Nominations

BRIAN: So the nominations came out this morning. I don’t really care, but out of obligation to all the readers who are only reading this because we just badgered and begged them to, I feel a moral responsibility to discuss. This is for you, guys. Thank you.

And it’s not that I don’t care because I’ve become disillusioned about the whole process (well, maybe); I just feel like 2009 was a pretty weak year for movies, and there’s no film I’m all that excited about. Hey, Academy, great timing in expanding the best picture nominees to 10. Critics’ top 10 lists are always more interesting to me than Oscar nominees – am I alone here? By the way, we never did our 2009 top ten lists. We should do that next.

So how ‘bout we just go through and list off our choices for most egregious snubs and inclusions independently. We’ll post them at the same time and compare/contrast afterwards. That way, you can’t copy off mine. Cool?

In the meantime, dear readers, you can watch this clip to prime you for all the hate that's about to spew from our keyboards:

GOLAN: Before I do my list, I just want to point out that even Jack almost vomited before he said CRASH. He had to literally hide his mouth with the envelope as his gag reflex kicked in.

As for what you were saying, I hate to admit that I do still care. I still get a jolt out of the whole thing. Even after the year FORREST GUMP beat out PULP FICTION and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, even after the year that TITANIC beat out L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, even after the year that CHICAGO beat out THE PIANIST, and - yes - even after the year that CRASH beat out BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (man, why do I care anymore?), I still give a shit or two about the Oscars. At this point, I feel like the only person in the industry that still watches them or wants to throw a party about them.

Here's the sad truth - I was up this morning when the nominations were being read. Go on and judge me.

And I happen to not think that 2009 was that weak a year for movies. Any year that yields this many movies that made me cry can't be all bad (and I mean "made me cry" in the good "UP moved me" kind of way, not the "WOLVERINE destroyed another of my childhood memories" kind of way).

Let's be honest - there are very few years in recent memory that would warrant ten nominations. I would have to go all the way back to 1999 - the year of FIGHT CLUB, THE MATRIX, AMERICAN BEAUTY, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, THE SIXTH SENSE, MAGNOLIA, THREE KINGS, ELECTION, THE IRON GIANT, BOYS DON'T CRY, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, THE INSIDER, TOY STORY 2, EYES WIDE SHUT and, of course, THE OTHER SISTER.

But I digress. This year ain't all that bad. I could give you five seriously strong nominees for Best Picture. And yes, our top ten lists for 2009 will be exciting. So will our top ten of the decade lists. Yay us.

As for listing our snubs and surprises (which is what I think you mean by inclusions), I'm all for it.

Ready? Set? Go!

BRIAN: Okay. Best Picture. The best surprise of the bunch is A SERIOUS MAN, clearly one of the 5 beneficiaries of the expanded category. Let’s run through the others real quick, since the recent development of the Best Picture 10 should be addressed: AN EDUCATION, DISTRICT 9, THE BLIND SIDE, and UP (none of these films’ directors got a nod, which is pretty much a disqualification to win Best Picture, so I’m applying that logic here). Of the five, three are money-makers – the proverbial DARK KNIGHTs that the Academy was hoping for – and the other two are limited release titles. So a 3/2 split – not too pessimistic one way or the other. The expanded slots made way for the crowd-pleasers appealing to a broader Oscar telecast audience, while still leaving room for arty fare that could still really use the box-office boost of a Best Picture nod. Still, I don’t like the expansion. I mean, I haven’t seen THE BLIND SIDE, but really? I’d only see it if James Van Der Beek showed up in the locker room out of nowhere to say, “I don’t….want….your life.”

Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any of the nominated Best Actress performances, so I don’t have as much ammunition as I’d like. My favorite female performance this year was Gwyneth Paltrow in TWO LOVERS. So I guess this isn’t really a snub if no one saw it, but come on – it’s Gwyneth Paltrow! Hollywood loves its starlets, especially when it looks like they’re stretching. Shit, if Angelina Jolie can snag a nomination for acting the shit out of her costume in CHANGELING, surely Gwyneth deserves a nod for this! (Team Gwyneth!) But seriously, the performance is revelatory. Without taking on physical transformations (her hair is still blonde, she’s still movie-star thin), she is absolutely convincing playing against type – working class, not entitled; Brooklyn, not Manhattan. She plays a sad twenty-something caught in a love affair with a wealthier older man, and it’s her mannerisms (too often arbitrarily employed by actors) that clue us into her character’s insecurities. Her smile comes quick and easy, happy at the slightest compliment rather than being stingy with her approval and doling it out in small portions as if it were a rarefied commodity. Her voice sounds like it’s caught in male puberty, cracking at excitement, eager for attention. It’s a complete, inside-and-out performance that you wouldn’t expect from a star. Anyhow, it’s great. And Joaquin Phoenix was quite good too. I would have been happy if he got a nomination. I also really liked Abbie Cornish in BRIGHT STAR. There’s an immediacy to her performance -- hard to do within the usually stolid setting of a period piece without seeming anachronistically contemporary (ahem, Keira Knightley), but she’s great. The cinematography in the film is also deserving – and it’s not just that the countryside is picturesque. It’s ridiculously gorgeous and – like Cornish’s performance – immediate and tactile: necessary for a film about Keats. We needed to feel the imagery that populates his poetry.

I’m fine with the Best Actor nominations, although Clooney should not win. There are holes in his performance, exposing the limits of his range. There was ample opportunity to show the real jerk in his character, but he played it safe – the audience never stops liking him every second of the movie. Look, it’s hard to make a cad so likeable, but it’s fucking Clooney. I felt there were a few scenes he was phoning it in instead of exploring his character. So give it to Jeremy Renner. The dude from A SERIOUS MAN should have gotten Clooney’s spot.

As for Supporting Actress, I can’t believe Amy Adams wasn’t nominated. The snub of the decade, surely. Well, no. I just figured she got nominated last year for sitting there in DOUBT, I thought she was a shoo-in this year. Samantha Morton gives a very good performance in THE MESSENGER though. Her first scene, when she is told her husband has been killed, is a marvel to watch. The way she repeatedly looks off to the side to make sure her son doesn’t see the soldiers on her lawn is devastating. Best performance in the movie. Better than Woody Harrelson, who got a nod. He was good, but he had the unfortunate task of having to say the occasional too writerly line in a movie that doesn’t need them. And so his acting came off a little more polished and back-storied than it should have.

Animated Film – umm….

Ponyo Ponyo Ponyo tiny little fish!
She’s a little fish from the deep blue sea
Ponyo Ponyo Ponyo she’s a little girl!
She’s a little girl with a round tummyyyyyy

Wtf?! Did the Academy not hear me singing that incessantly around our offices? Even you started singing along! That movie’s irresistible.

Directing. Alright, so WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE wasn’t nominated for anything. Anything. There may be more skill involved in Bigelow’s direction of THE HURT LOCKER, but I felt WILD THINGS was the best directed movie of the year. The entire film is a high-wire act. I have never experienced a fantasy world that felt that real, that quotidian. It’s such an original accomplishment that I think it will be a reference point for filmmakers in years to come. It didn’t get a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination either. I don’t understand, especially with an Academy that likes to reward degree of difficulty. Jonze and Eggers extrapolated from what’s essentially a picture book. Their major achievement is that it’s convincingly written from the point of view of a child. The fantasy world is all in Max’s head, and what might seem like plot holes is actually representative of how inchoate Max’s imagination is in spinning the story. When K.W. enters the scene, her motivation for coming back is to get a stick – it’s a substitute for a real reason as Max grapples with the reasoning of the adult world. For a kid’s film, it might be the deepest, most mature film of last year.

And how did it not get nominated for Best Visual Effects? The monsters in WILD THINGS were amazing. I couldn’t tell at first whether it was CGI or animatronics – but of course, animatronics could never achieve the level of nuance and emotion in the facial expressions. I was moved by these visual effects, and instead, a nomination went to DISTRICT 9, whose handheld jittery camera was intended to mask the shoddy CGI. Jesus Christ. HARRY POTTER also made brilliant use of its visual effects. No nod either. Best Digitized Lens Flare goes to STAR TREK.

