Alex's worst ten movies of 2009

And now for the worst....Here are my worst ten movies of 2009, though, to be fair, I'm only including films I have reviewed. I'll do them in reverse order, with number one being the worst of all:

10. State of Play. A few decent performances in search of a story.

9. The Unborn. Lame riff on The Exorcist.

8. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. What a snooze, and even the squirrel stuff wore out its welcome.

7. A Perfect Getaway. A totally stupid hiking/identity theft "thriller," a bad year for Milla Jovovich fans.

6. The Fourth Kind. Boring alien--or superowl?--encounters in Alaska, a bad year for Milla Jovovich fans.

5. Push. Dakota Fanning stars as telekenetic mutants fight over...zzz....

4. The Last House on the Left. Cheesy revenge-slasher-horror which might have had the makings of more, with less.

3. Land of the Lost. Will Ferrell had a funny joke or two in this. Truly, the less said the better on this one.

2. X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Bad, bad wolverine.

1. The Box. Move along, nothing to see here.

Estimated number of viewings in total for these ten films: 11.

And that is quite enough of the worst movies.

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Alex's top ten movies of 2009

Well, the Oscar nominations will be announced Monday. Here are my top ten movies of 2009, all four-starrers:

1. The Hurt Locker. Kathryn Bigelow's taut, gripping Iraq War story with Jeremy Renner's career-making star turn. This film deserves to win Best Picture and Director, at least.

2. A Serious Man. The Coen Brothers don't disappoint with this deep, sparkling gem.

3. Precious, Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire. Beautiful story of betrayal and heartache, priceless, with outstanding acting work from Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'Nique.

4. Funny People. Judd Apatow's apex, a brilliant work with some of Sandler and Rogen's best performances ever.

5. Public Enemies. Michael Mann's perfect, terse gangster pic is deepened and revealed by passionate performances from Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudup and more.

6. Soul Power. Muhammad Ali and James Brown at the heights, a brilliant, rocking doc about a time and a place. Not to mention B.B. King and more!

7. Moon. Layered and complex sci-fi with the amazing Sam Rockwell in dual roles, a class act.

8. Fantastic Mr. Fox. Wes Anderson's faithful yet original animated tribute to Roald Dahl and the sixties and seventies. It probably won't happen, I'd predict, but Best Supporting Actor consideration should probably be given to Eric Anderson, Jason Schwartzman for this.

9. Jennifer's Body. Really quite good high school horror metaphor with perfect script by Diablo Cody and perfect casting. It probably won't get a screenplay nomination, but it's deserving.

10. Extract. Jason Bateman heads a great cast in Mike Judge's perceptive and hilarious morality farce.

Since these are, in my opinion, the ten best films of the year, I will view it as an injustice if any are not nominated for Best Picture, as there are ten open slots this year. But there are always Oscar injustices, you just have to factor that in, so whatever....I'll be glad to see some of them get some recognition.

And to round out a full top twenty for 2009: Ninja Assassin, Harold Ramis's Year One, Pedro Almodóvar's Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos), Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo, Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, Grant Heslov's The Men Who Stare at Goats, Jane Campion's Bright Star, Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are, Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock, and Watchmen.

Estimated number of viewings in total for these twenty films: 67.

Would definitely still like to see: Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, John Hillcoat's The Road, Tom Ford's A Single Man, Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon, and maybe a few others.

UPDATE: I saw A Single Man Feb. 13, and it enters my list at number four, just below Precious, Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire. I saw An Education Feb. 23, and it enters the list after Bright Star. And I saw The Last Station Mar. 5, and it enters the list after Extract. So the current top twenty or so looks like this:

1. The Hurt Locker
2. A Serious Man
3. Precious, Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
4. A Single Man
5. Funny People
6. Public Enemies
7. Soul Power
8. Moon
9. Fantastic Mr. Fox
10. Jennifer's Body
11. Extract
12. The Last Station
13. Ninja Assassin
14. Year One
15. Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos)
16. Ponyo
17. Inglourious Basterds
18. The Men Who Stare at Goats
19. Bright Star
20. An Education
21. Where the Wild Things Are
22. Taking Woodstock
23. Watchmen

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Review: Daybreakers (2010)


The Spielrig Brothers' Daybreakers is a dim, dumb, unfocused vampire story which makes a modicum of sense as you watch it, then later you're like, "Was that a movie I watched? Did stuff happen? Did it mean anything?" and the answers are: sorta, kinda and not really.

