By: Scott Yager
Hey everyone! I did my best to see all the movies of the past year but I am ashamed to say that I came up a little bit short. Here are a few movies I have still not seen at the time I had to begin my column: A Single Man, The Messenger, The Informant!, The Last Station, any of the foreign films. I know a lot of these films have great performances in them but those who have seen these films assure me they would probably still be absent from my list. I will however do my best to cram these in for my Oscars special. Once again, these are MY favorite 20 movies of the year and the films that I believe are the best cinematic works of the year. If you disagree, please, write in and tell me why! I love feedback! This year was a down year by a lot of accounts but also produced some great movies as well. Hopefully my list will bring to light some movies you haven’t heard or thought of yet and give you some ideas for what to pick up on DVD later this year! Here is 20-11 to be shortly followed 10-1.
20) Brothers – A good solid movie that really hasn’t been mentioned since the Golden Globe Awards. Great performances by Toby, Jake and Natalie, all tremendous young actors who remind us that they can all carry a movie and together they have a very easy time making an average movie a very good one. Not a movie I am jumping up and down to see again because man, is it depressing but Toby McGuire has moments here where you really wonder how he didn’t score an Oscar nomination. Good solid drama that doesn’t disappoint at all. Perfect DVD movie.
19) State of Play – This movie came out in the first third of the year and because of that, everyone has pretty much since forgotten about it. However, I urge anyone looking for a consistently entertaining movie to watch on DVD to pick up State of Play. An old fashion early nineties thriller, using violence sparingly but classic cinematic devices to keep you interested and entertained throughout, State of Play is never boring. Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams deliver fantastic performances and Ben Affleck even lends his services appropriately for once. Jason Bateman steals every scene he is in, which we have come to expect from the comedic actor and over all, the cast does a really good job of making the most of the subpar material. The movie is simply well made, well acted, and well executed. Pretty formulaic from top to bottom but sometimes that is what we look for in movies. So many movies try too much and end up shooting themselves in the foot, keeping them off of any sort of BEST OF lists come the end of the year. State of Play will never be much higher than this on anybody’s list but that being said, it still deserves to be mentioned.
18) Big Fan – Very few people got to see this movie. To tell you the truth, if Patton Oswald wasn’t appearing and speaking after a special screening of this movie at The New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, I probably wouldn’t have either. Big Fan is the directorial debut of the guy who wrote The Wrestler, Robert Siegel. Siegel wrote and directed Big Fan, and Fan is just as dark and depressing as The Wrestler. Paul Aufiero, played by Patton Oswald, is a massive football fan. The type of fan you see in the parking lot of a game but that most of us never associate with. The guy who paints his face, still has posters in his room at age forty, and calls in radio shows to speak his mind after spending hours planning out his rants on paper. The downward spiral of this pathetic human being is depicted brilliantly by Siegel and delivered picture-perfectly by Patton Oswald in what serves as prove that he can hold his own as a non-comedic actor. There are comedic moments in Big Fan but make no mistake, this is not a feel good movie. Football fans and sports fans in general should check this out as a horizontally skewed look in the mirror and fans of movies should check out one of the more memorable independent films of the year.
17) The Blind Side – Let’s be clear, when I saw this movie I was nothing but impressed with how much I did not hate it, how sappy it made me feel at times, and how such a formulaic sports drama could have stood out so much when they make a few of these every year and have been doing so for decades. Sure there are some aspects of the film that stretch the logical person’s imagination (did he really not know the rules to football and need to be taught by a seven year old white kid? Probably not), but overall the movie did not really overstep it’s bounds and I can honestly say I understand why it made over 200 million dollars. Fast forward a few months and now the movie is up for Best Picture and they are talking about Sandra Bullock as a lock for the Best Actress statue…that might be a little bit too much overkill for me. Sure the movie was good…but by putting it in the BEST PICTURE race you are now forcing us to compare it to The Hurt Locker, Inglorious Basterds, Precious, etc etc etc…and it cannot hold a candle to any of those movies. Bullock was good and this was a weak year for female acting nominees (doesn’t it seem like it always is, by the way?) but come on people…let’s commend The Blind Side for what it was…a great ‘feel good’ movie that overachieved at the box office and entertained the masses, including those who are not necessarily the target audience. Let’s not pretend it was anywhere near the best movie of the year. By trying to do so you are almost hurting it’s legacy to a certain degree. I’m sorry.
