Sunday, January 31, 2010

LowRes 2009 Movie Awards: Part 6, The Sights and Sounds

My look back at the best of 2009 (and my semi-sad fantasia of If I Had an Oscar Ballot) continues with a look at the technical categories.

Previously: 25 Best Moments; Worst Movies/Performances; Best Trailers; Best Supporting Actors; Screenplays, Etc., Lead Actors

House of the Devil
The Hurt Locker
Where the Wild Things Are

Admittedly, editing isn't a field I have a ton of experience with. Rather than get all "I knows it when I sees it," I'll say that the editing I respond to keeps long movies (Julia) or sparse movies (Moon) from feeling draggy. Or it contributes to some especially impressive tension (House of the Devil; The Hurt Locker). And sometimes I act like the Academy and simply decide that a movie I really, really loved was edited really, really well.

Bright Star
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Where the Wild Things Are

I know at least four of these movies, maybe all five, all have LOTS of art direction, but this year, at least, more meant better. Certainly the art direction was the best thing about the hit-or-miss Watchmen. And I'd be disappointed if Wes Anderson didn't deliver a movie where the art direction wasn't meticulous. My favorite might be Coraline, though, and the shifting look of the alternate universe, from familiar to terrifyingly foreign.

Click below for costumes, makeup, sound, and visual effects...

Bright Star
The Brothers Bloom
An Education
Inglorious Basterds
A Single Man

Let's hear it for the unself-conscious '60s mod designs in An Education, the homemade dresses in Bright Star, the out-of-time stylish threads in The Brothers Bloom, Melanie Laurent's red dress and the feather in Diane Kruger's cap in Inglorious Basterds, and of course everything on everyone (most especially gaudy pinky fuzzy sweaters) in Tom Ford's A Single Man.

District 9
Drag Me to Hell
The Road
Whip It!

I'll give the makeup people credit for how utterly filthy I felt after seeing The Road, for the decrepit old lady in Drag Me to Hell, the icky transitional phase in District 9, the war paint in Whip It!, and the surprise of that big cameo in Zombieland.

District 9
The Hurt Locker
Where the Wild Things Are

Again, I'm not an expert in movie sound. But I do find it to be an essential component of top-notch action movies like Avatar and (my personal choice for best action movie of the year) District 9. And I really loved the way the melancholy voices in Where the Wild Things Are mixed and mingled.

District 9
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Where the Wild Things Are

Avatar had all those blue things, if you recall (though what impressed me more were those jungle environs on Pandora), while District 9 placed its aliens in a grimy real-world environment. Everything in Watchmen felt of a whole piece, including incredibly wild CGI feats like Dr. Manhattan.

Coming on Monday: My Top 10 movies of the year...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

LowRes 2009 Movie Awards: Part 5, The Lead Actors

My look back at the best of 2009 (and my semi-sad fantasia of If I Had an Oscar Ballot) continues with a look at the lead acting categories.

Previously: 25 Best Moments; Worst Movies/Performances; Best Trailers; Best Supporting Actors; Major Techs

Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart
Matt Damon - The Informant!
Colin Firth - A Single Man
Ben Foster - The Messenger
Joseph Gordon-Levitt - (500) Days of Summer
Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker

What a wonderfully packed category this year. Even with my nominations teased out to six, I still feel like any one of the runners-up (below) would be more than worthy of getting a real award (i.e. not a fakey one on Blogger). Not that any of them ever would. Still, it pains me (PAINS! ME!) to leave guys like Rockwell and Kraskinski out of the nomination circle. But I'll try to soldier on.

Bridges and Firth will both be pulling down Oscar nominations next week, and rightly so. They both carry their respective films -- neither of which are bad movies, but they're both so intensely centered around their main characters that the weight gets put on the actors' shoulders anyway. Interestingly, each imbues his respective film with the exact opposite qualities: Firth pulls you deep into George's sadness and grief and fleeting passions, providing a weight of emotion that Tom Ford's vivid artifice can't bring on its own; meanwhile, one of my favorite things about Bridges's performance is how he doesn't let us wallow in Bad Blake's despair and self-pity too long. It's there, of course, but it never feels indulgent, and you never feel Blake is so far gone that you no longer care to see him get better.

Jeremy Renner also might get Oscar-nominated, which would be one of the more underrated miracles of modern award-watching. His performance is all impenetrable angles and distancing bravado, halfway between the James Dean anti-authoritarian model that has persisted for 50 years in American culture and a new kind of Aspergersy disobedience where active rebellion is traded for something more compulsory and instinctual and inarticulate. The answer to "What are you rebelling against?" is less "What do you got?" and more "What are you talking about?"

Ben Foster gives the best performance in his movie despite the fact that he's gotten the least attention for it. He nails his character's blend of heroic impulses (he really can't help himself when he sees Samantha Morton's crying widow) and a baseline revulsion at how little he's actually able to do.

It's interesting to contrast Matt Damon's work in The Informant with JGL in 500 Days... since both performances are so charisma-based. (If you haven't noticed lo these many blogging years, I tend to value well-modulated charisma more than most.) Damon harnessed a kind of anti-charisma as his character blended obnoxious self-entitlement with a dexterous relationship with the truth. Meanwhile, Gordon-Levitt got to both sides a romantic apocalypse and combined it with a serious make-me-want-to-be-his-boyfriend-ness.

Runners Up: Sam Rockwell (Moon); Ben Whishaw (Bright Star); John Krasinski (Away We Go); Edgar Flores (Sin Nombre).


Abbie Cornish - Bright Star
Carey Mulligan - An Education
Gabourey Sidibe - Precious
Meryl Streep - Julie & Julia
Tilda Swinton - Julia

What to even say about Tilda Swinton in Julia? It's funny that my mental image of her is this eternally icy, domineering, androgynous creature, because in my two favorite performances of hers (this one and Michael Clayton), she's at her least composed (bad decisions; trembling exterior) and most feminine (whether battling the boys club in Clayton or the mama bear instincts that develop against her will in Julia).

I worry that Streep's general brilliance tends to gloss over the fact that, say, no other actress could have made Julie and Julia quite the effortless-yet-emotionally-satisfying mid-level triumph it is. Strangely, the more I think about An Education, the more I think Carey Mulligan serves the same function for An Education. She's an exciting new actress and she imbues Jenny with a freshness and intelligence that helps her skirt victimization (even if the movie sells her out by the end).

In many ways, Sidibe has an impossible task, making Precious seem more than just a giant canvass to project our feelings of sympathy, horror, guilt, and pity. That she overcomes that by delving not only into the corners of Precious's mind she only dares to hope about, but also her weakness and laziness and silence, is very impressive.

As for Abbie Cornish, it's not that I never saw this coming. For every relatively weak performance (in Stop-Loss, in Elizabeth: The Golden Age), she'd deliver something like 2006's Candy, where she and Heath Ledger shared an electric and alive chemistry, and it's chemistry again that highlights her Bright Star performance. The sweet, delicate on-screen romance that Abbie and Ben Whishaw create has a beauty on par with the film's breathtaking photography.

Runners Up: Rachel Weisz (The Brothers Bloom); Alycia Delmore (Humpday); Helen Mirren (The Last Station); Maya Rudolph (Away We Go).

Friday, January 29, 2010

LowRes 2009 Movie Awards: Part 4, The Words and Vision

My look back at the best of 2009 (and my semi-sad fantasia of If I Had an Oscar Ballot) continues with a look at the ensemble and supporting acting categories.

