Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Year in Review Pt 1: Baffling Comedy and Over Cooked Drama

Part 1 of ??? (Possibly Many)
Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.
~"Rashi" according to A Serious Man.
I rarely make time to rewatch movies (so many new and old films to see for the first time) which is a shame since a second look can be valuable. Some critics and civilians are loathe to admit that their minds are changeable or that their opinions aren't the be all/end all, but why? There's always new points of view to consider and life experiences that should shift your paradigms.

Huh?

Before I get to the movies I feel strongly about (i.e. worst and best), I thought I'd share the three which I'm not sure I "got": The Coen Bros A Serious Man, Lars von Trier's Antichrist (my gut reaction) and Jody Hill's Observe and Report.

All three verge on the deeply misanthropic which can be something of a turn-off even if you're otherwise amused by the nifty formal control, shock aesthetics, or pitch black comedy. I'd love to hear opinions from readers on where these movies succeed or fail because honestly, I didn't know what to make of them. Or, rather, I am unsure if what I made of them will last. I currently think the first two in particular are wildly over acclaimed but I'm open to being talked out of that. At the very least all three feel like exactly the picture the filmmaker(s) set out to make. There's something to be said for movies that don't feel at all about confused about themselves... even when they prompt confusion in the viewer.

Hyperbole Gone Wild
Since this happens to be one of my intermittent "consensus" years, I actually like most of the films and performances that have been racking up the Oscar-buzz. That makes kicking the movies while they're up more difficult. Maximum flexibility required. So approach the following list of 'ridiculously overpraised' with the understanding that none of them are bad. So, let's also note the silver linings.

Over Appreciated Movies
[This section of the year-end review is dedicated to you-know-who. I've had to declare him ineligible for this annual tradition lest his movies clog up the list each and every year, including this one]

04 Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Yeah, yeah, I enjoyed it okay. But why isn't everyone sick of this franchise yet? Two more to go still? I'm not sure if I have the stamina. Silver Lining: Jim Broadbentwas a welcome cast addition.

03 The Cove
See previous post. I haven't seen much of its competition but it's tough to imagine that there isn't a better documentary getting shafted with its trophy haul (10+ prizes already). From the limited docs I've seen this year I much preferred Prodigal Sons (genius) Anvil! The Story of Anvil! (multi-layered) and Valentino the Last Emperor (entertaining!) for starters. Silver Lining: Dolphins are awesome.

02 The Hangover
I avoided this film for a long time. Frat boy comedy has never been my thing and I'd heard about the "Dr. Faggot" jokes and the inappropriate justifications of the same ('that's the way people talk!' for a film that otherwise doesn't worry a lick about representing reality). Watching it proved to be quite a rollercoaster. For the first 15 minutes I was bored solid and annoyed by the sexism/homophobia, generic setup and pedestrian filmmaking. Then, suddenly, the movie became consistently hilarious for a full half hour (which is more than most comedies can claim) as the inexplicable absurdities piled up: the chicken, the tiger in the bathroom, the missing tooth, the police car. The absurdly ballooning 'what the hell happened' scenario provided lots of funny which then slowly deflated, punctured by increasingly less funny 'here's what happened' details. Then in the final half hour the film returned to its generic misogyny. The takeaway: Boys will be boys, warts and all. Ya gotta love 'em! [back slap!] Women on the other hand... If you have to put up with them (and you do, unfortunately) only blissfully ignorant wives and sexual bimbos are acceptable options. Silver Lining: And yet... lots of laughs.

01 A Single Man
I'm sure some of you may feel that this drama about a gay man named George grieving his dead lover belongs in the grouping above. 'You'll change your mind about it! It's great!!!' But I can't shake the film school feeling that Tom Ford's debut gave me. Some people see enormously moving beauty. I see enormously self-conscious imitative beauty. Not that that can't blossom into something better. I look forward to Ford's next film. I just wish people hadn't been as quick to shower him with praise. George practically drowned in all of it in the dream sequence! What will there be left to say if Ford makes a truly great film next? Silver Lining: the original European trailer is so flawless and hypnotic that if we were grading trailers rather than the movies they're advertising this one would be an "A". The same grade applies to Colin Firth's heartbreaking performance, especially in the first half.

Inexplicably Praised Performances

It would be a gross exaggeration to say "worst" when it comes to these two performances but both are misjudged. That they should be in contention for acting prizes over more complex, careful and rewarding work would be maddening but for the Career Reward aspects of year-end hoopla. Both of these actors can claim fine "nomination worthy" turns in the past. And by "past" I do not mean earlier in December when these performances emerged.

Maggie Gyllenhaal as "Jean Craddock" in Crazy Heart
One of my friends recently told me I had taken "bad mood pills" the day I saw Crazy Heart. If reviews could speak they would undoubtedly say the same. It's just that I felt that I'd seen the movie a hundred times before and that it meandered dully whenever it drifted away from the musical performances (quite good) and into the romance and addiction drama. Jeff Bridges is terrific as "Bad Blake" but his excellence didn't feel revelatory to me in the way that seems to be elevating the film for others. Since when is Jeff Bridges not terrific when he's front and center? How can this be a revelation to people after The Big Lebowski, Star Man, The Door in the Floor, The Fabulous Baker Boys and Insert More Movies Here? I bought Bad Blake's instant lost puppy insinuation into Jean's life but I didn't buy her ready acceptance of the same. The conflict that arises in their relationship you expect but Jean's reaction to it was puzzling. It didn't feel at all organic to the character as Maggie had been playing her up till then. What about this woman would have made her cast her lot so quickly with such an obviously "Bad" man? She doesn't play the backstory. You have to get it from the screenplay instead. Did Maggie misplace her script or did they edit out a crucial character detail scene?

