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My Top Ten Movies of 2009

Posted by samgr on January 2, 2010

The rules are that I have to have seen them.  Also, I separated them into fiction and documentaries for some reason, despite the fact that I saw fewer than ten documentaries.


#10 — Bright Star

A romance between Keats and Fanny Brawne.  Mostly makes it in because everyone in it is an incredibly good actor.  The characters seem like real people without getting caught up in weird speech patterns and silly costumes.  And Paul Schneider gets mad props for his extremely entertaining (and for all I know, accurate) Scottish accent.

#9 — Il Divo

Neat, stylish biopic of Italian PM Giulio Andreotti.  Unflaggingly entertaining, and frequently extremely funny.  Has a killer (and bizarre) hybrid opera/punk soundtrack.

#8 — Sugar

Story of a Dominican who goes to the US to play baseball.  Realistic, interesting, and ultimately unexpectedly optimistic.

#7 — In the Loop

Amazingly funny satire of how we got into the Iraq War in Britain and the US.  Really really grim, or it might have gotten a higher spot, but has the best swearing I’ve ever seen in any movie ever.

#6 — Avatar

Yeah, what the Hell.

#5 — The Hurt Locker

Basically a really well-made action movie about bomb squads in Iraq.  Manages to say something about the Iraq War without being preachy.  All the acting is great, and it has a lot of approximately thirty-second cameos from big stars without being distracting.

#4 — Coraline

Beautiful stop-motion animation, which I really want not to die, and a smart story.  Also 3D!  Hooray for 3D.

#3 — Goodbye Solo

Don’t really know how to summarize this…  A Senegalese cab driver n North Carolina befriends (sort of) an old guy who may or may not be planning to commit suicide.  It’s great.

#2 — Moon

I loved this movie: Sam Rockwell on the Moon with only Kevin Spacey as a computer to keep him company (sort of).  More or less hard science fiction, but smart and funny and beautiful.  All the special effects look amazing despite the film having a very small budget.  ($5 million, considerably less than the overrated District 9!)

#1 — Star Trek

Yeah, I know.  The thing is, I think I enjoyed Star Trek more than anything else I saw last year.  There was not a single second that I was watching it when I wasn’t having a really good time.  The acting was good, everything looked cool, it had Leonard Nimoy, there were spaceships and monsters: I dunno.  The plot is kind of stupid if you take a moment to think, but the writing is good enough moment-to-moment that it’s very easy to sit back and happily miss the forest for the trees, which is okay by me.  I feel like I would immediately jump at the chance to see this movie again at almost any time.


#1 — Anvil! The Story of Anvil
#2 — Beaches of Agnes
#3 — The Cove
#4 — Tyson
#5 — Every Little Step
# 6 –Under the Sea 3D
#7 — Of Time and the City


Bruno — This was really a bummer.  I loved Borat, whereas Bruno was just stupid and mean-spirited; you felt like they were missing the point.  Bruno’s character and intelligence-level seemed to vary wildly scene-to-scene.  And it just wasn’t very funny.  Boo.


Posted in movies | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Oscar Picks

Posted by samgr on February 19, 2009

With two caveats:
    One- Only movies I’ve seen.
    Two- I’ll stick to English-language movies except for the foreign-language category.

From the nominees:  SEAN PENN in MILK
If I could choose:  SEAN PENN in MILK

From the nominees:  HEATH LEDGER in THE DARK KNIGHT
(Pretty close between Heath and Eddie Marsan in Happy-Go-Lucky)

From the nominees:  MELISSA LEO in FROZEN RIVER

(She’s not all that great, but it’s the only one of the five I’ve seen!)

From the nominees: WALL-E
If I could choose: WALL-E

From the nominees:  GUS VAN SANT for MILK
If I could choose:  MIKE LEIGH for HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
(I’m a broken record)


From the nominees:  WALTZ WITH BASHIR
(Only one I’ve seen, weirdly, most of my favorite movies this year were foreign.)

From the nominees:  WALL-E
(When I think about it, I liked Wall-E’s score more than Slumdog’s.)
If I could choose:  WALL-E

From the nominees:  O SAYA from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
If I could choose:  O SAYA from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

From the nominees:  MILK
If I could choose:  HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

From the nominees:  IRON MAN
If I could choose:  HELLBOY 2
(Actually, the most impressive FX in and of themselves were probably from Benjamin Button, but I thought those of both Iron Man and Hellboy 2 are better used to tell a story.  Hellboy 2 gets street cred for being weird and innovative and having a tiny fraction of the budget of these other movies.)

From the nominees:  SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

From the nominees:  HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
(Some love from the academy for Happy-Go-Lucky!)
If I could choose:  HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

I still haven’t seen Wendy and Lucy or the Wrestler, both of which I might like a lot. I’ll update this post if they lead me to change my mind about anything.