Previously: 25 Best Moments; Worst Movies/Performances; Best Trailers; Best Supporting Actors

(500) Days of Summer
Crazy Heart
Jennifer's Body
Whip It!

This somewhat nebulous category encompasses skillful use of previously produced music -- 500 Days of Summer's harnessing of great songs by Regina Spektor and Temper Trap, and most importantly the genius repurposing of Hall & Oates; Adventureland's repetitive '80s pop oppression + tilt-a-whirl dance anthems; the bloodcurdlingly awesome decision to blast Hole at the end of Jennifer's Body -- or notable original songs like the authentic country in Crazy Heart.

Barry Ackroyd - The Hurt Locker
Lance Acord - Where the Wild Things Are
Eduard Grau - A Single Man
Anthony Dod Mantle - Antichrist
Eliot Rocket - House of the Devil

Some truly singular work, starting with the retro mood-setting of A Single Man and House of the Devil -- you couldn't find two more different movies, but both Grau and Rocket pulled off highly stylized aesthetics that manages to function beyond pastiche (A Single Man's style was divisive, but count me among those who were intoxicated by it). Ackroyd's camera didn't flinch and manages to capture the cracks in Jeremy Renner from impossibly close angles. Finally, I'm so happy Anthony Dod Mantle won an Oscar last year. Too many of the great cintematographers don't, for whatever reason. I only wish he'd won it for 28 Days Later ... or stood a chance in hell at being nominated for his showy but nonetheless profoundly malevolent work on Antichrist.

Click below for my picks for best score, screenplay, and directing...

Marvin Hamlisch - The Informant!
Brian Eno - The Lovely Bones
Clint Mansell - Moon
Abel Korzeniowski - A Single Man
Karen O, Carter Burwell - Where the Wild Things Are

Hamlisch's genre-hopping work in The Informant perfectly captured the sense that Mark Whitacre keeps directing the movie of his own life as he continues to vamp well past the point of credibility. The music in The Lovely Bones was probably the one purely successful thing about it. Mansell remains one of my very favorite composers, here choreographing a dance with Sam Rockwell's solitary (and not quite solitary) man. Korzeniowski's mood-setting music was heavy-handed but pleasingly so. And the combination of Karen O and Carter Burwell was so self-evidently amazing you just KNEW they'd be DQ'd from the Oscar race.

Greg Mottola - Adventureland
Dave Eggers, Vendela Vida - Away We Go
Lynn Shelton - Humpday
Duncan Jones, Nathan Parker - Moon
Michael Haneke - The White Ribbon

The Original Screenplays are generally where I flip for new talent, indie audaciousness, or story-centered movies that maybe don't have enough visual flair to elevate them in the other categories. Those attributes apply to all of the scripts here, besides The White Ribbon. That one's here for being a satisfyingly rich character puzzle where a moralistic parable might have been. I'll defend Away We Go and its hipster, some might say smug, affectations because it ultimately delivered an emotionally honest story about home. Humpday remained improbably hilarious and sweet, even if I dock it ever so slightly for being kind of a pussy by the end. Adventureland gets aimlessness exactly right and gives each of its characters enough room to strike a chord or two. Moon is more playful than you'd expect, and in possession of great intelligence and curiosity, each "what if?" taking us around another narrative corner.

Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche - In the Loop
Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach - Fantastic Mr. Fox
Geoffrey Fletcher - Precious
Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers - Where the Wild Things Are
Shauna Cross - Whip It!

In the Loop felt so fresh and unforced and baseline hilarious, I could hardly believe it wasn't an original creation. Fantastic Mr. Fox managed to marry Anderson's low-key conversational style with Dahl's classic characters. Precious committed to the story fully -- a story, if I recall correctly, that was based on the novel Push by Sapphire. Whip It! had incredible amounts of heart and absolutely refused easy caricature, with the most extraordinary example being the generosity shown to Marcia Gay Harden's character. And I was absolutely in love with how much story Jonze and Eggers managed to add to Wild Things while retaining the story's minimalism.

Wes Anderson - Fantastic Mr. Fox
Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker
Cary Fukunaga - Sin Nombre
Spike Jonze - Where the Wild Things Are
Quentin Tarantino - Inglorious Basterds

I hesitate to get too far into these choices here before I discuss my Top 10 movies of the year, so let's talk about the people. I'm super crazy excited for the upcoming career of Cary Fukunaga, whose Sin Nombre suggested a grounded and empathetic filmmaker who isn't flashy but also doesn't just rely on bleak imagery either. (He's got a Jane Eyre adaptation in the works with Michael Fassbender attached; not to be confused with Fish Tank's Andrea Arnold and her Wuthering Heights adaptation with Michael Fassbender attached.)

I have a whole pissy spiel on deck about how I'm really tired of hearing Fantastic Mr. Fox raves tiresomely peppered with backhanded shots at Wes Anderson's live-action movies. The exact same things that make Fox wonderful also make The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited wonderful. You won't sprout hipster wings if you admit it.

Tarantino and Bigelow will both see their top-notch work this year met with Oscar nominations, and rightly so. How the Academy is prepared to get so cool I'm not entirely sure, but nobody breathe too hard or we'll ruin it. Meanwhile, Spike Jonze does the best work of his career, risked making a divisive movie out of a children's classic, and won't even sniff the Kodak Theater. Which makes total sense if you've followed the Oscars even a little bit, but whatever.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Low Res 2009 Movie Awards: Part 3, The Supporting Actors

My look back at the best of 2009 (and my semi-sad fantasia of If I Had an Oscar Ballot) continues with a look at the ensemble and supporting acting categories.

Previously: 25 Best Moments; Worst Movies/Performances; Best Trailers

In the Loop
The Hurt Locker
Up in the Air

This seemed like the one place where I could appropriately acknowledge what I did like about Up in the Air, an overrated movie that I sometimes forget I enjoyed pretty well while it was playing. The credit for that goes almost entirely to the actors, from George Clooney channeling his own star persona, to Vera Farmiga (more on her in a bit), to Anna Kendrick's hyper-articulated sense of self (and later, lack thereof), to Amy Morton's weary kindness (she always seems disappointed that she's not angrier about things), to Danny McBride surprising competence -- it's a strong ensemble that takes great advantage of the moments the movie lets them bounce off each other.

Adventureland is a movie where the sum of its ensemble is so much greater than any component part. Jesse Eisenberg is doing his thing, as is Kristen Stewart, and while I think Eisenberg did better work emerging from his cocoon in Zombieland, I think he and Stewart both make great use of what we already know about them (he's nervous! she's sullen!) to immediately jump into more complicated interactions. Add to them the overtly comic Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, and Matt Bush, the appropriately aloof Ryan Reynolds, the heartbrokenly familiar Martin Starr, and the secret weapon that was Margarita Levieva (I'll shut up about Lisa P. right about never), and I'm sold.

In the Loop makes such brilliant use of its huge ensemble that it might be wiser to just list them. I'll get to Peter Capaldi, Anna Chlumsky, and Zach Woods in a moment. The other characters fall somewhere along the spectrum of overwhelmed (Tom Hollander and Chris Addison), bemused (Gina McKee), beleagured (Mimi Kennedy), self-satisfied (David Rache), persistent (Steve Coogan), predatory (Paul Higgins), and James Gandolfini doing a riff on his usual swiftly-boiling-teakettle thing. They play off each other in distinct ways (watching the power dynamics in flux is a treat) and all have their moments of high comedy.

