25 February 2010

Some late additions

Isn't it always the way? You think you've seen enough movies to make your list and then a couple days and weeks later, you stumble across a few new movies so good that they beg to be included as well. Well, that's how it happened with me, and suffice it to say, it's been a damn good week or so of movie watching. Rather than edit the list, I'll give you some write-ups right here of the films I would subsequently include on the list along with their approximate position (3a would be between 3 and 4 on the original list, etc.). And since there's three of them, that brings the 2009 list up to an even 20, which is a much better number than 17 anyway! Silver linings and all that. Happy movie-going!

3a. Two Lovers
Even considering the praise that has been lavished on James Gray's '70s-style, grittily realistic romance, it's still somehow been vastly underrated... or maybe it was just under-recognized by me, before now. Whatever the case, I can't overstate the poetic, atmospheric beauty nor the piercing honesty and the appropriately anachronistic and detailed expression of pure humanity on display in this stunning film. Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix) is a depressive, mildly unstable man with past baggage of heartbreak, first seen engaging in a feeble suicide attempt. Working with his fairly Orthodox Jewish parents (Moni Moshonov and Isabella Rossellini, both engaging in a careful balancing act between light-hearted caricature and tender empathy) at their family dry-cleaning business, he soon comes across two women who become possible suitors. His parents want to set him up with Sandra Cohen (Vinessa Shaw), the beautiful, smart, and sensitive daughter of another Jewish family who is in the process of taking over their business -- it would seem like a logical match. But Leonard randomly comes across a ravishing, sprightly, but equally damaged (she has a history of drug abuse) new neighbour, Michelle (a radiant and powerful Gwyneth Paltrow), and falls hard for her, and she, somewhat, for him, despite being intermittently involved with a wealthy married man (Elias Koteas).

None of this is overstated -- not the meet-cute between Michelle and Leonard, or the urges and day-to-day lives of Leonard's parents, or Michelle's dealings with her boyfriend, or any of the complications or tragedies that ensue later on -- and so Gray achieves an almost miraculous balancing act, drawing out feelings of tension, passion, disorientation, loyalty, and the always near-incomprehensible machinations of the human heart. It's one of the most startlingly real, carefully and elegantly staged romances since Before Sunset, with a lovely, dialogue and moment-based script to boot. But I'm trying to fit it into a model, which is wrong, since the film is also wonderfully unpredictable. And least predictable of all -- except maybe to those paying close attention to the actor -- is the revelatory power of Joaquin Phoenix's lead performance, nearly Brandoesque in its astonishing intensity and heartbreaking empathy. Not to be outdone, Paltrow also gives one of the most marvelous performances of her already distinguished career. Two Lovers is not only a hopeful yet complex look at love, but about life, and it's a rare film that thrills and moves you by doing little more than presenting its particular characters and letting them interact, breathe, grow, learn, and live.

13a. Bright Star
A ravishing period piece romance that's also a relatively intelligent and compelling look at fashion, literature, and the place of women in history -- and way more snappy, fun, and luxuriously moving than that lame description could suggest. Jane Campion provides not only luscious and impeccable visual design -- my God, those costumes! -- but a sharp eye for character detail and the larger implications of her story, connecting the particular to the universal. It helps that she has a wonderful, natural talent in the beautiful Abbie Cornish -- as Fannie Brawne, the higher-class, fashion-designing lover of 19th century English poet John Keats -- and a pitch-perfect match for her in Ben Whishaw as Keats as well as a great sparring partner for her in Paul Schneider as Charles Armitage Brown, Keats's loyal friend and confidante who disapproves of his friend's romantic choice. Witty, well-crafted dialogue is shared among all three and the film moves across its familiar story beats with seamless, exuberant ease and more thematic and narrative heft than one might expect. An emotionally, intellectually, and visually sparkling gem of a film.

17a. Big Fan
Might actually be 15a. Who knows? Anyhow, this is an oddly underlooked look at unbridled all-American sports mania from The Wrestler screenwriter Robert Siegel, making his remarkably assured directing and comedic debut. Basically a darkly funny character study of parking garage attendant and die-hard New York Giants fan Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt, a reliable TV comedy side player making a great lead performance here, carefully modulating anger, self-righteousness, and intensity), a regular contributor to late-night sports radio call-in shows who undergoes a (possibly deserved) humiliation at the hands of his favourite team's quarterback as well as his frequent on-air rival Philadelphia Phil (Michael Rappaport). But in the underdog spirit of America, this only strengthens Paul from Staten Island's determination to support his team, no matter what the cost to his body or his sanity. Oswalt is well-supported by Kevin Corrigan as his best buddy at the big games and the various actors playing his flabbergasted family. Siegel alternates tone well between darkness and light, nails the details of his hero's life, and brings it in to the end zone to score a touchdown of a hilarious point about not only sports obsession but a culture in which we define ourselves based solely (crazily) on what we support. Not afraid to go to some risky, but true in their context, places for laughs, Siegel makes this one of the sharpest and most outrageous satires of the year -- along with the equally under-appreciated Observe and Report.

13 February 2010

The best films of 2009 (at long last)

Well, I've finally seen enough movies from last year -- and then some! -- to, I believe, justify a reasonably comprehensive 'best of the year' list. A bit of a twist this year: it'll be a top-17 list instead of a top-10. There was just too much stuff I wanted to talk about from this year, like The Road and Inglourious Basterds as just a few spoilerific examples, for me to be comfortable narrowing it down to just 10. But before you chastise me for such a random, arbitrary number, I have precedent for it in the form of Glenn Kenny.

Regrettable omissions are of course the bane of my existence, and some of the big movies I have not yet had the chance to see from last year that I very much wanted to are Bright Star, A Single Man, Invictus, The White Ribbon (although after the abomination that was Funny Games, my desire to rush out to see another Michael Haneke film has cooled considerably), and Tokyo Sonata. And if I do like any of those to any great degree, I can just tack them on the end of the list here, or label them #10a. or something. Hooray for the flexibility of blogging! And I have seen Avatar, for the record... it just flat-out didn`t make the list. But enough about the caveats. Let's do this thang.

