The Top Five for 2009
Welcome to my tenth annual Top Five email! On the one hand, it seems incredible that I’ve been doing this for ten whole years - - on the other hand, I don’t see how I ever lived without it.
Julie and Julia
A Serious Man
Honorable Mention: Valentino: The Last Emperor, The September Issue, Precious, The Hurt Locker
*Julie and Julia*
I know that the Julie half of this movie (the contemporary half) wasn’t as satisfying as the Julia half (the Julia Child half), but this movie sure did work its magic on me. Meryl - - can she do any wrong? She really is limitless in her abilities, and has so much CHARM. Her performance as Julia Child was spot on - - not an impersonation and certainly not a caricature, but she really gave a performance and nailed who Julia was. Or at least who I think she was.
What a great year! A new Tarantino and a new Almodóvar. An embarrassment of riches, indeed. In my 2007 Top Five email I said that there are four directors whose movies almost have a guaranteed spot on my Top Five: Quentin Tarantino, Pedro Almodóvar, Sofia Coppola, and Mary Harron. The first two had movies out this year, and Coppola has a movie out next year (no news on Harron).
This movie totally turned my crank! It was fun, it was gruesome, it was dramatic, it was clever, it was everything you’d want in a World War II action picture. Brad Pitt dug his heels deeper into his personal stardom, and so many incredible supporting performances. A brilliant movie.
This was a bit of a trifle, but it thrilled me so much that I had to put it on my Top Five. It was so totally awesome! It had me smiling, cheering, and sitting on the edge of my seat the whole time. It made me feel good without being a Feel Good movie, or, God forbid, a Triumph of the Human Spirit movie (my most detested genre). The roller derby scenes are choice, and the names of these grrls are hilarious! My favorite is Eva Destruction, and I could list them all, but I don’t want to spoil the fun.
*Whip It* isn’t particularly original. I read a funny bit in an online review by a woman named Movie Mom: “Do you think Bliss is about to embark on a journey for more fraught with peril than the roller rink? Well, then, you’ve seen a movie before.” Yes, the plot has few surprises, but you could say the same about *Titanic*. And I’m not just talking about the iceberg. *Titanic* succeeded not because it was original, but because it was an original morphing of three genres: the epic, the action movie, and the romance. *Whip It* is a sports movie, a coming-of-age movie, and (my very favorite genre) a female-driven action movie.
Ellen Page is only 22, and clearly at the start of a remarkable career. Do a triple feature of *Hard Candy* (the little-seen experiment in teenage sadism she did with Patrick Wilson), *Juno*, and *Whip It*, and you’ll see that she knows exactly what she’s doing. Marcia Gay Harden plays her long-suffering mother, and though this isn’t a very rewarding role, she plays it with real grace. She serves the movie. And why do I get all misty when I think about Drew Barrymore? She’s steadily been making herself more of a force to be recognized - - as a producer with the *Charlie’s Angels* movies and the dark and marvelous *Donnie Darko*, as an actor with *Confessions of a Dangerous Mind* and especially the HBO *Grey Gardens*, and now with this, her debut as a director. I think I get misty on the subject of Drew because she is one of the greatest American types: she’s a Survivor. This is the girl who was snorting coke with her mom when she was 11, and wow, what a long way she has come. She’s only 34. I can’t wait to see her next movie.
*A Serious Man*
Can we say that the Coen Brothers have a good shot at making my Top Five? This movie reminded me of *The Big Lebowski*: both were quirky little films, and both came after an Oscar-laden major film (*Fargo* and *No Country For Old Men*). Between the two of us, my boyfriend Richard and I were the target audience for this movie: it’s about Jews (him) in the Midwest (me). It’s a marvel. Everything about it (writing, directing, acting, design) is masterfully and effortlessly done. I was so thrilled to see that it got a nomination for Best Picture.
And this movie produced one of the most exciting movie-going moments EVER of my whole life! There’s not a single star in this movie. They all seem to be theatre actors. The opening credits are a list of names you haven’t seen before. You might recognize some of the faces, but not hardly any of the names. Well, the movie takes place in the 60s and is about an earnest but befuddled Jewish man living in Minnesota. He has a thing for the sexy divorcee next door, Mrs. Samsky. The actress playing her totally nailed it: she was incredibly sexy, low-key, and somewhat run down. Like what Claudine Longet might have looked in the 80s. So the ending credits started rolling and I was interested to see who had played her. “Oh my God, it’s AMY LANDECKER!” This was a woman I knew in college, we were in two plays together, she was a kick. And let me tell you, she’s much sexier in her 40s than she ever was in her 20s. I’m going to keep an eye on her, I hope she has other big gigs headed her way!
This movie, like *Inglourious Basterds*, isn’t as good as Almodóvar’s best work, but still, it’s damn fine. A lot of the movie has to do with making a movie, so it doesn’t pack the emotional punch of *Volver* or *All About My Mother*, or other movies that have a more direct narrative. It was very thought-provoking, and not in the way that most thought-provoking movies are - - other thought-provoking movies have you thinking about your own life (“What would I have done in that situation?”) or about larger political issues (“I really need to join The Sierra Club”), but this movie had you thinking about the movie itself. It was engaging on an intellectual level. And yet so ravishing to look at! Speaking of ravishing, is Penelope Cruz the most beautiful woman in the world? There was a moment in this movie, where the main character meets her for the first time, and she turns quickly and smiles at him - - just the memory of it takes my breath away.