I still love My Maggie G and it's not like I don't root for her to walk Oscar's red carpet quite frequently (If there's a big surprise in Oscar's Supporting Actress list maybe it'll be her?) but it's hard not to expect more from her after the electricity and depth of her star turn in Sherrybaby (among others).

Stanley Tucci as "George Harvey" in The Lovely Bones
Momentum has been building to give this fine actor/writer/director his first Oscar nomination for Supporting Actor. I can totally support that (see previous Tucci enthusiasm). But if we're going to do that can't it be for Julie & Julia wherein he effortlessly supported the movie and the star (Meryl Streep) and did so with great charm and well judged simplicity. In The Lovely Bones he adds so many affectations to the killer that one wonders why the neighbors haven't come at him with pitchforks years ago. And all of it is unnecessary since Peter Jackson and his production team are already telegraphing what a terrible pervert he is through camera angles, lighting, makeup and wardrobe. George Harvey is a killer but this performance is O-V-E-R-K-I-L-L.

Ways to Be Wicked

That's only one man's opinion, mine. And yours? Which 2009 films and performances did you struggle to appreciate when everyone around you was swooning for them? And are you glad I declared a certain film ineligible so you didn't have to hear me bitch about it?

Tomorrow:
Hell's Multiplex: The Worst of the Year.
*

77 comments:

Robert said...

Ugh. I have to say that I agree with the fact that Harry Potter was overrated. As a former fanboy of the books, I see that the movies just get worse and worse. It was too full of teen melodrama and the score was bleh! Too Twilight-y.

Jude said...

I don't get the big deal about Precious, to put it bluntly. Yet everyone has been treating this movie as some sort of revelation. Yikes.

Ashley said...

One of the most inexplicably praised performances of this year in my opinion has to be Anna Kendricks's in UITA. I mean I just don't understand why she is getting all of this praise for a role that could have been played by almost any decent actress. I know Oscar loves young starlets but I hate that she is taking a nod spot from a more deserving actress like Samantha Morton or Julianne Moore. The movie may have been good, but Kendrick's performance is waaaay overrated.

Anonymous said...

I don't get the hoopla over Fantastic Mr. Fox. It just seemed like something that I've seen before - maybe Chicken Run. It seemed too talky and not very interesting.

Also, I don't get Tobey Maguire in Brothers. Just because you widen your eyes (a lot) doesn't make you "crazy".

Erik

Jose said...

I loved "Antichrist" if such a thing can go hand in hand with the word love.
I was strangely moved and surprised by how most people failed to see that it's the work of a man questioning a God that may not even exist. Where people saw a Peter Greenaway production of "Saw", I got a companion piece to Bergman's "Hour of the Wolf".

Now I agree with Jude, what the hell is the big deal about "Precious"? It's a tragic story sure and the performances are quite good, but the movie itself is so overdone and condescending that it's this close to parody.
The worst part is that if you don't like it, people think you are a heartless monster.
I was moved by Precious, but was left cold with how Lee Daniels tells her story.

Amir said...

i agree with you on the hangover for sure. so overrated.

also, i know everybody's gonna hate me for this. you have every right to do so, but i think 'the hurt locker' is overrated.
it's not that i didn't like the film. it's at number 7 on my list of the year, so i liked it a LOT.
but all the awards it's winning and all the acclaim, is it really THAT good? i guess it's one of those films that somebody has to explain to me. i've watched it twice already (more than all other films this year except basterds) but i still feel like despite the amazing direction, the superb acting and the intensity of all the "action" scenes, it's still lacks 'something'. i'm not sure what.

Stephen said...

Interesting thoughts!

I personally loved loved loved Half-Blood Prince (an easy 'A' after one viewing, although I'll have to revisit because I wonder if I was just so surprised that it was actually, you know, good).

Though I didn't love the movie, I'm less bothered by The Hangover than you are, too. For this kind of thing, I've learned not to let "the 'F' word" trip the homophobia alarm too soon. In certain contexts. Of course, I don't expect everyone to be on the same page, and I'm as bothered as anyone that it is this particular word that has gained such general applicability. But I don't think that's The Hangover's cross to bear, necessarily, particularly given the fratboyish contexts.

I was in a fraternity myself during my undergrad days, and the frequency with which the guys jokingly referred to each other as both the 'F' and 'N' words basically taught me not to read too much into that kind of thing. It might not be 'okay', but I don't know if that automatically makes it homophobic or racist. (I should add that I'm not totally comfortable with the 'anything goes' attitude I seem to be advocating - but I hope my point is clear).

I also don't think there's any more misogyny there than is naturally inherent in any kind of comedic Vegas/bachelor party setup (and, certainly, bachelor parties and Vegas in general). Although I'm less convinced on this point, and if the film weren't as compassionate as it is towards Graham's character, or if the bride-to-be were at all a harpy, I'd certainly be inclined to agree with you.

