Saturday, January 9, 2010

Those Parts of '09 We Look Back On and Go "...OK, THOSE parts didn't suck."

Chalk one up for the power of procrastination, folks.

As a small benefit to the stall in getting the Third Row off the ground, this place begins its life by dancing on the grave of 2009.

I could give you this cliche-riddled pep-talk about how
going into a new year makes for a great start, clean slate, day one, etc etc...

But really, I'm more looking forward to this because:

a) For one thing, for a lot of people I know, the consensus seems to be that 2009 was kind of a shit year (gotta love the fact we're putting the close on what's apparently going to be labeled as 'The Decade
from Hell.'

THIS is gonna make some fun stories for kids years from now

"You kids think you had it bad...I survived the decade from Hell...yes, I
know the Depression-era had it worse, and so did the guys in the 60s who got shipped off to Vietnam...but no one called THEIR era the one from Hell, now did they?"


b) This gives me a cheap excuse to port over an annual
ritual I picked up a couple of years ago (not a terribly unique one, admittedly,
reviewers pull these pretty regularly.)


It's the obligatory 'Best of last year' list.

Now, in an act of mercy, this list is only five titles

With that said, three provisos:

1) In the interest of giving these films a fair break, I'll try and tone down being a cheeky little shit, but I promise nothing.

2) These lists are based off of what I've seen up to this point. As a result, many times there are great films from years past that would have made my lists but I hadn't seen them at the time (2007 REALLY hit me in the cojones on that...)

3) Generally, these five aren't listed in any set order of quality. This goes especially for this year, where the list seems to have a somewhat bipolar feel.

With that, let's begin:

*Inglorious Basterds

This gleefully smug grin can only mean one of two things...

either Christoph Waltz is in good spirits about the speculation he's a shoe-in for at least a Best Supporting Actor nom

or there's something going on under that table that's best discussed on other sites.

OK, I'm not gonna lie. While I enjoy some of his movies, Tarantino has never been a name that'd automatically get me to see one of his films. To this end, when I'd first heard about this movie, I had absolutely no idea what to make of it. The ads were amusing, so I figured 'What the Hell?'

...I'd like to say to the advertisers for this
film...shame on you, you REALLY underrepresented this.

Don't get me wrong, there was definitely fun to be had in Pitt's group of basterds "killin' Nazis," but it kind of blew my mind that the ads completely skipped over the secondary revenge plotline, which actually really helped flesh out the movie.

Hell, the movie in general can be best described as a sort of Reese's experience. Some kind of odd, but good-tasting elements, that somehow manage to taste great together (you know you've done a good thing when you can successfully fuse WWII, a spaghetti western, and a revenge film.)

Load this up with some of Tarantino's delightfully anachronistic style, some great tips of the hat to film buffs, some actually surprisingly effective suspense, and a solid cast (including the deservedly praised Christoph Waltz as the film's villain, the gleefully smug little asshole Col. Hans Landa) and you get a finished product that is not quite like anything else you'd find out nowadays.

Thankfully so, since it makes finding it that much



He knew that Russell meant well in trying to raise spirits...

But after the twentieth encore of 'Spanish Flea', Carl was seriously starting to contemplate homicide...

...I can't say this director's cut ending is doing it for me either.

It's the old joke about these retrospectives on good movies of the year: Always bet on Pixar.

Admittedly, it's not without grounding in truth...while a couple of titles may be up for debate, they do have a fairly solid track

This year's Up was no exception to this. Containing a lot of the classic elements of humor and heart, this was also a bit unexpected in that this showed signs of a bit more matured Pixar than we've had to this point. The opening sequence in which we're introduced to the film's protagonist by going over his life is, for an animated CG movie, surprisingly emotional.

One can't blame Carl (in a great turn by veteran actor Ed Asner) for keeping to
himself after that kind of a loss. Despite this, however, it's still encouraging to see him finally learn to care about others again over the course of his adventures with his unintended passenger Russell, and the animals Dug channeling probably one of the most accurate takes on a dog's mindset in movies to date) and Kevin (see above, replace 'dog' with 'bird.')

Funny, touching, etc, etc,...yeah, the old Pixar review phrasebook, as it were...but again, there's a reason these phrases tend to keep coming back. Up continues to prove the streak continues.


Fun fact - As the general cost for talking animals go, the cutesy talking ones are quite expensive

But for just ten bucks, you can get a horrifically mangled one that barks grim omens of doom, like this happy fellow!

The kids won't mind...I's a talking animal!  They love those, right?


How's that for a jump right there? We go from a heartwarming Pixar film about a lonely curmudgeon who learns to live with other people again to a grim Lars von
Trier film about varying degrees of grief, fear, sex, madness, and the nature of evil. Just puts a big old smile on your face, don't it?

I'm gonna say this straight out. For all the hype when
it came out, I only found Paranormal Activity to be mildly creepy.

THIS was the movie that managed to legitimately freak
the Hell out of me. After hearing of it in passing in several reviews, I became
curious about this controversial piece of film (some labelling it a drama, others a horror film)  The fact this seemed to be blurring a line of that sort was already the first step to intrigue me.

Truth be told, if I'd told the me that just finished watching this that it'd be on my top 5 for this year, my past self would probably punch me for messing with it. This is one of the first times I've legitimately felt horrified after watching a movie (I believe my first words were "...I think I need a shower.")

