Monday, December 28, 2009

My favorite films of 2009

Inglorious Basterds

I am hot and cold about Tarantino’s films, his last collaboration with Robert Rodriguez was really boring. In this film he is back, Quentin Tarantino is a natural and joyous filmmaker who feeds off his own story and fearlessly rewrites history. The story is told from a different point of view, from the wishful side. The film is brilliant, fun and entertaining a must see. Even Brad Pitt as a knife wielding American commando leader is really good. Christophe Waltz won best actor at Cannes 2009, has swept the critic's awards, as best supporting actor.

Hurt Locker

At first I wasn’t sure, I am not a fan of war movies. But this film is quite intense. "War is a drug," the opening title informs us, and in one of the best war movies ever. The movie is not selling a particular angle, not pro-war, not anti-war, not about the war in Iraq, but about the complex minds of soldiers. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow; as one critic's group after another honored it in their year-end awards, it became a sure thing for picture, actor and director nominations.

An Education

It is an elegant and beautiful small film. The story of a young school girl (Carey Mulligan) being blown away and introduced to a new lifestyle by the experienced, attractive and mysterious man in his mid-30s is played by Peter Sarsgaard, one of my favorite actors. He's sophisticated, she's not. He is an opportunist and role-player, directed by Lone Scherfig's film is wise about what people want in a relationship and what they get, adapted by Nick Hornby from the memoirs of the well-known British journalist Lynn Barber.


It is an impressive film for those of us who grew up loving sci-fi stories. Sam Rockwell is for sure one of the best actors today, his performance is absolutely superb. It is the film debut of Duncan Jones. This complicated story as it unfolds is breathtakingly simple yet emotionally powerful. Kevin Spacey, providing the voice of a computer, is incredible, too. “Moon” is a low budget movie, a sub genre that generally brings out the best in story.

500 Days of Summer

My favorite summer movie, and perhaps one of my all-time favorites coming of age films. Critics have called it “This is not a love story. It’s a story about love.” How can I dislike a film where the young couple met in an elevator listening to a “Smith’s song”? Affectionately called an “anti-romantic comedy” by many, this film vividly illustrates the emotions and complex interpersonal dynamics of a relationship and the expectations we have of them. Directed by Marc Webb. The performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are beautiful, and natural.

Broken Embraces

Another great film by Pedro Almodóvar. Partly a film about films and partly a film about love, It is really an enjoyable genre-bender that combines melodrama, comedy and more noir-hued darkness than ever before, the film is held together by the extraordinary force of Almodovar’s cinematic personality. See my blog.

A Serious Man

This is yet another great film by the Coen Brothers, returning to their homeland of the Minneapolis suburbs to tell the story of a Jewish man who strives to be good, a "serious man," Takes place in the 60’s but it could happen today. Michael Stuhlbarg gives a great performance as the suffering man, who earnestly tries to do the right thing.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Another dysfunctional father to rival those in any Wes Anderson movie. After years as a smoothie thief, Mr. Fox has promised Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) he’ll take a job and settle down as daddy to Ash (Jason Schwartzman). A dozen fox years later, our hero is tired of writing a newspaper column no one reads. Mr. Fox embarks on a revenge against farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean. The villains are Brits and the heroes are voiced by Americans? Fantastic Mr. Fox, written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach is an adventure in pure imagination that plays to kids and adults.

Single Man

Based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood, the screenplay by Tom Ford and David Scearce is concise. This is Tom Ford’s first film and he does it elegantly and fearlessly. It opens with a fatal car crash in 1962, in which Jim (Matthew Goode) is killed. George Falconer (Firth) learns about his lover's death he lived with for 16 years. Brokenhearted and alone, he seeks comfort from his long-ago-flame-now-friend Charley (Julianne Moore) an alcoholic divorcee, who obviously still is in love with him. But George is too devastated to be interested in sex, instead, he makes plans for committing suicide.

Most of the action takes place over the course of a single day in Los Angeles in the early '60s, when being gay was socially disapproved. The film is sophisticated, cool and glamorous. Goode and especially Hoult (remember him as the kid in About a Boy?) are just too good to be true, but they serve the purpose of offering George good reasons to stay alive.

Up in the Air

George Clooney is not on list of favorite actors but he has a good sense of selecting films to produce, act or direct. Clooney plays a man that reflects the contemporary uncertainties. I definitely could relate to some of these premises. He wants no home, no wife, no family, and says he is happy. His job is depriving others of theirs; he fires people for a living. Vera Farmiga plays his friendly fellow road warrior who sleeps with him on the road. Anna Kendrick is the sincere young college grad whose first job is terminating others. The third film by Jason Reitman after "Thank You for Smoking" and "Juno."


Avatar is truly a complete new sensation. You've never experienced anything like it, and neither has anyone else.

Maybe you don’t like some of the films by writer-director James Cameron. He has always been a visionary in terms of film technology, as his pioneering computer-generated effects in "The Abyss" and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" testify. He is not a director you want to underestimate, and with "Avatar's" story of futurist adventures on a place called Pandora, he restores a sense of wonder to the movie going experience that has been missing for far too long. See my blog.