Adapted Screenplay. So, when they read off the nominees come Oscar night, are they gonna say, “Precious: Based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire – screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher, based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”? I really want them to.

Original Screenplay. Movies today are overwritten. Even underdeveloped movies are overwritten – in the sense that things are over-explained, there’s too much exposition, and dialogue is used as a crutch. So this category is particularly tricky for me (as a grumpy writer) because it tends to reward scripts that have flashy writing and are hence overwritten (JUNO, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE). HUMPDAY had a brilliant script, if you consider the lines that were ultimately delivered in the movie as the script, but only because it was mostly improvised. There are much funnier lines in that film than in UP IN THE AIR, but the script would never get recognized because the writer had the humility to let the actors contribute. I thought THE HURT LOCKER had a decent script (and I’m not arguing that it shouldn’t get nominated), but there’s that completely unnecessary monologue when the younger soldier yells at Jeremy Renner and explicitly describes his character like a book report. As I stated above, I thought the dialogue in THE MESSENGER was far too writerly from time to time. But it’s those same writerly lines that showcase what a good writer Oren Moverman is. Didn’t the period pop culture references in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS seem a bit forced and clumsy? Still, I feel like his movies are immune from the overwritten gripe, because his movies are so movie-movie. I hope it wins.

Best Animated Short. Pixar should have submitted the first seven minutes of UP and junked the rest of the movie. You know how Chumbawamba started off their album with “Tubthumping,” and the rest of the songs you listened to while driving back to Tower Records to see if you could return the CD? That’s what UP was like.

Man, CD's -- ho ho, remember those? Welcome to 2010. Technology!

Alright. Those are my initial thoughts. Yours?

GOLAN: I'm going to be realistic here. And honest. I could pull out choices that I haven't seen that other people keep mentioning (even though – let’s be realistic – they probably haven't seen either). I’m referring to the oft-mentioned likes of Julianne Moore in A SINGLE MAN and Christian McKay in ME AND ORSON WELLES. I have not seen these films (nor a slew of others), so please do not take my omissions to necessarily mean that I did not think people were worthy.

So let’s talk about the movies I have seen.

I’ll start off with Best Picture, since that seems like a logical place to start. While I loved THE BLIND SIDE (and I truly did, despite seeing all the heartstring-pulling moments coming from a mile away), do I think it deserved a Best Picture nomination? Not likely…

Then there’s AN EDUCATION. A beautiful movie, no doubt. One of the best acted of the year – Carey Muligan is transplendent, Peter Sarsgaard is great as usual, and Alfred Molina proves once again that he can do anything (if you don’t believe me, go back and watch him in BOOGIE NIGHTS, then SPIDER-MAN 2, then this). The script, by one of my favorite writers, is all crackly with witty repartee and clever bon mots. But the Best Picture of the year? Hardly. I have had this argument with plenty of people, and in the end, it does come down to people agreeing that it’s a fine film anchored by a great performance.

I also have big problems with PRECIOUS, but not enough to pull it from the ten nominated film list for fear of a visit from Oprah.

My big admission is that I have not seen DISTRICT 9 or A SERIOUS MAN, so I will leave them alone and not pick on them. I likewise missed INVICTUS, so I can’t comment on whether it was snubbed.

But if I were to have the power to yank the two (or even three) movies mentioned above and replace them with movies that were my favorites, I would throw WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE into the mix in a heartbeat. Moving, creative, heartbreaking, revelatory and uplifting all at the same time.

I would not, as many have suggested, include THE HANGOVER or CRAZY HEART, despite making me laugh a lot, showing me Zach Galifianakis’ weiner, serenading me with great songs and giving an icon a chance to shine in one of his best performances (I'll let you guess which movie did what).

I would have loved to have seen ADVENTURELAND in the mix, but we all knew that wasn’t going to happen, despite everyone who sees it loving it. It's a movie that really spoke to the younger me – almost as much as UP IN THE AIR spoke to the older me. But since we knew it wasn’t going to make it, I’m thinking STAR TREK would have been cool. Since I loved IRON MAN, I discovered I'm a big fan of taking something that could be popcorn bullshit and making it into something deeper and more resonant. I thought JJ Abrams managed to do it right. I also would have liked the acknowledgement of my friend Damon Lindelof for helping him pull it off.

