The Academy Awards are this Sunday! Which means that sad, lonely movie fans (myself) indulge in endless discussion and bickering about which movie will win what award and why, and in the end the actual outcome affects a small handful of people we will never meet and we spend the next two and a half weeks discussing and bickering yet again about why what award was won and wasn't.
Regardless of whoever walks home with the most golden statuettes, however, the Oscars are but one facet of a very simple thing - I really fucking love movies. Here are my five favorite films of last year, in alphabetical order:
No Country For Old Men
No Country For Old Men is pure genius filmmaking, plain and simple. The Coen Brothers are so gifted and have so finely hewn their craft that they've made a film that is, well, perfect. Their script is tight, smart, and perceptive. Their visual acumen and knack for direction is first rate. And the crew they surround themselves with only aid in their perfection, from the fabulous cinematography of Roger Deakins to the outstanding acting by Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones. It's a simple story that in lesser hands would have fallen prey to formulaic crime-genre staples, Tarantin-ian excess, or worse. Instead, the filmmakers have the utmost confidence in their script, in the original Cormack McCarthy novel, and most importantly, in their audience, ending with a remarkably unpredictable, but hardly ambiguous and wholly appropriate, ending that years of Hollywood entertainment has deadened us to.
It's considered a weakness, especially in men, to cry at movies. That's only because most movies evoke sympathy with the crudest and most manipulative of methods - how easy it is to depress an audience to tears, and how remarkable it is to fill them with so much joy and hope and love that they literally burst. Once has that effect, or at least it did on me. Again, the story is deceptively simple, as two aspiring musicians in Dublin "Meet Cute," get to know each other, and, we are lead to assume, fall in love. The film uses its low budget and unknown actors to achieve a kind of rawness and realism that instantly draws you to these two nameless characters, and the music, oh the music. A movie that will make your heart and soul sing.
Ratatouille is a funny talking animal cartoon, with a thick gloss of Disney-approved polish and fun. What elevates Rataouille from the sequestered drawing board of its contemporaries in the CGI realm and into the grand pantheon of great filmmaking is Brad Bird's naturally-developed gifts as both an animation and writing savant. It has an endless supply of personality and charm and wit, a surprisingly astute observation of art vs. artist, and a timeless message against settling for mediocrity - all the more damning considering how practically every other animation studio is so eager to.
There Will Be Blood
There's a sick, powerful perversity brewing from the very beginning of There Will Be Blood that continues and only escalates until the film's chilling conclusion, the most engrossing cinematic portrayal of madness since Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. But while young Alex's sociopathic behavior is analyzed and deconstructed, Paul Thomas Anderson seems to revel in Daniel Plainview's special breed of contempt and rage. The film creates something totally unique out of wholly familiar elements, a bizarre meld of historical epic, period drama, and even bouts of Keaton-esque slapstick, the result being a film of outrageous scope and audacity that, astoundingly, never exceeds its grasp. Thirty years from now, There Will Be Blood will stand as a benchmark in cinema.
David Fincher became a household name in the drab studio apartments of trendy hipsters and wannabe anarchists after Fight Club, but Zodiac is by far his best film. It sadly gave audiences some pause with its paucity of violence and completely realistic renditions of journalistic procedurals, but the payoff is that Zodiac is more haunting and unsettling than any serial killer picture or gore-fest I've ever seen.
Speaking of Oscars, go to www.oscar.com and play the "Predict the Oscars" contest and join the group "Borders 0392" with the password "brianiscool" and you can (probably not) win some crappy prize! But you'll also be able to galavant about in movie geekery amongst internet friends, which is just as good. Unless, for whatever reason, you don't. In which I will personally be very disappointed.