2010 Glennies, Part 5: Best Picture (Top 10 Films of 2010)

#11: Splice



Directed by Vincenzo Natali, screenplay by Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, and Doug Taylor

There are films I enjoyed more than Splice this year, but it earns a place on this list for the sheer audacity of its premise and execution. Vincenzo Natali’s shocking portrayal of the creation and upbringing of a human-animal hybrid strikes a tone that falls somewhere between Gattaca and Jurassic Park, raising the former’s complex bioethical questions while striving for the latter’s excitement amid the uncontrollable chaos of the natural world. While it never quite reaches the heights of either of these films, I can safely say that it is one of the most unforgettable and shocking films I’ve ever seen. It boasts a trio of mostly strong performances, including a disturbing and utterly fearless performance from French model/actress Delphine Chanéac as the adult creature.

#10: Inception



Written/directed by Christopher Nolan

In 2008, when I named Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight my #3 film of the year, I simply (and lazily) wrote, “You either already know why, or you probably don’t care. See this film. If you already have, see it again.”

Nolan’s latest film, Inception, seems to provoke the opposite reaction on both counts. Its fans and detractors alike have written volumes on the subject, and most casual viewers are compelled to see it again if only to make sense of the entire mind-bending spectacle. I can’t praise the film quite as dismissively as I did The Dark Knight, but while Inception is not a perfect film, it is certainly one of the most complex visual and technical spectacles ever put to screen, and for that much alone, it must be recognized. While the film’s action descends into slightly shallower video-game territory by the end, it still manages to offer one of the finest deconstructions of reality and consciousness since The Matrix.

#9: Never Let Me Go





Directed by Mark Romanek, screenplay by Alex Garland, novel by Kazuo Ishiguro

The appeal of this film is difficult to describe without spoiling its intriguing alternate-reality premise and fantastic worldbuilding, but this is a film that succeeds masterfully at building an atmosphere that makes the audience care deeply about its characters. The film was not without its hiccups – the resolution of the love triangle seemed almost deliberately anti-cathartic – but the performances of the core cast (Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield) are more than enough to make up for any of the film’s relational shortcomings.

Adam Kimmel’s cinematography makes every frame of this film look gorgeous, even with an utterly bleak color pallette (à la Children of Men), and Rachel Portman’s atmospheric score struck just the right balance to resonate with the film’s emotional beats without overwhelming them. I was not prepared for how this film would affect me, not sure exactly how to feel when it was over, and still haunted by it several days later.

#8: Winter’s Bone





Directed by Debra Granik, screenplay by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini, novel by Daniel Woodrell

“You’ve always scared me,” says Ree (Jennifer Lawrence), a tough-as-nails 17-year-old girl who searches desperately for her meth-cooking, bail-jumping father in the Missouri Ozarks.

“That’s because you’re smart,” retorts Teardrop, in a stunningly intimidating performance from John Hawkes. Apart from a pair of brilliant performances (and an impressive supporting cast), this film’s success is in its simple, high-stakes premise – an unlikely detective story in a masterfully realized Southern Goth environment. What’s more, this is a film that keeps the audience fearing for its characters at every turn – a surprisingly rare achievement for modern cinema.

(Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” – A masterful dose of guns, guts, and gloom)

#7: The Fighter



Directed by David O. Russell, screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson, add’l story by Keith Dorrington

This is a crowd-pleaser, plain and simple. A formulaic film can still be an effective one, and I can offer no better evidence than The Fighter. While Mark Wahlberg’s performance as boxer “Irish” Micky Ward is perfectly solid for the subject matter, the real star of this film is Christian Bale, who gives his best performance in years as the boxer’s crackhead brother, Dicky Eklund. This is a film I can safely recommend to anyone (even, surprisingly, those who don’t care about boxing).

(FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #7: David O’Russell’s “The Fighter”)

#6: How to Train Your Dragon





From Dreamworks Animation, directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, screenplay by William Davies, Dean DeBlois, and Chris Sanders, novel by Cressida Cowell

This is, hands down, the most impressive and immersive 3D animation experience that I’ve had in theaters since Avatar, and its dragon flight sequences were even more impressive than the latter film. This 3D managed to not only convey a well-defined sense of scale and distance, but also the sheer speed at which its characters were ripping through the air. As a silent, but nonetheless fully realized character, Toothless the Dragon far surpasses Stitch (DeBlois and Sanders’ last such creation) – the character falls somewhere between pet and trusted companion, but the facial animation and voice work manage to convey an impressive degree of personality.

While the film still falls prey to some of Dreamworks’ usual casting largesse (did Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse really need to be in this movie?), the core cast – Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, and Craig Ferguson – all give impressive voice work. And finally… John Powell’s score is easily one of my favorites of all time.

#5: Exit Through the Gift Shop





Directed by Banksy

Banksy is a force of nature, and I mean that in a good way. This is one of the most informative, engaging, and hilarious documentaries I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. Right from its masterful opening credits sequence, it managed to immediately rope me into the heretofore unknown world of street art – a world in which I had absolutely no interest prior to this film.

Regardless of the veracity of the film’s premise and events, it raises some very real questions about the nature of art and its relationship to commerce, and explores them through both the wry wit of Bansky and the bizarre life and outlook of subject Thierry Guetta, a fascinating character unto himself. If you have a Netflix streaming subscription, you can watch this film right now.

#4: Animal Kingdom



Written/directed by David Michôd

This Australian gangster film is a slow burn, but a complete pleasure, and boasts a cast of strong performances (including Jacki Weaver as the most stunningly creepy and effective villain since Heath Ledger’s Joker). Daniel and I couldn’t stop raving about this film – hear more below.

(FilmWonk Podcast – David Michôd’s “Animal Kingdom”)

#3: Mother



Directed and story by Bong Joon-ho, screenplay by Park Eun-kyo and Bong Joon-ho

In the past few years, Korean cinema has excelled in producing films that defy categorization, at least in Western terms of genre. At its core, Mother is about a relationship between a mother (Kim Hye-Ja) and her mentally disabled adult son (Won Bin), with a murder mystery thrown in for good measure. I’ve already raved at length about Kim’s masterful performance, but I must also praise the film for its effectiveness and innovation. This film had me from the very beginning, and I was happy to come along for the ride, even as I had no idea where it was going.

#2: The Social Network



Directed by David Fincher, screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, book by Ben Mezrich

I know Mark Zuckerberg. Every time I start to write about this film, I keep coming back to this simple sentence. Certainly, I can’t be sure I’ve seen an accurate rendition of his life based on the events of this film. As I subsequently read both Ben Mezrich’s “The Accidental Billionaires” and David Kirkpatrick’s “The Facebook Effect”, I slowly began to get a picture of the man through wildly divergent (and self-serving) accounts of his life, and I was forced to the same conclusion I had when the film ended.

The film’s accuracy with regard to Mark Zuckerberg is irrelevant. We all know Mark Zuckerberg, or at least recognize the character. This film proffers an astounding look at a period of substantial change to society and internet culture, and it does so by crafting one of the most fascinating characters in cinema history and running him through the paces of age-old themes – friendship, desire, and betrayal. As expected with a David Fincher film, The Social Network is technically perfect filmmaking, and brings Sorkin’s rapid-fire script and dialogue to stunning life while showing remarkable restraint with many of Fincher’s typical visual flourishes (although there was still the obligatory “camera passes through balcony rails” shot).

This is a film that everyone will take away something from, even if it’s completely different from person to person. And for a film about the disputed origins of a website, it manages to be completely engaging from start to finish. I’ve said plenty about the performances, but I have to also mention Trent Reznor’s score, which builds a intense and ominous atmosphere from the film’s first scene.

