I love movies. Of all the great loves and passions of my life, movies have lasted the longest and given me the most pure joy.
Ever since I was a little kid, dragged around the world by my globe-trotting parents (more fun than it sounds in therapy-world) I used movies to get out of my head and move into someone else’s.
So this blog will be – primarily – about movies and my endless love affair with them.
It’s going to be idiosyncratic. I am described by my loved ones as a “force of nature” (let’s not quote enemies here quite yet) and I have weird and offbeat takes on some things and completely mainstream tastes on others.
I am a girl, but I love action films which means things blow up and catch fire in most satisfactory ways. I also adore romcoms – at which I weep – crime films, horror and pretty much everything.
Except “Juno”. Everyone else I know loves that movie, but I want that time and that money back, right now. It was nonsense. The star was great but the script was flabby and I stopped caring way too early. It’s the only film I have really disliked for years and years. Sorry to “Juno” fans, but I just didn’t get it at all.
In 2009, for personal reasons that include just plain having a BAD year, I have seen about 100 movies. Having bored all my friends with my endless need to discuss films I have seen and they haven’t seen, it’s time to write down some thoughts.
All the usual disclaimers apply. These include that they are only my opinions, that I have had a BAD year – I can’t emphasize that enough – and that I am very easily bored. I have an attention span, but it’s for high culture. Movies are meant to entertain someone on limited brain power. I should be entertained.
The best thing I saw in 2009 was “Gran Torino”. I declare several areas of bias. I love Clint Eastwood and have been deeply smitten since he played Rowdy Yates in “Rawhide”. I drool over “Dirty Harry”. Yes, I know he is out of fashion with totally unreconstructed intellectuals like me. But I think he is so cool and perfect, even old.
“Gran Torino” is an intelligent and iconoclastic look at racism, being alone, car lust and closeness. There are a few weak points, but the relationship between Clint’s character and the young neighbour is deeply moving and chivalrous. I didn’t look at my watch, not even once. And all the different strands of the plot are tied together nicely. I like a resolved ending.
Briefly, Clint’s character is widowed and racist and lives for his prized Gran Torino, which he keeps in perfect condition, while his neighbourhood is crumbling around him. His neighbour is the victim of racism and he is ever so gradually sucked into protecting the weak. He even sends up his Dirty Harry character in some breath-taking lines. It’s a tour de force and just about perfect.
After I had seen it, I went back to see “Flags of our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima” which both turned out to be two perfect war movies, despite the fact that war movies are not my favourite genre. To see the same events from the American and then the Japanese point of view is magical. I am of an age to have been told way too much about WW2. However, I was enthralled, even without Clint actually being in them to lift my spirits.
The next best thing I saw was “State of Play”. I thought I would hate this since I loved the original British TV series. And I am never certain about Russell Crowe and I really do feel that Ben Affleck is the kind of guy I wouldn’t date in high school or college because there is just something too smug in that jawline.
Yet the movie zapped right along, with Crowe as the zealous journalist suspecting his dear friend Affleck of murder in Washington. Robin Wright Penn is particularly luminous as the politician’s wife, standing by her man. I knew the plot inside out from the TV series, yet the movie still managed to surprise and thrill me in all the best ways.
The third best movie I saw was “Creation”. I know very little about Charles Darwin, although I have read about the Scopes monkey trial and seen THAT movie many times. But the touching take on parenthood, the joy of seeing a real-life couple play the Darwins and the emphasis on the battle between science and religion truly resonated with me. It’s the only thing I went to see three times. And I liked it more and more each time.
None of the people I saw it with were as convinced by it as I was. I saw it with my Cinema Buddy (British), an American (not ugly at all) and a Canadian (also cultured and cute). They all liked it, but not as much as I did (“Wait a minute, this is the third time you’re seeing this? Why?”) To me, this movie just got better with each viewing. I went back and read the book, which I pretended to have read for science in high school. Okay, I don’t know enough zoology and botany to follow it all, but I know revolutionary ideas when I read them.
This film took me back in time to Darwin’s world and made me understand the levels of battle waged over the Darwin approach to natural selection and survival of the fittest. This stuff is still controversial in so many places today. So the film resonated with me, in terms of debates over the place of God in life which is going on in the US and elsewhere.
The best scene in a movie I saw this year was, surprisingly, in a film meant for kiddies. The first 20 minutes of “Up”, with the deeply affecting love story of a long-lasting and happy marriage between two eccentrics – well, I cannot imagine what the children made of it. I was gulping back the sobs. The movie was good with loads of sly stuff completely wasted on kids, but that beginning was really brave and magical.
The best BIG scene is actually lots of scenes in John Woo’s epic “Red Cliff”. Cecil B deMille has nothing on John Woo. It’s a historic Chinese language movie, with subtitles, but the big fires and big battles are really transporting and put you in the middle of them. John Woo has always been most satisfactory in terms of making things catch fire, explode and go bang amazingly well, but this movie is a labour of love with a cast of thousands – at least – and it shows.
