Friday, January 30, 2009

Say it ain't so, Glen & Mar!

Man, I can't believe that Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova -- aka the stars of ONCE -- have broken up in real life! I have seriously been upset about this since I heard about this yesterday. At the risk of sounding too melodramatic, this is, like, a terrible blow to the very notion of all that which is love. The movie, of course, is one of the great romances of all time -- it hit me with a cinematic thunderbolt like few movies ever have. The movie and soundtrack have dominated my DVD player and iPod for the better part of the past year-plus. And the real-life story of Glen and Mar is almost as magical, with the two of them falling in love and making music while making a movie about falling in love and making music. One of the great things about their relationship was that it really was like an extension of the movie -- a real-life epilogue, in which things turn out exactly the way we'd hoped -- which was profoundly awesome. I'm almost afraid to re-watch the movie now, because I can't help but wonder if it will lose some of its power now that "real life" has reared its ugly head....

On the plus side, the breakup appears to be amicable and Glen and Mar are still friends, and they will surely continue making beautiful music together in the literal sense. I feel lucky, though, to have seen them live in concert (a two-hour epic performance at a sold-out Radio City Music Hall) when they were still dating and in love, because I'm sure it added a whole level of passion that will not really exist from this point on. And that is a shame, because goddamn, they put on an amazing show, and the Once soundtrack and the first Swell Season album are top-notch.

Anyway... what can ya do... but man, this sucks. Damn crap.

(BTW, if, after all this time, you haven't yet seen ONCE... for fuck's sake, go to the video store, update your Netflix, do a Torrent search, or whatever you have to do, and WATCH IT. That is an order!)

Also, remember that time I started a new movie blog but haven't actually written about any new movies that I've watched? I've been yammering on and on about last year's movies and the Oscar nominations and whatnot, and that's all well and good, but we need some goddamn movie reviews up in here. And so it shall be... soon... I promise.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oscar Picks and Predictions!

Okay, so the Oscar nominations have been announced, and I guess it's only fitting that they, like the year 2008 as a whole, are a mixed bag. I'm really happy about some (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, yay)... disappointed about others (BENJAMIN BUTTON, ugh)... and downright shocked at a few (FROZEN RIVER, what?). I think a lot of the awards will be decided based upon the path the Academy decides to take: Will they go for the epic (BUTTON) or the feel-good movie (SLUMDOG), or will they choose to make a political statement (MILK)? I predict that one of those movies will sweep all or most of the major awards, but which one is anyone's guess. With that in mind, here are mine....

(NOTE: Since the nominations were announced this morning, I managed to watch HAPPY-GO-LUCKY and FROZEN RIVER -- both of which eluded me in theatres -- so I can now safely judge those films! God bless the internets!)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

The only real surprise here is THE READER, which I thought was the lesser of the two Kate Winslet vehicles -- but it appears that REVOLUTIONARY ROAD has been snubbed almost across the board, which is a damn shame. FROST/NIXON was a testament to great acting, but it's nowhere near the best picture of the year. As I mentioned above, it's going to come down to BUTTON, SLUMDOG or MILK. Whichever one wins the most big awards earlier in the evening will be the favorite to win the big prize -- and my money is on Bollywood taking over Hollywood for one night!

I'M ROOTING FOR: Slumdog Millionaire
WILL PROBABLY WIN: Slumdog Millionaire

Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

The biggest surprise here is Richard Jenkins -- that is completely out of left field! I didn't see THE VISITOR, but I've heard good things about it -- and it is now at the top of my Netflix queue. However, I still think Frank Langella gave the year's all-around BEST performance... and you can't count out Sean Penn, especially in the event of a MILK sweep. But I think this is Mickey Rourke's award to lose, since he's got the whole "comeback" thing going for him... plus his performance was truly outstanding. Brad Pitt, meanwhile, is out of luck... well, except for the whole "having sex with Angelina Jolie on a regular basis" thing.

I'M ROOTING FOR: Mickey Rourke

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, The Reader

Looks like the Academy was smart enough to realize that Kate Winslet was clearly the LEAD actress in THE READER... though on the downside, that realization probably cost her a second nomination for REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (in which, I think, she was even better). But that's okay... I have a feeling that this is her year and she will walk away with her first Oscar in six tries! She's got some serious competition, though -- Meryl Streep was astonishing (as always), and Anne Hathaway's accolades are well-deserved. On the other hand, Angelina's presence on this list is a joke... unless crying a lot counts for something, in which case she's a shoo-in. The big surprise, though, is Melissa Leo -- FROZEN RIVER flew completely under my radar last year, but I watched it tonight, and the movie and her performance are indeed gut-wrenching. (FYI, I also watched HAPPY-GO-LUCKY tonight and the fact that Sally Hawkins didn't get nominated is shocking -- amazing performance that I might have to write about in more detail later.) Anyway, this year, finally, it's all about my girl Kate!

I'M ROOTING FOR: Kate Winslet

David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant, Milk
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

Seriously, seeing THE READER earn all these big nominations makes me wonder if maybe the Academy THOUGHT they were voting for REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, and the whole thing is a big mistake. Not that it's a bad movie by any means... but with the exception of Best Actress, it doesn't stand a chance against the big guns. Meanwhile, Ron Howard knows how to put together a gripping film, but FROST/NIXON's power was more a testament to its two lead performances. Again, it's going to come down to the three-way dance between BUTTON, SLUMDOG and MILK... and again, I think India will reign.

I'M ROOTING FOR: Danny Boyle

Frozen River
In Bruges

SO FRIGGIN' AWESOME that WALL-E got nominated here -- this will be my most anticipated award of the night. I will be ecstatic if it wins, and I think it might actually have a chance! This category is crazy, though. Seriously, where the hell did FROZEN RIVER come from, and how did I miss it until tonight?? Nice to see HAPPY-GO-LUCKY get some love here, but it really should've gotten Best Actress instead. Also very cool that IN BRUGES was not overlooked -- it's funny as hell and a worthy dark horse. In the end, I think that MILK probably wins here, and that wouldn't be a bad thing... but WALL-E deserves it, dammit!


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

This is a tough call -- it will likely be another prize fight between BUTTON and SLUMDOG, depending upon which one sweeps. BUT! I wouldn't be surprised to see either DOUBT or FROST/NIXON, both intricate, dialogue-driven character studies, sneak in and steal one. That said, SLUMDOG features the most enthralling story out of this bunch, and gets my vote once again.

I'M ROOTING FOR: Slumdog Millionaire
WILL PROBABLY WIN: Slumdog Millionaire

Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

I'm glad to see Michael Shannon on this list -- he was a standout in a movie filled with memorable characters and performances. This is actually a very strong list: Hoffman was his usual great self. Brolin gave a complex, standout performance and was probably the best of the bunch. But I'm rooting for god-man Robert Downey Jr., whose blackfaced, super-Method Acting parody was nothing short of amazing, and the single funniest performance of the year. But we might as well face it... there's no way Ledger doesn't win, and I guess that's fine (even though I maintain that if he was still alive, he likely wouldn't even have gotten nominated). But what can ya do... I'm sure it'll be a nice Oscar moment, so I'll allow it.

I'M ROOTING FOR: Robert Downey Jr.

Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler

I just don't get the Viola Davis thing... yes, she was good... she was on screen for all of FIVE MINUTES. I didn't think it was fair when Judi Dench won in '98 for ELIZABETH, and I don't think it's fair now. Meanwhile, Henson was good in BUTTON, but I can't give a major Oscar to that movie. I love Amy Adams and she held her own against Streep and Hoffman, but as cool as it'd be, I don't see it happening. How wild is it that Marisa Tomei is now a THREE-time Oscar nominee? I could see her pulling off a win here, much to George Costanza's delight. But I think Penelope Cruz's scene-stealing turn as Javier Bardem's crazy ex-wife earns her the gold!

I'M ROOTING FOR: Penelope, Amy or Marisa

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Slumdog Millionaire

I don't remember the scores from BUTTON or MILK at all, which means they were either unmemorable or subtly brilliant -- I'm guessing it's closer to the former. DEFIANCE had some good "Jews Kicking Ass" music (it's a legit sub-genre, trust me), and SLUMDOG was true to its Indian roots and will probably win. But I'm rooting for WALL-E, because the music perfectly captured the happiness, bittersweetness, sadness and overall wonderment of that vision of the future.

WILL PROBABLY WIN: Slumdog Millionaire

"Down to Earth" from WALL-E
"Jai Ho" from Slumdog Millionaire
"O Saya" from Slumdog Millionaire

When I saw these nominees, my first thought was, "Where the hell is Bruce Springsteen??" Well, I read somewhere that his song "The Wrestler" was ineligible because it appears on his own album and not solely on the movie soundtrack -- if that's true, it's the most retarded rule ever, since that song was specifically written for the movie at Mickey Rourke's personal request! But what can you do. Hopefully the two SLUMDOG songs will cancel each other out, and Peter Gabriel's lovely WALL-E tune will bring home the gold.

I'M ROOTING FOR: "Down to Earth"
WILL PROBABLY WIN: "Down to Earth"

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

You can immediately cross THE READER off the list, as we've discussed. I guess CHANGELING had a distinct noir-ish feel to it, but it was flat-out not a good movie, so it loses major points for that. I'm sure that this award, like many others, will come down to the BUTTON vs. SLUMDOG battle... and again, I choose SLUMDOG. Then again, I wouldn't be surprised to see THE DARK KNIGHT swoop in and steal one. Flawed as it was, it definitely featured some astonishing camera work, especially in IMAX.

I'M ROOTING FOR: Slumdog Millionaire
WILL PROBABLY WIN: Slumdog Millionaire

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Iron Man

Well, THE DARK KNIGHT had lots of good explosions and stuff... and IRON MAN flying around and wrecking shit was pretty f'ing sweet and my sentimental favorite... but I think BUTTON has to win here, because those were some of the best aging effectd I've ever seen. If only the movie as a whole could've been so impressive!

WILL PROBABLY WIN: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire

BENJAMIN BUTTON should win the award for best LACK of editing, it was so damn long (hey, is this thing on?). THE DARK KNIGHT felt like part-superhero movie, part-noir-thriller, which was definitely cool. FROST/NIXON was a taut, dialogue- and facial-expression-driven drama. MILK was great, but I didn't see anything special about the editing, unless the Academy is particularly enamoured with flashbacks. Actually, I guess it is, because I think SLUMDOG wins this one, as it was edited in such a way that it felt both grandiose and intimate at the same time, which is no small feat.

I'M ROOTING FOR: Slumdog Millionaire
WILL PROBABLY WIN: Slumdog Millionaire

The Baader Meinhof Complex (Germany)
The Class (France)
Departures (Japan)
Revanche (Austria)
Waltz with Bashir (Israel)

It's too bad that, due to another stupid Oscar rule, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN wasn't nominated, because that would've been my pick for sure. As it stands, my uncultured ass has only seen WALTZ WITH BASHIR, so that is my pick. Though I have heard good things about THE CLASS, so I will try to check that out soon.

I'M ROOTING FOR: Waltz with Bashir
WILL PROBABLY WIN: Waltz with Bashir

The Betrayal
Encounters At the End of the World
The Garden
Man on Wire
Trouble the Water

Man, I really AM an uncultured buffoon... I have seen a grand total of NONE of these documentaries. But but but! MAN ON WIRE is available on Netflix's instant viewing, and and ENCOUNTERS will be arriving in my mailbox in a few days, so I'll be good to go. MAN ON WIRE seems to be the odds-on favorite (plus it has the whole Twin Towers thing going for it), so I'll vote for that.

I'M ROOTING FOR: Man on Wire

Kung Fu Panda

I really liked KUNG FU PANDA... and BOLT was highly entertaining... but this might be the biggest no-brainer in Oscar history. In fact, it's borderline insulting to WALL-E's greatness to have to go up against such inferior competition. It's like Roger Federer mopping the floor with some unranked schlub in the first round of Wimbledon. WALL-E should really be playing with the big boys -- it's been 17 years since BEAUTY AND THE BEAST broke the barrier and earned a Best Picture nomination, and the time has come for it to happen again, especially now in the age of Pixar!


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Tough call here. BENJAMIN BUTTON featured some pretty extraordinary work. THE DARK KNIGHT might be the favorite simply because of the Joker's now-iconic makeup (however, it eally should lose points because Two-Face's fucked up face was a bit over-the-top). HELLBOY II... eh, the creatures were cool but ultimately forgettable. I guess I'm putting my money on ol' Ben B., but if the Joker wins, it wouldn't be a bad thing.

I'M ROOTING FOR: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Duchess
Revolutionary Road

Jeez, I realize that gay men have great fashion sense, but MILK's nomination here seems weird -- was it really that hard to go to the nearest thrift shop and get some vintage '70s attire? AUSTRALIA... meh... nothing memorable about that movie. THE DUCHESS wasn't a great movie, but you can never count out a period piece starring Keira Knightley -- she can wear a corset like nobody's business! BENJAMIN BUTTON may be overblown, but it definitely looked good and will likely win most of these artistic awards, if nothing else. But personally, I really liked the '50s suburban style of REVOLUTIONARY ROAD -- it was like something out of Father Knows Best, but, y'know, all fucked up and depressing!

I'M ROOTING FOR: Revolutionary Road
WILL PROBABLY WIN: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Okay, that's all for now. The big show is on Sunday, February 22nd, and I plan on being right here with MY ANNUAL MOMENT-BY-MOMENT RUNNING COMMENTARY! (Be sure to check in and read as you watch!) But in the meantime, I want to hear YOUR thoughts, picks, predictions, etc. Talk to me, people!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ben's Top 10 Netflix Rentals of 2008

As you know, I see a lot of movies on the big screen... but it so happens that last year, I saw even MORE movies in the comfort of my own home, on my 42" HDTV, thanks to one of the greatest inventions of the 21st century -- NETFLIX! It's true -- a total of 108 little red envelopes arrived in my mailbox in 2008 (actually that's not true, since I watched some of them via Netflix's streaming video, but you get the picture). My Netflix queue is pretty much on crack -- perpetually a crazy mix of old classics, weird foreign films, new stuff that I didn't have time to see in theatres, interesting recommendations, and random shit that caught my eye. And now, I'd like to present my Top 10 favorites:

10. FRANK & OLLIE (1995) -- Great little documentary about Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two of the original Disney animators who are responsible for some of the most iconic images, not just in movie history, but in the history of mankind. The Seven Dwarfs crying before Snow White's supposedly-dead body... Bambi and Thumper ice skating... Lady and the Tramp's spaghetti kiss... the list goes on. The film discusses their work as well as their long-lasting friendship, and it is truly fascinating stuff for fans of Disney and film in general. (Side note: Sadly, Ollie -- the last living member of the "Nine Old Men" -- passed away in April '08... one of many, many 2008 deaths that left a great void in the world of cinema.)

