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The Top Ten Movies of 2009 (and the decade)

I thought this year was a really good year for movies, despite the garbage that was listed on this site yesterday.  Before getting to the top 10 movies of 2009 (and the decade) here are some special (mostly positive) awards for movies in 2009.

SPECIAL AWARDS

Most Surprisingly Good Movies (in no particular order)

1) This Is it– Thoroughly enjoyed the concert (rehearsal) documentary about Michael Jackson.  Great music and a worthy tribute to the fallen icon and aficionado of play dates with tweens.

2) Taken– The Liam Neeson film is a perfect example of how a movie that has no ambition, only one star and a simple plot can still deliver if it just tries to do the simple things well.  And the scene where he shoots his friend’s wife to show that he means business was one of the best this year.

3) Crank 2– Either the most ingenious quasi-spoof of action movies ever or just a ridiculously entertaining goof.  Either way I had no idea that I would enjoy this movie as much as I did.  It now validates Jason Statham’s work visa to me, though his films have only grossed slightly more than my YouTube videos.

4) Drag Me To Hell – This Movie almost made the top 10.  Funny, creepy, gross, and all on purpose.  A good, but not great movie.  However, there were very few movies I enjoyed more than this one.

Take My Wife, please.
Take My Wife, please.

The Any Given Sunday Award For Most Disappointing Movie Based On Awesome Trailer

Watchmen.  Blue genitals and a waste of time is all I remember from this movie.  The trailer, however, was perfection.

The Two Towers Award For Great Trailer That Delivered Great Movie

Nothing.  But The Men Who Stare At Goats was my favorite trailer of the year and the movie was solid, but still did not meet expectations. 

2009 Honorable Mention (A/K/A The Unpaid Guestspot of Movie Awards)

Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Two Lovers, Food Inc., State of Play

2009 Top Ten Movies

10) (tie) Sugar, The Messenger

Sugar is the story of a Dominican immigrant seeking to become a baseball star.  Came out early this year to rave reviews, but has long been forgotten.  Anyone who is a baseball fan or interested in the immigrant experience should see this.  Or just hang out by Yankee Stadium.

The Messenger is the best war movie this year.  It is about two soldiers who report to next of kin of the loss of loved ones.  The things people do for work in this economy.  Really strong and simple movie.

9)Capitalism: A Love Story. 

This movie is a reminder that America used to be a place where a middle class person could thrive (middle class meaning one blue collar job with could salary and benefits, not $5 million dollars or less like John McCain seemed to think).  Now thanks to a selfish, never too rich mindset the wealth is more concentrated at the top than ever before.  Sadly for working Americans and Michael Moore, America is one big casino and the house always wins.

Michael Moore was right America - these guys are stealing your pensions, your country and your daughters - actually if you live In NYC you know that the daughters are mostly willing participants in the, "profiting off the misery of most Americans is such a turn on" industry, like less forthright versions of Ashley Dupre
Michael Moore was right America - these guys are stealing your pensions, your country and your daughters - actually if you live In NYC you know that the daughters are mostly willing participants in the, "profiting off the misery of most Americans is such a turn on" industry, like less forthright versions of Ashley Dupre

8) 500 Days of Summer

The fact that Music and Lyrics was my favorite romantic comedy before this movie came out (yes I have seen Love Actually, but have not seen When Harry Met Sally yet – gasp!) may diminish my credibility in this genre,  but I am probably not the only person telling you how great this movie is.  Funny, heartfelt and thoroughly enjoyable.  And the lesson of the film couldn’t be more optimistic: if you find yourself in a relationship with a cu-t, don’t worry because eventually you may go out with Derek Jeter’s girlfriend.

7) Bruno

The selection most likely to anger people.  First, yes I thought it was funnier than Borat.  Second, the best opening of any film since The Dark Knight.  As the techno music began blaring and the words “black guys” and “taint” flashed on screen I could not stop laughing.  For many the film was too crude.  Other complaints I heard was that Borat had a point in showing some ignorance in funny ways, whereas this just went for cheap laughs.  Probably true.  Perhaps it was easier to embrace a character who was exposing racism and sexism and, most flagrantly, anti-Semitism in Borat and feel good about laughing than in Bruno, where you are just laughing at the absurdity of a gay character’s libido on steroids.  My advice to the self-righteous – take the champagne bottle out of your ass and watch Bruno pour some champagne out of his boyfriend’s.

