I don't plan on this being "that kind of blog" with nothing but best of lists, but I feel this wasn't too bad a year for movies and wanted to put my favourites out there. Apologies to those who've heard this before.
5-Where The Wild Things Are
I believe that Spike Jonze is one of the most original and brilliant directors of our time. Being John Malkovich andAdaptation. are amongst some of my all time favourite films. Naturally, I was hugely excited to hear that he was adapting one of everyone's favourite children's stories. The first trailer (above) nearly made me weep when I first saw it in the cinema. By the time the film was finally out, my expectations were through the roof. Whilst the movie didn't totally live up to them, reflecting on it, I can see that it was still a remarkable achievement and a work of art, just not exactly what I wanted. I feel the main faults of the film can be traced back to the screenplay (written by both Jonze and Dave Eggers). The film is very emotionally up and down, switching from a childhood sense of fear and abandonment to heart-warming, indie rock scored scenes of joy; which I feel was the biggest problem. I was never able to fully grasp the joy or the sorrow, because they were gone as quickly as they had came. Nevertheless, the film is a visual masterpiece and an exceptional parable of childhood feelings; it simply wasn't the story I'd prepared myself for.
My interest for this movie was generated entirely through Internet word-of-mouth and YouTube trailers. A loving homage to, and parody of, the Blaxploitation genre, Black Dynamite sees the eponymous character attempt to bring down a drug ring that goes much high than he thinks. The first half hour of this movie is utterly perfect, there isn't a single fault in its style or content. It's not until the halfway mark or so than it missteps slightly, delving into self-parody and telling a few jokes, rather than simply relying on its style. This seems to be a problem with nigh-on every film in this genre, but it is (thankfully) not too present in Black Dynamite. The soundtrack is stunning, with original funk tunes being cued at every possible instance, and lyrical songs coming in when the situation calls for it. Dynamite himself kicks so much ass you wonder if he'll be able to get his groove on when it comes to the ladies; (*Spoiler Wanring*) he does. The movie as a whole is hilarious and a whole lot of fun; best watched with other people.
3-Drag Me To Hell
After years of Spiderman, Sam Raimi returned to the horror genre he clearly loves, with Drag Me To Hell. It tells the story of loan officer Christine Brown being cursed by a elderly Gypsy after she refused to grant the old woman a load extension. From the very opening of this movie it is clear that Raimi has not lost his Evil Dead skill; the fight scenes are dirty and amateur looking, the camera work is quick and zoom heavy and the characters manage to both be one dimensional caricatures of horror standards, and genuinely 'real' seeming people. Like Black Dynamite, there were one or two moments in this that managed to fall into self-parody, yet they were not nearly notable enough to bring the movie down as a whole. Christine played her role excellently, as did her boyfriend, but Christine's co-worker Stu stole every scene he was in. Awkward lines, suspiciously wry facial expressions, the most hilarious quotes; pure Stu. A couple of moments in the film provided actual jumps from the audience I saw it with, and I too found a moment or two kind of scary, but this film is a fun, PG Horror romp pure and simple. No one does this better than Raimi, and this had better be a sign of Evil Dead 4 to come.
2-A Serious Man
"I didn't do anything" is the catch-cry of Larry Gopnik, a Jewish man, living in a Jewish neighbourhood in late 1960s America. No matter what he does, or doesn't do, a train wreck of misfortunes are heading his way. The film begins with Larry's wife leaving him for their friend Sy Ableman and Larry's position as an paid academic being in jeopardy. Larry's kids do not get along well with their father and his brother is ill and insists on Larry helping him out. This is all set up within the opening 20 minutes of the film, and it only gets worse from there. Larry's life is one existentialist crisis after another, and he seems to be perpetually one misfortune away from suicide. However, this is a Coen brothers film and it is very difficult not to laugh at. The entire story can be seen a parable of the biblical story of Job, or simply as the Coen brothers wanting you to feel terrible. Either way, you can't help but admire their meticulous camera work and frustratingly perfect mis en scène. Easily one of the smartest and funniest movies of their illustrious career, Joel and Ethan Coen clearly had a ball making this outrageously dark comedy. Can't really say much more about it without revealing key parts, but be sure to know that the ending, and very beginning, are amazing. Also, bonus points for having one of the most inventive trailers ever.
Misleading trailers, promotional art and director hype aside, Inglourious Basterds is goddamned amazing. Nothing that is written can ever do justice to a Tarantino film, and this is no exception. Split into 5 chapters, Inglourious Basterds tells two stories which only meet at the very end, and only in a minor way. One story is that of Shosanna Dreyfus, a French Jewish girl who runs a cinema and attempts to get revenge on the Nazis who killed her family, and the Basterds, a rag-tag group of Jewish soldiers taking out the Nazis guerrilla warfare style. Of course, nothing is so simple in a film "written and directed by Quentin Tarantino" Each chapter has everything to love about Tarantino but none of the self-indulgent frustration we fans may cringe over. The snappy dialogue, the subtle and not-so-subtle film references, the long, sweeping camera work; it's all there. But it is too easy to simply call this another Tarantino movie. Quentin has made a mature movie that is quintessentially him, and all together removed from him. The shots of feet do not come across as a author appeal, the soundtrack is sublime yet largely underplayed, the acting is picture perfect and largely in foreign tongues. I could write an essay on why I think it's one of the greatest and most important films of our time, and I just might, but it is without a doubt my pick for film of the year.