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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1999

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the 10 films on this list is the abundance of directing newcomers on it. 7 of the movies were made by people who made their feature film directorial debuts, and while not all of these film-makers would go on to lasting greatness, it still makes for an impressive class of 1999. The other three films are made by two well-established masters and one quickly rising star. There’s also, as usual, a lot of comedy on here. This shouldn’t surprise you with my lists any more.

So far in this series of blog posts, I have chosen to largely abstain from making honorable mentions. This has largely been due to a stubborn adherence to principles; if one sets out to make a list of 10 films, one should not name 20 films. I have now realized that this is counter-productive to the aim of these lists, which is to give people an idea of what movies I like.

With that in mind, here are some 1999 films I really like that didn’t quite make my list. Honorable mentions, if you will. In alphabetical order:

Arlington Road, Beyond the Mat, Bringing Out the Dead, Girl Interrupted, The Green Mile, In China They Eat Dogs, Magnolia, Office Space, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Toy Story 2

Now on to the list proper. As usual, I’m going by IMDB’s year of release.

10 – EYES WIDE SHUT (Stanley Kubrick)

“No dream is ever just a dream.”

Equal parts nightmare sightseeing tour through New York City and meditation on infidelity, Stanley Kubrick finished off his career in great fashion with Eyes Wide Shut. Impeccably designed and shot – as is to be expected from Kubrick – and with one of Tom Cruise‘s best performances in the lead, this film is also helped by having a strong story, one that might seem simple and straight-forward on paper but that reveals more layers with each watch.

9 – THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez)

“I’m afraid to close my eyes, I’m afraid to open them.”

While this movie didn’t invent the found footage genre of film (Cannibal Holocaust from 1980 seems to be the agreed-upon originator), The Blair Witch Project popularised it, paving the way for films like REC, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity and many others. When I first watched it at home alone one night as a teen, it had me rattled to the core. Even today, it remains a highly effective horror film by making us fear what we can’t see, rather than throwing a monster right in our faces. A picture might say more than a thousand words, but in horror, so does a sound that shouldn’t be there.

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Posted by on 5 March, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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“Final” 2011 Oscars Predictions

I haven’t been keeping quite as close a look at the Oscars race this awards season as I have the last few years. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but the result is that I find it hard to make confident predictions in quite a few categories. And it’s not even like last year, where a lot of uncertainty basically boiled down to whether The King’s Speech or Alice in Wonderland would pick up the most arts and crafts wins, or just how strong The Social Network still was. This year, there are plenty of categories where I have trouble even boiling things down to two possible winners. Then again, I did really poorly with my guesses last year – thanks to overconfidence in The King’s Speech, stubborn and ill-conceived faith in Annette Bening, and those damn short categories – so perhaps being a bit aloof about things will turn out to be a blessing.

So for what it’s worth, here are my picks in the various categories. They’re final, unless I change my mind. My predicted winners are in BOLD CAPS.

BEST PICTURE

THE ARTIST
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Hugo
Midnight in Paris
Moneyball
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Back in September when the race was still wide open, I made a baseless guess that the unseen War Horse would turn out to be the eventual Best Picture winner. At the end of 2011, The Artist had established itself as the front-runner, yet I had a hunch that it would run out of steam and not end up the victor. Well, here we are a few days away from the ceremony, and I have to concede that I was wrong on both of those occasions. It’s hard to see The Artist losing at this point.

BEST DIRECTOR

Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris
MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS – THE ARTIST
Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne – The Descendants
Martin Scorsese – Hugo

Most of the time, Best Picture and Best Director go hand in hand. Yet year after year, there’s always people predicting a split between the two. This is rarely wise, as when a split does happen, it’s always a major surprise – think Crash / Brokeback Mountain. So I’m playing it safe and going with Hazanavicius.

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Posted by on 22 February, 2012 in Oscars

 

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When Worlds Collide: Why The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is strange to this Swede

Note: You might want to check out my proper review for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo before continuing reading this post.

In a filmed interview with David Fincher for Sweden’s leading newspaper Aftonbladet, the reporter made mention of the fact that the director’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the most expensive movie production to have ever taken place in Sweden. Fincher seemed genuinely surprised and expressed embarassment over this, as though the thought had never crossed his mind. For him, a film with a budget of $90 million didn’t seem like a big deal – although to be fair, he does go on to say that he hates how making a film has to be such a huge project. Regardless: In Sweden, numbers like $90 million are unheard of. This country I call myself a citizen of has never been a hotspot for foreign filmmakers, least of all those in Hollywood. When George Clooney came here a few years ago to shoot the 10 minute opening segment for Anton Corbijn‘s The American, it was enough to garner nation-wide news coverage. And that was for a short sequence in a comparatively small arthouse-y film.

