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The following is a post we originally set out to write in February.  Only Adam and I responded to the call, so I never posted it.  But since I ranked Zombieland #1, I figured I’d do so now.  Plus, it’d be a shame to waste something that Adam wrote.

You probably remember, from our wildly popular pre-nomination series, that we mysteriously exempted one film from our discussion the films and performances we’d nominate, if we ruled the Academy.  Well, it just isn’t fair to keep you on the edge of your seats any longer.  We’ll hopefully maybe eventually get to our favorite films of 2009, but so far, one film stands heads and shoulders above everything else (in terms of what the group as a whole thought of it).  It failed to register with the awards circuit, other than than a Critics Choice nomination for Best Comedy Movie.  Granted, comedy films rarely do well with awards, but this film does boast three Oscar nominees, including one actor nominated this year.

Obviously it is clear by now that I’m talking about Zombieland.  Below we are going to advocate for the film to have received a number of Oscar nominations.

Adam:

I couldn’t decide what I liked more about this movie, the writing or directing. I guess it comes down to how much of what I liked about the movie was ordained by the script and what was added in during production & post-production. I would like to believe it was the script, since it was a phenomenal one – much better than most/all of the ones nominated for an Oscar. The rules, the narration, the guest appearance by BM, and, of course, the play-of-the-week-type zombie kills made for an extremely entertaining movie. Add to that a well written and executed (if not entirely fresh) story, with some terrific dialogue and you have a thoroughly enjoyable movie…which apparently makes it immediately ineligible for an Oscar.

Since I chose writing as my focus, I won’t talk about the acting in this movie, but it was actually pretty great as well. I’m sure Jared will more than make up for my lack of treatment with his not-stop praise of one Emma Stone.

Also, in light of the fact that it has been awhile since I actually saw Zombieland, I will now focus on why the Academy proves year-after-year that it is archaic and lacking taste. So, what is it about Zombieland that makes it un-votable? Is it because it is a comedy? That probably factors into it. That it has zombies as its subject matter? That also probably factors into it. But I don’t understand why that detracts from its ability to be a great movie – at least in the Academy’s eyes. They have no problem voting for movies ranging from mediocre to horrible if they fit into the mold of plodding, overly “artistic”, dramas (or period pieces). But give them something the masses might enjoy, or even something new and different, and they completely shut it down. Some may argue: “But look at Avatar. The masses loved that and it is up for a ton of awards.” That’s true, but even Avatar gives the Academy something comfortable to vote on. It’s uses (and doesn’t even attempt to modify) and well-used (and I’ll grant, beloved) story, and relies heavily on CGI. “But CGI is new and different.” No, it’s not. It may have been 15 years ago, but it isn’t anymore. It’s something the Academy can look at and pat themselves on the back for voting on because it is “hip.” They think because they voted for something the masses like, and something that they perceive as “revolutionary” that that absolves them of voting for any other type of fare – that they can continue picking the same (type of) movie over and over again. It is disheartening, and worse, it is destructive. How many more great movies would be made if the few great ones that are put out every year were actually recognized? I mean, really, how many people would like to see more Benjamin Button’s, or Frost/Nixon‘s, or, heaven forbid, more Frozen Rivers?

In our own ranking, Zombieland easily had the highest average score of any movie in the last two years and the second highest score since we started recording – behind Juno. That’s not to say this was any individual’s highest ranked movie, but across the board, we all loved it – and that is saying something given our wide-ranging tastes in movies. Also, of the 10 movies nominated for Best Picture, only 4 of them have an average Grouches score above an 8 (out of 10), and one of them doesn’t even break 6. I don’t understand how the Academy can continue to justify voting mediocre movies as “Best Picture of the Year” and still look themselves in the mirror. I look forward to the day when these types of movies are considered the “classics” and are eligible for the recognition they deserve.

Jared:

In all likelihood, Zombieland will be my favorite 2009 film.  In the interest of full disclosure, I did see it at a drive-in, with some of my fellow Grouches, hopped up on an embarrassingly large amount of candy, giving it, perhaps, an unfair advantage.  Still, the film itself is darn close to note-perfect.  It sounds vague, but maybe the film could best be described as “refreshing.”  The film is so different, and so good, that it washes away the bad taste of whatever movie rut I was in, and has me excited again to watch movies.

I could go on, but I’ll stop gushing about the movie and start gushing about one of its actresses, Emma Stone.  Now, again in the interest of full disclosure, I’m madly in love with Emma Stone, perhaps best known (for now) as Jules from Superbad.  I actually have a whole different post in my head about her that I’ll get to someday, but the money line is that…remember in 2008 when The House Bunny came out, and everyone was talking about how Anna Faris was one of the funniest women in Hollywood?  Emma Stone actually stole that movie.  Now, lest you think I’m completely nuts, let me refer you to this recent Vanity Fair cover story.  In case you are too lazy to click, the article details nine women set to rule the upcoming decade.  It includes two of this year’s Oscar nominees (Anna Kendrick and Carey Mulligan), near-nominee Abbie Cornish, Kristen Stewart, Evan Rachel Wood (both of whom creep me out a little, I think), Mia Wasikowska, two actresses I’ve probably incoherently raved about before (Rebecca Hall and Amanda Seyfried), and, of course, Emma Stone.

