Instead of a year-end list of my own

COLBY COSH dismisses the National Board of Review’s Top 10 Movies of 2009—none of which he’s seen

by Colby Cosh

Tasteless, Ignorant Dismissals of the National Board of Review’s Top Ten Movies of 2009, None of Which I Have Seen

500 Days of Summer: This is the one with that anime-eyed chick who has the indie-pop duo, right? And the whole movie is pretty much just her being super mean to some guy for a year and a half? And the title comes from the character being named “Summer”, which should have been a dead giveaway to her boyfriend that she was a narcissist raised by obnoxious people?

An Education: I’m guessing the working title was A Pedo-cation. The “-cation” is short for “hour-and-a-half vacation in a movie theatre that’s probably not gonna be crowded at all”.

The Hurt Locker: Whoa, wait, I actually saw this one! Protip: it’s the same old buddy-cop movie, only in Iraq. [NOTE: REVIEW IS NOT IRONIC]

Inglourious Basterds: I was going to make the standard cheap joke about how Quentin found a way to make Hogan’s Heroes look relatively tasteful, but then I remembered that nobody under 80 really has any business questioning the tastefulness of Hogan’s Heroes (several of those cast members ran from the Nazis or risked death fighting them or both; the guy who played LeBeau was in Buchenwald). I find myself wondering if maybe QT did us a favour by bringing WW2 back within range of a purely artistic treatment. I’m actually going to watch this later today, so pretty soon I’ll be entitled to an opinion!

Invictus: Am I the only one who literally couldn’t believe this is the first time Morgan Freeman has played Mandela in a movie?

The Messenger: Outstanding year for Woody Harrelson, with Zombieland, Defendor, and now this. It’s not even a comeback—he’s always popping up in cool stuff, even though he’s got that Skoal-stuffed Kallikak face and gives every indication away from the set that he started life with an IQ of 80 and gave away about a sawbuck of that smoking the chronic. This is a guy who spoke the following words about making this very movie: “It made me care about the soldiers. Prior to that it wasn’t that I didn’t care about them, I just thought of them and the war as all the same thing.” And yet here we are, legitimately wondering: great American actor, or greatEST American actor?

A Serious Man: Do you figure the Coen Brothers realize we’ve all figured out which ones to skip and which ones to go see? Given the pattern of their career, you can actually catch yourself thinking “God, it’s almost like they’re two different people.” Just fire the Hudsucker Proxy one and keep the Fargo one already!

Star Trek: My hypothesis about the Disney-Marvel deal was that comic books don’t need to be profitable because they’ve become storytelling R&D labs for the movies. This is confirmed here by the use of the time-honoured “retcon” strategy as a means of breathing life into an effed-out bunch of characters we could otherwise hardly stand the sight of.

Up: Let you in on a secret: I’ve never really liked, as in really really really liked, a Pixar movie. I find even the good ones a little bit sterile and contrived. Which, obviously, they are, but that doesn’t stop other people from flipping out about how deep the philosophy of The Incredibles was or how Ratatouille was pretty well the equal of anything Kubrick ever did. The emperor has no clothes, guys! Most celebrities are terrible at voice acting, most of these movies have Kricfalusi’s Cal Arts disease in the worst way, and we should be way past having “Ooh, cool” reactions to nerdy little touches in CGI animation! Plus, shame on anybody who fell for the 3-D thing. You’re, what, the fifth or sixth generation of audiences to fall for this crap?

Where the Wild Things Are: I didn’t think it was possible for any literary work to attain a higher exegesis-to-original-text ratio than either the New Testament or Shakespeare, but Sendak proved us all wrong.

Instead of a year-end list of my own

  1. I think that Inglorious Basterds is Tarantino's best movie to date, even surpassing Reservoir Dogs.

  2. I thought that Inglorious Basterds had way too much self-indulgent cinephile wankery to qualify as Tarantino's best flick. Sure, it had a few great moments, and it's always fun to watch the Nazis get theirs, but in the end it left me cold.

