Listomania: My Favorite Films of 2009

1. UP
Pixar’s latest is hilarious, affecting, beautiful and also my favorite film of 2009. The film’s biggest achievement is the opening montage of Carl and Ellie growing old together and how in a few wordless minutes the film manages to tell you everything you need to know about their lives. It also manages to make me cry uncontrollably every time I watch it, which seems to be the a common reaction. It’s also the funniest film of the year. How do they do it?

Quentin Tarantino’s WWII epic has a great cast, a twisty plot, and a few spurts of well placed violence among the memorable dialogue. It’s a thrill to watch and had a few of the stylishly self-conscious flourishes been shaved off, it might have been his best film since Pulp Fiction.

Spike Jonze’s take on Maurice Sendak’s childhood classic is a film that will hopefully become more appreciated as time goes on. I knew there were brilliant moments in the film, but overall had mixed feelings about it. I don’t think Sendak would want it any other way.

The Coen Bros. latest film seems built to frustrate, but that’s what I love about it. On first viewing I kept wondering where it was going and when it ends you want more answers, more explanation. When I watched it a second time I took pleasure in knowing how the film would end and just enjoyed watching it build towards the inevitable final —-

My favorite documentary of the year. You start the film laughing at the Spinal Tap-ish nature of these guys but end it really hoping these guys will succeed. Funny, moving and a must-see for anyone who’s ever been in a band.

The opening scene is one of the most suspenseful in recent memory and for another 90 minutes the film does not let up. Kathryn Bigelow’s adrenaline soaked character study about a bomb squad unit in Baghdad is smart, committed to realism and makes you want to get inside the head of someone who gets up everyday to do this kind of work.

Probably the most fun movie of last year, this is the reason popcorn was invented. Without any prior Trek experience I was able to enjoy it without any baggage from the canon. For a “sleek” and “sexy” reboot, I thought JJ Abrams reboot was still really “dorky”, but also much funnier than I had expected.

First-time filmmaker Neill Blomkamp emerged from relative obscurity to deliver a movie for all the geeks who grew up loving Robocop and The Fly as much as he did. The film is unpredictable, the effects are seamlessly integrated and lead Sharlto Copley gives an amazing performance that never feels improvised (even though it was).

Judd Apatow’s latest is not an especially enjoyable film. The film is a bit disjointed, the characters are mostly unlikable and there are a few too many dick jokes. But it would have been easy for him to crank out movies like The 40 Year Old Virgin, and instead he decided to make the kind of drama they don’t really make anymore. And I have to admire that.

A stylized adaptation of one of the most respected graphic novels of all time. Definitely flawed, the film has brilliant sequences that can’t be ignored. The birth of Dr. Manhattan is just how I imagined it, and the opening credits are a stunning invention. The film is great to look at, but a little flat emotionally: just like a comic book.

NOTABLE: (500) Days of Summer, Avatar, Bright Star, Broken Embraces, Coraline, Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince, Il Divo, Moon, A Single Man, Up In The Air.

Funny People

Funny People is a hilarious, dark, messy, sprawling, deeply personal film from Judd Apatow.  I had braced myself for a more dramatic film but was still surprised by how dark it was.  The film basically merges two distinctly different films together: one with Adam Sandler as a famous comedian who has a terminal illness and forms a friendship with Seth Rogen a fledgling stand-up, the other has Sandler trying to reclaim Leslie Mann, his former girlfriend.

Setting the first 2/3 of the film in the world of stand-up comedy, the story is made up almost entirely made up of narcissists.  All the characters are flawed and some are completely unlikable so I can see the desire to escape that world but the transition is not a smooth one.  As Sandler and Rogen take a road trip to reconnect with his former girlfriend, they become trapped in Mann’s house and the film which had been moving along so quickly comes to a halt.  The supporting cast from the first half of the film virtually disappears as the film spends about 45 minutes on this doomed romance.

I admire Apatow for being so bold to make this film but I didn’t love it.  While there is a lot to appreciate, I prefer the warmth of Knocked Up.

13 Films I Am Probably Definitely Going To See This Summer

I like summer. As I get older I get less excited about the movies coming out, but there’s usually a few that I eagerly anticipate and a dozen or so more that I see anyway because I am a geek.  Alright, May to August here we go!

1. FUNNY PEOPLE (July 31)
Even though the trailer gives away the entire movie, I am definitely going to see this.  I’m a huge fan of Freaks and Geeks (which Apatow produced), liked The 40 Year Old Virgin, loved Knocked Up and have extremely high hopes for this. While I am really hoping that this trailer does not give away the entire movie, even if it does it will still be the best.

2. UP (May 29)
I am definitely going to see this.  I don’t think there is anybody that doesn’t know that Pixar is the best.  Toy Story, The Incredibles, Ratatouille.  All classic.  I will pretend Cars never happened if you will. 