If I had filled out an Oscar ballot, Emma Stone would be at the top for Best Supporting Actress.  Frankly, in this admittedly weak year, she blows the other contenders out of the water, and really, it isn’t very close at all.  And while I never seriously thought she had a shot, the odd thing is that her performance (and her character) have all the hallmarks of an Oscar performance.  She’s a tough, independent woman who repeatedly outsmarts Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg.  She’s stronger than Eisenberg, and has managed to survive on her own, while looking after little sister Abigail Breslin.  Yes, ultimately, she’s the damsel in distress, but doesn’t Oscar still kinda love that?  In my mind, Stone’s Wichita is everything, say, Gyllenhaal’s Jean Craddock is, except a more developed character who faces actual problems.  It is therefore confusing to me that Stone is penalized for being funny as well.  (Not to belittle Ms. Gyllenhaal, in my world she’d already have a statue for Secretary.)

If there is one thing the Academy has never been accused of, it is knowing how to kick back and have a good time.  It is easy to believe that they believe a film must be fraught with Meaning to be Cinema.  Zombieland has no meaning.  Not really.  But I’ve still yet to hear any convincing argument why that should prevent such a zany, goofy, funny, sweet, action-packed, taut, amazing film from receiving recognition.

Thanks to everyone who has followed along.  This exercise took a little longer than I expected, and I shudder to count all the words I wrote, but I’ve enjoyed it every step of the way.

10. Up in the Air

I know Adam has said this movie spoke to him as a business traveler, and while I’m not quite at his level, I did just reach Premier status on United, and I am writing this from the Las Vegas airport on my way to Tulsa, so I think I can empathize a little.  You can read plenty about we thought of this Oscar nominee here.  I actually read the script to this one first, then saw it in theaters with my fellow Grouches, then watched it again in a plane a few months ago.  Side note: I’m not really sure this film sends the message airlines want their passengers receiving, but that’s a different debate.  I’m happy this film was nominated for Best Picture, but in the end, I think it received the exact number of Oscar wins it should have.  The movie did almost everything very well, but I’d hesitate to call it exception on any level.  That’s not really a knock on the film, I don’t think.

9. The Hangover

There was always the chance this breakout hit would get some Oscar love, it was just very very remote.  The film was all over our hopes and wishes posts, both for Best Picture and Best Song.  I’d also humbly submit that Zack Galifinakis should have received some supporting actor consideration.  Not to harp on the same point over and over again, but Matt Damon for Invictus was a stronger performance?  By what standard, exactly?  Anyway, so many things went right here.  The script snapped and popped.  The casting was sublime, with the main characters but also supporting actors like Ken Jeong or Mike Tyson’s cameo.  My only complaint of any real substance was that Heather Graham’s character never gets quite integrated into the film.  But the movie was just as movie watching it a second time as it was the first.  It is hard to choose, but my favorite line may be: “Tigers love pepper….they hate cinnamon.”

8. The Hurt Locker

I gotta say, when I saw this one in theaters with Adam over the summer, I did not think I had just seen the Best Picture winner.  The astounding thing to me is that when you pick it apart, this really isn’t my kind of movie.  The plot, such as it is, doesn’t exactly go anywhere.  Stuff happens, but not for any apparent reason.  But the word I keep over and over again when discussing this film is “taut”.  I was held in rapt attention throughout the movie, regardless of whether anything was going on.  The cast is really really strong here, and probably deserved more awards attention than they received.  Do I think the film is perfect?  No, far from it.  Maybe it wasn’t possible to keep the suspense while having a more coherent plot, but I’m skeptical.  If you are interested, you can read out thoughts on the film here.

7. Star Trek

Adam and I have had some fun ragging on John for not liking this film.  Scorn well-deserved.  In my mind, there’s really only one valid beef with this movie (coming from someone who is pretty well versed with the original and fairly familiar with ST:TNG).  In my mind, the Star Trek franchise was founded on morality plays.  And yeah, maybe it has moved away from that a little over the years, but I think the series was often most effective when it was trying to get a little preachy, and I didn’t see that here.  Otherwise, though, this movie was really really good.  It had action and intrigue and humor and a good story and was sexy and was a note perfect way of rebooting a series.  The sprawling cast was uniformly solid across the board, and the film managed to grab a number of actors whose stars are on the rise.  I’ve seen a few other Chris Pine movies and I’m not sure I would have picked him for Kirk, but I would have been wrong.  Eric Bana maybe needs to step back from heavy drama for a bit, but John Cho, Simon Pegg, Zachary Quinto, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban, and Zoe Saldana were all great.  I still just can’t see why this missed with anyone.

6. I Love You, Man

That’s  right, Adam.  John and I are teaming up on a comedy where you missed the boat.  Saw this one in theaters and just could not stop laughing out loud.  Saw it again a few months ago after a party and it was still just fantastic.  Even if Brian fell asleep.  Oddly, the writers of this film (Larry Levin and John Hamburg, who also directed) had hands in writing: Dr. Doolittle, Dr. Doolittle 2, Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, and Zoolander.  A spotty pedigree, perhaps, but sprinkle in some of the Apatow crew, and a little Rush and you get magic.  Paul Rudd trying to say “Slappin’ da bass” with a Jamaican accent.  Or trying to come up with a nickname for Jason Segel.  “I love you, Tyco Brohe”.  Jason Segel doing pretty much anything.  Telling Rashida Jones to return the favor.  “You know what?  I saw Chocolat and it was delightful.”  Thomas Lennon is funny, as is the always solid J.K. Simmons.  Just a really great comedy.