The Hurt Locker and Precious have both received piles of industry love this awards season, including in the acting categories, but I can't help but think they deserve more love in that regard. Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie, both stunning, will be covered in other categories, but Brian Geraghty is no weak link in their triad; it's been nice to see the three of them stick together on the red carpet circuit this season. As for Precious, count me among those who really enjoyed Mariah Carey's glammed-down, mustachioed performance as a social worker, Paula Patton as an angelic (too much so?) do-gooder, and especially the fluorescent beige classmates, who brought a much needed diagonal slash of vibrance into the middle sections of the movie.

Adam Brody - Jennifer's Body
Peter Capaldi - In the Loop
Anthony Mackie - The Hurt Locker
Zach Woods - In the Loop
Christoph Waltz - Inglorious Basterds

I suppose I should start by defending my most controversial choice: you guys, Christoph Waltz is REALLY pretty awesome. Okay, okay, fine. I know that's not what you meant. First of all, have you seen Jennifer's Body? Did you actually watch it or did you spend the whole time tweeting about how much you hate Diablo Cody and Megan Fox? Because seriously, Adam Brody gives a performance of (quite literally) ungodly charisma and guile and banality. It would have been so easy to play him with the same disdain that Cody wrote him (I like her much more than you do, but lady was working out some issues with boys in bands in this script), but Brody plays to the audience exactly the way he plays to Megan Fox's Jennifer: he's the worst, and you know it, and so does he, but damned if you're not into him just the same.

The fact that Anthony Mackie has been virtually ignored this awards season is both hugely disheartening and yet also kind of fitting, for his character. Sanborn is a good soldier, steadily carrying out his orders, trying to keep everybody safe, trying to keep everybody alive until it's his turn to go home. He's not trying to win any wars like Jeremy Renner's character. Weirdly, perversely, all the risks Renner takes put weight on Mackie, like a high-risk Dorian Gray arrangement. The farther Renner walks into a minefield, the tighter Mackie gets and the more responsibility gets heaped on his shoulders. It's a superb give-and-take.

As for the In the Loop gentlemen, Peter Capaldi is kind of a no-brainer here. He gets all the best lines of the movie and spews them from a seemingly bottomless pit of bile. Malcolm actually has the upper hand for far less of the movie than you'd think, given how intimidating he is. But it's when he's actually at a power disadvantage (with Gandolfini, or even with the teenaged White House staffer) that he's most ferocious. Zach Woods, meanwhile, plays Chad with the exact perfect mix of impossible awkwardness and extraordinary disdain and self-regard so far beyond what he's earned you either want to punch him or promote him.

Runners Up: Chris Messina (Away We Go); Stanley Tucci (Julie and Julia); Fred Melamed (A Serious Man); Liev Schrieber (Taking Woodstock); Peter Sarsgaard (An Education).

Anna Chlumsky - In the Loop
Vera Farmiga - Up in the Air
Melanie Laurent - Inglorious Basterds
Mo'nique - Precious
Rosamund Pike - An Education

I'm not sure if there's anything I can say about Mo'Nique's performance that hasn't been (or won't soon be) said better and by more fancily dressed people than me. I will say that beyond her big moments (screaming up the stairs at Precious; that shattering final scene), some of my favorite parts are the absurd commitment she gives to dancing in front of the TV; or the hauntinglook on her face in that photo from Before.

The moment I saw An Education, I knew Rosamund Pike would end up on my Supporting Actress list. It's everything I love in a performance of its type: complete, complex character building done almost entirely in sideways glances and things unsaid. We're constantly being reminded that Helen isn't as smart as Jenny -- hell, she's constantly being reminded. And yet, if we care to pry our eyes off the pretty young thing for a moment, we'll see Helen is quite aware of how little Jenny actually knows, fond of her though Helen may be. You'd almost kill to see Pike's character have a sit-down with Emma Thompson's headmistress.

Speaking of characters I'd love to meet on some mythical pan-cinematic plane, how about fixing up Vera Farmiga's formidable Alex with Anna Chlumsky's ambitious Liza? We already saw Up in the Air spring to momentary life when Alex shared a scene with Anna Kendrick's Natalie. Imagine what she would get up to with Chlumsky, an actress who projects intelligence amid deep stupidity. Farmiga's performance was more than simply that crackling chemistry with George Clooney -- though, holy shit on that one. She was also able to muscle out a relatable character who we would care about, even if the film ultimately (and to its detriment) does not. Meanwhile, I keep waiting for somebody to write about the great Anna Chlumsky comeback story, but no one's biting. I guess she'll have to take another role in a snappily brilliant comedy and deliver a performance as bright as the one she gives in In the Loop.

And then there's Melanie Laurent, whose steel-spined employer of cinematic resistance carved herself a place among Tarantino's best heroines, The Bride, Jackie Brown, and Zoe Bell on the hood of that car in Grindhouse.

Runners Up: Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air); Missi Pyle (Spring Breakdown); Julianne Moore (A Single Man); Marcia Gay Harden (Whip It!); Mimi Kennedy (In the Loop).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

LowRes 2009 Movie Awards: Part 2, The Trailers

Have you guys heard I'm kind of into movie trailers? Yes, well, I am. I'm not saying the Academy should have this category at the Oscars, I'm just putting the question to you all: would you rather see the five best trailers played on Oscar night or Kate Husdon perform "Cinema Italiano" for the increasingly bullshit Best Song award? Right.

It was actually pretty each choosing this year's nominees for Best Trailer. Five clips just naturally rose to the top, either with innovation, style, music, or a product so irrepressibly lovely, its charms couldn't be contained.


500 Days of Summer

Not the full-length trailer, which I don't care for, but the teaser, which got the romantic/anti-romantic tone perfectly, kept the plot elusive, made its case based on the charms of its incredibly charming leads, and wrapped it all up in a Temper Trap song that hadn't yet been sullied by ABC's The Deep End.

A Single Man

It's everything the film is: stylish (sometimes overly so), obsessed with faces and eyes and lips and '60 fashions, equally obsessed with its actors as icons (notice how even the most briefly-appearing actors like Lee Pace and Ginnifer Goodwin get their marquee shots), scored gorgeously, and ultimately hypnotic.

Again, this is for the teaser trailer, not the more expansive (yet still quite good) trailer. As I did at the time, I love the guts to present the trailer without exposition, through voice-over or even much dialogue. Just images from the book, burned into the imaginations of fans. Plus the Smashing Pumpkins song was perfect.

Where the Wild Things Are
Just love at first sight. I think the common thread on all five of these trailers are how confident and un-focus-grouped they seem (and for tools of pure marketing, that's quite a feat). Wild Things went direct for the 20/30-something audience that grew up on the book, rather than try for some ideal "adult-friendly kids movie" pitch. They made Arcade Fire as integral to the film's pitch as Spike Jonze, accepting the risk of the dreaded "hipster" label, and the result was a clip that feels as emotional as the movie itself.

Whip It!
All the attitude and energy and rare warmth of the movie get boiled down to two and a half minutes of Weezer-scored perfection. No trailer got me more fired up to see a movie all year.

