Monday, January 31, 2011

2010 Discoveries: Movies & TV

Yes, I'm still looking back at the best of what I discovered in 2010. Here is the last list, movies! 

I couldn't really do these justice and still ever get the post done so I realize the comments below may a bit short or incomplete. I'm planning on picking up the Movies You Might Have Missed series and some of these will be discussed a bit more in that venue.
  • District 9: A huge alien ship suddenly shows up over Johannesburg, South Africa but nothing happens. When the people finally muster the nerve to investigate they find that the aliens aboard are sick and dying because they are simply workers who have been left to die when their leaders ran away. The aliens, called "prawn" are housed in a government camp (District Nine) which soon deteriorates to a ghetto. Shot to look like a documentary, the movie takes place many years later, following a middle manager who has been promoted to lead the effort to move the aliens to a new camp, District Ten, further away from the city. Everyone being interviewed keeps mentioning "before the event" and "before things went wrong" so we are prepared for things to go downhill in some way for the poor fellow. However, I never would have predicted how this manager is caught up in the storyline and the discoveries of the movie.

  • Moon: No aliens, big special effects or spaceships are featured in this movie about a lone worker at a moon station that monitors solar energy collection. Sam Bell is at the end of his three-year contract, the solitude is driving him crazy (almost), and then he has a serious accident when driving a lunar vehicle. Mysteriously he winds up back at the space station, healed, and without any idea how he got there. The mystery is one that he can't let go and that leads to the complications that drive the movie. It is essentially a one person play, if you don't count GERTY 3000, the robot voiced by Kevin Spacey. Yet, there is something about it that grabbed me. Sam Rockwell (who plays Sam Bell) is brilliant in this. I have long admired him and this is a showcase of his talent.

  • Inception: Something is locked away in an impregnable fortress, something the owner knows by heart. Can this band of thieves replace it with something so similar that he'll never notice the difference? See my review here.

  • Zombieland: A true delight AND a movie that celebrates family (still chock-full of flesh-eating zombies). Four people seem to be all that are left normal after the zombie apocalypse. Their goal: to go to an amusement park in California that they have heard has no zombies. The part that Woody Harrelson was born to play ... it's in this movie. (Rule #4: watch this movie.)

  • Once Upon a Time in the West: a 3-hour epic Western about of a mysterious, harmonica-playing stranger who is on the track of a ruthless assassin. This winds up with Harmonica occasionally working with a wanted outlaw to help a beautiful widow save her land. Classic, right? Classic Sergio Leone, that is, right down to the Ennio Morricone soundtrack and the classic cast including Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, and Jason Robards. It is quite a long film and has many lingering shots of stares (hence the illustrative photo above), which Tom thought could have been cut back on. It was long but I actually enjoyed the entire thing.

  • Let the Right One In: Oskar is a lonely and bullied 12-year-old. Eli is the 12-year-old girl who moves into the apartment next door. They form a friendship over puzzles and Morse code. Except that, as Eli tells Oskar, she is not a girl. He must discover for himself that those puzzling words mean she is a vampire. Naturally, one cannot have a vampire in the neighborhood without missing people and murders, which leads to an interesting and telling sideplot about someone who is attacked but lives through it. A study in evil. Read my review here.

  • Mary and Max: an animated movie about an eight year old Australian girl and a 40 year old New Yorker who strike up a pen pal friendship that carries them over 20 years. See my review here.

  • Sita Sings the Blues: This is a creative delight. The Indian story of The Ramayana is told three ways, all from Rama's wife's point of view ... the titular Sita.  An illustrated conversation between Indian shadow puppets is interspersed with musical interludes voiced with tracks by 1920's jazz singer Annette Hanshaw and scenes from creator Nina Paley's life. You can stream this movie free as the creator, unusually, makes it available under a Creative Commons License.

  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Scott Pilgrim hasn't gotten over his bad breakup with a previous girlfriend, dates a high school aged girl, and the falls for the exotic looking and exotically named Ramona Flowers who he sees walking by. Yes, he's a mess and as an insecure young man trying to find his place in the world it was probably inevitable that he is played by Michael Cera. However, this part offers Cera one of the only parts I've seen where he actually gets to occasionally be assertive. Scott Pilgrim begins dating Ramona only to find that he must defeat her seven deadly exes before they can be free to pursue the relationship properly. The movie winds up playing out like a video game (every time Scott battles a deadly ex) interspersed with a tale of young love.  I'm a fan of Edgar Wright, the director, so was among his prime audience but was still surprised to find myself smiling at bits of this movie days after seeing it.

  • The Guild: this is a web-based sitcom centered around the lives of an online role-playing-game guild, The Knights of Good, who play countless hours to the point where it takes over their lives. The main character is Codex, the guild's Priestess, who begins attempting to live a more normal life after one of her guild-mates, Warlock Zaboo shows up on her doorstep wanting to date her. Because it is based around webisodes, each season is about an hour long and I have found it most enjoyable when viewed on dvd where you can "Play all". It is very funny, especially to anyone who has ever lost hours of their life playing an RPG game (not that Baldur's Gate ever stole hours of MY life or had the girls and me trying to work out puzzle solutions ... no, indeedy!)

  • Flight of the Conchords: This cable series revolves around a couple of New Zealand musicians who have come to New York City to try to develop an American fan base for their band, Flight of the Conchords. They are sweet but clueless which, naturally leads to many amusing situations. What puts this over the top is that each episode has at least one song whose performance is woven into the story line. The songs are take-offs of other musical styles or artists (a favorite of mine is the one based on David Bowie's music).

  • Better Off Ted: canceled after two seasons, this ABC sitcom revolved around Ted Crisp who headed up a research and development department for a faceless giant corporation, Veridian Dynamics. His supervisor (Portia de Rossi) embodies the goals of the conglomerate whose soullessness Ted must try to moderate while dealing with the erratic scientists under his management. A gentle comedy that grows on you after watching a few episodes ... and then turns into a necessity.


  1. Loved, loved, loved Scott Pilgrim!
    Have you seen Spaced? Pure brilliance.

  2. My family LOVES Flight of the Conchords. We go around saying: "Britt."
    "No, Britt."

  3. Glad to see Moon and The Guild get some love here.

  4. I was so, SO disappointed when Better Off Ted was canceled, especially in light of the abundance of reality crap that is still aired. It was such a great show! The racist motion detector episode was HYSTERICAL.

    Bridget N

  5. Spaced ... LOVE IT! I was going to mention it but this was getting too long. I could have kept going and going about it. :-)

    Better Off Ted ... that motion detector episode is always the first one that comes to mind. It was sooooo funny ...

  6. Tante Léonie2/1/11, 1:26 PM

    Once Upon A Time In The West -- such greatness! I've seen it 3-4 times. I love it so much, I once watched it on French TV, sans subtitles (French or English). It lost a bit in translation, but it still gave me goosebumps.

    And Sita -- well, what a little jewel that is! I especially loved the narration that the three Indians were giving over the shadow puppets-- it reminded me of the way my old Italian grandmother and great-grandmother used to tell a story.

    "Assemble the monkey warriors!"

  7. I agree that the three Indians telling the story, talking over each other and correcting each other ... with the narration changing to correct as they talked ... is one of the parts I loved most. So true to life and to see it applied to those shadow puppets was wonderful. :-)