THE VERDICT – Best Motion Picture: 2009

Here it is! After the long wait, and after seeing the ten nominees, here is the verdict!

# 10 was easy for e, though it did improve when I first graded it. #9 and # 8 were easy, too. #7 to # 5 were very hard to rank for me. # 4 was easy. I really had issues with # 3 and # 2, as both would do. I’m pretty sure with # 1.

You can just click on the titles for their profiles.

.

.

.

.

.

10. The Blind Side

Although it was carried by the ever-talented Sandra Bullock, it suffers from a bad screenplay that ultimately proves to be the biggest reason why I should hate it. Still, I don’t hate it. It just doesn’t belong in a “Best Picture” race.

3

Best Scene: Leigh Anne brings Michael home
Best Performance: Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy

.

.

.

9. Avatar

It’s a very accomplished epic saga that demonstrates the power of technology. There is intellect on the details, but not really on the screenplay. It has a bland lead actor and the first scenes of it just didn’t click with me, but it’s all worth the wait when you see the finished product.

Best Scene: The climactic arrival of the dragons in the man vs. Na’Vis war
Best Performance: (tie) Sigourney Weaver as Grace Augustine and (tie) Zoe Saldana as Neytiri

.

.

.

8. Precious

If we talk about the emotional impact that a movie could bring, Precious absolutely delivers it. With its great performances, it is a gritty but totally inspiring story. But in spite of this, it still has big flaws that lessened the impact. Still, It is very effective and a movie to ponder.

4

Best Scene: Mary’s confession
Best Performance: Gabourey Sidibe as Precious

.

.

.

7. A Serious Man

This might just be the famed filmmaking duo’s most mature entry in their long history of acclaimed filmography. The film has a powerful central character, a very interesting story, an edgy direction, and an all-knowing screenplay, this love-or-hate film dares us to think deeper on the human psyche that it explores. And the result is a satisfying movie watching.

4

Best Scene: Larry’s meeting with his wife about divorce and Sy Abelman
Best Performance: Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnik

.

.

.

6. District 9

It is a fresh and naturally cool entry in the science fiction genre which uses innovation in plot and filmmaking to create a tragic story of humanity lost, morality deprived, and hope found. It’s not just a creative alien movie. It talks about relationships. And with all of these, it’s executed with full knowledge and understanding.

4

Best Scene: Wikus silently asking for mercy to a soldier
Best Performance: Sharlto Copley as Wikus van de Merwe

.

.

.

5. An Education

With a expertly rendered central performance from Carey Mulligan, it takes its subject with such grace that it reaches the level of being appealing without indulging into being overly saccharine. It represents mature direction, focused screenplay and sharp performances that are always dependable.

4

Best Scene: The opening credits, celebrating school life
Best Performance: Carey Mulligan as Jenny Mellor

.

.

.

4. Up

It never failed the expectations set in a Pixar movie. It brings life and charm in its rather mature subject. It takes you to these beautifully rendered shots, exciting action, involving characters, and natural humor from its heart. It has a lot of accomplishments, but its biggest is that it was able to tug our hearts without even forcing us to be tugged.

Best Scene: Carl’s married life
Best Performance: Edward Asner (voice) as Carl Fredricksen

.

.

.

3. Up in the Air

It’s hard to create an effective drama-comedy with the film’s tough and delicate subject matter. And somehow, it does. Its take on downsizing is direct, natural, and authentic. It never sugarcoats the subject with charm, but it has the charm. The acting trio makes this dynamic movie. And it’s a film about self-analysis and soul-searching in places unexpected.

Best Scene: Natalie’s unexpected breakdown at the hotel lobby
Best Performance: George Clooney as Ryan Bingham

.

.

.

2. The Hurt Locker

It relentlessly brings us in an on-the-edge, you-are-there experience that is professionally crafted with its brave direction and a set of ferocious actors who does their career best here. It never tries to make anything beautiful, but it succeeds on the artistry exerted in this. The damage of war shown in the movie is not physical, but entirely emotional. We see psychologically scarred characters we could all relate, and it’s a film not to be missed.