Some sad exclusions (a.k.a. honourable mentions):
The Princess and the Frog
, a charming, beautiful, smart, funny, incredibly successful rejuvenation of the old-school Disney aesthetic.
Drag Me to Hell, Sam Raimi's cheesy-scary-giddily fun throwback to the Evil Dead era.
I Love You, Man, the deliriously funny, sharply observant, enjoyably tender 'bromance' that the scatter-shot The Hangover wanted to be... although I still liked The Hangover a wee bit as well. And it featured a cameo by Rush! (Glee!)
Adventureland, a not-quite-tonally-perfect but lovely and heartfelt movie (with endearing performances from Jesse Eisenberg and Twi-gal Kristen Stewart) that does for the '80s what Dazed and Confused did for the '70s and American Graffiti did for the dawn of the '60s.
The Limits of Control, which was kind of a lot further away from this list than those others, but which deserves as much mention as I can possibly give it for being the most underrated, surprisingly mesmerizing artsy effort of last year.

The list proper:

17. Coraline
Visually eye-popping, dazzling and tense and surreal and scary all at once, this is possibly Henry Selick's most accomplished effort yet. (I can already hear the cries of protest from the die-hard Nightmare Before Christmas fans.) Of course, he's helped greatly by Neil Gaiman, the virtuoso inventor whose book he sublimely adapts here. The animation is as exquisite as the sense of imagination and the emotional impact, and it's all buoyed by a rousing voice cast including Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, and the spookily good John Hodgman -- yep, the PC guy from the Mac ads.

16. Everlasting Moments
A wistful and moving Swedish import far more sturdily built than anything from IKEA. A wonderful, almost Ibsen-like family drama set at the turn-of-the-20th-century, the period setting is exquisitely well captured by director Jan Troell. The film, appropriately enough considering its story is about a woman who gains strength and feminine identity through her experiments with a camera she won in a lottery, often has the burnished look of an old, faded photograph. Troell proves observant, tough, and empathetic in capturing the family's moments together (although I found the father, as character and as performed, a bit bland), as well as those between the camera-toting mother and the kind old owner of the photography shop down the street. An emotional, elegant film with a fantastic, wise lead performance from Maria Heiskanen.

15. Observe and Report
The part of the list where you point fingers and call me crazy. Bah. This is a love-it-or-hate-it film of the highest order, and I'm fully on the love-it side. An all-out, darkly (even bleakly) comedic send-up of Taxi Driver and all-American earnestness, the movie (about a big-dreaming mall cop and a lewd shopping mall flasher and the havoc that results) lets Seth Rogen unleash his angry side, and it looks good on the big lug. Observe and Report also boasts propulsively funny turns from Anna Faris (as a drunken perfume counter bimbo), Ray Liotta (pitch-perfectly hammy as a self-serious cop), and Celia Weston as the mother with all the right advice. Either you go along with its outrageous energy, culminating in a ridiculously violent climax, or you find it repellently offensive. Me, I found it one of the most energetic, pointed, daring comedies of recent memory, more than worthy of comparison to Tropic Thunder or Borat.

14. In the Loop
Speaking of classic comedy, Armando Iannucci's sparkling, effortlessly witty, fast-talking political satire is like The West Wing meets... some kind of crazy, Fawlty Towers-esque British sitcom. Uniformly well-acted from a cast of largely unknown (at least on this side of the pond) British actors and, for good measure, James Gandolfini as a tough-looking, sceptical American general, the movie is briskly entertaining and sharp from beginning to end. Best of all is Peter Capaldi as a foul-mouthed, apoplectic, cell phone-toting PR guy for the British folks in charge.

13. Inglourious Basterds
Another viewing and this likely could have cracked the top-10. As it is, I found it a raucous, slightly imperfect and questionable WWII romp from Quentin Tarantino that was far more blisteringly fun than any film bearing that description has any right being. Brad Pitt is of course the biggest star in this Nazi revenge fantasia-as-meta-cinematic commentary, and he affects an unreasonably entertaining faux-Southern accent as Aldo Raine, who wants his scalps. Even more richly entertaining, though, are Melanie Laurent, radiant, impassioned, and stirring, with a bona fide feminist vivacity, as Shosanna Dreyfus, the only surviving member of a French Jewish family bent on revenge, movie-style, and Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa, the Jew Hunter, so gleefully intense he just about singes the edges of the screen. Tarantino could have laid on the action thick here, and what of it there is is thoroughly fun and engaging, but this is at is core a movie drenched in impossibly well-staged dialogue, whether it be Landa's throat-gripping opening interrogation or a later basement card game scene almost hypnotic in its tension. And of course it all wraps up with a quintessential Tarantino image of cinema as diabolically effective revisionist history, of movies as imagination, emotional conduit, and savior. So sit in the dark and enjoy.

12. Food, Inc.
A comprehensive, sleekly mounted, fitfully engaging, and downright shocking documentary about what we eat and the disparity between what we think it is and what really goes on behind the scenes of its production. Robert Kenner draws upon the research of Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan to draw us into some of the deeper corners of the food industry. Most damning of all is Kenner's indictment of Monsanto, which has by now all but monopolized corn production in the US thanks to its patent on genetically modified seeds; but the film covers such a broad spectrum of food-related horrors, from the ground up, and Kenner packs it so full of revealing interviews and startling information, that it will definitely make you think twice about what you eat for your next meal.

11. The Road
Bad timing is really the only reason I can see for this elegant, heartbreaking film not getting its due as a worthy follow-up to that Cormac McCarthy adaptation of 2007, No Country for Old Men -- a startling film, and one of the best of the decade. John Hillcoat, the master of art-directed atmosphere who helmed The Proposition, reaffirms that reputation here: The Road immerses us in a vividly desolate, bleakly stunning, utterly authentic post-apocalyptic landscape. It also achieves a quietly mesmerizing alternation between McCarthy's terse dialogue and mesmerizing silence, punctuated by Nick Cave's haunting piano score. Aesthetically wonderful, the movie also proves once again what a towering actor Viggo Mortensen is while also featuring a great, heartfelt breakout performance from Kodi Smit-McPhee. Despairing enough to be true to McCarthy's work but also honestly emotional and hopeful enough to be moving when it needs to be, this work may be a bit too stuffy/fussy at times to completely live up to the Coen Brothers' masterpiece, but it is still an absolutely stunning post-apocalyptic tragedy.

