Wednesday, July 1, 2009

2009 Half-Year Ending Report

Here we are. 2009 is already half done and, damn that just flew by, didn't it? I figured it was high time for a progress report on my favorites in a host of random categories. I'm not sure how many of these will still be here come December, but these will more than do for the moment.

Top 5 Films:
Honorable Mention: Confessions of a Shopaholic (P.J. Hogan) The first film to deal with the immediate impact of the recession. Plus, as an added bonus, features an uproarious performance from Isla Fisher with ample support from a swoon-worthy Hugh Dancy.

5. Star Trek (J.J. Abrams)
A rare critical and commercial blockbuster success that's actually enjoyable. No excessive dramatics, no dumb romantic subplots, just good, clean action and comedy.
4. Sunshine Cleaning (Christine Jeffs)
Nothing groundbreaking, but a keenly observed and quietly moving entry into much-maligned "quirky indie comedy" subgenre. I'd rather have more films like this than Transformers.
3. The Brothers Bloom (Rian Johnson)
The 30's screwball meets the quirky indie comedy meets Ocean's 11. A perfectly charming cast and seeing Rinko Kikuchi blow shit up makes this film a can't-miss.
2. Adventureland (Greg Mottola)
With this, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and, hopefully, (500) Days of Summer, the young adult romantic comedy has finally come of age. The stone-faced goddess Kristen Stewart casts a magical spell, enchanting both Jesse Eisenberg's lost college graduate and audience members willing to go the extra mile for her.

1. Up (Pete Docter and Bob Peterson)
It may not be as much of a technical marvel as last year's WALL-E, but you'll be hard pressed to find a more emotionally involving movie, let alone another animated movie. For the first time ever, a film has moved me to tears...and not just a little teary eyed, I'm talking me, sitting in the back of the theatre, water gushing from my eyes like a leaky faucet every 10 or so minutes.

Top 5 Performances:
Honorable Mention: Sasha Grey, The Girlfriend Experience Technically not very interesting and not much beyond the average episode of The Hills, but in the context of the film it works wonderfully.

5. Beyoncé, Obsessed
"You listen to me. You know exactly who this is. You came into my house? You touched my child? You think you're crazy? I'll show you crazy. Just try me, bitch." Between this and that final fight in which she headbutts Ali Larter and utters the line "I'ma wipe the floor wit yo skinny ass," Beyoncé has proved that she is beyond competent in at least one genre: camp.

4. Adrien Brody, Rinko Kikuchi, Mark Ruffalo & Rachel Weisz, The Brothers Bloom
Impeccable ensemble work; none of these performances could have existed without the others.

3. Isla Fisher, Confessions of a Shopaholic
After amazingly hilarious supporting turns in films as mediocre as Wedding Crashers and Definitely, Maybe, Fisher gets the chance to finally headline her first film and boy does she deliver. On most actresses, her loud, over-the-top and nearly insane style of comedy would be too much, but on Fisher it's endearing and utterly can't-catch-your-breath funny.

2. Emily Blunt, Sunshine Cleaning
I liked her (not as much as most people, though) in The Devil Wears Prada, but her performance in Sunshine Cleaning trumps that one easily. It's a shame that she flew under the radar because I can think of few examples of monologues that are as moving as the one she gives when she's confessing to her new friend about the death of her mother.

1. Drew Barrymore & Jessica Lange, Grey Gardens
Flashy, but not excessively so. Lived in, but not too familiar. Stylized, but not annoyingly so. Everything Barrymore & Lange do (giving the best performances I've ever seen from either of them) is nearly perfect. That explosive final confrontation scene between them blisters with pain and hurt and might just be one of my favorite scenes of the year thusfar.

Top 5 Rentals:
Honorable Mention: Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty, 1922) The first "documentary" isn't exactly a documentary by today's standards, but how can you get that nit-picky over a film this beautiful that single-handedly created a new film style.

