Posted tagged ‘Maurice Sendak’

Decade in Review – 5 Best Films of the Aughts

December 28, 2009

Having just vented about the 10 most overrated films of the decade I will now attempt to actually say something positive for a change.  So here goes – my list of the 5 best films of the decade:

#5.  Hot Fuzz (2007)

In a decade full of smirks and chuckles, Hot Fuzz delivered genuine, deep, gasping-for-air laughter.  The beginning is admittedly a bit slow, although it is punctuated by perhaps the funniest single moment of the past ten years.  When the top of a steeple falls down on top of a reporter, not just killing him but obliterating the top half of his body (and yet the bottom half stumbles around a bit before keeling over) the result is so unexpectedly violent and hilarious that I laughed long after the scene had ended.  And then, of course, there are the film’s final forty or so minutes, which are so uproariously funny that my side ached by the time they were over.  Unlike so many comedies of the aughts, Hot Fuzz didn’t try to be clever.  Instead, it tried to be funny, at it succeeded at every turn.

#4.  The Dark Knight (2008)

In an era of crappy comic book movies, this film proved once and for all that the drivel we had come to expect from the genre is inexcusable rather than inevitable.  Heath Ledger’s Joker will go down as one of the iconic performances in film history and deservedly so.  Having said that, it’s too bad that his performance ended up garnering so much attention because it tended to obscure the fact that this film’s excellence went far beyond a single outstanding performance.  Despite entering a crowded and clichéd genre, The Dark Knight was surprising at every turn and every minute of its two-and-a-half hour running time felt both compelling and necessary.

#3.  Wall-E (2008)

In ten years Pixar did more for digital animation than Disney did for traditional animation in the entire 20th century (and that’s no slight to Disney).  Wall-E is Pixar’s crowning achievement.  The first thirty dialog-less minutes give us some of the most elegant filmmaking of the decade.  Sure, the second half feels a bit more like the usual Pixar blend of physical gags and tight storytelling, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Wall-E is such a flawlessly executed film, and is so full of genuine heart, that the keen social commentary lurking under the surface is just a welcome added bonus.

#2.  The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003)

So often directors seem to think that making a movie really long and filling it with special effects is all it takes to make something “epic.”  Fortunately, Peter Jackson remembered that story telling and character development are important, too.  As a result, every minute of the nine hours that this trilogy occupied the screen (and even the twelve hours of its extended DVD versions) felt like a gift.  This is one of the rare cases in which the movie was far better than the book on which it was based since Jackson managed to capture all of the magic of Tolkien’s imagination while replacing the woodenness of his prose with a visual style that was dynamic and compelling.

#1.  Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

It seems that everyone either loved or hated this movie.  I am firmly rooted in the “loved” category.  Everything in this film worked – the visuals, the music, the story-telling.  The narrative style was completely unique and yet easy to follow, and the story stayed true to Maurice Sendak’s book without feeling slavish or derivative. I saw it in the theaters twice and liked it even more the second time.  It’s dark.  It’s melancholy.  It’s moving.  It’s brilliant.

So there we have it – proof that I don’t hate every movie.  In my next post (the last one of this decade) I’ll give a few random awards in a “one-off” format.

Where the Wild Things Are – Review

October 17, 2009

Remember, I generally hate movies.

As I said in my previous blog, part of the reason for this is that on those rare occasions that I let my guard down and actually get excited about a movie, the movie lets me down more often than not.  I likened the experience to Charlie Brown continually letting Lucy convince him that she’ll hold the football for him to kick, only to pull it away at the last second each and every time.  Thus, I was worried about the anticipation that I felt for Where the Wild Things Are – I was running towards that ball at full speed and my leg was swinging with all the power I could muster.

But instead of Lucy, it was Spike Jonze holding the ball, and he didn’t waiver for a second.  With this film he has joined the very short list of directors whose names I not only know (which is already a pretty small list), but whose names will single handedly make me take interest in a movie (George Lucas is probably the only other person on that list, but, given his recent track record, that interest is starting to become the “can’t turn away from the train wreck” variety).

In some ways I find it difficult to even offer a review of the film right now because the impact of seeing it hasn’t fully worn off.  It’s also difficult  because Wild Things (by which I mean Where the Wild Things Are not the late nineties soft-core classic) is so unique that describing any of its strongest qualities would verge on being a spoiler.  The experience of watching this film is very similar to the experience of Max, its main character: it’s an almost constant process of discovery.  However, since I don’t want to spoil what those discoveries are (and, honestly, I’m not even sure that I could put some of them into words), I will instead speak to some of the reservations that I and others held about the film prior to having the privilege of seeing it.

The most common (and obvious) questions were whether or not a short childrens’ book written in 1963 could provide the material for a full-length movie and if it was really necessary to find out.  The answer to both questions is a resounding yes, and this speaks to the subtle skills of both Maurice Sendak (the book’s author) and Jonze.  Jonze does a masterful job of capturing all of the complexity of the book – its sense of fun and adventure; its dark loneliness; its childish magic.  In doing so, he not only demonstrates his own remarkable skills as a director, but also reveals just how complex and sophisticated this short book has been all along.

Another reservation that I’ve come across is that, based on the trailer, it looks as though Max’s need to dream up the “Wild Things” stems from dealing with his parent’s divorce.  This worried me a bit going in as well since part of the beauty of the book stemmed from its ability to capture the turmoil, fear, and excitement of childhood without giving the reader a specific reason that Max is acting out.  However, (very, very minor spoiler alert) while the film’s version of Max is dealing with divorced parents, this is in no way the focus of the film.  This movie operates on far too sophisticated an emotional level to let something as specific as divorce guide its story or tone.