#1: Toy Story 3



From Disney/Pixar, directed by Lee Unkrich, screenplay by Michael Arndt, story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton , and Lee Unkrich

From my 10/10 review:
In the 15 years since the first Toy Story, Pixar’s animation has progressed immeasurably, but time and again, they have proven that their greatest strength is their understanding of character and story. Pixar has crafted an absolutely gorgeous film here, but it is not about plastic toys – the soulless, lifeless, disposable pleasures of youth. It is a film about life, love, friendship, and loss; hope, despair, and finding one’s purpose. It is funny, exciting, surprisingly poignant, and easily Pixar’s finest film. I’m a little wary of giving this film a perfect score, since I may well have handicapped myself by revisiting the first two films immediately beforehand. This might better be considered a rating for the entire trilogy, and not just its brilliant send-off – but I can’t help it. I’ve seen this movie twice and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Honorable Mentions:

  • 127 Hours (directed by Danny Boyle, screenplay by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, book by Aron Ralston)

  • Kick-Ass (directed by Matthew Vaughn, screenplay by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, comic by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.)
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (directed by Edgar Wright, screenplay by Edgar Wright and Michael Bacall, graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley)
  • Buried (directed by Rodrigo Cortés, written by Chris Sparling)
  • True Grit (directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen, novel by Charles Portis)
  • Catfish (documentary, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman)
  • Black Swan (directed by Darren Aronofsky, screenplay by Mark Heyman, Andrés Heinz, and John J. McLaughlin)
  • Shutter Island (directed by Martin Scorsese, screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis, novel by Dennis Lehane)
  • The Town (directed by Ben Affleck, screenplay by Peter Craig, Ben Affleck, and Aaron Stockard, novel by Chuck Hogan)
  • Restrepo (documentary, directed by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger)
  • Greenberg (written/directed by Noah Baumbach, story by Noah Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh)
  • Get Him to the Greek (written/directed by Nicholas Stoller, characters by Jason Segel)

Click here to see the rest of the 2010 Glennies.

2009 Glennies Roundup

It’s that time again… 2009 is over, and it was a great year for cinema (if a bit less so for the box office). I’ve seen movies great and terrible this year, as well as some fantastic performances. A note on exclusions… As of this writing, I have not had a chance to see the following films. I don’t know if they would have made the top 10, but naturally they are ineligible:

  • Where the Wild Things Are (watched since)
  • An Education (watched since)
  • The Fantastic Mr. Fox (watched since)
  • Precious
  • The Road
  • The Box (watched since)
  • A Serious Man (watched since)

Oh, and Hannah Montana: The Movie, of course.

I don’t have a statuette at the moment, so the symbol of the 2009 Glennies will be a blue Egyptian hippo.

2009 Glennie Awards


Egyptian Blue Hippo


Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best Actress
Best Actor
Top 10 Films of 2009

2009 Glennies, Part 5: Best Picture (Top 10 Films of 2009)

#11: Avatar



(written/directed by James Cameron)

Last year, I cheated my Top 10 list a bit because a numbering error in Word caused me to accidentally type an extra description. This year, I’ve opted to include James Cameron’s Avatar for a wholly different reason. You can read my full review of the film, in which I fully acknowledge a number of serious plot, character, and storytelling problems with this film. By any of these measures, Avatar was not worthy of my Top 10. And yet, I am compelled to include it, because I had an absolutely marvelous time with this film. My first viewing was on a miniscule screen, from a seat crammed into the right front section of the auditorium, but I still couldn’t take my eyes off a single frame. This film is a grand and wondrous spectacle. Even as piracy, obnoxious advertising, and a constant barrage of texting diminish and devalue the theatrical film experience, James Cameron has given us a new reason to adore it. And beyond that, the film has proven provocative enough to spawn some of the most in-depth and fascinating film writing I’ve ever seen in print or online. Avatar absolutely piles on its message, but whether you love it or hate it, you will certainly have something to talk about afterward.