5.  In the Loop

John called the film the “single best written” film of 2009.  And the Grouches pretty much agreed (at least when it came to Oscars).  Obviously, the Britishness was hard to sell on us Americans, but I remain stunned that this film didn’t take DC by storm.  It really is a workplace comedy, where that workplace happens to be the political arena and all that goes on behind the scenes.  The jokes come rapid fire in this fast-paced satire.  And really, the only problem was that often as I was laughing at the last joke, two or three ones whizzed by me.  Peter Capaldi is lights-out fantastic and in a just world he gets and Oscar nom.  Still, I was tickled pink with the writing nomination, because overlooking this film would have been outrageous.  I could be mistaken, but I believe this movie is the second highest ranked one featuring a U of C alum (Anna Chlumsky).  If you haven’t seen this movie, and aren’t turned off by cursing, please do.

4. (500) Days of Summer

Most of our posts on this film were mine, unsurprisingly.  Coming out of the theater with Adam, I would have pegged this one a little lower than 4th overall.  There probably weren’t a whole lot of elite movies this year.  But my expectations were extremely high, and it says something that the film came close to hitting them.  I put Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Best Actress and Best Actor, and I really have no idea how the script missed a screenplay award.  There were plenty of bits big (musical number, the split-screen scene) and small (Yvette Nichole Brown!, the first scene in the elevator) that were pure magic.  The movie probably could have developed the characters a little bit more, maybe lingered on Deschanel a little longer in an effort to flesh her out a touch more.  Also, the opening credits could have not told me Minka Kelly was in it, so that I was thinking about was part she’d play as the movie went on.  I like Clark Gregg, and that was Chloe Moretz as the younger sister and Mr. Christina Hendricks as the friend.  It also had two of my favorite lines of the year.  The opening titles: “The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Especially you Jenny Beckman. Bitch.”  And, Clark Gregg reading a card that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has written: “Roses are red, violets are blue…Fuck you, whore”.

3. District 9

We covered this one a little bit.  I’ve no idea how this one got any Oscar nominations, much less Picture and Adapted Screenplay.  Perhaps voters didn’t see the film, so didn’t realize it was an action flick, instead hearing that was a provoking metaphor on race relations.  It did have a political message, sure, but honestly, I found that mostly irrelevant.  At its heart, this is an action movie with an underlying sadness that is quite touching.  It is an underdog film without a saccharine ending.  It is actually pretty hard to classify this film.  A scifi-action film with a heart shot in a documentary style?  In any case, it was a breath of extremely fresh air, and I can’t say enough positive things about it.

2. Up

John and I gushed about this one some.  Honestly, if you took the opening montage, added however much screen time of just blank space to make it count as a full-length picture, it’d probably still make my top ten.  The scary thing is that the film minus that montage would make it as well.  Like with most Pixar films, this one made me want to cry and laugh.  Was tons of fun, but had a meaning, too.  I don’t think I have the words to describe how amazing this picture really was.  Plus, Ed Asner is a U of c alum.  Oh, and its funny because the squirrel got dead is obviously one of my favorite lines of the year.

1. Zombieland

This one gets its own post, to follow shortly.  But for now, here’s my favorite line from each character;

Little Rock – “No!  She’s only famous when she’s Hannah Montana!  She’s only famous when she’s wearing the wig!”

Wichita [said like Janine from Ghostbusters] – “Hurry!  He’s in the chandelier.”

Tallahassee – “I’m not great at goodbyes, so…that’ll do, pig”

Columbus – “Someone’s ear is in danger of having hair brushed over it.”

Almost there!  I’m doing an abbreviated post for two reasons.  First, so I can have a nice neat top ten post for you.  And second, these movies all sorta fit together as movies I liked a whole heck of a lot, came darn close to making the top ten, and maybe aren’t your conventional best of the year movies.

14. St. Trinian’s

Released in the UK at the end of 2007, took almost two years to make it stateside.  Maybe because it is a quite special kind of demented.  The basic premise…well,the story sprawls all over the place, and is mostly irrelevant anyway.  Essentially, the film is about a sleep away school for young women who maybe don’t fit in the mainstream.  Like the ten-year old twins who are demolition experts.  I’m not going to be able to capture the wacky British humor, but you should probably have a good idea if it’ll appeal to you.  The cast is top notch, with Rupert Everett in roles as brother and sister (he cross-dresses for the main one), the year’s Oscar nominee Colin Firth as the stuck-up minister of education who has a history with the female Rupert Everett, Russell Brand in an (as usual) completely over the top role as the fence for the girls, plus Toby Jones, Caterina Murino (Bond Girl!), Lena Headey, and Stephen Fry.  But let’s take a second to go over the two other stars: Talulah Riley and Gemma Arterton.  Riley’s first screen appearance was in a Poirot, so I must have seen her a few years back, and you may remember her as Mary Bennet in the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice.  Here, she’s the lead.  A seemingly normal teen thrust into St. Trinian’s by her father (the male Rupert Everett).  I was initially skeptical, but definitely by the makeover scene referenced in the trailer, I was hooked.  And then there’s Gemma Arterton.  She was Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace, but broke out recently in the big budget films Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia.  Or, was supposed to, anyway.  I realize my Supporting Actress category this year is different than most, but she would have made my shortlist here.  She’s fantastic as the elder girl at St. Trinian’s, playing sexpot to Brand, den mother to the children, rival to Riley.

