“No Middle Seat” Episode 3: In which our intrepid heroes discuss movies and do so with vigor!

Well folks, it’s a new year, which means one thing: time for my first movie podcast of 2011! That’s right, 2011 is upon us, which means that the Oscars are just around the corner!
I know what you’re thinking, if only there was a movie podcast of some kind in which two recent college graduates discuss movies that we could listen to! Well, you’re in luck because I just so happen to have a movie podcast in which my ol’ chum Anthony (www.lastcinemastanding.blogspot.com) and I and discuss our Top Ten Movies of 2010! Sit back, relax, and give it a listen:
http://nomiddleseat.podbean.com/2011/01/12/no-middle-seat-episode-03/

P.S. WordPress is now charging folks to use media on their site, so until somebody starts throwing money at me I ask that you copy and past the above link to our Podbean feed to your browser and you can listen there. Thank you for understanding.

Advertisements

Top Ten Movies of 2010

2010 was an interesting year for movies. On one hand you had “Inception,” proving that intelligent movies, if done right, can be summer blockbusters. On the other hand you had a slew of great movies that underperformed at the box office (“Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” ect.), leaving many people scratching their heads, wondering what went wrong. For me it doesn’t really matter how a movie did at the box office, I just want them to be good movies. Luckily this year really didn’t have an “Avatar” type film to dominate and crush everything in 3-D, which left a lot of space to fill with a generous helping of indie movies and well-written gems. I didn’t get a chance to see every movie I wanted to this year, due to the fact that I work at a restaurant in the evenings and I despise going to matinees, but I tried my best. This is my 2nd annual “Top Ten Movies” list and I hope that you enjoy it.
10) Fair Game

Naomi Watts fascinates me. Besides being incredibly beautiful, she also manages to be one of the most versatile actresses working in Hollywood. She has appeared in everything from blockbusters (“King Kong”) to crime films (“Eastern Promises”) to quirky comedies (“I Heart Huckabees”), and she seems completely comfortable with them all.
I jokingly refer to her as the “anti-Jolie,” in the sense that in every Angelina Jolie film I watch, I am distinctly aware of the fact that I’m watching Angelina Jolie act. When I watch Naomi Watts I don’t see Naomi Watts. I see her character, whomever that may be.
In “Fair Game,” director Doug Liman saw the same chameleon qualities in Watts and cast her in the leading role of Valerie Plame, the former CIA operative who the Bush Administration outed after Ambassador Joe Wilson spoke out against the Iraq War.
The film is a period piece, really. It takes us back to the beginnings of the Iraq War, highlighting clips of press conferences and snippets of news footage that made me feel as if I were learning of the conflict for the first time. The emotion the film stirred in me was impressive. I felt righteous anger. I felt betrayal. I gripped the corners of my seat with anticipation during most of the scenes, even though I know how it all turned out.
And that is what makes “Fair Game” a great film. It transports us back to a story we have all heard before and makes it seem new and exciting.
Naomi Watts and Sean Penn are both fantastic as the lead characters. Watts brings her steely eyed determination and Penn brings his righteous political anger and the two play to each other’s strong suits. A very impressive film.

9) The Vicious Kind

I was first introduced to Adam Scott in the movie “Step Brothers,” as were most people. Scott played Will Ferrell’s asshole of a brother and played it to perfection.
“That guy kind of looks like you,” said my then-girlfriend. “Isn’t that funny?”
“You really think so?” I asked. “Well, I suppose we do both have sideburns, so that’s something I suppose…”
So yeah, I first thought of Adam Scott as an asshole actor who just so happened to look a little like me. Or maybe I looked a little like him? Either way I didn’t think much of it until I came across the much-beloved and all-too-quickly-canceled Starz TV show “Party Down.” Then I fell in love with Adam Scott. An all-encompassing love that burned like the sun.
In an interview with “The Usual Suspects” actor Kevin Pollak on the web-based “Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show,” Scott talked about a little indie drama that he did called “The Vicious Kind,” where he plays the emotionally scarred main character, Caleb Sinclaire. The movie centers on the Caleb’s strained relationship with his father, played with tenacity by the always enjoyable J.K. Simmons, and his younger brother, played by the baby faced Alex Frost. The film is written and directed by newcomer Lee Toland Krieger, and features one of my favorite film openings of the year. The film opens on Adam Scott, who is bearded and smoking a cigarette. In the course of ten seconds or so his eyes fill with tears, but then he represses the urge to weep, takes another drag of his cigarette and then composes himself. It’s a simple shot, really. Just a steady cam on Scott’s face, but the moment feels so intimate that you feel a connection to the character even before a line of dialogue is spoken.