Anyway, I thought it was fun and (almost) totally harmless.

Robert Hamer said...

FINALLY someone says what I've been thinking all along about Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart! I'll be very happy if he wins the Academy Award for Best Actor, but only if I close my eyes and pretend he won it for Fearless or even The Big Lebowski instead. Not to mention my suspicion that the film seems constructed entirely around him getting his belated Oscar, which pisses me off in of itself.

As for A Serious Man, I do highly recommend you watch the film again. It IS admittedly a very dark comedy, which isn't everyone's cup of tea, but there is an intelligence and confidence in the Coen Brothers' direction and writing that I find almost unprecedented, which is elevated further by all of the deeply personal and mature musings on everything from family to religion to life and death. Michael Stuhlbarg was also wonderful in the film and I hope you at least consider him among your FiLM BiTCH nominees.

Chris Na Taraja said...

Although I appreciate your take on THE HANGOVER, I'm finding it hard to believe that you expect so much enlightened behavior out of a Frat Boy comedy. It's kind of like going to a boxing match and complaining that there is blood.

I am usually quite sensitive to Homophobia and sexism, but I wasn't bothered by this movie...except for the horrible depiction of the swishy asian guy. Does anyone think that the racist depiction of asians is funny?!

Maybe I need to take my own advise but can we take the asian "depiction" out of these movies, and instead maybe cast an asian as a real character. I mean, wasn't this already old when Mickey Rooney did BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S.

Victor S said...

Come on man, I was waiting for you to completly trash Clint and Invictus.
Since you won't go there, I'll (more than happilly) will!!
How can such a dull, dull, dull movie is be in the run for best picture? Really?? Of the 250 movies released in the US Invictus is one of the 10 best?
It's simply the worst sports movie EVER!! Clint took all the excitiment of rugby in this movie. The final game of the 1995 rugby world cup is probably one of the best finals, in any sport, I've the chance to watch. And Clint turn it in the most boring thing I've ever seeen. Even The Blind Side is better!!!
Everyone in this movie just pushed the auto-pilot button and they're getting Oscar nominations!!!
I just don't which nomination is going to be more ridiculous: best adapted screenplay (even Benjamin Button was less snore indulcing) or Best supporting actor for Matt Damon just for showing his pecs.

Chris Na Taraja said...

OMG how can you compare Mr. Fox to chicken Run "anon"!!!!???!!! I don't mean to take anything away form Chicken run, but Raol Dahl + Wes Anderson = Pure Joy (at least for me)

Paul Outlaw said...

Which 2009 films and performances did you struggle to appreciate when everyone around you was swooning for them?

I didn't struggle to appreciate Up in the Air and An Education, in fact, I enjoyed them both. But I do consider them the two most overrated films of the year, in every way. They are just not that good.

I'd rather be talking about The Road, Where The Wild Things Are and A Serious Man. (It's been months, and I still can't explain why I think this last one is so great--it just worked for me emotionally, intellectually and visually.)

PS. While I also consider The Hurt Locker to be slightly overrated, the film really resonated with me, and the backlash against Precious makes me that much fonder of it.

Glendon said...

Up. It's the same with Wall-E, you wow the audience with a beautiful, daring first half full of material that is groundbreaking for animation and then hope they don't notice the generic immaturity that follows. Pixar just can't commit to its initial vision and we're left in both cases with a lazy chase. The villainous dog's high voice and fat people falling over does nothing for me. It's the second year in a row I've watched in horror as a Pixar movie imploded.

The Know Nothing Know It All said...

Given how much you've been railing against Sandra Bullock, I'm surprised to see her miss the list of overpraised performances. Also (and as a black person, I'm aware this is higher treason than Nathaniel not loving a movie directed by Tom Ford) I honestly don't get the fuss over Morgan Freeman, insomuch as I don't think he's great in general and I didn't think he was great in "Invictus." His Nelson Mandela feels so incredibly phoned-in that it initially made me overestimate Matt Damon's performance by comparison (no easy feat, that).

Morgan said...

I was so not into Star Trek. I really like good sci-fi but I was honestly bored. The plot was so uncomplicated (and then nonsensical) that I just couldn't get myself to care about any of them.

And I think Anna Kendrick is perfectly good in Up in the Air, but she has absolutely nothing on Vera Farmiga. I wish she were getting the attention instead.

A Serious Man was one of my favorite movies of the year, I think because I wasn't trying to really understand it. Part of the reason I enjoyed it so much was that I had been taking a script analysis class all semester and everything about that script deliberately goes against formula. I also thought the ending was perfect, and that the acting was across the board excellent (especially Michael Stuhlbarg, of course). And it was funny. (Plus I'm not Jewish but I grew up in a town with a very high Jewish population so I wasn't lost by any of the cultural references.) That said, I still have no idea what was up with that prologue, but that didn't really take away from the rest of the movie for me. I think it's not really supposed to be read in the context of the rest of the movie -- I'm sure there's some reason/connection/whatever, but it's surely something only they would understand.

D said...

Overrated: "Up in the Air", easily. It's wholly competent, but rarely more than that.

And while I haven't seen "Bones" yet, I don't get why some people are trying to deflect the Tucci admiration to "Julie and Julia" instead - he was asked to do practically nothing in that movie, and did it well enough, I suppose.

Caden said...