* * *
I have no less than four Honorable Mentions this year!
*Valentino: The Last Emperor*
A delightful and ardent documentary about Valentino, the fashion designer. Two truly hilarious moments, and such a tone of warmth from the movie. And I don’t even really like most of his dresses.
*The September Issue*
Another fashion documentary, this one about Anna Wintour and her Vogue staff putting together the September 2007 issue. You would think that Wintour would be the star of the movie, and I suppose she is - - but Grace Coddington totally runs away with the flick. She’s a Welsh gal who started her career as a model and later became an editor. She’s sort of Wintour’s right-hand-gal, and the two of them have a marvelously combative relationship.
The next two movies are two of the best movies of the year, and I feel like I need to say that they didn’t make my Top Five just because they weren’t necessarily enjoyable. My Top Five is for the movies I love, which are not necessarily the best movies of the year.
A good movie should provoke some kind of reaction in you - - it should make you laugh, or smile, or cry, or frighten you, or whatever. This movie made me tense. I don’t remember any other movie that had me as tense as this movie did. It’s an incredible film, masterfully written, directed, and acted. Mo’Nique is entirely deserving of the Oscar that I’m sure she’ll get. Her character (Precious’s mother) is a monster, but she had me wondering, “What is wrong with this woman? Why is she so disturbed?” Gabourey Sibide gives such a perfectly articulated performance as Precious, she really has me wanting to see her in more. And Mariah Carey is wonderful! One other thing before I sign off: never has a movie given me such a sense of smell. I could smell their apartment, and it literally made me nauseous - - which added to the impact of the movie. Not at all a fun movie, but so good.
*The Hurt Locker*
Another hard to watch movie, but incredibly well done. It’s an action movie without a drop of Fun in it. My best friend Karen and I had a little talk after the movie, and we each saw a reason why it was so effective: I saw that the narrative is extremely direct. No flashbacks, no subplots, just one thing after another. That’s unusual for a movie. And Karen saw that the emotionalism of the movie was kept at a slight chill, which of course gives it more impact. No soupy score, no actory tears, and please, no jump-cut editing to create tension.
* * *
The Other Categories
Best Cameo, Female
Margot Kidder, *Halloween 2*
Best Cameo, Male
Howard Hesseman, *Halloween 2*
*Halloween 2* was good, but not great. The last one was great. Not brilliant, but great. The last one had such an original structure: when Michael came in the room, the other person in the room was killed within 30 seconds. No teasing, no preamble, just THOK, yer dead. Then at the end, when we got to the Destination Kill (a term I made up), there was lots of chasing and missing and screaming, it was drawn out for 5 or 10 mins, and it was GRUELING. Great filmmaking. This one was a typical horror movie - - lots of teasing and chasing and drawing things out from get-go. Satisfying, but not original.
Two marvelous cameos: Howard Hesseman as the guy who runs the coffee shop, and Margot Kidder as the girl's shrink. Ironic casting, since she herself is a LOONY! Wasn't there some story about her living in a doghouse?
Remembrance of Movies Past
The past few years I’ve gotten together with a group of friends on the Jersey Shore for a week, it’s always one of the best weeks of the year. We share movies with each other, and I’ve become very thoughtful about what movies I want to bring. This year I hit the jackpot: I brought *Star Wars*. A few of us hadn’t seen it since it came out, and ya know, It holds up really well. Parts of it are laughable, which is to be expected. We had particular fun hearing Carrie Fisher’s English accent go in and out over the course of the movie. And the special effects are rather lovely, because they’re done with real OBJECTS instead of on a computer.
Movie That Needs To Be Made
Christopher Guest and his crew - - I call them The Guffman Group, in honor of their first ensemble feature, *Waiting for Guffman*. Their next movie was *Best in Show*, which was super, then *A Mighty Wind*, which was also super, and then *For Your Consideration*, which was a stinker. I have a great idea for their next movie: the movie would be about the cast of a cult movie or TV show from the 70s getting together to do the special features for the DVD release. I think it would be a riot.
A movie about Liberace, directed by Steven Soderbergh, with Michael Douglas as Liberace as Matt Damon as his bodyguard/chauffeur/boyfriend.
*Sex and the City 2* - - of course! In the last movie we had Jennifer Hudson as The Ethnic Girl, this time we have Penelope Cruz. And a cameo by LIZA!
*Somewhere*, directed by Sofia Coppola, starring Benicio Del Toro and Stephen Dorff.
*The Green Hornet*, directed by Michel Gondry (*Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind*), written by Evan Goldberg (*Superbad*) and cutie patootie Seth Rogen (star of *Knocked Up*), starring Rogen, Cameron Diaz, and man of the hour Christoph Waltz.
