Finally, movies! I saw a bunch of stuff this year in theaters, and I have to say that I found much to enjoy. My Worst list is therefore pretty short, since if I thought I wasn't going to like something, I decided not to go see it in theaters.
1) Crash. Although contrived in its premise (a whole bunch of people of different races and ethnicities bump into each other "Grand Hotel" style), this movie was powerfully rendered. The performances are affecting, including turns by people you wouldn't expect to see in such a serious, arty film (Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser, Ludacris). This is a movie that makes you think hard about race relations (involving all colors, not just black and white) in America today.
2) Pride and Prejudice. I dragged Mike to this twice. Including once on opening night. Granted, it flies through the 5 stages of the Darcy/Lizzie romance like nobody's business. (I mean, it does have only 2 hours to do what the A and E/BBC series did in five.) But the camera work is sumptuous, the performance are engaging, and the atmosphere feels Austen-esque while still being modern. Kudos to Joe Wright on his first feature film directing gig. The locations were breathtakingly shot, revealing their beauty while not glossing over the "dirty work" inherent in a farm lifestyle. And though I grew up thinking of Colin Firth as the perfect Darcy, I have to say I really liked Matthew MacFayden. He plays Darcy as shy, giving a reason for his aloofness. And Keira Knightley fills Lizzie's shoes well. A treat.
3) Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. This was just too cute. (Imagine tons of little claymation rabbits running around.) It's also one of those kiddie movies that the parents will still love. (There were some snide adult jokes mixed in with the adorableness.) After having seen Chicken Run a number of times (which was made by the same production team), I was surprised at the "roughness" of the animation here. Even the story and the set pieces seemed a little more "on the fly." You could really see the clay. But this is far more in keeping with the original Wallace and Gromit shorts, which were simpler than Chicken Run. It really gives the series an appealing continuity. Plus, there is a plea for non-violence/gun control mixed in with the fun, though it's disguised by the cuddlyness. Did I mention that the rabbits were really cute?
4) The Producers. I'll admit that I have never seen the original movie or the live musical. But I'd had scenes of both quoted to me by enough people that my interest was piqued. And I wasn't disappointed. The music was fun (aka incredibly offensive but done very tongue-in-cheek) and the performances were just at the right level of crazy stageyness. I do wish I could have heard the singing better (Mike says that the vocals were mixed really low, for some unknown reason). And there was a close-up of Jon Lovitz's face that scared the hell out of me.
5) Proof. I saw the stage play version of this at Brandeis last year, and the movie version is quite similar. I found this interesting, as the play is quite stage-bound, taking place in a closed space. The movie does open this up (there are some scenes at the University of Chicago, at Northwestern, and along Lakeshore Drive), but it is still centered at Catherine's house. I don't view this as a weakness, but it does reduce the filmic feel of the piece. Regardless, the performances are strong, led by Gwyneth Paltrow, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Anthony Hopkins. The story remains moving and affecting (especially for someone who, like myself, is aspiring to an academic career and who grew up with a professor father). I did think that the way in which the movie inverted pieces of the play's timeline was odd, but it didn't really matter in the larger scheme of things. I do have a quibble with Gyllenhaal playing opposite Paltrow, when their characters are supposed to be about the same age. Gyllenhaal is 8 years younger than Paltrow, and it shows. I was always under the impression that Catherine was meant to be slightly younger than Hal.
6) Serenity. I watched some of Firefly in its original failed run on Fox, but I had hardly given the show any thought in the intervening years. But this movie brought it all back. The characters are appealingly snarky, particularly Capt. Malcom (Nathan Fillion). The plot is pretty simple (evil intergalactic empire messes with people's lives, and our heroes expose this evil to the galaxy). Yet, that simplicity is the perfect showcase for the varied characters and Joss Whedon's exploration of the Firefly universe. This 'verse blends both the fantastic (interplanetary space travel, etc) with the more mundane (people still fight with Colt revolvers a la the Old West). The result is fun and fascinating. That being said, the movie has a TV-ish, episodic feel, as if this is just a chunk of a larger story-line. Things feel unresolved, and I'm not sure that fans will ever get all the answers they want.
7) Batman Begins. This was the rockingest Batman movie yet. Since the Bat-Verse is my favorite corner of comic-dom, I was a little leery of the lastest attempt. I have enjoyed past Batman movies (the Tim Burton ones were quite fun), yet the comics always seemed better. But fear no more! This movie is here to save the day. It does a great job of capturing Frank Miller's Year One feel while still exploiting the advantages of film and adding in its own touches (the twist on the Ra's al Ghul character was pretty cool). The movie also balances two villains well (Ra's and the Scarecrow), which isn't something that even the comics get all the time (I thought the Hush story arc in the Batman monthlies was way too villain saturated). The love interest, Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) worked nicely, though I always prefer Selina Kyle (who has been utterly squandered by that Catwoman movie, yeesh). And, I got to see this in IMAX, which was AWE-SUM. Ok, I will now try to switch off the comic book geekiness stat.
8) Sin City. Except, here's another comic book movie! This one is based on the books by Frank Miller, which I actually haven't read (I've only read Miller's Daredevil and Batman: Year One). This movie is totally about the aura. It's black-and-white, accented with bright dashes of color (like in the irises of a person's eyes, for example). The performances are by-the-book, so as not to detract from the visual material. It really feels like you have stepped into a living version of Frank Miller's work, and you can definitely tell that someone is behind the scenes pulling the strings (which gives some moments a rather wooden quality). But once you accept that (and the violence and psuedo-sexism inherent in Miller's world) it works.
9) Rent. I saw the stage show in NYC a few years ago, and this is a pretty faithful film recreation. It does open up the action to various NYC locals, which works well. I still have the same problems here that I had with the original musical: it's hopelessly dated and the music is really spotty (some of the lyrics fail to do justice to the material, while some of the melodies are forgettable). But, there are moments of brilliance that really stay with you (especially Angel's funeral). Most of the original cast came back for the movie, so they're a bit old for their parts, but it's not a big deal.
10) Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith. I had a blast dressing up for opening night and waiting for 6 hours outside of the theater with all of the other die-hard fans. The mood was electric. The movie itself was visually beautiful and far more meaty than the previous prequels. In the end, I wasn't satisfied with the film, but I can't help celebrate the last installment of this iconic piece of pop culture.
1) Fantastic Four. I have always found the Fantastic Four boring as comic book characters, so I wasn't that surprised when I was underwhelmed by the movie. I did hold out some hope, but it was slim. The script was simple, the acting was flat, and the action sequences were silly. I did enjoy seeing Julian McMahon, but that was about it.
2) Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith. Although I liked the experience, I still have found that none of the prequels can stand up to the original trilogy (especially The Empire Strikes Back, which I can watch forever). And I agree with Luke on Gilmore Girls: after successfully fighting in the mouth of a volcano-thingie, how does suddenly having the high ground make the battle?
And I still really want to see the following 2005 releases: Good Night, and Good Luck, Syriana, Munich, and Cinderella Man. We shall see what I get a chance to catch.