5. The Marriage of Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1979)
The rise of modern Germany after the fall of Hitler shown through the eyes of Maria Braun, a determined young bride doing anything she can to get ahead in life and be with her perennially absent husband.
4. Two for the Road (Stanley Donen, 1967)
Although the British New Wave tricks are a touch annoying, Donen has crafted an honest, alternatively sad and funny look at a marriage from its humble beginnings to disintegrating end. Albert Finney has never been more likeable (give or take Erin Brockovich) and this may be Audrey Hepburn giving her greatest performance while also looking her most chic (both in competition with Breakfast at Tiffany's)
3. Design for Living (Ernst Lubitsch, 1933)
A dazzling, superbly adapted version of Noel Coward's play of the same name featuring a sexy Gary Cooper, Fredric March at the height of his charm and one of the most underrated actresses of the 30's, Miriam Hopkins, doing what she does best.
2. Masculin féminin (Jean-Luc Godard, 1966)
Godard's fast-paced, dizzying look at the "children of Marx and Coca-Cola" is not only one of his most enjoyable films, it's also up there with Rebel Without a Cause as one of the greatest films about youth ever made. It may be hard for some to ignore the basic misogyny of Godard's vision, but Jean-Pierre Léaud (in his best non-Antoine Doinel performance) and Chantal Goya are so endearing and brimming with charm that you pretty much forget that.
1. I'll Cry Tomorrow (Daniel Mann, 1955)
On the surface, I'll Cry Tomorrow appears to be nothing more than your average 50's star biopic, but dig a little deeper and you'll find one of the most gruesome, dirty and downright ugly depictions of alcoholism ever to come from a studio film. Figure in a career-best performance from Susan Hayward and Jo Van Fleet as her stage mother from hell and you have an all-around fantastic movie.

Top 5 Albums:
Honorable Mention: None Technically this should go to Kelly Clarkson's All I Ever Wanted but I'm docking points for taking a step back after the brilliant and ballsy My December.

5. Royksopp, Junior
Crazy, out there (for me anyways) electro dance pop with a few shining moments.
Key Track: 'The Girl and the Robot' featuring Robyn
4. Melinda Doolittle, Coming Back to You
Melinda Doolittle doing what she did best on Idol: singing. Her retro soul throwback was one of the highlights of the year so far but you can see just how little attention she got.
Key Track: 'It's Your Love'
3. Little Boots, Hands
An album so interesting and listenable that even only on one listen I'm confident in declaring it one of the year's best.
Key Track: 'Meddle'
2. Lily Allen, It's Not Me, It's You
Lily's back and with a vengenace, taking on celebrity mania, boyfriends with small dicks and President Bush.
Key Track: 'Chinese'

1. Agnes Dance Love Pop
Pure silly 90's-era pop. I loved every minute of it.
Key Track: 'Release Me'

Top 5 Singles:
Honorable Mention: David Archuleta 'Touch My Hand' Archie at his most endearing. 3 1/2 minutes of cheesy pop perfection.
5. Lady GaGa 'Poker Face'
I don't know why, but "Russian Roulette is not the same without a gun" is one of the most ingenious lyrics I've heard in a while.
4. Girls Aloud 'Untouchable'
The single version is as good as you can get by editing a 6+ minute masterpiece into 3 1/2, but the album version is where it's at. Pure electropop magic. In 20 years, this is the song our kids will still be talking about.
3. La Roux 'Bulletproof'
This British import is like an mad combination of Tilda Swinton and Annie Lennox who will soon grace the United States with her fantastic presence. Check out her UK #1 hit before it hits the big time over here and you can say "I knew her when..."
2. Leona Lewis 'Run'
It's still the most beautiful song I've ever heard.
1. Jesse McCartney 'How Do You Sleep'
Not only is it the finest song on Jesse Mac's Departure album, it is also probably one of the most perfect summer songs ever.

Top 5 Bonus Tracks, B-Sides, Remixes & Assorted Non-Singles:
Honorable Mention: Dan Black 'HYPNTZ' A white guy singing Biggie's "Hypnotize" over the beat to Rihanna's "Umbrella." This really shouldn't work, but somehow it does.

5. Kris Allen 'Heartless'
A white guy doing an acoustic version of Kanye's 'Heartless'. This shouldn't have worked, but it did and was Kris's shining moment during his incredible Idol run.
4. Agnes 'Love Love Love [Extended Version]'
What's better than 3 minutes of 'Love Love Love'? How about 5 minutes of a gloriously beautiful version of 'Love Love Love'.
3. David Archuleta 'Zero Gravity'
This song is possibly better than 'Touch My Hand', 'Crush' and his version of 'With You' put together.
2. Girls Aloud 'Memory of You'
Girls Aloud's best B-side (if you don't count 'Singapore', that is) and it's still a total mystery why it wasn't included on Out of Control- it fits right in perfectly.
1. Leighton Meester 'Birthday'
Our second glimpse (after her cover of 'Bette Davis Eyes') into the amazing musical talent that is Leighton Meester. The song is still as stunning as when I first wrote about it.

