Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Quick Movie Reviews, 1/27/10

Hi all, here are some quick thoughts on movies I've seen in the past few weeks. Apologies again for my brevity.

Movie Review: An Education

For the majority of this awards season, An Education has been touted as one of the top films of the year, and that Carey Mulligan’s turn as Jenny deserves the Best Actress Oscar. So, partially because of my crippling addiction to these ceremonies and partially due to my affinity for female performances, I went to see An Education with high hopes. Although I found it to be a strong film, I was not as impressed as I would have liked to be. For all its charm and British wit, the story never rises above a typical coming-of-age tale and Jenny’s growth as a character never taxes Mulligan as much as it could have. Therefore, I’m left with a charming story, an endearing performance from Mulligan, but nothing spectacular. An Education is certainly worth seeing, but nothing worth writing Oscar about.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Movie Review: Broken Embraces

Pedro Almodovar has always been the master of manipulation. He takes his audiences on a journey—frequently leading them one way and then pulling the rug out from under them. One never knows where an Almodovar script is going until it gets there. In films like Volver and Bad Education, the twists come unexpectedly and powerfully. Although Broken Embraces is a strong film, it is all too aware of its tricky behavior. More often than not, I found myself predicting character flaws and betrayals only to see them play out as I expected. Conversely, the film serves as an excellent commentary on the state of cinema and male obsession—in this movie, the obsession deals with making a movie and making love to a woman. Penelope Cruz gives one of her all-time best performances as Lena, the object of male desire. Broken Embraces is, in a way, a broken film: fragmented, flawed, but still full of power and beauty.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Movie Review: Precious (Insert Long Subtitle Here)

I have a hard time motivating people to see Precious. Admittedly, the subject matter is a bit of a downer. Who wants to go see a film about a sixteen year old girl, abused by both of her parents? That's what I thought. Yet, Precious is such an emotional and honest portrayal of this girl's life that it almost merits mandatory viewing. I left with the urge to be more compassionate and understanding because, as the movie shows, you never know what someone is hiding. Please see this movie. Mo'Nique lives up to the hype and Gabourey Sidibe is outstanding in the title role.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Movie Review: Avatar

I wish I had more time to devote to this review, but sadly I do not. Suffice to say, Avatar is the most visually stunning and imaginative movie I have seen since Star Wars. True, the storyline (man vs. nature, etc.) is rehashed from other films, but that plot only serves to tell a greater story--the story of Pandora. Pandora, the planet in the film, is perhaps the creative achievement of the decade and James Cameron has beautifully rendered this world. And although the story is perhaps more clich├ęd, that doesn't stop it from being constantly gripping. Sure, you can guess how the movie turns out, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy the ride. Filmmaking this beautiful and ambitious deserves praise, despite its flaws.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Movie Review: The Hurt Locker

Yes, this movie came out months ago, but I finally saw it to prepare myself for Oscar season. Hence the delayed review. The Hurt Locker is an intense, suspenseful, and honest look at the war in Iraq. Director Kathryn Bigelow is a master at ramping up the tension and creates some of the most ingenious scenes I've seen all year. Furthermore, this is one of the most thought-provoking films I've seen this year. Definitely worth the praise that it has been receiving.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Movie Review: Up in the Air

Don't believe the previews. Without spoiling anything, I went into this film with certain expectations and was completely surprised with how the movie defied my preconceptions. In a good way. George Clooney has never been more roguishly charming, and Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga shine as the film's supporting characters. More than anything, the film serves as a poignant and relevant commentary on the state of our society. Plus, it's a fascinating character study. Worth seeing, but only go with the expectation to be moved.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Top 10 TV of 2009

It was a great year for TV, especially sitcoms. Here's my list of the ten best:

10. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
This show is so wrong, but oh so right. These characters have no moral compass, yet you still seem to care about them. Plus, it gave us wine-in-a-can.

9. Glee
For those who know me, this may seem like a low placement for Glee. But, be honest. The show is wildly inconsistent. The show recycles more than Al Gore, I frequently suspend my disbelief, and not all of the musical numbers work. That being said, when Glee succeeds it soars. Some of the best moments on TV are on Glee. Hopefully it'll keep working on creating some of the best episodes. It's heading in the right direction.

8. True Blood
Sure, it'll never top Buffy as my favorite vampire-related show, but it's still damn good. It seems to only get better as it goes along, so who knows how great season three will be.

7. Top Chef
Interestingly, of all of the reality shows I watch, this is the one with the least amount of audience participation. With shows like Project Runway, American Idol, and So You Think You Can Dance, I can watch and critique what I see and hear. With Top Chef, I can't taste the food. No participation. Yet, somehow it still emerges as the best reality show of the year.

6. Parks and Recreation
This fall's most improved show. It got off to a rough start last season, especially with all of the comparisons to The Office. Now, the comedy has its own voice and Amy Poehler has successfully distanced herself from Steve Carell. Definitely worth watching.