  3. But Crit, "cinephile wankery" is Tarantino's trademark.

  4. And I do not believe for one second that "Chapter One" left you – or anyone else for that matter – cold.

  5. True, all his films have elements of cinephile wankery, but I would still rate Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill higher than Inglorious Basterds. Maybe it was the goofy alternate history that spoiled it for me.

  6. even though he's got that Skoal-stuffed Kallikak face and gives every indication away from the set that he started life with an IQ of 80 and gave away about a sawbuck of that smoking the chronic.

    Best description of Woody Harrelson ever.

  7. "True, all his films have elements of cinephile wankery, but I would still rate Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill higher than Inglorious Basterds. Maybe it was the goofy alternate history that spoiled it for me."

    I loved all of the aforementionned flicks but we'll just have to agree to disagree.

    Tarantino is a brilliant writer and Chapter One of IB is by far BY FAR his best piece yet. You'll be hard pressed to find anything comparable in all of his movies.

    • I'm totally with CR on this one. In Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Tarantino managed to pull it all off — he could be very referential, but at the same time he told a story (or stories) that had a great narrative arc, introduced interesting characters that we cared about, and kept us engrossed throughout. I've always found that one of the signs of a great film is that you get totally lost in it and even though it might have a long running time, you don't even notice. Pulp Fiction is an example of that — and Goodfellas is another.

      • "I've always found that one of the signs of a great film is that you get totally lost in it and even though it might have a long running time, you don't even notice"

        And you didn't see that in IB?

        • Nope. I don't think IB was a bad film at all, parts of it were excellent, but I didn't think it was a great film. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction IMO are still Tarantino's two truly great films. He's made a couple of other very good ones (e.g., Jackie Brown), and pretty much anything he does is interesting. I thought the Grindhouse project was a really cool idea, and both he and Robert Rodriguez did great justice to the genres they were riffing on. He can, however, get ridiculously self-indulgent, especially with his film geekdom, and I think he definitely fell victim to that in the Kill Bill films. From Dusk till Dawn was pretty stupid and lightweight.

          • Fair enough but it sounds like the Golden Globes agree with me when it comes to IB's merits.

  8. Hoookay, NOW I believe the "hahahahaha it's cold out so global warming must not exist" stuff yesterday really was this guy's comedy. His A game, actually.

    • Actually, that was extraordinarily impolite of me and I should not have said (typed) it. I apologize.

  9. Tasteless, Ignorant Dismissals of the [fill in blank], None of Which I Have Seen

    Sounds like the comment template of some of your more frequent guests

  10. Technically, that's the opposite of what I said, but thanks for your valuable contribution, internet commenter "Mike T."

    • Dude I'm givin ya an out. Take it!

    • I love it when Colby rags on people for their stupid comments.

  11. What I like about this list is the shortest 'review' is the only movie Colby's seen.

  12. Colby: Don't write so well. Some of us are trying to coast around here.

    • Sure, you're on board now, but wait till you find out that Part II of this feature involves tenor saxophonists instead of movies.

    • Shades of the movie "Big"

  13. This is all well and good, but 'Hudsucker Proxy' was a great movie.

    • Absolutely agreed. One of the Coen Brothers' most underrated. If not the most underrated.

  14. I really liked "The Hurt Locker". It's true it's the buddy-cop movie but it's better than any previous buddy-cop movies.

    • Also a fair bit bleaker than your typical Leathal Weapon offering. I think it's a great piece of action cinema — Kathryn Bigelow is a talented action director.

      • Well, the premise of the original Lethal Weapon was "Cop with death wish may take partner with him." That's pretty bleak.

        • I agree the premise SOUNDS bleak, but I guess they laced the script with so many buddy movie one-liners, etc., they managed to pretty much bleach any potential bleakness out of there. Not so with Hurt Locker.