LowRes 2009 Movie Awards: Part 1, The Worst

With the Oscar nominations coming out next Tuesday, February 2nd, it's about time I show those fuddy-duddy Academy members (jerkfaces!) who's boss and offer up my own choices for the best of the year. I'm going to break this up into several posts across the week, and hopefully I'll be able to get a decent snapshot of what I consider a pretty underrated movie year (though one in which I'm not entirely onboard with most of the Oscar frontrunners).

We'll move in concentric circles, towards my Top 10 movies of the year. In today's installment, the outermost ring: the worst movies and performances of the year. (Good stuff is on the way, though! Check back later today for the Best Trailers.)

Bride Wars
The Fourth Kind
Funny People
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

I don't always do a Worst Movies list because I generally avoid movies that clearly look awful. But this year, with the advent of Embarrassing Movie Wednesdays (they're coming back in 2010, y'all!), I wound up seeing more...shaky cinematic options. Only 2.5 of the above terrible films were EMW entries (Post-Grad was an Embarrassing Movies Special Birthday Request and thus only counts as half). I can't say I had much hope for Bride Wars (the trailer alone was horrible enough to earn a place here on its own), but Ghosts of Girlfriends Past wasted the talents of Jennifer Garner and Emma Stone, and didn't even have the grace to make Matthew McConaughey take his shirt off.

Funny People gave me rage, lasted for a billion years (would that Apatow's movies got prematurely canceled like his TV shows used to), and tried to make Eminem culturally relevant again. I'm actually somewhat fascinated by the bubble of love this one got from critics. I can see wanting to boost a flawed movie because it had characters you loved or really made you laugh, but Funny People was the exact opposite of that on both counts. I've never seen such a generally poorly received movie still be incredibly overrated like this one.

The worst of them all, though, was The Fourth Kind. What it lacked in Bride Wars's misogyny, Funny People's hateful excess, Post-Grad's thin plot, and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past's general charmlessness, it more than made up for in inept execution and a completely failed found-footage concept.

Click below for the Worst Performances...

Rose Byrne - Knowing
Lily Cole - The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
Jae Head - The Blind Side
Terrence Howard -Fighting
Charlene Yi - Paper Heart

It sucks, because I had grown so fond of Rose Byrne on Damages, and I wanted to believe she was going to just sit back and let Knowing suck all on its own. It didn't need her help! But help it she did. What started merely stiff and uninspiring went totally off the rails in the final third, until a "WE HAVE TO SAVE THE CHILDREN!" embarrassment and she's ultimately put out of her (our) misery.

In other news, I feel bad picking on Jae Head that poor little white boy from The Blind Side, and it's probably more than half director John Lee Hancock's fault for featuring him so prominently as "comic" "relief." I have no such conflicting emotions about calling out Terrence Howard, whose performance as a developmentally-delayed Fagin was full of tics and mumbles, signifying nothing.

Paper Heart would have been an unsuccessful movie anyway -- it's aimless and unconvincing and dull -- but Charlene Yi's mumbly woman-child routine made it aimless, unconvincing, dull, and annoying.

The worst was probably Lily Cole, who was a perfect storm of amateurish non-talent (yes, I know she's a model; I'm a writer; neither of us should be actors) and over-prominent role. She wasn't the only problem in the messy Parnassus, but among the actors, she was the biggest.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

LowRes 2009 Movie Awards: Prologue, The Moments

Starting tomorrow, I'll be presenting my annual "Wouldn't It Be Funny If I Had an Oscar Ballot?" awards. That all starts tomorrow. But as I was trying to narrow the categories down to tidy lists of the very best of 2009 movies, I realized there were too many pieces of awesome that didn't quite fit in.

Consider this a list of honorable mentions, or miscellania, or my own version of those montages that air before the Oscar host takes the stage (rest easy: Billy Crystal won't insert himself into these), I'll just say they're my 23 favorite moments from this year's movies (limit 1 per movie).


The improbable but no less soaring Hall & Oates production number in 500 Days of Summer. [Runners-up: Joseph Gordon-Levitt slurring "Here Comes Your Man" on karaoke; The "expectation/reality" split screen.]

The luminous Lisa P dancing to Exposé in Adventureland.

The destruction of Home Tree in Avatar; no matter what else I thought of the movie, they managed to deliver one of the few overt 9/11 allusions that lands with the appropriate gravity.

Maggie Gyllenhall's physical acting in Away We Go, every movement and posture infused with hippie superiority. [Runner-up: Melanie Lynskey's sorrowful strip tease.]

Click below for 21 more moments...

The utterly creepy, leering, smiling, nose-bleeding student/cater waiter in The Box.
Rachel Weisz's endless supply of replacement Lamborghinis in The Brothers Bloom.

Jason Tam's tear-jerking audition for A Chorus Line in Every Little Step.

The entire Whackbat sequence in Fantastic Mr. Fox, down to the last cry of "Hotbox!"

The nerviness of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince be a $250 million teen romance, featuring horndog quiddich and the magic of Lavender "Lisa P" Brown.

Two college girls on a car ride into the blackest of night, the '80s rock on the radio and the sliver of roadside illuminated by the headlights both infinitely more ominous than they should be, in House of the Devil.

Joshua Leonard accidentally spills the beans about the proposed gay porno to Alycia Delmore's character -- and her priceless drunken reaction -- in Humpday.

All the drama (and comedy) surrounding Mimi Kennedy's tooth in In the Loop.

The entirety of the pot-smoking sequence in It's Complicated, from Meryl Streep's first giggle to that mind-blowing, oddly erotic vision of Alec Baldwin shottgunning John Krasinski.

Hole's "Violet" screaming onto the soundtrack at the very end of Jennifer's Body.

Sam Rockwell's fervent dedication to rocking out to "Walking on Sunshine" in Moon.

Fergie belting "Be Italian" -- momentarily enlivening a dead movie -- in Nine.

Beyonce asking "Is this because I want to go back to school?" in Obsessed. (Runner-up: Idris Elba's "BREATHE, BITCH!")

The scene in Orphan where young Esther is crawling all up in Peter Sarsgaard's business, crossing all sorts of inappropriate wires inside me at once. [Runner-up: "I'm not your FUCKING MOMMY!"]

The...the thing that gets thinged from/by/to/with/at/for the other the very end of Paranormal Activity.

The part in A Perfect Getaway where Kiele Sanchez, in the heat of a desperate chase for life and death, places a call to a customer service center in India.

James T. Kirk sexin' a green alien Rachel Nichols in Star Trek.

Jonathan Groff charming the tie-dyed pants off of everyone on the screen -- and ultimately trotting out for his last scene atop a horse -- in Taking Woodstock.

The superb opening credits segment set to "The Times They Are A-Changin'" in Watchmen.

The privately harrowing snowball fight at the beginning of Where the Wild Things Are.

Ari Graynor's leering, appreciative "Lookin' good, Barbie" in Whip It!

* * * * * *
I can't possibly have covered all the excellent moments from the flicks of 2009. Hit the comments with your own -- but the first person to mention anything from The Hangover is outta here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Spring* Movie Preview, Part 2

*Yes, I realize we're well too soon for Spring, but calling it a "Winter" preview doesn't seem right either. I'm learning to make my peace with it, and so should you.

