Sunday, December 27, 2009

2009: A Year of Paragraph Movie Reviews

I sure did see quite a few movies this year, and wouldn't you know it, I wrote about them all.

Before the new decade kicks in later this week, I thought it might be fun to go back through my Paragraph Movie Reviews for 2009 and snag a couple relevant sentences from each breaking down the gist of what I thought.

Hopefully this will help guide you through the use of all those gift cards you got for Christmas or Chanukah or at the very least finally clue you in as to what I thought of He's Just Not That Into You in case heaven forbid you missed it the first time around.

I included links to the full reviews if these teasers peak your interest at all. Also, I realized I start a lot of review pieces out with "This movie" or "This film" and have thusly grown as a person.

Doubt
My favorite thing about Doubt is probably the way it is shot. There are no quick cuts; every shot is long, deliberate and creates an effect that you need to be paying attention. John Patrick Shanley, who both wrote the play adapted for the movie and directed the film, did an excellent job.

Revolutionary Road
Forget Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm St; if you're a 20-something looking to get married anytime soon, this is the scariest horror movie you'll ever see. That aside, it's one heckuva film and I was thoroughly engrossed for its two hour duration.

Frost/Nixon
I'd describe this film as competently constructed and occasionally powerful, but never quite reaching the level of brilliance it seems to be striving for. [Frank Langella] is a force, physically occupying the figure he is recreating with incredible commitment, and making Nixon aggravating as a foil for the "good guys," yet charismatic and fascinating as well.

Slumdog Millionaire
Boy howdy, this wasn't just an awesome movie, it was an incredible feat. It's been some time where I walked away from a film marveling at not necessarily a performance or a scene, but how well constructed it all was and my hat is off to Danny Boyle for one of the best directing jobs I think I've ever seen. This movie is like a perfect stew or a well-assembled machine in the way it takes so many disparate moving parts and matches them up into a final product that just takes your breath away.

Milk
The unfortunate thing for me is that I'd say the bulk of my problems with it come from filmmaking decisions which overshadow a great script and excellent acting performances. The first half of the movie is just badly paced, racing through the early portion of Milk's awakening as an activist and taking all the punch out of landmark events. Once things slow down for the second half after he's established and time is taken to really invest in the workings Milk's life and the political system, it gets good, but your end result is an uneven viewing experience.

Watchmen
Even though most of the lines and scenes are verbatim from the comic, it's simply not Watchmen brought to life ala how most reverent fans would probably like. The sooner you put that aside (I did it around the scene where Dan and Laurie fight the thugs in the alley and it became clear that it was just going to be all the super hero scenes and that's all), the better off you are.

I Love You, Man
This movie has a little more meat to it than some of the other comedies much of its cast has done lately, and that works both for and against it. Me personally, I enjoyed seeing the actors stretch and appreciated a lot of the heavier stuff behind the laughs. On the flipside, I can see where the slightly more realistic tone and reined-in characters could be jarring for somebody expecting another "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" or "Knocked Up."

Rachel Getting Married
Honestly, the last half hour or so felt like I was just watching somebody's wedding video and I'd only get yanked out of it when they showed Anne Hathaway because I wondered when she was going to snap. Speaking of Anne Hathaway, she's absolutely brilliant and I don't think I would have checked in with the rest of what was going on around her if not for her performance.

Adventureland
I have definitely seen films that are more technically proficient, funnier, and flat out better than "Adventureland" pretty recently, but I haven't seen a movie that gave me the kinda enjoyment and satisfaction I got with this one in years. It's a very intangible and hard to pinpoint thing, because like I said I know I've seen plenty of good movies lately, but something about this one just caught and connected with me on a level that made me grin.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Stir that all together, mix in some trademark bold Woody Allen camera choices (I presume, having never seen another Woody Allen movie) and narration I personally found grating, and you come out with a movie I didn't mind seeing, but could have done fine without.

Star Trek
I'm by no means a Star Trek devotee, so I think I can say I'm fairly without bias when proclaiming this a really fun, really exciting, really clever and really just all-around well-done movie. Honestly, I hope more action movie writers and directors use this as a guide for how to do their stuff the right way. There was a pretty big ensemble cast but nobody got lost in the shuffle, screen time was well-managed, and while everybody got their moments, there was no doubt who the story centered around.

Terminator Salvation
A really good action flick should have a clear endgame established early on and everything that occurs leading up is either a landmark or sidetrack on the road to getting there; with Terminator Salvation, you don't get the sense that there is a long-term destination, just a series of meaningless fights and chase scenes cobbled together without an idea of the big picture.

The Hangover
Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper do what they do best as the dork and the asshole they respectively always seem to play, but that's kinda the clarion call of this movie: don't fix it if it ain't broke. Zach Galifianakis is the breakout here as he has a creepy awkwardness that makes you uncomfortable but also makes you just need to laugh; he really milks every line without being ostentatious about it.