  15. "A Serious Man: Do you figure the Coen Brothers realize we've all figured out which ones to skip and which ones to go see? Given the pattern of their career, you can actually catch yourself thinking “God, it's almost like they're two different people.” Just fire the Hudsucker Proxy one and keep the Fargo one already'

    Ok we agree on Fargo…i hope you approved of The big Lebowski…or i may just have to start adopting my your a complete wanker shtick that i currently reserve for Steyn…er not that it seems to bother him at all. But it makes me feel better.
    Just how many good movies have these gus made?
    Blood simple
    Rasing Arizona
    Fargo
    Barton Fink
    Big lebowski
    Ladykillers…nah??
    Oh dear i seem to have fallen behind a bit.

    • Miller's Crossing was also very good. I'll take Hudsucker Proxy over Barton Fink any day. Intolerable Cruelty was a bit lightweight, but very well done, it had its moments. I agree though that the best are probably Fargo, Lebowski, Raising Arizona & Blood Simple.

      • I'd forgotten about Miller's and intolerable cruelty.I didn't really get into Hudsucker…don't know why as i absolutely was/am a major fan of Newman.

        • One thing that I did find interesting was having a look at the so-called screwball comedies that the Coen Brothers were riffing on in Hudsucker Proxy, especially the Cary Grant-Rosalind Russell-Katherine Hepburn ones. It was basically a homage to those movies and especially the work of Howard Hawks. If you check out Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday (especially) and The Philadelphia Story, it really comes out. Especially the rapid-fire overlapping dialogue, and the fact that Jennifer Jason Leigh was totally channeling the Hepburn-Russell characters. And for that matter, there's a lot of Howard Hawks' influence in the Coen Brothers' work generally, e.g., the cartoonish characters.

    • Lebowski is one of the great comedies, but it's sort of dwarfed by its cult at this point. Not to actively invite "complete wanker" status or anything, but Umberto Eco's theory of cult movies ("Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage") applies here.

      • Thanks i'll have to check into Eco's theory…i suppose it gives a thumbs down to wonderful mainstream movies like Butch Cassidy, Cool hand Luke, One flew over the Cuckoos Nest [ probably my fav film if you twisted my arm]
        I don't really know how cult status is conferred these days…but i seem to remember that term swirling around those movies at one time or another…can something cease to be cult i wonder?

        • There's a paradox for you: "it's so cult, it's gone mainstream." It's certainly happened with musical groups . . .

      • Colby, thanks for the reference to the U Eco article, that's interesting. While reading it, I was reminded of a couple of things: e.g., the really uber-cult movies, like Rocky Horror and those Sound of Music events, where people dress up & all that. That's got to be the extreme example of what Eco is talking about. I remember being at one of those Rocky Horror things, and what struck me was that if someone came in there actually wanting to watch the movie, it was virtually impossible to do that, there was so much crap going on with the audience, people yelling and screaming, throwing toast, etc. Another thing I was reminded of is when you go to a concert by some really well known group, and the audience spends the whole concert singing back at them (I experienced this recently at a Police concert and a Pearl Jam concert) — I actually find it kind of irritating, i.e., I want to hear the person I paid $100 to hear sing, I didn't pay $100 to hear the tone-deaf guy beside me sing.

  16. Morgan Freeman has always REFUSED to play Mandela because he doesn't do accents. So hopefully it's a silent film.

    • That's exactly what I was wondering about. Morgan Freeman's best asset is his distinctive voice. The guy exudes an aura of wisdom. Even if he is capable of doing accents, I think his doing one will look silly.

  17. Being a 24 year old guy who had a girl be super mean to me for a year and a half made me glad 500 days of Summer was made, for the sole purpose that whenever someone I know sees it they say "what a bitch!", and I feel a little better knowing I didn't end up with the bitch. At the same time, I am pissed that if I try to make the last couple years of my life into a movie I will be sued for copyright infringement.

