Three years ago, I kept a list of every movie I saw in the cinema. I rated it out of ten, and wrote up a little capsule review. I figured that I’d give that another try in 2009. I’m also going to be smart and copy these into a Google Docs spreadsheet, so that I can sort them by viewing date or rating at the end of the year.
Slumdog Millionaire – 9/10 – January 1 – I’ve already written about this film. To summarize, it’s Danny Boyle’s best film, full of charm and invention and unflinching views of modern India. The only wrong note for me was some really hokey dialogue in the film’s third act.
LÃƒÂ¥t Den RÃƒÂ¤tte Komma In (Let the Right One In) – 7/10 – January 2 – A Swedish movie about a boy who falls in love with a vampire girl. It’s all quiet snowy nights, longing looks and gorging on man flesh. It’s certainly the most unusual vampire movie I’ve seen in a while, and its offbeat Swedishness made it quite watchable. On the downside, the plot was utterly predictable, and I’m pretty sure I missed a ton of nuance, thanks to my lack of Swedish.
City of Ember – 5.5/10 – January 3 – I watched this on the plane coming home form New York. It feels like there’s a good kid’s movie hiding somewhere in this movie, but that this one was in such a rush that we miss it. The movie has a decent premise that reminds you a little of The Matrix–a city lives a dark, desperate existence, unaware of the world of truth and possibilities just out of their reach. There are good actors here too–Bill Murray, Tim Robbins and Saoirse Ronan. The latter was simply terrific in Atonement (and, I happen to know from my time in Dublin, her name means ‘freedom’). A lot of potential seemed to be wasted here–the film felt needlessly hurried.
Defiance – 6.5/10 – One of Daniel Craig’s better performances–he’s at his seething, snarling best. This is the second film in which he plays a vengeful Jew (the other, Munich, is superior). Defiance offers everything you’d expect, and there are very few surprises. I was struck by how little of the Jewish religion the film depicted. I’d expected (and hoped, in truth) to see more.
Gran Torino – 6/10 – Clint Eastwood has become a great director in his later years, so this film is very watchable. Eastwood (also seething and snarling) is an effective actor in a familiar role–elder guide and guardian to wayward youths. Without giving too much away, the actor/director indulges in some serious self-deification by the end of the movie. I was left wondering if he was actually having us on a bit. The other glaring issue is that most of the supporting cast has no acting experience, and it shows. They’re inexperience onscreen was, for me, a major distraction.
Taken – 5.5/10 – Liam Neeson stars as a vengeful father whose daughter is abducted in this low-rent Euro-thriller. It’s an entirely forgettable film, with the exception of one terrific, gripping moment during the abduction scene. Neeson is apparently impervious to harm, so there’s rarely any question about the outcome.
He’s Just Not That Into You – 5/10 – A movie packed with star power, but ultimately episodic and soulless. It’s a kinder, gentler Closer or Friends With Money. Jennifer Connelly stands out with the best performance, but the many plot lines make the film feel hurried and hollow (I’d have cut Drew Barrymore and her storyline). Also, the film seems to entirely disprove the premise of the book. I want to write a blog post about movies based on non-fiction essay-style books, such as this one and Fast Food Nation. I think I’ll wait until I see a third one, though.
Frost/Nixon – 8/10 – He’s not subtle, but Ron Howard is a gifted storyteller. Thanks to Howard’s skill and the leads’ outstanding work, I was never bored. It’s also an incredibly watchable historical drama, and a great introduction to the details of the Watergate scandal. Like many filmed plays, it’s a lovely small success.
One Week – 6.5/10 – A love letter to our nation (at least the half between Toronto and Vancouver). It’s as much a travelogue as a film, following a stricken Joshua Jackson as he spontaneously rides his motorcycle out west. The script is wonderful in places, and quite clunky in others. I liked the lead performances (I could watch Liane Balaban read census results all day), and the film has a kick-ass soundtrack. If you’re looking for a little feel-good Canadiana, you could do worse.
I Love You, Man – 6.5/10 – Who doesn’t love a bromantic comedy? An ordinary movie with pretty ordinary themes. The cast is watchable (Jason Segel and J.K. Simmons in particular), and there are plenty of amusing moments. Still, it’s nothing to write home about.
Twilight – 5/10 – The broodiest movie in Sombre Town. Man, those teenage vampires are moody bastards. After Kirsten Stewart, the cast is unilaterally wooden. I’d imagine that, much like the Harry Potter series, subsequent films will get better as the cast matures and the burden of exposition lightens. I watched this on the plane, so that may have negatively impacted my impressions (though I doubt it). I’m not a fan of Catherine Hardwicke’s work generally, so that doesn’t help.