13. Bandslam

Tied with Adventureland for most mis-marketed film of the year.  Because this movie is not High School Musical.  Yes, Vanessa Hudgens and Aly from Aly and AJ are in it.  And yes, high schoolers play songs.  But it isn’t a musical, and the songs aren’t quite as integral as you think.  It scored an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes (and 90% among its Top Critics), for whatever that is worth.  Despite appearances, the movie isn’t your typical high school dramedy.  The film has a ton of heart, the main characters are interesting and actually develop, and relationships are complex.  Let me be careful not to oversell it, though.  It has way too much pop sheen to be mistaken for something like Snow Angels.  I’ve increasingly come to believe Lisa Kudrow is kind of fantastic and that Friends was just a blip for her.  Scott Porter shows up as the frontman for the rival group, sort of the baddie, but in my head it was a high school version of his character from Music and Lyrics.  Alyson Michalka was surprisingly strong as the former head cheerleader turned songstress.  I was very much impressed with her decidedly uncliche relationships to Vanessa Hudgens’ and Gaelen Connell’s characters.  Hudgens does get to rock out, but plays the shy loner with class.  And Connell was very very good, I thought, as the kid who loves music (he writes to David Bowie everyday), but no ability to actually play.  It was another great script choice to have him become a producer, essentially, and is just another way the film is sublimely about music without being just music.

12. Blind Date

Based off a Theo van Gogh film, it looks like this one was released in one theater in September.  It is right in my wheelhouse, but I kinda understand why it doesn’t have a broader appeal.  It is hard to describe the film without giving out too many plot points, but I’ll stick with the trailer.  Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson play a couple who lost their daughter in a car accident.  In an effort to rekindle their relationship (and lives, really), they pretend to go on a series of blind dates with each other, each time playing a different personality.  It is a dark, dark film, with sparing moments of fleeting happiness.  The set design in minimal; the bulk of the action takes place in a large room.  Haunting, beautiful, and terribly sad, the film certainly isn’t a popcorn flick, but it stayed with me.  Tucci and Clarkson were simply fantastic, I ranked them both highly in my personal Actor and Actress ballots.

11. Taken

I think I’ve pretty well-vocalized my love for Luc Besson by now.  He does action-thriller better than anybody on the planet.  Just about every single thing he’s written, directed, and/or produced has been at the top of the genre.  And this one is no exception.  Besson wrote it, along with frequent collaborator Robert Mark Kamen, and it was directed by another frequent Besson-collaborator, Pierre Morel.  The premise of this one is simple: Liam Neeson is a badass.  Sure, there’s a story and characters and whatever, and they are fine.  But what makes this film shine is its unswerving focus on showcasing Liam Neeson.  Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen show up, which is nice.  If you need character development or complex relationships, this film isn’t for you.  If you want fun, sophisticated action, you couldn’t do any better in 2009.

23. Pirate Radio

Was looking forward to this one for awhile because, well, Richard Curtis + classic rock + Philip Seymour Hoffman?  I’m not capable of dreaming up scenarios that awesome.  It was released as The Boat That Rocked in the UK but changed in the States because, um, pirates are cool?  This was the last of the 2009 movies I watched for this list, and it took the usually reliable Netflix almost a month to get the thing to me.  But I’m happy I was able to watch it with Megan (if only because it prevented either of us from making a decision about which movie to watch).  Anyway, the trailer doesn’t do the film justice, but I’m not really sure anything could.  The film doesn’t exactly have a story, per se, just a series of humorous events with the same cast of characters in a loose timeline.  It isn’t about character development so much as having fun with the characters. And the tremendous cast which includes a bunch of Curtis stalwarts, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Rhys Ifans, January Jones, and Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh, and Jack Davenport.  Also Gemma Arterton and Talulah Riley, but we’ll get to them next post.  Just a really fun movie.

22. 2012

Speaking of fun movies!  Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow are clearly superior, sure.  But this one is still an excellent disaster movie.  Saw this one in theaters with Brian and Zack, and I think it exactly met our amped up expectations.  The film isn’t going to sway anyone’s opinion of Roland Emmerich, I don’t think.  And yeah, we are talking about some broadly-drawn characters.  But give me a fun cast (highlighted by a hilariously bonkers Woody Harrelson), lots of stuff blowing up, and a little bit of a completely unsubtle morality play and I’ll be a happy boy.

21. The Invention of Lying

When are people going to cotton to Ricky Gervais movies?  It sure seems like they have the recipe for success.  They are funny, sweet, tell an interesting story, and have great cameos.  Just doesn’t make sense to me.  OK, I could see how the send-up of religion could be mildly offensive to some, I suppose.  And the movie did start to trail off a bit at the last third.  But come on.  What a brilliant concept.  Plus, Rob Lowe as the bad guy!

20. A Serious Man

Glancing over our thoughts on the film, seems a safe bet that this was the most thought-provoking Oscar film for the Grouches.  Heck, I reread my full recap and still have no idea what I thought (or think).  I do know that it was rather unfortunate to have A Serious Man and A Single Man come out in the same year.  Unless maybe they helped bump each other up at the box office due to mistaken viewing of the wrong film?  Even now, I struggle to come to terms with my thoughts on the film.  Which makes the movie unique in this year’s class, so that’s something.  I may not always like the Coen Bros., but their ability to consistently churn out thought-provoking films to which I have a visceral reaction is nearly unparalleled.

