If it's crap ... We'll tell you
10.) Avatar- Master director James Cameron's 3D sci-fi epic is engaging, gorgeous, and sets a new standard for visual effects and what can be done with animation. The Na’vi creatures look so lifelike that you’ll get wrapped up in the lush world of Pandora and forget you’re sitting in a theater. Sam Worthington acquits himself admirably as do the rest of the cast, and it’s great to see Ripley again. A somewhat jaded story (think ‘Dances with Wolves’ with bits of ‘Pocohontas’) and a one-note villain can't hinder 'Avatar's pure artistic spectacle. An impressive modern marvel of technology, and a future sci-fi classic.
9.) Precious- Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire- 'Precious' is a prime example of triumphant, fearless filmmaking. The story of Claireece “Precious” Jones-- an illiterate, overweight 16-year-old black girl who has been raped and impregnated twice by her father and is forced to live with an abusive mother-- is superbly acted and deeply affecting. We get a brutally realistic look into the life of a young, damaged girl, and we watch her slowly rise above her circumstances through an alternative schooling program and an inspirational teacher. An almost unrecognizable, dressed-down Mariah Carey gives a surprisingly strong performance as Precious’ social worker psychiatrist. Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique (Precious and her mother, respectively) give fantastic performances as well, and both should be considered for Oscar nods. A brutal, tragic, yet ultimately hopeful drama.
8.) The Hurt Locker- Kathryn Bigelow's newest film accomplishes a feat that few modern war films do. It manages to tell a very down-to-earth, realistic war story without banging you over the head with some preachy political message. On the surface, the story’s about a squad of elite soldiers disarming bombs in Iraq. But the heart of the movie lies in its characters. When new recruit William James (Jeremy Renner) joins the team, the other soldiers are perplexed by his apathy in the face of death. Throughout the story we learn more about James as his true character is revealed bit by bit, and we watch as his reckless choices affect those around him. This film is very much a thriller/action movie, featuring many intense scenes where the difference between being blown to bits and staying safe is determined by one man's performance while disarming a bomb. In addition to the bomb scenes, there’s a spectacular sniper battle in the middle of a desert. The action is effective and tense to watch, and the pacing of the film feels just right, blending moments of silence and dialogue with the aforementioned action scenes. This is one of the best war films I've seen in quite some time. A taut, thrilling war story with morally ambiguous food-for-thought.
7.) Star Trek- 'Star Trek' has (arguably) everything that a diehard Trekkie could ever ask for from a film touting the series' name. But beyond that, it's also a near-perfect action flick. J.J Abrams reboots the franchise with new actors, a new story, and a new future for the Enterprise crew. It's fast-paced, funny, well-written, action packed, and best of all: accessible. That means you don't need any prior knowledge of the series to enjoy this film. A complete novice (i.e. myself) can walk into it and understand everything as well as have a fantastic time. It's more than a great Trek film; it's a marvel of a science fiction/action flick. A fantastic reboot and an action film that fires on all cylinders.
6.) (500) Days of Summer- '(500) Days of Summer' is a blessing. Hollywood turns out one cruddy romantic comedy after another, and it's very rare that we see any real talent or creativity put into them. This movie tells an achingly true-to-life story of boy meets girl (but boy doesn't get girl.) But I’m not ruining anything for you-- we know that it won't end in a happy fashion from the beginning credits, when the narrator tells us. The film's choice to tell its story in a nonlinear fashion--(it jumps back and forth through the couple's relationship during the 500 days the title refers to)--provides us with a consistently engaging memory-fueled look at a failed romance. Knowing that said couple (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel) are not going to be together when the story ends adds an interesting dynamic to the film, and it's something unique and innovative. This is the first romcom I’ve seen that’s pointed squarely at guys. Anybody who’s been in a long-term relationship before will no doubt find something to relate to in this story, and it’s got several textbook examples of ‘no! don’t do that!’ moments. Overall, it's one of the best 'stories about love' (not a love story) that I've seen in a very long time, and I adored it for that fact. I found the movie to be very reminiscent of Woody Allen’s 1977 ‘Annie Hall.’ There's great chemistry between the leads here, and the soundtrack is pitch-perfect to boot. One of the funniest, most true-to-life romantic stories I've seen in a long time.
5.) Fantastic Mr. Fox- In an age where many animated films (barring Pixar's) are hastily made and turned out for a quick profit, 'Mr. Fox' is a much-needed breath of fresh air. Wes Anderson (an all-time favorite director of mine) crafts a stop-motion masterpiece out of Roald Dahl's classic novel, toting a script that's just as funny and resoundingly deep as the film is beautiful. Anderson's usual troupe of voice actors return to narrate the numerous dysfunctional, complex animals that inhibit the world he's created. This is one of the few children's films that I believe the older set will enjoy much more than the little kids. It's got a lot to say, and it's motives and themes are far more complex than most kid's movies. Stop-motion isn't easy, and it's clear that Wes put a ton of time into making his vision of the film come true. The stop-motion is done very artfully and in an old-fashioned style, and it's mesmerizing to watch. A typically witty and enormously enjoyable labor of love from Mr. Anderson.
