Top Movies of 2009

Like with my music list, I’m not gonna number these, and there isn’t a specific number I’ve chosen. These are just the notable movies from the past year, and what I thought about them.

Here we go –

Adventureland
A movie that exceeded expectations and sat with me a for a few days after seeing it, “Adventureland” was the coming of age story that came out of nowhere. Marketed as a a la Superbad (from same director of) and staring Bill Hader, it did have comedy and it did have Bill Hader, but most of the comedy stemmed from Hader and his comic relief boss role, probably only 10-15 minutes of screen time all together. The real movie follows James (Jesse Eisenberg) and his quest to find a summer job after leaving school. He gets a job at an amusement park, and meets an interesting cast of characters, including Kristen Stewart’s Emily. After they start hanging out, he falls for her, but she’s involved in a secret relationship with Ryan Reynolds’ Mike, who’s the cool guy “veteran” of Adventureland. So there’s a love story, a lot of drama and a well done, set-in-the-80’s movie (that’s not an 80’s movie) in there, which all make it a great watch. After seeing it in theaters, I was convinced I wanted to write a coming of age romance.

500 Days of Summer
I picked the soundtrack in my music list, but the movie itself was one of the movies that stayed with me the longest this year. It was one of those movies that shatters the viewer’s expectations of storytelling and love stories in general. As the voiceover in the beginning says, it’s a movie about boy meets girl, but not a love story. And it’s true. The time-jump storytelling may confuse at first, but is presented in such a way that you come in at important parts of both the initial meeting and hook-up of these two characters, and the turning point/big break up, then moves forward from one point, and backward from the other, then forward again. Actually, that does sound confusing, but the movie makes it work. Also, the editing is great, from the look of the days countdown, to the flashbacks and intercutting stories. Good example is the “Expectations vs. Reality” scene. After seeing this, my “Adventureland” inspired romance story went in the can. I was convinced love stories are stupid. It’s amazing how one movie’s message can completely destroy another’s message, while not taking anything away from the previous movie.

Zombieland
Another Jesee Eisenberg movie ending in “-land,” this one was great comedic take on the zombie movie. Eisenberg’s “Columbus” narrates the film, introducing his rules for survival in a zombie apocalypse. He runs into 3 other survivors – Woody Harrelson’s “Tallahassee,” Emma Stone’s “Wichita,” and Abigrail Breslin’s “Little Rock.” Everyone’s named after where they’re from, because one of the rules is to not really trust anyone in this apocalypse. Best part of the movie, aside from the general comedy stemming from the character interactions (especially Eisenberg and Harrelson) was the cameo from Bill Murray, and the hilarity that ensued from that – Harrelson dressing up like the Ghostbusters, he wearing the real outfit and gun, Murray using a vacuum cleaner. Heard that the writer’s originally did not have him in the script, but Harrelson pulled some strings and he was on board right away. He even came up with the idea of pretending to be a zombie, but not actually being one.

District 9
An independant, seemingly big-budget movie produced by but not directed by Peter Jackson, from South Africa, this movie stunned millions when it came out. An alien story with a strong Apartheid allegory not so subtly dipped in, it follows a field operative nacmed Wikus van de Merwe, as he heads the project of informing the alien “prawns” that they will have to evacuate their current living situation, in “District 9,” into a heavily secured concentration camp. He gets in over his head when he runs into a more intelligent prawn named Christopher Johnson, who’s spaceship chemicals spray onto Wikus, and start to change him into a prawn himself. A well-done film with a compelling storyline and great visual effects, I really enjoyed the out-of-the-box take on the alien invasion story. Not only are these aliens not on earth to take over, but the humans are in charge and forcing the aliens around. The marketing for the movie was very innovative as well – placing “humans only” warnings on billboards, bus stop benches, etc.