8 ) Cyrus

One of the strangest films of 2010 was a movie I saw by myself called “Cyrus.” It was a film by the Duplass brothers, whose debut film “The Puffy Chair” didn’t really do it for me. That film felt forced and stale. This film felt alive and new. I love it when directors improve with age.
The movie centers on a lovable loser played by (who else?) John C. Reilly, who I used to hate with a passion but lately has been growing on me. Like a fungus. A strange fungus who keeps appearing in every other movie that I see, apparently. I think that’s why I didn’t like him to begin with. John C. Reilly seems to make about fifty or so movies every year and somehow I manage to see all of them. I’m not saying that he’s a bad actor, I’m just saying that I can only see the same goofy looking face so many times before I go a little crazy.
But I digress, John C. Reilly is great in small doses. I feel the same way about Nicolas Cage. Every now and then they both make a movie that shocks and delights me. I love it when actors surprise me.
In “Cyrus” Reilly takes his loser image to the next level when he plays a man who somehow ends up in a relationship with the beautiful Marisa Tomei, who is completely out of his league, in my humble opinion. I know it, and so does Reilly, who feels lucky and blessed just to be with her. Until he meets her son Cyrus, that is. Funnyman Jonah Hill plays her son, naturally. Except he’s not that funny in this film. He’s down right creepy and psychotic. Hill plays Cyrus with a dead-eyed intensity that is fascinating to watch, and the “mind games” between him and Reilly over the affections of Tomei makes for some of the strangest scenes in 2010. A very unique and admirable trait in a movie.

7) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim: A movie by nerds, for nerds, starring the nerd king himself: Michael Cera.
One of my few film regrets of 2010 was the fact that I never saw this movie on the big screen. I really wanted to but nobody that I knew wanted to go with me and I hate seeing movies in theaters by myself. Well, that’s not entirely true. I do see movies in theaters by myself occasionally but never movies where I might laugh. Why, you ask? I have a pretty distinctive laugh. People turn around in their seats to look at me and I feel like a freak. Besides, some movies are better with a group of friends.
I ended up buying the DVD after eating some pretty amazing Thai food with my friends Max, Steven, and Ailis. We stopped by Target on the way home and I bought it, promising them that I “heard it was great.” And indeed it was.
Edgar Wright, director of such cult classic fare as “Shawn of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” is the master of comedy action films, I feel. In “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” he proves once again how damn clever he is and I love him for it. Seriously, don’t take my word for it. Watch the film. If you don’t laugh at least once something is terribly, terribly wrong with you.
6) Kick-Ass

Two words: Hit Girl. Now go forth and watch the film. You’ll thank me later.
P.S. Nicolas Cage goes completely insane in this film. In a good way.

5) True Grit

The Coen Brothers reunion with Jeff Bridges has been long overdue, but “True Grit” proves that the wait was well worth it.
The western is a remake of the classic John Wayne film by the same name that won The Duke an Oscar. But to be completely honest, I was never really a big John Wayne fan. He just never really interested me as an actor. That being said, the original “True Grit” is a great film, featuring Wayne doing what he did best: looking stoic while riding a horse and shooting a gun at people.
My feelings about Wayne aside, I’ve always enjoyed the film and was thrilled when I first heard that the Coen Brothers were remaking it. When I learned that they had cast Jeff Bridges as the alcoholic lead character, my interest was officially piqued. It became a movie that I knew I must see.
And what a movie it was! The humor of the original novel shown brightly, and the cinematography was breathtaking. Jeff Bridges brought his A game to the film, and so did the Coen Brothers, and it resulted in their biggest box office success of their storied careers.
The biggest revelation of the film for me was the young actress who plays the girl who hires Bridges’ character to avenge the death of her father. Her name is Mattie Ross, and she is played by the young and extremely talented Hailee Steinfeld, who posses the rare ability among child actors of commanding every scene she is in with authority well beyond her years.
Add Matt Damon in the mix as the cocky Texas Ranger who also just so happens to be on the lookout for the man who murdered Ross’ father and you’ve got yourself one hell of a western!

4) Inception

The most buzz-worthy movie of the summer by far, “Inception” did what few movies dream of: tell a daring and unique story AND make a killing at the box office.
All of a sudden the notion that the only type of movie that will make money over the summer has to be either a sequel, a comic book movie, or star vampires or wizards seemed quaint and out of date.
Here was a movie with a bankable star, Leonardo DiCaprio, and a intelligent director, Christopher Nolan, who has been on a bit of a hot streak after taking over the Batman film franchise, telling a story that actually made people THINK. Oh yeah, and it was the biggest hit of the summer. Who could have predicted that? A lot of people, as it turns out. “Inception” was a movie made by movie nerds, for movie nerds. Though the mainstream success of the film took a lot of people off guard, I feel.
One of the best parts of “Inception,” for me personally, isn’t even in the film. It’s something that happened AFTER the film was released. With the success of “Inception,” all of a sudden there was a great and powerful hunger in Hollywood for original screenplays and unique story ideas. The idea became king. Sure, it helped if your movie starred one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, but there was definitely an “Inception” effect after the movie was released. This is good news for the next few years in cinema, because there will surely be some challenging films that will be released with the hopes that they will become “the next Inception.” Mark my words.
Also, “Inception” had one of the best ending of 2010. The fact that people are still taking about it in 2011 means that I’m not alone in that regard.

