There was never a romantic comedy more suitable for or telling about the 00s than (500) Days of Summer. It’s artificial and candy-coated yet knows this. It contains flirtatious sequences in big box department stores in which the central couple (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel) play house to the sound of pop songs on a floor sample arrangement of kitchen furniture and appliances (all with the price tags still on them). They mime “family dinner” and “happy ending” but never get to dig in. The shuffle of memory is a key theme. The way it was vs. the way they thought it was. The reality vs. the rom-com vision. It may be hard to imagine such a twee film being one of the year’s best but it is a pure entertainment treasure and beneath that, a knowing yet lovestruck satire of romance both at the movies and in the modern world.
Coming of age was never as stylish as in Lone Scherfig’s winning adaptation of Lynn Barber’s memoir about a young girl in 1960s
Oh, Wes Anderson. Just when we thought we knew you by heart, you go and throw us a curve ball. Sure, the rapid fire comedy is as fast as ever. Yes, the characters are plucky losers with delusions of grandeur and a secret hurt inside. Of course, that Rolling Stones song comes in just where you expect it. Yet for all the ways in which Fantastic Mr. Fox is by the book
The greatest film produced yet on the subject of the
The 21st century’s answer to Dr. Strangelove, In the Loop is a positively daffy and biting political satire from the
If there are limits to the cinema, somebody forgot to tell Quentin Tarantino. His epic WWII murder fantasy Inglourious Basterds is a take no prisoners, do as we please thriller that operates under the assumption that all things are possible in the celluloid universe. Moreover, Basterds contains some of the iconic director’s very best work, namely a series of long, highly suspenseful conversations which alternate power between players to the point of dramatic exhaustion before typically erupting in a burst of climactic action. But for all the war and violence, Basterds’ deeper function seems to be as a love letter to the European cinema of the time. Tarantino has painstakingly detailed the era. He both names names (Leni Riefenstahl, Emil Jannings, etc.) and cites details (flammable film stock) which one would otherwise pick up in a film history lesson. Not only does the movie’s climax take place in a movie house, but the very nature of its ending speculates about the character and capacity of film in such a way as to make this the year’s ultimate meta-movie and one of the most sweeping, excellent, and action-packed pieces that truly invoke the form in all its glory.
Writer/composer/actor Stew crafted one of Broadway’s most innovative and overlooked musicals in Passing Strange, a revolutionary stage show which had a thunderous but all too short run at the Belasco Theatre and earned only one Tony award (Book Of A Musical). Thankfully, director Spike Lee recognized that Stew’s show was more than just another midtown tuner. Not only is the format unique (a narrative rock concert) but the sheer tenacity of the show will blow your mind. It loosely tells the story of Stew’s own life with humor, attitude, and heartbreaking sincerity. But dig deeper and there is another layer of complexity. Stew has made a stage show which ponders art in all its forms. It speculates about the power of performance and the way in which art, artifice, and the genuine article interchange unexpectedly. It doesn’t just break the “fourth wall” but screams through it, allowing characters to interact with the narrator, the narrator to interact with the audience, and the band to simply jam all night. The musical numbers are brazen and addictive. They give the kind of buzz all great rock & roll gives. You’d think a stage show would be stifled by the act of its being filmed but Passing Strange remains a wonder. You may not be able to feel the electric guitars shake the floor under your feet the way they did at the Belasco, but you can still appreciate the amazing score, performances, and story. And the raw emotion of the show’s incredible final performance can be felt miles away from the screening room. Standout number “Keys” is not just the greatest musical sequence put to film this year; it’s a religious experience. Is it alright? Yeah, it’s alright.
“Coen-y” may be a word we use to describe kooky, kitschy,
If Howard Hawks and Cary Grant could return to make a comedy for the Google generation, they would surely create something a lot like Up In The Air. Director Jason Reitman’s third consecutive comedy knockout proves to be his sharpest and funniest yet. George Clooney stars as self-isolating, elitist, know-it-all Ryan Bingham, a professional firer who travels the country informing people that they have lost their job and giving seminars about relinquishing oneself of the burdens of home and family. He meets two women who will change his life: saucy Alex (Vera Farmiga) whom he seduces via platinum membership cards (she’s equally on the go) and up-and-comer Natalie (Anna Kendrick) whose plot to take the company’s firing practice digital may end Ryan’s always off the ground lifestyle. The banter is never stale, the characters are never false, and most importantly it all goes down so smoothly and with such vintage panache that it single-handedly reinvigorates the waning love in all of us for
This year’s other decade long labor of love from a visual pioneer involving mystical creatures and imaginative effects. Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are is a masterpiece of whimsy and emotional distress. The film expands upon the book the Maurice Sendak with a script from Jonze and author Dave Eggers which retains the book’s sense of adventure but also develops an emotionally, visually rich world in which monsters and children are broken-hearted, free-footed friends on the lam from the stricter social order, and moms everywhere. It is a stunning film with a deeply felt, loosely plotted sensibility that actually makes it one of the bolder studio features of the decade. Thankfully, it is a rounding success and one of the year’s greatest films.