100% agreed on A Single Man and Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones. And both were things I was ready to love when I walked in the theater.

adam k. said...

I would have Hangover at #1 in the overrated list, no matter how bad A Single Man is. It's not being THAT wildly praised. And it's surely better than that piece of trash with the $277 million and 70+% RT rating.

I thought it was straight-up bad from start to finish. I hear you on the arc of bad to okay back to bad again, except that I REALLY didn't think that half hour was THAT funny. Certainly not enough to justify the rest of the movie. The absurdity was mildly entertaining, but it just smacked of "look, something even WEIRDER now!" without any regard for plausibility.

It's the kind of thing that I could forgive - and may even have been funny - in the context of a story I was into with endearing characters I cared about. This had NONE of that. So it all just seemed forced. All four of those guys were loser douchenozzles, and the (hetero)sexism/racism/stupidity just never let up. And to make it worse, everyone in my theater was LOVING it. And that just made me hate people.

And it just burns me that this kind of bullshit is well reviewed by critics, whereas Sex and the City: The Movie is not. The double standard is so blatant it's embarrassing.

End rant.

Jake D said...

I thought Bright Star was about the dullest thing I'd ever experienced. I thought Abbie Cornish was okay and Paul Schneider was great. Otherwise...I came out of the theater saying "Well...it looked good..."

The praise for Cornish is baffling to me.

adam k. said...

Oh, one more reason I hate it:

It got exactly the kind of broad commercial success (and globe nomination) that Whip It deserved this year.

Just UGH.

D said...

Side note: is it just me, or is anyone else wondering why more people haven't pointed out that the whole "weird chain of events uncovered after a night of forgotten partying" premise to "The Hangover" that everyone seems so impressed with was largely lifted from "Dude, Where's My Car?"

Luke said...

Chris, why the lack of love for Chicken Run? It's a modern masterpiece if ever I saw one. Not only was it the best reviewed film of 2000 (http://uk.rottentomatoes.com/m/chicken_run/) but it was the reason for the introduction of the Best Animated Film category.

I would say it is considerably better than The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

cinemadventurer said...

I remember cringing at the 'Dr. Faggot' jokes early on in The Hangover...and then proceeded to LOVE the movie and the characters. I feel like the characters matured a bit by the end of the film. Bradley Cooper holding his sleeping son in the final scene comes to mind. After all of that, perhaps he's a good dad.

What 2009 movies do I think are overrated... I just saw Avatar tonight and was left with mixed feelings. I thought it was beautiful and exciting and well-directed. The story and character development, however, were a bit lacking. Am I just being picky?

Also, An Education left me a bit mixed as well. Carey Mulligan was great and I loved everything involving Rosamund Pike and Dominic Cooper. I think that the relationship between Mulligan and Sarsgaard was poorly developed and confusing.

Anonymous said...

I'm really surprised Nathaniel. Usually I completely agree with you, but this time I don't.


Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is the second best in the series and the series never gets old. I love it to death and is a great guilty pleasure.

The Cove was brilliant and The Hangover was surprisingly funny when I despise Old School, Wedding Crashers etc.

But A Single Man? A Single Man is the best film of the year! AMAZING

Kevin P. Durkin said...

"It's Complicated" is the msot confusing film of the year for me. I was the only member of my group of "film-loving" friends who disliked this film. The general preachniness, "Cheating is BAD!!", was so irritating to me, that I just wanted to scream in the theater! Not to mention that the film just wasn't funny, at all.

I also found "The Hangover" grossly overrated. I much preferred "I love you, Man" which came out much earlier in the year, but which inspired genuine laughter. It wasn't a film relying on cheap "faggot" or "douchebag" type of jokes. Nat I really wish you would see this film for the potential comparison between the two.

All in all, I can't say that I'm dissapointed by this film year though. I really loved many of the films being praised, including "Up in the Air", and "Precious". It was fun watching them and not being dissapointed dispite all of the over the top hype that preceded my screenings of the both of them. "An Education" was a similar case, though I enjoyed it far less than the prior two mentioned.

Drew said...

I think it's a bit sad that Antichrist and A Serious Man didn't do it for you... they're the two best I've seen this year, along with Bright Star and Samson and Delilah.

Steve said...

Should we really invoke Sex and the City when we're hating on portrayals of race?

Iggy said...

My problem with Antichrist is the same thing that goes for all the movies divided into episodes, acts or whatever. They point out so clearly the difference between the different parts, it makes me wonder why directors don't realize. For me, it was a great movie until the third act, but the rest was Von Trier going Von Trier-est and not in a good way. First, it turned into ("Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" gone wild) + (as directed by Sam Raimi) - (Raimi's sense of humor). And second, the whole physical violence they inflict to each other, even in their situation, seemed a bit forced to me because it said "I'm Von Trier, the provocateur, and that's what's expected from me". Don't get me wrong, I enjoy slayer movies, so the violence it's not a problem for me. I have only a pet peeve regarding those famous scenes. If you're imaginative, and Von Trier sure is, don't shoot the scenes with the typical abrupt change to a closeup that screams "I obviously couldn't convince the actors to do it, so that's what you get". Not that I wanted them to really do those scenes, but I wanted Von Trier to be more imaginative and try something different. But I must say, the Bambi-like ending was really funny.