3) Black Swan

“Black Swan” punched my soul in the face. In a good way.
“Darren Aronofsky will never make an uninteresting film,” declared Anthony (my movie cohort and co-creater of the massively successful movie podcast, “No Middle Seat,” which stars Anthony and myself) after we left the theater on a cold Monday night. I huddled into my peacoat for warmth and pondered this for a minute or two.
“You’re right about that. After all, this is the same guy who directed ‘The Wrestler,’ which was such a heartbreaking film.”
“Don’t forget about ‘The Fountain,'” added my friend Amanda.
“How could I?” I asked with a smile. “That movie broke my heart too. That bastard. He keeps making me cry in every damn one of his movies.”
We walked toward the car in silence for a moment.
“Well, I will say this…” I paused for dramatic effect. “Natalie Portman was incredible. If she doesn’t get a Best Actress nomination I’m going to punch a baby.”
“Punch a baby?” Amanda asked, slightly incredulous.
“Okay, maybe that is a little drastic… I think you guys know what I mean though. She was amazing and deserves to win something. A SAG Award. A Golden Globe. An Oscar. She should win them all!”
The conversation continued for awhile after that, naturally. Basically what I’m saying is that “Black Swan” is a movie that will leave you in a state of emotional exhaustion and will haunt you for days to come. Not enough movies do that.

2) The Town

The best movie of the year staring Ben Affleck’s abs and Jon Hamm’s chin! But seriously, people who say that film noir is dead need to rethink their lives. Film noir isn’t dead. It just moved to Boston.
The movie is set in Charlestown, the bank robbery capital of America. It focuses on a gang of professional bank robbers lead by Doug MacRay, played by Ben Affleck, who is the brains of the outfit. His life is normal enough, if you’re a bank robbing type. He robs banks by day, and kicks back beers with his friends at night. All is well in his world.
Then one day a bank robbery goes horribly wrong, which leads fire-brand Jeremy Renner (“The Hurt Locker”) to kidnap a bank teller for protection. The woman’s name is Claire Keesey, played by Rebecca Hall, and she is an innocent in all of this. After they evade the cops Affleck convinces Renner to let her go, which he does under protest.
Later that night after they have all had a few drinks Renner convinces the gang that the woman needs to be “taken care of.” Affleck volunteers to “keep an eye on her,” fearing that if Renner has his way the woman will wind up dead in a gutter somewhere.
As fate would have it, Affleck ends up falling in love with Hall and she with him. The only problem is she doesn’t know that it was Affleck and his gang that kidnapped her in the first place, and that’s the way Affleck wants to keep it. It doesn’t end well, as you might imagine.
The most impressive thing about this movie to me was how Affleck managed not only to turn in one of the best performances of his career, but he also managed to do some pretty impressive work behind the camera as a director as well.
Affleck has an eye for detail in every scene. Every actor is perfectly cast. Every scene feels tense, with just a touch of foreboding. It’s a perfect film noir. Affleck will be a director that I will be following with great interest from now on.

1) The Social Network

These days everyone and their mother has a Facebook account. I would know. I have one, and so does my mum.
But what exactly does it all mean?
Should this much sharing exist between people?
With Facebook’s demand for as much information as you are willing to give, this age of information just got a whole lot more personal. George Orwell was wrong. People don’t hate Big Brother. We “like” Big Brother quite a lot and we’ve got the friend counts to prove it!
I have 362 friends on Facebook, but how many of them really know that much about me, other than what I’m willing to share?
In this Facebook age people we barely even know add us as friends on Facebook. I have over 30 people as friends on Facebook who met me and friended me because I was their waiter. That’s not to say that I don’t cherish their friendship, but they really only know that one aspect of my life.
So is Facebook a bad thing? Hardly. I use it all the time. It’s a great social networking tool that allows me to see how my friends and family are doing.
The downside to Facebook is that people are so busy “liking” things and commenting on each other’s status updates that every now and then we forget that there is a world outside of our little internet communities. There is a lot happening in the world, but unless somebody “shares” a news story on Facebook a lot of people won’t bother to read it.
We live in a age of information, but there is so much of it out there that the problem we all suffer from is that there too much information and nobody in their right mind would attempt to read or understand any of it.
So why am I getting all deep and philosophical when I should be talking a certain David Fincher film staring Jesse Eisenberg? Because the movie wants you to. The entire story line of the movie centers around the life of Mark Zuckerberg, played with brilliance and fast-talking dexterity by the always great Jesse Eisenberg. But Facebook isn’t really what the film is about. The film is about what we are becoming as a nation. We’re all on the fast track to somewhere, whether that place is waiting tables, making coffee, going to college, falling in love, robbing a bank, whatever. We’re all going to Facebook our experiences, I can guarantee you that much.
Just ate a tasty burrito? Facebook it! Just saw a great movie? Facebook it! Met a cute boy or a girl at the Laundromat? Facebook it!
We feel a strange need to let everyone we’ve ever known know exactly what we’re going through because our lives are important to us and we need to feel loved, am I right?
I’m no different than the rest, you know. I’m going to post this blog to Facebook as soon as I’m done because I want you all to know that I’m a writer who needs a little love and recognition every now and then! Don’t we all?
And that’s why “The Social Network” is the best movie of 2010! It made us think, and I “like” thinking.