If I had a bigger TV, I’d buy the DVD, but it would have to be a huge screen to make the effects anything like those in the cinema. Maybe Santa will bring it to me? The TV or the DVD? I have to be optimistic and hopeful, don’t I?
The best science fiction film is a three-way race, unusually. I love John Wyndham and Philip K Dick and, therefore, am constantly disappointed by the attempts to bring the pictures in my head onto the big screen. This transition rarely happens and I am usually left feeling slightly flat and driven back to the book to make better pictures.
The “Star Trek” movie, which I recommended to everyone, managed the rare feat of staying true to the original series while bringing something new and worthwhile in, via modern special effects. It has a brilliant young cast, a snappy script and swooshed along through a variety of set pieces without feeling jaded. It stayed familiar to fans, yet managed to bring in a new audience. It is the most successful of the Star Trek franchise movies, despite having the fatal flaw of lacking William Shatner.
“Moon” was good on so many different levels. Duncan Jones managed to create something truly alien and touching. It is a very human movie, about an actor who is alone on the moon for three years. Given that Jones is David Bowie’s son, people of a certain age (that’s me!) could not help but hear “Space Oddity” playing in their heads.
Yet there is something new here and I shall go see his next film, even if it is about something I find truly abhorrent like internet gambling. It has such a great vision of space, such a good human touch and such good acting and a wonderful script, in which silence is allowed to dominate swathes of time and heighten the alien feel.
I have to mention “District 9”. It’s a flawed South African movie about shrimp-like aliens being kept in concentration camps, yet it manages to say something meaningful about apartheid and being different. It’s a little “Blair Witch” jerky to be perfect and there are continuity errors (times on the news vary capriciously and illogically) but it’s still different and alien-feeling.
The romcoms end up in a three-way split too. “The Ugly Truth” has Gerard Butler, who seemed to be in just about one out of every ten movies I saw. I really liked “Gamer” but thought he shone in “The Ugly Truth”, playing a stereotype TV jock trying to impress a politically-correct female TV exec. The scene in the restaurant is just about the rudest imaginable in a romcom, but it works in exactly the same way THAT SCENE in “When Happy Met Sally” works.
“Last Chance Harvey” was a particularly touching film with Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson playing two older lovers wandering around London. It has the feeling of “Before Sunrise” in terms of awkward personal connections and love in unexpected places, but the smart script and the brilliant stars keep it believable. There is the most excruciating wedding scene, in which Dustin Hoffman is at his daughter’s wedding, but excluded by his former wife and her husband. Anyone who ever faced a fractured family occasion will identify with the imperfect responses to difficult human situations. It’s a warm movie.
And, yes I know it’s like sugar and truly bad for me, but I really did like “27 Dresses”. If you’re a girl who likes clothes and shoes, get this on DVD and wallow. There is no place for boys here. It’s like “Shopaholic”. Either you’re a girl and you get it or you’re a boy and you’re sulking that it has been mentioned. Did I mention I am a girl?
The most successful remake of 2009, was “The Taking of Pelham 123”. Every guy I know has the original movie on video and DVD, with very few exceptions. I liked the original the first seven times a guy made me watch it, then I lost interest. No, I don’t believe the book is just about the best I ever read and – sorry if you are a guy I said this to – and now I can admit that I lied to men to keep them happy.
Sue me, if you wish. But I bet that’s not even in the top ten worst lies a woman ever told you?
The remake managed to keep faithful to the original and yet compel me to stay with it right the way through. John Travolta and Denzel Washington are just amazing and really keep the pace going. The best scene has to be the one in which the girl, unaware that her boyfriend is being held hostage in the subway and thinking she is only being seen by him, starts to strip onscreen – for the inadvertent benefit of those watching the laptop in the subway car. Surely the phrase “a Pelham 123 moment” will be used by those with regular webcam conversations that get a little steamy?
The biggest disappointment of the year is “2012”. I was SO looking forward to this and there are some very satisfactory effects and even moments of real irony. The ship John Kennedy taking out Washington and President Danny Glover is a very stylish computer-generated moment. And everyone else in the cinema seemed to just be loving it and everything else in this movie .
But for me, it just went on and on and on. And on. And on. I like John Cusack and Amanda Peet. I adore Danny Glover although I wonder if “24” is responsible for the fact that the President is now always black in disaster movies and he always dies? The Yellowstone scenes and watching California crumble were truly compelling. Danny Glover can read the phone book and I am happy.
But the whole concept of the spaceship ark – oh, it just annoyed me. There were way too many facile choices that weakened the movie, for me. It was like fast food. An hour later, you want a proper meal. I went home and watched the original “The Ghost and Mrs Muir” again, just to feel I had seen a movie with plot, script and actors saying something worth saying.