Top 5 Obsessions:
Honorable Mention: The Downfall of those Jon & Kate Plus 8 Assholes I hated them with a passion before so you can tell I'm happy that their "perfect" life is crumbling apart.

5. Kristen Stewart's Obsessive Hair Move
I've been working on my own imitation of it, but nothing will ever match the way Stewart runs her fingers through her hair every 20 seconds.
4. (500) Days of Summer
I hope Oprah is kind to me and doesn't make me wait too much after this film opens in a limited release to expand to my area. I can't wait much more for a dancing Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the one they used to call Anal Girl!
3. Leighton Meester & Sebastian Stan (Meestan)
A better celebrity couple than Brangelina times infinity. There, I said it.
2. Zac Efron and 17 Again
Honestly, this film was my Twilight. I saw it twice on opening weekend despite how bad it is.
1. Kris Allen on American Idol
Don't believe me? Well, you obviously missed January through May here on the blog.

Top 5 (New) Hot Guys:
Honorable Mention: Andrew Garfield Adorable and instantly lovable in Boy A.

5. Alain Delon & Gary Cooper
I had seen an Alain Delon movie before (the oddly titled Have I the Right to Kill?) but The Leopard just solidified his hotness in my mind. Every movie should now legally be required to have at least five minutes of Alain Delon close-ups, don't you think? Gary Cooper, on the other hand, may seem like an odd choice to everyone who knows him through his later work. But back in the early to mid-30's, Coop was one of the sexiest men in Hollywood. I didn't realize this until I rented a five movie collection of his work and boy was I in for a treat. Perfectly dashing in a tux in Design for Living but when he takes off his shirt in The General Died at Dawn or gets all homoerotic in The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, my heart just melted.

4. Sebastian Stan
Not only is he dating my favorite woman on the planet currently, but he's also so odd looking that he becomes cute. And he can act, which is always a plus in my book.

3. Chris Pine
I never really cared before, but Star Trek was just too much for me to resist. He's funny and yummy- you have no idea how rare that combo is.

2. Chad White
Name not ringing a bell? Here's a refresher.

1. Kris Allen
His beautiful face!

Top 5 Blog Posts:
Honorable Mention: Why Isn't Reece Thompson Hired for Every Movie Ever? Seriously. With the young adult romantic comedy coming of age, where are all the parts for the enormously gifted comedian?

My reaction to Hilary Duff's boneheaded response to Faye Dunaway's personal reaction to the news of Duff being cast in a "reimagining" of Bonnie and Clyde.
4. The Most Hated Woman in America
Everyone hates Katy Allen because she's married to the most gorgeous man on the planet (and newest American Idol!) Kris Allen.
3. 10 Favorite Movie Characters
I pick my favorite movie characters ever and, in the process, learn a little something about myself.
2. Lady GaGa Knows Her Stuff
A flash of creativity on my part inspired by The GaGa's 'Boys, Boys, Boys' and, well, you guessed it, a smorgasbord of boys.
1. 25 Favorite Performances of the TV Season
My most popular post of the year so far (and possibly ever). Leighton Meester is apparently still a controversial #1, but I will continue to stand by it.


J.D. said...

Hahahahaha, omg this was amazing, James. Tho Alain Delon, "Untouchable" and Hands are too low. But you can't really do a lot of wrong, dude. ;)

mB said...

Imitation is the highest form of flattery:

Love the lists (and trust me: (500) Days of Summer is obsession-worthy!)

Nick Plowman said...

<3 There is so much right in this post!

Glenn Dunks said...

"no dumb romantic subplots"

er, you didn't notice the subplot about how the only female (and the only African American to boot) had to sleep with the higher ranked officer to get her position on the Enterprise and then there's all that garbage about their "love"? Dreadful.

J.D. said...

Yeah, I agree with Glenn.

Dame James said...

Glenn: Well, I was mainly talking about the fact that Captain Kirk was pretty much lusting over Uhara (or however you spell her name) throughout the entire movie and even after he became the hero, saved all those people, etc, she still didn't want to hook up with him. You know that in most blockbuster movies of this nature they would have been having sex by the 90 minute mark. I found that aspect of the movie refreshing. I guess what you say about Uhara and Spock is true, although, as ignorant as this sounds, I hardly put much thought into that aspect of their relationship. That is a bit dubious now that you mention it.

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