Against The Hype

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Archive for November, 2009

Top Movies of the Decade

November 17, 2009 By: Colin Low Category: One-Liner Reviews

Unlike most critics, I don’t get to watch a whole slew of movies as they are released. I have the luxury, though, of knowing critics whose tastes dovetail with mine enough that I tend to watch good movies (or at least interesting ones) whenever I rent them. So while most critics are now gearing up to write their personal Top 100 lists for this decade’s movies, I’ll be taking up the opposite challenge of watching all the movies listed by the critics I trust most, and writing one-liner comments on each. Beginning with Tim Robey of the Telegraph, and adding other critics as they post their lists, I’ll slowly make my way through their recommendations and rank them by my own tastes. To start:

Movies I’ve seen so far from these lists (ranked in descending order):

  1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (’04): A patchwork quilt of relationship truths and clever scifi, culminating in the wisest romantic insight since Annie Hall
  2. The Incredibles (’04): Deft, rocket-paced flexing of superheroes into crises of identity and family (full review)
  3. Erin Brockovich (’00): Finally, a star vehicle that fully capitalises on Julia Roberts’ prickly edges
  4. Julia (’08): You won’t find a more sober and disciplined director-actor pair playing so drunk, desperate and out-of-control
  5. Birth (’04): Nicole Kidman thrives in close-ups and in being profoundly disturbed; this movie indulges her
  6. The Bourne Supremacy (’04): Whip-smart, breakneck spy thriller that sustains Jason Bourne’s clear-headed urgency while suffused with the pain of his loss
  7. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (’01): Epic worldcrafting, with actors and designers attuned to the demands of old-school myth
  8. In the Mood for Love (’00): Aestheticised within an inch of its life, which fits brilliantly its tale of yearning and suffocation in ’60s Hong Kong
  9. Before Sunset (’04): Sadness and self-absorption jostle in this narrow Parisian sequel to the gloriously expansive and romantic predecessor
  10. Synecdoche, New York (’08): A heartfelt meditation on self-centredness and ageing; relies on your capacity for deadpan humor, sadsack-watching and between-the-lines editing
  11. Kill Bill Vol 1 (’03): Candy-coloured pop fantasia of actresses and Japanese action movies, with a drop in mid-film momentum from Uma’s ineptness with bimbo humour
  12. The Hurt Locker (’09): More realistic, tense sequences of warfare than you’ll find elsewhere, though the soldiers teeter a bit towards broad enigma
  13. There Will Be Blood (’07): Fiery tempests wrought from the earth’s depths, Jonny Greenwood’s alien strings, and Daniel Day-Lewis’ oil baron. But things can get un-illuminatingly loud
  14. Memento (’00): Gimmicky collage of noirish scenes, blank-slate grieving and emotional manipulations held fast by a punchy existential twist
  15. Sideways (’04): Depends on your mileage for sadsacks, especially when they’re insulated by narrative perks, e.g. sex with the luminous Virginia Madsen
  16. Adaptation (’02): Depends on your mileage for sadsacks, especially when they’re insulated by narrative perks, e.g. being fictional
  17. No Country for Old Men (’07): Cleaves too easily into standalone scenes of well-edited tension and recycled caricature-humour to truly earn its mopey “bleak” ending
  18. King Kong (’05): Fanboy-wank remake bloated with CGI, wrapped around a cross-species romantic core that should have ventured beyond mere gestures at empathy
  19. Mysterious Skin (’04): Alternates between its boring and its exploitative plots, though Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s hustler gets a few emotionally raw/tender encounters
  20. Hunger (’08): I’m tired of arthouse exploitation as an excuse for male nudity, or vice versa; hurling shit-stained walls and clichéd police brutality at me doesn’t help

(The movies I have yet to see, or don’t remember enough to write about, can be found after the jump.)


Review: (500) Days of Summer

November 05, 2009 By: Colin Low Category: Full Essays


Despite the title, (500) Days of Summer is not about a sunny romance, as the narrator is quick to warn you. “This is not a love story,” he intones, and he’s probably referring to the routine heartbreak in movies that accompanies any belief in love. But he’s also right about the relationship at this movie’s core not being about love. See, there are two kinds of romantic comedies in this world: the ones that divide people into Men and Women, and the ones that don’t. (500) Days of Summer hastily identifies itself as one of the former, in a kitschy montage that narrates how Joseph Gordon-Levitt (the Man) believes in love, and how Zooey Deschanel (the Woman) turns heads wherever she goes. How are you supposed to react to a montage like that? He’s the guy of this movie, and she’s the girl: they’re going to fall in love.

Except they don’t. From Day (1) that Deschanel’s character waltzes into mopey office-cubicle hipster Tom’s life, his eyes follow her in slow-mo as it dawns upon him that she’s the girl of his dreams. Days later, when she identifies The Smiths through his headphones and gushes about the band, that’s confirms it. So when she keeps not asking him out, and later tells him that she isn’t looking for anything serious, it floats right past Tom’s rose-tinted sensors even as we’re clenching our fists in exasperation, and things go predictably downhill from there. (500) Days of Summer has been dubbed an anti-rom-com, but it deserves that label not because the two leads don’t end up together, but because it’s an unromantic study of infatuation at its most blinkered.