9. THE COMMITMENTS (1991) -- You may recall that I had a big case of ONCE fever for the first few months of '08 after falling head-over-heels for the movie at the end of '07. (In fact, I am still in love with it and it is the most recent movie to find a home in my all-time Top 5. So good.) As a result of this obsession, I rented this movie, which stars Glen Hansard, and was very impressed. Directed by Alan Parker, it's about an Irish guy who wants to form a soul band in Dublin. He pieces together a ragtag group of musicians (Hansard is the guitarist) and they begin their rise to the top. But as their popularity grows, will internal strife threaten to tear them apart? Great film about getting a band together, featuring solid acting, entertaining, expletive-filled Irish dialogue and of course, excellent music.

8. LA BELLE NOISEUSE (1991) -- Did I include this four-hour French film because it contains a two-hour stretch featuring the delectable, fully-nude form of Emanuelle Beart? I admit, her presence is what caused me to initially add it to my queue. I didn't realize its length until it arrived as a two-disc set... but it turned out to be a fascinating study of an artist at work. Yes, Emanuelle was naked for two hours and it was nice indeed... but during that time, we got to see the entire process, from setup to completion, with all manner of emotional turmoil between artist and subject, as the former struggles to come to terms with his life's work and the latter tries to figure herself out. Sounds pretentious, yes... but it's actually quite good.

7. FEAST OF LOVE (2007) -- I remember being very interested in this movie when it first came out, but I never got around to it because it was critically panned and didn't last long in theatres. Which is a shame, because it's actually quite good. It's one of those intersecting-story movies, centered around a small-town coffee shop where various people meet and experience various tales of love and loss. Solid ensemble cast including Greg Kinnear, Morgan Freeman, Jane Alexander, the scintillating (and oft-nude) Radha Mitchell, Selma Blair and others. Interesting characters, storylines and takes on the trials and tribulations of love and relationships, with some twists thrown in here and there for good measure. (Side note: I was stunned when, during a montage of love scenes, they played a different variation of "Falling Slowly" from ONCE, unquestionably my favorite song in years. That surely added a few bonus points to an already-excellent film!)

6. INSIDE (2007) -- A really freakin' scary French horror flick about a woman who is about to give birth to a miracle baby, four months after she was injured in a car crash in which her husband died. On Christmas Eve, the night before she is scheduled to go to the hospital, she is visited at home by a crazy nurse who is intent on taking the baby for herself -- BEFORE it is born -- by any means necessary, with whatever sharp objects she can get her hands on. Most of movie follows a horrific game of cat-and-mouse as the nurse stalks Sarah through her house. Intense gore, legit scares and truly unsettling visuals make this one of the most effective horror films I've seen in a while.

5. THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (1965) -- There were so many deaths in '08 that I plan on having a big box of tissues handy during the Oscars' In Memoriam segment. It is gonna be rough. But perhaps the most painful for me was that of Charlton Heston, one of cinema's true giants. After he died, I added a slew of his movies to my Netflix, most of which could easily dominate this list -- but instead, I've picked this one to represent them all. It's the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (played masterfully by Max von Sydow), with an all-star supporting cast, including Heston in a scene-stealing turn as John the Baptitst. I am not a religious person by any means, but I love religious epics (THE TEN COMMANDMENTS being my all-time favorite, of course) -- and this is certainly one of the best, the likes of which we may never see again.

4. SOPHIE'S CHOICE (1982) -- If you ever have any doubt as to Meryl Streep's absolute mastery of her craft, you need look no further. One of most gut-wrenching stories ever put to celluloid, it's the story of Sophie, a beautiful Polish immigrant (Streep) and her lover (Kevin Kline in his debut role) who share a boarding house with a young writer in Brooklyn in the late 1940's. Their friendship blossoms, and more about Sophie's life is revealed -- namely, that she is a Holocaust survivor. As more and more layers of truth are pulled back, the true nature of Sophie's horrific experiences are revealed. All three main performances are fantastic, but watching Streep embody Sophie's pain and turmoil is nothing short of spectacular -- this had to have been one of the biggest no-brainer Oscar wins in history.

3. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT: THE COMPLETE SERIES (2003-2006) -- I don't watch many TV shows, but this is one that people have been constantly telling me that I would love if only I'd give it a chance. Well, I finally watched all three seasons on DVD this past summer and, holy shit, it was awesome. The show follows the misadventures of the uber-dysfunctional Bluth family after patriarch George Sr. is thrown in jail. Level-headed son Michael takes over the family business, but his crazy mom & siblings, his relationship with his mild-mannered son and his rocky love life don't make it easy for him. It's bizarre, irreverant, inappropriate, smart as hell, perfectly cast, and friggin' hilarious -- it's an absolute travesty that it was cancelled after only three seasons. Let's hope that the upcoming movie reunion comes to fruition! (Note to Michael Cera, the apparent only holdout from the cast: STOP BEING A DICK AND REMEMBER YOUR ROOTS!)

2. IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER (1993) -- I was so awestruck by THERE WILL BE BLOOD at the end of '07 that I added Daniel Day-Lewis's complete flimography to my queue. They were all great, and Day-Lewis was always incredible... but this one stands above the rest. Day-Lewis plays Gerry Conlon, a small-time Irish thief who is falsely convicted of being behind the IRA's bombing of a London pub. He is tortured and thrown into jail, along with his father, where he spends the next 15 years trying to prove his innocence. Day-Lewis' Oscar-nominated performance is outstanding, and further proof of his genius. We're talking about a guy who, in the past 20 years, has only made nine movies... but has been nominated for FOUR Oscars, with two wins. Just... wow.

...and finally....

1. THE HUSTLER (1961) -- Another '08 death that knocked the movie world for a loop was that of Paul Newman, and once again, I embarked on a Netflix tribute for the next few weeks. How this classic has eluded me all these years is beyond me, but I now feel like a more complete movie buff for having seen it. Newman plays a "Fast Eddie," a small-time pool player with an explosive attitude who foolishly challenges the legendary Minnesota Fats, (expertly played by "the Great One," Jackie Gleason)... only to have his bravado get the best of him and send him spiraling towards rock bottom. Can Fast Eddie get his career -- and life -- back on track before it's too late? Fantastic film, masterful performances from two of the greatest actors of all time, with intense pool sequences that make me wish I didn't suck so much at the game (aside from the occasional sweet behind-the-back shot). This was easily the best Newman movie I watched during my tribute... and, indeed, the best movie I rented from Netflix all year!


Other Noteworthy Titles (in random order):

The Last of the Mohicans. My Left Foot. Roman Holiday. Away From Her. Trade. Pretty Things. El Cid. Soylent Green. The Agony and the Ecstacy. August Rush. Grace is Gone. Drop Dead Gorgeous. The Killing of John Lennon. Bamboozled. Hud. Zombie Strippers. An American Crime. Play It Again, Sam. Smiley Face. Meet Bill. Blue State. The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.