Ethan Hawke plays Edward Dalton, the chief hematologist for Bromley Marks pharmaceuticals, which is trying to develop a blood substitute to feed the mostly vampire population. Human supplies are running low, most of the humans have been eaten or farmed to the end of their lives for their blood supply.

So how does the economy work? How does the government work? How has society been altered by the conversion of most of the population into superpowerful vampires with eternal lives? These are some good questions.

The film isn't too interested in them, however. And hey, it's not my high concept, I'm not going to be better at telling you than the film. There are a few indicators. There's a Vampire Army and propaganda messages to turn in humans to the authorities, there are nifty auto navigation systems which blot out the sun and use video navigation only, and Matrix-echoing Third Reich and concentration camp references too superfluous to be distasteful. But these details don't add up to a plausible, interesting picture of Vampire World. Instead, it's a massive fail.

If you're not too excited about your own high concept (or too excited to think it through and say something with it), you'd better get something going on a character level, or you're going to be in trouble. Daybreakers is in trouble, because there's nothing going on at that level, either.

Ethan Hawke mopes and grimaces. The character of his brother, a member of the Vampire Army, gets way too much screen time, isn't compelling, and even becomes annoying one or two times too many to forgive. Sam Neill is all right as the head of Bromley Marks, but his character is boring. The dialogue is heinous and stultifying. Even Willem Dafoe basically has nothing to do here.

There are some decent effects on display when some ravening, starving vampires stage a few attacks, and when Ethan Hawke volunteers for some de-vampirization experiments, but that's the sum total of what's good here. Even big group vampire attacks are lame, the blood looks like something that drains out of somewhere in my car when I get it serviced--and not in a neat metaphorical way, it's just sludge.

I want to like vampire movies, I even gave Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant a solid three stars. That movie at least had some fun and interest, solid acting even with a cheesy storyline, and some impact from the casting of Willem Dafoe in a small role.

Daybreakers is a boring, stupid, bloody mess. It is only the second review I have ever written awarding no stars. I could happily have passed two and a half hours in a similarly constructed film which made sense and had characters to enjoy watching and identifying with in some way, but as it is, I could barely stand a little more than an hour and a half. Avoid at all costs.

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Review: Avatar (2009)

James Cameron's Avatar is a pretty good sci-fi/fantasy (more fantasy) flick. It's gotten a lot of buildup from being in production for so long and having so many spectacular effects, and indeed something unique has been achieved in this film. The effects are spectacular as advertised, the 3-D involving, a whole alien world is created in which the characters have been digitally created from actors' performances, and the film is quite a ride.

That said, it's also pretty derivative, paper-thin logically, with terrible dialogue and no real innovation in its storytelling overall. I love the Ray Bradbury quote bemoaning the science fictional consequences of Star Trek, to the effect that it made aliens not much more than humans with crap on their faces. Digital effects have now advanced to the degree that humans can actually aspire to be the crap on the aliens' faces.

The film's plot and various appurtenances owe big debts to Dances with Wolves, Star Trek, "The Smurfs," Sea Monkeys, The Wizard of Oz, The Lord of the Rings, Hellboy, Philip K. Dick, and Richard K. Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs novels (soon to be movies themselves).

So to the actual plot, Jake Scully (Sam Worthington, not as good here as in his other Cameron-related project for 2009, Terminator Salvation) is a Marine who has lost the use of his legs in an accident. Coincidentally, his twin brother is involved in a very complicated project requiring his specific DNA, so Jake is brought in on it as the only other alternative, requiring him to travel to a remote planet, Pandora, to try to figure out how to replace him, and incidentally earn a spinal cord-replacement operation which could restore him to full health.

To do so, he must balance the prerogatives of the scientific team, led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), who wants to convince the natives to get out of the way of progress, and the military team, who would be happy to annihilate first and ask questions later. And he must do it all as a huge blue Pandoran bred with half of his late brother's DNA.

Along the way, he meets Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek), and convinces her to show his odd intruder alien the ways of her people. He engages in a love affair with her and finds himself conflicted over whether he could best help his human cohorts or his new alien clan. Neytiri learns to love a narcoleptic, as Jake's alien body shuts down whenever he's not online, especially problematic for action scenes.

The Pandoran world is quite beautiful and convincingly created, despite the many threads of Earth cultures woven in--Native American, Indian, Buddhist, Maori, with a dose of Anne McCaffrey's dragonriders thrown in for good measure. Still, it's a wonder to watch, if a bit of a cultural and ideological mess.