Oscar nominations announced! Oh happy day!

At 5:30 this morning Anne Hathaway announced the nominations for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards! I was asleep when the announcements were made, naturally.

When I finally dragged my lazy ass out of bed the first thing I did was stagger over to my living room, flip my Mac open and eagerly check the list of nominees. Holy shit, I thought, “Avatar” is nominated for Best Picture, AND James Cameron is nominated for Best Director! Jeez James, you’ve created a monster!

I mean, sure, I liked “Avatar” as much as the next guy, but Best Picture? Come on! Didn’t people actually see the OTHER movies on the list? I know they were not in 3-D, but still, there were some great films this year that DIDN’T star blue aliens. Just sayin’.

First things first, the Academy in their infinite wisdom decided that it would be a wonderful idea to expand the list of Best Picture nominees from the usual 5 (how boring, right?), to 10 (boo yeah!). Is this a good idea……. Or is this a great idea?!? Am I right, folks?

Okay, okay, I get it, Academy. Viewership is down. You’ve got to spice things up a bit to keep our Twitter generation interested, right? You figure hey, everybody and their mother is talking about this “Avatar” movie, why not just nominate it for one of the highest honors in film making? Sound good? Sigh……

Oh well. It’s not all bad (“District 9” was nominated! Talk about a dark horse!)!

The best thing about the Academy Awards this year is the fact that they are being hosted by two people that I hold near and dear to my heart: Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. Yeah. You read that right. Baldwin AND Martin, a perfect comedy duo! Oh happy day!

This might turn out to be a night to remember after all!

Here are the list of nominees:

BEST PICTURE:

Avatar

The Blind Side

District 9

An Education

The Hurt Locker

Inglorious Basterds

Precious

A Serious Man

Pixar’s Up

Up in the Air

Experts pick: Avatar

Who I think should win: Inglorious Basterds. It was the perfect revenge-fantasty, delivered to us by the always outspoken Quentin Tarantino. This movie was a thing of beauty.

Dark (very dark) Horse: District 9

BEST DIRECTOR:

James Cameron- Avatar

Kathryn Bigelow- The Hurt Locker

Quentin Tarantino- Inglorious Basterds

Lee Daniels- Precious

Jason Reitman- Up in the Air

Experts pick: Kathryn Bigelow

Who I think should win: Kathryn Bigelow. She directed The Hurt Locker with such a great eye for precision. Every frame of that film had me on the edge of my seat. She deserves this. Plus it would piss off James Cameron (she’s his ex-wife).

BEST ACTOR:

Jeff Bridges for “Crazy Heart”

George Clooney for “Up In The Air”

Colin Firth for “A Single Man”

Morgan Freeman for “Invictus”

Jeremy Renner for “The Hurt Locker”

Experts pick: Jeff Bridges

Who I want to win: To be perfectly honest, the 3 performances that blew me out of the water this year didn’t make the list:

1) Sharlto Copley for “District 9”

2) Sam Rockwell for “Moon”

3) Patton Oswalt for “Big Fan”

All 3 performances were so full of life. Copley came out of nowhere and amazed me with his debut (!) performance! Sam Rockwell has always been an interesting actor to me, and there was never a film so better suited to feature his unique talent for conveying so much emotion through body language and that expressive face of his. As far as Patton Oswalt is concerned, I’m a huge fan of his stand-up comedy, but never really thought of him as a serious actor (he was in “Balls of Fury,” after all), until I watched “Big Fan.” His performance as a sports-obsessed fan, beaten within an inch of his life by his football hero haunts me to this day.

Though, if I had to pick a performance of the “actual” nominated actors, I would go with Colin Firth, who gets a chance to shed his “charming British guy” persona and shine as a grieving professor, morning the loss of his lover.

BEST ACTRESS:

Sandra Bolluck for “The Blind Side”

Helen Mirren for “The Last Station”

Carey Mulligan for “An Education”

Gabourey Sidebe for “Precious”

Meryl Streep for “Julie & Julia”

Experts pick: Sandra Bolluck

Who I want to win: Carey Mulligan (though if it were Meryl Streep, I think I would be okay with that)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Matt Damon for “Invictus”

Woody Harrelson for “The Messenger”

Christopher Plummer for “The Last Station”

Stanley Tucci for “The Lovely Bones”

Christoph Waltz for “Inglorious Basterds”

Experts pick: Christoph Waltz

Who I want to win: Ha! “The experts” and I actually see eye to eye on this one! In “Inglorious Basterds,” Waltz delivered one of  the most buzzed about performance of the year. He deserves the Oscar! Plus he’s already won ever “other” major acting award for his performance, the Oscar would be the icing on the cake!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

Penelope Cruz for “Nine”

Vera Farmiga for “Up In The Air”

Maggie Gyllenhaal for “Crazy Heart”

Anna Kendrick for “Up In The Air”

Mo’Nique for “Precious”

Experts pick: Mo’Nique

Who I want to win: Either of the “Up In The Air” ladies deserve this one. Both played their roles to perfection. It will be interesting to see who wins this one.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

The Hurt Locker

Inglorious Basterds

The Messenger

A Serious Man

Up

Experts pick: Inglorious Basterds

Me: A Serious Man.  Not only was this a great film, but the screen play was a darkly hilarious joy: a re-telling of Job from the Bible and they made it work perfectly.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

District 9

An Education

In The Loop

Precious

Up In The Air

Experts pick: Up In The Air.