Previously: Part 1

Movie: Dear John (Lasse Hallstrom)
High-Concept Synopsis: Romantic drama with Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum torn apart by The War, but united by Her Letters. Why yes, it DOES sound a lot like a Nicholas Sparks book, in fact.
Who Will Be Seeing It: People looking for the next The Notebook, which this is clearly aspiring to be. Well-meaning individuals who might want an hour and a half of staring at pretty people like Amanda Seyfried and Channing "Ain't Nothing Wrong With That" Tatum. Fans of 1980s Judd Hirsch sitcoms who choose their movies based solely on the title.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People looking to avoid the next A Walk to Remember, which this movie is one vaguely-defined illness away from being. People who allow their pride to keep them from enjoying Channing Tatum for what he is. People who tried to remember the last time Lasse Hallstrom directed a good movie, got a headache, popped an Advil, and took a nap.
Why I'd See It: I'm a huge Amanda Seyfried fan, and my historic position in favor of looking at Channing Tatum remains unchanged. Whether I'll see it in a theater or reserve it for a lazy HBO Saturday morning type of affair remains to be seen. February 5

Movie: From Paris With Love (Pierre Morel)
High-Concept Synopsis: Diplomat Jonathan Rhys-Meyers gets caught up in spy-type John Travolta's terrorism-fighting effort. Car chases, yelling, and spectacularly misguided choices in facial hair ensue.
Who Will Be Seeing It: People who use phrases like "high octane" to describe the action movies they like. People drawn to the film based on the "story by Luc Besson" credit. People who enjoy laughing their asses off, particularly when Loud Travolta is involved.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Uptight prudes who won't see a movie simply because it looks "terrible." People who check out all the crap Luc Besson has written throughout his career. People unclear as to what the movie is about...
Why I'd See It: IT'S ABOUT TERRORISM! Honestly, I haven't seen a trailer make a movie look this hilariously awful in a long, long time. Not only does Travolta have it dialed up to eleven, his goatee has it dialed up to TWELVE, and JRM is somehow having a delayed reaction to being in a Woody Allen movie five years ago by playing his character here as a nebbishy Jew. I don't know. It all looks amazing. February 5

Movie: Frozen (Adam Green)
High-Concept Synopsis: Three young snowboarders (including Kevin Zegers and Shawn Ashmore) get stranded on a chairlift at a ski resport that somehow isn't open during the week. So they're gonna have to escape somehow.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Fans of buzzy, novel horror plots. People looking forward to showering Ashmore with "What's the matter, Iceman, I thought you liked the cold!" taunts. People who knew anybody in college who regularly went skiing and might possibly be interested in seeing them die in horrifyingly inventive ways.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who remember another "it could so easily happen to you" horror offering, Open Water, and worry this one will end up super boring as well. People who knew anybody in college who regularly went skiing and wouldn't even take an hour and a half out of their day to watch them die horribly.
Why I'd See It: I'm a total sucker for horror movies with such seemingly mundane premises, and the trailer for this already shows more things happening than happened in all of Open Water. February 5

Movie: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (Chris Columbus)
High-Concept Synopsis: Kids learns he's the actual son of Posiedon, gets caught up in a battle among the gods, shoulders the pressure of 20th Century Fox really, REALLY wanting a youth-centered movie franchise.
Who Will Be Seeing It: The same people who see all the Harry Potter movies (FOX hopes). The same people saw the first Chronicles of Narnia movie (FOX hopes). Otherwise skeptical people who nevertheless can't quite resist some of the casting (Sean Bean as Zeus, Uma Thurman as Medusa, Rosario Dawson as Persephone, Kevin McKidd as Posiedon, Steve Coogan as Hades, Pierce Brosnan as Chiron, whoever that is).
Who Won't Be Seeing It: The same people who didn't see Eragon, Cirque du Freak, and all those other failed attempts at young-adult franchise making. People who remember the last Chris Columbus movie was I Love You, Beth Cooper. People who realize the cast list isn't uniformly intriguing (Melina Kanakaredes as Athena??).
Why I'd See It: I'm a sucker for Greek myth, and this seems like a novel, literate subject for a prospective kiddie cash-grubber. February 12

Click below for monster movies, festival darlings, and one or more hospitals for the criminally insane...

Movie: Valentine's Day (Garry Marshall)
High-Concept Synopsis: Multi-character, "love is all around" feel-good holiday drama in the Love, Actually mode, this time with Garry Marshall at the helm.
Who Will Be Seeing It: People who look at the cast list and see names like Julia Roberts, Jennifer Garner, Anne Hathaway, Topher Grace, Bradley Cooper, Shirley MacLaine, Ashton Kutcher, and Taylor Lautner.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who look at the cast list and see names like Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Jamie Foxx, Drs. McDreamy and McSteamy, and Taylor Swift.
Why I'd See It: Look, whatever, I'm not proud. I'm under no illusions that Garry Marshall can do the Love, Actually thing better than Richard Curtis, but I am physiologically incapable of looking at that many actors I like in one movie and not going to see it. This movie is why God created Embarrassing Movie Wednesdays. February 12

Movie: The Wolfman (Joe Johnston)
High-Concept Synopsis: Universal takes the old-school approach to the monster movie, with Benicio Del Toro as a Victorian nobleman who discovers to his horror that the full moon does some weird shit to his system, man. Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving co-star.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Fans of surprisingly venerable action-adventure director Johnson, who's never made anything classic but has notable hits going all the way back to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids in 1989. Old-school monster movie enthusiasts looking to rinse the taste of Van Helsing from their mouths. Taylor Lautner fans who will be HILARIOUSLY disappointed that all werewolves don't look like ripped teen gods.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who think Benicio Del Toro is hard enough to understand before his mouth gets all crowded with giant canine teeth. People who take a closer look at Joe Johnston's CV and spot Jurassic Park III and The Rocketeer. People who need their werewolves either mooning over depressed girls or bathed in blue light.
Why I'd See It: I'm not entirely sure this kind of cool, Victorian take on the werewolf story is a good fit for Joe Johnston, but I'm interested to see what works. The trailer boasts some beautiful looking imagery, though, and I'm kind of really excited by what appears to be a completely over-the-top Anthony Hopkins. February 12

Movie: Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese)
High-Concept Synopsis: 1950s U.S. Marshall Leonardo DiCaprio investigates the disappearance of a patient from a hospital ... for the criminally insane. Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson, Ben Kingsley, Max Von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, and Jackie Earle Haley co-star.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Scorsese fans who like the Cape Fear style gaudiness of the film's premise, look, and outrageously thick accents. Fans of big casts full of incredibly talented actors, even the ones suffering from Avian Bone Syndrome. People who have been looking for a good haunted-asylum story, and all things being equal, will probably see a Martin Scorsese movie over Ghost Hunters.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Scorsese fans who don't exactly relish when he strays from morally compromised gangsters. People worried about the lack of "Gimmie Shelter" in the trailer. People too incapacitated by laughter at the insane New England accents to get out to the movies.
Why I'd See It: The more I think about it, the more the non-Scorsese-ness of this movie appeals to me. It could be totally awful or kind of crackheadedly awesome. And that goes double for DiCaprio with that hambone performance he's giving, per the trailer ("We ahh DOOley appointed federal MAHshalls"). It so rarely feels like he's having fun up there, so this'll be new. February 19

Movie: A Prophet (Jacques Audiard)
High-Concept Synopsis: A French prison story about a young Muslim man who gets caught up in the mob.
Who Will Be Seeing It: The Cannes crowd. The Indie Spirit crowd. People who have followed the ecstatic reviews calling it the new Godfather and whatnot.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who used similar reason to go see Gomorrah and are STILL drowsy over it.
Why I'd See It: I trust the people who saw it and loved it, and I do so like to be up and current on the latest snooty Cannes offerings. February 26