Despite Quentin Tarantinos films having taken a nosedive since Kill Bill Vol.1, and the fact that Brad Pitt’s accent is way over the top, and that they let Hostel director ElI Roth act in what appears to be a substantial role I am still definitely going to see this. Despite all that, I really want this to be good.

4. BRUNO (July 10)
I am definitely going to see this because all indications are that it will be the funniest movie anyone has ever seen.  Borat was not ruined by the hype and I refuse to be disappointed by this either. 

5. 500 DAYS OF SUMMER (July 17)
I will probably regret openly wanting to see this movie, but for now I actually do want to see this movie.  A lot. If this movie is terrible I’m sure I will edit this post and replace it with Wolverine so we can pretend like this never happened.

6. STAR TREK (May 7)
I don’t know anything about Star Trek but I am definitely going to see this because JJ Abrams knows how to make a summer movie.  The buzz on this from geeks and critics so far is way positive and that’s good enough for me.

7. THE HANGOVER (June 5)
I will definitely see this because I think it will be hilarious.  I love Zach Galifianakis and I’m pretty sure by the end of this year, middle America will too.

I like the Harry Potter movies but I am definitely going to see this because my girlfriend is more excited about it than most people will ever be.  I like the movies and this one looks dark and good.

I will probably see this even though it is a Terminator movie where they replaced James Cameron with McG!  But Christian Bale gives it credibility and the trailer is completely bad ass, so this might actually be fun.

10. DRAG ME TO HELL (May 29)
I will probably see this even though Sam Raimi doing a PG-13 horror movie scares me.  Will it be the Sam RaimI who made the Evil Dead trilogy or the one who made Spider-man 3?  Fingers crossed for an uncomfortable hybrid.

(May 15)
I will probably see this because a year or so of delays and mixed word of mouth can’t completely deter my excitement for this con man caper.  I loved writer/director Rian Johnson’s debut film, Brick and I like Wes Anderson, which this very much seems to resemble.

I will probably see this.  It’s Johnny Depp vs. Christian Bale and Michael Mann can be a really good director when he’s not making MiamI Vice. 

13. TETRO (June 11)
I might see this because I’m interested in Francis Ford Coppola reinventing himself as an independant filmmaker.  If it gets panned at Cannes I will probably say I still want to see it, and add it to my Netflix queue where will remain for over a year unwatched. (Sorry Youth Without Youth!)

My Most Anticipated Films of 2009

1. Avatar

dir: James Cameron (Aliens, Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day)

Dec. 19
James Cameron’s long-long-long awaited follow-up to the highest grossing film of all time, this 3D epic has been waiting for technology to catch up to his imagination.  I almost can’t believe it’s 2009 already.  Change everything, James Cameron!

2. Where The Wild Things Are

dir: Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation)
Oct. 16
After many delays I think this will actually come out this year.  Time will tell if the final version will be something not fit for kids or film geeks.

3. Watchmen

dir: Zach Snyder (Dawn of the Dead (2004), 300)
Mar. 6
This looks so good.

4. Inglorious Basterds

dir: Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill)
Aug. 21
Nazi hunting Jews.  Though I didn’t care much for his last two films (Death Proof or Kill Bill: Volume 2), but every Tarantino film is still an event.  Redeem yourself Tarantino!

5. The Fantastic Mr. Fox

dir: Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic)
Nov. 6
A stop motion animated film like Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas or A Corpse Bride, this will hopefully be something completely different for director Wes Anderson.

6. Funny People

dir: Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up)
Jul. 31
I wasn’t crazy about The 40 Year Old Virgin but I loved Knocked Up.  And though he has produced a dozen movies in the past few years this is only his 3rd directorial effort.  I hope the film continues Apatow’s path towards Freaks & Geeks level greatness.

7. Up

dir: Pete Docter (Monsters Inc.)
May 29

8. The Lovely Bones

dir: Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy)

Dec. 11
Based on the bestselling book about young girl who has been murdered and watches over her family and her killer from heaven. Ignoring his King Kong remake, this is Peter Jackson’s real follow-up to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Will it be awesome?  Or boring?

9. Star Trek

dir: J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III, LOST, Alias)
May 8
I have never seen a Star Trek film or even episode of one of many series.  But J.J. Abrams co-creator of LOST (the greatest series of all time), and director of the summer popcorn blast MI:III, I will follow you anywhere.

10. Shutter Island

dir: Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Departed)
Fall ‘09
Two U.S. marshals are summoned to a remote island to investigate a disappearance from the fortress-like hospital for the criminally insane.  As if this being Martin Scorsese’s follow-up to the excellent Best Picture winning The Departed wasn’t enough.