Saturday, March 6, 2010

Top Ten of 2009 continued...

6. Whip It!

Drew Barrymore's directorial debut comes as a huge surprise. Although her vision is rather linear (the storyline isn't particularly complex or convuluted, it IS her first time out) its filled with so many intelligently placed thoughts, feelings and expressions that it still feels like a multilayered outing. A bold coming of age pic, a goofy sports film, a subtle (yet grippingly LOUD) riot grrl feminist effort, a cute romance all melded into one underlying idea. Sheer individualism, told in multiple different facets. A rare triumph of a teen hipster movie.

5. Fantastic Mr Fox

Wes Anderson arguably hasn't been himself- master of the oddball cinema- since the Royal Tenenbaums. But oddly enough, or is it really that odd considering who it is, he finds his muse in stop motion. His weird sense of humour and penchant for making vaguely morally ambiguous, quirky characters is put to great use here, and it really comes off as his most optimistic film yet. You can be weird. You can be odd. You can be a freak. But you'd better believe, that your fantastic.

4. Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" By Sapphire

By regular standards, it's a complete mess. Plot points, themes, imagery and humour all over the place. But many geniuses are quite able to find all their important properties in clutter, and Precious is one of those few geniuses as a whole. Whether its the hilarity and uplift of the humour, Monique's monster turn, Gabourey's broken bird portrayal, the pains and hardships of blacks in society, or watching all of these different people having to push, the message is clear. Brilliantly, beautifully clear, and although the movie's ending isn't exactly cause for celebration it is glouriously optimistic. Life is hard. Life is funny. Life is sad. Life is painful. Life is fragile. But above all, it is precious. It is always precious.

3. Inglourious Basterds

The wild, untamed cinematic savantry of Quentin Tarantino is his primarily appeal. However here, we see him refine himself just enough for this World War II revisionist spaghetti western. With fantastic results. The flood of thoughts, feelings, emotions and references are seamlessly divided into linear chapters, Tarantino's eclectic knack for being able to choose just the right actor for the role is once again present (especially in the amazing turn from Waltz given here) and although the tale is told with more style and finesse then many there is fashion to see in no longer Nazi occupied France, that isn't why the movie truly becomes an instant classic. The movie is a silent, loving, polished ode to cinema itself. Truly a gift of a movie.

2. Avatar-Coraline

Oh boy, another tie. The subject matter of each film is entirely different. Avatar is a hardly covered space allegory for the plight of the Natives and Coraline is an animated film that calls out the child in our adult. But they are on the same plain as visual spectacles, and storybooks like no other. But for various reasons.

Coraline is quite the beautiful movie, in fact probably the most beautiful stop motion film created, ever. Every picture on the screen, intricate, nostalgic, meloncholic and foreboding, hauntingly gorgeous stuff here. But why the movie is really the incredible storybook that it is, is the way the screenplay speaks out to the viewer. It not only makes us look inside ourselves to our inner child. It strikes fear into them, reminds us who we once were, the mistakes that were made, the darkness that plagued us even then. This movie is the hand that feeds slapping the mouth that bites, and THAT is why it leaves such an imprint in the mind. A true gothic piece of art.

Avatar. Good God, what the hell is there to say about this thing that no one else has said...Cheesy dialogue. Yes. On occasion. Predictable story. Oh yeah. But was the vision and scope of the film on a level that transcends almost all of its sci-fi predeccesors. Yes. Although by all means this is a story we've heard before, Cameron tells it with such boldness, such expression such mastery such magnanamous wonder of a world our imaginations couldn't dream of...that the telling of the story far outways the actual story. And that is why it succeeds. Although succeed is an understatement here.