The Hangover
Probably the most outrageous, if not the best comedy of the year, it follows 4 friends on a Vegas bachelor party went awry. The best part of the movie is that we don’t see the actions of the night, because our main characters have forgotten all about it – we follow them as they piece together the ridiculous puzzle of their out-of-control night in Vegas. Anything that could have gone wrong did go wrong, and in the most bizarre of ways – Asian gangsters, bengal tigers, tooth pulling, marrying strippers, and of course some card-counting and gambling. This is one of those “only in the movies” type stories, and we’re all thankful for that denotation.

Inglorious Basterds
A Quentin Tarantino World War II movie about Jews who kill Nazis? Where do I sign up? I read the script last year, and although it took about 3 1/2 hours to read, it was a compelling and exciting. The movie was even more so, with great performances by Christoph Walsh as Colonel Landa, and Mélanie Laurent as Shoshana, the jewish girl who escaped from Landa’s grasp in the first scene of the movie, now disguising as a French theater-owner, and great action sequences that only can be the work of Mr. Tarantino. Another Tarantino-esque aspect of the film is the intertwining storylines – these Nazi-killing “Basterds,” and Shoshana,  both plan to destroy the Nazi party by blowing up Shoshana’s theater, where a German Movie night is planned by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propanadist minister. Needless to say, it has a great payoff in the end, and hopefully gives all Nazi-hating theater-goers a big smile on their face as the final minutes of the film play out.

Avatar
Just saw this last night, I was blown away by the visuals – especially in IMAX 3D. The story was compelling and kept you interested the whole time, but the real story was the technology and the CGI imagery used throughout. It is definitely the future of movie-making and viewing, however cost, availability and delivery methods will be make the transition a bit slower. I loved how realistic the Na’vi’s were, especially in facial features. The 3D looked amazing, but especially on some shots – the strong perspective of the sleeping chambers at the beginning, the pop up computer screens on the ships, and even Jake Sully’s video log. You can tell James Cameron put ever bit of hard work he and his company has into the 15 years this movie had been in the making. A visual masterpiece, and definitely the most mesmerizing movie-going experience I had all year.

Also wanted to say a quick thanks to everyone who’s visited the site over the last couple months. It’s already at over 900 views, and I’ve gotten some great responses from a handful of family and friends. Look for more reviews and more personal essays in 2010. Happy New Year everyone!

Top Albums of 2009

I decided to break up the Best of 2009 list, albums and movies

I also decided not to rank them, as it was a bit of a slower year in music for me, and although there were albums I was more excited about coming out, at the end of the year I can’t pick a single favorite.

Here’s my list –

Weezer – “Raditude”
I reviewed it when it came out, and it was the album I was most excited for when it came out. I love the album, but again, can’t put it above the others on the list. One of my favorite bands, it’s good to see they’re releasing albums on a somewhat regular pace these days. My favorite songs include – “Put Me Back Together,” “Can’t Stop Partying,” “I Don’t Want to Let You Go,” and of course, the band’s bonus track cover of MGMT and Lady Gaga “Kids/Poker Face.”

weezer.com

Muse – “The Resistance”
Another top band of mine, Muse came back from 2006’s “Black Holes and Revelations” with another epic, whirling-synth-filled album. Apart from the single “Uprising,” notable tracks include the title track “Resistance,” and the Queen-esque “United States of Eurasia.” A great band to see live, check them out if they come to your city (and you can afford today’s ticket prices.)

muse.mu

Phish – “Joy”
They disbanded in 2004, right before I got into them, but like almost every important music act that’s been together 20+ years and breaks up, there’s an inevitable reunion album and tour. With Phish, they didn’t miss a beat with “Joy,” the band still sounds like they never left each other’s musical company. The album is a good mixture of upbeat and mellow tracks, with a typical short, bluesy and jokey song as well – “I Been Around,” featuring vocal stylings of keyboardist Page McConnell answering a simple question of “where have you been?” Produced by and old friend to the band, Steve Lillywhite, who also has a hand in producing another album on this list. More on that later.