What I don't understand is the success of The Hangover some other people have mentioned. From the very beginning when you see the fat guy's ass you know what you'll get. And as someone said above it's Dude, Where's My Car revisited. But worse, what was acceptable (?) in twenty-something dumb guys is truly annoying in guys in their 30s. I found it unfunny all the time. Even the tiger thing was already in Bringing Up, Baby and it was developed in a much funnier way. And what's up with Bradley Cooper? It's been his year, no doubt, the guy is hot, sure, but to me he's like another McConaughey.

Iggy said...

And also, though I think Melanie Laurent deserves all the recognition she's getting, I'd like to see more for Kruger and Brühl. I think it's probably because Laurent has the more likeable part and has also a bigger arc to work with. But Kruger and Brühl, specially Kruger do their best with what they have. That Pitt is being campaigned for BSA with that cast is just a joke.

Alexis said...

For me one of the most overrated performances has to be that of Brad Pitt in Inglorious Basterds...Honestly,the rest of the cast in the movie is so so good that his performance seems really corny...and no body get me started on Sandra Bullock!

Alexis said...

For me one of the most overrated performances has to be that of Brad Pitt in Inglorious Basterds...Honestly,the rest of the cast in the movie is so so good that his performance seems really corny...and no body get me started on Sandra Bullock!

Daniel Armour said...

I have to disagree about Harry Potter simply because I know more people that dislike the franchise than like it and that the film was actually decent (I also completely disagree with Robert about the score. Bought it for my Birthday, in fact). I do agree, however, with The Hangover. It doesn't have the heart of any Apatow film nor the consistent laughs.

I don't get the love for Kendrick in UITA either and although I liked Crazy Heart, I'm not necessarily sure if Jeff Bridges did anything great in it.

Glenn Dunks said...

Yeah, the politics behind The Hangover were pretty bad - I was glad when "dr faggot" was met with near silence in my sold out cinema - but I laughed so much and that's so rare these days. So, I don't find it overrated.

I have a hard time saying A Serious Man is "overrated" because I legitimately think it was just not made for me. And I don't just mean than in a i'm-not-jewish way since I'm sure there are plenty of non-jewish people who like it, but that style of movie is not my thing at all and yet that style is so rare so I don't mind others liking it. There are so many faux hipster faux indie faux quirky movies that get praised year in year out that have no discerning personality which I think are faw worthier of scorn.

In regards to movies I've found over praised... Last Ride, Up and the big one Star Trek are it. I really liked Up, but it's the first Pixar I can't say i've "loved" since A Bug's Life. Last Ride is every dull, aussie miserabalism cliche in the book.

Star Trek is just baffling. Annoying camera works (those lens flares), frustrating gender/sexual politics (the only woman gets on the ship because she slept with Spock. Don't Ask Don't Tell still in effect 300 years in the future, etc), a dull villain and a boring fashion catalogue of actors (sorry Chris Pine, you're not foolin' me into believing you have the makings of a star - Sam Worthington has though).

Murtada said...

Completely agree with you about Stanley Tucc in "Bones". Too much, don't understand why that performance is getting such praise.

I was disappointed with "Bright Star". Like 'A Single Man" it was gorgeous looking but dull, dull, dull. And Ben Whishaw was terrible, I didn't believe for a minute that he was passionate about poetry or Fanny. Just dull like the movie.

Also Where the Wild Things Are. I waited all year on the count of the fantastic trailer to be amazed. The first 20 minutes of Max at home with his mother were fantastic. Jonze really showed us Max's world from Max's POV. And when we got to see the wild things for the first ime it was another "whoa" moment. But then nothing, they weren't wild just neurotic urbanites. and again very dull and boring. I actually fell asleep for a bit in the last hour or so. Biggest disappointment of the year.

Anna said...

Overrated movie: The Hurt Locker
Thought it was a decent movie when I saw it, and was well directed. Perhaps I need to see it again because I'm flabbergasted with all the attention its receiving.
Overrated acting: Both actresses in "Up In The Air". I didn't see anything special about either performance.

Robert said...

I think I did a pretty good job at avoiding that which I'd find overpraised this year. Although with required Oscar viewing coming up, it will soon be unavoidable.

I must say, I found The Hurt Locker to be a very good, top 10 movie (and one that I recommend often) but I am a bit surprised at all the Best of the Year awards it's racking up. It felt more like a series of loosely connected scenes than anything with a strong narrative and that made it feel like a good small picture instead of a major revelation.

And of course although I strongly disagree on A Serious Man (best of the year) I am at a loss to explain why I love it so much after just one viewing, other than to say I found it's enigmatic nature completely intriguing (also I have sick fanboy love for the Coens).

Robert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jo said...

I thought about adding Inglourious Basterds to the overrated heap, but I realize that it actually belongs in "worst of the year." I do think, however, that Christoph Waltz's performance belongs here, not because it isn't good, or even great, or even Oscar-worthy. But because the fanboy superlatives (and the critics' groupthink) have gotten completely out of hand. You would think that this was one of the most original, groundbreaking performances ever recorded on film. I just can't get on board with that.

NATHANIEL R said...

Murtada -- you're hurting me. I l-o-v-e-d Bright Star and Whishaw in it.

Robert -- re: Hurt Locker. i think the 'series of scenes' is the exact nature of the narrative and very similar/appropriate to most addiction narratives and thus, brilliant... since they're not usually about adrenaline addiction symbolizing our war addiction.