Posted in movies | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »


Posted by samgr on May 9, 2008

Hey, I’m still alive. So, I see on Apple Trailers that they’re making a movie out of Blindness, the novel by Jose Saramago. I read the book when I was down in Costa Rica, pretty much purely by chance. I found it in a hostel’s book-swap shelf. But I thought it was incredible. Also very cinematic: I was picturing it as a movie as I was reading it.

The short version is that there’s a mysterious epidemic of blindness in a city. (Unclear exactly where it takes place, whether it’s Europe or Latin America or whatever.) The affected end up getting herded into a containment facility in an ex-psychiatric ward, where they are more or less abandoned by the authorities and terrible, terrible things happen.

For the character of the doctor’s wife—who pretends to be blind but can actually see—I had dream-cast Mary McDonnell (President Roslin) in my head. Looks like in this version it’s going to be Julianne Moore. Okay, but I like my idea better.

Also, I imagine that the movie is not going to be able to be quite as horrific and gruesome as the book is in parts, or it would end up rated NC-17. I don’t know what I think about this. The novel plays a neat narrative trick where the most horrible things that happen near the end you don’t actually see, the author only describes the sounds. So the reader becomes blind, too, for a while. I kind of hope the movie does this too; it’s very doable. Just fade to white and hear what happens.

In any case, this reminds me to go to the library and check out some more of Saramago’s books, which I had planned to do but forgotten about.

Posted in books, Jose Saramago, movies | Leave a Comment »

The Oscars

Posted by samgr on February 23, 2008

As usual, I haven’t seen many of the movies that got a lot of major nominations. I have seen three of the best picture nominees though. I would certainly be cool with either “Juno” or “No Country for Old Men” winning; they were both great movies. I would be sort of weirded out if “There Will be Blood” won, though.

As I’ve said before, I thought Daniel Day-Lewis was great and all, but I’m still unsure what exactly it was in the service of. The movie was very long, intermittently interesting, and I’m just not certain I know what the point was. I would likely be roundly abused for saying this to many people, but I think “Juno” and “No Country” were both much better movies—the now ubiquitous “Juno” backlash be damned. I don’t think much of turning against movies when they get more popular, and therefore not as hip. Hell, I still like “Titanic” (which completely invalidates my opinion about all this I’m sure…)

Anyway, I have no one particular outcome that I’m pulling for in any of the awards, which I sometimes do. Last year, all that mattered to me was that Alan Arkin won best supporting actor, and he did! Life was good.

So… that’s that I guess. I’ll watch it for John Stewart.

Posted in movies, reviews | 1 Comment »

Daniel Plainview vs. George Hearst

Posted by samgr on February 20, 2008

PlainviewBattle of the psychopathic old-timey tycoon misanthropes! Who will come out on top?

Category: Facial Hair
Edge: Has to be Plainview. He rocks the mustache, while Hearst never really looks completely comfortable with his beard, which he grows over the course of the show.

Category: Weapon of Choice
Edge: That’s one for Hearst. Pick over bowling pin, no question.

Category: Historical Accuracy
Ultimately unclear. Hearst was a real dude, obviously, but was he really that much of a bastard?

Category: Henchmen
That would be Hearst again. 300-pound Pinkertons are a lot more intimidating than small deaf children.

Category: Hilarity
Edge: Oh man. Plainview without the tinest shadow of a doubt. Please see this video if you don’t know how drainage works.Hearst

Category: Critical Acclaim
Edge: It’s Plainview by a mile. Everyone and their mom calls him a “towering performance.”

Category: Bastard Factor
This is tough. I have to say Hearst, who seems to rack up a higher overall body-count, and also to be more comfortable with being cruel just to relieve boredom.

Hearst by my accounts. More personally unpleasant, and springs from vastly more interesting material.

Seriously though, these two characters are weirdly similar. They’re both scary turn-of-the-century psychopaths who claim to be single-mindedly interested in digging for natural resources, but really just want everyone around them to fail and to knuckle under. That seems like such an incredibly specific “type” that the coincidence is strange. I dunno.

Posted in Deadwood, movies, reviews, television | Leave a Comment »

Take this, Films of 2007

Posted by samgr on January 17, 2008

Because it occurred to me, here is my list of the top ten movies of 2007. These are obviously limited to what I’ve seen.

  1. Juno
  2. 3:10 to Yuma
  3. Beowulf
  4. Sweeney Todd
  5. No Country for Old Men
  6. Into Great Silence
  7. Ratatouille
  8. The Bourne Ultimatum
  9. Sicko
  10. The Simpsons Movie

And now, keeping in mind that I saw barely more than twenty movies, here are the three worst:

  1. Spiderman 3
  2. Transformers
  3. Stardust

    I was gonna do the five worst, but aside from those three stinkers I actually liked SOMETHING about most of the other movies I saw, so I thought I’d leave them in their own category. These are three terrible, terrible movies. Comments? I’m looking at you here, Daniel. How do you like Beowulf up there at number three?