10. Up
Yet another astonishing animated film in a sterling year for animation. Up is just further proof of Pixar`s seamless genius in telling original stories with emotional weight, witty humour, and increasingly dazzling visual beauty. Starting with a quietly poignant, perceptive, and heart-tugging opening montage of childhood enthusiasm slowly turning to mid-life acceptance and disappointment of dreams dashed, the movie quickly dives into the jubilant tale of cranky old widower and former balloon salesman Carl Fredericksen (wryly voiced by Ed Asner), finally realizing his childhood ambition of flying to mythical Paradise Falls in South America by attaching thousands of balloons to his rickety old house and hitting the skies. Faced with an unexpected stowaway, a friendly talking dog, and a betrayal by his childhood hero (silkily voiced by Christopher Plummer), Up becomes a buoyant tale of both nostalgia and new-found friendships and goals in life. If the humour is a little bit more juvenile and inconsistent than some of Pixar`s best -- like WALL-E or The Incredibles -- it`s still one of the most purely entertaining, colourful, wistful, and profound films of the year.

9. Fantastic Mr. Fox
A wildly inventive animated caper that recalls the sheer madcap joy of Wallace & Gromit and allows the notoriously style-oriented director Wes Anderson to more fully and intricately construct his cinematic world, Fantastic Mr. Fox is also smart as, well, a fox. Not just about the wondrously conceived details of its quirky landscape -- the action takes place in a meadow replete with foxes, weasels, moles, and even wolves, railing against the tyranny of local farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean -- or the ingeniously complicated logistics of Mr. Fox`s climactic heist, but about the shrinking expectations of middle age, family, competition, and the little thrills in life that you have to reach out and grab before they disappear. George Clooney, in his other pitch-perfect performance of the year, is appropriately wily and charismatic as Mr. Fox, and the movie is blessed as well with the vocal talents of Meryl Streep as his doubting-yet-loyal wife, and Anderson staples like Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Bill Murray. A tender, heartfelt family drama, a work of stop-motion art of exquisite, hand-crafted beauty, and also a blissfully entertaining, madcap, high-stakes heist flick all wrapped up in one? I'll be cussed if Anderson doesn't pull all that off and, in the process, arrive at one of his most accomplished efforts yet.

8. District 9
Easily the sci-fi film of the year in a year that boasted stiff competition in the category from such variously dazzling efforts as Star Trek, Moon, and Avatar. This is a boldly original, thoroughly satisfying compilation that combines the pointed social/political satirical implications of an alien spaceship stalling out over Johannesburg, South Africa and being forced by the locals into slum-like townships with intensely involving character study of Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a weaselly corporate stooge involved in the alien relocation who accidentally comes into contact with some DNA-altering alien technology with action scenes as viscerally stirring as anything this year (on a budget that was about as big as the catering cost for Avatar). It also combines an urgent documentary approach with a more fittingly panoramic scale as the stakes and the tensions mount. South African director Neil Blomkamp, with his focused, brainy direction, has delivered an ideal summer-time entertainment, boasting busy and ingenious brain as well as efficiently muscular brawn, not to mention a poignant bit of heart regarding human-alien identification... but subtly, without ever getting as preachy as Avatar. Great, meaty late summer entertainment.

7. (500) Days of Summer
(500) Days of Summer features the sliest romantic comedy gimmick of the year -- telling its story, which unfolds over, of course, 500 days, in iPod Shuffle fashion, with moments of meet-cute, first make-out, first argument, first night of sex, post-break-up despair, playfully seductive IKEA shopping, and the most joyously inspired and random musical number of the years (set to Hall & Oates's "You Make My Dreams") all jostling for our avid attention. That alone puts it head and shoulders above any of the thousands of run-of-the-mill cookie-cutter rom-coms that currently infest the multiplexes. But director Marc Webb does us one better by infusing his movie with a sense of pointed observation about relationships underlined by a rueful and breezily romantic heart. Although on second viewing, I did find the secondary characters as overly cutesy as the film's detractors found, the film succeeds in spite of all this thanks to Webb's balanced staging of romance and melancholia as well as the absolutely wonderful, lived-in performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tom, the earnest young hero (with architectural aspirations), and the radiant Zooey Deschanel as Summer, the exquisite, playful, but self-possessed and just-out-of-reach object of his undying affections. Deschanel in particular makes you believe Summer as the girl every man wants, especially (and ironically) when they discover they can't quite have her (or maybe I've just developed a bit of a celebrity crush on Deschanel... entirely possible). (500) Days of Summer is the most blissful and original (anti-)romance of the year, as endearingly quirky and perceptive, in its way, as Annie Hall and with echoes, too, of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and, with its brilliant rooftop party scene, a virtuoso rumination on the image and reality of love.

6. Where the Wild Things Are
Beautiful, startlingly original, even breathtakingly moving in its best moments, Where the Wild Things Are is a miraculous, expansive adaptation of a tiny, cherished children's book by Maurice Sendak. Somehow, director Spike Jonze and his co-screenwriter Dave Eggers have crafted a psychologically complex but easy-to-follow, deeply characterized and visually -- even aurally, with the haunting music of Karen O included during the journey -- stunning little fantasy that's also a deep rumination on childhood imagination, fear, anger, and wonder. (Catherine Keener does a good job in a small role as the weary, divorced mother to Max, the real child and wild thing from whose eyes the movie unfolds.) Embodying Max's ideals, figments, worries, and dreams, the Wild Things he comes across after running away from home and boarding a boat to a far-away, subconscious land of make-believe are brought to vivid life. This is due not only to the roughly enchanting costumes and make-up but to the performances of Paul Dano, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker, and, especially, James Gandolfini in a towering, scary-sensitive performance as lead Wild Thing Carol. And at the centre of it all, Max Records is a tenderly earnest, natural revelation as our rebellious hero Max. Some found it too depressing -- I admired Jonze's refusal to sugar-coat any of the darker aspects of the story and his simultaneously ringing endorsement for emotional reconciliation at journey's end. Some thought it looked gloomy -- I found the combination of light and dark, dreamy and earthy, in both visual look and emotional tone, to be just about perfect. A bright gem of a children's film that trusts in the intelligence of its audience, both young and old.

