December 31, 2009

2009 Movie Review

Time for a year-end cinephile review! I really started doing a year-end note like this in 2005, once I got Netflix. Seriously, Netflix has changed my world. Many of the movies I rent probably wouldn't be readily available in a Blockbuster, and even if they were, I wouldn't know to get them, since I end up seeing a lot of things based on Netflix recommendations. Some fail me, but most don't. I see a lot of movies per year now -- maybe an unhealthy number?

2005: 69 movies.

2006: 79.

2007: 87 (a record for me so far).

2008: 74.

and 2009: 85. Solid.

But it's not just about how many movies you see -- although that has a lot to do with it: seeing a lot of movies seems like a requirement for educated movie-going -- it's about what you see, and how you react to it. I always like Roger Ebert for his reviews, and he said once: "A movie is not about what it's about, it's about how it is about it." A good movie can have a great story, but a great movie tells that story well.

This year I had a hard time narrowing it down to my top
ten -- there were so many good ones to choose from, and they're all so different. How do you compare The Terminator with Wendy and Lucy in terms of effectiveness of storytelling, camerawork, acting, etc.? You can't. But you blog about it anyway.

And I kept coming back to one movie that I think will age well, a movie in which all the elements came together to make a beautiful whole, in which every line and shot had a second, deeper meaning. I hope Jason Reitman keeps making movies like
Up in the Air -- if his track record with Thank You for Smoking and Juno is any indication he certainly will. His third feature is much more self-assured and even-handed than his first two, and has become a story for the ages. Well done.

PS: first time in three years that Pixar doesn't top my list. Up is certainly very close to the top of the list. Can't wait to see it again.

My Top Ten of 2009


Back to the Future


Groundhog Day

Inglourious Basterds

A Serious Man

The Terminator
(1 & 2 -- I'm cheating and counting them as one)

Up in the Air
(my favorite of the year)
Wendy and Lucy


12 Angry Men

28 Days Later


Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In)



Mrs. Doubtfire

Norma Rae

Tonari no Totoro
(My Neighbor Totoro)
The Wrestler

Amazing Performances

Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in
Revolutionary Road
Mickey Rourke in
The Wrestler
Bill Murray in
Groundhog Day
Melissa Leo in Frozen River
Sally Field in Norma Rae
Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire
Michelle Williams in Wendy and Lucy
Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky
Robert DeNiro in Cape Fear
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise
Nearly everyone but especially Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man
Mo'Nique and Gabourey Sidibe in Precious
Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia
Everyone in Up in the Air
Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds

Great Moments/Scenes/Lines
Kirk Lazarus' monologue about playing retarded (Tropic Thunder)
"Can't I even get away from you in the fucking woods?" (Revolutionary Road)
"I want you to stop seeing her." (Moonstruck)
Katie Cox's tiny laugh at her husband's literary ambitions (Burn After Reading)
"I'm such a dick!" (Hamlet 2)
The bathroom scene (Delicatessen)
Smash the Mirror, just because of how ridiculous it is (Tommy)
"Legend has it there was once a legendary warrior whose mastery of kung fu was the stuff of LEGEND!"
(Kung Fu Panda)
The pool (
Lat den komma ratte in)
"And get -- permanently -- lost." (
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner)
The marriage montage (Up)
The audition sequence (Were the World Mine)
The playground (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)
Drinks with the dangerous neighbor (A Serious Man)
Banana-face dog! (The Thing)
Social worker's office (Precious)
"Paul, Paul, Paul PAUL!" (Julie & Julia)
The fall of Home Tree (Avatar)
Landa's face melts as he changes from frivolity to business in the farmhouse (Inglourious Basterds)

Best Endings
The Wrestler

Lat den komma ratte in
Les diaboliques
Wendy and Lucy
A Serious Man
Friday the 13th

Worst of the Year
A Little Night Music (this should have worked, but it really really didn't)
But I'm a Cheerleader (maybe the worst ... ugh)
Meet Me in St. Louis (just hated it)
Flight of the Navigator (such a great premise, such a terrible execution)
Spring Breakdown
(a close second)

All 85 Movies I Saw This Year
Tropic Thunder
Back to the Future
Revolutionary Road
The Wrestler
Burn After Reading
Hamlet 2
The Visitor
Ma vie en rose
A Little Night Music
Weird Science
Encounters at the End of the World
Groundhog Day
Frozen River
Wo hu cang long
Kung Fu Panda
Låt den rätte komma in
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Latter Days
Norma Rae
Kaze no tani no Nausicaa (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind)
Mrs. Doubtfire
Les diaboliques (Diabolique)
Hocus Pocus
But I'm a Cheerleader
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The Reader
Mysterious Skin
Meet Me in St. Louis
Yossi & Jagger
Wendy and Lucy
Flight of the Navigator
The Interpreter
Were the World Mine
In Her Shoes
Working Girl
Spring Breakdown
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The Terminator
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
The Wicker Man (1973)
Troop Beverly Hills
28 Days Later
Quantum of Solace
Taking Woodstock
Pretty Woman
The Holiday
Saturday Night Fever
The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
The Omen (1976)
Auntie Mame
The Fly (1986)
Before Sunrise
A Serious Man
Halloween (1978)
Friday the 13th (1980)
Tonari no Totoro
Where the Wild Things Are
This Is It
12 Angry Men
A Christmas Carol (2009)
Every Little Step
The Thing
Food, Inc.
Addams Family Values
Majo no Takkyūbin
(Kiki's Delivery Service)
Star Trek
The Cove
Julie & Julia
Up in the Air
Inglourious Basterds

December 15, 2009

These are just the rules and regulations

Hey, movie lovers. Back, nearly giddy with thinking about how many movies I should really see before the new year (there's at least four in theaters ... Up in the Air, Avatar, An Education, Nine ... and several more on DVD or Hulu ... and a bunch I'll probably skip til later) and fretting about last-minute Christmas shopping. I don't ever learn, do I?