"Throw your shoulders back, this is a fashion show, not a slave auction!"
"Throw your shoulders back, this is a fashion show, not a slave auction!"

6) Precious Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire

Fat, pregnant by her father (again – fool me once shame on him, fool you twice… shame on him again in this rare exception to that saying), illiterate and Mariah Carey as your social worker.  And I thought being a comedian was tough.  This movie is a powerhouse and Mo’nique’s performance is one of my three favorite this year (Christopher Waltz in Inglorious Basterds and Paul Rudd in I Love You Man being the other two).  And I would like this movie to win Best Adapted Screenplay so that Sapphire, who probably negotiated the self-indulgent title has to hear the dumbest phrase ever uttered at an awards show: The winner is Precious Based on The Novel Push By Sapphire Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire.

You look like my career.
You look like my career.

5) Up

The opening to this movie may be the most touching sequence in movies this year.  It is just another great movie from Pixar.  Normally stories of old men hanging out with young fat kids is awkward (think Herbert the Pervert and Chris Griffin from Family Guy as one such pairing), but this movie is nothing of the sort.  Plus it has a talking golden retriever, which will always get support from me.

This is not the plot of Up, but I bet even Pixar could make it work.  MMMMMMMMMM
This is not the plot of Up, but I bet even Pixar could make it work. MMMMMMMMMM

4) Inglorious Basterds

Christopher Waltz was amazing, but surprising to me was how good Brad Pitt was.  A funny, intense, enjoyable movie about Nazis and the Jews that hunted them.  It was also a welcome relief from the usual parade of mediocre, maudlin films about the Holocaust that are raised to critical praise because of the subject matter.  After Schindler’s List I think Hollywood could have just waited for this one .  After all slavery has had what, Roots and Amistad?  I think 6 Holocaust movies come out last year alone.  But I digress.  Basterds is awesome (and my favorite Tarantino film – that is what I think, but I am also writing it because I want to anger those who worship at the altar of Pulp Fiction).

3) Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs

Even more than Bruno, this choice is likely to bring on some WTFs.  I did not even want to see this movie, but then reviews kept talking about how much fun it was.  The biggest shock of the year for me was this movie.  It was hysterical from start to finish.  It was like the humor of Family Guy, but not as crude or easy.  I flirted with putting this #1, but the last two choices, upon reflection, were the two best movies of the year.

2) Up In The Air

 I am tired of the “this is the movie that defines our times” type quotes, but besides that this is a great movie.  George Clooney’s best (unlike his win for Syriana, no complaints if he gets Best Actor) and a movie that is so good that I cannot exactly explain why it is so good.  Perhaps it is because it is a movie that defines our times… oops.

1) District 9

The most original movie I have seen in a long time.  The biggest crime of the Oscars could be if Avatar gets a best picture nomination and this does not (if they only feel like honoring once sci-fi-ish film).  Since it is #1 I don’t think it needs any explaining, other than the fact that it comes out on DVD today so you should rent it if you have not seen it.

After thinking again about the 4,558 movies I saw this year, District 9 is #1.
After thinking again about the 4,558 movies I saw this year, District 9 is #1.

TOP TEN MOVIES OF THE DECADE

10) School Of Rock – Along with The Wrestler, no movie has matched an actor better this decade than Jack Black and SOR.

9) The Departed – I hate the Boston accent, but that was the only thing I hated about this movie.

8) Eastern Promises– Russian mob in London and the best fight scene in any movie ever.  Sorry Bourne Ultimatum.  You were second.

7) Million Dollar Baby – The only movie that made me cry this decade (joining E.T., Glory and Dead Poets’ Society on the career list).  Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank all at their best.

6) Traffic – A decade later the violence in Mexico is worse and the liberal pot smokers who abhor the violence of war or the treatment of chickens that are not free-range, but still help fund the cartels that propagate massive bloodshed in and around the border.  This movie would go under the category of wake up calls unheeded.  Great movie.

5) Finding Nemo– My favorite movie from the most consistently great movie studio.

4) 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days – I am not a big foreign film guy, but this was so intense and so good I regretted not speaking (Romanian if my recollection is correct) the language because even checking the subtitles was too much attention away from the acting.

