Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top 5 Movies of the year

Everyone loves 'Top 5' lists, don't they?

Oh. Well I do, so I'm doing one. First off though, I have to say that I didn't get 'round to seeing the following films; The Hurt Locker, (500) Days of Summer, Public Enemies, Where the Wild Things Are or Fantastic Mr. Fox. From what I've seen, all of these stand a chance of breaking into the top 5 but I didn't see them so I can't rate them.

Notable mentions have to go to The Hangover, Star Trek and Coraline, all of which were enjoyable films that I'll definitely watch again. Here's the top 5;

#5 Avatar
I saw this in 3D and, if you're going to go see it, I urge you to see the 3D version as well. In the past (including Coraline and, to a lesser extent, Up) the 3D aspect of a film was a gimmick to make a given object come 'out' of the screen - usually to the surprise of the audience - it was a parlour trick. No more. In Avatar, James Cameron has managed to integrate 3D technology into the very fabric of the film and the results are spectacular. Everything has depth and texture, everything feels real. While this technology is going to be a lot of fun for action/adventure films, what I really want to see is someone do a single-camera Blair Witch/Paranormal Activity style film in this manner. The feeling of 'looking through a window' rather than at a screen really draws you in and, I think, documentary-style horror films are going to reap some major scares out of this stuff.

While the plot has come in for some serious criticism (it's Ferngully!) for its lack of originality, I don't necessarily see this as a fault. James Cameron is taking you on a ride and the visuals are a big part of that - there isn't that much else you can do once the protagonists are set up; the furrows of history are fairly well worn in these situations. So don't expect the story to blow you out of the water, it's merely the vehicle that takes you through the world that Jim built.

I really enjoyed this film. There are little treats scattered all the way through it, from noticing that they've finally got CG eyes 'right' to realizing that it took you an hour to figure this out because they look so damn real!

#4 Watchmen
Yes, the graphic novel is better. Let us get that out of the way right off the bat. Zack Snyder deserves some credit for the best attempt at faithfully rendering a graphic novel into a movie, but the drawback of this is that you really can directly compare the two because the film offers you nothing you haven't read in the book (except, perhaps, a better ending - there, I said it!).

If it hadn't been a comic first, Watchmen would have been hailed - quite rightly - as a groundbreaking work of cinematic genius, but it will never get that recognition because all it really is is a photocopy of the original.

That being said, it's an incredibly well made film and almost all the casting is note-perfect. Jackie Earle Haley as Rorsharch is one of my favourite performances of the year. I'm still not entirely sold on Leanard Cohen's Hallelujah being used during the mid-air Archie sex-scene, but I guess Watchmen is supposed to be idiosyncratic and, well, cheesy. That's why it works as superhero satire, after all!

#3 Inglourious Basterds
You just can't keep Quentin down, can you? Man I love this film!

The most notable thing about IB is how it's not about Brad Pitt's character. The trailer led us all to believe that it was going to be all about Brad and his Jewish buddies cutting a bloody swathe through the ranks of the Nazis in France - almost like the Bride in Kill Bill as she takes down the Crazy 88s (and everyone else in her path). But that's not how it works.

It's actually Christopher Waltz' who owns this film. As Hans Landa, the 'Jew-Hunter', Waltz manages to do what, to my mind, no other Tarantino villain has done. He is frightening. Most of QT's bad-guys are sadistic yes, but they're also normally pretty cool too (think of Bill, Marsellus Wallace, Stuntman Mike). Landa is more like Hannibal Lecter; cold, calculating, supremely intelligent and utterly ruthless.

The rest of the film's pretty bad-ass as well!

#2 Up
Total change of tone here! Up made me cry. For the first time in my adult life, I cried in the cinema (the only other time was when Optimus Prime died in Transformers: The Movie back in the late 80s) and I'm not ashamed to admit it. The emotional kick in the guts that comes in the first 10 minutes rivals any tear-jerker in cinematic history and it grounds the whole film, even when everything else is airborne.

I have no idea how Pixar keep making these gems but I hope they keep it up for many more years to come because they just keep on getting better and better. I may be slightly biased towards this film because it has a Rottweiler in it that reminds me of my dog, but leaving that aside it still has everything a good movie should have; thrills, spills, chase-scenes, comedy, great characters and, at it's heart, a lot of love.

#1 District 9
No contest. This was, not only my favourite, but the best film of the year. Everything about it shows endless ingenuity, creativity, innovation and courage I don't think I blinked more than fifty times during the entire screening.