  18. Oh and I just had to give kudos on those godawful Pixar movies. Computer animation is a creepy and ugly form of animation that we will hopefully relegate to the dustbin of history. Why spend millions of dollars to make a product that is going to look dated as the technology evolves, and which looks worse than conventional animation. I hate that the budgets of all of those films are inflated because they have 20 different celebrities doing the voices. This takes away work from talented voice actors, who could do a better job on the cheap. I hate the groan-worthy insertion of pop culture references for the parents to get – and the underlying philosophy of the Pixar film, that parents and children should be buddies who watch the same movies (lets make kid movies for kids and adult movies for adults). It really puts in context an article I read in salon or slate recently about parents complaining about how parenting has reduced their minds to mush. And yes, I hate that many adults who like childish films lack the balls to admit it, and instead pretend that Shrek or Monsters Inc. is some sort of cinematic masterpiece.

    • The underlying philosophy of Pixar is to not let management hinder the creativity for the staff. Naturally that reflects in their work.

      Your comment is just the kind of anti-establishment paranoia that makes self-loathing people dislike anything that receives credit for having a positive outlook. You like Pixar movies and you don't have the balls to admit it to yourself.

      Get shrunk.

      • The animation in Up was spectacular. It was a beautifully done movie.

        • Pixar's animation has become upscale ever since Finding Nemo where they experimented with depth of field and high dynamic range. In Ratatouille they really pushed the envelope of water reflection and movement. In Wall-E they really mastered reproduction of anamorphic lenses. In Up their focus was fog/clouds/atmospheric particulate and they really pulled it off.

          • I'm with you. That fact that i can watch many of these films with my kid and have to shush her up because i want to see it is great. My only real objections are as ever the number of serial movies out there…ie., ice age 1,2,3, or aren't those pixar? I really don't pay that much attention.

          • I'm with you. That fact that i can watch many of these films with my kid and have to shush her up because i want to see it is great. My only real objections are as ever the number of serial movies out there…ie., ice age 1,2,3, or aren't those pixar? I really don't pay that much attention.

  19. Haven't seen 'em = not likely to review them well. That sure is true in this case.

  20. Took the kids to see Scrooge (OK movie) and was expecting blah but was in fact blow away by the digital 3-D. Next week, Avatar in 3-D.

    Nothing will ever surpass Reservoir Dogs as a gangster film.

    • "Nothing will ever surpass Reservoir Dogs as a gangster film. "

      As much as I loved Reservoir Dogs, I can't agree with you there. The Godfather is the best gangster movie ever made.

      • A hugely competitive field too — there are a lot of great gangster movies out there. BTW total trivia piece here, but if you Reservoir Dogs fans haven't seen it, check out Stanley Kubrick's The Killing, which is what Tarantino was largely using as his source material for Reservoir Dogs. A great, enjoyable movie in its own right (e.g., Sterling Hayden in the lead role), it has the heist-gone-bad premise, multiple character lines, the jaded, hard-boiled characters and dialogue, the unusual use of time and that shoot 'em up ending . . . highly recommended.

  21. So "Summer" is a girl's name? And I thought "500 Days of Summer" was about a guy learning to use an abacus.

  22. Colby Cosh wrote:

    "Up: …Most celebrities are terrible at voice acting…"

    You must not be talking about "Up" then. Did you actually see the cast list? One of the lead characters (Russell) is voiced by an unknown, Jordan Nagai who had no acting credits before "Up". And Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer and John Ratzenberger are great character actors (who have plenty of voice acting roles to their credit) but their names aren't big box office draws by any means. I really don't think Pixar can be accused of deliberately casting "celebs" in Up for any kind of marketing reason.

  23. BTW another Coen Bros movie that seriously missed was Burn After Reading. It always amazes me how people that talented can come up with something that empty.

  24. "I really don't think Pixar can be accused of deliberately casting "celebs" in Up for any kind of marketing reason. "

    Or Wall-E, whose biggest voice role went to Jeff Garlin, or the Rat one, starring Patton Oswalt …

    A Bug's Life did have the star power of Dave Foley behind it, but Pixar was relatively new then, and had to get people into the seats somehow.

    I'm not sure that undercuts any of Cosh's actual points, but Pixar does seem to be the one animation studio that doesn't consistently cast the star-of-the-week to headline their latest movies. I agree they tend to be overpraised, but they do seem to genuinely put the story first, which has to be worth something these days.

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