NATHANIEL R said...

Jo -- that is such a threat of awards season. even if a performance is very good too much hoopla seems to turn the tide. I guess more and more people are thinking Harrelson might win. Maybe he will.

oh and

Murtada --- i agree that WHERE THE WILD THINGS loses some steam after the rather brilliant first 40 minutes or so. But it's still so good.

Glenn -- agreed on Chris Pine. zzz.
but i am more horrified that the casting of Thor went to his daddy in the movie instead of to Alexander Sarsgaard. Boooo.

Chris Na Taraja said...

Luke, I am in no way dissing CHICKEN RUN, it's a great flick. But MR. FOX is not the same. (wow, i can't believe I'm getting upset about an anonymous comment).

I'm also totally Biased. Raold Dahl is one of my favorites, and so is Wes Anderson. it's a match made in Heaven for me.

OtherRobert said...

Antichrist worked for me, but I'm a fan of extreme horror and Lars von Trier, so I believe I was in the small cross-section known as the target audience.

I don't think Observe and Report suceeded as a great film, but it was certainly a thought provoking film with moments of greatness. The reveal of Rogen's illness during the interview was heartbreaking, and it just became more upsetting after that. It never quite sat right with me but I appreciate the attempt to go beyond the standards of stupid gross out comedies. I'd put it in the same category as The Informant!: I don't think I understand what I watched, I don't know if I liked what I watched, but I certainly like the risk taking and attempt to do something different.

adelutza said...

I didn't get why is The Hurt Locker so great even at the second viewing.
And I regret to this day the $9.50 I payed to see The Hangover. At least I saw The Blind Side for free.

cal roth said...

Is it only me or Maggie Gyllenhaal is overrated in EVERYTHING?

Jim T said...

Nathaniel, I just came from Vienna. I was lucky enough to visit an exhibition of photos of Leibovitz (only the ones taken since 1990) and there was one that made me think of you. It was a lovely photo of Todd Haynes with Moore in a car a la Far From Heaven. I also saw the one with di Caprio and the swan, Kidman in full glamour and many others. It was great! :)


on topic: It's really funny how you can never find a person to agree with completely. I agree with you that Hangover is overrated but I also think that about (500) Days of Summer. Go figure.

cal roth said...

or anything, whatever

adam k. said...

Yeah I definitely saw The Hangover for free. There was no way I was paying. And I refuse to spend more than $6.00 (AM cinema) on Blind Side.

Glenn, I think you're overanalyzing the gender politics of Star Trek. Uhura didn't get the assignment by sleeping with Spock, she just almost DIDN'T get it because she slept with him (he was worried about favoritism). The whole point is that she deserved it on the merits. Sure I suppose you could argue she CLINCHED it with the relationship, but really I wasn't offended by that in the least.

I don't remember any reference to "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and I saw the film 3 times. But at this rate, it probably WILL still be in effect in 300 years, so I'd call that prescient (snark).

And no one will convince me that Sam Worthington was somehow better in Avatar than Chris Pine was in Star Trek. Not that either of them was brilliant or anything, but Sam didn't even know what accent he was doing, for Chrissake. Awkward. I do find Pine rather generic, but Worthington is basically just a bland alpha-male blank slate. In this case, it worked for the film. But a star? Really?

The accent REALLY bothered me. I guess I just can't believe they went through all those months of shooting and Cameron never said anything. Too much money spend already, so why bother? I mean, WTF?

Jim T said...

adam k, Pine was far better than Worthington. No doubt about that. But did the accent bother you that much? I mean, wasn't the whole performance just soulless. Pine did a very good job but nothing remarkable. I was actually expecting less by him.

Michael C. said...

Nat: Your take on Hangover = Spot on.

Most Overrated = 500 Days of Summer.

10% inventive or insightful material 90% movie bullshit. That speech at the greeting card company was unforgivable. (Plus, he works at a greeting card company!)

Also, Annie Hall did the same jumping around a relationship structure it just that Woody didn't spend so much screentime patting himself on the back.

kent said...

THE BLIND SIDE is the most overrated of the year for me. i just don't get what people love about it. it's so annoying. if the film didn't have any critical support, i strongly doubt sandra bullock would even be in the running for best actress.

mrripley said...

I don't get the gabourey sidibe love half the time i could not understand a word she said.

I also refuse to belive tilda swinton was this years best actress i found her unlikeable in the extreme and her film putrid

Richter Scale said...

Nat, I definitely agree on The Hangover. I laughed during the second act, but the first and third act were unbearable, and the characters were either too unlikable, disgusting or pathetic to really like.

As for A Serious Man, to me it was like the Coen Brothers were inviting us to their own quest for the Meaning of Life, without giving us any answers, like all great art should. It's a film about a quest, and the Coens present different points of view from different rabbis. That's part of why I loved it. Also, as a Jew myself, I was taken by a lot of the humor, recognizing a lot of the situations and rituals, and I loved that story about the dentist finding the message in the gentile's teeth, and obssessing over what it meant, until like a toothache, he forgot about it. And the scene that encompasses the whole film for me was the one where the elder rabbi tells Danny on his Bar-Mitzvah to "Be a good boy", because that's really all that is in his power to be. The Coens have always presented this theme of how limited our control is over our own lives, and they always present characters trying to excercise what little control they have and accept the mystery of what happens to them.