16) Bad Lieutenant – Port of Call New Orleans – I doubt any of you have heard of this movie that was made by legendary director Werner Herzog and stars Nicholas Cage (who, let’s be honest, I can’t blame you for ignoring anymore). However, this movie was not only very surprising but also very entertaining over all. A very gritty cop drama set in post-Katrina New Orleans, Bad Lieutenant is a remake that really seems fresh in a movie-market that feels the need to abandon classic formulas and attempt to out-twist and out-gimmick itself to where almost nobody enjoys any of the material anymore. This is your classic ‘bad cop’ story where Nicholas Cage finally goes back to his old ways, combining his natural charisma with his tremendous ability to openly unravel and come apart as a character on screen. This is vintage Nick Cage and he really reminds you as a viewer what you grew to love about him towards the late nineties. In fact, a good way to watch this movie is to pretend that it was made in 1998. Pretend it is a movie you never got around to seeing back then and now you are finally getting a chance to enjoy it (this will go a long way to explaining why Xhibit, the rapper, is a star in it as well). One of the true surprises of the year, Bad Lieutenant is a great movie to pick up on DVD if Nick Cage is not dead to you yet. And even if he is, give him ONE more chance. I mean, come on…he’s Stanley Goodspeed.
15) Taken – It seems like this movie came out three years ago now, but no, technically it was January of last year, so that counts. One of the great trailers of all time, this movie somehow got tons of people to see it based on one line; “Now this next part is very important…they are going to take you…” Why this line mesmerized so many people, myself included, and inspired us to check out this movie which structurally seemed as if it was set up to be your classic low-rate action movie that bombed, is beyond me. However, once they got us in the theater they did a good job of not losing us. They never tried too much, convoluted the story or used gimmicks to the point of nausea as most of these action films do. This was simply Liam Neeson kicking ass, saying cool shit and eventually finding his daughter. Done and done. A very solid movie I would recommend to anybody, even though somehow it seems like more people have seen this than Avatar.
14) An Education - This is your typical independent movie with a plot so mundane and simple that it is hard to convince anyone to see it merely by describing it. It really is just Peter Sarsgaard (a very underrated actor who will win an Oscar someday) taking a sixteen year old girl under his wing (Carey Mulligan, who I thought deserved a lot more credit until I found out she was really in her 20’s) and gradually becoming more and more attracted to her. One of those movies that makes you feel uncomfortable but does so in such a genuine way that it makes you appreciate filmmaking for what it truly is (authorized voyeurism) An Education seemed like your classic movie to get a ton of awards buzz. It did score a Best Picture nomination and a Best Actor nomination but friends of mine tend to think that the few anti-Semitic lines in the movie might keep the super-Jewish voting pool from praising the movie with any hardware. This year’s The Reader, minus the holocaust, An Education paints a very unique picture of a very unique relationship and does so almost flawlessly. Definitely worth seeing but the one-dimensional subject matter keeps it from being any higher on the list. Definitely not for everyone, that is for sure.
13) Up – First let me say that I have no problem with Up being “Up” for Best Picture. I found it to be amusing. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed Wall-E as well, not nearly as much, but I get why people get behind these movies. However I must use this space to get something off my chest. I think that we are at this awkward place now where because these movies have been shut out of the Best Picture race for so long that people felt the need to overcompensate with their praise of these animated features. Saying that they are THE BEST MOVIE OF THE YEAR is a little ridiculous, come on. If you think Wall-E was better than Slumdog Millionaire, Dark Knight, or even Milk or Frost/Nixon you are retarded (or seven). If you think UP was better than Up In The Air, Avatar, Hurt Locker, or even any of the films above it on this list…you are retarded (or seven…or a an aging widower). Up was good, visually stimulating and fun for all ages but let’s be real here. I feel like critics automatically give an animated movie 6 out of 10 now, just for being animated. Then if it doesn’t SUCK completely they give it an 8. Then, if somehow it carries any sort of underlying themes or added moral lessons (Up had dealing with death, Wall-E had the environment) then it automatically gets bumped to a 9 or 10! Now that these movies can be represented in the Best Picture category can we finally stop weighting the way we rate and critique them? Up was solid and deserves to be on this list…but I think 13 is a lot more realistic than the top five where most people have it. If you disagree, I am sorry, and I hope your parents let you stay up later tonight…but come on people, we are all adults, and once we get passed the self-gratifying aspect of being adults that can still enjoy kids movies, we can rate them for what they really are…good…solid kids movies…that do not deserve to be mentioned in the same breathe as the elite films of the year.