phish.com

Pearl Jam – “Backspacer”
Another band I got into way late in the game (hadn’t really appreciated them until seeing them at Bonnaroo in June of 2008), “Backspacer” was a little unexpected – Apart from the single “The Fixer,” the album as a whole is a bit more mellow than what they’re known for. I’ve likened it in a way to Foo Fighter’s more recent albums, namely “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace” – still has the band’s essential sound, but especially with the end of the album, it’s something you can relax to, not necessarily something you can work out to (like I was expecting upon first gym listen).

pearljam.com

Thirty Seconds to Mars “This is War”
This one comes with a disclaimer – I am not unbiased choosing this as my fourth album of the year. I’ve been working with the band for 7 months and watching them record these songs, so they’ve been with me for longer than the average fan. In fact, before working for them I would not consider myself a fan at all, and had to be reminded that songs like “A Beautiful Lie” and “The Kill” were in fact theirs. Now, after hearing 7 months worth of songs from “This is War,” I can consider myself a fan, and despite having heard the songs numerous times before, still like them when I hear them. If you haven’t heard it, check it out – the band does a great job of stepping forward into a broader world, both lyrically and musically. No longer just a band that can do a heavy, guitar-driven all out rocker and a softer, lighter waving ballad, Thirty Seconds to Mars now can add synth-driven, techno-club rock to their repertoire of songs as well. Songs like “Night of the Hunter,” “Hurricane” and “Stranger in a Strangeland” feature heavy synths, produced with help of legendary British producer Flood, who’s personal synth was used (and donated) to the band on the album. Also lending his producing prowess to the album, specifically with new single “Kings and Queens,” – yup, “Joy” producer Steve Lillywhite.

30secondstomars.com

Best Soundtracks of the year (not named “Glee”)

“500 Days of Summer”
Leading off with the same voiceover that leads off the movie “This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know up front – this is NOT a love story,” the soundtrack for one of the best movies of the year (more on that in a later post) features songs from the film that not only capture the theme of the story, but the emotion of it as well. Most of the songs are prominently featured in the movie, some on multiple occasions throughout. Most notable is Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams,” which accompanies a glorious choreographed number mid-film. Regina Spektor’s “Us” is another track that can be heard throughout the film, and has a strong connection to the story and emotion of the main characters. The Smiths, who play a part in the romantic backstory of Summer and Tom, are featured on a couple tracks in the soundtrack as well.

“Adventureland”
Another soundtrack that captures the mood and theme of the film it’s linked to. The film set in the 1980s, and features popular alternative rock artists from that time period. As the movie itself is somewhat of an alternative coming-of-age 80s story, the soundtrack reflects it. Perhaps its the fact that this 80s movie was made in the late 2000’s and serves as more of a nostalgic look back than a time capsule snapshot like the popular Brat Pack films of the 80’s. Similar to “500 Days,” a band that plays a part in the film is also prominent on the soundtrack – namely Mr. Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love,” as well as the Velvet Underground song “Pale Blue Eyes.” David Bowie, The Cure, New York Dolls and Husker Du also grace the album with their presence.

Click the images to go straight to Amazon.

iTunes links –

“Raditude”

“Joy”

“Backspacer”

“The Resistance”

“This Is War”

“500 Days of Summer” Soundtrack

“Adventureland” Soundtrack

Top Five TV Episodes of 2009

The best album and best movie of the year/decade list are cliché, but I had to do them. This isn’t as cliché, but I figured since I graduate a Television Major, I should have some sort of TV list. Here’s my list of Top Five TV Episodes of the year.

5. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” Season 7 finale – “Seinfeld”

Come on, we get a fake Seinfeld episode in it. Need I say more? Hilarious season all together, but this episode has to be the pick. The beef with Mocha Joe, the ring stain on the antique wood, Jason Alexander’s Pamphlet (ahem, book) on “Acting Without Acting.” Even the semi-cheesy, Cheryl and Larry end up together part was slightly ruined (or David-ized, as I’m going to start calling it) when he realizes Cheryl was the one who left the ring stain, and wants her to call Julia and confess. Great ending. Hope it comes back for another season.

Here’s the final “Seinfeld” episode in the last scene:

4. “The Office” – Pam and Jim’s Wedding –  “Niagara”

Touted as the episode we’ve been waiting 6 years for, we’re all waited to see how Michael screws it up. The cards are set – don’t tell Pam’s old-fashioned Grandmother that she’s pregnant. Everyone thinks to themselves – when will Michael screw this up? How awkward will it be? How’s he going to try to fix it? But wait…Michael doesn’t screw it up, Jim does. Even Michael thought it was going to be him. He tries to fix it AND get Mima’s room in the process – “You’re that foul man that kept talking about intercourse.” He doesn’t get the room, but does convince Mima to stay. Yay Michael.

Some other bullet points:

  • Love the “going to a wedding” on Michael’s car.
  • Andy saying Erin smells like her mom.
  • Mental pictures with Jim and Pam.
  • Michael’s quest for love, as narrated by Dwight. Wonderful wingman, that Dwight.
  • Jim’s speech, pre-Pam can’t drink comment, where we get an extensive look into the truth behind his years of flirting – he does know how to make a photocopy, and can drive stick. But now he knows he can say he was waiting all those years for his wife. Collective awww from the onscreen crowd, and the crowd watching at home.
  • Office dance party the night before – where unfortunately for Andy, his killer moves result in an almost killer injury, and poor Pam has to be the designated driver to take him to the hospital, on the night before her wedding. Only on TV, right?
  • Michael might have the best present out of all of them…although we’re all kind of curious to see that nude version he has that’s just for him…
  • Jim cuts off his tie to make up for Pam tearing her veil.
  • The Niagara Falls real wedding was a great “twist…” (cameo by Line Producer Randy Cordray as the Ship Captain) Especially with it cut between the boat and the ceremony turned-Youtube video.

Overall a great mixture of typical Office comedy we’ve been expecting, and the Jim/Pam wedding we’ve all been waiting for.

Here are the videos

Part 1
Vodpod videos no longer available.

Part 2
Vodpod videos no longer available.

3. “Scrubs” Series (Season 8) finale – “My Finale”

This is a weird one, because if you look on your winter TV lineup, ABC is still showing new episodes of Scrubs. Technically it’s Scrubs, but they’ve added “Med School” to the title, signifying that it’s really a spin-off.

Back to the actual episode – Scrubs’ 8th season was officially it’s last, and thank god ABC took it from NBC’s scrap heap for its final season, to give it a proper sendoff. The episode, called “My Finale,” focused on J.D.’s last day at Sacred Heart.. The episode does keep with the Scrubs tradition of keeping real, hospital drama in there, without over-saturating it, and mixing it with the comedy.

Speaking of, here are some favorite of those moments for me:

  • The book of Dr. Cox rants JD gives his mentor. Reminds us of some great Cox Comments from years past…and of how much he hates Hugh Jackman.
  • Janitor keeping the penny in the door from the first episode, trying to get JD to admit he put it in there, 8 years ago. And he admits it.
  • Fantasy of having a sitcom finale ending to his last day, but having the lights turning off be a “code 2” because all the power is routed through 1 switch. Oh JD’s fantasies. New Scrubs won’t have those, because Braff officially left that version of the show too.
  • Great moment with Carla and JD, thanking her for being his teacher. and that Turk loves her as much as he loves JD.
  • Jordan hugging JD because she’s trying to be sentimental and “They did it once”
  • Janitor’s “real name” Glenn Matthews….or is it?
  • Cox’s admission of his respect and friendship with JD, as JD sneaks up behind him. And he smells like a father figure, fitting.
  • Cameo by creator Bill Lawrence as the janitor that takes down the Goodbye JD sign and says a final goodnight to him.