Two miniseries: *Atlas Shrugged*. There’s been talk about this for decades - - I’ve always said that it was the greatest movie Hitchcock never made. I read in the NY Times a few years ago that Angelina Jolie had been signed to play Dagny Taggart, and she would be marvelous. But now I see that Charlize Theron is doing it - - she’ll be good, too! And Todd Haynes (*Far From Heaven*, *I’m Not There*) is doing a miniseries of *Mildred Pierce* with Kate Winslet. That will rock.
Follow-up on previous Eagerly Anticipateds: *Coco Avant Chanel* was OK, but not really very good. It had all the makings of a good movie but it just missed the mark. Rather dull. You’ll read about *Nine* below. And I passed on *Happy Tears* since it got such dreadful reviews. I’ll catch it on DVD.
Most Deserving of a Comeback
Where is Ashley Judd? Marvelous actor, and should be doing more work. The last big movie she did (not counting the upcoming *Tooth Fairy*) was that dud *De-Lovely*. Someone give this chick a good script! She could tear it apart! I just looked her up on imdb to see if maybe she’s at a tricky age, and she’ll be 42 this year. Come on, she should be in her prime.
Viva La Diva
Diane Kruger in *Inglourious Basterds*. I never saw *Troy* or *National Treasure*, so I wasn’t familiar with her work, but holy crap, she was turning it OUT in *Inglourious Basterds*! She plays a Dietrich-esque German film actress working undercover for the Resistance. Her performance is full of glamour and grit, a combination that’s particularly close to my heart. Can’t wait to see her in more.
*Nine* was such a pile of crap. It’s based on the musical *Nine*, which I really like, which is in turn based on Fellini’s *8 ½*, which is one of my favorite movies ever. *Nine* the movie was directed by Rob Marshall - - I loved *Chicago* (his first movie) and didn’t like *Memoirs of a Geisha* (his second), and had my hopes up for this. And with that cast - - Daniel Day Lewis, Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Kate Hudson, and Fergie - - how could he go wrong? The movie is a big muddle. The odd thing is that every single actor does a great job with the moments that they have. But when Kate Hudson is the best thing in the movie, and all those other incredible people are in it, you know there’s something seriously wrong.
And *Avatar*! I can’t express how much I hated that movie! I saw it in 3D on an Imax screen, so I was seeing it in its fullest form. And I have to say that it was beautiful to look at. Those palm fronds jumping out at me, they made me oo and ah. But it was so profoundly stupid. I felt like I was losing my intelligence as I was watching it, like if the movie had gone on for another half hour I wouldn’t be able to remember the alphabet. It’s really very discouraging that it’s now the top-grossing movie of all time. And I loved *Titanic*, I saw it four times on the big screen - - but *Titanic* had more respect for the audience in the sense that it had a story worth seeing.
It’s a shame that it’s being compared to *The Hurt Locker* so often, because there really is no comparison. *Avatar* treats the audience like they’re a bunch of three-year olds and *The Hurt Locker* treats us like we’re adults with actual brains. Of course a big part of the appeal of this game is that the directors of these two movies were once married!
One more thing I’m going to say about *Avatar* before I move on, and I’ll warn you that this is a bit of a spoiler, so jump to the next section if you haven’t seen it yet (and still want to, after my bilious pan): the movie is ideologically corrupt when the white guy as the blue guy is saving the blue people from the evil white people. So we, as the audience, get to feel like we’re united with the blue people, since the white-guy-as-blue-guy is leading the crusade, and we can feel superior to the evil white people. There’s some disturbing logic going on there.
*District 9*. Not really a horror movie, but it acted like a horror movie, if you get what I mean. It got under my skin and creeped me out big time. Incredible movie, I was so thrilled that it got a Best Picture nomination.
How Could I Have Missed It?
Sometime in 2008 my brother Howard started telling me about this Swedish vampire movie called *Let the Right One In*, urging me to see it. It was playing here in town, and how could I have not run to see a Swedish vampire movie? Like Bergman directing an episode of *Buffy*. Well, I have one word to say in explanation, and the word is *Che*. Howard had told me over and over that I needed to see it, I saw it, I HATED it beyond words, was bored into another dimension, and he said, “I never said it was good, I just said you needed to see it!” Grumble grumble. But I did get *Let the Right One In* on DVD and it blew me away. The violence is minimal, so when it happens it packs a big scary punch. And as Howard put it so perfectly, it’s not a vampire movie - - it’s a coming-of-age movie in which one of the characters happens to be a vampire. You MUST see this film.
New Category: Break-Out Performances, Male and Female
Every year has a few startling break-out performances, where someone sits up and makes you wonder, where has this actor been all my life?
Break-Out Performance, Female
Gabourey Sibide in *Precious*. Such a marvelous, understated, and yet strong and dynamic performance. This girl is the real thing, and I can’t wait to see her in more.
Break-Out Performance, Male
Christoph Waltz in *Inglourious Basterds*. What a monumental performance. Look at his listing in imdb - - about 80% German TV with a few mostly German films thrown in. This guy, from my perspective, really came out of nowhere, and he’s clearly a force to be reckoned with. His next movie, *The Green Hornet*, looks like it ought to be fun. I’d like to see him in a real drama.