5. A Serious Man
Possibly the most audacious, free-wheeling, ambitious-yet-personal film of the year -- a colleague, Nathaniel Tensen, had it right comparing it to last year's Synecdoche, New York. Similarly, this is a film that's initially hard to swallow at points (especially that abrupt, offbeat ending), but that only grows in stature upon further reflection. It's the first film from Joel and Ethan Coen that can be counted as genuinely personal, taking part in a '60s-era, Midwest city like that of their childhood, and dealing explicitly and in complicated fashion with their Jewish roots -- but like many Coen joints, the sense of satire and almost fetishistic surface detail is overwhelming here, almost (but not quite) to the point where it can be called stereotypical. It's also one of the few films that can combine serious Biblical allegory (think the Book of Job) with mundane domestic drama, character study, and quintessentially '60s tropes of pot and rock and roll (a Jefferson Airplane song may feature the key to unraveling the film's mysteries). Finally it combines the Coens' more serious, existential mode (see No Country for Old Men... again) with their outrageously silly social satire mode (the best example being the underrated Burn After Reading) to seamless, rewarding effect.

Bold, fevered, and frankly astonishing, A Serious Man is like nothing else this year. Michael Stuhlbarg gives a mesmerizing, slow-burn performance as harried physics professor Larry Gopnik, a seemingly average, serious man for whom everything seems to be going increasingly wrong -- to the point that he starts suffering from a nightmarish crisis of faith and existence and seeks out Rabbinic intervention. The whole cast does stellar work, in fact, under the controlled direction of the Coens (Richard Kind and Frank Melamed are stand-outs). A rare glimpse at some weighty personal subject matter for the directors, A Serious Man starts off with a humourous but eerie Yiddish parable and spirals down into the existential suburban abyss before ending with a true American apocalyptic vision. Profoundly cool. I suspect it will only prove more daring and effective with subsequent reflection and viewings. (I almost toyed with the idea of it as my #1.) As it is, it is more than worthy of being placed alongside No Country for Old Men, Fargo, and Blood Simple as the brothers' best.

4. The Hurt Locker
Kathryn Bigelow does a seamless job of placing us in the shoes of someone with an almost impossibly nerve-rattling job with the original, intimate, and constantly intense war movie The Hurt Locker. The film zooms in on the daily ins and outs of a bomb disposal specialist -- knowing which wire to cut; trying to figure out if there are backup bombs and detonators; marching with a heavy, hot explosion-proof suit through sweltering Iraqi city streets into likely death; trying vigourously to disarm an unwilling suicide bomber whose explosives may be timer-activated; and trying to determine whether the guy on the cell phone down the street or up on that rooftop is calling a friend or activating a detonator. And with such focus, she blows stereotypes of war, action, gung-ho patriotism, and masculine cool and camaraderie and careerism right out of the water. Nothing is familiar or comfortable here; the stakes feel viscerally real, and each moment in the film could spell death for the characters. Mark Boal's script, informed from his days out in the battlefield as a journalist, helps make everything appear vividly real. Bigelow proceeds at a deliberate, exacting pace, with each new scene completely, dizzyingly different than the last and yet building on the knowledge and fear of what came before.

As the central daredevil, Col. James, Jeremy Renner memorably employs a charismatic swagger and an almost Zen-like grace under pressure that makes you wonder whether his character is purposefully crazy and reckless or whether his hotheaded nature is the only natural response to this insane line of work. He's brilliantly backed up by Anthony Mackie as his methodical look-out man who begins to question his superior's unorthodox techniques, as well as Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes in a pair of stunning cameos. "War is a drug," we are informed by a title at the beginning of the film, and indeed it is for Col. James -- with all the adrenaline, addictive quality, and vitally real danger that term implies. The Hurt Locker is superbly intense experience. Bigelow works on an intimate emotional and character-driven level as well as a purely exacting logistical level to create an astonishingly intense, immersive, observant, and efficient picture of war as we know it today.

3. Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire

Speaking of gut-punching intimacy, Precious, Lee Daniels's
gritty, heart-wrenching portrait of an obese, nearly silent, constantly berated and down-trodden teen named Claireece Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe in a startling break-out performance) is a work of harrowing emotional power and creative juice. Daniels brings us disturbingly close to this morbidly obese inner city teen, so brutalized both emotionally and physically that her face barely registers any expression anymore, on the verge of mental implosion from past horrors, having to raise two babies (both the products of rape at the hands of her own father), and contending with her brutal, insensitive mother (Mo'Nique). Daniels works meticulously, fully developing the details of its central character's life and the slow steps she tries to take towards recovery -- including attending a school for the disadvantaged and speaking with a welfare counselor (a surprisingly good Mariah Carey). But the film remains appropriately merciless and refuses to offer any unearned uplift; it will be a slow, possibly futile journey for Precious. The combination of "real"and "fantasy" footage also wonderfully hooks us in to this girl's real world and her clashing desires, and the cast, especially Sidibe, expressively inexpressive as the title character, and Mo'Nique, absolutely scorching as the girl's damaged, damaging mother, makes you feel the force, despair, and desperation of their respective characters. This is stunning viewing, one of the great character studies of the year, and honestly and artfully heartbreaking as it reveals Precious's totemic, individual struggles to better herself amidst the knotty forces of resentment and near-pathological hostility that keep dragging her back, in a sort of sadomasochistic co-dependence worthy of Samuel Beckett (or at least Tennessee Williams), to her mother and to her unspeakable past.

