Part hilarious mockumentary, part apartheid commentary, part body horror film, part Mechwarrior shoot-em-up, part alien space opera, part coming-of-age story. All modern sci-fi masterpiece. This film also features an iconic CGI shot of an alien mother ship hovering ominously over downtown Johannesburg, raises more questions than it answers (in the best way possible), and for a sleek few hours, makes us simultaneously loathe and ponder the nature of the human race.
(500) Days of Summer
Although at times it might feel like an indie twist on Annie Hall, Swingers, and When Harry Met Sally, this film is also startling new in its cliché-busting, chronology-scrambling fresh approach to the romantic comedy — passing up cheap laughs and contrivance for harsh pathos about the nature of being a twenty-something contemplating love, happiness and the future.
Up in the Air
Jason Reitman returns to direct screen goliath George Clooney in a triumphant work that manages to weave light humor seamlessly into the job crisis of 2009. The film’s scenarios of a man flying all over the country firing people are timely, while the film’s message that the man doing all the flying is missing out on being grounded is timeless. Boasting powerful supporting performances and excellent editing, this is a movie that will make you laugh, cry, and think about what matters the most.
The apocalypse is funny in this non-stop gut-buster (literally). Rather than fall into the tropes of zombie films, or zombie comedies in the wake of Shaun of the Dead, this film resurrects Woody Harrelson and latches him to three kids, all of them scavenging in a world roamed by the undead. Self-referential humor and cliché-flipping run side-by-side with one-line zingers that burst with bile-filled glee. And there’s a message about companionship and family that makes this an interesting companion to Up in the Air.
The Hurt Locker
Kathryn Bigelow created an epic war film without heroes that finally seems to get what being in the military is actually about, without glorifying the concept of war. An Army EOD unit, a bomb squad, gets a new sergeant in charge, and he’s way more willing to push the envelope to get bombs defused, even if his sanity is compromised in the process. War isn’t black and white, but a fiery grey. Yet amidst that depressing realization, the tension in this movie does not let up.
Rebooting a nerd-franchise for the rest of us, while staying true to the galactic vision of the original series, J.J. Abrams created an epic adventure film for the ages which blew the doors of this past summer’s blockbuster movies. If you haven’t seen it, or feel like Trekking-out isn’t for you, reconsider and watch this thrill ride at least once for the great acting and remarkable art direction. Lost fans will love the time loops.
A quiet, character-driven film about a man working in the near future on the far side of the moon. Two weeks from being relieved and sent home (for lack of a better phrase) shit goes wacktastic. Sam Rockwell defines the term “actor’s picture” with his multifaceted performance — sometimes against himself, but without giving too much away. It’s another film about human connection and the loneliness of existence, so adequately represented by the side of the Moon no one on Earth ever sees. A slow, nuts-and-bolts sci-fi picture amidst a year of big action films that stays with the viewer long after it’s over.
Like Zombieland, except the zombies are living, thinking and starving people and the message is decidedly not funny. Humanity has collapsed along with civilization, and Viggo Mortensen plays a father desperately seeking to protect his son and teach him skills to survive while contemplating the meaning of survival in a scorched world where meaning itself seems lost.
Forgotten at awards time, this coming-of-age film by Greg Mottola (Superbad) features Zombieland’s Jesse Eisenberg as his patented nerd-you-gotta-love in a story about a college-kid working at an amusement park during the ’80s and learning about life, love, economics and adulthood through throwback music, such as The Replacements, and performances from actors you wouldn’t expect had the chops, like Kristen Stewart.
Last but not least, Matt Damon embodies a corporate flunkie who somehow pits the FBI against his own company in a ridiculous takedown that is part spy-film, corporate satire and real-life story. Damon is fantastic, dissolving into his character, and Soderbergh uses silly music and internal monologue to create a surreal film that is instantly memorable and occasionally painful to watch. It’s yet another film stressing human connection versus losing one’s job.