Best scene: The entire first ten minutes of the movie
Best Performance: Jeremy Renner as William James

.

.

.

1. Inglourious Basterds

This was such a hard decision. I have a lot of favorites in this year’s roster. But still, Tarantino’s beguiling work, I just can’t ignore. He sets the comedic mood in this artistically excellent period piece dark comedy. He has two stories to tell, and he does both very well, the dialogue is with high intelligence but not self-indulgent, and it is with an entire ensemble of terrific actors in terrific parts with terrific lines in this terrific film. It’s the epic masterpiece of the year.

Best Scene: The whole movie premiere sequence
Best Performance: (tie) Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa and (tie) Melanie Laurent as Shoshanna Dreyfus

.

.

.

So, although I did not personally agree with the Academy, I still think the winner was deserving.

Even if I think that 2009 had a pretty impressive list of nominees for this category, the winner was very obvious already. I don’t really want to provide a personal ballot this year, for it was indeed a great year. The Hurt Locker winning was expected even if Avatar was reigning the box-office.  But still, I don’t believe it was a landslide. Here is how I though the voting went:

1. The Hurt Locker

2. Avatar

3. Precious

(margin)

4. Inglourious Basterds

5. Up in the Air

(margin)

6. Up

7. An Education

8. District 9

9. A Serious Man

(big margin)

10. The Blind Side (Seriously, who would vote for this? The support from any of the other nominees are understandable, but this? Really?)

.

So, before 2010 ends, let me just say that I wish we would have a very promising year to look forward to.

.

What’s you pick? Do you agree with the Academy, or with me, or you have a different choice?

Advertisements

Best Picture Profile: The Hurt Locker

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow

Company: Summit Entertainment

Runtime: 131 minutes

.

The film is about Sergeant First Class William James, a war soldier, who is the new leader of the Bravo Company of a bomb disposal team to replace Staff Sergeant Thompson, who was killed in an explosion while they were doing their routine job of defusing bombs. The members of the Bravo Company includes Sergeant Sanborn and Specialist Eldridge.

As they start their routine of disposing bombs planted all over the city of Baghdad, James started to do things that serve his adrenaline rush but ultimately distracts the mission for the team. Even then, he still does his job successfully. However, Sanborn and Eldridge thinks that he is careless and that he may cause their deaths. Especially complaining about his attitude is Sanborn, who just wants do the job straight and wants everything to be safe. Sanborn and James form a tension between them, with Eldridge on the neutral side.

The film focuses on the several missions that the company do in the course of more or less, thirty days. In the end, James finds himself to be looking for his adrenaline-filled life in Baghdad, and as he does, he returns to his job, now serving in the Delta company for 365 days.

The screenplay is all-around great. The plot is character-driven, and that, for me, is the biggest challenge that it was able to live up on. It focuses not on a plot line with the conventional plot-driven stories. What we see here is life. We are being driven into this whole two-hour movie with events in the lives of these soldiers on a 3o-day basis. There is a repetitive structure used by the film which always fascinates me, because even if they are all bomb defusing, each of those scenes are so different. Also, it maintains a cohesive flow of events that you can easily follow a story. Also, it thrills me having the characters lead because the characters themselves are filled with meat in them. These are the people who, more or less, we will see when we are there.

The screenplay is rich in character and the characters are filled with reality. We don’t just see soldiers, we see normal people who have their own lives before they were sent in his place. For example, Sanborn’s character. He seems to be the most aggressive in the team in terms of the reaction to James’ actions in their job. But through its subtle but ultimately direct tackling of the character, we understand it because he doesn’t want to be there. He wants to live normally with a child and with a wife. He’s afraid to die without even doing that, without having the taste of having your own family. He may be verbally harsh at times, but because he is determined to live. We understand that because of the rich characterization that it does to its three main characters.