5. 30 Rock
Sure, Parks and Recreation had a great year and sure, in my frustration with 30 Rock I would make angry statements like, "PARKS AND REC IS MY FAVORITE NBC THURSDAY SHOW." But it's not. Even in an off season, 30 Rock is still the best part of NBC Thursdays. The two most recent episodes have indicated a strong upturn for the season. Plus, since this is a 2009 list, the end of season 3 (and the unfortunate beginning of Parks' first season) also factor into my ranking.

4. Modern Family
Modern Family is a great example of a traditional sitcom--the family sitcom--being done very well. It's well scripted, well acted, and incredibly enjoyable. It says a lot that my favorite character changes each week.

3. Dollhouse
Joss Whedon. Please stop writing shows that suck me in and then get canceled. Break my heart. Sure, Dollhouse didn't get off to the strongest start. You can blame Fox for that. But now that's had the chance to develop, it's one of the most intriguing shows on tv. It manages to say a lot about human nature and identity without beating the audience over the head.


2. Better Off Ted
Perhaps it's because 30 Rock isn't on its A-game, but this is the most cleverly scripted comedy on tv. The jokes come quickly and usually succeed. Portia de Rossi is outstanding as Veronica, the tightly wound upper-manager. However, that sells the rest of the cast short. They're all great. It's gonna get canceled. Tear.

1. Lost
Although many of my favorite shows were comedies, I don't think anything this year has topped Lost's fifth season. It's as rich, complex, and emotionally satisfying as it has ever been. Special props to Josh Holloway and Elizabeth Mitchell, who were this season's MVPs. Don't even get me started on the finale cliffhanger...

Now that this list is out of the way, I'd like to mention that there are some shows that I don't watch that are critically acclaimed. To get a sense of what could be missing, here are the five shows I want to try and watch in 2010.

5. Big Love
4. Dexter
3. Mad Men
2. Fringe
1. The Good Wife

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Two More Movie Lists

Just for fun, here are two other lists. Since my Top 10 list is in no way comprehensive, I've decided to list five movies I'm resolved to see in the coming year

5. A Mighty Wind
4. The Hurt Locker
3. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
2. Children of Men
1. Far From Heaven

And, since I had a hard time with my Top 1o list. Here are five more movies, in no particular order (well unless you count alphabetical as a particular order) that I think are worth seeing.

Bad Education
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Million Dollar Baby
Once
Spirited Away

Finally, I would like to note that, although it didn't appear on any of these lists, Avatar officially wins my award for "Most Viewed in Theaters." Perhaps it's too soon to tell, but maybe Avatar will make its way onto one of these lists someday. Look for it on my 2009 list!

Top 10 Movies of the Decade

So, I'm still catching up on Oscar season. Ergo, my Top 10 Films of 2009 will have to wait a month or so. But I can safely say that the following ten films are my favorites from this decade. Again, there won't be lengthy analysis. Two apps down, two to go!

10. Mean Girls
I had to pick one teen/romantic(ish) comedy. Go ahead, name a better one from the past ten years.

9. The Dark Knight
Superheros were a big thing this decade. This movie was the biggest and best of them all. Pure movie entertainment at its finest.

8. Chicago
There were a lot of musicals released this decade, but only two had a chance to make my list: Moulin Rouge and Chicago. Although I love Rouge for its whimsy and romanticism, the topicality of Chicago is brilliant. Today's fame whoring culture is a direct reflection of the world created in Chicago.

7. Wall-E
A lot of lists disagree on the best Pixar movie of the decade. I think that speaks to the quality of the studio. I choose Wall-E. Not only does it have the heart of other Pixar movies, but its topical message of environmentalism and the poetic opening 30 minutes give this movie the edge.

6. Kill Bill

Yes, I'm listing them as one movie. I feel like I can do this because that was Tarantino's original intention. Wild, fun, horrifying, violent, tender, and everything in between. Objectively, I would give this spot to Vol. 2. But Vol. 1 is much more fun, so I'll keep them paired together.

5. There Will Be Blood
Although I didn't appreciate it initially, time has been very good to this film. Definitely the most interesting character study I've seen. Plus, it would win my own personal award for best score and best performance of this decade.

4. Brokeback Mountain
The heartbreaking love story of the decade. Incredible cinematography, a wonderful script, and excellent performances. I'm still pissed Michelle Williams didn't win an Oscar.

3. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Although the ending is drawn out, this is the perfect conclusion to an incredible movie trilogy. Epic in every sense of the word.

2. Requiem for a Dream
You only need to see this movie once, but it haunts you forever.

1. Pan's Labyrinth
A dark, fantasy piece set inside a child's imagination. Or is it? Visually stunning, brilliantly acted, and incredibly powerful. On a side note, it's a terrible date movie. Trust me.