And now, the Top 5 WORST Netflix Rentals of 2008:

5. ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM (2007) -- Seems like a movie about Aliens and Predators wrecking each other's shit should be easy to accomplish... but now we have TWO movies that fucked it up royally. Too bad.
4. GOYA'S GHOSTS (2006) -- Plodding, badly-scripted film about the Spanish Inquisition and stuff from Milos Foreman. Huge waste of Javier Bardem's talent, and further proof that Natalie Portman doesn't have as much as she's given credit for.
3. ALL THE REAL GIRLS (2003) -- Weird, all-around-poorly-executed film about a guy who has fucked every girl in town, except for sparkly-eyed Zooey Deschanel, with whom he embarks on a long, slow, boring courtship.
2. PRETTY BABY (1978) -- This horrendous, controversial film stars 12-year-old Brooke Shields as a girl who grows up in the New Orleans red-light district. Inappropriate nudity and situations pretty much ensure that I really AM on several government lists... dammit!
1. SPEAKING OF SEX (2001) -- It's hard to find the words to accurately describe just how bad this slapstick sex comedy is. A couple with sex issues seeks professional help, and hijinks ensue... except none of it is the least bit funny. In fact, it's downright embarrassing, and everyone involved -- including James Spader, Catherine O'Hara and for God's sake, Bill Murray -- should be ashamed of themselves!

And there you have it. There are over 175 movies in my Netflix queue as we speak, spanning all genres, so I look forward to a very diverse movie-watching experience this year. I'm also always on the lookout for new suggestions and recommendations... so don't be shy! And if you have Netflix, befriend me so we can look and laugh at each other's queues and stuff!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I Got Yer Golden Globes Right Here!

The Golden Globes may be a crock of shite because, really, who the hell is the Hollywood Foreign Press and why do they get an entire awards show dedicated to their whims and fancies? Bastards. But at least this year, they mostly made the right choices in both the nominations and winners, so the show served its purpose as a fun warm-up for Oscar night. Let's look back at some of the highlights:

• First and foremost, KATE!!! It was amazing to see my longtime favorite actress, Kate Winslet, win Best Supporting Actress for THE READER... but stunning to see her also win Best Drama Actress for REVOLUTIONARY ROAD! I picked Meryl Streep to win the latter after touting her performance for the past two months, but I am now changing my tune -- I believe that finally, after five Oscar noms and zero wins, this will be Kate's year! Plus, damn if she wasn't the sexiest, most glamorous movie star in the room... mmmm.

• I was very happy about SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE's sweep. Such a great movie that deserves big accolades. Plus I heard that its popularity may lead to a return to primetime for WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE! That would rule. I used to watch that shite all the time and call the hotline every day to try and get on the show. Dunno if I would've ever gone all the way, but I know would've done well, dammit! Maybe next time around, it'll happen....

• I still think that Frank Langella gave the year's best male performance in FROST/NIXON, but how can you not root for Mickey Rourke? The dude is a rock star, and it'd be highly entertaining to see him give an acceptance speech on the Oscar stage. Also, he's fucking Evan Rachel Wood, which is as mind-boggling as it is creepy, since she played his daughter in THE WRESTLER. But hey, that's Mickey!

• No surprise that Heath Ledger won Best Supporting Actor, and it was very nice indeed. Whether or not he REALLY deserves to win is debatable, but what can ya do. I'll allow it at the Golden Globes. At the Oscars... we'll see.

• Biggest surprise was probably Colin Farrell winning Best Comedy Actor for IN BRUGES. Actually, I am most surprised that anyone even remembered that movie, which sort of came and went in early '08. Funny and highly entertaining movie, though... a deserving win.

• I really need to see this movie HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, starring Best Comedy Actress Sally Hawkins. Meant to see it last year but never got around to it. To BitTorrent!

• Spielberg tributes are always cool, because we get to see clips of some of the greatest movies of all time. He is and always will be the man. As an aside, my girlfriend got mad when I said that I would've ditched her to sit at the table with Spielberg, Scorcese, Hanks & Co. But am I really in the wrong here? :)

FAVORITE HOTTIES: Kate (obviously), Salma Hayek/Penelope Cruz (they go together), the gorgeous Indian chick from Slumdog Millionaire, Amy Adams, and still-super-cute Drew Barrymore. WEIRDEST: Renee Zellweger, whose alien transformation is nearly complete. MOST UNCOMFORTABLE: Miley Cyrus' 16-year-old in-your-face cleavage... are we all now on a government list for having seen that?

And that's that. Oscar noms are announced next Thursday, Jan. 22nd, and you can bet that I'll be here shortly thereafter with a complete rundown! BRING IT, ACADEMY BITCHES!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ben's 2008 Movies By the Numbers + Golden Globe Predictions

Not only do I see a hell of a lot of movies on the big screen every year, I also keep pretty detailed records about everything I see. Yes, my dorkiness extends THAT far. I have a spreadsheet that contains a year-by-year ranked list of every movie I've seen since 1994. I have albums filled with every ticket stub from every movie I've seen since '94. In my daily planner, I record every movie I see, where & when I see it, and with whom. My friend Suzanne calls this the most harmless and endearing case of OCD she's ever seen, and I like to think that's true, heh. And now, because I am bored and curious, let's take a look at some of the stats from my 2008 moviegoing experiences. I know you're excited!

I saw 104 different movies in theatres in 2008. But I actually went to the movies 106 times, because I saw WALL-E and THE DARK KNIGHT twice each. This is, believe it or not, my second-LOWEST total since my eight-year 100+ streak began. (The lowest was when I went to the movies 101 times in 2006; the highest was an astounding 120 in 2001.)

• Full price admissions: 61
Free advance screenings: 11
• Free passes/awards programs/gift cards/etc.: 34

Monday: 13
Tuesday: 10
Wednesday: 14
Thursday: 16
Friday: 21
Saturday: 13
Sunday: 19

AMC Empire 25: 38
Loews Lincoln Square: 17
Regal 42nd St. E-Walk: 13
Regal Union Square: 6
Lincoln Plaza Cinema: 5
Loews 34th Street: 5
Ziegfeld Theatre: 3
Landmark Sunshine Cinema: 3
Regal South Plainfield (NJ): 3
IFC Center: 2
Clearview Chelsea Cinema: 2
Tompkins Square Park: 2
Village East Cinema: 1
Loews Orpheum: 1
Angelika Film Center: 1
Regal Kaufman Astoria: 1
Loews 84th Street: 1
Regal 64th & 2nd: 1
Loews New Brunswick (NJ): 1

I saw 14 double-features during the year, some of which contained some unusual pairings (and some of which were paired by design):

• Cassandra's Dream & Cloverfield
• 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days & Rambo
• Funny Games & The Counterfeiters
• Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay & Baby Mama
• Son of Rambow & Red Belt
• The Foot Fist Way & The Strangers
• The Incredible Hulk & The Happening
• Star Wars: Clone Wars & Vicky Cristina Barcelona
• Hamlet 2 & In Search of a Midnight Kiss
• Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist & How to Lose Friends and Alienate People
• Religulous & Choke
• Changeling & Role Models
• The Reader & Revolutionary Road
• Waltz With Bashir & Seven Pounds

I was also a little more social this year, attending 32 movies with someone, and 74 by myself. Normally, I see far more by myself, but having a girlfriend gives me a built-in movie buddy -- in fact, I saw 20 movies with her alone! Awwww! :)

Ummm, okay, that's enough of that. Now let's take a look at some quick, explanation-free predictions for tonight's annual Hollywood self-fellating ceremony, aka THE GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS!