The final walk-through is the real finale part of the episode, JD’s flashbacks to people who have meant something to him throughout his 8 years at the hospital, and on the show. All following his telltale narration. Watching his possible future as a video on his goodbye banner caps off the episode, with the Peter Gabriel song “Book of Love,” as the soundtrack, matching the montage’s emotion perfectly.

Here’s that final montage –

2. “Mad Men” Season 3 Finale – “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.”

The show is amazing, and through only 3 season is already considered one of the best dramas of the decade (now almost officially over), but this season started off a bit slow, then picked up with the infamous lawn-mower incident. Coming off the JFK assassination episode, where the different characters dealt with the shock in different ways, Betty takes the most drastic action, and decides to leave Don for good. Their conversation with the kids before Don moves out was one of the more emotional scenes of the series; Sally, who was emotionally forced to grow up very fast this season, took it the hardest. This season focused a lot more on Don’s family, especially given the death of Betty’s father Gene. Sally took this the hardest as well, at one point yelling that “He’s dead, he’s gone and not coming back!” and that no one cares. Don’s affair with her favorite teacher, Suzanne Farrell, offered an interesting development throughout the latter part of the season, especially after season 3’s finale where Betty deals with the truth about Don’s infidelity. Don, despite all these things changing around him, still refuses to change his ways, and unfortunately their “perfect” family is broken up in the end.

In the advertising world, after some big business decisions made by the British powers-that-be, Don, Roger Sterling, Bert Cooper and Lane Pryce all decided to defect and create their own, startup ad agency, recruiting a handful of the old Sterling Cooper talent – Pete, Peggy, Sal, Joan and Harry. What will happen to those who’s invite to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce got lost in the mail? How will the new business venture fair, especially working out of a hotel room? Will Don’s family issues finally affect his work? How will Sally and Bobby deal with the divorce at such a young age? Matthew Weiner has yet to falter, so we’re expecting the moon for Season 4.

Here’s the episode (part 1…you can find the rest of them on this person’s youtube page)

1. “Dexter” Season 4 Finale – “The Getaway”

I think this one goes without saying. The only episode that literally made me say “Oh My God. Holy Shit…” as the final twist was unfolding. I’m not going to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it (although come on, if you’re a Dexter fan and have the means, you should have seen it already.) The season itself was a huge improvement over Season 3, where although interesting, it didn’t really pick up until the final few episodes. This whole season was edge-of-your-seat tension, as Dexter tried to balance a brand new family life with his “Dark Passenger,” all while following and observing the country’s most successful and prolific (two adjectives you wouldn’t expect to find before this word…) Serial Killer. The final episode did culminate in Dexter getting his man (no spoiler here, you knew it was coming), but when he gets back to his home on his way to the airport, he runs into a life-changing, plot-twisting surprise. Great work all season by John Lithgow, but especially in the final Dexter vs. Trinity scene. I actually re-watched it after having seen the final scene, as Lithgow drops very subtle hints about what his character did, without really saying anything.

The episode, like all great finales, brings countless questions about what will happen next year, not even based on the final scene (which was the bulk of why I chose this as number 1.) Most notably, that Debra is slowly finding out about Dexter’s origins, and has made the connection between him and his brother Brian, aka The Ice Truck Killer. What else will she find out next season about Dexter and his mysterious past? The writers certainly have high expectations riding on their shoulders, but coming off such a great season, they have the momentum to continue it.

It’s also worth noting that this episode gave Showtime it’s best single-episode rating in four years.

Keeping with my desire to not spoil anything, I couldn’t find a suitable video clip that does the episode justice without spoiling it. Just look for it if you’re interested. You’ll find it.

Stay tuned for my Best of 2009 Album and Movies list, and later Best of the Decade lists.