#10: The Boys Are Back



(directed by Scott Hicks, screenplay by Allan Cubitt, novel by Simon Carr)

Scott Hicks’ The Boys Are Back accomplished something remarkable… It managed to take a rather somber premise – a husband and father dealing with his wife’s untimely death – and turn it into a downright cheerful film. The film is shot in Hicks’ native Adelaide, Australia, and Greig Fraser’s cinematography (complimented by Hal Lindes’ delightful score) give this film an absolutely gorgeous backdrop. The film excels in its tone and pacing. It deals with some weighty issues, but the story moves right along when it needs to, and never veers too far into somber territory without coming back to show us something genuinely delightful. This variable emotional curve could easily have come off as jarring, bipolar, and seemingly not serious enough for the film’s subject matter, but it manages to avoid these problems. The result is a joyous portrait of family and fatherhood, featuring a trio of strong performances from Clive Owen and his cinematic sons.

#9: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince



(directed by David Yates, screenplay by Steve Kloves, novel by J.K. Rowling)

When I first read J.K. Rowling’s sixth Harry Potter book, I thought it was a fascinating middle chapter, but easily the least cinematic in the franchise. I held a similar view of the fifth book, so imagine my surprise in 2007 when director David Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg turned it into one of the best films in the franchise. And with the sixth film, Yates and returning HP screenwriter Steve Kloves have done it again.

I will throw in a caveat… This is definitely not a film for newcomers to the franchise. It’s crammed with back story and setup for the final chapters. It relies on an existing interest in and affection for the characters, their relationships, and a rich and elaborate world that deftly raise the stakes for this entry. And yet, this is one of the film’s most persistent strengths. We’ve watched these kids grow up in the joyous halls of Hogwarts, but this time around, the school feels strangely empty and somber. DP Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography makes the grounds look absolutely gorgeous, and provide a brilliant “underwater” look for the film’s many flashback sequences (I was quite pleased to see the Academy take notice). Nicholas Hooper’s score is hauntingly beautiful at times, but keeps the same cheery flourishes that I so enjoyed from the fifth film (particularly the Weasley twins’ theme).

I already singled out Jim Broadbent’s fantastic supporting role, but there were too many strong performances in this film to even mention. The character work and storytelling were effective, and the adaptation showed remarkable restraint in omitting an entire battle sequence from the end of the film. In print, this sequence always played like a lighter version of the next book’s final battle (minor spoiler – there’s a final battle), and cutting it out of the film was definitely the right choice.

#8: Up



(written/directed by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson)

The latest Disney/Pixar film from Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc) definitely fell prey to what I would call “WALL-E syndrome” – the first half hour is absolutely the best part of the film. It tells the poignant love story of childhood sweethearts Carl and Ellie Fredricksen in a matter of minutes, and is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking montages I’ve ever seen put to film. It is also a taut piece of visual storytelling, effectively conveying such weighty adult issues as infertility and broken dreams with only the briefest of glimpses and zero dialogue. By the time we meet Ed Asner’s cantankerous old man, he is thoroughly endearing, and finds an excellent partner in crime in Russell (Jordan Nagai), a Wilderness Explorer who is just the right blend of cute and annoying. The ensuing adventure film is immensely fun, and features the hilarious motif of a talking dog with the intelligence and personality of…a dog (with a great voice performance by co-writer/director Bob Peterson). Up certainly takes place in a heightened reality, but it tells a very down-to-earth and touching story.

#7: Adventureland



(written/directed by Greg Mottola)

As I said in my original review, Greg Mottola’s Adventureland defied my expectations on every level. I went in expecting a comedy akin to Superbad – and the film’s marketing certainly encouraged this image of the film. Instead, I was presented with a mature, poignant drama that presented a brilliant portrait of the twentysomething post-college experience, and the sudden, reluctant thrust into adulthood.

The film boasts some brilliant performances… Jesse Eisenberg plays a great everyman, and was just shy of my Top 5 for Best Actor. Ryan Reynolds and Kristen Stewart were both surprisingly effective (each of them having lowered my expectations at some point), and Martin Starr – whom I’ve adored since “Freaks and Geeks” – continues to show his prowess here.

Adventureland is both an effective coming-of-age tale and a touching romance, whose conciliatory message (“You can’t just avoid all the people you’ve screwed up with!”) will likely resonate as much with this generation as it did in the 1980s, when a young Greg Mottola was working at the real Adventureland. Whether this indicates the film’s timelessness or simply Mottola’s understanding of modern twentysomethings, the result is well worth seeing.