Every Swede recognizes this.

So a big-time American production like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo being made entirely in Sweden is rare. I can honestly say that watching the film was a unique experience for me, although not necessarily in a good way. Here we have Mr. James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, watching a news report on the Swedish channel TV4 with its classic logo on screen. Now he’s in his office, with the traditional Swedish Christmas candelabras in the windows. Oh look, now he’s bording a train with the national railways company SJ’s logo on it. At times, the framing of certain shots seemed to be deliberately emphasizing these things so iconic to us Swedes. Maybe that’s just my imagination playing tricks on me, but the end result was a mild sense of distraction. Why do all this? As easter eggs to the Swedish viewers? As I noted in my review of the film, all these details make for a very accurate depiction of Sweden, but it’s weird having them side by side with a big foreign star like Craig.

More annoying were the inconsistencies with regards to written text. Throughout the film, you see plenty of books lying around. These have Swedish titles clearly printed on the front. Fine. But then there are plenty of newspaper clippings where everything is written in English. I get that the articles and headlines are more important to the story than some random books that are essentially just set decoration, and that it’s crucial to convey their message to the audience, but it quickly became another source of distraction. There are other things as well that suffer the same fate, such a news report on TV towards the end of the film where a large sum of money is mentioned. The money is measured in euro, again to give foreign viewers some idea of the quantities being discusses. Nevermind that Sweden hasn’t adopted the euro as currency and that we still use our old krona, which is the currency money is measured in in real news reports. This is admittedly a minor quibble, though.

And then we have the spoken language, which is always problematic in English-language films set in non-English-speaking countries. I have never been a fan of the “English with an accent” approach that’s often utilized. All too often, the character gets lost in the dialect to the point where the dialect becomes the character and everyone sounds exactly the same. One example of many is The Illusionist (2006), set in Austria around year 1900 where everyone speaks English with (I assume) Austrian-sounding accents. Yes, I get why the English language is used: because Americans hate reading subtitles. But filtering English through accents adds no sense of immersion for me, because I’m still fully aware that the characters wouldn’t be speaking the language at all. I would be much happier if the actors would just use their normal voices instead, as that way they’d be able to provide more nuances to their characters. I suppose that’s why I have never been bothered by Kevin Costner‘s performance in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves like so many others have. He hardly ever bothers to use a British accent in that film, instead speaking in a voice more comfortable to him which allows him to exhibit a bit more range.

So The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes place in Sweden with Swedish characters who speak English. I’ll concede that this film uses the method better than most do. The Swedish supporting actors all do a fine job with this. The oldies speak English the way old Swedish people tend to speak English – with a particularly jagged accent referred to by some younger Swedes as “politician English”, after a long line of Swedish ministers who have learned the language in school but never spoken it much until they find themselves at international conferences and such. Then you have some characters in the film who speak it a bit more smoothly, such as Martin Vanger (played by Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård). This I can buy, as that character struck me as the type who might have more international connections than others and is thus more well-versed in English. Daniel Craig doesn’t bother with a whole lot of accent either, which again I’m fine with; his character Mikael is a journalist who has presumably spent a lot of time researching and interviewing people from foreign countries. This isn’t explicitly stated, but I can believe that. But then we have Rooney Mara in the central role of Lisbeth Salander, who is definitely heavily accented but in a “wrong” way. Hers is either a massively failed attempt at sounding Swedish, or a subtle hint at future developments in the planned trilogy. I know that nobody in this film makes any mention of her odd way of speech, though.

Another confusing language issue: nobody ever says “cheers” or “toast” when drinking in the film. They all say “skål”, the Swedish equivalent. Only to then revert immediately back to English. Puzzling. Another small thing like that is a particular greeting Lisbeth uses as she enters her and Mikael’s base of operations a few times: “hej hej” she says, which is certainly a Swedish greeting but one that A: doesn’t quite fit the character, and B: is another out-of-place Swedish expression used amid all the English.

This might all seem like nit-picking. It probably is. None of it is likely to have much effect on the enjoyment of the film for non-Swedes, and Swedes are but a small percentage of the total audience for this film. As I’ve said repeatedly throughout this post, I understand why most of these things are in the movie. That’s why I didn’t make any mentions of them in my review. I don’t know how much these distractions influenced my fairly negative opinion of the film. I’d like to think that I was able to look past them. I certainly had issues with the film that weren’t related to the minor details.

