I know it's a little bit late in the year to do this, but I swore I'd do this. Took a while to write this post, but here it is, finally. I've done books, I've done board games. The last big thing is for movies. I watched a lot of movies this year, probably the most I've ever seen in one year in my life. I needed an excuse to work on my Tecmo Super Bowl cross-stitch (yeah, I'll post about that sometime), and movies gave me a great excuse to sit in one place for a long time.
Ben X (2007)
Proving that, once again, it knows me better than I know myself, Netflix suggested this to me. A movie about video games that actually makes a point? Sign me up. The lead character, played fantastically by Greg Timmermans, is an autistic teenager who uses video games to cope with the world. Though the world can be difficult, the game can always be used as a reliable escape.
This movie has layers, and makes a lot of great points. It examines video game culture without being either out-of-touch or overly laudatory. It's easy to get hung up on where video games should exist in our culture, and how much we should embrace them; indeed, there's a large amount of debate surrounding them at all times. This movie doesn't come down firmly on one side or the other, instead preferring to show the impact of video games and let the viewer make their own choice.
Of course, what really sets this movie apart is that it manages not only to say something, but also to be extremely captivating, extremely well-shot and well-acted, and a real pleasure to watch. This is not a dry commentary, this is a cutting-edge work that blends a compelling story with a compelling point.
Black Swan - I hate horror movies. I mean, I loathe them. But I have to respect movies that are as good as this one, no matter what genre they're in.
Léon: The Professional - One of my favorite scenes ever is found in this movie, with a very young Natalie Portman and Jean Reno playing a game of charades. The rare action movie that goes beyond revenge fantasy, this movie's not just for action fans.
North Dallas Forty - Really, this isn't of the same caliber as the rest of the movies in this list, but it is the best sports movie of all time. It's genre-defying, progressive, and fun to watch.
The Visitor - Tells a story that too frequently gets swept under the carpet, the story of immigrants and how badly they are treated. A classic think-y interpersonal drama.
Best Movie That Involved War as a Major Plot Point
The Last Emperor (1987)
I can't call it best war movie, because that will just invite discussion of what is and isn't a war movie, and you'll have a bunch of war freaks up in arms. See what I did there?
This movie feels so much newer than it is. The color is beautiful, the plot doesn't meander, and none of the filming techniques used feel outdated. The plot is also supremely unique. It's amazing to find a politician who has fallen from so high, and then has to scrabble for the rest of his life.
Of course, what really makes his story stand out is that it really isn't about him. Instead, it is the story of the end of an era that saw China ruled over by an emperor for several thousand years. It also emphasizes the fragility of the system. It's a unique overlay between a personal story, and a political story, and the parallel fortunes of both. Fantastic movie, and one that still feels very fresh almost 25 years later.
Breaker Morant - Who the hell cares about the Boer war, right? This is a great drama on following orders, in a similar vein as A Few Good Men. Made me care about a topic I was not familiar with before.
Jarhead - Probably the best war movie there is based around a post-Vietnam conflict.
The Reader - The first American film I know of that finally gets to the heart of exactly what Germany has been going through for the past 65 years, in all of its regret and cultural guilt.
This American Life: Season 1 (2007)
Probably you already know about This American Life, either by listening to the radio series, or else by reputation. Yes, I know that I am pretty much required to like it as a white, urban, liberal, college graduate, but damn it, I like it anyway. The television show is just as good as the radio series. It's poignant without being overblown, moralistic without being preachy, and wide in scope without being superficial.
There are some particularly fantastic stories, including the story of the cloned bull in the first episode. In fact, if you don't like the show after the first episode (and not everybody will), you don't need to bother still going, as the rest of the series won't change your mind. But if you do enjoy it, the whole series will please you. Make sure you check out Season 2 as well. It's just as good.
Heroes: Season 1 - One of those shows I was expecting to find hopelessly overrated, this turned out to be some of my favorite light-drama TV of all time. Sure, it was still kind of hokey sometimes, with characters that vaccillated between believable and 2-dimensional, but the story was compelling and original.