Me: I have a feeling that this might be the only award that “Up In The Air” nabs on Oscar night. It seems to be Oscar tradition to give films that deserved higher honors the “Best Screenplay” awards as consolation prizes.

BEST ANIMATED FILM:

Coraline

Fantastic Mr. Fox

The Princess and the Frog

The Secret of Kells

Up

Experts pick: Up

Me: Fantastic Mr. Fox! This film was my favorite film of the year (see my previous blog on my Top 10 Films of 2009 for more juicy details on why). A kids movie where characters cry and have doubts and worry about their finances? Count me in!

Okay, okay, there are many other “technical awards,” such as Best Editing, and Makeup, but to be honest, I never really cared too much about them. Just being honest.

As far as who goes home with the ol’ Golden Boy, we’ll have to wait until March 7th (Sunday 8pm ET/5pm PT on ABC) to find out. Personaly, I can’t wait! The Oscars are like the Super Bowl, the World Series, and the Indy 500 all rolled into one for film freaks such as myself!

See you at the Oscars!

Top Ten Movies of 2009

10) “I Love You, Man”


One of the year’s best on-screen romances took place between two straight men. Yep. You read that right.
Apatow regular Paul Rudd plays “Peter Klaven,” a likable real estate salesman who just got engaged to his girlfriend Zooey Rice (played by Rashida Jones of Parks & Recreations fame). Everything is going good for Peter except for one small detail: he doesn’t have anyone to be his Best Man.
For most of his life Peter has been more of a “girlfriend guy,” who spends all of his time going from one relationship to the next, so much so that he never really bothered to make any male friends. The only male friends he has are the guys in his fencing class, and even they don’t really consider him to be “one of the guys.”
This is where the movie endears itself to me. The director and writer could have simply played Peter as a loser who tries to make guy friends, throwing in stupid dick jokes and crass sexual references. But instead of making Peter a caricature, they make him real, and Paul Rudd has never seemed so genuine to me before, and I find it refreshing. He cares about his character and makes him real, with Peter’s uncertainties about the nuances of male-bonding (with all of the bravado and silliness and brotherly affection that it entails).
It’s painful to watch Peter try so hard to make guy friends, and that makes it all the more fun to watch. You laugh as you realize just how ridiculous making friends can be at times. All this changes when he finally meets the right guy, “Sydney Fife,” played by the always-lovable Jason Segel. Sydney is a relaxed, self-confident guy who drives a Vespa scooter. Pretty much the exact opposite of Peter’s uptight character, who is forever trying his best to make sure that everyone around him is happy, no matter what.
Peter and Sydney meet at one of Peter’s open houses, where Sydney shows up to meet rich widows, naturally. The two of them hit it off and they exchange phone numbers. The next day Peter calls Sydney and leaves one of the most awkward phone messages I have ever seen on film, which had me laughing so hard I actually became light-headed for a second or two. Despite Peter’s obvious awkwardness around males Sydney calls him back and the two of them go out to dinner (a “man date”), where they bond over their love of the band Rush.
As the movie progresses something magical happens that rarely happens in “comedies”: you watch a character grow and develop. It’s fun and satisfying to watch Peter become his own man, independent from the “boyfriend” role that he spent most of his life perfecting. He loosens up and lets his guard down around Sydney in a way that he has never done before. The more he lets Sydney into his life, the more confidence Peter has, knowing that he finally has a guy friend who is there for him.
Sure, there are some dicks jokes, including a vastly inappropriate toast that Sydney gives at dinner in front of Peter and Zooey’s entire family, but at it’s heart, “I Love You, Man” is the tale of friendship, and that is something that we can all relate to.

9) “Public Enemies”