1. A Serious Man

In comparison to the bombastic action, sci-fis, globe trotting and animation contained on this list, its kind of weird that the number one film is so...minimalistic and so very existential and nihilistic. With comedy as black as the ace of spades. How could such a small, but horrendously negative thing hit my number one? Simple. This is the first Coen film, where I feel an emotional pull. Don't get me wrong, I love most of their other films. However while they did call upon human darkness with deft intuition, they lacked the real humanity of A Serious Man. Larry Gopniks tale of nihilism in the extreme can be depressing, but guess what. We've all been there. We've all wanted help. And when we don't get it we question our own worthiness according to whoever, and this only makes us more desperate for answers and in the end the answers aren't there, because no one really has them. We have all been there. This really is a mature, loving picture from the Coens, and maybe not their best film, it is the film that I hold closest to my heart in my times of sorrow. I'd love to see you try and watch No Country For Old Men when you're depressed.

-Kris Aarons

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Top Ten of 2009

A month later than I had hoped and arrogantly enough posted within a week of the Oscar nominee announcements. Tee hee. First of all there are two ties. Thats right. I'm that crazy. I could not for the life of me choose between them. They're not just at the same level based on whim or random insanity, there is a thought process to the tie that will be revealed upon reading.

But before we get to the real list I'd like to make a few shoutouts to movies that just missed my top ten (ish) list or I still found to be quite good.

Up was arguably a weaker Pixar effort for me. Although a B+ from me is still more than a solid grade, other films from the studio did way more for me. I'm not sure exactly what went "wrong" here, but I feel the movie as a whole wasn't as meaty or adult as their previous works. Maybe it was too subtle? Or maybe they just wanted to go lighter this time around. I don't blame them. Wall-E transcends as a lovestory and Ratatouille is quite the hearty dish. Everyone wants to kick back and relax every so often.

The Hangover and Star Trek were bothwild summer popcorn flicks that I dug. They were just good, clean (Err you know what I mean) healthy fun films too watch, and were surprisingly well crafted on many levels. Harry Potter 6 hit home as many different films at once. A horny teen comedy, a mesmerizing art piece, a fantastical journey and an emotional twister, easily becoming the most eclectic and best Potter yet.

And we have one VERY unfortunate just miss, a JUST miss on this list...

Where the Wild Things Are.

Ahh man. Such an incredible movie. Takes a 20 page thesis and makes a brilliant, deliciously dark kids fantasy out of it. Everything the book should have been on the screen. God bless you Spike Jonze. You really did Sendak right. Whenever I go on a wild rumpus (I have those often believe me) I'll think of you. AROOOOO!!!

Now onto the list, the real contendehs.

10. Moon

A haunted thing. A sad creature roaming around space, and its Jones job to keep it afloat, what really sends it zooming is Sam Rockwells empathetic performance as the lonely spaceman, giving us broad insight into the life of the man on the moon, also a thoughtful underlying anti-government message. Do they control us? Freaky.

9. District 9

Rarely do recent sci fis effortlessly mix style and substance as seen here. Sharlto Copley anchors this frenzied anti-alien virtuoso pic, and at the centre of all the machinery, lasers and mild racism (meh), that insues is human drama, blended together fluidly with ease by newcomer Blokamp. Not a superb sci-fi film, but rare in that it elevates its ideals to hit emotional peaks in its viewer, and that is why it succeeds. For me anyway.

8. The Hurt Locker-Up In The Air

These two films are both critically lauded and acclaimed, having been showered with awards. I'm not sure I quite see the reasoning for the frenzy. Both films have very strong aspects, however something seems to be lacking in the overall product to make the movies things that I'd go completely gaga over.

The Hurt Locker is the rare war film that propels the relatively overdone battle in Iraq, past that and into a highly intense action thriller with sweat drenching drama at its core. However, for every moment of effortless, subtle high energy action, for every fantastic performance, there is lag. Loads of lag, that eats away at the general greatness of the movie.

