2009 in Cinema

5.  District 9

If you know me at all, you know that I am a geek. More importantly, you know that I am DAMN PROUD OF IT. So to say that I enjoy a good Sci-Fi movie would be a bit of an understatement. And to say that I get pissed off when people marginalize Sci-Fi would be like saying Jabba the Hut is a little portly. In English I learned that there are essentially three conflicts in literature: Man vs. Self, Man vs. Nature, and Man vs. Man (or Society). Sci-Fi is briliant because it substitutes one or several of these elements with something reasonably outlandish, yet still somehow conceivable. For instance, Children of Men could be Man vs. Nature, where Nature is the dystopian world where all women are barren. Man vs. Man can become Man vs. Alien/Robot/etc. The outlandish elements serve as stand-ins, and sort of force us to conceptualize the conflict more. It makes us think “How does this apply to me?”

That’s what is so brilliant about District 9. At first glance it’s “Oh, aliens came to Earth and we will fight them.” Then you watch it and it becomes “Oh, aliens came to Earth and we put them in camps and kill their babies.” Then when you think about it, it becomes “Holy crap we put people in camps and kill THEIR babies!” District 9 is based on the real life forced evacuation of District 6 (I think) in South Africa several years ago. Suddenly Prawns are much more than just aliens. They’re living, breathing (I assume), sentient beings, and we treat them worse than animals. This is Sci-Fi done right. P.S. Wickus has a very literal Man vs. Self in this movie too.

4.  Inglourious Basterds

Again, there is so much more to this movie than you would think. My first thought was “Oh joy, a Tarantino film. I can’t wait for all that gore and profanity.” (My feelings for Tarantino are really schizophrenic, by the way. Sometimes I think he’s brilliant, other times I think he’s totally played out, most of the time I just really want to meet the parents that somehow messed this kid up so bad.) But on a friend’s recommendation, I went and saw it. I think a lot of people went in expecting to see Brad Pit et al brutalizing those “damn dirty Nazis.” And I doubt they were disappointed. I would imagine most people who saw the movie seriously judged the Nazi regime for laughing while watching a movie about Jews getting killed, as if they were less than human. I really want to know how many people understood what Tarantino was saying here. “Oh those Nazis! How can they laugh while people get….wait…I’M in a theater, watching a movie about people getting killed in terrible ways. AND I’M LAUGHING.” Seriously brilliant. Somehow, over the course of the last 70 years or so, killing Nazis became a guilt-free past-time.

You see, I love playing zombie games. Why? Because zombies/demons/vampires are already dead/pure evil/dead AND evil. Therefore, I can kill them and feel good about it. But when did Nazis become already dead OR pure evil? This may gall to hear, but Nazis are actually people. Sure, some were bad people. Some were terrible people. Some were just patriots. The vast majority of Nazis were just soldiers who loved their country and signed up to fight for it. So to just kill them and not feel any remorse at all is to say that they are not human. Which is exactly what they said of the Jews. Anyway.

3.  Avatar

Anyone who has heard me talk about this movie is probably shocked it’s only number three on my list. DEAL with it.

First of all, the plot of Avatar. Yes, it may have been what some call “cliche.” I say that there is a really thin line between cliche and archetypal/mythic. I think Avatar is the latter. It’s an idea that resonates within the collective consciousness of society, this unspoken belief many of us feel deep down that life would be better simpler, and that civilization has caused all sorts of problems. Something in us hums to the tune of crossing barriers and finding meaning – and love – with the Other, be it another race, culture, or even species in this case. Furthermore, there is a huge difference between a “generic” plot and a mediocre one. Was Pocahontas mediocre? Or Dances With Wolves? Or the Last Samurai, or Last of the Mohicans? Just because an idea has been used before doesn’t mean it can’t be powerful and well-executed.

Of course, the main aspect of Avatar getting attention is the amazing graphics and 3-D presentation. Stuck up twits claimed that this was the only reason to see the movie. Well. First of all, I chose to watch sections of Avatar without my 3-D glasses, and let me say that it was no less impressive, visually or as a movie. Besides, what is wrong with watching a movie because of beautiful imagery and a well-developed planet? And personally, I believe that if you have any claim to being an afficionado of cinema, you should see Avatar, because I fully believe that it will change movies forever. It may not be quite as drastic a change as the flip from Silent to Sound, or Black and White to Technicolor, but then again you never know. In many ways, Avatar is just a preview of the shape of things to come – both in terms of graphics AND plot. And if you won’t listen to me, listen to Simon Pegg.