Guns fire. Glass breaks. People scream in panic. That’s right, this is a good old-fashioned bank robbery, and it’s pulled off with such style and grace that it took my breath away.
Michael Mann directs this finely honed historical biopic about the famed bank robber John Dillinger, played by Johnny Depp, who relishes the opportunity to play a genuine badass, something that he rarely gets to do. There were scenes where Depp’s mere grimace before a battle gave me chills, hinting at the violence that this man was capable of.
The film is set during the Great Depression and chronicles the efforts of FBI Agent Melvin Purvis (played with steel-eyed intensity by Christian Bale, who I haven’t seen crack a smile in quite some time, now that I think about it) on his hunt to track down the criminals Dillinger, “Baby Face” Nelson, and “Pretty Boy” Floyd on their bank robbing spree across the nation.
Dillinger is portrayed as a sort of modern day Robin Hood, in so much as he only steals from banks, not average Americans. There is a scene during one of the bank robberies where a terrified bank employee takes out his wallet and offers it to Dillinger, but Dillinger refuses to take it.
It’s obvious that both Mann and Depp love the character and the legend of Dillinger, and it is with care and affection that the character of Dillinger is played. Plus, it seems that both Mann and Depp had such a great time painting the portrait of a criminal legend that it’s hard not to smile at their enjoyment of the medium. The bank robbing scenes, while breathtakingly beautiful, are also full of such kinetic energy that was so infectious that the first thing I wanted to do when I left the theater was put on a suit, grab a tommy gun, and rob a bank! Luckily for me, that notion soon faded.
Also, it is worth noting that “Public Enemies” had one of this year’s best unintentionally hilarious scenes (for me at least, being somewhat of a nerd). There is a scene where Bale’s character chases a criminal played by Chris Pine (“Kirk” in Star Trek) through the forest, finally killing him with his rifle, after Pine’s character refuses to stop. “Oh my God,” I thought, “Batman just killed Captain Kirk!” Hahaha!… Like I said, it was really only funny to me and a select few.

8 ) “A Serious Man”

This movie starts with a Yiddish folk tale, and ends with a tornado. I’m serious.
One of 2009’s strangest films came to us from the minds of two of the most unique minds in film today: Joel and Ethan Coen.
The Coen brothers finally delve into their Jewish heritage in this dark comedy, staring theater veteran Michael Stuhlbarg as “Larry Gopnik”, a middle-class Jewish professor trying to find meaning and balance in his life. He wife is threatening to leave him for another man, and his kid (who reminds me of the young Seth Green, back in his “Radio Days” years) views him with disregard. The only person who seems to have any respect for him at all is his mentally unstable brother (played by Richard Kind, of “Spin City” fame, who is perfectly cast for the role, given his penchant for playing neurotic and perpetually insecure characters).
Most of the humor comes from the fact that Larry’s life is completely falling apart and he seems to be almost laughably unable to do anything about it. He is perpetually visiting various rabbis around town for their insight on his fucked up situation, but they seem as baffled as he is by his predicament. He’s been a good, upright Jew for all of his adult life, why are bad things happening to him? Nobody seems to know.
The moral of the movie seems to be this: Shit happens, deal with it. It’s how you react to obstacles in life that defines you, not the obstacles themselves.

7) “Avatar”

What hasn’t been said about this movie? Hmmmmmm……
It is the second highest grossing movie of all time. Holy shit. It was full of eye-popping special effects. Check. 3-D is back in style now. Nice!
Oh yeah, and it made me feel like a little kid watching “Star Wars” for the first time. It brought me to a strange world, full of wonder and excitement and I walked out of the theater as if in a trance. Sheer movie-making magic.

6) “Where The Wild Things Are”

One of the most hotly debated movies of the year didn’t involve politics, murder, or sex; it involved our childhood imaginations.
Maurice Sendak’s classic picture book was originally printed in 1963, and has been a favorite of children across the world for generations. I vividly remember my mother reading it to me as a child, and being completely entranced by the world that Sendak created.
The danger of adapting such a classic children’s book is that you run the risk of tarnishing people’s memories of the tale. Everyone remembers the book differently. Our imaginations are subjective beasts, it is true. The hurdle the film had to jump through was a re-telling of a classic story vs. people’s memories of a classic story. There are bound to be differences in the tale, things lost or added in transition from book to film, and it was how people reacted to these differences that made the film so controversial.
Spike Jonze created a film that was at once both instantly recognizable to fans of the source material, and a unique creation of his own, which seemed to anger a lot of people. How dare he change the story at all, people seemed to think. Who does he think he is?
I am a firm supporter of the film. I found it to be both heartbreaking and touching and imaginative and unique and familiar, all at the same time! It was a tale of childhood innocence and imagination, with all of the intense emotions that threaten to consume us at that tender age. One minute you are happy and playing, and then something upsets your world and you are in tears, full of rage at the fact that you don’t have much control over your life. When you are young, Parents rule your universe, and there is not much you can do about it. People seem to forget how powerless we were back then. That’s not to say that it’s a bad thing, it’s just that it’s something that seems to fade for our memory as we grow older and more independent.
Children’s most powerful tool for escaping the harshness of reality was simple: We used our imagination. We would simply close our eyes and viola!, we’re captain of a pirate ships, or kings of England. The sky was the limit to what we could imagine and do. That was the essence of “Where The Wild Things Are:” Imagination is a beautiful thing!
I feel that the film captured the essence of the book quite well. The movie brought us into the imaginary world of “Max,” the hero of the story, and didn’t let go. For 101 minutes we were a part of Max’s world, with all of the emotional ups and downs of childhood. It was moving. I will never forget this film. Ever.
I was filled with emotion as the movie brought me back to my childhood state of constant wonder and awe and raw emotion. By the end of the film I was in tears as Max finally left his imaginary world for the “real” world. I yearned to go, every part of me aching for the freedom that imagination brings. Then the lights of the theater came on and just like that you’re faced with reality again, with all of its responsibilities. I think we forget how good we had it when we were young. This movie reminded me and I will be eternally grateful to Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers for reminding me of how chaotic and wonderful childhood can be.