Up in the Air, on the other hand is a fine, sleek, suave and highly sophisticated existential dramedy. Its thesis on isolation and anti-love are very well explained throughout the film, the growth of the characters in these terrains can be felt. And past that; the film is quite funny in its maturity and wise approach toward Reitmans quirkiness. In this case what is lacking for me is a human touch. The entire affair seems oddly distant, one can argue that that is probably the essence of the film itself, but this feeling I have goes past that. It's oddly stiff and unengaging and regardless of these intention, there has to be more than a mild connection for something like this to be pulled off right.

7. (500) Days of Summer

A creative, oddball indie rom-com, that takes a number of spins on the genre to create this highly affecting yet highly hilarious film. Human questioning of love. What is it really? An aspect most other rom-coms try desperately hard to find the answer too, and many wind up (although many are just as virtuoso in vision) using the same text book thought process. Boy meets girl. Boy marries/shags/partnersupwith/whatevers girl. Boy a) keeps her b) loses her. But I love how (500) tells you flat out what the deal is. It's a story of boy meets girl, but it is not a love story. At least not a standard one. In doing so, it successfully observes its idea from an ambiguous standpoint, and by the time the movies' said and done, it'll have given us all the tools we need to figure out love and companionship on our own, for better or worse.

Also, oddly enough, is Up in the Air's antithesis, well depending on which side you take in (500) since it's kind of two films.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

End of Year Review...Kinda

It's nearing the end of the year, all Critics Association and online bloggers alike are putting out "Best of Year" lists. Around this time is when I planned on putting out mine, along with vague shoutouts to my favourite performances, aestetics, aural values etc. however as stated in the former post, there are about 10-15 films I want to see before I can really do a proper analysis. However, which the amount of selection I have now I can make a few other end of year thoughts.

Surprise of the Year: Star Trek
I hardly thought I'd like Star Trek, let alone love it like I do. I figured it'd be a poorly acted enactment of a poorly written Star Trek episode, filled with Trekky appeal. I saw the film a week after it's release, hearing about the critical and public concesus raves about it, although I was still in disbelief. How often were movies based off of tv shows really any good? Sex and the City was so-so, The Simpsons Movie still came off as one long amazing episode, and the X-Files movie was...well I didn't want to believe. I wanted to go home. Star Trek, a long running, nerdcore franchise would surely fall into the same trappings right? My skepticism was soon to be justified I thought.

I thought wrong. You definetly don't have to "live long and prosper" to enjoy this sci-fi super special. It was sleek, stylish, smart and lacking in basically all the nerdy appeal I thought it would be swimming in. Rather than rely heavily on topics and dead ideas from the episodes, it does the smart thing. Takes the general skematics of the franchise and builds the movie from the groundup, becoming a bonafied reboot of a somewhat forgotten franchise.

(Runners Up: After the very mixed reaction at Cannes, the very odd premise-even for the director, the silly looking ad, and the disappointment of his last film, Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, was a very welcome surprise. Also Monique's monsterous turn as a monster of a mother in Precious came off as surreal and horribly shocking. It's spit the hot coffee out of your mouth good.)

Definite Breakout Performance of the Year: Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa

In a film that was sold as a Brad Pitt comedic WWII vehicle, Waltz is a definite slap in the face to anyone who wasn't ready for it. He portrays Col. Hans Landa, an Austrian detective for the Nazis whose skill in detecting Jews has lead to the nickname the "Jew Hunter". Obviously a very villainous occupation, but on the flipside, he's a romantic savant and frequent chatterbox. Ample in his mystery, genius in his precision, endless in eccentricity, this multilingual role is definetly worthy of all the raves. Being a Tarantino film, it features a slew of odd and interesting characters, but Waltz runs away with the brilliant movie. And are we mad at our evil little scene stealer? No, the exact opposite.
That's a bingo.
(Runners Up: Once again, Monique's equally evil mom in Precious completely owns hescenes, however she's not in the film enough for me to say she completely devours the movie as Waltz has done here. Jeffrey Dean Morgan interpatation of the Comedian in the superzero movie Watchmen gleefully distorts whatever scene he walks into. South African newcomer, Sharlto Copley anchors District 9 with muscle to spare.)