Sharlto Copley puts in the only performance of the year to rival Christopher Waltz with his portayal of MNU employee Wikus van de Merwe, a performance which was totally improvised. I have never been taken on a journey like I was with Wikus. His casual racism (or xenocism, if you like) and likable demeanor at the start of the film makes for an interesting character and if they'd have left it there, I would have been satisfied. But throughout the film, Wikus transforms (in many ways) and you're never left feeling sold short at any stage - you're always with him, even when you don't like him.

Neill Blomkamp has done something thoroughly remarkable with District 9 that will see this film talked about alongside Alien, Blade Runner, 2001, Terminator and others as one of the seminal works of Science-fiction.

Well, there's my Top 5. I've tried to avoid doing the usual 'review' of the film that inevitably leads to spoilers and, at the very least, plants pre-conceived notions about the film in the readers mind. Instead, I've just tried to tell you how the movie made me feel and, if nothing else, encouraged you to seek out any of these films that you might not have seen yet. Trust me; they're all worth seeing.

Let me know if you agree/disagree!



BeamStalk said...

The only one of those movies I have seen is Watchmen. I want to see the rest, although my enthusiasm for Avatar is not high. I do like the idea of it not being gimmicky, I have always hated that about 3D movies.

ExPatMatt said...

Well, if you're going to see Avatar, go see it while it's still playing!

There's nothing gimmicky about it at all, it just gives depth to things that should have depth - it's honestly like looking through a window half the time.

Aside from that, the work that Weta (I think it's Weta) has done in rendering, not just the characters, but the backgrounds and vehicles is truly remarkable.

My only gripe is that the glasses aren't comfortable enough. However, I think that if this really takes off you'll see ski-mask style glasses that wrap around your eyes in a totally unobtrusive manner.

BathTub said...

I just saw Inglorious Basterds last night, and I agree, Christopher Waltz just owned that film, fantastic work. It was an excellent film to boot, totally not what I was expecting at all.

Da Pilgrim said...

Aside from that, the work that Weta (I think it's Weta) has done in rendering, not just the characters, but the backgrounds and vehicles is truly remarkable.

:b They are Kiwis! LOL.

I haven't actually seen any of these films as of yet.

ExPatMatt said...

":b They are Kiwis! LOL.

I haven't actually seen any of these films as of yet"

Yep, Lord of the Rings really put them on the map as an effects studio and they've really upped their game as they've taken on more projects - you should be very proud of your countrymen!

Also, the effects in District 9 were by Weta also, but that had Peter Jackson producing and so he probably got some kind of discount out of them!

If I could recommend one of these films to you, Pilgrim, it would be Up; I get the feeling that you'd really like it.

What are you waiting for?!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about Avatar - it doesn't have the best story in the world, but it is still really enjoyable and the actors pull more out of the script than was written (worthington and weaver were brilliant).

The Watchmen film is underrated (I've read the comic). You can tell that the director has a lot of love for the original source material. Also, Rorschach was uncannily perfectly cast.

District 9 was excellent - however it was so excellently made that it was actually quite distressing to watch.

Da Pilgrim said...

If I could recommend one of these films to you, Pilgrim, it would be Up; I get the feeling that you'd really like it.

Yep, I plan to. I have heard good things about that movie, especially the first ten minutes.

ExPatMatt said...

thewrittenwordreviews, (do you have a shorter name?!)

"District 9 was excellent - however it was so excellently made that it was actually quite distressing to watch".

Completely agree. I've been reluctant to watch it again since because it was pretty heart-rending the first time around.

The word 'harvesting' springs to mind...

Susannah said...

Matt! My 13 year old son saw Avatar w/ one of his buddies & loved it. All 3 of our children saw Up w/ grandparents & really liked it. Don't know about the others. The latest movie my Husb. & I saw was Blindside. LOVED that one.

My list of films includes mostly 'older' movies, just b/c we got so behind on the current ones when our kids were little. C'est la vie, non?

ExPatMatt said...


I'll have to check Blindside out, it has been recommended to me by a few people now.

If I were to do an 'all time' list, rest assured there would be a lot more 'older' flicks in there but then it would have taken me a couple of weeks to get my list sorted!

Heli gunner Tom said...

Natt's description of Navatar is fairly accurate. My wife and I don't see many movies at the theaters, because we don't care to support immoral Hollywood that is pro-Sodomite, and has been know to support nefarious enemies of America... but I enjoyed that particular movie--having been a crew member/ door gunner in Huey's through out my 2 tours of duty in Vietnam: 68-70, and love flying.
I am not a coward-- and there fore always show my name, instead of hiding under a rock.

Tom Schuckman
Wisconsin, USA