Movie: The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski)
High-Concept Synopsis: Ewan McGregor is hired to ghost-write the memoirs of former British P.M. Pierce Brosnan. But then there are secrets! And scandals! And paranoia! Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, and Tom Wilkinson co-star.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Fans of keeping art and morality/legality in separate compartments. Fans of Polanski, whose artistic output is about the only thing about him that's unimpeachable. Fans of casts full of distinguished Brits ... and Kim Cattrall.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Strict moralists, not-so-strict-moralists, and people who are generally pretty permissive but still don't feel so keen about lining Polanski's pockets. People frightened away by Cattrall's attempt at a British accent. People who sit down and try to figure out when was the last time Ewan McGregor made a good movie (it depends on how you felt about Cassandra's Dream, Big Fish, or Down with Love; that in itself is kind of a damning statement in and of itself).
Why I'd See It: The Polanski thing is going to be an issue with people -- certainly moreso than when he was standing behind a noble Holocaust drama. Me, I'm more of a compartmentalization guy. Fact of the matter is, with two such uninspiring leads as Brosnan and McGregor, Polanski is the reason I would see this. Don't tell Jezebel. February 26

Next up: Part 3!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Bad (and Extra Crispy) Death of Colonel Likken

You guys, if you're at all a fan of Pushing Daisies, Bryan Fuller, Kentucky Fried Chicken, or gleefully inventive death scenes, you NEED to head on over to My New Plaid Pants to check out the latest wrinkle in his (already pretty brilliant) Thursday's Ways Not to Die series.

My great friend (and greater enemy) Jason managed to bat his eyelashes at Mr. Fuller and convince him to participate in the series, commenting on some of the best death scenes of the two-year Daisies run. And this is only the first installment!

It's enough to make me believe in cosmic convergence, that Jason had already been posting about cool and inventive death scenes, and Fuller decided to make a show that was about (among other things, like pies and primary colors and singing and stuff) cool and inventive deaths, and Jason was already a fan of Bryan's from Wonderfalls, and now they're IN LOVE. Okay, not really. (YET!)

Anyway, run-don't-walk to MNPP to catch the first installment of Daisies' Ways Not To Die. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

You Sayin' You Want a Piece of Me?

You want a piece of me?! YOU GOT IT!

Movie Reviews: Post-Apocalypto

The Book of Eli
Actually not bad. More interesting than most Denzel Washington movies are, with a hint of depth regarding things like religion and, uh, blindness I guess. I don't know what it is about post-apocalyptic movies, but I have a super hard time accepting the premise if it doesn't feel right. That happened with The Road too, with its too-innocent kid and flip-flopped moral construct, and it happens here too. Apparently all the Bibles were burned after the Vaguely Defined Apocalypse, which A) is suuuuuper not likely but whatever, but B) is it believable that after 30 years, no one would know what a Bible even is? That 30-year gap kept plaguing me, in that it seemed to short to explain some things (the widespread illiteracy) and too long to explain other things (after 30 years there is NO sense of what exists in the world outside these small shantytowns?). But whatever, the movie's not bad, there's a improbably fun sequence in the middle (perk up when you get to Michael Gambon and Frances De La Tour) featuring an excellent music cue, and Jennifer Beals and Tom Waits show once again why they're among our most underused talents. Then there's the Mila Kunis thing. She's actually become a pretty good actress -- her performance here is quite fine -- but she's pretty severely miscast. With her big ol' eyes and "What's your deal?" demeanor, she's utterly scrubbed and contemporary in a world full of gross teeth and bartered handi-wipes. B-

This is an absorbing and unflashy story about a Dominican baseball prospect, working his way up from the minors and being confronted with how much this Great American Opportunity does, and often doesn't, offer him. Like directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's last movie, Half Nelson it keeps a tight grip on the mood; things never get too maudlin, but they also carefully dole out the sentimentality. There's is a also this heartbreaking recurring theme of language barriers that manifests itself in continually surprising ways. And oftentimes, it sets itself at the beginning of a path that will surely lead to cliches (his host family in Iowa; just the general baseball-hero's-arc) only to avoid almost all of them. A fine little movie. B

Despite the fact that dozens of people had recommended it, this movie still managed to sneak up on me. In the narrative sense, I mean. You think it's about one thing; then you think it's going to be about another thing on a metaphorical/spiritual/"I don't know what's real" level; then, before you even realize it, the movie IS about that second thing, on a very literal level. Just watch the movie, you'll get it. Anyway, Duncan Jones is a whiz with the pacing, Clint Mansell provides another great score, and Sam Rockwell is lively and fun (I don't want to give anything away, but there's a pop-music moment that just killed me). B+

What an oddly unpleasant movie. I guess I can appreciate that a purportedly romantic-comic movie about Asperger's would resist cutesiness and a predictably happy ending, but Rose Byrne's character just seemed straight-up heartless in some of the crucial scenes here, and when you're opposite Hugh Dancey, you can't afford to be such a bitch because I will hate your ass. Could have used some laughs. C+

Crazy Heart
A fairly modest indie movie raised considerably by the most excellent music (hottie du jour Ryan Bingham not only wrote "The Weary Kind," and performed it over the credits, but he also shows up as the lead singer of an opening act) and a performance by Jeff Bridges that should not have been surprising, but for the odd fact that he'd pretty much won the Oscar before anyone had seen the movie. Awards season is fucked up sometimes. But it would have been so easy to dismiss it as simple awards-grubbing. Thank god it's Jeff Bridges, then, and he totally came through with a carefully observed, unshowy performance that has only grown more impressive as I remember the movie.

Hrm. It's got problems. Like how, first of all, the songs aren't all that memorable, save for "Be Italian." Then there how Rob Marshall recycles the Chicago conceit, where every performance is a fantasy that takes place on a stage. Made sense there, given Roxy's fixation with a life on the stage. No earthly idea why he decides to use it again in a movie about 1960s Italian cinema. The bright side is that pretty much all the actresses to really well singing their super boring songs. Kate Hudson's the exception, but to be fair, her song is the total worst. Honestly, though, I want to give Fergie some kind of awesomeness award, because "Be Italian" kind of saved the movie. From a "D." C-

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gather, Dollhouse Fans!

Caught myself up on Dollhouse, finally. It's been said elsewhere, but it's a shame the show's getting cancelled (and not without justification; the ratings really were dismal) just as it's hitting a real hot streak.

Immediately after finishing the episode, I hopped onto an email chat with my pal Jason over at My New Plaid Pants. In lieu of an episode review, I'm pasting the (SPOILER-riddled, obvs) conversation here, which I kicked off with a sober and measured statement:


JA: Amy. Fucking. Acker. BANG. You got some lady on yo face, Topher.

Joe: I will say, I don't think I was as shattered as maybe I was expected to be at that moment because I never fully bought Summer Glau's Bennett as genuinely into Topher. I was forever anticipating her turning on him. And, honestly, Whiskey had her arms behind her back for that WHOLE scene AND was acting all nicey-nice? Clearly someone was about to die.

The Boyd thing blew me away and totally throws "Epitaph One" into a whole new light (but how does she lose her scars???).

You could definitely tell this episode was made after the hammer came down. The compression was really apparent (November's journey from D.C. dollhouse to L.A. to Mellie to Ballard's ladyfriend probs would have happened over at least a couple episodes, as would Bennett's integration into the Dollhouse/her romance with Topher).