• Best Picture (Drama): Slumdog Millionaire
• Best Actor (Drama): Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
• Best Actress (Drama): Meryl Streep, Doubt
• Best Picture (Musical/Comedy): Vicky Cristina Barcelona
• Best Actor (Musical/Comedy): Javier Bardem, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
• Best Actress (Musical/Comedy): Frances McDormand, Burn After Reading
• Best Supporting Actor: Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
• Best Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader
• Best Animated Feature: WALL-E
• Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
• Best Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire
• Best Foreign Language Film: Waltz with Bashir
• Best Original Score: Slumdog Millionaire
• Best Original Song: "Down to Earth," WALL-E

I have no interest in the TV awards, but if THE OFFICE is nominated for anything, I hope it wins!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ben's Top 10 Movies of 2008

It's funny how you can have such an amazing movie experience one year (ahh, 2007), with a new classic seemingly every week, new additions to your all-time favorites, etc. And then the next year... well, to say that the year 2008 was a mixed bag would be an understatement. Sure, there were a slew of fine movies that were entertaining in the moment... but there were far more disappointments, clunkers and films shrouded in mediocrity. Even as we made our way through awards season, I was mostly underwhelmed. But fortunately, when the dust cleared, there WERE some standouts that made sifting through the crap worthwhile. And regardless of the overall quality, I still managed to see a total of 104 movies on the big screen -- my 8th straight year surpassing the century mark. Yes, I am a goddamn maniac... but you know you love it. Now, without further ado, let's get on with the list, shall we?

10. TROPIC THUNDER -- What better way to kick off the list than with one of the funniest, most outrageous movies of the year? I tell ya, when Ben Stiller really sets his mind to it, he is able to come up with some good stuff. It's unfortunate that his career is littered with so much fluff... but then a movie like this comes along and sets everything right. A hilarious, R-rated lambasting of Hollywood in which three big-time actors are left to fend for themselves in a hostile jungle... except that they think it's all part of their next movie. Stiller kicks ass as "the action hero," Jack Black is great as "the comedian"... but the real star is the man, Robert Downey Jr., as "the Oscar winner," who spends the entire movie in blackface in order to fully embody his African-American character. Method Acting at its finest! This performance has already earned Downey a Golden Globe nomination, and I wouldn't be surprised if Oscar followed suit. Great supporting cast, too... especially Tom Cruise as a bigshot producer... in a fat suit!

9. DOUBT -- A fine piece of work about a popular priest who is accused by a suspicious nun of having an improper relationship with an altar boy... who happens to be black... in the '60s... in other words, a big ol' mess. But what could've been a run-of-the-mill cautionary tale about the power of doubt vs. faith is made memorable by four powerhouse performances from Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, and the Mother Superior of all actresses, Meryl Streep. All were great, but watching Streep is the cinematic equivalent of watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel -- a masterful performance that is yet another example of her continued domination over all other actresses. There's Meryl Streep, and there's everyone else. Just give her the Oscar now!

8. VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA -- Maybe leaving New York City was the best decision that Woody Allen could've made in this late stage of his career. A couple of years ago, he went to London and made MATCH POINT, his best movie in, like, a decade. And now, he has gone to Barcelona and created another triumph, this time about the trials and tribulations of love, friendship and figuring out what makes you happy. Perfectly-scripted interplay between Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall and Penelope Cruz (in a scene-stealing performance) drives the movie and makes it as funny and entertaining as it is poignant. It also doesn't hurt that all three ladies provide some mighty fine eye candy.

7. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD -- Ever wonder what might've happened if Jack & Rose had both survived the Titanic, gotten married, moved to the suburbs and fast-forwarded to the 1950's? This movie tells that story... okay, not really... but it does reunite Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as a seemingly-perfect couple living a seemingly-perfect suburban life... only to reveal that things are not quite as happy as they seem. In fact, their relationship is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Leo and Kate brilliantly capture the trapped, desperate feelings that both characters experience in their own ways... and it is, at times, brutal to watch. Kate is virtually assured of her sixth (!) Oscar nom (though I fear she will lose again, thanks to Streep) -- she never ceases to amaze, and goddamn, she's gorgeous. Director Sam Mendes crafts a fantastic and painfully vivid portrait of the American Dream gone hopelessly awry. (Also funny to see Leo & Kate reunited with fellow Titanic passenger Kathy Bates!)

6. MILK -- A couple of years ago, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN earned a spot in my top ten... and now we have Gus van Sant's biopic of Harvey Milk, the '70s activist who became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office. I just love me some movies about gay people! Seriously, though, this is a great film. Sean Penn is fantastic in the title role, fully embodying Milk's fascinating life. In fact, the movie is chock full of standout performances, including James Franco as Milk's neglected life partner and Emile Hirsch as a follower-turned-leader. But the real stand-out is surefire Oscar nominee Josh Brolin as the troubled city Supervisor who feuds with, begrudgingly befriends, and ultimately goes off the deep end and assassinates Milk and S.F. mayor George Moscone. It's a truly effective movie that really should have been released BEFORE Election Day -- I can't help but wonder if the Prop 8 vote might have turned out differently if people had seen this movie before hitting the voting booths. (But that, I think, is a discussion for another blog.)

5. IRON MAN -- There were a bunch of superhero movies last year, but in my opinion, the best one did NOT feature a gravelly-voiced hero in a bat suit and a smiley-faced villain in a nurse's outfit. In Iron Man, the great Robert Downey Jr. (what a year for this guy!) is perfectly cast as billionaire playboy industrialist Tony Stark, who gets captured by terrorists, builds a kick-ass armored suit, gives himself the ability to fly and smash shit, and basically becomes the most kick-ass (and wise-ass) superhero ever. The supporting cast is solid (gotta love Jeff Bridges), but this is Downey's movie through and through. Big props to writer/director/swinger Jon Favreau, who clearly has his finger on the pulse of geekdom and has crafted perhaps the best film in this new age of superhero movies.

4. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE -- If there's a theme to be found amongst the movies in my Top 10, it's that of LOVE, because, y'know, I am a damn softy... and few movies capture that theme more succinctly and euphorically than this one. Danny Boyle, who has given us films about drug addicts and zombies, goes a different route to tell us this amazing Bollywood-influenced tale of a boy raised in the slums of India who embarks on a lifelong odyssey that ultimately lands him in the hot seat of the Indian version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. The hook is that all of his experiences, which range from incredible to unthinkable, give him the knowledge to answer the questions he is given -- but will it be enough for him to win the grand prize... and will that, in turn, be enough for him to find happiness and reunite with his long lost love? It's an outstanding film that taps into every emotion -- a modern-day fairytale that we can only hope will stand the test of time.