2. Summer Hours
What a lovely, lovely film this is. Summer Hours is a tender, thoughtful, sun-kissed French ensemble drama from Oliver Assayas that effortlessly arrives at and delivers pinpoint truths about family, generational differences, art, nostalgia, and social roles in an increasingly fractured, globalized world. Centred around the 75th birthday party of a family matriarch Helene (a wonderful Edith Scob), who has devoted her life to maintaining the family's summer home as well as the artistic legacy of her uncle, and subsequent family meetings held to decide what to do with the house and the museum-worthy pieces after Helene passes, Summer Hours is an intelligent, vibrantly realistic, talky, and engrossing family drama. Combine this scenario with pitch-perfect acting from top to bottom (Juliette Binoche as the whip-smart, flighty artist of the family; Charles Berling is the surprisingly sentimental economist and the oldest of the siblings, who doesn't want to part with his mother's relics; Jeremy Regnier is the calculating careerist whose job has taken a surprising turn and will keep him stuck in China; Isabelle Sadoyan is the sweet and loyal servant of the summer house; I could go on...) and lively, spiky streams of dialogue from Assayas's sparkling script and you have a movie that bears comparison not only to last year's stellar Rachel Getting Married, but to the likes of Robert Altman and Jean Renoir (this being a French film, after all). Summer Hours is both timely and poignantly timeless, a movie that expresses how we all live now and an intimately detailed and delightful portrait of these particular quirky, loving, argumentative, bourgeois characters. And as it builds toward its sunny, bittersweet conclusion, as the art gets sold off to museums and the house goes up for sale, we get, in the children and also the teenage grandchildren (just as well-acted as anyone else), a glimpse of the heartbreak that comes with letting go, as much of a thrill and a necessity as it is to move forward.

1. Up in the Air
As Summer Hours proves, sometimes the smallest films can be the most meaningful. Well, as Up in the Air proves, sometimes the most corny-seeming, all-American films can be the most joyous, satisfying surprises. Jason Reitman's effortlessly winning masterpiece (the man keeps getting better, after the auspicious debut of Thank You for Smoking and the sparkling wit and exuberance of Juno) is a half-happy, half-sad, completely entertaining affair that manages to expertly juggle all the balls it tosses so assuredly into the air. It works seamlessly and simultaneously as an uncommonly witty romantic comedy (the script, from Reitman and Sheldon Turner and based on Walter Kirn's novel, is chock full of such nimble, lighter-than-air banter it recalls the glory days of screwball, Cary Grant, and Katharine Hepburn), a down-to-earth, up-to-the-moment tragedy of very real economic distress as it hits home, and an empathetic character study of a man who revels in his facile, rootless, frequent flier habits until he realizes his position in life is just as insecure as those he fires for a living. As Ryan Bingham, the initially happy-go-lucky, smooth operating businessman living in the lap of cookie-cutter hotel-and-rental-car luxury, George Clooney gives his most heartfelt and charming performance to date in a role seemingly custom-tailored for his movie star suaveness. As the story goes on, though, Clooney wisely modulates the bitter with the sweet as he comes to re-evaluate his position in life. It's a feat of movie star acting to get us to sympathize and believe someone like Ryan, and Clooney pulls it off without breaking a sweat. Vera Fermiga and Anna Kendrick, meanwhile, match him note for note as, respectively, a sexy, smart, self-possessed fellow corporate traveler, and a fresh-faced, upstart rival at Ryan's firm who wants to do away with the traveling ax-man system and do it all via computer -- that is, before Ryan takes her on the road and shows her the importance of personal finesse in the business of letting folks go.

Up in the Air never quite white-washes over its hero's faults or shortchanges the poor folks he fires. Reitman and Clooney draw us into Ryan's cushy lifestyle and effectively convey the sleek, systematized charm of it all (and thus its original appeal for Ryan) before showing us how much of an empty shell it has left him and reinforcing what truly matters in life -- family, love, stability. It's a high-wire act of tragicomedy that the movie pulls off wonderfully, approaching real-life seriousness with appropriate heft while remaining honestly humourous throughout. And Up in the Air, besides all that, is deeply attuned to the particular rhythms that bind men and women in today's fast-paced, technology saturated society (Ryan and Alex's flirting over instant message is a playful delight). Its exploration of corporate culture and gender relations is funny, genuine, and touching enough (in its old-school way) to recall Billy Wilder's The Apartment, and Reitman so blithely connects the dots here and works with such a keen eye for humanity in all its joy and despair that his approach can reasonably be called Alexander Payne-esque. Superb, multi-layered entertainment.


The worst films of the year:

The problem with a guy like me making a worst list is that I tend to go out of my way not to see the movies I suspect will actually be the worst of a given year. I gloss over almost all the cookie-cutter, vapid romantic comedy disasters and the dreary, tossed-together horror flicks-of-the-week, and whatever the latest WWE star's latest acting attempt is. Stuff like or Bride Wars or The Ugly Truth or Saw VI or Rob Zombie's Halloween 2, therefore, will not be on this list because I flat-out didn't see nor have any desire to see them. I did see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, however, but since I didn't particularly care for the first one, it didn't quite count as enough of a disappointment to make the list, but it was undoubtedly a titanically ill-conceived, garish effort. Therefore, my worst of the year is hardly comprehensive, and not even that bad on an absolute scale, and most of them are just mediocre and/or disappointments. With that said, here are the films I most regret seeing last year:

5. The Girlfriend Experience
After raves from the likes of Roger Ebert and Owen Gleiberman, critics whose opinions I give a fair amount of weight to, I expected The Girlfriend Experience to be a shoestring-budget Steven Soderbergh marvel along the lines of Bubble. Unfortunately, this was a "small" film in both budget and enjoyment. Exploring the life and times of an upscale Manhattan prostitute (Sasha Gray, the best performance -- and one of the few interesting parts -- of the movie) who promises not only sex but the full "girlfriend experience" and the realistic, high-powered businessmen who tend to employ her, the film wants to get at a sort of verisimilitude with its naturalistic actors and its grainy, shot-on-the-fly digital video aesthetic. Instead, the actors barely leave an impression at all and the wanna-be topical dialogue about the economy comes off as forced and rambling, rather than urgent or real. It all adds up to a depressingly airless, tedious experience. Again, not so much awful as a mediocre, failed experiment.

4. Whatever Works
Woody Allen's latest is a done-to-death, stuck-in-the-past affair about an obnoxiously talky old crank (in this case, an award-winning scientist) and his ridiculously unlikely, incredibly young love interest. The inclusion of Larry David in the lead instead of Allen himself was undoubtedly intended as a breath of fresh air, but it only makes the angry/neurotic tirades that Allen's script is littered with come across as more stale. Evan Rachel Wood, as the Southern belle runaway that David's character hesitantly accepts into his home, affects a thick accent and flamboyant gestures that do little to disguise the fact that her and David have essentially zero chemistry. The inclusion of Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley, Jr. later on in the film help to leaven this lead balloon affair slightly, but it's ultimately too little-too late. It's like Allen was asked by his producers what he intended for his next film; the title, unfortunately, was his lamely ambivalent response.