Joss always does a bang-up job with the side characters, though. Why do I care so much about Ivy?? It seems this whole episode I was either happy that Ivy was being included in the Go Team, or worried Ivy was a saboteur, or being incredibly moved at Topher's pushing Ivy out while the getting's good.

Um, also, again, BOYD! What the what??

Click below for the full, begoggled conversation...

JA: Oh as soon as Saunders (it takes me real effort not to just call her Amy Acker) walked into the room, I saw that shit coming. But that look she threw Topher after was what got me! Ahh! Why isn't Amy Acker the star of this entire show??? Or even better, a show that isn't canceled.

Epitaph One is clearer in your mind then it is mine; you just watched it a couple weeks ago but I haven't seen it since the DVDs came out. And I do believe I was a little bit intoxicated while watching it (shocking, I know). So it's somewhat fuzzy. Remind me about the scars. She doesn't have scars in the future? I really should just watch that episode again this week I guess. Do we know that the "future" seen in that episode couldn't be a vision, someone's nightmare, inside the Attic? Because I wonder. Or would that be too much rug-pulling?

Anyway. Boyd! I've honestly never warmed to his character, something never seemed quite right about him. Tim Minear says they decided at the start of this season he'd end up being who he's ended up being, but he was just a weird question mark for me last season as well. I never really got why he stayed around. I know time is short so this might be a bit much to ask but I feel like it might be time for one of Whedon's patented character-centric episodes where we get this dude's story.

Joe: My E1 memory isn't pristine, but I do recall Saunders having no facial scars, BUT her and Boyd's scene was also remarkably similar to the scene we got this past episode, so much so I want to go back and rewatch and see if it's not exactly the same just with scars/no scars as the difference. Which would go a ways towards your "not the definite future" theory. And yes, Acker's look at Topher made your blood run cold. Really wish she could have been more a part of this season.

Also, it was so nice to see Adele back with her old, good hairdo. This season has been a slowly unfolding tragedy in that regard.

As for Boyd, with two episodes left I doubt we'll get a whole episode of backstory, but I'm sure next week brings us something at least. My brain starts to hurt when I try to think of the whys of Boyd's presence at the Dollhouse for the last two seasons. Keep tabs on Caroline, I suppose, but to what end? And how long has Whiskey been in on it? Did he imprint Whiskey to be his gf or did he genuinely fall for the Dr. Saunders persona? Gah, too much.

The more I think on this show, while I continue to lament how brutally slow Season 1 started, I also definitely think this was the direction it was always meant to go. You just couldn't jump right into a show about these people trying to take down the Dollhouse from within; you really did have to establish that house of cards first. Not saying that first half of s1 couldn't have been better, but some of the issues (the moral repugnance of someone like Topher, say; or why so many episodes had to focus on throwaway Active engagements) really couldn't have been taken out of the design.

JA: I've been hearing all this Adelle haircut hate this week, and I was shocked. Shocked! I like her short hair. Am I nuts? I think it looks cute on her. When she showed back up with that giant hair again, it pushed her too far into Alexis Carrington territory, I thought. But she treads the line there, of course, always. Bless her. "I loathe Arizona."

I read something yesterday - I did a lot of back-reading on Dollhouse yesterday - about how the original pilot (which I still haven't gotten around to watching) skipped way ahead in S1 past all the build-up of the first few episodes to the meat of the story, of Tahmoh getting to the Dollhouse right away, and the momentum flying right outta the gate. But of course FOX nixed that because they think only morons watch their network (they get their general audience confused with their News audience, I guess).

Anyway it's always this slow-burn way with Whedon's shows; Buffy didn't get really great until Angel went evil in S2 as far as I'm concerned (although I do of course love bunches of the first season, I'm not crazy); it's just we don't live in a world - or Joss refuses to operate in a world (cough SyFy cough) - where he's allowed that much time to build a world before the axe has fallen.

Anyway, anyway! I got off point there, and I have said all of those things before. I just hope they're able to connect a lot of the Boyd dots before the curtain falls, is all. That's all!

Joe: I guess that puts me on the side of the Fox suits, then? Granted, I haven't seen the original pilot, but I do wonder how much of a handle we'd have on the Dollhouse universe if we jumped right into Ballard infiltrating the Dollhouse.

[BTW, Adele's best line on Friday was after Boyd shot up those Rossum folk in her office. "I guess we can agree this carpet's done for." The show tends to lean a smidge too heavily on Adele's British calm for those kinds of zingers (they basically repeated the joke later on, swapping in that pane of glass she'd just gotten replaced), but that carpet one was a total winner.]

Not that it matters much with two episodes to go, but I'm somewhat sad to see Victor and Sierra kind of adrift now that they're their original personalities. I mean, the episode was so overstuffed already, they couldn't have gotten a storyline if they wanted to. But while Sierra is actually more interesting as Priya, Victor is far less so as Anthony. I desperately hope Enver gets one more chance to show off his chameleon skills before it's all said and done. He's kind of wasted on Anthony, you know?

JA: There is no such thing as too much reliance on Olivia Williams' ability to suss out the zingers. None! (In related news, "suss out the zingers" = good album name?) And yes, I hope Enver gets to shine once more at least with his magic role-playing abilities. Apparently we almost got to see him get Caroline's personality booted into him but the story took them in a different direction. Sad. I woulda loved another shot at Enver playing Dushku after how hilarious that turned out the first time.

Joe: If by "hilarious" you mean "khaki-panted hottie dorkness" then you know I agree with you.

JA: And that is always what I mean by hilarious, so that worked out well.

James Franco on General Hospital: An Informal Survey

My friends! Who's ready for my worlds of professional and nonprofessional web writing to collide? I know I am!

No, this post is entirely extracurricular from my work at SOAPnet. It's just that I've been really curious as to how this James Franco guest arc -- which concluded on yesterday's show -- has been received by the public, and particularly by the kind of curious pop culture watchers who make up my readership here.

So I'm asking you to take to the comments here and answer these questions for me. For my own edification and enlightenment as well as just some fun discussion between us.

1. Had you ever watched General Hospital before James Franco appeared on the show in November? Were you a current viewer or had you lapsed?

2. Did Franco's presence cause you to tune in out of curiosity? Did you DVR episodes? Watch on SOAPnet? Did you just FF through for the Franco scenes or did you watch the full episodes?

3. What did you think of Franco's arc/performance on the show. Let it all out.

4. Aside from Franco's character, what were your impressions of the rest of the show? Did any characters or actors stand out to you as particularly appealing? As particularly unappealing?

5. If you had previously watched the show and had lapsed, what did you think of the characters you remember from before who are still on the show?

6. Do you think you'll keep checking in on GH now that Franco's arc is finished?

7. If you hadn't watched the show before tuning in for the Franco arc, how would you describe the show General Hospital in 1-2 sentences?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Years in Review: 2008

Low Resolution celebrates the end of the Double-Ohs Decade with a year-by-year retrospective of the movies I watched and (sometimes) loved. All due apologies to Nick Davis and Nathaniel Rogers for co-opting portions of their own decade-end features. I crib with love!