12) Zombieland – I enjoyed Zombieland more than Up. There, I said it. I’m sorry. Sue me. Call me uneducated or closed-minded, but Zombieland was a better concept and a better movie. Zombieland was short and sweet, inoffensive in it’s pacing, plot structure or storyline but brutally offensive in the nonchalant nature of the violence, the dry sense of humor that accompanies it and the campy nature of the film as a whole, what sounds to me like the perfect blend for a Zombie movie. Most Zombie movies take themselves too seriously. This one hit the nail right on the head because it provided the same amount of action, violence and suspense as your average Zombie movie, however the characters (brilliant casting by the way) treated the situations as though they were viewers watching a Zombie movie, rather than overzealous, ignorant participants in an overly done horror movie template. Jesse Eisenberg (who makes another appearance on this list) and Woody Harrelson (who made every movie he was in this year better, even 2012) were both perfect, living out the Zombie-killing lifestyle as we all dream we would; with sarcasm, enthusiasm and validity. Throw in the great cameo and the ever-moving love affair between stylized violence and sarcastic comedy and Zombieland is definitely one of the biggest surprises of the year and will definitely go on to be one of the most memorable efforts of the year, even if the awards shows don’t make it seem like it.
11) Funny People – The reason The Hangover stands out as the clear-cut best comedy of the year is not only because it was, but also because you had a couple movies that were funny…but not your typical comedy. Zombieland could also be thrown into this category. Simply calling it a comedy would be doing it a disservice, and calling Funny People a comedy would probably have done it a favor in the box office, but does not truly do the movie justice. The first half of this wonderful little Apatow movie is about stand-up comedy. You can tell Apatow grew up loving stand-up, interviewing comics and doing some on-stage work himself because this half of the movie is fantastic. He picked the perfect cast, the perfect settings, and this half of the movie feels nothing but authentic, giving us a very unique look at the inside world of stand-up comedy from the minds of those who have endured it over the years. The relationship between Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, although meant to be the central plotline, takes somewhat of a back seat to the main character, stand-up comedy. It isn’t too often that we get to see the anatomy of a joke, comedians talking about stealing material and how real-life experiences translate into on-stage one-liners. This movie gradually strays from the stand-up comedy and moves into more of a love story between Adam Sandler and Leslie Mann, a transition that does not serve the movie well, and probably kept this movie off a lot of people’s top ten lists (mine included). The second half of the movie is all about the cat and mouse love affair between Sandler and Mann, saved entirely by a laugh-out-loud comedic performance by Eric Bana, who was finally allowed to come out of his skin in an American movie (I had heard for years that his strength when starting out in Australia was comedy). The movie gradually begins to weigh on you, getting longer and longer and not doing so with the aspects of the film that first captivated you as a viewer. The movie ironically called Funny People, begins as a study of just that, Funny People, and then digresses into your classic movie about the struggle between practical love and “the one who got away”. A movie that truly has two plotlines, the first of which is new and original, the second of which is very predictable and forgettable, Funny People shoots itself in the foot by not following its own lead and sticking with the true essence of the film. The title is meant to be ironic, as if people that are funny on stage and known by the masses as “funny people” can also be troubled inside and much more than what they show onstage. The first half of the movie really gets into this, showing you the contrast between being on and off stage, and stand-up comedy in general seems to be the core subject matter. This alone puts this movie in the top ten. When the movie becomes your average romantic comedy (and a pretty morbid one by typical Hollywood standards) that is what pulls it out of the top ten and places it right on the outskirts. It seems a little weird that for a movie so relatively high on my list I would spend so long explaining why it wasn’t higher, doesn’t it? That should prove to you just how good the first half of this movie is. Funny People is still one of the most original and inspiring films of the year, especially for anyone who considers themselves to be a fan of comedy. Definitely worth seeing if the way it was marketed kept you out of the theaters this summer.
Stay tuned for the remaining 10 films from our best of 2009 list….