3. Taken
Liam Neeson kicking ass and taking names in Paris in a revenge thriller from director Pierre Morel and hip co-screenwriter Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, Leon the Professional)? Cool. Or, at least, it should be. However, Neeson manages to be surprisingly flat here, angry without ever being compelling, except for that one intense scene from the trailer where he's on the phone threatening the (as it turns out, fairly cardboard) bad guys who kidnapped his daughter. Morel's attempts to have his action thriller cake and eat it too -- i.e., to make it as energetically stupid as something like The Fast and the Furious and at the same time as serious and compulsively intense as the Bourne series -- result in a confused, muddled, blandly Euro-flavoured affair that is mirthless where it should be low-rent fun.

2. Knowing
The scene of the plane crash over the interstate about a third of the way through Alex Proyas's Knowing is a virtuoso scene of fear, panic, and larger-than-life disaster that is at once urgent and awesomely panoramic. Unfortunately, it's about the only compelling scene in the movie, which gets so bogged down in its own twisty symbolism, numerological fetishism, end-of-the-world portentousness, and askew Nicolas Cage performance that it becomes so murky it's almost opaque. Preposterous rather than mesmerizing or haunting, Knowing is perilously close to a post-The Village M. Night Shyamalan debacle. A true, muddled sci-fi dud.

1. The Lovely Bones
I've already talked a fair bit in my last post about this shockingly overwrought, contrived, and mawkish Peter Jackson misfire. Suffice it to say that Jackson should probably stick to large-scale fantasy adaptations rather than trying to shoehorn special effects from those movies into his smaller-scale novel adaptations where they prove wholly unnecessary and ridiculous. Rarely has '70s hipsterism appeared so laughable as it is embodied here by a wooden Mark Wahlberg as the daughter of a tragically murdered young girl (Saoirse Ronan, one of the few saving graces of the film), and rarely has comic relief proved as excruciating as Susan Sarandon's galloping, boozy brand here. About three movies in one -- a post-death otherworldly fantasia, a story of grief and retribution, and apparently a shrill screwball comedy -- Jackson has the unfortunate luck to have failed at all three of them. Stanley Tucci got an Oscar nomination for his intense performance as the nebbishy neighbour and child murderer, and while he was perhaps the most interesting thing in the movie, even he gets smothered by Jackson's attempts to overdo the emotional impact and stereotypify his characters, obliterating any sense of thematic subtlety the movie might have possessed. Creepy instead of sweet, goofy instead of thrillingly mystical, thud-over-the-head forced instead of genuinely emotional, there's very little that's lovely about these Bones.

03 February 2010

The Lovely Bones (Peter Jackson, 2009); The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch, 2009)

I don't really know why I'm pairing these two up other than that I wanted to get some thoughts down for both of them before they evaporated from my memory in the midst of essay writing and midterm studying.

Essentially, the worst movie I've seen so far this year, and a movie nobody has seen or understood that deserves some mention, if only because I want others to see it and tell me what the hell they make of it all.

First off, The Lovely Bones, a movie that, based primarily on the trailers and the pedigree, initially looked like it might have some promise. However, mediocre reviews upon its release led me to expect typical late-in-the-year prestige book adaptation averageness. Unfortunately, Peter Jackson is no stranger to surpassing my expectations. I had hoped the best for The Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong and both of these surprisingly emotional and involving big-budget spectacles delivered in spades. Similarly, going in with low expectations The Lovely Bones, Jackson blew away even my scepticism about this film and delivered a movie that just got more and more awful as it went along. This is a stellar example in wrong-headed adaptations and contrived, unceasingly manipulative filmmaking.

It follows the story of middle school-aged Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan from Atonement, probably the saving grace of the film though even her sweet and sincere performance becomes manhandled -- poor choice of words in a film about rape and murder, but anyways -- by Jackson and co. over the course of the film), just budding in life and struggling through school and first love. Walking home one day from school through a vacant field, she is approached by a neighbour (Stanley Tucci, admittedly intense) and invited to come see a new contraption he's built for the neighbourhood kids. She doesn't ever come out alive. (This isn't a spoiler, it occurs quite early on in the film.)

The rest of the film is a bit of a bifurcation. We watch the now ghostly Susie in a candy-coloured but sometimes frightening landscape called the "in-between" as she tries to find out clues about her murderer and say her last goodbyes to her family before moving on. She runs in with another dead young girl, named Holly (Nikki SooHoo). We also watch Susie's surprisingly distant parents, played by Mark Wahlberg, oddly unemotional for a father who's lost her daughter, and Rachel Weisz, surprisingly bland and absent for most of the film after her "mental breakdown." The story takes place in the '70s, fairly obviously spelt out with Jackson's production design which is a little bit too floridly nostalgic. Susan Sarandon, apparently thinking she is in a different film (perhaps a screwball comedy), storms in as Susie's grandmother, who comes to help her family cope and do the chores... but mainly to act as ludicrously over-the-top comic relief in her fur coats, loud mannerisms, and boozing ways. We also watch Tucci twist and squirm as the police show up, then sigh of relief after he thinks he's got away with it, and then craftily plan the murder of Susie's remaining sister, Lindsay (Rose McIver).

But isn't The Lovely Bones pretty, you might ask, with it's shimmery special effects hauled out to fill in the "in-between" in which Susie finds herself trapped? It might be pretty on a sort of glistening surface level, but at the same time the special effects seem overdone and are pretty thoroughly unnecessary, not to mention looking a little bit too much like the Shire with its golden fields and cottages/gazebos. Essentially, the problem with the special effects is the same problem I had with the rest of the movie; it's just overdone and ham-fisted in every way. If there's ever any doubt that we should feel scared or tearful, the musical score swells up and directs us in the proper emotional direction. If there's any doubt that Tucci's character is pure evil, his easy-to-spot perv mustache and nervous mannerisms clue us in to the fact. (To be fair, Tucci does prove a rather chilling presence in the film, albeit in a completely stereotypical way.)

