A Look Way Back: Steve Ranks the 2009 Best Picture Nominees

I have finally seen all of the 2009 Oscar nominees for the Best Picture, so I’ll add my ranking to our blog.  However, in working on this blog, I’ve become even more aware of two distinct ways in which movies are rated.  There is the consideration of artistic merit, which includes both style and storytelling.  Generally, this is what so-called “critics” focus on.  Then, there is simply reflection on whether a movie provides a fulfilling experience.  This is what “fans” seem to base their ratings on and also points to which films are likely to be watched more than once.  I find myself thinking about movies in both ways, so I’m going to rate them both ways.

2009 Best Oscar-nominated Pictures by Artistic Merit

1. Inglourious Basterds – The strongest combination of style and storytelling of the ten.  However, Taratino’s style definitely isn’t for everyone, even though this is actually less violent than much of his work.  Also, some find his themes of revenge troublesome, not to mention the rewriting of history, but this movie does raise the interesting question of what would be an appropriate action if one had the opportunity to rid the world of Hitler.  This is dazzling filmmaking.  Style with substance, I say.

2. The Hurt Locker – Not a terrible choice for best picture, but I didn’t find it to be nearly as strong as Basterds.  Whereas Taratino was clearly rewriting history, The Hurt Locker was presented as realism, but too much of it rang false for me.  Still a great movie, though.

3. District 9 – This is a love it or hate it movie and I loved it.  I love the mishmash of styles, beginning as a cheesey documentary and then passing through the territories of drama, thriller, horror, all with a strong undercurrent of social commentary.  That is where it blows away the next movie on this list.  It makes you think deeply about not simply apartheid, but prejudice in its many forms.

4. Avatar – This movie ranks this high simply for style.  Yes, it’s a good looking movie (although I think the floating mountains are simply ridiculous!), but it’s severely lacking on the storytelling side of the equation.  Think deeply?  Nope, this is a James Cameron movie.  In too many ways this is Dancing with Wolves in Outer Space.  Given all that, I’m surprised I’m putting this at no. 4, but that’s how good it looks.

5. Precious – I hesitated for over a year before seeing this because I thought it would be too depressing.  It is a sickeningly sad story…poverty, rape, incest, abuse…but it is well done.  I place it here mostly for the strength of the acting.  I also liked the directing for the most part, especially her flights into imagination to escape the torment of her world.  I wish the ending had a bit more of the hope of that imagination in it.

6. A Serious Man – Being a Coen Brothers film, you’d expect this one to gain a few more style points, but this is one of their most reserved and subtle movies.  However, as with most of their work, this one grows on you with repeated viewings (see the list below).  It is a marvelous modern telling of the Job story.

7. Up in the Air – I wanted to love this movie.  George Clooney!  Jason Reitman!  I didn’t love it.  It was an interesting examination of our culture and the loss of deep relationships, but that is also where it failed for me.  I didn’t like the way the affair was handled.  Alex gets mad when Ryan nearly exposes their affair to her husband.  I’m sorry, Alex, you were in an affair.  Affairs hurt people, destroy relationships and this one detracted from the movie for me.

8. An Education – Hmm, if affairs are bad, how about an older man preying on a young girl and nearly ruining her life?  This movie explores what a person will do to escape what they think is a dull life and the wrong turns we can take in trying to find a meaningful relationship.  It is well done, but I found the character of David to be such a creep and it turns out I was right.

9. Up – Many people love this.  Not me.  It was o.k., actually quite good in spots, but I thought they added too many elements.  It felt disjointed to me.  I don’t think it was even the best animated film of 2009.  I’d give that honor to The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

10. The Blind Side – Style? Sappy!  Storytelling? Clichéd!  Does it deserve to be considered for Best Picture?  Of course not!  But, I cried my eyes out and enjoyed nearly every minute of it.  This is the kind of movie that has me wondering what I mean, what anyone means, when they say a movie is good.  And look where it is on the other list!

2009 Best Oscar-nominated Pictures by Desire for Multiple Viewings

1. Inglourious Basterds

2. A Serious Man

3. District 9

4. The Blind Side

5. Avatar

6. The Hurt Locker

7. Up

8. Up in the Air

9.  Precious

10. An Education

Steve’s 100 Movies

Check out the new page on our blog.  I’ve added a list of 100 of my favorite movies.  Simply click on the “Steve’s 100” tab at the top of the page.  Happy viewing!