LMFAO!!: The Hangover

Could there really be any other that made it here? The R Rated comedy has been rising in popularity in recent years, normally featuring a combination of sweetness, raunch, and a general realization that a comedy film is still a film and not just binded to the genre. Finally, The Hangover is released, a movie that entirely understands itself as an R Rated comedy. Lovable, but not deliberately funny characters are a must, a fantastical yet somehow realistic series of events, and it of course, has to be hilarious. And the Hangover is, hilarious. Almost every scene, every line, every piece of imagery. Any flaw that you could find can be forgiven in lou of the movie's potency in laughter making.
What's the hidden ingredient I wonder. Is it how well it connects with audiences? I know people who have many stories about Las Vegas, some are probably crazier than the movie itself. Is it the easiness of the film itself? It doesn't demand to be laughed at at all. It feels like a casual recounting of a very crazy story. Or is it just what it is. A genuinely hilarious movie that is universally funny in some way? I don't know. That's the magic of laughter. Sometimes, you just don't know.

(Runners Up: Up is arguably the funniest Pixar film since Toy Story 2, the buddy comedy mix of wit and slapstick will leave many eyes wet with tears of laughter. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince comes off as a poignant horny teen comedy among other things.)

The Biggest Disappointment (aka the Epic Failure): Jennifer's Body

Hipster movies are becoming a larger part of cinema by the year, ranging from teen comedies to indie films with charm. Jennifer's Body stars iconic actresses (for teens) Her Lady Hotness; Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried (Mean Girls, Mamma Mia!) and is screenwritten by Oscar winner Diablo Cody who recently won for penning one of the most famous hipster indie movies of all time, Juno. So you'd think this movie has oodles of potential eh? Maybe enough potential to potentially be the potential hipster movie of the year? Potential!?

But as it came to pass, Jennifer's Body made very few ripples with hipsters, critics or at the box office. The horror comedy about an uber hot vampire chick eating local teenage boys featured a few snarky laughs, good turns from its actors and some poignant observations. However, while there are some positive aspects, the negatives are quite heavy and outweigh the appeal of the film. Indecisive narrating, often awkward screenplay and uneven plot elements. Although the movie is somewhat enjoyable it left me saying: what was the whole point?

So to round off, Jen's Body wasn't really a bad movie. That's not why it fails. Just disappointing in that it offered quite a bit of that "p"ord used frequently above, and capitilized on almost none of it. And that my friends, is a fail. An epic fail.

(Other Epic Fails: Public Enemies suffers asimilar problem, although the magnitude of its failure is somewhat less prevalent in a weird way. Transformers Two instead of continuing with the strange amount of humanity found in the first installment, the sequel merely capitalizes on big box office, summer smash cliches...also fuck Michael Bay.)

Most Undervalued Performance: (tie)
Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian and Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre

The reasoning for these two distinctions are polar opposite.

In Morgan's case, his hauntingly dead-on portrayal of the heavily nihilistic Comedian in the film adaptation of Watchmen goes virtually unnoticed. He only appears in flashbacks, but when he does, he rocks the very ground that he walks on, unearthing the ideals of the other characters with a mischievous, almost demonic nonchalantness. The character could have very easily been given a chariecturistic tough guy approach. Not so with Mr. Morgan.

o the other side of the spectrum Matt Damon hasn't gotten nearly enough. A few critic circle noms, a throwaway Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Comedy, so what? The performance deserves much more than that, it's arguably career topping stuff. He really has created a subtle, neurotic character arc, spiked with awkward, hokey humour and buffoonery. Plus, he got fat for the role! Then he had to take it all off again for Invictus! Damon is a talented devoted, A-List actor who deserves way more attention then he gets. His Oscar nom for Invictus (which I'm fairly certain he'll obtain) will be deserved, not on the merits of his performance in the film, but on the merits of his frequently ignored skill as an actor.