Also, I love the characters that the Coens come up with. Their plots may not always make sense, but their characters are always memorable, and they always construct scenes that makes every character unique (that's why everyone remembers The Dude). In this film, tha was Sy Abelman (very few characters I've seen on screen have made a hug so threatening). And, the youngest rabbi is played by Simon Helberg, who some people might recognize from The Big Bang Theory (where he's hilarious). Anyway, that's my jumbled way of explaining why I loved A Serious Man. I saw it twice already, and both times I was impressed by that perfect final image, it's like the wrath of God staring right at you from the sky.

As for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I just saw it a second time and while it's very slow, the third act is amazing, and the performances keep this film afloat. I love the feeling it leaves you with. I think it's the only Harry Potter film so far that doesn't try to squeeze some form of happy ending, and I think the lack of a final battle helps the film a lot, because it provides the feeling of impending doom and it gives the Death Eaters an upper hand. A final battle would have provided a victory for Harry and his friends, and I felt this film had to end in a defeat, a sense of loss that would drive into the next film to begin the final adventure (that's just me).

Anonymous said...

i thought precious was over done and over directed and pretty much emotional blackmail. suffocating as well as outright boring.
mo'niques performance was impressive though, i admit. stil...

Billy McLellan said...

i think that vera farmiga is perfectly adequate in 'up in the air'... but nothing special. i mean, what did she DO in that movie, really?

Anonymous said...

Up in the Air is definitely overrated after I've saw it this weekend. The first 45 mins maybe brilliant, but then the wheels come off and thematically, emotionally (if there is any) it just doesn't work. Acting is just ok, not really brilliant, and I just don't get Farmiga's character. If you have a family, and don't want anyone to find out about it and just want a fling, why would you go to someone's sister's wedding?? It is definitely NOT an "timely" (I hate that word) American masterpiece.

Anonymous said...

I also think Precious' performances are great, and Sidibe is especially emotional and touching. But the movie is very distracting, especially the direction and the fantasy sequences. It's really unnecessary to really show the inner and outward states of Precious.

Nate Tyson said...

Observe and Report = fantastic ensemble, smart direction, problematic script.

Rogen, Farris & Weston are all very, very, very good.

Nate Tyson said...

To people who don't like the "unrealistic" parts of Precious: Would you really have preferred such a melodramatic story to have been presented as realism? Precious' inner fantasies are a part of her life, and to eschew them for being "distracting" seems to be missing the point. The shot of her "reflection" is a good eample...people probably saw this as heavy-handed, I saw it as blunt and heart-breaking. Even when she feels her prettiest, Precious wishes she was "white pretty."

NATHANIEL R said...

Nate -- i think the fantasy sequences are crucial to the movie, too. But i do think that Lee Daniels overdirects them... or includes too many of them. But most of the complaints I hear about Precious just don't sit right with me. I thought it was a pretty amazing film and those two performances, spot on.

adam k. said...

I actually didn't find Worthington soulless. I liked his performance a lot, other than the accent. I think he was well suited to the role; I was just unconvinced that he could play anything but the wide-eyed alpha male.

And it's not that it was THAT distracting, but I just couldn't believe that he could get away with such blatant inability on a film of this scale. With $300 million, couldn't Cameron either get him dialect training or just hire someone who was actually American or could do an American dialect, OR just let Worthington be an Aussie in the film, if it was that hard for him?

Nothing irks me more than an actor insisting on doing an accent when it clearly detracts from his performance. Better to just not even go there.

adelutza said...

I always find irritating when people criticise accents, maybe because my mother tongue is not English, but also because there is a lot of "world" out there that watches films dubbed in their own language ( not that I agree with the practice necessarily), and couldn't give a damn about an accent.
And they still love Meryl Streep...

Bill_the_Bear said...

Ashley, I SO agree with you about Anna Kendrick! I just don't see what all the fuss was about. Her acting was pretty pedestrian to begin with, and I had to stop trying to take her seriously after that crying scene, where she looked as if she were trying to channel Shirley Temple.

You know who would have been better in that role...Ellen Page! Julianne Moore would be too old to do a just-out-of-college geek.

However, after seeing it twice, I have to say that UITA is basically overrated; I expected so much more from it. Ryan Bingham's sudden turn towards domesticity after attending his sister's wedding doesn't really fit the character, which is my big beef about the movie. As for acting, Clooney is good, but he's almost on auto-pilot for most of it. Vera Farmiga, on the other hand, is very good, and I'd be happy to see her get a supporting actress nom.

I hope that UITA doesn't win the Best Picture Oscar!

As for "A Simple Man," the last few minutes, the end of the last act, were a marvel of mounting tension and apprehension. However, the rest of the movie was...nothing. I'm not Jewish, and I'm a lifelong atheist, so I'm doubly not part of the intended audience.

As for "The Hurt Locker," it didn't particularly move me. As far as "Iraq" films go, I preferred "Redacted."

Nat, I'm waiting to see your list of underrated movies/performances. I would nominate "Two Lovers" as underrated film of the year.

FenixPahedi said...

The Hangover sucked so much !!! Its one of the worst comedy movies ive seen recently and people keep praising it. It sucked so get over it!

