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]

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