(Other ignored top players: Marion Cotillard plays just right as Dillinger's girlfriend in Public Enemies, Sam Rockwell is genius in Moon, critics raved for him, but the film was too small to get any real attention which isn't fair at all, Jim Broadbent does it again in Harry Potter 6)

Most Overrated: The Hurt Locker

Now, don't get me wrong. I loved the Hurt Locker. However, why it's getting all this acclaim and all these allocades it's receiving seem unecessary. I thought it was very good. Not great. I felt that the ending was over long, and that for every scene with incredible intensity there were boring scenes as well. Too me it didnt quite equal the sum of all its parts: an effortlessly cohesive ensemble cast, Jeremy Renner, Kathryn Bigelow's powerhouse, high precision and intensity directing as hot as the desert the film takes place in, etc. All things considred it came up short for me and I don't at all understand what it is about the film that everyone seems to love to that extent.

Am I unhappy about all this? Of course not! I still liked the movie a whole lot, however I am merely perturbed as to what appeals to all of these other people (Critics, audiences etc). Oh well, to each their own.

(Runners Up: Uhh...well New Moon while kinda decent, was nowhere near as good as the money it made, or as hyper fan girls say it is.)

And there you have it, a taste of my thoughts on this year in cinema. Please don't hate me for the whole Hurt Locker thing. My top ten list and various other distinctions should be posted next month, or if I really hustle, the end of December.

Holiday Irritations

So many movies, so little time. The end of the year is in roughly one week, and there are still so many movies I want to see! There's just not enough time. In late November your teachers pressure you with "get it out of the way" endeavours (a Christmas concert and a math test or two to trip me over to say the least), and by the time December rolls around the Christmas season is in full swing: shopping, parties, being drunk off your ass, various events, family gatherings, etcetera, etcetera. And all the good movies have to come out now!

On top of that, a lot of these aforementioned good movies predominantly enter theatres in a limited fashion. I don't know how that works in the States, but up here, limited means the film is going to be in 2-4 theatres, most of the time of which you've never heard of, and are very difficult to get too. Hey some don't even appear in Toronto. Some aren't even in Ontario. Some aren't even in Canada! How does Hollywood expect to make money or obtain awards momentum if it's hopefuls only open in 2 out of 100 cinemas everywhere. I'm not going to mission to Ottawa to go and see Me and Orson Welles. And by the time these movies come out on DVD, Oscar season is almost over or *gasp* finito!

Just a minor gripe. Well more like a major annoyance. Also my huge amount of recent business is why I never update. Normally I update when there is very little going on in my schedule. On a regular basis this means once or if I'm lucky twice a week. Lately it's been never. Life gives no handouts, in time, money or cinema levity I suppose.
Movies I want to see that I can actually get too: Nine, Up in the Air, Zombieland, Whip It!, The Blind Side, The Messenger, Astro Boy, Men Who Stare at Goats, The Fantastic Mr Fox, Ponyo

Movies I want to see that will be difficult to catch: A Single Man, A Serious Man (!), Crazy Heart (!!), The Lovely Bones (!!!), Me and Orson Welles

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

*Throws Up*

Anyone whose paid attention to the Cannes Film Festival in May or always observes Willem Dafoe's (Platoon, Spider-Man, Last Temptation of Christ) ever eclectic filmography, you've heard of the Antichrist. The Lars Von Trier film that stirred up quite the controversy at the awards for supposedly horrifying images of gore and perversion. What I was thinking; this I gotta see.

So I did. And I saw. The movie was...a shock to say the least. The first 3/4 of the film are slightly slow, but mounting in horror, with limited score but plenty of haunting imagery to help rack up the fear in the viewer (kudos to the film editor). As well as an opening montage that well, there's no other way to describe it- Willem Dafoe fucking the shit out of Charlotte Gainsborough. Why do I use such terminology? Because I think that's what Lars was attempting to convey. They weren't making love at that time, no love was created only destroyed. Plus the wording is naughty- HEE HEE.