While I’m in Best Picture-land, I should mention Best Foreign Film… where’s BROKEN EMBRACES, pray tell? Just curious, as it was great. That being said, I’m just happy that Israel got its third nomination in a row. Is it ironic that it will lose to the German flick? I’ll let you be the judge.

Speaking of Best Director (I wasn’t, but this is the best transition I can come up with at the moment), if you want to know what movies would not have received Best Picture nominations if there had still been only five nominees, look no further than the Best Director category. The other five may as well not be in the hunt. Which means that THE BLIND SIDE, DISTRICT 9, AN EDUCATION, A SERIOUS MAN and UP were the also-rans. The funny thing is that none of those movies made me feel like they did deserve a Best Director nomination, so that kinda works out.

The two directors that I would have liked to have seen in on the action are:

1) Spike Jonze for his wonderfully inventive and sensitive direction in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. This is a movie that could have been silly. Stupid. Ridiculous. Fake. Somehow, Jonze, as he has done several times before, manages to bring together real emotion with a world we should never buy for one of the most emotionally interesting and deep movies of the year. His direction, coupled with that magnificently adapted screenplay (which amazingly did not get any Oscar love), made this movie what it was. Those of you who wrote this off as a kid’s film and skipped it are seriously missing out.

2) Greg Motolla for ADVENTURELAND. Here’s a guy, coming off of SUPERBAD, that could have taken on any number of idiotic studio teen comedies, and chose to tell this personal and realistic story instead. He deserves a nomination just for that, but I may as well throw in that he gets some of the best performances out of a group of people who already give great performances.

The only one that I would push (get it?!) out of there would be Lee Daniels, over-directing at times what I think is essentially an over-praised film.

The acting nominations I was more or less okay with (again, not judging the stuff I didn’t see).

A lot of people are bitching about Meryl Streep getting her 8,012th nomination (this time for Best Actress) with JULIE AND JULIA, but I will defend her as there are very few actors in the world that can take a person that was loud, high-pitched, exaggerated and slightly over-bearing, and portray them in a way that still made me cry (don’t judge me!). I suppose I would be okay swapping her out for one of three other performances, if anyone had seen them – Penelope Cruz in BROKEN EMBRACES, Catalina Saavedra in THE MAID or Abbie Cornish in BRIGHT STAR. But since no one did see those, Meryl is fine with me.

As for Best Actor, there’s probably nobody on there I’d like to see get removed… but I kinda wish that Sam Rockwell could have at least been recognized for his great performance in MOON. On the other hand, he’s about to make a big splash in IRON MAN 2, so maybe that’s reward enough.

Does it matter who is nominated in the supporting categories, when the front-runners for the awards (Christoph Waltz and Mo’Nique) are so ahead of the pack? But let’s pretend it matters anyway, and at least mention that Woody Harrelson is having a hell of a year. Between ZOMBIELAND and his nomination for THE MESSENGER, he hasn’t had a year this good since he teamed up with Wesley Snipes. I’m happy for him and all, but in that film, I felt that Samantha Morton’s performance was stronger, more visceral, more real. The concept that she was passed over in order to give Penelope Cruz a nomination for the wrong film is pretty gross. I also would have been happy to hand that nomination to Melanie Laurent for her nuanced work in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. Say what you will, non-believers, about Tarantino’s pulpy writing and flashy direction (and I happen to like both more often than not), the man can direct the hell out of some actors. He even managed to get an almost-Oscar-worthy performance out of Diane “NATIONAL TREASURE” Kruger. Kudos, sir.