19. The Blind Side

Back to back Best Picture nominees!  We’ve had plenty to say about this film, including John calling the nomination (well done, John!) in our wild and crazy picks post.  Oddly, I seem to be a little lower on Sandra Bullock than my fellow Grouches, but a little higher on the film.  Maybe I’m just more in touch with my emotions than them.  I’m guessing that where they found it a little schmaltzy, I thought it consistently hit solid emotional notes.  Sometimes cliches are cliches because they work.  Did the film bring anything new to the world of moviemaking?  Probably not.  But I still think it is a very fine piece of work.

18. Away We Go

Saw this one in theater in New Jersey with my uncle and brothers.  I went back and saw John called this film “painfully contrived.”  Isn’t that any road trip movie (which this is, essentially)?  I suppose if one called this film a little too precious, I’d have a hard time disagreeing.  But I thought it had a lot of a heart and a good sense of humor.  The supporting cast is chock full of talent, including Paul Schneider and this year’s Oscar nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal.  And perhaps each supporting character is just a tad too outsized.  But I sorta thought that was the point of it all.  I dunno, I’m surprised there’s any divisiveness on this one.

17. Julie and Julia

Saw this one at Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse with Adam and Dylan as part of a two-city double feature.  Because that’s how we roll.  By the way, what’s the connection between this one and Away We Go?  Chris Messina (aka the guy who isn’t Stanley Tucci, Amy Adams, or Meryl Streep).  I kinda got the feeling that all the actors had a good time making this one, and it shows.  Don’t quite know how it worked out this way, but most of the movies in this post seem to follow the same general pattern of a fun, mostly positively movies with a few touching emotional moments that soon get swept away with humor.  Brian is still alarmingly wrong about the Julie part being better than the Julia one.

16. The Answer Man

Was among my most anticipated 2009 movies.  Why?  Hm.  I’m not entirely sure.  I really like the cast (Jeff Daniels, Lauren Graham, Olivia Thirlby, Lou Taylor Pucci, Kat Dennings, Tony Hale).  And I guess the concept just kinda appealed to me.  A lot of stuff just worked in this movie.  Jeff Daniels and Lauren Graham go really well together as the leads in this romcom.  Daniels is fantastic as the philosopher with none (and yet all) of the answers.  The misanthropic character is a familiar one, yet it doesn’t feel tired.  Like my life, needed more Kat Dennings.

15. Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire

We’ve written a bunch on this Oscar nominee.  It surely took an unconventional Oscar path.  It was Geoffrey Fletcher’s first produced screenplay, the second film directed by Lee Daniels, and starred an overweight newcomer and a BET regular whose recent filmography includes Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins and Phat Girlz.  But it would have been impossible to overlook this film.  And in particular, Gabby Sidibe and Mo’Nique.  It is staggering to me how Mo’Nique outdistanced herself from the competition.  By the end, it wasn’t even a matter of concocting a path as to how someone else could win Supporting Actress, it was a matter of figuring out if there was any possible way she wouldn’t win unanimously.  So I think it says quite a lot that going up against a performance like that, Sidibe more than held her own.  I didn’t quite understand the Directing and Adapted Screenplay nominations (let’s not talk about the writing win), but I do want to make it clear that I thought the film was very very good.

33. Table for Three

I too am a little surprised to find this one so high up, but I guess we’ll have to trust past Jared.  I can think of a few reasons he liked the film, though.  I’ve long thought this would be a perfect role for Jennifer Morrison.  It was nice to see Jesse Bradford hasn’t fallen off the face of the earth.  And Sophia Bush?  Wow.  Plus, Johnny Galecki in a decidedly un-Big Bang Theory role.  But most of all, there are few people who crack me up as much as Brandon Routh.  Unintentionally, of course.  If you watched Chuck this season (and you should have), you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.  The man’s ability to not show any emotion is legendary.

32. Funny People

This one probably deserves its own post.  After the only two films written and directed by Judd Apatow, The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, expectations were extremely high both critically and commercially.  Some of us even daydreamed if, coupled with the Academy’s expansion to ten best picture slots, we could see the return of the Oscar-nominated comedy.  And there’s not enough time to go over all the cameos in the film (although it was on a few nights ago, and I have to admit, the Eminem-Ray Romano bit was pretty great).  Ultimately, though, something went wrong.  Of course, Judd Apatow wrong is a lot different from other kinds of wrong.  I’d personally point to two main faults.  First, I think it got away from being funny a little too much.  I think Yo Teach and Raaaaandy ended up being more in-jokes than actual jokes, for example.  And second, it was too ambitious.  The last third of the film, with Leslie Mann and Eric Bana, at times felt like a whole different film.

31. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

John’s the resident animation guy, so I’ll try not to step on his toes.  The film certainly didn’t feel innovative in any particular way.  But it has a good heart, an engaging story, a good voice cast, and a lot of laughs.  Also, there was a Welcome to Mooseport reference.  Which takes some stones.  I was impressed with how they turned the book into a film.  I may have listened to “Raining Sunshine” three or four times after the film.  And right now.  A little confused though, because I watched School of Rock, so I know Miranda Cosgrove can’t sing.  Oh, how great was Steve?  “GUMMI BEARS!”

30. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Two things to keep in mind.  That would be the Oscar-nominated Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Best Achievement in Sound).  And two of the three guys who wrote this film also wrote Star Trek.  I don’t really want to get into a Michael Bay debate.  Or a Megan Fox debate.  Or a Shia LaBeouf debate.  Can we all agree that John Turturro is awesome?  And that we forgot Rainn Wilson was in the movie?  But look at this summer and look at last summer.  I, for one, am missing the crash boom bang of a Transformers.