Should I care about these things at all when I’m often willing to look past them in movies set in other countries? Amélie is one of my favorite films, yet French people have criticized it for its lack of colored characters when it’s set in Montmartre, a highly multicultural part of Paris. I find Amélie to be a wonderful film regardless. I’ve never been to France. There is nothing in the film that conflicts with the world as I have experienced it myself. Can I justify Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s decision to not have any character in Amélie have dark skin? No. But I can easily ignore it.

Ignoring things does not make them go away, though. The difference between inaccuracies in Amélie and ones in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that I’m acutely aware of the ones in the latter due to personal experience, whereas those in the former I only learned about from external sources. As I said earlier in this post, foreign movies being set and filmed in Sweden is extremely rare. I’ve never had a reaction to a film before like I did with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This is why I chose to write this blog post.

Maybe this isn’t something that interests you, but it interests me. I like finding out others’ views on films set near where they live. I would love to know what Iraqis thought of Three Kings. What Jordanians thought of Body of Lies. What Spaniards thought of Vicky Cristina Barcelona. By learning about other people’s opinions, I can see the world in different lights.

Even if it is just over small details in a film.

A closing note: Many reviews of Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo compare it to the Swedish film from 2009. I chose not to do that in my review, saying that since Fincher’s is a readaptation rather than a remake, it deserves to be judged on its own merits. It does. I will say here that I liked the Swedish movie much better, although this later film has made me question whether the first one really was as good as I first thought, seeing as some of the flaws appear in both of them. I will also say that Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth, while its own character, is far less intriguing than the one played by Noomi Rapace. The American movie doesn’t do enough things different from the Swedish one to really warrant its existance. I hope Fincher doesn’t sign on for the sequels. There are better things he could use his talent on. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo felt like a big enough waste of time as it is.

 
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Posted by on 26 January, 2012 in Misc.

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2009

When I made my Top 10 of 2010 list a few weeks ago, there was a good reason for it. I had just watched Scott Pilgrim vs The World, which was the last of my major must-see films for the year. At that point, I felt confident in making a list I could get behind to an acceptable degree. So even though it came more than 8 months after 2010 ended, it felt warranted.

Justifying a Top Ten of 2009 list when we’re fast approaching 2012 is trickier. In fact, there’s always a certain degree of guilt involved in making any list. They’re “easy”, both to write and to digest. The blogging world is swamped by them. They’re not worthwhile content. Why rank movies at all? And so on and so forth. The reason for me doing this is that I think yearly top ten lists are a good way to get a feel for what a person’s taste in film looks like. When I come across a blog that’s been active for a few years, I often check to see if they have any lists of this sort. I enjoy seeing what people have picked, and sometimes I’ll get alerted to films I haven’t heard of before, or am pursuaded by someone’s enthusiasm to check out a movie I might have dismissed earlier. For me, reading them serves a purpose. And thus, me writing them might provide some of you similar benefits.

Since this blog isn’t very old, there hasn’t been time to provide any yearly lists like this. So I’m doing them retroactively, one year at a time, moving back through the years. I don’t intend to drown you in them, mind you. Maybe one every couple of weeks or so, when I feel like updates have been a bit slow and I can’t come up with anything more interesting to write about. Regardless, I hope you’ll enjoy them in one way or another.

So. 2009. Not my favorite year in terms of movies. Plenty of films “very good” but not “great”, a whole bunch of let-downs and a couple of real stinkers (supreme bore-fest 2012 and painfully unfunny Year One chiefs among them). The real highlights were scarce compared to other recent years. Nonetheless, the ten films listed below all endeared themselves to me in one way or another. I can look at this list and really like what I see.

This is 2009 strictly as listed on IMDB, by the way. And please do keep in mind that these are my favorite movies of the year and nothing more.

10 – THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE (Steven Soderbergh)

“If they wanted you to be yourself, they wouldn’t be paying you.”

This one I wrote about in my post on overlooked films of the 2000s. While it didn’t quite hold up to my first impressions when I rewatched it, it still remains a fascinating look at the life of an upscale call girl (played by porn star Sasha Grey) during the financial crisis of the late aughts. Steven Soderbergh, never one to settle for a defined personal style, here opts for a bare-bone realistic tone, with long static distant shots as if the camera is spying on the proceedings. Perhaps a bit too sterile for some, but I found The Girlfriend Experience very captivating. It’s one of my favorite Soderberghs. Bonus: Watch it with friends and giggle when one of them goes “Who is that actress? What else has she been in? I know I reognize her from somewhere!”

