Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010: A Year of Paragraph Movie Reviews

I did not get to see as many movies as I would have liked this year and missed quite a few I was pretty excited for (thankfully getting The Expendables on DVD for Christmas will go a long way towards evening the scales there). However, as the reasons why I was absent from the theater a bit more were in large part happy ones like visiting family or my wife wanting to stay in to study for nursing school, I’m ok with it.

Still, I did take in a fair number of flicks, and as is my want, reviewed them in paragraph form. Just like last year, here are some snippets from what I saw and what I wrote (and before you ask, I never review Marvel movies and generally don’t review stuff where I feel too close to the material and just want to enjoy, so yes I saw Iron Man 2 and Scott Pilgrim, no they’re not on here).

Inglorious Basterds
From the eclectic music choices (I love in particular Bowie's "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" as pump-up jam) to the constant movement of the camera angle and flourishes such as the title chapter cards, it's a smash job from the directorial end while the screenplay skillfully threaded a huge cast and disparate plot threads into a killer tapestry of kick ass. There was nary a scene not dripping with tension where I didn't cringe every time a character reached in their pocket or picked up a pen for fear of what was coming next, and yet at the same time the whole thing was just tremendous fun.

Sherlock Holmes
In general, I found Law's Watson whiny and irritating and couldn't for the life of me figure out why a cool cat like Holmes would want to hang with him; the best bromances or buddy teamings come from two guys good at different things who complement one another, as opposed to here where Holmes is such a clear alpha and Watson is just bitchy.
(BONUS: Here’s Kiel’s review!)

District 9
Ultimately perhaps the most disappointing thing about District 9 for me was that I think had they made the firm choice to be a light-calorie action movie from the start it would have been a good one, as Blomkamp clearly knows how to craft a blockbuster and Copley has a great sense of timing to toss out the one-liners. On the flipside, I was totally buying into the more down-to-earth angle, so I would have loved to see more of that too. However, when the two worlds mashed up against one another, I didn't feel fully satisfied with either.

Couples Retreat
Not a lot of depth to the plot as it's pretty cookie cutter stuff for the genre with the usual physical comedy bits thrown in, but points for there actually being some realistic stakes even if they're not blockbusters.

The Hurt Locker
This was not a showcase for acting, but rather for process, and I found myself appreciating that far more than I'm accustomed to. To that end, I understand and agree wholeheartedly with the praise for Kathryn Bigelow for her directing work as, again, this was an instance where I actually noticed things like camerawork and placement of set and was riveted by that in the place of over-the-top characters and performances. The use of silence, slow motion shots, shaky cams, lighting, etc. put me totally in the moment as I was utterly engaged in the dangerous situations the characters were placed in even if I found them disposable in large part.

Julie & Julia
I watched this movie pretty much only to see if I should pick Meryl Streep in my Oscar pool but ended up walking away with quite an enjoyable experience…Julie & Julia is one really good movie and one decent movie mashed together where the end result is fun, but runs perhaps a bit too long and makes you wait too long between courses; great comfort food though.

The Blind Side
The Blind Side is a fun movie about issues that aren’t so fun with a good cast that seems to enjoy what they’re doing; I doubt it will change the world, but I don’t think it sets out to...[This] role is such a departure from a lot of [Sandra Bullock’s] stock characters, showing her range, but she also walks the delicate tight rope of portraying a strong, tough female lead who gets her way by being blunt and outspoken yet does not make her just another “bitch.”
The Informant!
[Matt] Damon continues with these random fact voiceovers throughout the film and I could have listened to just that for the full hour and forty-five minutes because I laughed out loud nearly every time. However, outside of those little nuggets of goodness, the plot is so byzantine and confusing that I couldn't follow it to any great degree of satisfaction and found myself extremely frustrated.

Get Him to the Greek
[It] turns out not only does a more layered and nuanced Aldous Snow make for a great lead character, but Russell Brand has more than enough facets to his own talents to make it work; the stuff that was supposed to be funny almost always was with Brand's performance, but seriously, some of his more down-to-earth and heartfelt scenes were probably my favorite bits.

I wasn't so much blown away by Moon as deeply impressed; I don't think I'll be watching it again, but it held my attention quite well and I certainly came away with a deep appreciation for the work put in.

This movie had a tiny cast, which was perfect because it was composed entirely of actors I really dig. The actual zombie/comedy structure of the story was really incidental for me, as it was the characters, the performance and the chemistry that upped the quality and the post-apocalyptic setting just provided a nice backdrop for them to bond against.

To me, Inception was, at its heart, a really good heist movie; the science fiction and higher concepts trappings built around that central caper for the most part helped though in a few cases hindered the guts of the film. The world in which the story takes place does require a bit more exposition than I generally like to see in a movie, but for the most part the actors did a good job not making it too clunky and I think it was a good choice to have the idea of traveling through dreams be one the general populace was already familiar with rather than having one character be discovering it entirely out of nowhere.

The Baxter
It's not easy to come up with a clever take on the worn out genre that is the romantic comedy, but I proclaim this movie a success in that regard. Writer/director/star Michael Showalter's premise of following the jilted "other guy" from every other romcom who gets shoved aside so the destined lovers can get together in the end is a unique one with plenty of material to mine.

The Other Guys
As far as I'm concerned, [Mark] Wahlberg should do more and more comedic roles because he's so funny without even seeing to try that hard; just that he's self-aware enough to poke fun at his own tough guy image makes me chuckle. [Will] Ferrell is actually more of the straight man despite being so quirky here, while Wahlberg just throws wild temper tantrums, and it works.

Easy A
There are some films that are above all else a showcase for a single actor, which is what this was for Emma Stone, and she was spectacular, elevating the movie from something that would have been forgettable with another lead into the one we'll probably all look back on as her big star turn.

The Social Network
I'm impressed how well [David] Fincher and [Aaron] Sorkin paced the movie, as it comes in at a smooth two hours and never leaves you bored (it could have been longer). They definitely improved on the book in many ways, using it as a guide but not becoming slavish to it…[Jesse] Eisenberg's [Mark] Zuckerberg is like a robot or reptile who chillingly and without interruption moves from one task to the next with single-minded purpose; when he displays human emotions for even a moment, it's as if he's simply straining to mimic those around him rather than feeling for himself, and it works perfectly.

The Kids Are All Right
Rather than being about coming together or overcoming anything, this movie showed how some challenges can be insurmountable when it comes to interpersonal relationships, people don't always live up to your hopes for them even if it seems they will at first, and yet in the end there is still the lesson that those who truly care about you will find a way to make it work. There is positivity in this story and just enough feel good, but you come to it through a filter of refreshing realism.

I am so glad I ignored every review and all conventional wisdom to watch this dumb movie. There was certainly nothing to distinguish it as any sort of classic, but it provided me with a bizarre and intangible entertainment for an hour and a half...and for this I am grateful.

Black Swan
Enthralling, engrossing and frankly terrifying at times with a last half hour that will blow your mind, this is maybe the most intense and well-done psychological thrillers I've ever seen and among the better flat out movies I've been to in quite some time. If ever I've seen an instance where a director can be a star, it's here, as this film has Darren Aronofsky's fingerprints on every aspect and is the better for it by far. However, as much as Aronofsky brings as a director, Natalie Portman matches him as an actor, delivering the most breathtaking performance I've ever seen her give.


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