29. The Brothers Bloom

This one made my initial top five (2010 Top Fives coming as soon as I finish this sucker up).  I still find myself vaguely disappointed, but that’s probably because a con movie written and directed by Rian Johnson and featuring Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, and Mark Ruffalo (can someone get this man some Oscar love?)  should have been one of the best films of the year.  Perhaps those are some lofty expectations.  Rinko Kikuchi was great, by the way.  And the film definitely had Johnson’s flair all over it.  And the film did feature one my favorite lines of the year: “Is this the restroom?  No, this is the llamas.”

28. The Damned United

Saw this one at the Avalon with John.  It was never going to play in the US, but I’m kinda curious what it could have made had the distributors pushed it back after the World Cup.  The film is a worthy addition to the sports genre, and certainly one of the best soccer movies out there.  John and I both had Michael Sheen as an honorable mention on our Best Actor ballots, and I’d certainly have given Timothy Spall and Colm Meaney consideration in the Supporting Actor race.  I had serious issues with three prior movies penned by Peter Morgan and am meh on another one, but I’m man enough to admit that I was wrong, he does have some talent.  I didn’t know the story at all before watching and found it to be pretty entertaining.  I am kinda fascinated by the thought process that went into making what I think is a pretty pivotal part of the story as a written line in the epilogue.

27. He’s Just Not That Into You

Well, first, let’s get this film’s big flaw out of the way.  It supposedly took place in Baltimore, but where’s all the Orioles stuff?  Would it really have been so difficult to put one of these lovely ladies into an O’s hat?  Or, heaven forbid, an O’s jersey, which probably would have catapulted the film to the top of my list.  Anyway, this film does a very good job staying within itself.  The ensemble cast is very professional.  The segments that don’t pop (Jennifer Aniston/Ben Affleck, Jennifer Connelly/Bradley Cooper) are still plenty watchable.  The interstitials were interesting, and the connections between the characters were fine, if not entirely given a reason for existing.  Fans of Ed (including yours truly) were no doubt tickled pink at the pairing of Justin Long and Ginnifer Goodwin, which both fulfilled many of our fantasies and gave us something to watch while constantly refreshing Stuckeyville.com for any shred of hope that the show will be released on DVD.  Finally, and I’ve seen the idea floated elsewhere, so I know I’m not entirely alone here, but I would have given Goodwin serious consideration for a Supporting Actress nomination, especially in what I considered a weak year for the category, nomination-wise.

26. Coraline

Visually magnificent.  This and 9 both stood out to me as beyond innovative, graphically.  I thought the voice cast excelled.  Maybe didn’t have quite the star power of, say, Cloudy, but it worked.  The story maybe faltered a wee bit in the last section.  I really appreciated the demented with a heart of gold sense of the film.  Reminiscent of Nightmare Before Christmas, sure, but it would be wrong to group them together entirely.

25. Adventureland

Tied with a movie I’ll get to above for most mis-marketed film of the year.  Yes, writer/director Greg Mottola  also directed Superbad.  And yes, both movies deal with not-quite-adults.  But really, the similarities end there.  And pretty much at the first scene.  Did the marketers really think people would see this coming-of-age dramedy that’s mostly drama and actually think they were watching a high school/road trip screwball comedy?  The two just aren’t comparable at all.  Anyway, I know three people who absolutely loved this film.  I don’t quite see that, but I did appreciate it.  And was pleasantly surprised by Kristen Stewart.

24. The Young Victoria

We’ve touched upon this film a few times.  Anyone care to explain to me what it means when I like a movie John finds dull?  I think Emily Blunt got jobbed out of an Oscar nomination.  Two main roadblocks: the distributor didn’t have the bucks needed for a hardcore Oscar push.  And while you may automatically think costume drama equals Oscars, you are forgetting the “Young” part of the title.  I’m not even sure you needed “Old” Victoria.  Maybe “Mid-Thirties” Victoria would have done it.  Paul Bettany is pretty good, and Jim Broadbent was only one scene away from a push at Supporting Actor, I believe.  In any case, it isn’t like I don’t see how someone could be bored by the film.  But I found the political machinations fairly interesting.  And the look at a female monarch in training to be fascinating.

43. Whip It

John and I shared some flash opinions on the film after we saw a promo screening.  I liked it more than he did, but I’m always going to a sucker for a halfway-decent sports flick.  Which, yeah, means the mountains of sports cliches John abhors are fine by me.  If you can get past the undeveloped characters, stock themes, Jimmy Fallon and relatively unnecessary subplots, there’s a fun movie underneath it all.  Plus, who doesn’t love Ellen Page?

42. Brothers

I actually read the script for this one before seeing the movie.  Was kinda surprised by the casting choices of Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman.  The former because I didn’t see him doing the intensely deranged character needed for the second half of the film and the latter because I saw the script pitching the character more as a typical high school cheerleader, not that I’d ever doubt Ms. Portman.  Maguire was a little more appropriate than that I envisioned, but like I saw in the script, the final third of the film lacks the real punch it probably should have, which hurt his chances.  Clifton Collins, Jr. shows up, and hey, is that Carey Mulligan?  Man, was she in an array of roles last year.