#6: Coraline



(written for the screen and directed by Henry Selick, novel by Neil Gaiman)

The best use of 3D animation I’ve seen this year was not in James Cameron’s Avatar, but in Henry Selick’s stop-motion adaptation of Coraline, a children’s novel by Neil Gaiman. Equal parts Nightmare Before Christmas and Alice in Wonderland, this film is a fantastically creepy exploration of a child’s desire to escape boredom. The voice cast is enjoyable, with effective performances by Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher, and a fantastic use of Keith David as a talking cat. The plot does get a bit too much like a video game in the third act (use your special scope, go here, retrieve one item from each location, BOSS FIGHT!), but it balances this with an absolutely stunning mixture of stop motion and CG animation as the fantasy world starts to crumble – and I’d be hard pressed to tell you where one stops and the other begins. Everyone has a film from their childhood that is as beloved as it is nightmare-inducing. Coraline absolutely deserves the title for today’s kids.

#5: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs



(written for the screen and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, novel by Judi and Ron Barrett)

Sony Pictures Animation has only made a few films, they got off to a fantastic start with Gil Kenan’s 2006 film Monster House. Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs had an atrocious marketing campaign, and hardly looked like it would be a worthy followup. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be the best comedy of the year.

Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) is a crackpot inventor whose latest invention is a machine that can turn water into food. The science in this film is very much in the Calvin and Hobbes aesthetic – immensely fun and borderline magical. The character design is deliberately cartoonish, in stark contrast to the rest of the animation, which looks gorgeous and practically photorealistic. The film’s North Atlantic island locale feels every bit like a real place, from its initial shroud of gloomy gray mist to its eventual golden glow amid a shower of falling cheeseburgers. The weather and atmospheric effects are incredible, and the food looks delicious.

This is a screwball comedy driven by a non-stop barrage of surprisingly thoughtful gags. The casting is fantastic, with great performances by Hader, Anna Faris, Andy Samberg, James Caan, and even Mr. freaking T (whose character actually sports an inverse mohawk). This supports some very believable relationships and effective character work. The film even tackles the implications and consequences of a society steeped in overconsumption, but keeps this to a very basic level. It’s one of many ways the film shows respect for its audience, kids and adults alike. The running gags all pay off fantastically, lending the film extremely well to repeat viewings.

This is about as preachy as I’ll get during my top 10… This is a film for everyone. It’s the best character-driven animation since The Incredibles, and one of my all-time favorite comedies. See this movie!

#4: Moon



(directed by Duncan Jones, written by Nathan Parker, story by Duncan Jones)

I’ll keep this one brief, since I’ve already raved about Sam Rockwell’s performance, and this is basically his one-man show (you can check out my full review here). Duncan Jones’ Moon does a lot with very little, creating a compelling moon base environment on a downright meager budget. It’s helped along by an absolutely beautiful score (I have yet to hear a Mansell score I haven’t loved). It’s a fantastic character piece, and a welcome return to true sci-fi. Check it out if you love big ideas.

#3: The Hurt Locker



(directed by Kathryn Bigelow, written by Mark Boal)

Kathryn Bigelow’sThe Hurt Locker doesn’t exactly have a conventional plot, but feels rather like a series of carefully constructed action set-pieces. Nonetheless, it is an incredibly effective thriller, owing largely to the action direction – that sense of spatial relationships that is that is absent from so many action films today. From my original review:

Every scene in this film is well established, and the audience always has an excellent sense of what’s going on. Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) dons his protective suit (a relative misnomer) and marches through the blazing sun toward his objective. Civilians watch from every surrounding building, and bustle through the adjacent streets and alleys. The soldiers behind him take cover behind a Humvee and survey the crowd. Anyone with a cell phone could be trying to detonate the bomb. And all the while, the audience understands exactly where everything is in relation to everything else. And when all hell breaks loose, they can still understand what’s going on.