One of the best digitally 3D animated films of the year. The story is about people but very different from “The Incredibles”, what Up achieves is something truly remarkable. In a short montage that chronicles the life of married couple Carl and Ellie Fredricksen, Pixar capture the essence of humanity so profoundly. Up is also an immensely joyous experience. It’s another near-perfect Pixar blend of escapist fun and heart-warming feelings, with dazzling animation, hilarious dialogue and adventurous spirit. It might not be as innovate or socially thematic as last year’s Wall-E. However, Up doesn’t initially burst onto the screen in a spectacle of color. Instead, it begins in the form of a black and white newsreel, where famous explorer Charles Muntz prepares his Zeppelin for a voyage to Paradise Falls, an uncharted part of the South American wilderness.


Avatar is truly a complete new sensation. You've never experienced anything like it, and neither has anyone else.

Maybe you don’t like some of the films by writer-director Cameron. He has always been a visionary in terms of film technology, as his pioneering computer-generated effects in "The Abyss" and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" testify. He is not a director you want to underestimate, and with "Avatar's" story of futurist adventures on a moon called Pandora, he restores a sense of wonder to the moviegoing experience that has been missing for far too long.

An extraordinary act of visual imagination, "Avatar" is not the first of the new generation of 3-D films. It is a film for all ages, for moviegoers that understand digital filmmaking or not. We are approaching a moment where digital animation techniques could begin to blend with traditional filming techniques and finally search for more interesting narratives.

This film confirms the notion that we live in an era of that takes pleasure in spectacle. We are looking to be completely stimulated this is the new operatic experience the new film experience.

A very complicated film about 2,000 people worked on the project for three years and estimates a budget in the neighborhood of $300 million. Cameron began thinking about the film 15 years ago and had to wait until either his company or someone else's invented the numerous technologies and cameras.

It's not only in 3-D that "Avatar" makes great strides, it's also in refining a technology called motion capture, which involves filming actors wearing sensors and then running the result through CGI computers. Cameron's version, which he's renamed "performance capture," has been used to take the inhabitants of Pandora, 10-foot-tall creatures with yellow cat's eyes, long tails and blue translucent skin called the Na'vi, and make them appear as completely real as the film's human characters

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Broken Embraces

One of this year's favorite films. It is really impressive to witness the astonishing productivity of Pedro Almodovar. He never ceases to surprise us with another great film. Broken Embraces (Los Abrazos Rotos) is yet another magnificent film. The film is deeply rooted in Almodovar's language in terms of discourse and visuals. The movie without being autobiographic talks about a film director, which is not unusual for directors to touch upon this topic; like Fellini's 8 1/2 or Woody Allen's "Hollywood Ending".
The movie deals with our complex contemporary narrative, a weird combination of reality and fantasy. It is exemplifies the difficulty of telling stories these days in a cool, different, innovative way. He has been using this narrative style for a while, but more than ever these issues are perfectly clear or perhaps he has always been ahead of his time and finally after 20 years it makes sense for mass culture.
Almodovar uses analog and digital editing techniques, but most importantly the narrative employs parallel times, film references like Rosellini's 1954 "Journey to Italy" with Ingrid Bergman, which the film is loosly based on. The character of Lena played by Penelope Cruz goes through film transformation within this journey of visual references from Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn and Marylin Monroe, however not in a postmodern fashion but in this new kind of visual oscillation and sensations that is part of our culture.
Most importantly Almodovar makes self references to his own films; the film within the film "Chicas y Maletas" is a direct reference to "Women on the Verge of a nervous breakdown, from the gaspacho, the burned bed, to the humor itself, only a great director can do this.
The film's end is brilliant, the quote "All films should always be finished" is something we should believe in, every endeavor should be taken to its ultimate consequences, to its end.

My Best Films of 2008

The Dark Knight. Directed by Christopher Nolan.  The best of all the Batman films, It goes beyond the tradition of the superhero action film becoming a serious drama that demands great acting. The film sets new parameters for the development of this genre. Heath Ledger was particularly great in the film.


Iron Man. Directed by John Favreau.  This is another great reinvention of the super hero genre. Robert Downey Jr. is fantastic as the more contemporary version of Tony Stark as an eccentric, complex, genius. The film is very successful in every way, as a story, as an action film and the terrific effects.


Doubt. Directed by John Patrick Stanley. This intense drama about the opposed points of view in terms of tyrannical and perfectionist rules of two people in a Catholic grade school.  A young nun is caught between them, as the catalyst to show can assumptions can always be doubted. It is a film about how the mechanisms operate when deciding where the truth is.


Milk. Directed by Gus Van Sant.  What I like about the story is the fact that shows someone with a great spirit and a genuine desire to help change things. At age 40, Milk was determined to do "something different" with his life. He's open to change. S very inspiring film. Sean Penn is terrific.