After the initial shock wore off, however, the more I
looked back, the more I was surprised to find that...I was actually impressed
with what I'd seen.

It's definitely an unusual film (like the earlier mentioned reviews, I don't know HOW to categorize this one...and it seems even the generally esteemed Cannes film crowd weren't sure what to make of it either...on the one hand, praising actress Charlotte Gainsburg, deservedly so, for her acting, while on the other giving director von Trier a special 'anti-award' for allegations of misogyny...curiously, the film also DOES have some believable feminist interpretations) but alongside its rather curious story, it's also quite well made.

Bearing some strong acting, both by the aforementioned
Gainsburg and Willem Defoe, as well as establishing, for the most part, some downright unnerving atmosphere, this film manages to carry itself quite well as
a rather untraditional mix of drama and horror that actually succeeds in managing to crawl under your skin and set up shop.

WARNING: If you consider yourself as
being squeamish or weak of stomach in any way, much as I recommend this film, you might want to pass on it. It's a well done film, but also VERY intense at points (Hell, even I felt uncomfortable during parts of it...that takes a lot.)

Worth the trip if you're up for it, but don't say I didn't warn you in the most
spoiler friendly terms possible.

*District 9

"...and after I say 'Who's on first.', you say 'That's what I want to know!'

You getting it?"

My my eyes deceive me? Is that...?

Yes! Yes it is! It's a science fiction film that
actually asks its viewers to think!

OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit here, but really, in a lot of ways, this film was a long time coming.

With about the only big name on here being Peter Jackson (who mainly worked the producing end) this big-screen debut for director Neil Blomkamp went from being a low-buzz film adapted from Blomkamp's short 'Alive in Joburg' and, through a combination of cautiously used viral marketing, and their own good work, became a surprise hit.

Drawing on his own experiences growing up in South Africa, Blomkamp turned the idea of first contact on its ear, using mankind's first meeting with aliens (referred to in the film simply as Prawns) to present an allegory about apartheid (except now the blacks are replaced by aliens, so all of humanity get the chance to be racist jerks!)

An interesting concept further helped along by a narration that manages to successfully blend actual film with pseudo-documentary footage, it's a rather stark look at the the old tried and true concepts of humans and aliens (who look quite impressive given the movie's budget compared to most blockbusters of the summer.)  In almost every way, this film feels like a welcome injection of new blood into cinema (to this end, I'd like to tip my hat among the many others who've done so to the film's lead, first time actor Sharlto Copley, whose turn as ill-fated census worker Wickus goes from a slightly goofy start to running an impressive range of emotions. In particular, he manages to make the infamous weapons test scene painful to watch...the good kind of painful...wrong as THAT makes it sound.)

So wrap up...a fresh approach on some old sci-fi tropes, a fairly new director, a largely unknown, but quite promising, cast, and some surprisingly well blended effects for their budget all pooled together around a story that did something science fiction movies haven't gotten the chance to do in ages...give us a film that actually gets the audience thinking as well as enjoying themselves (...OK, given some of the moments of this, maybe 'enjoy' isn't the word, but...)

Here's hoping Blomkamp can keep up the good work. A few
more like him and maybe we'll see the return of science fiction as a viable genre yet.

...and speaking of, we come to number five.

*Star Trek

I know it hurts now, Spock...but look on the bright side!

With most of your family now written out, this timeline's been spared the existence of Star Trek V.

Ah, the immortal paradox...

On the one hand, as a culture, we tend to loathe the idea of remaking something. I mean, if it's not broke, why fix it, right?

and then...just to mess with us...something comes along
that manages to prove sometimes you CAN fix something that isn't broken, but may
not be up to full speed again.

We saw it happen with Batman (...OK, I'll concede this
actually WAS fairly broken as a film property) ... we saw it with the most recent James Bond (Hell, this is kind of a ritual there...once the most recent formula starts to run out of gas, it's back to the drawing board for a tune-up.
So far, at least, the current run's going strong...but that's for another time.)

So, after 5 series, 10 movies, and a veritable boatload
of other material, we now come to Star Trek...a franchise that's been somewhat on the fence with its fans lately. Some credit a fear of a continuity so loaded,
it makes writers afraid to try and take a chance. that light, it was probably a lucky gamble that Paramount then turned to a guy who didn't know the franchise to really get too hung up on that (fortunately, his writers did, so it all balanced at least.)

Using an alternate timeline (to their credit, the concept DID manage to find a nice balance so as to not override the well known canon) the new team managed to establish a fresh look at the beloved team of the old Enterprise.

Succeeding at the ever risky juggling act of balancing
old and new, they've given us a reboot that so far is shaping up quite well. 
...OK, it's still got a few lumps...Eric Bana's antagonist was a little underwhelming...but for a reboot that's still testing its strength, the fact they already hit a solid chemistry with the main crew that will be around for the sequels is really the more important step.

Where they take this timeline from here remains to be seen, but in light of the last couple of franchise reboots we've seen, I like the odds.


Well, that wraps up last year's list.

I would like to again point out, before I get comments
about "How could you ignore *?" that this list is currently based off what I had seen to this point, and there is still a list of films I still need to see, one or two of which may wind up usurping a slot on here (most notably, I can feel The Hurt Locker burning holes into the back of my head.)

Until such a time however, join us next week, when I finally make good on the promise/threat of before and bring you M.D. Geist: DEATH FORCE.

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