41. Peter and Vandy

Jason Ritter’s character here isn’t too different from his character in Good Dick: slightly messed up and chasing after a slightly messed girl.  The different here is that Jess Wexler’s Vandy doesn’t quite have the issues as Marianna Palka’s Woman.  The story is told out of order, maybe a little off-putting at first, but it starts to feel fairly natural.  Often when this device is used, it feels like a character for a poorly-told story.  Here, I’m not entirely sure it was necessary, but it does add a little to the story.  Also, Mahandra (Tracie Thoms) from Wonderfalls is in it, so that’s a bonus.

40. Adam

Well, Asperger’s seems to be the in disorder lately, so it is only natural that we get a romantic comedy about it, I suppose.  But here it is treated with surprising sensitivity both by Hugh Dancy and the characters’ reactions to it.  The film is a sweet little number, not eternally optimistic, but maybe realistically so.  I’m a Rose Byrne fan, plus Peter Gallagher and Frankie Faison show up.  Oh, also, Mark-Linn Baker is in a scene, so that’s totally awesome, naturally.

39. The Vicious Kind

Garnered a surprise Independent Spirit nomination for Adam Scott, so of course I had to watch it.  Because Adam Scott is awesome.  He seems to be carving out a nice career riding a fine line (sometimes blurred, like here) between douchebag and in-charge (without all the answers) nice guy.  Can’t say I can argue with the nomination here, it is a great role for him.  Alex Frost works well in his role, and J.K. Simmons is always going to be great.  His character here actually reminds me a lot of another role we’ll see a little later on.  Seeming intent on shedding her all-American princess image from American Dreams and, well, her looks, Brittany Snow has had an interesting career path.  She played a stuck-up villain in Hairspray, a hooker in Finding Amanda, and here she plays a girl with a past, attached to the virginal younger brother, lusted after/reviled by the creepy older one.  I think she definitely has talent, here’s hoping she gets some higher profile roles.

38. Dare

Probably in the top five or so 2009 movies I most wanted to see.  I’m madly in love with Emmy Rossum.  And anyone who has seen Friday Nights would understand how psyched I was to see Zach Gilford play the bad boy.  The film is more complex than the average high school drama and more directly deals with sexuality.  I think the movie thought it was a lot more mature than it was; just because you have gay and bisexual characters doesn’t automatically make them serious.  Kate Mara’s younger sister, Rooney, shows up, as does Alan Cumming and Ana Gasteyer.

37. Play the Game

I’ve got a bit of a history with this movie.  I was fortunate enough to interview writer/director Marc Fienberg.  Then I saw the film with my grandma in Florida, bringing back a postcard thing that’s in our coffee table, and I wrote a review of the flick.  I saw the thing over a year ago, so I’m gonna stick with my original thoughts.  To recap, it feels like two movies not quite connected.  The first is a standard romcom, where Paul Campbell is not quite the leading man the film needs him to be, but Marla Sokoloff is great.  The second is a retirement home sex comedy, which mostly works because, come on, Andy Griffith, Liz Sheridan, and Doris Roberts in a sex comedy?

36.  The Canyon

Anyone who has seen Chuck knows how awesome Yvonne Strahovski is.  She’s funny, she can kick butt, and now I know she can do drama as well.  She’s just fantastic.  The thing I admire about this movie is there were definitely ways to make it appeal more broadly.  They could have gone horror, or made it more thrilling, or more gory, or have the characters strip down a little more (not super pleased with that last decision).  Instead, we get a nice little survival story.  The ending is a little weird, and I’m not sure I’m sold on Eion Bailey.  Will Patton was his usual larger than life self.

35. The Ramen Girl

Mr. Baseball meets Lost in Translation?  Not sure there’s too much to say about this one.  A fun little movie, I’m getting hungry for ramen just thinking about it.  Xiaoyu (who was excited for this movie) took me for some ramen when I drove to LA with him and KC.  I may have gotten it a little too spicy, but man, that was some good stuff.  Oh, sorry, where was I?  The tropes here will be familiar to anyone who has watched an underdog movies.  And I thought Brittany Murphy (RIP) carried the film very well.

34. An Education

We spent some time discussing this Best Picture nominee.  John found it to be one of the best of the ten, where the rest of us had it near the bottom of the pack.  I think my placement shows I didn’t dislike the film.  But I found the sum to be something less than the the individual parts.  I really like pretty much all of the actors, and there’s a perfectly valid case to be made that it could have received two more acting nominations.  I love Nick Hornby, though I don’t think his voice shone through in the script at all.  One thing on which we all agreed was that Carey Mulligan was revelation.  More than just a pretty face, she really excelled in this role.

53. Assassination of a High School President

Inhabits the high school film noir genre of Brick and Veronica Mars.  Not really in the same ballpark as either one, but those are lofty heights.  Like both (and any good noir), this film is pretty dark.  After this and Rocket Science, Reece Thompson probably deserves to break out a little more.  Not sure his part in Daydream Nation will be that role, but I sure hope so.  Bruce Willis is pretty entertaining, of course.  And six months in retrospect, Mischa Barton’s character reminds me a lot of Eva Green’s in The Dreamers.

52. Avatar

We’ve spilled plenty of virtual ink on this one.  And we keep coming back to the same conclusion: John makes no sense at all.  I won’t rehash all my arguments about why I think the plot’s similarity to other colonizer/native tales is irrelevant.  But it doesn’t matter from where a film’s story comes, just that it is engaging.  And Avatar doesn’t merit high marks on that front.  Sure, it is visually stunning.  For me, that’s not enough.