    Posted in movies, reviews | 5 Comments »

    Depressing Patches in Netflix Queues

    Posted by samgr on July 5, 2007

    I’m bored and a little wired from drinking too much coffee, so I’m writing ANOTHER post. Sue me, I’m making up for a couple months of not writing anything. This one is for anyone who has Netflix. Do other people have depressing patches in their queues? For a while I had a stretch that went along the lines of:
    United 93
    Hotel Rwanda
    Schindler’s List

    …and so on. These things obviously have to be broken up, no one can actually watch all these movies in a row without sticking some “Simpsons” episodes betwixt and between. I think you may be able to reconstruct what mood you were in when you added movies to your queue by what type of movies they are. The depressing movies don’t necessarily mean that you were depressed, I don’t think. They could just mean that you were seeking self-improvement. So what does it mean when you (I) added Barbarella and Jesus Christ Superstar? I just don’t know.

    Posted in internet, movies, Netflix | Leave a Comment »

    A Renaissance for Drive-In Movie Theaters?

    Posted by samgr on July 5, 2007

    I was talking with my roommate Cailin about this this morning; I think it’s high time for drive-in movie theaters to come back into style. It seems like such a great idea to me. They used to be everywhere, but now I’d have to drive for a couple hours to get to the closest, which is depressing. I think there could be a market. Nostalgia sells; you could have waitresses on roller-skates and everything.

    There were a lot of open-air theaters in Greece when I was writing for a travel guide there, and they were great! Some were on roofs; you would sit down outside, get a beer, and watch the show. That’s a slightly different thing I guess, and in either case it’s sort of climate-dependent, but I’m sure it could all be made to work somehow.

    (I always watched schlocky American movies in Greece when I was homesick. I saw Spiderman 2 and Hidalgo, both of which I would give three stars out of five… You can’t get much more Hollywood than Hidalgo; it’s about a cowboy teaching uptight Arabs to loosen up and be more like Americans. At the end, he’s saved by the spirits of his native American ancestors. I guess that’s a spoiler. Spoiler alert.)

    What do you think? Would you pay to see a drive-in movie? Would you pay ME to see a drive-in movie? Would you pay the spirits of your native American ancestors?

    Posted in movies, reviews | Leave a Comment »

    One Sentence Reviews Thus Far

    Posted by samgr on February 9, 2007


    The Road, by Cormac McCarthy — Yay!

    The Road is a beautifully-written and inordinately depressing description of a post-apocalyptic America, but the masterful language would have more power and significance if married to a better plot.
    (reviewed 1/15/07)

    Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino — Yay!

    This book is fantastic, deeply weird, and smarter than me.
    (reviewed 1/15/07)

    The Final Solution, by Michael Chabon — Nay.

    I love both Michael Chabon and the concept for this book (an unnamed elderly detective and beekeeper solves a mystery in 1944), but, despite beautiful language, it doesn’t arrive anywhere or achieve much; what’s more, I have my own more interesting ideas about what Mr. H. would be up to in his dotage.
    (reviewed 1/17/07)

    Shadow of the Torturer, by Gene Wolfe — Yay!

    Despite the grisly and melodramatic title, this is a pretty good scifi/fantasy story set in the far future, boasting an original and interesting world that is unfortunately populated by listless and boring characters (and weirdly-written sex).
    (reviewed 1/17/07)


    Pan’s Labyrinth, directed by Guillermo Del Toro — Yay!

    Pan’s Labyrinth was among the two or three best movies I’ve seen all year, using fantastic imagery and fairy-tale themes to tell a deeply-moving story and remind the viewer of the fundamental cruelty at the heart of fascism.
    (reviewed 1/15/07)

    Clueless, directed by Amy Heckerling — Yay!

    I guess everyone knows this already, but this movie is awesome; also it has Paul Rudd in it.
    (reviewed 1/17/01)

    Posted in books, movies, reviews | Leave a Comment »


    Posted by samgr on February 5, 2007

    Okay: I’m gradually easing back into this.

    I’ve noticed that there are two competing film adaptations of the novel Flatland, by Edwin Abbott, that are currently in the works — this one and this one. I thought that this was a pretty weird coincidence (or nefarious plot), considering that Flatland is well-known but not exactly on everyone’s top ten list.

    I can’t divine much difference between the two, except the first has a much more star-studded cast. Martin Sheen’s voice coming from a small animated square is pretty silly.

    Apparently, these aren’t the first adaptations either. Check out this excerpt from a 1960s version, produced by the Harvard VES department and narrated by Dudley Moore.

    Posted in books, Flatland, movies | 1 Comment »