Steve’s Tentative Top Ten

When someone recommends a movie to you, how do you respond?  It seems to me that you need to know that person’s taste in movies in order to know how to judge the recommendation.  For instance, I know that I almost always agree with Roger Ebert’s reviews, so I trust his recommendations.  So, here is a tentative top ten list of my favorite movies to help you get a sense of where I am coming from in my recommendations.  The list is tentative because there are so many movies that I love that limiting a list to only ten is nearly impossible.  I decided to try to make this list a fairly good representation of the movies that move me the most.  As I was thinking about what to include I came up with so many movies that I’m planning to add a list of 100 movies sometime soon, so come back to look for that.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear about a couple of your favorites, so feel free to comment.

Here they are (in no particular order):

Wizard of Oz (As it was for so many, this is the movie that first turned me on to the magic of movies.  It is simply perfect!)

It’s a Wonderful Life (It’s a wonderful movie!  Could you hand me a kleenex? Or two? Or three?)

Taxi Driver (Scorsese and DeNiro!  Discovering the power of movies that explore the dark side of life.  You talking to me?)

The Big Lebowski (The Coen brothers could have filled at least half of this list by themselves…Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, O Brother, No Country for Old Men…possibly True Grit, but I’ll have to see it again to be sure.)

Inglourious Basterds (I confess, I love Quentin Tarantino.  Such style, but also more substance than he is given credit for.  Yes, extremely violent, but also an unflinching examination of such things as the seductive and deadly desire for revenge.  This spot could also be filled by Pulp Fiction.)

Field of Dreams (How’s this for a change of pace from Tarantino?  Such a delightful movie, so much more than a baseball movie, revealing the power of giving oneself for others.  Pass the kleenex again!  If you show it, I will watch!)

High Fidelity (A movie set in a record store!  {I love music almost as much as movies} Featuring Top Five lists! {As you can see, I love lists} One of the best movies about navigating the treacherous waters of relationships.  John Cusack’s best performance.  Jack Black’s too.  From the book by one of my favorite authors, Nick Hornby.  About a Boy, also from a Hornby novel, could also easily be in this list.)

Hannah and Her Sisters (Most people list Annie Hall as Woody Allen’s best, but this is the one that I love.  The entire cast is great, but Michael Caine is incredible!)

Caddyshack (Such over the top characters, so many great quotes.)

Casablanca (Yes, it is a classic in every sense of the word.  Bogie could also be represented here with The Maltese Falcon.)

Star Wars (Wonderful in so many ways.  Either New Hope or Empire Strikes Back could fill this spot.  Return of the Jedi comes close, but I was never quite sure about those Ewoks, a bit too cute and a sign of bad things to come.)

Toy Story (Childhood, friendship, loyalty…oh, heck, just pass the kleenex again.)

Platoon (Works great as a Viet Nam war movie, but even more so as an examination of the battle of good vs. evil around us and within us,  although I’m not sure I’ll ever enjoy it quite as much ever again…thank you, Charlie Sheen!)

The Sound of Music (Is there a better movie musical?  And, yes, this one also requires a hanky or two.)

The Fisher King (A great movie on sin and redemption.  I love Terry Gilliam’s wild directing style.  Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams are marvelous.)

I could go on and on…Big Fish, Magnolia, and so many others…consider this a preview of the list of 100 coming soon.


Ranking the 2010 Best Picture Nominees by Steve

As the 2010 Oscars ride off into the sunset (thanks for nothing, James Franco!), I’ll bid them adieu by posting my rankings of the Best Picture nominees.  I still haven’t seen 127 Hours yet, so I’ll update the post when I do.  It’s available on Netflix at the end of the month, so I’ll see it then.  I sure hope that Franco is better in the movie than he was on the aforementioned Oscars.

Drum roll, please…

1. Black Swan – This movie drew me in like no other this year.  I’ll write a reflection soon on why I found it to be such a fulfilling movie experience.

2. Social Network – Among other things, Jesse Eisenberg was incredible!

3. True Grit – Blows the original away.  I love the Coen brothers!  A reflection on their movies soon, also.

4. The King’s Speech – I wanted to dislike it, but I couldn’t.  I cried…a lot.  Another coming attraction: a reflection on why I like to cry at the movies.

5. Winter’s Bone – Among other things, Jennifer Lawrence was incredible!

6. The Kids Are Alright – It was certainly more than alright.  I laughed, I cried.

7. The Fighter – Great performances by the leads, but the bizarre sisters nearly ruined it for me.

8. Inception – A reflection coming on why this was the most disappointing movie of the year.

9. Toy Story 3 – With our son going off to college, it certainly hit home and there was much that I liked, such as the prison camp movie references.  Yet much of it was simply fluff and some of it was interminable.  I couldn’t wait for the extended escape sequence to be over.  Alright, I’ll confess, I was hoping they would all burn up in the incinerator so we could be done with it!

So there you have it.  Now on to the magical movie moments of 2011.