[Previously: 2000; 2001; 2002; 2003; 2004; 2005; 2006; 2007]

Another jam-packed year, including two moves, two and a half jobs, my first ever trip to L.A., and a pretty good crop of movies, despite what became a dispiriting Oscar class. Here I go again, judging a year by its Best Picture nominees, but the year did become somewhat defined by the two phenomena, one nominated for Oscar, one snubbed. That I wasn't able to fully get onboard the bandwagons for Slumdog Millionaire or The Dark Knight doesn't mean the same thing for both films. I found Danny Boyle's movie to be aggressively not bad, but as a movie of the zeitgeist it totally passed me by. I enjoyed The Dark Knight considerably more, but the obsessive, aggressive, and tunnel-visioned shouting by the fanboys kept me from feeling affection for things like an awards-season campaign.

The eventual Best Picture list featured the hue and cry surrounding TDK's snub in favor of The Reader, a movie that I thought was pretty good but which bore the brunt of the annual "The Oscars are out of touch with Real America" circle jerk. Of the other nominees, I loved Milk, one of the true emotional onslaughts I felt all year, while I was definitely on the "con" side of the Benjamin Button divide, and I could not for the life of me figure out who liked Frost/Nixon enough to throw it a Best Picture nomination.

Much as I found the outrage over The Dark Knight's snub to be disingenuous, gleaning large-scale condemnations from what was essentially fans being pissed their favorite movie didn't get a prize. The Academy is the Academy, is, was, and ever shall be; if they're bullshit to you, and I can't well blame you if they are, that what do you care who they nominate. Ah, anyway. Last year's argument. But I will say, the blockbuster supporters had a better than usual case to make in 2008. Not just TDK but WALL-E, the years other rapturously reviewed, no-dissent-allowed summer cash cow. There was the buoyant Iron Man, the uproarious Tropic Thunder, the slick Quantum of Solace, the better-than-expected Kung Fu Panda. Even the more divisive (Sex and the City; Indiana Jones) and/or terrible (The Happening; Speed Racer) summer movies ended up being auteurist fascinating failures or worthy talking points (this post on SATC was probably more interesting than the movie itself).

The Year in Tilda Swinton:Defying the Oscar hangover effect, Tilda scores with small but rewarding roles in two of the year's big auteur offerings. She brought her iciness to bear in the Coens' Burn After Reading (a performance and a movie that get better with every viewing), and she was the best 10 minutes or so from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Also, her batshit awesome performance in Julia hit the festivals, though it wouldn't get the opportunity for a woefully underseen general release until 2009.

The Year in Matt Damon: Matt Damon was in Che? Huh. All right. MUCH more importantly, Matt showed up on Jimmy Kimmel Live in January as Sarah Silverman dropped her "I'm Fucking Matt Damon" video. I mention this, and the Will & Grace appearance, and the Eurotrip cameo because they all feed into his unique quality. He's the leading man with a sense of humor about himself. You could say he took Clooney's lead in this regard, but I'm having a hard time picturing Clooney doing any one of those three projects. He doesn't have to, of course. But the extra work on Matt's part does make me like him more.

Best Theater Experience: So many! I don't know why, maybe because the memories are still fresh in my mind. But while it's conceivable that my memory of, say, bawling en masse at Milk or curled up into a terrified ball at The Strangers might fade some, there are three screenings that are guaranteed to stay indelible: A visceral, kinetic Saturday-night screening if Teeth (the whole room squirmed, screamed, leapt, and laughed in unison); an uproarious MST3K-style matinee of Step Up 2 The Streets; and of course catching Cloverfield in Times Square, both for the movie itself (which I loved) but more importantly for those first panicky steps back into civilization as my body was CERTAIN I'd soon see something huge stomp down 42nd St. and that I should be RUNNING.

Click below for the best movies of 2008...

My Top 10:
1. Rachel Getting Married
2. The Wrestler
3. In Bruges
4. Wendy and Lucy
5. Milk
6. The Class
7. The Dark Knight
9. Vicky Christina Barcelona
10. The Strangers

I was sure right when I saw it, but I went back twice just to make sure: yep, Rachel Getting Married was the best movie of the year. Any time I think of it, there are five, eight, ten things about it that pop up: Kym's awful highlights, Emma's thin-lipped (and totally warranted) bitchface, the choreography of the hands in the cake-cutting scene. Details wherever you turn. Bruges remains a bright, bantery, unexpectedly affecting affair, while Wendy and Lucy was as quiet a gut punch I've seen. And I maintain that The Wrestler was more than just a star turn. The details of story (the game of Nintendo with the kid), of environment (the sparse, wood-paneled locker rooms and VFW halls), of cinematography (the choreography of images in the wrestling scenes could not be clearer or more visceral) add up to an authentic and touching film that's able to best feature Rourke's towering performance.

Best Director:
Darren Aronofsky - The Wrestler
Laurent Cantent - The Class
Jonathan Demme - Rachel Getting Married
Martin McDonagh - In Bruges
Christopher Nolan - The Dark Knight

Best Actor:
Colin Farrell - In Bruges
Phillip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
Sean Penn - Milk
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

Best Actress:
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Sally Hawkins - Happy Go Lucky
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Michelle Williams - Wendy and Lucy
Kate Winslet - The Reader

Best Supporting Actor:
Emile Hirsch - Milk
Bill Irwin - Rachel Getting Married
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
Gary Oldman - The Dark Knight
Brad Pitt - Burn After Reading

Best Supporting Actress:
Penelope Cruz - Vicky Christina Barcelona
Viola Davis - Doubt
Rosemarie Dewitt - Rachel Getting Married
Ari Graynor - Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist
Michelle Williams - Synecdoche, NY

Ten Films That Have Endured
Sex and the City
American Teen
Vicky Christina Barcelona
Burn After Reading
Synecdoche, NY
Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist

As dubious as I find "mumblecore" as a genre, Baghead certainly seems like a good representative of whatever it's supposed to be, and Greta Gerwig is already becoming a breakout star. Maybe it's only me who thinks Wanted is going to have a long shelf-life with its verve for car-throwing and fate-looming. Doomsday is worth your while for all the reasons given here and here. It'll be sad if it doesn't become a cult favorite. Nick and Nora seems like a movie I'd have watched 25 times back when I was a teenager. As it stands, I still really like it, but I'm definitely looking at it from the outside. Synecdoche, NY, as I've said before, is a skillfully made, ambitious movie -- one that largely succeeds in what it's going for, too -- but one I really did not enjoy aside from a few moments/images/performances. I'd compare it to this year's Antichrist in the way it draws you into the director's emotional state and drags you down to their level.

Five Films I Should See Again
My Blueberry Nights
Slumdog Millionaire
The Happening

The first three on my list are movies I thought did a lot of things right but still left me wanting. Stop-Loss took an admirably wide angle on its subject and featured a strong central trio of performances from Ryan Phillippe, Channing Tatum, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but got too episodic for its own good. Blindness had its moments (and Julianne Moore was great) but should have felt more harrowing. My Blueberry Nights is the one I'm not sure could have been much more than it was -- a quiet little character tale -- but its leisurely rhythms and some of the performances (Natalie Portman; Jude Law) were quite good. As for Slumdog, I'd like to have a bit better hold on my reasons for dissatisfaction with it. And The Happening? That shit needs a rewatch with booze, some popcorn, and the meanest, funniest people I know.

I'll be getting to the best of 2009 in a couple weeks, so stay tuned. And thanks for keeping up with all these decade-end features. I really enjoyed all the conversations they sparked, so please do continue to hit up the comments.