Take Eldridge’s character. He seems to be the one in the middle of them. In a way, he is the softer spot of the trio. But he’s no weak man. He is gentle enough that we care for him because he seems to be the one to care for the both of them. He seems to be very dependent to others when they do their job, but that is not a sign of his weakness. That is his way of defending himself from the danger that he knows is near him. He does his best to do his job. But he’s afraid to do that because he’s afraid of losing his life or other’s life. Actually, Eldridge is the only character in the trio that is full of characteristic hints. There’ s no much exposition for him, but he is given the right dialogue, and he’s got full character development.

Now, take James’ character. In two words, you can make a stereotype out of him: adrenaline junkie. But actually, James is more than that. He is unstable, and his family life is actually a big suffering for him. His job is his way of escaping that. He wants to excite himself by doing things that could almost kill him because he doesn’t have anything to lose. He considers marriage to be unpleasant, as it shows when he placed his wedding ring in the box of stuff that almost killed him. It could be funny for the two, and it could be his way to make them laugh, but he is serious about it. He almost think that it is mistake. When he returns home, it is simply painful for him to live that life. He wants to open up what is inside him to release some tension, but his ex-wife ignores it. He cannot stand to suppress his emotions, so he uses his job as a way to release all of it. In the end, I find his actions justified by the events.

One more thing about the screenplay is that it was able to create a smooth flowing story with all those pieces of days that the characters went through. None of the events presented move the plot, but it develops a lot in the characters. The events go naturally, but each one makes a difference on the characters, and that is jut great.

The direction is note-perfect. Its handling of the subject, given the character-driven plot it has, was magnificent. The direction just brings you in there because of its way of presenting the setting. We have some very interesting details that, although may seem useless at first, add up to the creation of the atmosphere in the film. It is full of intellect, but it never forgets to involve us in this rough trip. It has the guts to present us these scenes in a very tense film that sometimes, the tension is just unbearable. Take the first scenes as examples. It starts immediately on the job. We see shots of the people running, the point-of-view of the robot they used, the people watching, the panicking soldiers, and all of these are filled with paranoia. And after all of these, we are now immersed in the whole setting. We now had a glimpse of this world in a very few minutes. And those were not just expository scenes. It already progresses the plot.

Aside from that, what really fascinated me is on how the direction used very minute details to serve the film’s progressive plot. We see a cat with a sprained leg. What does it really matter? Does it connect to the plot? In a sense, no. But through the work enforced in these characters through the masterful direction, that single shot serves a big metaphor in the lives of these characters. And I really do not want to make an issue about gender, as it doesn’t really matter to talk about, but could you really imagine a woman direct this hell of a motion picture? This is not a sexist statement, or question, but with all these masculinity in it, in terms of the characters and the plot, it’s just so amazing.

The cinematography is intensely creative. The whole film looks raw. It immerses you into a bomb-filled Baghdad with all these shots that are just so overwhelming to see. The feeling is like it is going to pop in your eyes, that the events feel so like that you can be there. What struck me the most in terms of comparison with other movies because some movies uses 3-D to evoke a sense of reality, and yet, this 2-D film feels much more authentic than those films. It doesn’t use fake imagery or conventional shots. As a matter of fact, there are only a handful of steady shots, for they always move. But those hand-held cameras never gets irritating, unlike many recent films that tends to over-use it. Not this. It feels like a visceral cinematography without forgetting the intellect. It just holds your breath and never lets go of it.

The editing is masterful. It was able to put these shots all in these one rough ride but definitely smooth-flowing story. All of these shots are so great, but to edit all of these to make a 2 hour film must be a horror. The different perspectives taken in the bomb disposal scenes are so wonderfully compressed into a scene that I, as an amateur filmmaker, cannot really grasp the intelligence behind it. It can make a dramatic situation in an instant, then thrilling at the next, but the technique simply goes as genuine as a film can get. But, what about those slow shots of very small details? The rising rocks, the shaking cars, a soldier slowly flying, the slow fall of the bullet, where did it all come from? Of course, it would be entirely insignificant, but with those surprisingly cliche-free slow motion scenes, we see these details that build up this world. It’s just great, really great.