4.) District 9- First-time director Neil Blomkamp took the world by storm when he released District 9 over the summer. Few knew anything about it prior to its release, but that quickly changed- and for good reason. 'District 9' is equal parts guns-blazing sci-fi action and thinking man's story. Wikus van de Merwe is an unlikely protagonist, and his story is as tragic and compelling as it is thrilling to watch (if you haven’t checked it out yet, I won’t ruin the story for you-- it’s much better if you go into it knowing nothing.) Blomkamp, using CG aliens and a real life slum backdrop, draws a parallel between a race of malnourished aliens who are stuck in a South African ghetto and the segregation/issues of Apartheid. A modern science fiction classic, and one that will be remembered and talked about for decades to come.
3.) Where The Wild Things Are- With one exception, no other film this year moved me emotionally as drastically as 'Where The Wild Things Are' did. Spike Jonzes' adaptation of Maurice Sendak's 1963 novel is breathtaking to look at, it’s imaginative, and it does a wonderful job of expanding a very short book into a 90 minute film about loneliness and childhood imagination, as well as what it feels like to want an escape from the frightening world that inhabits us when we’re kids. The Wild Things were created using a combination of suitmation and CGI faces, and they look amazing. Each one has their own personality and psyche, and they’re all very human. Some of them even mirror people in our hero Max’s life. Max's story is one that anyone can easily project themself into--this is a film that gives us the opportunity to reminisce about our younger years and all they meant to us. I had been looking forward to this movie for over a year, and I left the theater feeling sad yet completely satisfied. A beautiful, moving, subtle masterpiece.
2.) Up In The Air- ‘Up In The Air’ is a wonderful film. It’s one of those movies that I love to death, yet it’s tough to explain why. This is the 3rd film from writer/director Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking, Juno) and it’s his finest one yet. George Clooney is fantastic as Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizing expert whose job it is to fire people. He travels constantly and lives happily out of a suitcase. He’s become immune to his client’s sometimes extreme reactions to being fired, and puts up a false kindness to help them cope. When his boss hires the overly confident teenaged Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), she plans to set up a video conference program to fire people from a computer without having to send out representatives like Ryan to do it in person. With his job threatened, Bingham is determined to prove to Natalie that her idea isn’t necessary, and he brings her on one of his cross-country firing runs. But along the way Natalie begins to feel the crushing reality, guilt, and consequences of the job she’s taken...and Ryan comes to realize just how disconnected and lonely his life is. Simply put, this is a great film. Clooney and Kendrick are magnificently talented, as is Vera Farmiga (Ryan’s female counterpart and love interest) and the actors play off of each other in an entertaining and organic way. The script is just as strong as the acting. Reitman’s got a real knack for writing intriguing and realistic characters, and he gives them some really funny lines of dialogue as well. The film ends in an unconventional way, and I thought it was a perfect conclusion. It’s message rings completely true--even if you have some grand epiphany or realization about your life, things won’t always change or end like you want them to...life just keeps on going. I loved ‘Up In The Air’...it’s a well-acted, supremely entertaining mid-life crisis story that reaffirms Reitman’s status as one of the best directors out there, and it’s one of the best films in recent memory.
1.) Up- Pixar studios make the best animated films in the world. Those movies are also some of the best films of any kind, period. That's how it's always been, and it's always going to be that way. Expressing just how much I adored 'Up' will be difficult to do in a short space, but I'm going to try. The art direction is stunning. Every shot is beautiful, and it's evident that a lot of love and care was put into every detail of every scene. It's top-notch animation. But the best part of 'Up' is it's story. This is Pixar's most mature film to date. The opening montage (which depicts our hero Carl and his wife’s lives as they fall in love and grow up together) does the boldest thing I've ever seen in an animated movie, -- it implies a miscarriage. Pixar is the only company on the face of the planet with enough bravery and confidence to include a scene like that in a ‘children's’ film, and make it a very poignant and effective scene at that. That 30 second montage of a man and his wife growing up together and then having to say goodbye says more in that 30 seconds than many drama films do in their 120-minute runtimes, and it breaks new ground. The film deals with topics like loss, loneliness, love, and letting go. It does not, however, talk down to kids, nor does it shy away from exploring said topics. 'Up' will no doubt entertain anyone willing to watch it, but it will speak volumes to older kids and adults alike. The writing is top-notch, and it makes 'Up' the funniest film this year. I'm not ashamed to admit that 5 minutes into it, the film had moved me to tears-- and throughout there were moments I laughed so hard that I would cry again. It's an emotional roller coaster, a mixture of heartfelt drama and hilarity (I could watch those dogs forever.) Overall, 'Up' is my favorite film this year for a thousand reasons. But what it boils down to is this: 'Up' is an emotionally resonant, hilarious, and truly incredible film...and it stands toe to toe with Pixar's best. And one more thing. The film’s final shot is one of the most poignant, beautiful things I've seen in a film, period. 'Up' connected with me like no other movie this year, and it's a masterful work of art and storytelling.