5) “Inglorious Basterds”

“Revenge is a dish best served cold,” the old saying goes. And self-described film junkie Quentin Tarantino does this in spades with WWII revenge-fantasy “Inglorious Basterds,” which tells the tale of a bunch of Jewish guerilla warriors whose very name strikes terror into the hearts of those no-good, dirty rotten Nazi bastards! Fuck those guys! Bam! Bang! Take that, you Nazi pigs!!! Hehe. This movie was so much fun to watch that even thinking about the movie makes me smile.
“Basterds” showcases Tarantino doing what he does best: writing amazing dialogue and directing wild, over the top, ridiculously violent scenes of bloodshed and mayhem. It’s obvious that he really enjoyed himself making this movie, and it’s an enjoyment that is completely contagious. The film takes us into a world where fortune favors the bold. It helps if that bold person in question is heavily armed to the teeth and looking for a fight, of course. Or Brad Pitt.
Speaking of that handsome bastard, Brad Pitt is fantastic in this film! Man oh man! He plays Lt. Aldo Raine (aka “Aldo the Apache,” but the film never really goes into how he got this nickname, leaving the viewer to make up their own backstory for this all-American badass), leader of the Basterds, the elite team of Nazi killing Jews who spend most of the film kicking ass and taking names. And when I say “taking names,” I mean scalping Nazis. Yep. Scalping Nazis. Because, according to Raine, “Nazi ain’t got no humanity!”
Whatever you say, Quentin. The genius of this film is that it’s so obviously over the top/revisionist history that there is no way that you can really accuse the guy of being anti-German. He is simply lovingly parodying American WWII films, with their unapologetic “all Germans are evil and must be destroyed” sentiments. It’s pure popcorn cinema, the kind of stuff that Tarantino has been perfecting since “Reservoir Dogs,” and recently brought to life with the “Kill Bill” movies, another revenge fantasy brought to life, with all of the glorious violence that Tarantino is known and loved for.
The stand out performance in the film (which is saying something, because this flick is full of stand out performances) goes to theater veteran Christoph Waltz as SS Colonel Hans Landa, the film’s main baddie, who first appears in the movies first scene, in which he forces a farmer to give up another farming family whose only crime is that fact that they were born Jewish. It’s the most intense and squirm worthy scene all year. You yearn for the family to make it out alive, but you know that there is no way that this Nazi bastard is going to let that happen. Waltz fills Landa with such menace seething under the surface of the cool, calculating eyes that the mere sight of his creepy, maniacal grin later on throughout the film is enough to give me chills. I know what this guy is capable of and I fear for whomever it is that is unfortunate enough to be his next victim. This guy haunts me. It’s one of the most memorable villains this side of Darth Vader and for that I vote we give the guy an Oscar, which is pretty much the only major acting award that he hasn’t received for the role yet. It’s good stuff. Watch this movie, you won’t regret it.

4) “Up”

Pixar can do no wrong, it seems. Every time those guys make a movie, it winds up being one of the best films of the year, audiences and critics agree. This year was no exception. “Up” was brilliant.
The beginning alone makes this film worthy of praise. I was in tears within ten minutes of the film. It was the most touching montage I have ever seen. It was perfect. Mere words cannot express how much I enjoyed every minute of this film. Well done, Pixar.

3) “Star Trek”

Star Trek is sexy. Those are words I never thought I would hear anyone say. EVER. Until J. J. Abrams came along, saw the storytelling potential, and single-handedly made Spock the most popular he’s been since the late 1960s. No easy feat.
This re-boot (I prefer the term re-imagining) of a much beloved series made my inner nerd squeal with glee. I never thought much of Abrams’ directing skills until this film. I thought “Mission Impossible III” was a complete piece of shit film, so I’ve always thought of Abrams as more of an “ideas man” rather than as a director. He has great storytelling ideas, but he really needs to have somebody else direct them. Or so I thought until I watched his take on the Star Trek mythos. Holy smokes, Batman!
Abrams took what I loved about Star Trek: the gadgets, the ships, the space opera storylines and gave it a complete makeover. He was able to re-tell the story of how it all began while cleverly keeping the original stories intact with a little alternate universe story arc.
I’ve been a Star Trek fan for years. I fondly remember watching “Star Trek: The Next Generation” with my dad when he would get home from work. When I was young he used to work the night shift, and so it seemed like the only times I would seem him was around 10 p.m. and the two of us would watch Star Trek and geek out together. It’s a very precious memory to me, and I can’t hear the Star Trek theme song in my head without picturing those moments. So yeah, I was pretty excited when I first learned a few years ago that they were re-tooling my beloved franchise. I waited in anticipation for years and I had high expectations when the movie came out, and I was not disappointed at all! I went into the film expecting greatness, and greatness I received, at warp speed no less!
The highlight of the film for me was how Abrams featured relatively unknown actors portraying such classic characters as Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto, who pretty much stole the movie, in my opinion). Pine played Kirk as an action junkie who only looked out for number one. I loved it. Then, on the other hand, you have Quinto, who knocked it out of the park with his performance as a brooding (and emotional, gasp!) Spock. Oh man, I was in Trekker heaven!
Throw in Simon Pegg for comic relief and you have the perfect Trek film for any generation!