The Proposal
This movie is a textbook example of how good actors can elevate subpar material when they really try. As far as story and script, "The Proposal" is pretty clichéd, not that well-paced and generally lacking in a lot of areas; in other words, it's an average romantic comedy. However, this film is so well-cast that the lean portions are at least watchable and the good stuff that could fall flat in lesser hands really shines through.

He’s Just Not That Into You
I'm shocked that A) Somebody made this movie (ok, not that shocked, Hollywood is crazy), B) Somebody else thought it needed to be over two hours and C) That so many talented actors read the script and still signed on. It's basically 129 minutes of people having the types of annoying conversations about relationship clichés that you fast forward in other movies and avoid in real life.

Bruno
Despite the fact that it was essentially a movie about fooling regular people and making them look foolish, Borat still had a certain earnestness and sincerity at its core that gave it a sort of uplifting quality that Bruno lacks. There are some truly funny parts of Bruno to be sure, but I noticed most of them involved extreme and graphic sexual comedy, which was more of a rarity and "final level" type deal for Borat, whereas here it feels like they couldn't figure out more subtle but equally funny alternatives.

Married Life
In the end, this film's biggest problem was that it simply wasn't that interesting or captivating, even for 90 minutes, and the good acting, decent jokes and quality camerawork only elevated it to an average piece of work.

Step Brothers
This was less a full-formed movie and more a series of bits that Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Adam McKay didn't have room for on Funny or Die. The physical comedy is top notch and some of the scenes and lines are hilarious, but there's no real coherent plot or flow to get caught up in.

Sunshine Cleaning
The premise here--down-on-her-luck single mom and her bad seed sister make cash by cleaning up crime scenes--is a neat gimmick and decent hook, but really more just a clever set-for a group of talented actors to do what they do best. However, as much as this film was more of an actor's showcase to me, I don't want to undersell the script, which did a nice job of balancing dark comedy with some real heavy stuff centered on loss and family.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster*
In the case of Chris Bell's examination of America's steroid culture, the author has intimate ties to his investigation, and as such, he creates a powerful, informative and oft-times heartbreaking piece. The project comes off as earnest because you can sense through Bell he desperately wants to find some logic in the paradoxes that surround him, and his genuine reactions to his findings will hit you harder because he comes off more as an average guy doing a research paper or something as opposed to a polished director angling for awards.

(500) Days of Summer
From the first scene it totally tries to win you over with its cute little home movies, its endearingly witty leads and its wonderful soundtrack, but then somewhere around the 45 minute mark you realize all those narrative and flash-forward portents of doom weren't just the usual empty romantic comedy teases, this is indeed about a very REAL relationship, not a fairy tale, and you get gut-punched watching the couple you just fell in love with have to deal with the same stuff you probably did as you were searching for your soul mate and wondering why it didn't always work out like it did in the movies.

Extract
Writer/director Mike Judge tries to graft on some heart and some dark comedy in various places, but it's a forced, awkward fit; "Extract" is ultimately a flick that leaves you wondering with such great talent involved, what exactly went wrong.

Year One
I do have to say that after really getting irritated by Michael Cera the past couple years, his performance here reminded me why I was once a big fan; I really think he's at his best doing pure comedy and farce--as he is here--rather than trying to incorporate dramatic over tones beyond the grasp of that one character he plays.

Precious
Mo'Nique is shocking as the abusive mother, delivering a consistent intensity that she is able to manipulate beautifully and make terrifying by using her humor to lull you into a false sense of peace and then jolt you with her most heinous actions; Mo'Nique's final scene is basically what should be listed in the dictionary under "Oscar Clip" (with all due respect to Wayne Campbell).

Funny People
I'm impressed by the inventiveness and sheer endurance of the filmmaker here on a movie that he could have probably cranked out as an hour and a half chucklefest; he certainly had a vision and committed, accomplishing what he set out to do at least in part.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil
It's almost as if [director Sacha] Gervasi wants to delve into these guys' lives as much as is necessary to make them accessible, but then stop short so they can still be characters as well. If Gervasi failed in any respect, it's that he made half of a movie so good that I'm really bummed I feel like I didn't get to see the rest.

For what it's worth, here are my top five of the year in the order I saw 'em: Revolutionary Road, Slumdog Millionaire, Adventureland, Star Trek and (500) Days of Summer (with The Hangover coming in at sixth after a follow-up DVD viewing).

Seeya at the pictures!

5 comments:

demoncat said...

sorry you did not like watchman though check out the ultimate cut dvd you may change your mind for at least zack tried to put the thing on the screen as for the proposal and bruno to each his own for hated both those films. milk was good.

Ben Morse said...

I didn't hate Watchmen, was just pretty ambivalent towards it. The fact is it was never going to compare to what was on the page and I don't think it did.

I was no fan of Bruno either.

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Step Brothers was the best 2009 film, I was not able to stop to laugh. This comedy was really so entertained, apart the cast utilized was perfect for the story. Definitely the best one!
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It will not succeed as a matter of fact, that is what I consider.

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it was a good year for these guys seriously, nice reviews!