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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.

Clear head, new life ahead

I write this evening from sunny (well, it was earlier today) Columbia, South Carolina, where I’ve recently moved. Since a long, unified rant eludes me (although I’m sure I could think of something if I tried long enough) I’ll write some tidbits.

  • After winning again today, the Indians took a series from the White Sox…and are still stuck in last place. However, since it is the AL Central, they’re only 7 games out of the division lead, and still have a decent shot at making a run.

    Fausto Carmona was demoted to single-A, which I felt was a little harsh, but hey, if the guy’s only got one option left, why not? Not only could the guy not throw strikes anymore, but does anyone else remember him throwing like 96-97 in 2007, as opposed to topping out at about 94 this year? We wonder why he’s overthrowing; maybe it’s because he’s used to getting more velocity. I predict he’ll be back up in September, hopefully as a member of the rotation, but at the very least as a bullpen guy for the rest of the season.

    Travis Hafner is back from the DL, and he has a couple of hits in eight at-bats, both of them for extra bases. If the Indians are going to make a prolonged run, they’ll need Hafner healthy and driving in runs to give a some veteran leadership in a lineup that now features Trevor Crowe, Luis Valbuena, Ben Francisco and Josh Barfield. The Indians have to be hoping Grady Sizemore and Asdrubal Cabrera come back from their respective DL trips quickly.

    Finally, we tend to forget about Jake Westbrook but he’ll be back soon as well, and should provide some much-needed consistency to the rotation. Westbrook was signed to a three-year deal in 2007 meaning he probably won’t be tremendous trade bait, but one person who may be on the move if the Indians don’t start a run is Carl Pavano, who has defied odds and pitched well since May 1.

  • I caught a late showing of Up last night. While I don’t think it was the best Pixar movie I’ve ever seen, it was a Pixar movie in every sense and totally worth seeing. Up was Pixar’s first foray into 3D films. I didn’t see it on a particularly large screen and I sat near the back, so it was tough for me to really be immersed in the illusion anyway, but the reason Up works is not because of the 3D glasses (which are designed eerily similar to the main character’s glasses); the movie is good because of the story. No studio seems to get this as much as Pixar; that’s why they’ve never made a bad movie, that’s why 4-year olds like the movies as much as 22-year olds and as much as 56-year olds. The animation is wonderful and in every sense a treat to see, but it plays second fiddle to the tremendous story that could be told with standard 2D, non-CGI animation and still be excellent. (Also worth noting is the score, which, like most of Michael Giacchano’s work, including The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Star Trek, fits the movie perfectly and is also excellent as a standalone score.)
  • Rush’s classic rock song Fly By Night (the title of this post is borrowed from lyrics from that song) came on the radio on the way home from my first day of work on Monday. Any time a song you enjoy comes on the radio, it’s a good day. But when it’s Fly By Night, it’s a whole new level. Just sayin’.

Still getting settled in Columbia, but hopefully I’ll have some pictures of my apartment with everything completely moved in by the next time I post. Until then, hope the weather’s well in Ohio (or wherever you’re reading this from) and hope things are well with you too.