Screenplay time! I’ve already mentioned how ridiculous it is that Spike Jonze and David Eggers weren’t nominated for Best Adapted for WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Calling something like DISTRICT 9 an adaptation is always weird to me when it is literally a longer version of a short made by the same guy. Again, I didn’t see it, so I can’t judge the quality overall, but it’s kind of like if I started writing this blog, fell asleep, then finished it when I woke up… and then claimed the finished product is adapted from my earlier unfinished blog. How about a new category for Best Expanded Screenplay, where movies like NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, DISTRICT 9 and BOTTLE ROCKET can duke it out? That way, the category for screenplays that took a modicum of skill to actually adapt wouldn’t get diluted down. Not to beat a dead horse, but imagine the skill and effort that went into adapting WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. The book (if you can call it that) was like six pages long and consisted mostly of Maurice Sendak’s awesome illustrations. To turn that into a feature-length movie, much less the movie it became, is a true adaptation. Ditto Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach for the not-nominated FANTASTIC MR. FOX. In fact, of the films nominated, only one (that I saw – I missed IN THE LOOP) really displayed a true and complete adaptation, and that was Sheldon Turner and Jason Reitman’s screenplay for UP IN THE AIR. In the book, the tone is whiny and annoying, the supporting characters are nearly non-existent, and the main character suffers from - at best - memory loss and - at worst - psychosis. To take that and make it into the snappy, relevant and insightful film it became is a real adaptation. And yes, I’ll flog this horse one more time and mention that while UP IN THE AIR is the best of the bunch, it’s still not quite on par with WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, which should win (yes, I said win, like Bill Murray in RUSHMORE, who also wasn’t nominated).

On an unrelated note, over in the Original Screenplay category, a friend of mine wrote (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, so I want to say it should be nominated, but I think we all know that he will win an Oscar later in life, so I’m good moving on. At least AVATAR didn't get a screenplay nomination.

I don’t remember who wrote that the makers of CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS will never forget the title THE SECRET OF KELLS because it’s the movie that stole their Best Animated Film slot. Um… what? Someone thought that CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS deserved a nomination? That’s ridiculous. That person should have his or her ability to write things out loud on the Internet where children can see them revoked. So what were the movies I would have liked to have seen get recognition in this category? There were three that were ignored, in my opinion.

You convinced me a long time ago to watch PONYO, and I’ve been sold since then. How many times did we sing “Round Tummy” with big smiles on our faces? Aw, that little fish girl thingy. For those of you who haven’t seen it, do – worthwhile. Ditto MARY AND MAX, a little seen but really great animated flick. Saw it at Sundance last year, and it stuck with me ever since – great voice acting from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Colette, a wonderful true story and luscious (I can’t think of another word for it) animation.

I also would like to give a shout-out to MONSTERS VS. ALIENS. Yes, I know it’s not popular, and I know that most people thought it stunk, but I enjoyed the hell out of it, and want to at least give a salute in its direction. The fact that I can even think of one, much less three animated movies to add to the existing list speaks to what a good year for animation it was, which makes me happy. I love me some animated movies.

I only saw two of the films nominated for Best Documentary, but I was just curious where THIS IS IT and CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY are. I’m sure there are technical reasons why these two were left out, but I just don’t care enough to go find out what they are.

I suppose that I shouldn’t mention the songs that aren’t nominated if I haven’t seen the film that they were in, but despite having skipped BROTHERS and EVERYBODY’S FINE, I’ve heard their respective songs (U2's “Winter” and Paul McCartney's “I Want To Come Home”), and they both seem pretty great to me. Mostly though, I am just shocked that the Academy was able with a straight face to ignore Karen O and the Kids’ “All Is Love” from WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE in lieu of anything from NINE. Shame on you. At least AVATAR didn't get a nomination for Leona Lewis’ “I See You” or I'd have to bust a cap up in this bitch.

Likewise, many many scores were ignored this year. Some of them just don’t make any sense. James Horner’s over-bearing and incessantly bombarding score for AVATAR was the worst part of the movie. For SHERLOCK HOLMES, Hans Zimmer just did the same thing he always does, but with more bells and whistles... literally. It’s like he got a new keyboard that plays sound effects and just went to town. Where is Marvin Hamlisch for THE INFORMANT!? Carter Burwell for THE BLIND SIDE? Karen O (with Carter Burwell again) for WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE? Most egregiously, where is a nomination for T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton for CRAZY HEART? That movie rests on the music so much, they made a composer a producer! What does that tell you?