And The Hurt Locker !! Please! Get over the Iraq War already. Its so annoying.

Only kathryn bigelow and the editing crew should win for the film, the rest... OVERRATED !!!

Stella said...

500 Days of Summer.


Good LORD. Some parts were cute and made me laugh, but overall it was just so transparent, from the themes to the individual scenes. I could practically hear the screenwriter say during each scene, "insert [thing] to make it quirky/original" = oddly forgettable. And don't even get me started on the fact that people are falling over each other on the IMDB board for 500 Days, proclaiming it to be a revelatory movie on love. Christ, we're in trouble.

Zooey Deschanel - well, she is always overrated. She's a poster girl for indie cliches, not a versatile or particularly good actress.

Stella said...

Oh, and I just want to defend Anna Kendrick. I thought she gave a very honest and lively performance, and she was a superb foil to George Clooney in UITA.

Nate Tyson said...

Stella:

No offense, but I think you're misreading the film.

The whole film is essentially an essay on the "cute girl saves sad boy" story that has permeated our culture. It is an indictment of guys who selfishly turn girls into symbols and call that love. It uses the tropes of the "genre" (ie, sad british pop music, simplified cinematic references, Zooey herself) as a Brechtian "distancer" in order to detach the audience's direct empathy...after all, the main character is the only one who doesn't realize how false and cliche his "love" is.

Jon said...

I agree with you very much about A Single Man. I thought everything about it, with the exception of the performances, was too "staged" and none of it felt real. The film school way to describe it is perfect. I feel as if Tom Ford was watching other beautiful films and seeing what he can to do make his film beautiful, and it turn it came across as fake and unnatural. It was all technical for me, and none of it natural. Except for the performances. But of course, you said it more eloquently.

Peter said...

Um... there's not actually a Jeff Bridges movie called "Insert More Movies Here"... right?

klemen said...

If you're not gonna say it, I will-Invictus:)
Also definitely Star Trek.Sure, it was perfectly fine and fun, but also perfectly generic and forgettable.

Performances...while they're all good, I am unentusiasthic about upcoming Oscar nods for Sidibe, Bullock and even Streep.
Also obviously Freeman and Damon.(Though I'd nominate Damon before Freeman.Or at least I don't get why everyone is freaking out about Matt's nominations, but barely anyone speaks against Freeman's.)
And I'm convinced I missed something in Jeremy Renner's performance.

It needs to be said I'm still missing some big movies.Nine, Bones, Crazy Heart, Up in the Air, A Single Man, Bright Star and A Serious Man being the biggest ones.

NATHANIEL R said...

Peter. No there is not. It was a joke about how awesome he is no matter the movie.

Cory Rivard said...

I am with you on "The Cove". I am more than all for putting a stop to animal cruelty. My particular issue with the film is the message that the slaughter of dolphins is so much worse than the slaughter of cows in North America. When the "hero" of the film is told that there is no difference between the two massacres, he responds by saying that the difference is that HERE (in Japan) it's a big secret. Therefore, if they put out a commercial ADVERTISING the fact that they are senselessly killing innocent dolphins, the film crew would pack up and go home.
That moment stopped me in my tracks and made me realize how short sighted the message of the film was.

FranklinBluth said...

I really like your analysis of 'the hangover'. I feel justified for finding it both hilarious and infuriating. Thanks Nathaniel!!!

Glenn Dunks said...

"I was just unconvinced that he could play anything but the wide-eyed alpha male."

Somersault. He even gets a gay kiss in that one.

Adam, what I meant about DADT is that the movie goes to great lengths to be like the series and give all of those minorities a major member and yet despite everything about this Star Trek being more modern and everything and can't throw in a token gay character? They don't need to make them a flamboyan drag queen like they did with the Russian dude, but something.

Anyway, the Uhuru thing is stupid anyway because even when she's on the ship she doesn't do a damned thing.

Anthony said...

I didn't think that Stanley Tucci did anything worth nominating in "Julie & Julia." If the long-suffering wife trope is so old, then it should be the same case for the long-suffering husband (though his suffering was at a minimum, since he had his giddy wife's cooking and all to comfort him). "The Lovely Bones" looks awful, and I was really looking forward to it after reading the book. He isn't the kind of actor I would have gone for with George Harvey either. It should been more of a Dylan Baker type. Or just Dylan Baker. That could have been awesome, and he needs to be nominated for something already anyway (should have been for "Happiness").

And I loved "The Hangover," so I don't see what's misjudged about it. I don't care about things being overhyped if the final product is worth its salt. I can cut off the computer and television when over-saturation hits a film. But it was one of the best films of the year to me, and I'd love to see it nodded in best picture this year. It's the comedy of the year and runs circles around these other comedies of the year being brandied about for one of the ten slots.

Dominik said...

Hi, I've been enjoying reading this blog for some months now. Just wanted to make sure, if I got something right here

"This section of the year-end review is dedicated to you-know-who"

you-know-who is Clint Eastwood, isn't he?

NATHANIEL R said...

yes

Amanda said...

Without a doubt, I have to give 'over-praised' shout-outs to the twin front-runners for Actress... Carey Mulligan and Meryl Streep. Mulligan was delicate and charming, yes, but I feel as though any other young starlet could have delivered a performance on the very same level. Streep's performance felt like an imitation of Dan Akroyd doing Julia Child.