The sound is remarkable. It wasn’t just because of the gunshots, or the bomb explosions, it’s really because of the specifications embedded into this storytelling marvel. Those robot scenes at the start are filled with sound creativity that the sound clings in your ears. And when the sound reaches its peak of usage in the film, the tension it creates is just unbearable and you almost get a heart attack in that. And what adds up to the sensation of it is that when the bomb exploded, it goes for a quiet moment while we witness the effects of the explosion. We cannot fully hear the loud explosion, but we see hear the rise of the rocks, the shaking of the car, and then later, we just hear the real explosion. It’s really a terrific job.

The music is powerful. It’s not a musical score that I would like to listen for luxury, as it is not so delicious to hear, but when you place is it in the film, it is a perfect fit for it. It creates hopelessness, tension, peril, everything that the movie needs. I’m not saying that it’ unremarkable, I just don’t really have the words to say about this perfectly fitted musical score for this film. Rest assured, it’s one of the best of the year.

The acting is intense, just like the movie.

We have all of these wonderful cameos from great actors – Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse – all creating vivid characters that never lets their roles be limited to their small times. Each create a living human being and serves as foundations of this war den.

Brian Geraghty provides a very strong performance as Eldridge. He seems to be the one who always stops Sanborn and James when they want to fight. It’s him that makes the remarks of worry. It’s him that always seem to be having the on-the-job attitude like, he’s very obedient and nice. And it’s all played well by Geraghty. He’s the character with the least revealed details, but he makes us understand the character’s motivations in the film. Maybe, way back home, he was a momma’s boy, if not a rich momma’s boy. It’s not directly mentioned in the film, and I somewhat doubt my conclusion about him, but he performs Eldridge with such mixture of gentleness and attention that he gives us a backstory without making it all obvious.

Anthony Mackie equates the level of achievement that Geraghty was able to attain. He’s a tough guy, but as what I have said a while ago, it is because of his will to live. But he’s more than that. He’s approachable when you don’t mess with him. Mackie makes Sanborn a character that you could understand simply because he’s more than a tough guy. He’s tough because he needs to be and his job demands him to be tough. He can laugh because something is funny, he’s not a stone. And he knows so much about it that he doesn’t want things to be screwed up when they do their job. He wants a life far away from the kill zone. And what struck me the most in Mackie’s performance is his final scene, expressing his intense vulnerability. He doesn’t want to die there, and he knows that every time they go out for a mission, it’s a gamble. He understands it, and the tears running out in his eyes are not fake. It’s a surreal moment, for he started baring the things that he have been hiding for the whole film. It’s a fantastic turn for him.

Jeremy Renner is a ticking time bomb of emotions. His performance is so restrained that cannot simply get an Oscar clip in it. It is an embodiment of a role of a person demented by the war. He’s not a newbie in this. He seems very relaxed, and when he does his job, he almost seems to be so comfortable with it. He’s a damaged soul, a victim of the war. And he has been loaded with adrenaline. He’s not necessarily happy about that, but he’s better in the working ground than to be stuck in his house back home which simply depresses him. He needs to release the emotional tensions inside him tat he does his job, because at home, nobody really cares for him. But it is no way a showy performance. It’s mostly a physical performance, but Renner never forgets the emotional and psychological baggage his character carries. His performance is the perfect understatement of a “trapped person doing what he doesn’t want to do to do what he really wants to do.” It’s a very complicated character in paper, but Renner attacks the character with confidence and mastery that he knows the tics of his character, making his performance so unpredictable. I guess he didn’t get a lot of wins last year because of how subtle his work here is. Even then, he does the unimaginable by making us care to this very complex character.

The whole film is a great piece of morality study. It’s not in any way preachy, nor it never tried to show the horrors of war in your face. ht e move lets us use our intellect to see these characters, and there, we see where the real damage of war is. The damage is not always on what we see, it’s more on what we feel to those involved. The film never makes us feel stupid for it to preach us, but it exposes to us what is happening and how does people react to it, in the most realistic way. It’s an impressive work.