9 – AN EDUCATION (Lone Scherfig)

“It’s funny though, isn’t it? All that poetry and all those songs, about something that lasts no time at all.”

Every year, there seems to be one bright new young starlet who arrives on the scene from out of nowhere. In 2009, that actress was Carey Mulligan. She’s thoroughly convincing in the touching coming-of-age drama An Education, playing 16 year-old Jenny in 1960’s England, a girl tired of the world she’s in who finds herself whisked away to a life of romance and glamor by a charming stranger (Peter Sarsgaard). Not the most unique of stories, but one told exceedingly well. Also features a great supporting turn by Alfred Molina as Jenny’s father.

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Posted by on 28 September, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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Some Oscars thoughts this early in the race

With Venice, Toronto and Telluride over and done with, awards season is underway. This is always a fun time of the year for me as a movie fan, so I’m sure I’ll be chiming in as the journey to the Kodak Theatre progresses. What fascinates me is of course the films themselves (though I won’t be seeing any of them anytime soon myself, unfortunately), but also the race. The PR strategies employed by the studios. The jockeying for position. The films that fail to gain traction despite heavy pre-hype. The contenders that arrive from out of nowhere. Trying to gauge the Academy’s taste is something people often say is easy to do (hence the idea of Oscar bait), but AMPAS can be very fickle indeed. Always be prepared for the unexpected.

But it’s very early in the race, and speculating about what’s going to win at this point still seems a bit premature to me, especially considering all the films that haven’t been seen by anyone yet. As I said, I haven’t seen any of the films myself, and I don’t have any juicy inside info to offer. There are other sites than mine that offer more up-to-date news and analyses of the whole thing (I highly recommend In Contention).

So what do I have to offer Oscars-wise at this time? Just my own random thoughts and observations.

We still have no clear frontrunner for Best Picture, which is a pleasant development. Anything can still happen. By this time last year, The King’s Speech was the film to beat already (though doubts would arise as the year came to a close). Same with Slumdog Millionaire three years ago. But now there’s still life in the race. The Descendants is looking strong so far, but it’s a comedy, and AMPAS are generally reluctant to give films like that their big prize. There’s summer’s big surprise hit The Help, but it’s going to need a good push to stay fresh in people’s minds. Political drama The Ides of March seems like it would be right up the Academy’s alley, but it has met with solid-but-not-great critical reception. The Tree of Life remains a big question mark. And there are plenty of big ones still unseen, such as Clint Eastwood‘s J. Edgar, Stephen Daldry‘s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Steven Spielberg‘s War Horse.

Gary Oldman, Oscar hopeful

In contrast, the Best Actor field seems to be stabilizing somewhat. George Clooney (The Descendants), Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and Gary Oldman (looking for a long overdue first nomination for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) have all gotten the necessary praise and seem safe bets, along with recently unveiled Moneyball‘s Brad Pitt. And barring a complete flop by J. Edgar, Leonardo DiCaprio appears likely to join them. Who could oust any of them? Michael Fassbender, for one. Both Shame and A Dangerous Method could do it for him. Ryan Gosling maybe, whether it’s through Drive or The Ides of March.

Speaking of Drive, I have no idea what it will have any chance at being nominated for. Critics have loved the hell out of it, but what branches of the Academy will take a liking to it? Maybe none at all. I could easily see that happening.

People have been talking for way too long about how Best Actress will come down to Glenn Close vs Meryl Streep. The latter’s The Iron Lady still hasn’t shown, but I’d put my money on Close of the two. There’s a better story to be told with her winning for Albert Nobbs. Hopefully something will heat up this discussion though, because it’s been stale for months. I’m hoping for a late resurgence of Tilda Swinton love myself. What happened to We Need to Talk About Kevin anyway?

And what’s going to happen to Woody Allen‘s Midnight in Paris? It raked in more money at the box office than any of the director’s previous films and was being called the first possible Best Picture contender of the year. But therein lies the problem: it arrived way back in spring. What can be done to keep it in the running? An Original Screenplay nod seems likely, in any case.

Not happening.

Remember when people were talking about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, Super 8 and Rise of the Planet of the Apes as possible Best Picture nominees? Oh the joys of summer speculating. None of them seem very likely anymore, do they?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seems to be a return to his dark 90s thriller roots for David Fincher. Which is great, because those movies of his were excellent. Don’t expect the Academy to fawn all over it, though. They were very happy to ignore Fincher until he started playing to their tastes with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I am not expecting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to be an Oscars contender at all, except possibly for star Rooney Mara.

Pixar’s Cars 2 made tons of money this summer but is by far the studio’s worst received film yet. This means that their usual playground Best Animated Feature might be an exciting category for once. Will The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn strike gold, or will its motion capture make the Academy deem it ineligible? If that one’s out of the running, Rango might be the horse to beat.

Nobody’s talking about Sweden’s submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category, Pernilla August‘s Beyond (Svinalängorna). We haven’t won that Oscar since 1983. I don’t think that’ll change this time around.

Finally, some largely baseless early Oscars picks. Please don’t hold me to these even a week from now. I’m just guessing. I still reserve rights to proudly proclaim “I told you so!” if I happen to be right, however.

Best Picture: War Horse

Best Director: Steven Spielberg – War Horse

Best Actor: Brad Pitt – Moneyball

Best Actress: Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs

Best Supporting Actor: Nick Nolte – Warrior

Best Supporting Actress: Shailene Woodley – The Descendants

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants

Best Original Screenplay: J. Edgar

Best Animated Feature: Rango

Best Foreign Language Film: Poland – In Darkness

 
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Posted by on 20 September, 2011 in Oscars

 

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Better late than never: My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2010

Most critics and bloggers put together their Best Of The Year lists at the end of the year. That doesn’t work for me. Many films take a long time before they arrive here in Sweden, a problem hardly alleviated by American studios scheduling a lot of quality stuff for awards season at the tail-end of the year. So by the time the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, I’ve never seen all the films I feel I need to in order to make a list that has any chance of meaning anything.

But by now I feel like I’ve caught up on a lot of my personal must-sees of last year, so the time to make my own list is at hand. That’s not to say I’ve seen all there is to see. I’m particularly underwatched in non-English language films still, not to mention documentaries which people were saying had a banner year in 2010. But the great thing about lists is that they’re never set in stone. This list only reflects my feelings today, and might well look radically different one year from now.

There isn’t a ton of surprises on this list of mine, which I’m okay with. So far I’ve mostly focused on seeing the films people are talking a lot about. As time goes on, I will hear about and track down the smaller films, the forgotten gems, the new cult classics. The further removed you are from a year and the more you see, the more eclectic your list is bound to become. Time changes everything.

So here are my ten favorite movies of 2010 (note: listed as 2010 on IMDB), a particularly strong year of cinema in my opinion. Many films were hard to leave off, but that’s the way it is. No honorable mentions, no consolation prizes, no mercy. Just ten films that I love.

10 – GREENBERG (Noah Baumbach)

“There’s a confidence in you guys that’s horrifying. You’re all ADD and carpal tunnel. You wouldn’t know Agoraphobia if it bit you in the ass, and it makes you mean.”

Some people can’t stand the quirky characters Noah Baumbach comes up with. I can’t get enough of them. In Greenberg, we’re treated to two stand-out examples. One is the titular Robert Greenberg (Ben Stiller), a man angry at the world and obsessed with his own misery. It’s arguably Stiller’s most nuanced and impressive performance, in some ways his own Punch-Drunk Love. The other is Florence (Greta Gerwig), a woman whose life is in turmoil yet she still can’t help but bend over backwards to help people. Gerwig is even better than her co-star. A grimly funny film, true to life if not the one we live.

9 – THE SOCIAL NETWORK (David Fincher)

“Did I adequately answer your condescending question?”

David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin play loose with the truth as they tell the tale of how Facebook came to be. Those wanting the real story ought to look elsewhere. The rest of us can enjoy the quick razor-sharp dialogue, the impressive performance by Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the Trent Reznor-penned score and a fascinating tale of how in the pursuit of connecting people, two friends can drift farther apart than ever.