“It’s a familiar story but it needs broad mythological strokes to counterpoint the intense visuals. Narrative complexity would self defeat.”

2.  UP

I absolutely adore this movie, both for itself, and my memories concerning it. Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say that any movie that can make a row full of boys choke up deserves major props.

Seriously, this movie is fantastic. Visually, it’s gorgeous. There are plenty of bright colors, but then again there’s quite a bit of darkness and subtlety as well. Plot-wise, wonderful. The story of how a shy boy meets a vibrant, out-going girl, comes out of his shell, falls in love, and then loses her, ultimately becoming a sad and bitter old man would be story enough. But then when he has to come to terms with the loss of his wife, finally divesting himself of everything he had been afraid to let go of? That’s great. Throw in an awkward child from a broken home looking for a father figure – in the form of a man who either lost a child or found out he could never have one – and it becomes endearing, heart-breaking, and beautiful. Musically…flawless. There are whole sequences where there is no dialogue at all, and just the pictures and music tell the story. It’s like watching poetry. To quote Martin Yan, “Beautiful!”

1.  Star Trek

Star Trek has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I watched The Original Series and The Next Generation all throughout elementary. I absolutely loved TOS, despite/because of the camp. TNG never quite clicked the same way, but I still watched it all the time. I watched Voyager throughout Jr. High, and it was the first one I got really invested in. (Don’t get me wrong, Voyager has lots of issues, but I enjoyed that there was more of a goal. We are lost here, we need to get back there. Sweet.) I watched Enterprise throughout High School, and really liked how ghetto the Enterprise was, that they were scared of transporters, didn’t have force fields, or photon torpedoes. I may or may not have read a few novels. In my defense, I was never like really hard core. I didn’t speak Klingon or anything like that. But it was with me my whole life.

Furthermore, I am obsessed with J.J. Abrams. I mean, except Felicity. But Alias remains one of my favorite shows of all time, as does LOST. I watch Fringe every week, and I thought Cloverfield was awesome. If he gets to do the reboot of Superman, I will flip my stuff. So when I heard he was doing a reboot of Star Trek…feces were flipped.

So yeah, this movie was essentially perfect. At the time of watching it, there was literally NOTHING I would have changed. I thought the casting was largely spot-on, visually it was stunning, and the plot! Oh the plot! They came up with a fantastic way of keeping the old canon intact, while creating a new, continuity free universe that still pays homage to what has come before it in a loving, reverent way. This movie was fun, it was funny, there was action, there was romance, there was tragedy. If you need more than that you are just simply too high maintenance and I pity you.

So there you have my wrap-up of the year in movies, in which the under-appreciated word “Twat” was used, and I discussed what would cause me to lose my feces.

Peace, Love, and Hobbits.

Honorable Mentions

I Love You, Man – I don’t know why I loved this movie as much as I did, but oh well. It was hilarious, it was FAR less vulgar than I would have anticipated, it was oddly touching (especially to a guy who has too many gal-pals as it is), and it NEVER used the word “Bromance.” Awesome.

(500) Days of Summer – Technically I didn’t see it until this year, but I’m still counting it. This was one of the most original, down-to-earth, realistic romance stories I’ve ever seen. Sometimes you find the One, and sometimes you’re just wrong. Again, I related a lot to the protagonist. We both have three-letter names, we both love sweater-vests, we both pine after Zooey Deschanel and other dead-pan girls who like the Smiths, believe in true love, and hate Bull Feces. I loved the dance scene in this movie, the dream/film sequence, the non-linear progression, and the narrator. It reminded me of Amelie and Pushing Daisies, which is a sure-fire way to make me love something. This movie just rang really true to our society, especially the Baylor one where we all care SO much about Fate and Destiny and God dropping the ONE in our laps and allow all our happiness to hinge on that one relationship. So yeah. Brilliant. I will shortly be buying it.

Zombieland – Not just dumb fun! It actually had character development! And character growth, which are two different things. It was hilarious, it was fun, it was guilt-free, and it was actually touching. I love movies where they acknowledge that family is more than blood relation. So yeah.


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