3) The Dark Knight – I have never seen a movie in the theaters more than this one.  And it’s not even close.  Die Hard, The Matrix and The Dark Knight are the three films that changed and elevated action movies higher than any others in the last 20 years.  To me, it was even more impressive to take action, the way Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger did, and turn it into art.

2) The Lord Of The Rings – Because of The Godfather III’s mediocrity this is the greatest trilogy of all time.  Shut up Star Wars people. (and if I had to pick just one – The Two Towers).

1) United 93 – I have only seen two perfect movies in my lifetime.  One was Amadeus, my favorite movie of all time.  The other was United 93.  I am not saying it is my favorite movie of all time; it would be hard to make that claim about a film focused on 9/11.  But the realism, the intensity, the respectful rendering of an incredibly sensitive subject and the overall product was second to none this decade for me.  In a sad way I guess it is fitting that the decade’s defining event yielded the decade’s best movie. Besides, a movie about our collective self-indulgence and self absorption called Twitter v. 3.05 would not be nearly as riveting.

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Crank 2: A Film Ahead of Jason Statham’s Time

My comedy career began officially in June 2003 when I stepped on stage at the Takoma Station Tavern in Washington D.C. for their Monday open mic.  However, my comedy career really began in 1991 when my impression of Jean-Claude Van Damme in the movie Double Impact made me a big hit with my friends (quick synopsis of the film – Van Damme played twins separated at birth, with”such different personalities” as JCVD put it in a behind the scenes interview, but who both learned karate). 

Van Damme was my favorite movie star from the years 1990-1995 (from when I saw Bloodsport until Timecop and all the films in between).  His films were mild successes, but he basically became a joke like many action stars not named Governor Schwarzenegger.  It was not until this Fall that he was able to intentionally and intelligently capitalize on his status with a funny, but moderately moving film (“JCVD”).

Why didn't my agent sign me for The Transporter?
Why didn't my agent sign me for The Transporter?

Well today I hope there is a 6th grader entertaining  his classmates with a Jason Statham impression.  This guy has literally taken the career of Jean-Claude Van Damme.  I have wondered (on this site, and verbally) how Statham has sustained his career.  Then I saw a preview for Crank 2 and was intrigued.  It looked ridiculous, but entertaining.  But that still did not explain Statham’s 2 franchises (3 Transporters and counting, plus 2 Cranks) and other flops (some movie about prisoners in car races, some dumb movie where he plays some ancient knight), especially since he had to have spent all his Italian Job money by now, so he can be financing his own projects.  In addition to that my old boss at the Bronx DA’s office had recommended Crank to me.

My old boss had a bad history recommending films to me.  One was The Boondock Saints, which I absolutely hated.  The other one was Norbit (I was in Columbus, Ohio with 7 hours to kill before a show – I would have been better off cleaning the Mall toilets with my tongue than watching that movie).  So when he told me Crank was good I greeted it with a roll of the eyes.

But last week I watched Crank and found it entertaining.  It is somewhere between action and parody and was entertaining enough for me to venture to Crank 2 today (and I had a free ticket to the theater).

Without Lion's Gate Films I would be doing ab machine infommercials
Without Lion's Gate Films I would be doing ab machine infommercials

I must say – reallly enjoyable movie.   Had me laughing a lot because the film has moved even closer to parody and if you want to go, not to watch film or even a technically “good” movie, but just to have fun, then see this movie.

Although the similarities between Van Damme and Statham are even more evident after Crank 2 (Statham has 4-5 references to his character’s large penis in the 2 Cranks and Van Damme has a reference in no less than 3 of his films to his character’s large member – see “The Idiot From Brussels” track on Racial Chameleon, my first CD).  But Statham’s films have not been as successful as even the moderate-to-low bar that Van Damme’s career set.  So the question must be asked:  Why does Jason Statham still have a thriving film career?  One answer is that Lion’s Gate films appear to be willing to produce any film.  But I think the answer is that Statham has decided (possibly) to do what it took JCVD almost 20 years to do – realize that the pure action star is almost dead as a serious franchise (the Arnolds, Stallones, etc. are sort of done), so he pre-empted the trend and made the joke his own, while still having some of the classic action features.  I don’t know if he will make many more movies, but I am pretty sure I would be in for a good laugh if Crank 3 comes out.