The rest of the film’s effectiveness is due to the three leads. Renner, Mackie, and Geraghty are just fantastic, and present a fascinating psychological profile of these characters, even as the film’s plot and dialogue exhibit utter contempt for anyone trying to analyze them. The film’s greatest strength is in crafting a palpable sense of urgency and danger – when it’s over, you’ll have to forcibly pry yourself loose from the edge of your seat.

#2: Up in the Air



(directed by Jason Reitman, screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, novel by Walter Kirn)

Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air bears a few similarities to Reitman’s last bit of corporate satire, Thank You For Smoking (including another great soundtrack), but has a much more somber tone. In my original review, I called it a brilliant and timely character piece, and I can’t stress this point enough. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a doubly fascinating character, between his constant air travel and his job as a professional hatchet-man. This may be the best performance of Clooney’s career, amid a trio of fantastic acting. The film takes a great number of risks, but stops just short of spreading its characters too thin. What’s more, it contains some of the richest dialogue and most effective scenes I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this year. And while it may be timely, this does nothing to diminish its rewatch value (three times and counting for me).

#1: Inglourious Basterds



(written/directed by Quentin Tarantino)

This film’s brilliantly deceptive trailer made it look like the Basterds (and their commander’s awful and hilarious scenery-chewing) would be the stars of the show. While I actually ended up liking Brad Pitt’s performance in the end, the Basterds feel more like a backdrop for the main revenge plot, which featured powerhouse performances from costars Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Laurent, and Diane Kruger.

In my original review, I noted some minor similarities to Bryan Singer’s 2008 World War II film, Valkyrie. In that film’s insistence upon historical accuracy, it demanded a great deal of its audience – namely, to root for a plot whose failure was a matter of historical record. With Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino makes no such demands on the audience. He doesn’t strain or even test your historical knowledge. He simply asks you to live in his world for a while.

And what a world it is. A world of fantastic performances and increasingly tense 15-minute dialogue scenes. These scenes stop just short of being self-indulgent, and ultimately, Tarantino earns every moment in this film. It feels like a teaser for a much larger story, and yet we are still privy to enough brilliantly crafted character moments that it simultaneously feels complete.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Anvil! The Story of Anvil (fantastic documentary by Sacha Gervasi – omitted because I only just saw it)
  • In the Loop (directed by Armando Ianucci, written by Jesse Armstrong)
  • Drag Me To Hell (directed by Sam Raimi, written by Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi)
  • The House of the Devil (written/directed by Ti West)
  • The Brothers Bloom (written/directed by Rian Johnson)
  • Trick ‘r Treat (written/directed by Michael Dougherty)
  • District 9 (directed by Neill Blomkamp, written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell)
  • (500) Days of Summer (directed by Marc Webb, written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber)
  • Observe and Report (written/directed by Jody Hill)
  • Star Trek (directed by J.J. Abrams, written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci)

Click here to see the rest of the 2009 Glennies.

2008 Glennies, Part 6: Best Picture (Part 2 of 2)

Top 10 Films of the Year (cont.):


#5: Forgetting Sarah Marshall


05sarahmarshall
I could not have expected less from this movie. I was in Moscow, desperate for American cinema, and there were literally two films playing in English in the entire city… Iron Man, which I’d already seen twice, and this film. The premise looked laughable and sitcom-ish – a man goes on vacation after his girlfriend dumps him…and lo and behold, the girlfriend is staying in the same hotel! With a new guy already! Hijinks will ensue!

But this film shocked me with its brilliance. It is my second-favorite romance of all time, coming in just behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and it was also one of the best comedies I saw this year. The film brilliantly conveys the post-breakup condition (particularly from the guy’s perspective), as well as every potentially awkward situation you can have with a girl… Something I could certainly identify with. Jason Segel (who also wrote the film) plays the same character he’s been playing since “Freaks and Geeks”, and makes me wonder just how well-meaning and overbearing he is in real life… He is entertaining, to be sure, but Mila Kunis’ performance (which I rave about in “Part 2: Best Supporting Actresses”) is just incredible, and is truly what elevates this film from a mere raunchy comedy.

