Up (Pete Docter, 2009) 72
I'll start by saying what everyone else starts by saying: holy shit, Pixar is amazing. I mean, they've gotta have the most sterling track record of any production company in film history by now. But let's not get too overexcited and start calling Up their best film ever, as some have (Ratatouille? WALL-E? Finding Nemo?). It's an excellent achievement, to be sure, and it comes highly recommended from yours truly; I just don't think it stands up to the creme de la creme of Pixar's output. Which isn't to say there's not some fantastic stuff here: for better or for worse, the film's best moments come during its first few minutes. So beautiful and emotional is the (mostly dialogue-free) prologue that the rest of the movie can't quite stand up to it (if it had, then yes: masterpiece. But sadly ...), but it certainly puts out a fighting effort nonetheless. The finished product is yet another film destined to win countless fans for generations to come: a great, funny, cute story that is entertaining for all ages and actually comes with a well thought-out emotional valence as well. In other words, yeah. It's just what Pixar does.
The Vanishing (George Sluizer, 1988) 80
A potent and disturbing film that, for me at least, is far more unsettling than the average horror flick for the simple reason that it bypasses the irritating in-your-face tendency that characterizes many of the genre's entries and instead opts for a slow, deliberate pace that doesn't reveal its secrets all at once. To me, true horror comes not from being startled or presented with eerie elements of the supermatural, but with the implementation of frightening things that are utterly possible in everyday life; The Vanishing, especially with its two well developed main characters, is never anything less than believable. Although I gather I stand alone among the movie night crowd, I found it chilling and fascinating.
Versus (Ryûhei Kitamura, 2000) 59
I don't think words can accurately describe how ridiculous this film is. Is there anything this film doesn't have? It's a gun-wielding gangster samurai zombie movie set in a supernatural forest with immortals and reincarnated souls. Or something. Not that it matters. As fun as all this craziness is, though, the one thing I can't quite forgive it for is the small little flaw of making absolutely no goddamn sense whatsoever. I realize this isn't really the point, and that you're just supposed to watch it so you can see crazy shit happen and awesome fights and so forth, but think about how much better it would be if it had a story! It'd really be something! Oh well. I guess you can't have everything, and what the film does give is suitably badass if one is in the mood for this sort of thing. I can't deny that I was alternately amused and entertained for the film's entire duration (+20 WTF points for the scene where the crazy-haired guy just randomly hovers down from the sky), but at the end it still felt like there should have been more. Not that I wouldn't still recommend it to people. I probably would. It's that sort of thing. Hell, I'd even see it again. It's just ... what the fuck, just go watch it.
Waltz With Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008) 53
In general, if I dislike a film I'm inclined to lay the blame on the filmmaker a long time before I even think of indicting myself (and I'm sure 99.9% of all moviegoers share this sentiment). Waltz With Bashir is an interesting film in many ways, not the least of which is that it turns my previous statement upon itself. No, I did not like it, but for once I feel like I'm the responsible party and that the good-intentioned Ari Folman really had nothing to do with it. I think my lukewarm reaction stems from my inability to form any sort of emotional attachment to what was happening onscreen. War is never easy and maybe I've just become desensitized to it, because the images here are undeniably potent without ever actually striking a chord or plucking a heartstring. They're just ... there. I feel like I should be profoundly moved by the film's final few minutes, which jarringly switch away from a gorgeous dreamlike animation very reminiscent of Linklater's Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly to present live-action images of crying women wandering the streets of a crumbling city, but I just wasn't. Instead of seeming like a poignant concluding note, it felt anticlimactic. We never got to the bottom of Folman's eerie dream sequence, nor did we ever have a chance to warm up to any of the individuals he interviewed for his quasi-documentary. But am I missing the boat in expecting these things? Did I just not go into the film in the right mindset? I don't know. I wish I did, because it feels like it could be a really great film. Instead, I can't really regard it as anything more than an underdeveloped, if visually stunning and incredibly humanistic, curiosity.
Watchmen (Zack Snyder, 2009) FV: 64 / SV: 70
I think I may be just about the only teenage/college-age male in the known universe who did not enjoy Zack Snyder's previous effort, the dull and pointless CGI splatterfest 300; likewise, I have a special distate for both the Wachowski brothers' grim and misguided take on V for Vendetta (another unpopular stance, I gather) and the ludicriously awful Sean Connery vehicle The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (which I pray to god everyone hates). With both an unsureness of Snyder and a past history of seriously not-good Alan Moore adaptations, I naturally approached the film version of "graphic novel to beat all graphic novels" Watchmen with some trepidation. Imagine my relief when, after having watched it, it dawned on me that it not only didn't suck, but it was actually pretty okay. I wasn't head-over-heels in love with it, but that was all right. Contented, I spent a couple weeks being sure that "pretty okay" was more or less going to be my final verdict. As it turns out, much to my increased delight, this was not the case: a trip to Denver brought about a viewing in IMAX, and suddenly the film leaped from "pretty okay" to "quite good" (bigger is unquestionably better in a film that relies so heavily on visuals). I stand convinced now that a third viewing might even push the score higher. I'm still not gushingly in love with it (as many are), nor do I ever think I will be, but I can certainly accept that Snyder has taken on an unenviably difficult task and actually done pretty well by it. Only time will tell if this will go down as the "great art" some have proclaimed it to be (I'd certainly argue that it isn't), but for the time being it's an enjoyable popcorn flick. I'm happy with that. I mean, aren't you?
Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, 2009) 37
They managed to take one of the sweetest, most heartwarming children's books of all-time and turn it into something equal parts dreary, depressing, and tedious. Good job, guys. At least, thanks probably entirely to Jonze, it looks great, but that's about it.
The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008) 63
Honestly, if the credits (and hype) hadn't told me that Darren "Pull Out All the Stops and Then Some" Aronofsky directed this, I would've had no clue. Compared to films like Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain, this thing hardly seems directed at ALL. It's very minimal, but that's good. It's what the film calls for. There's really not too much to say about it: born loser one-trick pony spends 105 minutes realizing he's a born loser one-trick pony and that, no matter what the stakes, he has to stand by that trick. There's your whole movie, right there. For what it is, it works. It's a bit thin, but then it doesn't try to do all that much. The Oscar Hype Machine is working overtime for Mickey Rourke, whose sure-to-be-nominated performance is definitely the reason to see the film (at the end of the day, though, I still greatly prefer Sean Penn's work in Milk and Frank Langella's lauded turn in Frost/Nixon). That, and -- genre differences aside -- it's still a hell of a lot better than The Fountain. Just sayin'.
Zebraman (Takashi Miike, 2004) 65
Typical Miike weirdness (if the words "typical" and "Miike" ever belong in the same sentence, which I don't think they do). If we're using, say, Audition or Ichi the Killer as a baseline, it's definitely one of his lighter films: self-consciously stupid and unapologetically campy, but also highly entertaining (as most Miike tends to be). Far from his best, but he's just such a bizarre director that I don't even really think I care how good or bad it is. I'm just glad to have seen it.
Zombieland (Ruben Flesicher, 2009) 84
It doesn't happen nearly often enough, but every once in a while a comedy comes along that just gets it right. Zombieland is that movie. Words can scarcely describe how good it is: it's delightful, fun, upbeat, and flat-out hilarious. The trailers made it look good; the actual film is clearly one of 2009's best.