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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.

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I’d say over the course of a year I see most films that come highly recommended. Not all of them fit into the discussions we have on this site. I try to talk about the ones I love in lists or separate posts but not every one lives up to expectations. Instead of giving these films a pass via my silence I have decided to pillory them here. That’ll show ’em.


Star Trek and Whip It
(95 Rotten Tomatoes, 83 Metacritic; 82 RT, 67 MC)
I feel like I covered most of my objections here and here, but is there a plot point or line of dialog in Star Trek that isn’t a cliche? Or a scene or shot in Whip It?

Sunshine Cleaning
(72 RT, 61 MC)
A textbook case of a movie trying too hard. This film has enough themes and subplots for three Sundance films. And unfortunately too few go anywhere and few I cared about. The one where Emily Blunt befriends Mary Lynn Rajskub is just confounding. Alan Arkin’s character is almost a carbon copy of his work in Little Miss Sunshine. I didn’t care for Emily Blunt. One aspect I found quite interesting was the family’s burgeoning relationship with a one-armed cleaning supply shop owner, played by Clifton Collins Jr. He’s a real revelation in a film that doesn’t do enough with him.

Goodbye Solo
(94 RT, 89 MC)
I expected this movie to be right up my alley. I usually find myself drawn to small, slow, slice-of-life character-driven dramas like this. See my outspoken (at least amongst the Grouches) support for 2008’s The Visitor and Frozen River. And I know Ramin Bahrani is a Next Great American Director. But holy shit this was boring. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen or to get fully involved in a character or their world, but no.

Sugar
(93 RT, 82 MC)
On the one hand, it’s a film about baseball. On the other, it comes from the team behind the Grouches-reviled Half Nelson. Could any film tear Jared apart more? Actually I do hope he sees it because I’d be curious about his take on it and what he thinks of the film’s baseball scenes. Sugar follows a Dominican baseball player as he arrives in America to play minor league ball. More than baseball it’s about the modern immigrant story. I was totally on board for about a third of the movie before it began to lose me. I became less interested in Sugar and his travails. The whole thing just never coalesces into anything particularly interesting.

Fantastic Mr. Fox
(92 RT, 83 MC)
Wes Anderson has made no more than 2/3 of a good movie since his brilliant Rushmore / Royal Tenenbaums run. (That good 2/3 was the front end of Darjeeling Limited.) I loved this book as a kid and the stop-motion animation intrigued me, but it just gets bogged down in Anderson’s increasingly tiresome style. He’s so betrothed to his special Wes Anderson trademarked quirks that he forgets to make a movie that’s actually good. Every touch that seems like it should be clever (Mr. Fox’s mid-life crisis, a badger lawyer/side-kick) are just ill-conceived. I think of Jason Schwartzman’s bored, monotone voice acting as Mr. Fox’s son and I’m reminded all over again why this film was a collasal disappointment.

Several of the Grouches got a sneak peak at the new Ellen Page roller derby comedy Whip It the other night. Drew Barrymore makes her directorial debut in this story about a small town Texas teen discovering herself and coming of age in Austin’s roller derby circuit. Kristen Wiig, Marcia Gay Harden, Jimmy Fallon, Alia Shawkat, Juliette Lewis, and Andrew Wilson (brother of Luke and Owen) also appear. While it’s not likely to garner any awards attention, Ellen Page is a Grouches (and awards circuit) darling and Whip It did premiere at the Oscar springboard Toronto International Film Festival.

John

I really, really hated this movie. When it comes time to talk directing awards we often note that it’s tough to tell what makes a well-directed movie and how to separate the directing from a film’s other components. I’ve generally looked at shot and editing choices, tone, and pacing but really it often comes down to whether the director has created a good movie.

This is a poorly-directed film. I don’t have any feelings either way for Barrymore in general, but she should stick to acting. Every cliched shot possible can be found in this movie. Beyond that it’s unfocused and messy. It felt like they had an idea of some cool scenes and made it up as they went along. No sports movie cliche goes unused and never in a clever or ironic fashion. The themes are handled clumsily. The acting is hammy. It does have some funny moments and interesting, albeit underdeveloped, characters. Page’s parents I found particularly fascinating.

But if roller derby is such a grrrrl power sport, why are all the announcers, refs, and coaches male?

Jared

Whip It fits comfortably into the sports movie genre, perhaps too much so.  Think A League of Their Own, only with more physical violence and less-developed characters.  The film hits most of the familiar tropes (including having an awesome soundtrack), but rarely deviates from them.  So it feels a little paint-by-numbers, which is fine if you like standard sports flicks, but it just means you have to tolerate a few weak and/or cliche subplots.  The supporting cast is filled with interesting people, and it sure appears that they had a lot of fun filming, unfortunately they have to work with extremely stock characters, so their enthusiasm can only add so much.  Ellen Page shines in the lead, not just because she’s ridiculously cute.  If you go in expecting something TBS will show as part of a sports movie marathon one Sunday afternoon, you probably won’t be disappointed.

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