For this, the movie gets:

What are your thoughts, dear reader?

Note: Results will be posted later this day. 🙂

Best Picture Profile: Avatar

Directed by: James Cameron

Company: 20th Century Fox

Runtime: 162 minutes

.

The film is about Jake Sully, a war paraplegic, who substituted his twin brother in his mission to go to Pandora, a beautiful planet under observations by scientists, after his brother died. The head scientist Grace Augustine finds him as an unnecessary personnel in the research center. Even then, he was provided his own avatar, a body that he uses to freely go inside the world of Pandora without the need of any gas mask. After he was transferred mentally to his avatar, they went to the forest to go on biological research. There, he was chased by a wild animal, causing his separation from the group.

As he makes his way in exploring the jungle and, possibly, in getting out of it, he was almost killed by wild animals. Fortunately, he was saved by a female Na’Vi named Neytiri. Na’Vi’s are the natives of Pandora. She almost rejects him, but as the appearance of portents from Eywa, and as those portents approached him, she knew he is someone who she should not disregard. For this, she takes him to their clan. The clan is initially violent to his presence, especially the clan chief Eytukan, but as she announces that Eywa wants to say something about him, her mother tasks her to teach him their way of living.

Colonel Quaritch, the head of the Sec-Ops, the military force in Pandora, tasks Jake to gather information about the Na’Vis, in exchange of the hope that they will return Jake’s legs to normal. Grace is alarmed about that, and she moves her team into a farther place. In the meanwhile, Jake finds herself falling in love with Neytiri. As he was initiated to the tribe, he suddenly changes loyalties when he defended the Na’Vis by destroying the camera that was attached to the bulldozer used to destroy the forest, especially the Hometree, where underneath it, the biggest deposit of unobtanium is found, a mineral that they have been searching, in the first place.

Grace tries to defend the Hometree, as it serves as a habitat for the Na’Vis. Now, they have been given an hour to convince the Na’Vis to evacuate. When he admits to the tribe that he is on  a mission, Neytiri is devastated and the tribe holds Jake and Grace as captives. Suddenly, Quaritch started to destroy the Hometree. Grace and Jake are then freed by the tribesmen, but they were unexpectedly unplugged from their avatars. Trudy, a pilot who immensely hates Quaritch’s approach to the subject, helps them to go to an avatar link post so they could continue living their avatars. In their way to go out of the headquarters, Grace was shot and experiences intense bleeding.

Jake goes back to the tribe and pleads that Grace be healed by their rituals. They tried to heal her, but she died afterwards. He leads the clan in joining other clans to fight back to the humans, but even if they were still fighting, lives, Na’Vis or humans, were sacrificed in the fight, including the new clan chief and Trudy. Suddenly, Pandoran wildlife joins the fight and they eventually conquered the humans. Even then, Quaritch does his final job: to kill Jake the human being in order to also kill Jake the avatar.

The film is a massive work, and I can see that, and after all those years, what we have here is a very worthy product of high-class filmmaking.

The direction is a success, to say the least. James Cameron, known for directing action-packed epics, including my all-time favorite Titanic, is no alien in this territory. Although I prefer Titanic that this, I would not make any comparison game here. Cameron simply captures the scope of the story. The film is undeniably set on an epic scale, and he simply doesn’t disappoint. Here is a world very different from us, and for him to create this world unseen before in his whole imagination is just a marvel to watch. As Jake is the central character of the film, we see it in his eyes. And as he is amazed by the spectacle of the planet, so we are. We see all this amazement, and yet, Cameron never forgets that he is telling a personal story.