The acting is pretty solid, though bad dialogue for Worthington and Weaver hurt their characters. Giovanni Ribisi is completely over-the-top, and his silly accent here is not as effective as his silly accent in 2009's Public Enemies. Stephen Lang is good as the military commander, here dedicated to destroying the hippie aliens, whom his character in 2009's The Men Who Stare at Goats wanted to learn from. And Zoe Saldana is excellent in her digitally transplanted performance.

Avatar may be a 3-D landmark, an innovative effects movie, and pretty good, but its weak points are not minor, they do take away from the achievement. I'd like to have seen a more creative use of its strong points to serve a stronger story. It's okay, just a bit overhyped.

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Review: Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire (2009)

Lee Daniels's Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire is a lively, colorful, richly textured, inspiring, melancholy, unflinching portrait of the abuse and neglect of a young girl, Clarice Precious Jones, in 1985 Harlem. With no whiz-bang effects or movie stars, it's a searing and soaring roller-coaster ride of emotions with no--zero--sour notes.

Oscar talk is already swirling for Mo'Nique, the actress known for comedic roles who here takes on one of the most unsympathetic parts in film history with chutzpah and incredible commitment. That kind of notice and praise is well-justified.

And yet, the real face of the picture is the face of Precious, the face of actress Gabourey Sidibe as a young teenager struggling with illiteracy, loneliness, abuse and her second pregnancy. Sidibe's face is beautiful, sculptural and expressive. If it's not the face of your typical movie heroine, why not? There should be as much or more Oscar buzz for Sidibe's fine work as for Mo'Nique's. If there's ever been a stronger film debut in a leading role, I couldn't name it.

Precious is thrown out of her high school for being pregnant for the second time, but offered a chance to enroll in an alternative high school program in Harlem. Paula Patton is wonderful as Ms. Rain, a wise and caring teacher who goes out of her way.

As Precious's case runs through the system, we also encounter Mariah Carey, who is also excellent as Mrs. Weiss, the social worker assigned to it. Many of the most effective scenes between Precious and her mother are prompted by Mrs. Weiss's blunt and serious demeanor. Lenny Kravitz as Nurse John, who advises Precious during her delivery and recovery, is quite good in his fewer scenes as well.

The film uses fantasy sequences, sometimes spilling over into Precious's real life, to provide a glimpse into Precious's mind, how she sees the world and her place within it. This easily could have been disastrous handled incorrectly, but each sequence has its purpose and feeling and intent and fits right into the main tale.

One really feels like the film gets inside the souls of some tortured, complex characters, and what is seen there is beautiful, terrible and amazing.

Most amazing about Precious is not that it is based on a true story (it isn't, but might as well be), or that it deals with hard issues without a sledgehammer, though it's great that it does, but just to watch the journey Precious takes, what she makes of it. It's like the film stays out of her way.

If you're not looking for something "heavy" or deep, don't spend your time on this movie. The emotional lows are low, the human behavior portrayed often quite depressing--but the emotional lifts are also quite uplifting, without being saccharine or over-the-top, and much of the human behavior portrayed is quite realistic, dramatic and fulfilling. If you do skip it, it'll be your loss. It's one of the very best films of 2009.

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Palin leads 2012 GOP presidential nominee web poll results for November (for the second month in a row)

Fmr. Gov. Sarah Palin (AK) led December voting for who respondents thought would be the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, for the second month in a row. As usual, this is of self-selected voters of any party who found my website, so it is not scientific in any way. (This means you should not complain that it was not scientific because it's never going to be.) Voting is just for fun, please no wagering. Here are this month's results:

December 2009

#1 - Gov. Sarah Palin (AK) ... 33.3%
#2 - Rep. Mike Pence (IN) ... 23.7%
#3 - Sen. John Thune (SD) ... 7.1%
#4 - Fmr. Vice Pres. Dan Quayle (IN / AZ) ... 5.1%
#5 - Gov. Haley Barbour (MS) ... 4.5%
#5 - Gov. Tim Pawlenty (MN) ... 4.5%
#6 - Fmr. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (GA) ... 3.9%
#6 - Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) ... 3.9%
#6 - Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA) ... 3.9%
#7 - Sen. Sam Brownback (KS) ... 2.6%
#7 - Other ... 2.6%
#8 - Fmr. Gov. Jeb Bush (FL) ... 1.9%
#9 - Senate Min. Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) ... 1.3%
#9 - Fmr. Gov. Tom Ridge (PA) ... 1.3%
#10 - Fmr. Gov. Mitt Romney (MI / UT / MA) ... .6%

156 total votes cast / Margin of error ±100%

You can vote for this month's new poll here, or click the vote button from any of the Choose Our President 2012 pages.

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