Ken Burns' Civil War- This is halfway cheating, as I watched this once a long time ago, but going back to it, I was so captivated by it this time that it was like seeing it completely anew. There is a reason that this made Ken Burns' career, and that reason is that it takes a complex and often dry topic and makes it eminently accessible.
The Office: Season 1 - This is the American edition. I watched a lot more than season 1 this year, but season 1 was probably the best. The closer Pam and Jim have gotten to each other, the less I have liked their storyline, as they get more and more bland. Characters like Andy and Dwight have mostly picked up the slack, but probably on balance, the first season is still the best.
7 Up series - Truly fascinating documentary of an extremely long-term study of several real people. This is what reality TV can and should be, instead of the mindless staged tripe that it is. Proof that TV doesn't have to have 'splosions or stupid jokes to be worth watching.
Worst/Most Overrated Movies I Saw this Year
Because I like talking about stuff I hated at least as much as talking about stuff I like, here's a quick list
Grown Ups - Claimed the shameful title of being the first movie I walked out of in theaters, ever. All of these actors can be funny sometimes, but this terribly edited collection of lame setups followed by poorly-delivered one-liners is more tragic than funny.
Encino Man - Lived down to my expectations. Just because you go into a movie thinking it's going to be awful doesn't excuse it for being awful.
Miracle - Please, Disney, never make a sports movie ever again, okay? So formulaic as to be insulting.
Reign of Fire - I watched this notoriously bad movie, hoping for camp. Instead, it was just a bad horror/action movie.
This Sporting Life - I tried really, really hard to get into this 1963 movie about a down-on-his-luck rugby player. I couldn't do it. This "classic" moved way too slowly for me, and I gave up before I finished it.
There Will Be Blood - Less of a bad movie than waaay overrated. Oil barons are evil. Does this really surprise anybody? Will America please stop fawning over Daniel Day Lewis?
Lost: Season 1 (4 episodes) - To all of you who hated the series finale, how did you not see that coming? It only took me a few episodes to figure out that they were just going to keep asking questions without resolving most of them.
Zulu - Reeked of colonialism. "Stupid black savages, coming en masse against our entrenched position! We are so noble to shoot them with our guns." I don't get why so many people put this in the discussion when talking of the best war movies.
Here's a list of everything else I watched this year, to the best of my recollection.
Arrested Development: Season 1 (2 episodes)
Beavis and Butt-head: Vol. 2
Beavis and Butt-head: Vol. 3
Before the Flying Circus
The Bicycle Thief
Black Hawk Down
Californication Season 1 (2 episodes)
The Color of Money
Coupling: Season 1 (2 episodes)
Crips and Bloods: Made in America
Deadwood Season 1
Deadwood Season 2 (6 episodes)
Death to Smoochy
Doctor Who: The City of Death
Eddie Izzard: Definite Article
The End of America
Enemy of the State
Everybody's All-American (new-to-me, as long as you don't count the time I saw it when I was 8)
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
Gods and Monsters
Gorillas in the Mist
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Hearts in Atlantis
Heaven & Earth
Heroes: Season 2
Heroes: Season 3 (incomplete)
The Hurt Locker
I, Claudius (first two episodes only)
Inside Deep Throat
The Kids Are Alright
The King of Kong (not new to me)
A League of Their Own (not new to me)
The League of Extraordinary Dancers
Lean on Me
The Man Who Fell to Earth
Mitch Hedberg: Mitch All Together
Milo and Otis (not new to me)
Never Let Me Go
No Country for Old Men
The Office (American): Season 2
The Office (American): Season 3
The Office (American): Season 4
The Office (American): Season 5
The Office (American): Season 6 (15 episodes)
The Office (British): Season 1 (1 episode)
The People vs. Larry Flynt
Please Vote For Me
Picnic at Hanging Rock
Pump Up the Volume
Rachel Getting Married
Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip
Rollins: Live in the Conversation Pit
Saints and Soldiers
A Scanner Darkly
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
A Single Man
The Social Network
Step Up 3D
The Talented Mr. Ripley
This American Life: Season 2
This Film Is Not Yet Rated
The Tillman Story
Tron: Legacy (twice!)
Up in the Air
Waco: The Rules of Engagement
War and Peace
When We Were Kings
With All Deliberate Speed
The X-Files: Season 1