I’ve also read that many reviewers have critiqued the film for not being child friendly enough.  Since I am neither a child nor a parent I might not be able to offer the best response to this, but I will say that this is not typical kiddie movie fare.  However, having just sat through several previews of kid movies, I really don’t see Wild Things‘s departure from the genre as a bad thing.  During the course of the movie I heard several children laugh at the humorous moments (I was usually laughing along with them – and I never laugh at typical kiddie flicks), and didn’t (to my relief) hear much chatter from bored children, so I assume the kids in the audience (and there were a lot of them) enjoyed it.  I did hear one child throwing a terrified, hysterical fit during one particular scene, so be forewarned that this film is dark and could be frightening, but, then again, so is childhood.

Finally, I had my own personal reservations about the use of music in the trailer.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a proponent of the recent trend of using a “hip” soundtrack to convince audiences of the imminent “coolness” of a movie.  As such, I worried that the (admittedly wonderful) music that played over the various trailers for Wild Things signaled Jonze’s use of this recent movie cliche.  The music in this film, though, never feels forced or cliched but, instead, blends seamlessly with the visual and narrative elements of the story telling.

And that storytelling is, simply put, breath-taking.  The visuals are stunning and, like every other aspect of the film, do justice to the source without ever feeling merely derivative.

I generally hate movies, but this movie is so unlike anything else that none of my usual critiques apply.  In fact, this film might add a new reason to hate movies to my list since it so clearly demonstrates what film is capable of, thus making the frequent garbage that shows up on the screen absolutely inexcusable.  Who knows, maybe this will be the subject of a future blog.  I’d rather not think about it right now, though, because I’d rather just bask in the glow of the first really great movie that I’ve seen in almost two years.

Reasons I Hate Movies: #1 – Disappointment

October 14, 2009

Since my distaste for most movies is the subject of this blog, I decided that I should probably validate my disdain.  So, I’ve decided to add a feature to my writings in which I give some of the reasons that I generally hate movies, and this is my first installment.  The reasons will appear in no particular order, so it’s not as if what follows is my absolute top reason for disliking movies, it is simply the first one that I chose to write about.

And the reason that I chose to write about disappointment first is that it is particularly topical for me right now due to the upcoming release of Where the Wild Things Are.  When I first heard that someone was making a movie out of this beloved book, my reaction was probably the same as most – how on earth are they going to make a short childrens’ book into a full length movie?  Or at least, how are they going to make it into a good movie (Hollywood has proven that they can make anything into a crappy movie)?  In response, many remarked that Spike Jonze was directing it, so surely he’d figure it out, but, since I am no movie buff, all I heard was the word “director” followed by the sound that adults always made in Peanuts cartoons.

But then something happened: I saw the trailer for the film.  It was, simply put, breathtaking.  Never before had I had actually felt chills just from watching a trailer (with the possible exception of the trailer for the first new Star Wars film, but more on that in a second).  I immediately went from thinking the movie was a stupid idea to counting down the days until its release.  For those who have been living in a cave for the past several months, here is the trailer:

As moving as this trailer is, it also makes one of the reasons that I hate movies very apparent to me.  Every time I think about this film and how excited I am to see it there’s a little voice in my head whispering “but what if it sucks?”  This voice, mind you, is not the product of paranoid delusions on my part (not that those voices aren’t there), they are the voices of experience.  Far too often I let my guard down, let myself get excited about a movie, and then come away with bitter feelings of disappointment.  Sometimes this disappointment stems from nostalgia (Spiderman III, Transformers, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull,  and the new Star Wars films all had me pumped only to kick me in the gut with their badness) and sometimes it stems from a film’s reputation (Vertigo, Fargo, The Godfather, and Silence of the Lambs all made me eager to see what the fuss was about only to leave me wishing I had just taken a nap instead, which, in the case of Vertigo, is actually what I ended up doing).  Regardless, as someone who generally dislikes movies, it takes a lot to get me worked up about a film, so when a film that I’m excited about doesn’t deliver, I end up feeling like Charlie Brown after Lucy pulls the football away as he tries to kick it  – trusting in a film to deliver on its promise just leaves me open to another let-down and mad at myself for not learning from the past (wow, two Peanuts references in one blog, maybe I’ll go for the hat-trick).

And so it is with apprehension that I’ll be heading to the theaters this weekend.  Hopefully Where the Wild Things Are will blow me away. Hopefully, I’ll leave the theater wanting to see it again and counting down the days until it comes out on DVD.  Hopefully, it will spawn the first glowing review I write on this blog and I’ll come away as giddy as Charlie Brown after seeing the little red-headed girl (I did it!).

But every time I watch that trailer, I can’t help but wonder if the incredible music playing throughout is the reason it seems so great.  Or maybe it’s the impact of seeing images from my childhood realized on the screen that gives me the chills.  Or maybe a trailer, in its brevity, is the perfect format for an adaptation of such a short book.  If any of these is the case, then it doesn’t bode well for the film. But, just like Charlie Brown swings his leg at that football with all of the gusto he can muster, I’ll put all of these fears aside and when I see Where the Wild Things Are this weekend I’ll be full of excitement and anticipation.

Spike Jonze better not pull a Lucy.