[So… here’s a quick update… I decided to go trolling online to see if anyone else agreed that these were some crazy omissions, and it turns out that a bunch of the scores I mentioned above (WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, CRAZY HEART and THE BLIND SIDE, along with FUNNY PEOPLE, BRUNO and THE LOVELY BONES) were disqualified or deemed ineligible. Here’s their language as to why: “[S]cores diluted by the use of tracked themes or other preexisting music, diminished in impact by the predominant use of songs, or assembled from the music of more than one composer shall not be eligible.” In other words, the fact that WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and CRAZY HEART used songs as well as a score earned them slots at the “fuck you” table. Gotta love the Academy.]

Let’s skip over a few. We know that Best Art Direction goes to the most elaborate fantasy flick (PAN’S LABYRINTH much?), Best Costume Design goes to the most detailed period piece (yay AGE OF INNOCENCE), Best Editing goes to the movie with the most editing (BLACK HAWK DOWN over MEMENTO) and Best Sound and Sound Editing go to the loudest films (PEARL HARBOR and U-571 won Academy Awards, for the love of crap).

So, with that, let’s jump over to my last category – Best Visual Effects. AVATAR is the only film in this category that matters, but let’s discuss the fact that there are only three nominees. According to the rules, if I understand them correctly, they could add two more flicks to the mix, though they traditionally don’t. If they had two additional slots available to them, how do you ignore 2012 or WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE? 2012 has only crazy special effects going for it. The movie wasn’t directed, acted, written, DP’d, mixed or anything else – it was effected. How do you ignore that? Likewise, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE’s monsters. You’d be hard-pressed to find a movie that melds physical effects with CGI effects better than this one, and just try to find creatures that should, by all rights, be ridiculous and silly looking, and instead make you cry. I just realized how many times I mention the recurring theme of me crying in movies. Yikes.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t remove any nominees from this category – I would supplement. The effects in STAR TREK worked for me (with the exception of the incessant fake lens flares to prove to the audience that what we’re seeing is real despite the fact that it isn’t). And even though I didn’t see DISTRICT 9, I’ve seen enough to give Neill Blomkamp credit for being the anti-Stephen Sommers, using hand-held shaky-cam tricks to mask weak effects, making them that much more effective and realistic-looking. And for doing it all on a budget. But come on – if the nominees were AVATAR, STAR TREK, DISTRICT 9, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and 2012, would it make AVATAR win any less? No. But it would highlight some great accomplishments by people who surely deserve the recognition and the paycheck bump.

Oh, and Best Abs goes to that guy from NEW MOON.

And that’s my brain dump for the day. What do you think? We more or less on the same page?

BRIAN: Huh. You do cry a lot. It’s weird. Let’s not ever see movies together. We’re gay enough as it is. Oh, btw, do you want me to pick you up when we see VALENTINE’S DAY, or should we meet at the theatre? I’m just asking because it was hard recognizing you last time in that trench coat when we met up for HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU.

You also wrote a rant about being depressed over the Golden Globes. Do you need to speak with somebody about this? It’s okay to say yes. It’s not okay to hurt inside. It’s also not okay to pay attention to the Golden Globes.

So, we are on the same page about WTWTA. Also unexpectedly about Samantha Morton and Abbie Cornish. I applaud you for watching non-blockbusters, btw. You surprise me every day. I will pick you up for VALENTINE’S DAY.

I also loved ADVENTURELAND. I’m not really sure if any one element deserves to be singled out among the five best of anything. It’s a classic example of a film being more than the sum of its parts. That being said, I loved the cinematography. It looked like it was filmed on dated film stock. Perfect for a movie wrapped in nostalgia.

And yeah, weird about DISTRICT 9 being considered an adaptation. You know what was weirder? BEFORE SUNSET being nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay because it had characters from BEFORE SUNRISE – you know, as sequels usually do. Explain that to me. Disagree about your point regarding the DISTRICT 9 Viz f/x nomination. They should reward the director for cleverly masking the effects based on what you said, not the f/x team.

MARY AND MAX looks awesome.