Also, what I really like about this film is that it doesn’t just go for the visual treat, but he uses all of these CGI to create an atmosphere of freedom since Jake himself can already walk here. Cameron takes us just there in that place with his storytelling mastery and skillful craftsmanship that you just hold your breath anytime there is something new introduced from the planet. And as he wanders in the forest, with or without the presence of Neytiri, the pacing that the direction uses in order for us to understand the flow of the story is perfectly pitched with such understatement about communication. Not just his communication with Grace or Neytiri or anybody else. It is his connection with Pandora that fascinates us the most. That’s why I would like to think of the theme song “I See You” as Jake’s love song not actually to Neytiri, but to Pandora.

The composition used in the action scenes in terms of the vastness used by the direction simply puts us on-the-edge and wanting for the next scene to come. Although the story has been heard for quite some time, it’s the execution that makes Avatar an extraordinary motion picture.

With all the praises that I have said about it, it’s also the direction that caused me to feel indifferent to the first scenes. Those dramatic scenes supposedly provide the foundation in Jake’s story, but I don’t know where did the dullness came from. But I feel that the direction here is somewhat sloppy and, well, boring. Even if I liked the direction as a whole, the tasteless introduction affects my over-all view about it. Still, good and worthy.

The screenplay is average. What would you expect from this? Although this is not a bad screenplay, as others may have claimed, but I also think that there is not much effort exerted to it. It has some catchy lines, especially from Grace, but it doesn’t sum up to something definitely strong. Avatar sadly goes for the visuals and sometimes neglects the intellect that it should have, screenplay-wise. Also, even if there are character developments, they are sadly too obvious for viewers to really use their intellect in watching. It goes for the easy and safe, and I just wanted to see more from it.

The cinematography is excellent. It was able to grasp the world. The screenplay was indeed vital in placing us in the world. There are several sweeping shots that are definitely creating this massive reality where the movie is going to take place. My favorite shot is when the dragons started to fly. That single scene was shot, or rather taken, with such intelligence that it is just stunning to experience. I haven’t seen the film in 3-D, but seeing this at home still makes me feel that I’m there. The cinematography catches the senses in order to make it real and majestic and soaring.

The editing is also full of brilliance. In the 2 1/2 hour length that it uses, I could definitely say that some movie just waste that, and more so, epic movies with that length mostly uses that very long time  for us to see a travelogue. Not here, as the editing here always create an action-packed environment that suits fine with its genre. The challenge that the editing raises is to make all these details and shots and scenes cohesive for us to really get a story that we would definitely care for. The editing gets the best of the action scenes, which, definitely, are the film’s biggest assets. Of course, the romantic scenes are not to be ignored, as they were delivered with gentleness and harmony that clings to us. The editing makes this whole adventure a cohesive story and tight enough for it not to be considered lousy.

The sound is an accomplishment. We don’t know this world, we don’t have any idea about this world. And when we hear things in it, it simply gives us a question – where did that came from? Every sound in the wilderness expresses creativity and originality. The sound of the closing leaves, the sound of the dragons, it’s all constructed and put together to go into our sense of hearing for us to be brought to the world, because one of the success of this film is on how intelligently did it put us to that place with the use of the senses of sight and hearing. Wonderful job, really.

The music is epic. It not only makes the whole planet seem big or the whole romance seem romantic or the whole action seem exciting, but it provides Jake’s feeling of amazement in the planet. Although not fully original on my perspective, as I can hear traces of Titanic here, but anyway, it serves as a vessel of emotions efficiently, as musical scores should. It’s not just a show-off of the big orchestral music James Horner can compose, it evokes pathos not only to the main character, but to the whole population of the Na’Vis. All of them are victims, and they can fight back, and they will. But we also get the feeling of hopelessness. And hope. The  theme song was quite good, and even if I do not really care much about it, it is actually good. And for that, even if I don’t think the music is anywhere my favorite, I believe it helps a lot in the movie’s effectiveness as an epic movie.

The visual effects . . . . . what else could I say? Even if you love the film or not, you cannot deny how great the visual effects were. It just pops into your eyes and never lets go of that for the rest of it, making this experience also an intelligent exercise of the craftsmanship that filmmakers can do. It is also very imaginative and vibrant. There are a lot of inspirations from our world, of course. But when you look at it, it is just so fresh and so unseen that it’s not really questionable why did it get so many awards for that. The visual effects here is a milestone in filmmaking history, just as Titanic was.