Aside from being overdone, the storytelling makes plot points that -- I have faith, having not read it myself -- probably made a lot more organic sense in the book feel ridiculously contrived, or else deeply misguided. *potential spoilers ahead, tread carefully* I'm thinking of Wahlberg's character, out on a hunt at night in a cornfield for Tucci, who he finally realizes is the killer, running after him with a baseball bat randomly encountering a young couple out for a late-night romantic rendezvous. The boyfriend thinks he's after the girl and proceeds to beat him to a pulp while Tucci looks on and skulks away into the darkness. Of course, Tucci eventually getting killed with a falling icicle right at the end could have come across as poetic justice (or some kind of pathetic fallacy justice thing) but here just seems like an especially ridiculous capper to a ridiculous film. And don't forget the biggest howler of all: Upon almost finishing what she has to do, Susie has a sunlit meet-up in the "in-between" with all of Tucci's previous victims -- a wanna-be emotional moment that feels startlingly phony and manipulative, as if the director wants us to feel, Hooray! We were all murdered by the same guy! Let's celebrate!

All in all, there's little right about The Lovely Bones save for Tucci and Ronan, although Jackson tends to milk the latter's precious narration to the point that it becomes a bit annoying, and it takes more and more wrong steps as it goes along. Something this overwrought and overtly manipulative can't help but come across as crass and disturbing. This is especially disappointing, seeing as I was such a big fan of Jackson's last two movies. But this is just a big, noisy, glossy strike-out that essentially obliterates any subtlety or complex themes (of life and death, young love and old, scary frustration, revenge and acceptance) it could have more fruitfully developed. Let's hope it's Jackson's first and only strike in the baseball game of filmmaking. D+

Meanwhile, The Limits of Control is one of the strangest films I've seen all year, to the point that it was almost ungradable. One of those movies that is just one big mystery wrapped in a riddle stuffed into an enigma that you think you might have figured out by the end -- but really you might be about as far from the "truth" as possible -- The Limits of Control is nearly interminably rambling (but still, I think, on the engrossing side of the equation), indulgent, and probably quite incoherent. Luckily, it is also one of the most deliberate, carefully crafted, beautiful, and mesmerizing works of art to come out this year. I'd hesitate to call it empty or pointless, as so many other critics have been far too quick to do... Roger Ebert's particularly crushing and sarcastic half-a-star review that suggests it is pretty much the nadir of vacuousness can be found here. I don't particularly think so, but at the same time, I do have a few lingering doubts about it being a completely unified work of philosophy, art, and storytelling, much as I admire its ambition and exploration in those fields.

Isaac de Bankole is gripping as the Lone Man at the heart of this puzzle, giving a calm, measured, nearly wordless performance that is about the definition of cool. After a run-in with two Frenchmen at an airport, he travels to Spain, where he appears to be embroiled in a quest to encounter various colourful strangers, trading matchboxes full of diamonds to them in return for a different matchbox with a paper inside. Each time, after he reads the paper, he memorizes the instructions written on it and swallows it. At each meeting in each cafe, he orders not a double espresso, but, quite specifically, two espressos in separate cups. Each stranger tries to talk to him and draw some sort of emotion or response out of him, but he remains steadfastly unmoved. At the end of the day, he returns to a hotel room where a seemingly constantly nude woman (Paz de la Huerta) invites sex, but he never mixes sex with business, and so lies on the bed fully clothed while she spoons him naked. Is this the (self-)control to which the title refers?

Aside from de Bankole, the strangers he encounters are equally elusive and well played, by the likes of John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, and Gael Garcia Bernal. The rituals, repeated phrases (something about a man going to a cemetery to find what life truly is), and stylistic motifs lead me to believe this journey has something to do with art, science, and human endeavour attempting to overcome the tyrannical "reality principle," possibly embodied by Bill Murray in a devilishly enjoyable cameo. Certainly Swinton's trench coat-wearing femme fatale talks about cinema and dreams; is The Limits of Control a self-reflexive meditation on the power of cinema and its connection with the subconscious dream world? Youki Kudoh, the woman that the Lone Man meets on the train, talks about molecules and far-flung science. However, perhaps it is overall about identity: in this world with its laws of reality but also its abundance of art and speculations about the unknown, identity is necessarily flexible... *spoiler alert* perhaps just something you can stuff into a bag before heading off to some other destination, as the ending suggests, to me, at any rate.

The philosophical ruminations, the puzzling, ritualistic, almost dream-like structure coupled with the exquisitely beautiful staging -- Jarmusch in collaboration with always astonishing cinematographer Christopher Deakins delivers images here that are among the most sleek, haunting, and beautiful of the year -- is reminiscent of something like Waking Life. The music that percolates through the film also sets a likably eclectic, sensuous mood that helps wake you up to the movies experimentations. But with its even more languourous, Jarmuschian pace -- if Broken Flowers felt slow to you, wait til you see this -- and dry, minimalist style choices and acting, it's a bit less direct than that and far more jarring and impenetrable. Ultimately, it may not completely add up (Jarmusch might just be one for self-indulgent whims and tangents) to anything at all, but it's an interesting ride, and just clever and well crafted enough to make you want to try to put it all together. Tantalizing and maddening all at the same time. B+. Roughly.

More blasts from the past! (2006-2008 movie log)

See previous entry... mostly just organizational stuff imported from my days over at RT. Colour coding and links (for the starred films) to full reviews will be provided one of these days.