Slumdog Millionaire. Directed by Danny Boyle. This is a strange combination of a quiz-show suspense and the upsetting life of a Mumbai orphan. Staring from the garbage pit to the potential winner of a fortune, this anti-hero uses his survival instinct to struggle against the odds. A film that finds exuberance despite the tragedy it also gives full weight to. Editing format


Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Directed by David Fincher.  The strong part of the film is the way the narrative develops. The way the film starts from opposite ends and they meet at certain moments of the film. I am not a fan of Brad Pitt but he is not bad in this film, the interaction with the character played by Cate Blanchett is pretty good. 


Elegy. Directed by Isabel Coixet. This film focuses on a relationship between a well-respected college professor who specializes in Roland Barthes and his former student.  The main character complex man whose past experiences with women have destroyed his ability to have a healthy relationship with a woman he is infatuated with. The film has a masterful performance by Ben Kingsley.

WALL-E. Directed by Andrew Stanton.  The best animated science-fiction movie in years. WALL-E is a solar-powered trash compacting robot, left behind to clean up the waste after Man flees the earth. I personally loved the different robotic in aesthetics between WALL-E and Eva.


Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Directed by Woody Allen. Vicky Christina Barcelona shows that Woody still has something to say. It is Woody Allen's most solid film in nearly a decade and by far his sexiest. The film is about seduction, task greatly executed by Javier Bardem. The film is very fast and never boring. The screenplay has in a certain sense is a classic Allen type, concerned with re-arranging the configurations of lovers.
Bardem and Cruz are great. However, Scarlett Johansson has no acting range.


The Reader. Directed by Stephen Daldry.  A drama taking place within the mind of a postwar German man who has an affair at 16 with a woman he later discovers is a war criminal. The film addresses the moral confusion felt in those who came after the Holocaust but whose lives were painfully twisted by it.

My favorite films of 2007

  1. No Country for Old Men. Joel and Ethan Coen. A compelling thriller, a kind of lament at the new nihilism. Complex narrative tightly wound and completely gripping.
  1. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. A first-person internal-monologue, an account of his life trapped in a stroke-paralyzed body. Intensely psychological without being too serious.
  1. Into the Wild. Sean Penn. A true story about finding nature, beauty and yourself. A male story heroic and intense. Hirsch gets to be charming, passionate and idealistic but also impetuous, stubborn and self-righteous.
  1. The Life of Others. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. A fantastic film that manages to be both subtle and intense at the same time. What's even more astounding is that this is the feature debut from German writer-director, who confidently paints a claustrophobic picture of East Berlin in the mid-1980s through the relationship between a playwright, his girlfriend and the secret police captain assigned to spy on them.
  1. The Page Turner. (La Tournuese de Pages). Denis Dercourt. This film in the style of Chabrol and Hitchcock is a low-key thriller that deals mostly on a psychological plane. A story of revenge attained.
  1. Eastern Promises. David Cronenberg. Coming out of the dark as one of most surprising films of year, a lot the credit here goes to Viggo Mortenson's incredible immersion into his role as a complex Russian Mafia hit man.
  1. Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead. Sydney Lumet. The film instead on focusing on the crime itself, which is shown as one of the first scenes of the film, Lumet offers fragments of torment between the three central males: a drug addicted businessman, his younger brother, a no-good father and alcoholic, and their once-absent father.
  1. Atonement. Joe Wright. The director was able to take you through these people's rooms, their lives, their conversations, hopes, dreams. He made you care about them. The emotions were believably large within an intimate space. It moved fast without getting stuck in the classic period piece.
  1. Rescue Dawn. Werner Herzog. In 1997, Werner Herzog made the documentary "Little Dieter Needs to Fly," about Dieter Dengler, the German-born American pilot shot down over Laos in the early years of the Vietnam War and imprisoned in the jungle for years. His feature-film version revisits the material.
  1. Daarjeling Limited. Wes Anderson. Not well received by the critics for considering it self involved This film is about three estranged brothers who bicker while barreling across India on a train, supposedly on a spiritual journey.

 Others Ratatouille and Juno.


My favorite Films of 2006


BABEL Alejandro González Iñárritu


LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE Jonathan Dayton – Valerie Faris


L’ENFANT Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne




HISTORY BOYS Nicholas Hytner






VOLVER Pedro Almodóvar


A SCANNER DARKLY  Richard Linklater


DUCK SEASON  Fernando  Eimbcke






CASINO ROYALE Martin Campbell


My Favorite Films of 2005

These were my favorite of that year 2005

That year was particularly difficult to make this selection.

1. The Squid and the Whale.  Noah Baumbach 

2. Brokeback Mountain.  Ang Lee 

3. Junebug.  Phil Morrison

4. Me and you and everyone we know. Miranda July 

5. Capote.  Bennett Miller

6. Thumsucker. Mike Mills

7. The Dying Gaul.  Craig Lucas

8. A History of Violence. David Cronenberg

9. Good Night, And Good Luck. George Clooney 

10. Broken Flowers.  Jim Jarmus

Other titles:

Crash. Paul Haggis

Syriana. Stephen Gaghan

Shopgirl.  Anand Tucker

Mysterious Skin. Greg Araki