3. THE WRESTLER -- When I was a kid, I LOVED professional wrestling. I was a card-carrying Hulkamaniac and vividly remember watching Hulk Hogan slam Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III (arguably the signature moment in wrestling history). As the years have gone by, my interest in wrestling has gone through ebbs and flows, but it will always hold a special place in my heart. So when this movie came along, starring Mickey Rourke as a past-his-prime wrestling star struggling to find his place in today's world, it was right up my alley. I've never been a huge Rourke fan, but man, Randy "The Ram" Robinson is the role he was born to play. It's been touted as a "rebirth," and that is certainly true. The Ram's dealings with the wrestling world, his legacy, his health, his relationship with his daughter and his love life are all starkly honest and some of the most emotionally-involving stuff in any movie in the past year. I also really like this new phase of Marisa Tomei's career in which she gets naked in every movie... but, um, I digress. :)

2. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK -- Charlie Kaufman is my hero. When it comes to screenwriters nowadays, no one even comes close to this man's complete mastery of the art. All of his films -- HUMAN NATURE, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ADAPTATION, CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND and of course, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND -- are at worst, interesting, and at best, some of the greatest pieces of cinematic genius we've been graced with over the past decade. Now, for the first time, he tries his hand as a writer/director, and the result is... well, it's poetry... but, like, the craziest goddamn poem you've ever heard. Phillip Seymour Hoffman (another great year for him, too) stars as a playwright who, after enduring marital and health issues, embarks on a lifelong theatre project in which every character relates to a person in the real world -- and each character is the star of his or her own story -- and every character has supporting characters who are, in turn, stars of THEIR own stories -- and so on -- all inside a massive warehouse built into a full-scale replica of NYC. As the years go by and his own life continues to fall into various states of disrepair, the line between fantasy and reality becomes more and more blurred. It's funny & sad, complex & fascinating, bizarre & even confusing -- but in a way that makes you want to watch it six more times to figure it all out. It's the most thought-provoking film of the year, and further proof of Kaufman's godlike ability.

...and finally...

1. WALL-E -- In the history of movies, has there ever been a company with Pixar's track record? They haven't made a bad film in 13 years, and only twice has a Pixar film failed to make my Top 5 of the year. When I first saw the trailer for WALL-E, I had a feeling that we were in for something special, despite the fact that the title character looked like a cross between Johnny Five and E.T. But little did I know just how special it would be. It drew me in from the very beginning, and by the time it was over, it had affected me like no other movie this year, and like no other Pixar film before it. The first act is virtually dialogue-free in a fully-realized dystopian future -- but more is said without words than in most talkfests we'll ever see. The relationship between old, broken-down WALL-E and sleek, futuristic EVE is as good and real as any romance I can think of. Then suddenly it goes off in an unexpected direction and becomes part-cautionary tale about the dangers that humanity faces as we lay waste to our planet... and sure, it’s got stuff for the kiddies, too... but at the core, this is a love story, tried and true. This movie is a triumph and works on so many levels... a true masterwork that cannot be showered with enough praise. We're talking about the best sci-fi movie in years. The best love story of the year. Certainly one of the funniest, smartest, most poignant films of any kind this year. And after re-watching it several times on DVD, I can safely declare that this is my favorite Pixar film yet. All hail Pixar, for they can do no wrong!


Other Noteworthy Titles (in no particular order):

Rachel Getting Married. Frost/Nixon. Waltz With Bashir. W. Speed Racer. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Quantum of Solace. Burn After Reading. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Let the Right One In. Tropic Thunder. The Dark Knight. Elegy. Towelhead. The Reader. Defiance. Zack & Miri Make a Porno. Kung-Fu Panda. Step Brothers. In Bruges. The Wackness. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist. Son of Rambow. Bolt (in digital 3D). The Bank Job. The Other Boelyn Girl. The Band's Visit. Chapter 27. Baghead. Teeth.


And now... The Top 10 WORST Films of 2008:

10. APPALOOSA -- It's usually great to see Ed Harris in a movie... but not this time. This western features some of the most laughable situations and dialogue of the year. Also, Renee Zellweger's presence was jarring, because as far as I know they didn't have freaky-looking aliens in the Old West.
9. WANTED -- Probably the worst and most senseless MATRIX wannabe ever, utilizing technology that quickly went from cool to annoying, like, eight years ago. Not even Morgan Freeman playing a bad guy and naked Angelina Jolie could save it from being a hot mess of a movie.
8. THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR -- I wasn't expecting greatness... just fun, which the first two Mummy films managed to provide. But that was clearly too much to ask from this senseless sequel. How you can possibly fuck up a fight between Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh is beyond me, but this movie manages to do it.
7. THE RUINS -- When reviewing my master list of '08 movies, I actually had to look this one up... that's how unmemorable it was. Potential for good horror was there (the trailer had me fooled), but the execution was horrendous.
6. FUNNY GAMES -- One of the most infuriating movies of the year, thanks to an unforgivable plot twist that destroyed what had been a sufficiently creepy & disturbing first two acts. A complete waste of Naomi Watts in her panties.
5. 10,000 B.C. -- On one hand, gotta give props to Roland Emmerich for unabashedly ignoring any & all historical fact... which would've been all well and good if everything else had been the least bit entertaining. But no.
4. UNTRACEABLE -- Absolutely no redeeming value to this asinine thriller about a guy who kills people by, um, hooking it up to the internet, so that the more people who watch it via streaming video, the quicker the victim dies? Or something. I'm starting to think that, UNFAITHFUL aside, Diane Lane actually kind of sucks.
3. PENELOPE -- Poor James McAvoy has two movies in the bottom 10... not a good year for an otherwise fine actor. This piss-poor fairy tale starring Christina Ricci as a girl cursed with a pig nose (though she's still super-cute... SHE'S ALL THAT syndrome rears its head once again!) has absolutely nothing going for it.
2. THE HAPPENING -- This movie would've been the worst of the year, but it was saved because it directly led to Andy Samberg's hilarious Mark Wahlberg impression on SNL ("Say hi to your mom for me!"). The movie, though, is a joke... a travesty... a perfect storm of awful writing, acting, plot and direction... and as far as I'm concerned, the final death knell for the once-great Shyamalan.
1. THE LOVE GURU -- The Mike Myers that once gave us Wayne's World, Austin Powers and even Shrek is officially dead and gone, thanks to this wretchedly unfunny, unholy piece of crap. There's no other way to put it... it's just flat-out NOT FUNNY to the point of being embarrassing, not just for Myers, but for those of us who were unfortunate enough to endure it. It's so mind-bogglingly, gut-wrenchingly bad that I can't imagine Myers ever recovering. Another Austin Powers movie would be desperate... another Shrek (which seems inevitable) would be pathetic. No, he should just crawl under a rock and spare us any more bullshit. It makes me sad to say it... but he's done.


And now... Some Random Movie Thoughts!

Most Pleasant Surprise: This is kind of difficult, because there weren't a whole lot of pleasant surprises this year. Stuff was mostly as good or as bad as expected, or worse. One exception was SPEED RACER, which I hoped would be fun and turned out to be an awesome, perfectly-cast, non-stop, candy-coated visual roller coaster ride of orgasmic proportions! It was just a blast to watch, especially in IMAX. I also didn't quite know what to expect from Oliver Stone's W., but it turned out to be quite good, with Josh Brolin giving a tremendous tour-de-force performance.