2006 FILMS

Akeelah and the Bee -- B+
American Dreamz -- C+
Apocalypto -- B
Babel -- B-
Blood Diamond -- C+
*Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan -- A-
*Bubble -- A
*Brick -- B
*Cars -- A-
*Casino Royale -- A
*Children of Men -- A
Clerks II -- B
Crank -- B-
Dave Chappelle's Block Party -- A-
The Da Vinci Code -- C+
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu -- A
Deja Vu -- C
*The Departed -- A-
The Descent -- A-
The Devil Wears Prada -- B
Down in the Valley -- C
Dreamgirls -- B+
Fast Food Nation -- B+
Fateless -- A-
Flags of Our Fathers -- B
Flushed Away -- B+
For Your Consideration -- B
The Fountain -- B+
Half Nelson -- A
Happy Feet -- B-
*Hard Candy -- C+
The Hoax -- A-
Hollywoodland -- B+
Hostel -- B
Ice Age: The Meltdown -- B+
*The Illusionist -- B+
*An Inconvenient Truth -- A-
Infamous -- A-
Inland Empire -- D+
Inside Man -- B+
Iraq in Fragments -- A
Jackass Number Two -- C
Jesus Camp -- B+
Lady in the Water -- C
Lady Vengeance -- A-
The Last King of Scotland
-- B+
L'Enfant -- B
Let's Go to Prison -- D-
*Letters From Iwo Jima -- A
Little Children -- A-
*Little Miss Sunshine -- C+
Manderlay -- C+
Marie Antoinette
-- B+
Miami Vice -- B-
Mission: Impossible III -- B
Monster House -- A-
Nacho Libre -- D+
Night at the Museum -- C+
Notes on a Scandal -- A-
Old Joy -- A
Over the Hedge-- B+
The Painted Veil -- B+
*Pan's Labyrinth -- A
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer -- A-
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest -- C-
Poseidon -- B-
A Prairie Home Companion -- B+
*The Prestige -- B+
The Proposition -- A-
The Pursuit of Happyness -- B+
The Queen -- A-
Running Scared -- C-
A Scanner Darkly -- B
The Science of Sleep -- B-
Sherrybaby -- B
16 Blocks -- B+
*Snakes on a Plane -- B+
Stranger Than Fiction -- B
Superman Returns -- B-
Sweet Land -- A
Take the Lead -- C-
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby -- B-
Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny -- B-
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning -- D
Thank You For Smoking -- B+
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story -- A-
*United 93 -- A-
V for Vendetta -- B+
*Volver -- B+
The War Tapes -- A-
Why We Fight -- B+
World Trade Center -- B
X-Men: The Last Stand -- B-

Total # movies seen from 2006: 91

2007 FILMS

Across the Universe -- C-
American Gangster -- B
*The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford -- A
Atonement -- B
August Rush -- C
Away From Her -- A-
Bee Movie -- B-
Becoming Jane -- B
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead -- B
Beowulf -- C+
Blades of Glory -- B-
The Bourne Ultimatum -- A-
Breach -- B
Bridge to Terabithia -- B+
Charlie Wilson's War -- B
The Condemned -- F
Dan in Real Life -- B+
The Darjeeling Limited -- B+
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly -- A-
Eastern Promises -- A-
Elizabeth: The Golden Age -- C+
Enchanted -- B+
First Snow -- B-
4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days -- A
1408 -- B
Fracture -- B+
Gone Baby Gone -- B
Grindhouse -- A-
Hairspray -- B+
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix -- B+
Hot Fuzz -- B+
I Am Legend -- B
I'm Not There -- A
In the Valley of Elah -- B+
Into the Wild -- A-
Juno-- A
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters -- A-
*Knocked Up -- A
Lake of Fire -- B
Lars and the Real Girl
-- C+
Live Free or Die Hard -- B
The Lives of Others -- A-
Manufactured Landscapes -- A
Michael Clayton -- A-
Music and Lyrics -- B-
No Country For Old Men -- A
No End in Sight -- A
The Number 23 -- C-
*Ocean's Thirteen -- B
Once -- A
Paris, Je T'Aime -- B+
Persepolis -- A
Ratatouille -- A-
*Reign Over Me -- B-
Rescue Dawn -- B+
The Savages -- A-
Shoot 'Em Up-- B+
Sicko -- B+
*The Simpsons Movie -- B+
Smokin' Aces -- B
Spider-Man 3 -- B-
Sunshine -- B+
*Superbad -- B+
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street -- B+
There Will Be Blood -- A
300 -- C+
3:10 to Yuma -- B+
*Transformers -- B-
28 Weeks Later -- B+
Waitress -- A
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story -- B
*Zodiac -- A-

Total # movies seen from 2007: 72

2008 FILMS

American Teen -- B
Australia -- C
The Bank Job -- B+
Be Kind Rewind -- B-
Bolt -- A-
*Burn After Reading -- A-
Changeling -- C+
Che -- Part One: The Argentine -- B
Che -- Part Two: Guerrilla -- B-
A Christmas Tale -- A
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
-- C+
The Class -- A
Cloverfield -- B+
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button -- A-
*The Dark Knight -- A
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father -- B-
Doubt -- C+
Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! -- B+
The Edge of Heaven -- A-
Encounters at the End of the World -- A-
The Fall -- C-
The Forbidden Kingdom -- D+
Forgetting Sarah Marshall -- B+
Frost/Nixon -- A-
Frozen River -- B
Funny Games -- D
*Get Smart-- B+
Ghost Town -- B-
Gomorrah -- B+
Gran Torino -- B+
Hamlet 2 -- C+
Hancock -- C+
The Happening -- C
Happy-Go-Lucky -- A-
Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay -- B
Hellboy II: The Golden Army -- B
How to Lose Friends & Alienate People -- C+
*In Bruges -- A-
*The Incredible Hulk -- C+
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull -- B
Iron Man -- B+
Journey to the Center of the Earth -- B-
*Kung Fu Panda-- A-
Lakeview Terrace -- C+
Let the Right One in
-- A-
*Man on Wire -- A
*Milk -- A-
*My Winnipeg -- A
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist-- A-
The Other Boleyn Girl -- B+
Paranoid Park -- B+
Pineapple Express -- B-
Quantum of Solace -- B
*Rachel Getting Married -- A
The Reader -- B
Religulous -- B+
Revolutionary Road -- B
Role Models -- B-
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired -- B+
Semi-Pro -- C
Shine a Light -- B-
Slumdog Millionaire -- A-
Smart People -- B
Snow Angels -- B+
Son of Rambow -- C+
Speed Racer -- B+
*Standard Operating Procedure -- A
Step Brothers -- C-
Still Life -- A
Stop-Loss -- B-
Synecdoche, New York -- A-
Taxi to the Dark Side -- A-
Tell No One -- A-
Tropic Thunder -- A
Trouble the Water -- A
21 -- C+
Up the Yangtze -- A-
Valkyrie -- B
Vantage Point -- C
Vicky Cristina Barcelona -- B
The Visitor -- A-
W. -- C+
*Wall-E-- A
Waltz With Bashir -- A
Wanted -- B
Wendy and Lucy -- A
The Wrestler -- A-
You Don't Mess With the Zohan -- C+
Zack and Miri Make a Porno -- C+

Total # movies seen from 2008: 88