2) “District 9”

This movie came out of nowhere and blew my socks off! It even knocked “Star Trek” off my list as Best Sci-Fi Movie Of The Year, which is a pretty impressive feat, considering how much I love Star Trek.
Directed by an unknown director with one of the strangest last name’s I have come across, Neill Blomkamp, and staring an actor whom I (and most of America) had never heard of, Sharlto Copley. All I really knew going into it was that Peter Jackson apparently knew the guy and was backing him on this venture, which was good enough for me.
Not really knowing what to expect turned out to be a blessing, for I was treated to one of the most innovative sci-fi flicks of the past decade!
The story is this: aliens have landed on Earth and are living among us! Aaaagh! Run for the hills! Right? Wrong-o!
Yeah, aliens are living among us, but rather than being our Overlords, they are living in ghettos in South Africa, which is run like a police state. The aliens seem powerless to fight us, despite their impressive size and freakish appearance (they look like giant prawns, so that’s what humanity decides to call them, “Prawns”). They are being constantly brutalized by police forces and forced to live in unsanitary and overpopulated conditions (remind you of anyone?).
Enter Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley, in break out performance), a government field agent assigned with serving eviction notices to the “Prawns” forcing them to evacuate their current ghetto for a “new” ghetto, which is truth is a lot smaller than their current one. Good ol’ humans, always looking out for number one.
The movie is shot in a mock-documentary style that seems to be all the rage right now. This doesn’t mean that it makes the film “The Office…. With Aliens!” Quite the opposite, really. The documentary style makes the story much more intense, and fact that Copley plays “Wikus” with such love and humanity that you can’t help but root for him to succeed, despite his government’s eventually betrayal of him, causing him to go on the run, and bond with the aliens that take him in and shelter him from his own kind.
This is a movie about tolerance and equality, which just so happens to showcase some of the best special effects this side of “Star Trek” while keeping its unique vision of the future intact. It’s a rare sci-fi film that will both entertain you and break your heart at the same time.

1) “Fantastic Mr. Fox”

I love Wes Anderson movies. There. I said it. If that comes as a surprise to you then the two of us clearly have not spent enough time together.
“Rushmore” remains my favorite movie of all time. I first watched that movie in my junior year of high school and have been an unrepentant Anderson enthusiast since. His writing style is completely unique. He redefined the words “quirky comedy” and I love him for it. His characters are often immature and needy, finding solace in each other’s quirkiness and childish behavior. His visual style is wholly his own and easy to spot: bright colors, lush backgrounds, and lots of dialogue.
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” marks the first time he has ever adapted someone else’s work. In this case, the British author Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, a tale of a fox who outwits farmer’s and steals their chickens, all with a smile on his face and a clever quip or two.
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” also marks the first time that Anderson ventures into the world of stop-motion, which is usually reserved for the likes of Henry Selick, but I’m glad he did. Turns out Mr. Anderson is a natural at stop-motion storytelling, since his stories always have a child-like innocence to them, the marriage of his and his co-author Noah Baumbach’s writings style with the visual style of stop-motion is a match made in heaven. Clouds are made of beautiful cotton balls, and the farms are handcrafted. There is love in every frame of this film.
The dialogue is also hilarious. The joke throughout this movie is that animals are as petty and unsure of themselves as people, with the characters expressing jealousy, embarrassment, and even narcissism in the case of the main character, Mr. Fox.
Mr. Fox’s (voiced by George Clooney) problem is that he knows he is clever. He even writes a newspaper column, though he admits to his wife that he is unsure if the other woodland creatures read it and appreciate his genius.  He is a working fox, struggling to get by on his meager salary. He longs for greater things than his current wages allow, so he decides, with the help of his friend, Possum, that he must turn to a life of crime in order to get what he wants! What he wants is a better life for himself and his family, while all the while trying to connect with his son, who everyone writes off as “strange.”
“Am I different?” the young fox (voiced by “Rushmore” star Jason Schwartzman) asks his mother (voiced by Meryl Streep, who seems to be on a hot streak these last few years, you go, girl!). “Of course, dear, but there’s something a little fantastic about that, isn’t there?” Indeed!
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is one of those rare films that parents can take their kids to and enjoy it just as much as them, but for different reasons. For the kids, it’s frickin’ stop-motion, starring a fox, what’s not to love? And for the adults, they get the joy of seeing a kids movie in which characters cry and have existential doubts, and relationships grow and develop. It’s the most mature and satisfying “kids” movie that I ever seen (and it wasn’t even by Pixar, hahaha!), and one that I plan on showing my own kids some day.
It is with great pride that I crown “Fantastic Mr. Fox” with the title of Best Movie Of The Year! Take a bow, Mr. Fox, you’ve earned it!