I just wanted to post once more before we take off on this Herculean horse race of a goal and look at the criteria that the AFI publishes about its lists. For the Top 100, they listed seven major criteria.
  • Feature-length: Narrative format typically over 60 minutes long.
Well, this one's pretty basic. Although have you seen a feature film lately that wasn't sixty minutes? The shortest one I can think of is Yossi & Jagger (highly recommended), which I saw this spring, at only 67 minutes. But it told a whole story, and I didn't feel jilted at the end. Does a movie NEED to be longer? I sometimes find myself hesitating to move a movie to the top of my Netflix queue if it's over 100 minutes. Attention span problem? Not necessarily, I just want a story told efficiently. I'll watch a four-hour movie if that's how long it takes to get the point across.
  • American film: English language, with significant creative and/or financial production from the United States.
Well, right. This makes sense. Otherwise, how are you going to make a list? If you include any foreign country's canon of film, you'll need to include everyone's, and nobody has time to see all the movies in the world. Although I do wish I saw more foreign flicks: of the 70- or 80-odd movies I've seen this year so far, only eight or nine were foreign. I could do better.
  • Critical Recognition: Formal commendation in print, television, and digital media.
This is where the criteria start to get fuzzy. Time limit and country of origin are pretty set in stone, but "formal commendation" in media is definitely a matter of opinion... isn't it? "Recognition" and "commendation" are almost euphemisms, but I get what they mean: the media is on the movie's side.
  • Major Award Winner: Recognition from competitive events including awards from peer groups, critics, guilds, and major film festivals.
This is also tricky. Ben Hur and Titanic both made the list (at #100 and #83, respectively) and each won eleven Oscars, tying for the most ever for one film ... with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which was left off the list (the first installment of those movies, The Fellowship of the Ring, is included at #50). Intolerance, the oldest film on the list (released in 1916), was made before the Oscars, or any other awards voting body, were even around. I know some of this might seem moot -- who cares about awards, anyway? -- but it's interesting to include this criterion when there's no way to judge "peer groups, critics, guilds, and major film festivals" against each other.
  • Popularity Over Time: This includes success at the box office, television and cable airings, and DVD/VHS sales and rentals.
This is one I'm very interested in. How well does a film stand up after many years? I feel like there are movies from last year that I don't think hold very well after two or three viewings, but then there are some that I could watch endlessly without ever tiring of them. Is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind the best film of this decade? It's endlessly watchable, and I could argue that it is, but there are several others that qualify.
  • Historical Significance: A film's mark on the history of the moving image through visionary narrative devices, technical innovation or other groundbreaking achievements.
This is perhaps the most objective criterion on the list, but sometimes it's easily categorized. For example, the two (only two!) animated films on the AFI Top 100 are there for very clear reasons: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (#34) was the first feature-length animated film, and Toy Story (#99) was the first feature-length computer-animated film. (I have serious objections to those two being the only animated films on the list, but that will be covered later.) They are both major contributions to the list for obvious reasons. Some reasons aren't so clear.
  • Cultural Impact: A film's mark on American society in matters of style and substance.
This ties with the previous marker for "most objective" on the list, as it's just as hard to pinpoint and maybe even harder to articulate. What's difficult here for me is putting myself into a historical context where a Western or a biblical epic seems relevant in the 21st century. It could be argued that Mean Girls had more cultural impact than Crash, for example, but does that make it a "better" movie, more worthy of being on the list? I'm not entirely convinced.


December 6, 2009

First Blogarific Thoughts

Hey, friends -- Max here. Welcome to the cineblog!

Here's the deal. I'm not gonna tiptoe around the reasons for wanting to do this blog. I love movies. Like, I lerve them. And not just watching them, but thinking and talking about them. Specifically with people. And I've been blogging about them for a couple of years now, mostly just reviews, recording my thoughts about them for some sort of archival purpose, never really sure why, only knowing I wanted to remember what I liked or didn't like about movies. It's proved really interesting to go back and compare notes when I see a movie a second time.

And I guess that's where it came to it: I wanted to involve my friends and family in a way in talking about movies, in talking about those experiences we have, those emotions we feel watching a movie. So I thought I'd make a fresh start on a new blog.

What strikes me when I watch a movie? What strikes you? What is it about a performance or a shot or an ending or a beginning or a moment that makes you pause, think, feel? These are conversations that aren't as much fun to have alone. But getting a movie club together has always seemed difficult and at best sporadic (not to say I wouldn't love company on these cineventures), and maybe an online conversation, an open forum without time constraints, will create a better, more exciting dialogue. Welcome to the 21st century, y'all.

So what qualifies me to talk about movies on this cineblog? Umm. It's the new millenium. I have a computer, and I see a lot of movies. Done deal. Done-zo.

And then: to find a cinegoal, and go from cine-there.

The first challenge: blog my way through the AFI Top 100.

The American Film Institute came out with a list of the 100 greatest American films in 1998, and then updated the list in 2007 for the tenth anniversary of the list (the one I'll use). At the beginning of the new year, I'll start with #100 and work my way through. It's a big goal, but it's something I'm ready for, and with your help and insight and enthusiasm, it'll be a lot more fun. Here's hoping y'all will be excited about it too!

So, in short: I watch movies. I blog. You comment on the blog. I blog back. We dialogue. Maybe we even diablogue. (You heard it here first. Well, maybe.) And that's all there is to it, kidlins. Sounds fun, n'est-pas?

Before the new year, I'll blog briefly about the criteria used for creating the list, so we can all get on the same page. And then: movies!

Until then, friends,