Biggest Disappointment: My first instinct is to go with INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL... but, really, did anyone think that was going to be good? Likewise, STAR WARS: CLONE WARS was pretty horrendous, even for a kiddie cartoon, but my expectations were so low that I actually ended up enjoying myself on some level. Instead, I'm gonna go with CLOVERFIELD, which was built up to be this big EVENT from a supposedly-visionary filmmaker, but turned out to be one of the most laughable things I've seen all year. GOSSIP GIRL meets GODZILLA meets THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT? Gimme a break (though imagine how much better it would've been with Blair and Chuck Bass!). Some other disappointments for which I initially had high hopes: BABY MAMA (guess Tina Fey isn't infalliable after all). SMART PEOPLE (great cast and Scrabble-themed poster do not a great movie make). CHOKE (great Palahniuk book plus Sam Rockwell should've equaled cinematic goodness, but instead it was surprisingly "blah" for a movie about a sex addict). Really, though, the biggest disappointment of the year was the fact that we didn't even get to see what would've been the most anticipated movie of the year: HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE. Damn Warner Bros.!

Most Underrated Movie: I'm gonna have to go with Charlie Kaufman's SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK, which I haven't seen on anyone's Top 10 lists other than mine. What the hell is wrong with all these so-called film critics?? I also would've liked to have seen more praise for Amy Adams and Frances McDormand in MISS PETTITGREW LIVES FOR A DAY; Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz in ELEGY; and the Coen Brothers, Clooney, Pitt & McDormand creating a perfect storm of hijinks in BURN AFTER READING. All good stuff.

Most Overrated Movie: This may depend upon what happens when the Oscar nominations are announced, but for now, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is being blown waaaay out of proportion. As I mentioned in my previous entry, it wasn't terrible... but overall it was just too bloated, slow and heavy-handed. Unfortunately, it is the kind of movie that "makes Oscar cry," so my ire could be raised when the noms are announced in a few weeks. Also, sorry to say, but THE DARK KNIGHT would never have been such an uber-blockbuster if Heath Ledger hadn't died -- I will stand by that theory till my dying day! Yes, it was a good, entertaining Batman movie... and yes, Ledger was fantastic (as was Aaron Eckhart)... but the fact that this movie has been put on so high a pedestal and is getting major Oscar buzz is really kind of absurd.

Two Movies That Were in My Top 10 as Recently as a This Afternoon: At first, I had RACHEL GETTING MARRIED at #10. It's a fine little movie about love and family... but I had a lot of trouble writing about it, and soon realized that maybe I didn't love the movie as much as I thought I did when I first saw it. So I scrapped that idea. Though, Anne Hathaway's performance is still one of the best of the year, and she deserves an Oscar nomination for sure. Anyway, next I moved onto FROST/NIXON, solely because of Frank Langella, my pick for Best Actor for his astonishing performance as Tricky Dick. From what I can tell, this portrayal is about as close to the real thing as you can get. However, upon further reflection, I decided that the movie itself is lacking -- in fact, if you boil it down, it's really no different than your average sports movie, complete with that critical moment when the underdog gains the necessary confidence and ultimately topples the overwhelming favorite. Not that it was a bad movie by any means... but it's not Top 10 material. So, yeah... now you have some further insight into the crazy way my mind works!

Five Movies That You Would've Expected Me To See, But I Didn't: Most years, there's no way that movies starring Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, Tom Cruise, Scarlett Johansson and an alien invasion (in IMAX!) would've flown under my radar... but this year, I decided to show some restraint and not see BEDTIME STORIES, YES MAN, VALKYRIE, THE SPIRIT and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. I'm sure I'll catch them all on DVD eventually, but from what I've heard, read and seen in trailers -- c'mon, Tom, can't you even ATTEMPT a German accent?? -- let's consider it $60 well saved!

Best Superhero Movie: Gotta be IRON MAN, since it's in my Top 10, right? Well, yes, that is indeed the best, surpassing THE DARK KNIGHT and THE INCREDIBLE HULK in pretty much every way. But you might not know that there was also a film called TEETH, which I consider to be, in a twisted way, one of the best superhero origin stories ever: It's about a girl with a little affliction called vagina dentata that brings disastrous results at first... but as she learns to understand and control it, transforms her into the worst nightmare of sexual predators everywhere! Hilarious dark comedy, but not for the squeamish!

Most Welcome Return of an Old Friend: I wish we could be talking Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. in this space, but, um, no. I'm not talking about Mickey Rourke, either -- his comeback was remarkable, but let's face it, he's never been anyone's friend. No, I'm talking about a man who pretty much defined '90s comedy... and then took a disturbingly precipitous decline in the early '00s... only to return with a vengeance in '08 with the hilarious ZACK & MIRI MAKE A PORNO. That's right, I'm talking about Mr. Kevin Smith. Granted, he had to move away from the View Askewniverse and pillage Judd Apatow's troupe of actors in order to find success... but find it, he did. Welcome back, sir... Now keep it up!

Whew, okay, I think that's enough out of me. Still with me? If so, I salute you! Now it's your turn to share & discuss your favorites and praise/criticize my picks. Ready? GO!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Curious Question About BENJAMIN BUTTON ... **SPOILERS**

I saw THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON a couple of weeks ago, and while I thought it was generally good and well-acted, I did have two major issues. First, it was WAY too long. And not only was it long, but at times it was agonizingly slow. I realize that the movie was meant to explore this man's fascinating life to the fullest, but goddamn, it seemed like there were several stretches of 20 minutes or more where absolutely nothing of interest happened.

But okay, sometimes filmmakers get carried away and movies are too long. Usually I can deal with it. But there was another detail about this movie that's been sticking in my craw since I saw it. Remember the side story involving the old man who claims to have been struck by lightning seven times? He would appear and say, "Did I ever tell you that I was struck by lightning seven times??" followed by some old-timey film footage of him getting zapped in various predicaments. These bizarre non-sequiturs were some of the few parts of the movie that I really liked, and I laughed out loud every time the old man made an appearance. I looked forward to each one, especially once I realized that he was, in fact, going to pop up throughout the movie and we'd get to see all seven strikes!

Except... they DIDN'T show them all. When the movie ended, by my count, they only showed SIX instances (the final one occurring during the little epilogue before the credits). My friends and I were puzzled, so we sat through the credits in the hopes that maybe they'd show the seventh strike afterwards -- which, if it had happened, would've been the greatest post-credit scene EVER. But... no. We got nothing, and left the theatre confused, annoyed and unfulfilled.

So what I want to know is... WHAT THE FUCK?! It's not even that this character is so important in the scheme of things... but why bother showing him at all if you're not going to follow through with it? Show him once, fine, it's a one-shot deal. But show him twice, three times, etc., and then suddenly it stands to reason that you're going to go all the way with it. To me, this lack of a payoff is a MASSIVE disappointment, and the more I think about, the more it pisses me off and the further down my list the movie falls. Is there some kind of metaphor that I am missing? Or did the filmmakers just plain FORGET? If it's the first reason, well, then it was a pretty bad metaphor, and that's just annoying. If it's the second reason, well, that's even worse, because that means it was a simple case of sloppy, lazy filmmaking -- and that is inexcusable, especially from the director of SEVEN and FIGHT CLUB, and especially in a freakin' 159-minute film!

I'd love to hear someone ask David Fincher and screenwriter Eric Roth about this. But in the meantime, anyone else have any ideas, even if you're just pulling some lame shite out of your ass? Here's an example:

"By not showing the seventh strike, it represents the notion that sometimes there's just not enough time in one lifetime to do, see & hear everything, and you have to make the most of that which you are fortunate to experience."