51. Ong Bak 2

OK, first, if you haven’t seen Ong Bak, stop what you are doing and go experience the wonder that is Tony Jaa.  The man is ridiculous.  Now that you’ve seen the film, maybe you could explain to me how this one is a prequel in anything other than name?  Not that it really matters, I suppose.  Tony Jaa takes way too long to show up in this film.  Sure, I guess we technically need a backstory.  But who is watching this for anything other than Tony Jaa being really awesome?  Really, the last third of the film is its salvation, particularly the final fight scene.  Which, OK, takes up most of the last third.

50. Crank: High Voltage

I really really liked the first Crank.  Pure insanity that translated into nonstop fun.  I’m not sure it was ever possible to top it by going one better on the same tropes, but Neveldine/Taylor weren’t up to the tasks.  This one is still fun (and still totally off-the-wall), but it doesn’t feel quite as fresh and it isn’t quite as entertaining.  I don’t want to call Neveldine/Taylor lazy, because they obviously aren’t, but at times it felt pointless to just rehash scenes and subplots from the first film.  Jason Statham is still awesome, though.  And Amy Smart is really hot.  Not a huge Bai Ling fan, I gotta say.

49. The Killing Room

Wrote about this one a little.  A worthy addition to the puzzle-horror genre.  More Cube than Saw, which is A-OK in my book.  I wasn’t completely sold on the ending.  And I might have either focused entirely on the room or done more to integrate the observation area.  The casting was spot on.  Peter Stormare gets to be creepy.  Nick Cannon does a pretty good job being crazy.  And Timothy Hutton won an Oscar that one time.

48. Sin Nombre

I’ll be honest, I watched this one over eight months ago and it didn’t totally stick with me.  It was darker than I was expecting.  And descriptions I had read led me to believe the movie took place entirely on a train, which just isn’t true.  And that it was a thriller, which isn’t really true.  But there’s plenty to like.  It feels pretty wrong to call both this one and Crossing Over movies about the border.

47. Splinterheads

In a shocking twist, this film is about a dorky guy chasing after an impossibly attractive girl.  I never watch those!  Brian caught me watching the trailer and said he had never heard of it, I replied that it wasn’t exactly a widely-seen movie.  And according to Box Office Mojo, it was not seen to the tune of $16,392 in theaters.  Really, though, it is a perfectly decent movie.  Thomas Middleditch (who to me looks like a dorkier Seth Meyers) is a small town nobody who gets snookered (twice!) by  Rachael Taylor (who you may remember from Transformers or if you are me, Bottle Shock).  She’s a splinterhead (totally different from a carnie, as she’d be happy to tell you) with a rather nasty boyfriend.  Anyway, you can imagine the rest of the film, but her quirk is that she loves geocaching.  Which certainly is a unique twist.  The subplots are rather odd, but the cast is surprisingly interesting, with Christopher McDonald, Lea Thompson, and Frankie Faison.

46. The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

This one had a brief run of Oscar buzz.  May have even made our super secret behind the scenes spreadsheet at one point.  Robin Wright Penn is very good in it, but really the only way she would have had a shot is if she played the younger version of herself.  Which was adroitly done by Blake Lively.  I thought the film was a much more engaging depiction of suburban malaise than, say, Revolutionary Road.  The supporting cast is pretty fun.  Alan Arkin gets to play something different than his Little Miss Sunshine role.  Mario Bello and Winona Ryder were well cast as nervous wrecks (they play totally different characters, didn’t really see any connection between the two until just now).  Monica Bellucci shows up.  And frankly, there isn’t any good reason why Julianne Moore received Oscar buzz for her role in A Single Man and not here (not that she really deserved a statue for either one).  Oh, and this was part of the month of Zoe Kazan.

45. Broken Embraces

A Pedro Almodovar film about a director?  Talk about a cinephile’s wet dream!  I think this one received exactly the amount of awards attention it should have.  Generally solid stuff, but the pacing felt a little off at times, and I’m not sure the story tied together as well as it should have.  Maybe more interesting than memorable.  Penelope Cruz was fine (and fine).

44. Women in Trouble

Honestly, I’ve no clue what to do with this one.  Written and directed by Sebastian Gutierrez (The Eye, Gothika, Snakes on a Plane), the film is an ensemble piece where the different stories are very loosely connected.  I’m not entirely sure there’s a theme to all the segments (I mean, sure, women in trouble, but that’s a pretty cheap description.  Characters in a movie face problems?  Who woulda thunk?!).  One option would have been to dump some segments.  I think you could probably lose the one featuring Sarah Clarke and Simon Baker first, because as is, it felt very thin and pat.  The one with Marley Shelton, Garcelle Beauvais, and Josh Brolin would probably go next.  Even though Josh Brolin is kinda awesome.  Which would leave the movie with Connie Britton (Mrs. Coach!) as a uptight aunt with a secret, Emmanuelle Chriqui as a hooker who…well, honestly, she’s more of a connecting piece, but like heck am I dropping Chriqui wearing skimpy clothing from my movie.  And the two stars, Carla Gugino as porn legend Elektra Luxx and Adrianne Palicki (Tyra!) as an up and coming porn starlet.  I actually think the two characters are really solid, so I’m excited for the sequel, Elektra Luxx.  Gugino is the self-assured, self-aware, intelligent one.  And Palicki plays a well-meaning bubblehead to absolute perfection.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is actually in the movie, probably in its best scene.  You’ll have to watch the whole movie to find it and appreciate it.  (Though you can find it on Youtube, if you really must.)

July 2010
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