#4: Man on Wire


04manonwire
This documentary tells the story of Phillippe Petit, the man who successfully (and completely illegally) strung a wire between the twin World Trade Center towers, shortly after they were built, and spent almost an hour walking on it. The film uses a combination of interviews, footage, photographs, and gripping reenactments to tell the tale. It strikes a tone very much like a heist film, as Petit forms his team and plan, and has to figure out some way to get into both towers, get hundreds of pounds of cable and equipment to the top without provoking suspicion, somehow fire the cable from one tower to the other, and spend several hours rigging it – all without getting caught before getting onto the wire, and possibly plunging to his death.

It is a breathtaking and joyous story, and Petit himself is an absolute pleasure to watch as he recounts the tale. …and if it makes a difference to you, it’s the best-reviewed film of all time on Rotten Tomatoes.

#3: The Dark Knight


03darkknight
You either already know why, or you probably don’t care.
See this film. If you already have, see it again.

#2: Slumdog Millionaire


02slumdog
It’s a very strange premise… Jamal Malik, an 18-year-old kid from the slums of Mumbai competes on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”, and is suspected of cheating for making it to the 10 million rupee question. As he tells his life story to the police detective interrogating him, he explains (in perfect sequential order) how the events of his life came to give him each of the answers to the questions. And as this story is told, we hear about Latika, his long separated childhood sweetheart. The rest plays out as you might expect. Will he and Latika be reunited by his appearance before a TV audience of millions? Of course. It is written. It is destiny. This is a beautiful, uplifting fairy tale that is all about the journey, rather than the destination.

And since it’s done in the Bollywood style… You just know the destination will include a rousing dance number. This film is City of God by way of Mumbai, with just a hint of Disney princess. It is a beautiful, well-acted, and unforgettable film.

#1: The Wrestler


01wrestler
Everything I had to say about Mickey Rourke (“Part 4: Best Actor”) and Marisa Tomei (“Part 2: Best Supporting Actress”) could go into explaining this film’s brilliance. Darren Aronofsky, director of such disturbing or perplexing films as Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain, allegedly approached Mickey Rourke and told him, “I can resurrect your career, but you have to do exactly as I say.”

Rourke allegedly said that on any other day, he might’ve punched Aronofsky out on the spot, but he was feeling particularly receptive. It is a good thing for this film that he was, because I don’t know who else could possibly have played this role convincingly.

And yet, this film may be what really launches Aronofsky’s career from semi-obscurity. This is easily the most accessible of his films. Every grainy, documentary-style frame of this film feels real, as we see Randy “The Ram” Robinson (real name: Robin Ramzinski) try to sort out the shambles of his life, including his fading pro wrestling career, his friendship with the stripper Cassidy (Tomei), and the relationship with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). Every last moment of his performance is genuine and heartbreaking. The film ends as you might expect, and yet the final frame is ambiguous as to the Ram’s fate. Does he die, in the pursuit of what he loves, or does he live, to continue his perpetually tenuous grasp on the important things in his life?

Regardless of the outcome, the Ram is a tragic character, flagellating himself for his own sadism and our entertainment. And Rourke pulls it off in a huge way.

This is a film that will stay with you. It is a sad film that feels joyous as you watch it.

Honorable Mentions:


Dear Zachary
Bolt
Burn After Reading
Iron Man
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
Hamlet 2
Tropic Thunder
Australia

2008 Glennies, Part 5: Best Picture (Part 1 of 2)

Top 10 Films of the Year:

#11: In Bruges


11inbruges
I’d call this one an honorable mention, but I’ve just got too much to say about it. This film was advertised as a dark comedy/action film, but it ended up being so much more… Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play a pair of hitmen who head for Bruges (in Belgium) to lie low after a hit that goes terribly wrong… The film plays simultaneously like a fairy tale and a brooding drama, as the two men struggle to cope with the terrible thing that they’ve done (which is saying something, for men in their line of work). The film is hilarious and memorable, and Ralph Fiennes, who unfortunately got no love in my Best Supporting Actor list, gave a brilliant performance as the frustrated boss man.