Okay, your turn!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Twilight, Schmilight... open the door & LET THE RIGHT ONE IN

It's always interesting when you have two movies with similar subject matter released in the same year. It happened with alien invasions in 1996 with INDEPENDENCE DAY and MARS ATTACKS!... killer volcanoes in 1997 with DANTE'S PEAK and VOLCANO... killer asteroids in 1998 with ARMAGEDDON and DEEP IMPACT... cutesy bugs in 1998 with A BUG'S LIFE and ANTZ... you get the picture.

Well, guess what -- it happened again in 2008 with the vampire love story sub-genre. Of course, there was TWILIGHT, the adaptation of the bestselling book series that has been making teenyboppers (not to mention twenty- and thirty-somethings) swoon for the past few years. But there was another vampire love story that has received nearly unanimous critical acclaim and has ended up near the top of several year-end lists that I've seen, but has gone almost completely unseen by the masses. I never even got around to seeing it on the big screen! But I finally watched it tonight, and now my name can be added to the list of those singing the praises of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.

It's a Swedish film from director Tomas Alfredson, based on a 2004 novel of the same name. (Note to you Edward Cullen worshippers who may already be crying "copycat": That's a year BEFORE the first Twilight book was published.) It's the story of a lonely boy named Oskar... shy, quiet, bullied at school. While in his backyard dreaming of revenge, he meets a mysterious new neighbor girl named Eli, and the two, in their respective need for companionship, forge an immediate connection.

Eli, of course, is a vampire. She tries to hide this from Oskar at first -- however, we know that she is the cause of the body count that has been piling up around town. As their friendship develops, she gives him the courage to stand up to his bullies, and eventually she feels safe enough to reveal her true nature. The love that develops is as sweet as it is doomed. Oskar doesn't fully understand Eli's situation -- and neither do we, as her backstory is hinted at just enough to satisfy Oskar's 12-year-old curiosity, but never fully explained -- but he knows that she is kind to him and they help each other and make each other feel safe.

What really makes this movie work is its subtlety. It's scary without resorting to in-your-face gore or scare tactics (save for one borderline-campy moment involving a bunch of cats). The tension builds slowly and is controlled by the stellar performances if its child stars (Lina Leandersson as Eli and Kare Hedebrant as Oskar are simply fantastic), implied events, haunting cinematography, and an underlying sense of forboding and melancholy. The film is faithful to most existing vampire mythology -- they can't go into sunlight, must be invited into your home (hence the title), etc. -- but there is nothing typical about this movie. It's just a great little piece of work -- well-crafted and acted -- and I highly recommend adding it to your Netflix right away so that you can watch it as soon as it is released on DVD. (Or, y'know, download it, like I did... but I really shouldn't advocate that in this public space, heh.)

Oh, and for the record, no, I did not see nor read Twilight. How, then, can I possibly claim that Let the Right One In is the superior vampire love story? Well, let's just call it a hunch....

Thursday, January 1, 2009

...aaaand we're back!

Hello, Happy New Year, and welcome to my shiny new blog. It's been a while since I last thrilled and informed you all with my musings on movies, life, and the like... and for that, I apologize. When we last left off, way back in August, I was in Milwaukee writing about custard and cheese curds... and then, suddenly, without warning, I experienced a massive case of burn-out and couldn't bring myself to write a damn thing for the next few months. Which is a shame, because there were certainly plenty of things to write about... and I'm not just talking about movies. Let's take a brief look at what has been happening 'round these parts since I last wrote:

• After Milwaukee, I went to Chicago, where I quickly fell in love with the city, Wrigley Field, the Cubs baseball experience, and Chicago hot dogs. Unfortunately, this love-fest abruptly ended in September when the Cubs played the Mets at Shea, and I realized just how obnoxious and full of themslves most Cubs fans really are, and now I think that the entire city of Chicago can go to hell.

• I went to my mom's best friend's daughter's 21st birthday party at a bar in the East Village with the intention of hanging out for a little while and then peacing out because I thought I'd be out of my element... but ended up getting hit by the thunderbolt and meeting the girl (my mom's best friend's daughter's former college roommate, heh) who would soon become my girlfriend. We've been deliriously happy ever since, and she is actually moving into my apartment in a few weeks. (CRAZY!)

• I went to Great Adventure with this girl on our first real date, and it was arguably my single favorite day of the year. We conquered the park like never before, managing to ride every major rollercoaster (KINGDA KA is possibly even more insane the second time around), and basically fell in love during the course of the day. Awwww!

• I went to the U.S. Open for the second year in a row and got to see many big names, including Venus Williams, Andy Roddick, Lindsay Davenport, Dinara Safina... and of course, my girl, #1-ranked Ana Ivanovic, who unfortunately lost to an unranked nobody in one of the biggest upsets in tennis history. Dammit!

• In what was one the most celebratory weeks of my life, I first became the Godfather of my friend Nisha's super-adorable daughter, Anika, thus giving me free reign to sling quotes like "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer" and "Don't ask me about my business" as often as possible for the rest of my natural life... and six days later, served as the Best Man at my friend Pat's wedding, gave a kick-ass speech, and also organized a pretty solid bachelor party. These were both awesome experiences for which I was honored and humbled to have been chosen!

• I watched in disgust as the Mets experienced a second-straight September collapse and missed the playoffs. I also bade farewell to an old friend, Shea Stadium. My final game at Shea was the next-to-last game of the season, which featured a clutch three-hit shutout victory for Johan Santana that kept the season alive for one more day. Thus, even though the season ended on a down note, my last memory of Shea was one filled with excitement, hope and optimism... which is good, because I'll be going to at least 15 games at shiny, new Citi Field in '09.

• The biggest occurrence of the year was, unfortunately, also the saddest: My family was devastated by the death of my grandfather, Antonio J. Sarnicola, who passed away on December 5th at the age of 88. He hadn't been well for several months with various ailments, and even though he fought hard and had a seemingly indestructible will to live, it all just finally caught up with him. It's been rough to say the least, but the outpouring of support and condolences from family, friends, acquaintances and even strangers, spanning many decades and walks of life, was astonishing and a true testament to the breadth of my grandfather's awesomeness. I'm gonna stop writing about this for now or else I'm gonna cry, but I will say that as I write this, I am watching THE HONEYMOONERS marathon on channel 11 -- this was Grandpa's favorite show, which we quoted together for as long as I can remember. A HUNDRED AND ELEVEN!!!

• And of course, I saw a ton of movies -- my 8th straight year surpassing the 100-movie mark. We'll talk more about this in greater detail very soon, but briefly, it was an all-around odd year for movies. Whereas 2007 was one of the best movie years in recent memory with classics like THERE WILL BE BLOOD, ONCE and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, this year was decidedly less memorable, with plenty of solid, well-acted, and/or entertaining movies, plenty of clunkers, but few that I'd consider to be truly GREAT. Still, if I'd been keeping up my blog, there would've been plenty to write about, for better or worse. Perhaps I'll go back and review some of these movies in the coming weeks and make up for lost time... but no matter what, my annual Top 10 list is just about ready, so stay tuned for that!

And with that, I think we're more or less up to speed. Be sure to subscribe or check back often for lots of musings about movies and whatever random stuff strikes my fancy... because that, my friends, is what I'm here for.

(Oh, and if you have time to kill and you wanna go back and look through my previous blog, which is chock full of movie reviews and all sorts of goodies dating back to 2005, you can find it here: