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Up, up and away

I’ve struggled to try and write some sort of year in review post for a couple nights now and since the political side of 2009 just kind of ticked me off, I decided I’d stay away from politics and stick to what I know (or at least know better): movies. (This may be part 1, I just realized I could write a lot about the sports year too.) So without further ado, here’s a list of the top 5 movies I saw this year.

5 – 2012

I know, I know, 2012 probably doesn’t make many people’s top ten lists, much less the top five. But here’s the deal: I saw a bunch of movies (particularly in the fall) that promised they’d be funny, or promised they’d be awesome, and they weren’t. Here’s a fall movie which promised “stuff’s gonna’ go down” and what do you know, stuff went down.

The story behind the reason for the 2012 apocalypse was mediocre at best. The family drama was unnecessary. The political drama behind letting citizens aboard at the end felt kind of staged. The hippie conspiracy theorist the family met while camping was unnecessary. But the special effects left nothing to be desired and were worth every cent of my $9.50 I paid to see this movie on the big screen. I particularly liked the aircraft carrier smashing down on Washington and the shots of Vegas in shambles, but I was a little disappointed that big cities such as New York, Chicago, and yes, Cleveland weren’t included. But then again, it’s only a two hour movie – not everyone’s apocalypse dreams could be realized.

Sometimes, you go to the theater hoping to see a deep movie that causes you to reflect, put yourself in the characters’ shoes, and discuss the movie later. But if you went to the theater expecting a simple movie where stuff went down, you didn’t want to be the characters at all and all you could say on the way home with your friends was “That <insert awesome explosion here> was awesome!”, 2012 was the best of the year.

4 – Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

I’ll be honest: I didn’t see Transformers until this summer, after Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was already out. I watched the original Transformers with a lukewarm reaction, but hey, stuff blowing up is cool, so I decided to go see Revenge of the Fallen.

Oddly enough, I liked Revenge of the Fallen far more than the first movie, and though I’ve grown to like the first movie more, I still think the second movie is more entertaining. Part of my original problems with Transformers is that I felt like it wasn’t sure whether it was a sci-fi thriller or just a stupid action movie, and while the original struggled, Revenge of the Fallen clearly knows its a stupid action movie.

I liked Rainn Wilson’s cameo, but I loved John Torturro in this movie (“ONE MAN! ALONE! ABANDONED BY THE COUNTRY HE LOVES! NOW ITS ONLY HOPE FOR SURVIVAL!”) probably more than the leads. His over-the-top humorous portrayal of former Sector 7 agent Simmons was a microcosm of the movie: realizing its purpose as a dumb action movie that’s just fun to watch.

3 – District 9

District 9 kind of snuck up on me. Here’s a movie that was directed by Peter Jackson, and I don’t think I really heard of it until seeing it on a trailer about a month before the movie came out. District 9 came out the same week as Inglorious Basterds, and I chose Basterds over District 9 in the opening week. I wasn’t impressed with Basterds, but loved District 9 when I went back to see it the next week.

I think one of the things that sets this movie apart is its locale. Johannesburg, South Africa was chosen, I think, for budgetary reasons, but it really works well here because it juxtaposes South Africa, which most is foreign to most of my readers with an even more foreign society, creating this completely alien world which is almost so surreal that it feels realistic.

But not only is the premise and the location great, the story itself is excellent as well and deals with the age-old themes of speciesism and racism in a movie that’s really action-packed. District 9 was a movie from which I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it ended up being one of the better movies I saw this year.

2 – The Hangover

The Hangover (2009)This movie seemed like a cookie-cutter premise. Seriously, tell me if you’ve heard this one before: four guys get kind of wasted in Vegas, stuff happens, eventually everything works out. But despite that, this movie was the funniest movie I saw this year (and possibly in quite a few years).

Maybe it’s the performances of the four leads, maybe it’s the cameo by Mike Tyson, maybe it’s Ken Jeong’s arrival onto the comedy scene. In my opinion, it was how the viewer was dropped into events without having any clue what happened, just like the characters. That’s what took The Hangover, a movie with a decent premise and decent potential into an instant classic.

1 – Up

Up is my choice for the best movie of 2009.

Up is my choice for the best movie of 2009.

I’ll be honest: I went into this movie expecting to be wowed. Pixar hasn’t produced a loser yet, and for me, anyway, Pixar seems to alternate between movies I absolutely love and movies I really really like: Monsters, Inc. was a movie I absolutely loved, Finding Nemo was a movie I really really liked, The Incredibles was a movie I absolutely loved, Cars liked, Ratatouille loved, Wall-E liked. So Pixar was due to make a movie I absolutely loved, and they absolutely came through.

The mark of any great movie, in my opinion, is one that has the ability to take over your emotions and run them like a roller coaster. After the first 20 minutes of Up I wasn’t sure how the story could possibly end happily, but just over an hour later my heart was warmed and the movie ended as happily and realistically as a movie about a house that floats away could.

The movie was also a complete joy to simply look at. Other production companies have made great looking movies too, but for some reason Pixar not only wins in this department every time, but they make stories that are just as good as or better than the great images. They’re stories that work with great CGI animation but could work just as well with live-action acting or standard animation.

So there you have it: my favorite movies in a year filled with good ones. Did I miss any of your favorites? Let me know in the comments.

Two steps forward, four steps back

A couple years ago I read a book for class called The World is Flat, written by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. It’s a great read for a lot of reasons, but I think a lot of times we take for granted what the Internet has done. The World Wide Web has been in existence for not quite 20 years, and already it’s a completely critical part of our society. Businesses are run without any need for a brick and mortar office, employees can work from nearly anywhere, and for many companies it’s not only vital to their success, but the Internet is vital to their core purpose.

Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch

I think we all know how the Internet has augmented our society, but one thing we may forget is how disruptive it’s been to other parts of our society. One person who hasn’t forgotten is News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch (I heard he was around when we discovered the world was round), who is planning to hide all news content from Google News’ index. Murdoch claims that Google is giving this content away and thus, he’s losing money because visitors get content for free from Google where they’d normally have to pay on news sites.

When I heard this claim, I immediately thought of another resistant-to-change part of American society: unions. One of the recurring effects of “flattening” that Friedman talks about in World is Flat is outsourcing labor to other countries where the labor can be performed more efficiently. Unions are resistant to this (somewhat understandably), but let’s be honest: if you’re a CEO, and you’re faced with the choice of outsourcing labor to India and getting the same quality for a lower price, or dealing with unions that demand higher wages for less work, what would you choose?

The fact is that the union’s way of dealing with flattening has been to hamper progress: passing laws that tax companies that outsource, quicker walkouts, and really just being a pain.

Now looking at this from the perspective of Rupert Murdoch, here you have a very well-trusted company who’s effectively parsing your news sites and allowing consumers to search them to find news, all at no cost to you or the consumer. Google doesn’t show you the full article, they have consumer click through to the article, generating you free traffic. Not only that, if the consumer wants more information, Google aggregates similar articles from different sites (which, since you’re Rupert Murdoch, it’s likely that you own more than one of those links), getting even more traffic.

If you’re Rupert Murdoch, you have two options:

  1. Realize that you have all this traffic coming into your site for free. Figure out a way to monetize said traffic. Maybe pay Google some money to put your sites first in their news results, or buy some ads. Profit.
  2. Furiously conclude that since Google isn’t paying you for the privilege to index your site, you’re not making any money from them. Make Google pay you, or “take your ball and go home”, and force users to pay ridiculous subscriptions for content they used to be able to get for free.

I’m not denying that Web hasn’t disrupted (read: seriously hurt) the newspaper/journalism industry. But I also contend that the new web, if handled properly, could be great for journalism. Look, you’re not going to get many people to pay for news, but a flat world has enabled the journalism industry to succeed outside of the big office building, away from the big printing press. In short, instead of having the 50s style newspaper building where everyone comes to work to file their stories, have them stay at home and submit their stories online. Print some papers, but mostly make sure your online presence is strong and rapidly changing. Make use of social media such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Lastly, make friends with Google. If there’s one company that we can define as “Internet, Inc.”, it’s Google. Telling Google you don’t want their help would be a little bit like South Korea getting into a war with China and then telling the US, “you know what, we got this on our own”. And maybe that’s where Murdoch is failing here: the Web isn’t about monolithic, opaque companies that work on their own; it’s about transparent, dynamic companies working together with other companies and relying on user content for everyone’s mutual benefit.

Look, it is the Web’s fault that newspapers are dying, but newspapers aren’t the only industry that’s being forced to change (radio, TV, etc.), and handcuffing your customers is a good way to speed up your trek into bankruptcy and irrelevancy.