The final act of the movie is punctuated by some brutal, graphic violence. I don't want to get into it but some erm, important appendages were lost. The verdict? Guilt is a very personal, very malleable and very dark and disturbing thing, like a blind, mutilated cobra, striking with its hate filled fangs what it feels needs to be struck, not what it sees. Doesn't make much sense huh? Watch the movie and you'll see.

Charlotte Gainsborough takes over the movie, holding herself together but her acts and expressions shows that she is too discheveled to recreate, and she's well aware, and in the last act, she gives in. Breathtaking, take-charge, experienced, pinpoint work here. And Willem? Good ol' Willem? Reliable as ever as the calm, apathetic mediator, whose guilt is shown in a more quiet, arguably positive way.

Now to the violence. Shock is a very important part of cinema. Every few years a movie comes a long where a style is so different, so affecting, so inspired, so drastically obvious in its use of outside of the box thinking- that the only word that can describe it are shock. Or alternatively, when an aspect of the film is handled in such a way that divides critics and fans alike. Movies that are still talked about today. The violence in this movie is irregardably detestable, not unlike that of the violence in modern horror movies (didn't name any the Saw series...bitches) however even in the blood soaked conflict a sense of meaning can be salvaged. other words I'm not sure what Antichrist is to me. Will it join the ranks of movies such as Fight Club and Reservoir Dogs, as movies that are still topics of discussion among audiences and critics? Or was it just another movie that took it too far. Whichever it was, I liked Antichrist. Do I advise you too see it? Hell no.


Thursday, August 27, 2009


Crap, crap, crap! Shutter Island, Martin Scorsese's newest effort has been pushed from October 2nd to February 19th. And I'm pretty sure fans of Scorcese films are emitting a resounding "palmface" across North America. I sure as hell know I am.

(Formerly known as Ashecliffe)Shutter Island is the film based off of Dennis Lehanes thriller novel of the same name. It follows the story of two U.S marshalls portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio (who is definetly Scorsese's regular at this point, which is fine by me) and Mark Ruffalo (undervalued)who are sent to investigate the escape of one of Shutter Island's, a mental institution for the criminally insane, prisoners. Ben Kingsley appears as a scientist (woo) and Jackie Earle Haley appears as a prisoner on the Island (double woo). With Scorsese helming what looks to be a thrilling premise with a talented cast, why would the distributing company delay it?

It will most likely be a box office hit. The Leo+Martin combo has given the auteur his greatest successes financially(his efforts with DiCaprio garnering over 600 million dollars worldwide during the last decade). Is Paramount worried about Oscar potential then? Technically they shouldn't. The films that Scorsese has worked with DiCaprio on have obtained 26 Oscar nominations, and have won 9. But of course in reality, Oscar doesn't like genre films, and is a thriller. Maybe even a horror. Are they worrying about qualitative value then? Why should they? Scorcese's last film The Departed (A) was his return to true form after the messy Gangs of New York(B-) and the good but very long The Aviator (B).

So whichever reason Paramount decided to push back this wouldbe spellbinder I don't know. All I know is, it had better be good.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Top 20 Actors

This dude's blog I pay close attention too recently put up a Top 25 list of his favourite actors. I was astonished...he normally only raves about his favourite actresses. Oh well. I decided to follow in similar suit. Not many veterans on this list, but these are the people who I normally rush out to see movies of.

Johnny Depp gets top honours for me...he's not really just my favourite actor the man's my idol.

*Johnny Depp, Daniel Day Lewis, Robert Downey Jr, Heath Ledger, Jamie Foxx, Robin Williams, Harrison Ford, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Jack Nicholson, Jim Carrey, Matt Damon, Steve Buschemi, Denzel Washington, Robert DeNiro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Viggo Mortensen,