Quick Takes – 01.16.10

Ratatouille (2007)

Grade: A | 5th+ Viewing

I’ve said before that Ratatouille is my favorite Pixar movie, and that sentiment continues as I watch the film for the umpteenth time this past week. The film is remarkably moving and I make new discoveries every time I take it in. It may be one of the best metaphors for human progress ever animated with a great screenplay and voice-acting performances.

Ratatouille is about the human ability to create and the obstacles put in the way to hinder that creation. Remy the rat is symbolic of any person who has taken a serious risk to try something new – the Einsteins, Da Vincis, and Pixars of the world – and Anton Ego is representative of those in power who are afraid of change. The film has very high stakes and has one of the best three-word pieces of dialogue that says so much with so little: “Remy, where are you going?” “With luck, forward.”

Sideways (2004)

Grade: A | 5th+ Viewing

Even though I have not yet seen Barney’s Version, I am very happy that Paul Giamatti took home the Golden Globe award for his performance because he is easily one of the most overlooked actors in Hollywood. My favorite performance of his comes in the 2003 bit of genius American Splendor, but Sideways is a close second. Nobody can do hilarious angst like Giamatti who puts endless thought behind every neurotic line-reading. One of my favorite moments in the film comes when he realizes he missed a chance with Mia and he desperately tries to get it back in an act of desperation. Director Alexander Payne wisely pulls the camera back to a separate room in order to make the viewer feel like an uncomfortable observer.

Alexander Payne finally releases another film this year with his upcoming The Descendants, which is his first feature since Sideways. It’s about time.

Wild Grass (2010)

Grade: B- | 1st Viewing

My first exposure to the critically acclaimed auteur Alain Resnais came in his 2009 Cannes Film entry and 2010 U.S. release Wild Grass. The 88-year old member of the French New Wave continues to show his imagination in this film about the spontaneity of human connections and about the fear of old age. With no previous exposure to Resnais, I will admit that I lack context, but the film was an enjoyable escape that became too scattered and random.

The film needs to be seen in a full-state of consciousness as Resnais uses subtle repetition where he shows the same scenes over and over with slight changes throughout to the point where during my first slightly-tired viewing I thought my DVD player was skipping. The central characters are slightly disconnected from the moral plane of modern humanity which makes them somewhat unlikeable, but their spontaneous connections make the film redeemable and sometimes even quite entertaining.

Restrepo (2010)

Grade: A- | 1st Viewing

One of the most effective portrayals of the American military experience in Afghanistan is this gripping documentary about one of the most dangerous outposts in the war. Unlike almost every other Iraq/Afghanistan documentary, the film is mostly apolitical, but whoever said that “every war movie is an anti-war movie” may be correct. The stationed soldiers at the outpost Restrepo fight only for themselves and their fellow soldiers. Their overall purpose is never made quite clear to the audience, because it doesn’t appear to be clear to the fighters either.

2010 may have not offered a better display of emotion than in a segment the men call Operation Rock Avalanche when one of their enlisted brethren is killed. The guttural screams of agony from one particular soldier are raw and heartwrenching and better than anything that even the most seasoned of actors could manufacture.

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  • I love Ratatouille, not Pixar’s best, but still a definite A.
    So far this week I’ve seen:

    Across The Universe – I think this is an underrated movie. Its at all a perfect movie , but its extremely entertaining and fun. Also, The Beatles are the greatest band of all and I basically worship the ground they walk on…so that added to it. B+

    District 9 – The first half was fantastic, but then the second just turned into a typical blow-it-up and shoot-it-up action movie, which a huge waste of its great premise. maybe B+

  • I’ve recently decided that Sideways is my 4th favorite movie of the decade. Everybody around me doesn’t understand why I like it so much. It’s good to know that I’m not alone.

    Exit Throught the Gift Shop: A/A-
    – After seeing that it was #2 on your list I watched it on Netflix. Banksy deserves more praise than what he’s getting for it.

    Reservoir Dogs: A
    – It took me a second viewing to realize how good it really is. Right now I’m writing an article about it on my website under the masterpiece section.

    Irreversible: ?
    – DON’T watch this everybody. The movie sort of has a philosophical message at the end and I respect the film in many ways, but it’s not worth watching due to how violent and disturbing it is.

  • In addition to “Black Swan”, I saw:

    “The Bourne Ultimatum” (A) – The best of the “Bourne” movies, although #2 was very good as well. The chase through Tangier has to be one of the five best action sequences I’ve ever watched.

    “Bonnie and Clyde” (A): Loved this one too, thanks to gleefully over-the-top performances from Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. It was also extremely well-shot.

    “Chinatown” (A): This film entered my top 50 after I saw it’s haunting, brilliant final shot. A common criticism of Jack Nicholson is that his acting is over-the-top (though I personally don’t have a problem with that), but he delivers a remarkably restrained performance here. The mystery plot is complex and brilliantly laid out from start to finish as well. Wonderful.

  • Sorry, “it’s” should have been “its”. I get crazy about spelling errors (even minor ones).

  • Jose

    “Black Swan” and “The Social Network”
    4th Viewing for both of them, A for both of them.

    What can I say? To me a film is great if I can watch it a lot and not get bored at all and get lost in the film and that keeps happening here.

    “The King’s Speech”
    1st Viewing
    Wow, I was dying to see this film, and yet I was bored to death throughout. There is no real emotion in the film and the actors act as if there going through the motions instead of actually putting any effort into it (Firth does not deserve the Oscar in my opinion).
    The score, art direction, and costumes were good though.
    C

    I saw some other stuff but I don’t remember what they were.
    I think it was Ghost World and The Excorcism of Emily Rose.

  • @ G1000 At first I felt dissapointed by the ending of Chinatown, but now I respect it more than almost every other movie ending I’ve ever seen, especially after reading some of Polanski’s biography. Along with Reservoir Dogs from my comment above I’m going to write a Chinatown review for the “masterpiece” section on my website.

    @ Jose How could not love The King’s Speech!? I saw it last saturday (forgot to mention above) and it’s probably my pick for the best of the year. It blended drama and comedy perfectly and the ending was amazingly inspirational.

  • julian

    Sideways? The best adult comedy movie of the last decade. Paul Giamatti’s performance? The performance of a lifetime. AND one of the biggest Oscar snubs of all time! (especially since his co-actors, thomas haden church and virginia madsen, were BOTH nominated!!)

    I saw The Ghost Writer again this week. There are so many near-perfect moments in that movie, a shame that I find the overall plot and story line somewhat unlikely

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