#10: WALL-E


10walle
This film provoked an uproar when it came out… Some people were saying it was the most didactic environmentalist wankfest since Captain Planet, others were decrying its economics, and still others were questioning the love story and calling the titular robot a date-rapist. As amusing as all of this is, it must be said that the first half hour of this film, in which there is almost no dialogue, is one of the finest pieces of animation and storytelling I have ever seen. Whatever the film has to say, it is an admirable accomplishment, and tells a delightful robot love story.

#9: Kung Fu Panda


09kungfupanda
Jack Black plays a panda who knows kung fu.

Jack Black…plays a panda…who knows kung fu. This movie looked terrrrrrrrrrrible when I first saw the ads, but I cannot tell you how much fun I had watching this film. From Dreamworks Animation, this film proved conclusively that Pixar has a monopoly on neither brilliant animation nor brilliant storytelling. You would think that a fight scene between a bear and a tiger and…a snake?…couldn’t possibly be compelling, but the action of this film is brilliantly “filmed” and choreographed. The film works equally well as an action film as it does as a comedy, and greatly exceeded my expectations.

#8: Milk


08milk
Critics were heaping praise on this movie from the moment it came out (93% on Rotten Tomatoes), and I suspected, even as I was watching it, that the film’s pro-gay rights message appealed to their left-wing sensibilities, and as such, they were overlooking some of the film’s flaws. After seeing the film, I still believe this is true to some degree, but this film deserves a great deal of the praise it’s been getting. Sean Penn gives a remarkable performance (see “Part 4: Best Actor”), as do supporting actors James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, and Diego Luna. If you have any interest in political and crowd tactics, this movie will enthrall you as it did me. They choreograph a march to city hall, carefully time disconnecting overhead cables from streetcars so they will block traffic on cross-streets, and send Milk to rush to city hall in a car so he can step out on the front steps and “calm everyone down” once they arrive. This was one particularly compelling scene of political theatre, and this film adeptly depicts a great deal of it. The film has its weak points, particularly when it comes to depicting Milk’s love life, but the performances more than made up for it.

It also doesn’t bury the lead with regard to Milk’s eventual assassination (it is announced in the first 30 seconds of the film), and yet the tone of the film manages to remain hopeful and cheery to the very end. Gus Van Sant has transcended the usual conventions of a biopic, and the resulting film is well worth checking out.

#7: Doubt


07doubt
If you want a film that deals with priests molesting altar boys… Look elsewhere. This film, based on John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer prize-winning play of the same name, is all about the nature of certainty, faith, and doubt. It is driven entirely by the four central performances (who are the only characters in the play) – a stern and unforgiving Mother Superior (Meryl Streep), a young, upbeat, and impressionable nun (Amy Adams), a progressive, but suspicious priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and a concerned, but shocking mother (Viola Davis). The film’s roots as a play are evident here; the scenes are long (sometimes 15-20 minutes), and driven entirely by dialogue. It is when Shanley attempts to add film conventions (such as flashbacks) that the film feels weakest, but this thankfully happens only once or twice. There are so many memorable scenes between these characters, and the film’s final showdown, while not perfect, is memorable and impeccably acted. And the ending, which is far from definitive, worked well for me.

#6: Let the Right One In


06lettherightonein
This film, from Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, is a brilliantly ominous coming-of-age film about a 12-year-old boy named Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a frequent target of bullies at school, who finds solace in a budding romance with the girl next door – who just happens to be a vampire. The film takes thorough advantage of the bleak and snowy Swedish winter locale, utilizing every possible shade of gloomy white you can imagine, albeit speckled with blood. The relationship between the two kids works amazingly well, owing significantly to Lina Leandersson’s performance as the seemingly 12-year-old vampire girl Eli. The bullying subplot culminates what may be one of the most tense and brilliantly shot horror sequences I’ve ever seen, making very creative use of an underwater camera. The film is creepy, intense, and haunting. See it before they remake it with Americans.