Duplicity – 7.5/10 – I really liked Clive Owen and Julia Roberts in Closer, but I found their scenes together in this film rather lifeless. They lacked the sizzle of, say, Clooney and Lopez in Out of Sight or Pitt and Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Perhaps it’s because they felt repetitive, and rarely advanced the plot. I did really dig the directorial work of Tony Gilroy, it felt stylized without being intrusive. In particular, the film’s opening scene (after the one the studio obviously required he add) is beautifully shot. The film’s plot is ridiculously byzantine, so don’t even try to follow it–just sit back and enjoy the good-if-not-spectacular ride.
State of Play – 8/10 – Another byzantine screenplay by Tony Gilroy, who also wrote Duplicity (and, it turns out, The Devil’s Advocate). Russell Crowe plays yet another shaggy, heroic loner, this time with Rachel McAdams as his wing-man. All poor Helen Mirren does is spout British curses as the weary publisher worried about bankruptcy, but she’s as watchable as the rest of the cast. Journalists have gotten a lot of bad press lately, so I didn’t even mind this overly rosy depiction of their work.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine – 3/10 – Hugh Jackman works out! That’s really the best takeaway from this maudlin, plodding movie on Wolverine’s creation myth. Why are so many superhero movies so utterly without fun? I guess a lot of comic books are the same way: way too serious for their own good. From the score to the cinematography, everything in this film trades on a silly, tired stereotype.
Star Trek – 8/10 – I reviewed it here, so I’ll just say that it’s a rip-roaring space opera in the style of Star Wars and Serenity (this video highlights how much the plot owes to George Lucas and Joseph Conrad). It’s the first good, fun blockbuster of the summer, and rarely has a dull moment or an off-key scene.
Angels & Demons – 5/10 – As mediocre and muddy as The Da Vinci Code, with an equally implausible plot. By ‘implausible’ I don’t mean that it couldn’t happen. I mean that there isn’t much rational causality between plot points, and the thing has more holes than the IIS in a meteor storm. The plot, for example, has a ticking time bomb plot. Yet the bomb itself is this obscure, bizarre device which depends on a draining battery for its timer. I felt particularly sorry for Ayelet Zurer. She’s the Euro-arm-candy replacement for Audrey Tatou. She’s lovely, but utterly pointless.
The Hangover – 6/10 – A goofball comedy that’s part “Dude, Where’s Your Car?” and part “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle”. It’s reasonably funny, and Zach Galifianakis feels kind of original, but that’s all it really is. Don’t miss Galifianakis’s utterly weird web videos Between Two Ferns.
Terminator: Salvation – 6/10 – Worse than the first two movies, but better than the third. It’s essentially a war movie, with Christian Bale playing his usual grim law-bringer role. The special effects are impressive, and there’s always something to look at. However, it lacks a lot of the depth of the first two films. The themes are much simpler, and there’s little of the time travel fun that made the earlier movies so enjoyable. Also, this movie included two female characters, both of whom had thankless roles as plot or expositional devices.
Up – 9/10 – Pixar keeps hitting it out of the park. They’re a factory churning out great animated films. I didn’t enjoy “Up” quite as much as “Ratatouille”, which was exquisite, but it’s still a superb film. Among other things, this film takes on a very unlikely topic of “how do we cope with life after the death of a loved one?”.
Transformers 2 – 2.5/10 – It was everything I expected it to be: 57% killer robots, 32% huge explosions and 11% lingering shots of Megan Fox. This film may feature the most incomprehensible plot (a term I use charitably) I’ve ever seen. The only redeemable feature is Shia LaBeouf, who I believe to be destined for a long, Tom Hanksian career. On top of all the usual complaints, I was struck by how difficult it is to tell the killer robots apart. I was a casual fan of the TV show as a kid, but after Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, they all looked the same.
Year One – 4/10 – I expected a little more from Harold Ramis, but this is a banal movie trading on a bunch of Old Testament stories. Jack Black and Michael Cera are watchable, but they essentially shuffle from one unoriginal set piece to another. Watching the movie, I felt like I’d seen all the schtick before.
Easy Virtue – 5.5/10 – A glowing example, I think, of a poorly-directed film. There’s the nut of a lovely period film here, but the script (co-written by director Stephan Elliot) really needed some more help and a different director at the helm. Jessica Biel is incredibly easy on the eyes, but she’s only an average actor, and wasn’t quite right for the lead role. Neither was Ben Barnes who played opposite her. Kristin Scott Thomas and Colin Firth were, of course, superb, but the movie was poorly paced, laughably predictable and ultimately disappointing.
Public Enemies – 7/10 – I was recently listening to a Slate Cultural Gabfest in which they discussed this movie. Slate film critic Dana Stevens pointed out that the various component parts of the film were enjoyable, but it was lacking the ‘mortar of goodness’ that would make it a better film. I’d definitely agree–I found it enjoyable but a little soulless. I really don’t care for Michael Mann’s murky, naturalistic visual and audio aesthetic. I find it distracting, particularly in a period piece.