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Posted by on 13 September, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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Rewatch Review – Up in the Air


Sometimes, awards season can be overwhelming. All of a sudden, there’s tons of movies you need to check out. A vast majority of them will be really good, too. It can be very intense, and it’s easy to get too caught up in it and only view films in comparison to their competitiors rather than for what they actually are themselves. The 2009 season was very much such a case for me, especially since I got too hyped up about everything that it was inevitable for me not to be let down. In a slew of greatly anticipated films, Up in the Air was the one I had particularly high hopes for. A critically loved dramedy, made by Jason Reitman, the same guy responsible for Thank You For Smokng (which I really dig) and Juno (which I love), and starring Mr. Hollywood George Clooney. This would be my favorite for the season, surely. Well, it wasn’t. I very much liked the film, but I didn’t feel it really brought anything fresh to the table. What was so great about it? Why was this at one point considered a Best Picture frontrunner? And, perhaps the most unfair question of all: Why wasn’t it Juno?

It wasn’t Juno because it didn’t need to be. It was considered a Best Picture frontrunner because people thought the Academy would love it (it ended up not winning any Oscars at all). And what’s great about it is everything, as I have now discovered on a rewatch.

Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man who fires people for a living. When a company boss doesn’t want to tell his employees himself that they’re being let go, he hires a guy like Ryan to handle the unpleasant task. The firm he works for has clients all over the US, so he spends a lot of time flying from one city to another. He barely has a home and maintains little contact with his relatives. And he likes it that way. As he says himself during one of his side gigs as a public speaker: “The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake: moving is living”. He feels no need to settle down. He’ll take pleasures where he can find them.

But then two women enter his life and upset it, one on a professional level and another on a personal one. The former is young hotshot Natalie (Anna Kendrick, here sporting a speech pattern that oddly reminds me of Jesse Eisenberg) who’s come up with the idea for Ryan’s company to start firing people over video phone calls, thus threatening to cause a permanent halt to his days of constant travelling. The other is Alex (Vera Farmiga), a woman who much like Ryan himself spends a lot of time travelling for work. They meet each other at an airport, find mutual attraction and end up having sex that same night (they’re both gorgeous and charming, so who can blame them?). But what starts as a casual friends-with-benefits scenario soon grows for Ryan, who realizes that he might be falling in love with her.

One problem I recall having with the film after my first time seeing it was the feeling that the two sides of Ryan’s life don’t intersect in any significant way. They play as two separate stories, ocassionaly encountering but rarely affecting each other. This is something I don’t really see as a problem now, for two reasons. 1: Many of us are the same way, keeping our professional and social spheres apart. 2: They do intersect. The intersection is Ryan. The threat of a new direction in his working life doesn’t does affect his relationship with Alex, not directly but through the change it has on him. There are two different stories at play in Up in the Air, but it’s one and the same main character in both of them.

I maintain that Clooney’s role as an assassin in the brilliant and underrated character study The American is his finest work to date, but his turn as Ryan Bingham isn’t far behind and is certainly the more pleasant of the two. Ryan is very charismatic, always ready and willing to turn his charm on but smart enough to know not to when he’s firing people in his job. This is one of those roles where Clooney is constantly acting, even when he’s not the focus of a scene (keep an eye on him during the part where Alex is consoling Natalie; he’s always smiling or frowning or doing something). It’s a character it’s easy for us to buy an actor like Clooney playing, but that doesn’t mean he’s just coasting by. He’s working the character for all its worth. And his two co-stars are equally great. Vera Farmiga is alluring as Alex, the kind of woman you’d just as easily fall in love with as Ryan does, and there are plenty of nuances to the performance that really shine through when you know how the story will play out. Meanwhile, Anna Kendrick plays Natalie as an ambitious rookie, full of confidence that you know just won’t be able to hold up. She fires off her lines with stable precision when the character is working, but it’s in a party scene where she lets her hair down that Natalie becomes a fully fledged character. This is where her professional and social spheres converge.

It came as a surprise to me, but I found myself loving Up in the Air this time around. Removed from all the Oscar hoopla, I find little to complain about. It knows when to push the comedy and when to give breathing room to allow the viewer to ponder the emotional sides of the story. It’s very funny, and the funny comes both in the lines the character deliver and in the all too recognizable situations they find themselves in. It’s not profound or revelatory in the plot elements it touches on (which might be what disappointed me the first time around), but it doesn’t have to be. And it’s not something we’ve seen a million times before. Ryan isn’t a detached grouch who learns to become a better man; he’s pleasant and happy from the start and finds new pleasures and ways to be happy as the film progresses. I hesitate to call it a character study, but perhaps that’s what it is. It has an engaging plot, tons of humor, an easy-going intelligence to its proceedings and some stellar acting. What’s not to like? I wish I’d have seen all this the first time I saw the film, but better late than never.

Score: 5/5

 
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Posted by on 9 September, 2011 in Reviews, Rewatch Reviews

 

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