The art direction was conceptualized with high knowledge and deep understanding of science. What I am going to comment about is the headquarters because the rest are CGI. Some sci-fi films do laboratories or control rooms to pretend that the place was already in high technology. It’s really laughable to see actors pretend to use high-tech gadgets when you know that it’s just false backdrops and false screens. But, hey, not Avatar. You really feel that you’re in a real scientific headquarters, you just do not see fake rooms filled with buttons or controls or floating screens, you believe it is real, that maybe, it is real. It brought us to the reality that we should face in the movie that, basically, here is where we are. As human beings, we should not immediately immerse ourselves with the beauty of the planet. The headquarters serve as a foundation for the story, as here is where it all started. Here is where Jake’s discovery of Neytiri and Pandora starts. It feels authentic, and although the art direction only consumes a small amount of time in the film, it is still one hell of a work.

The acting ranges from bland to really good.

Sigourney Weaver proves that she is a great actress. With her rough of a tough scientist, she basically gets the character. She doesn’t try to make any false impressions because she plays a very direct character. I love the sass in her character that is very vital in the creation of this woman. She is almost in a man’s world, but she won’t let them get her. She’s as sturdy as a rock, and she would only do the right thing. She has got the determination in her, but she’s no heartless bitch. She cares for the Na’Vis, and she tries to make it clear to the guys in her team. They may laugh at her character, but her stand on the issue won’t be shaken. She knows what is right, and she would never let other people to force her to do something wrong. Although far from a very dramatic performance, Weaver makes profound acting choices that makes her an asset of this film.

Stephen Lang is effective as Colonel Quaritch. I hate him, and it’s all because of Lang’s believable villainous acts. He’s almost one-dimensional, and that’s the screenplay’s fault, but who cares? His acts are explainable as they are acts of selfishness. His only job is to serve as the villain of the story because the film would really lead to nowhere. And actually, he does it. He wasn’t able to do anything other than to be aggressive, but it’s fine. Too bad he wasn’t give the chance to have anything in him, but rest assured, he makes a perfectly delicious villain.

Zoe Saldana is endearing as Neytiri. Amidst all of the tension around her and the fact that she is tough because she needs to be, her eyes sheds a glimpse of gentleness in her. Her performance is filled with soul and gives a beguiling portrait of a strong woman who doesn’t anything but love. She’s a very humble character, actually, and yet, she doesn’t feel like a loser. She’s someone we can depend for. She provides the film’s emotional core, as she is, in fact, the film’s biggest victim. She fights back, but the forces are stronger than her, and she almost loses her strength, but she believes in herself that she could save herself, Jake, the Na’Vis, and the planet Pandora. It’s really a magnificent turn from her.

Sam Worthington is bland. And boring. And dull. I’m sorry, but he almost fails the movie for me. He doesn’t seem to be enthusiastic in acting his character. While Saldana’s character represent the heart of the film, it’s Worthington’s Jake that carries the film all throughout. We see things with his eyes. And while he is somewhat good when he is in his avatar since he can do things naturally, his paraplegic Jake raises the bigger challenge as an actor and, unfortunately, he was dull. His approach to Jake is so boring that you just want to skip the paraplegic Jake scenes for us to see the avatar Jake. He almost killed the movie for me. I mean, at least, show some effort, man! He reads his lines, but none of them is really inspired line reading. Come on. He somewhat damages the movie for me. At least, he wasn’t the only thing in this film.

The film was a magical experience. It takes you to somewhere we do not know, but it always places us in the middle of it. It is a testament of what movies can really do. It pushes the envelope of filmmaking into a higher level. Unfortunately, an average script and bland lead actor lessens the movie, for me.

For this, the movie gets:

What are your thoughts, dear reader?

Best Picture Profile: Precious

Directed by: Lee Daniels

Company: Lionsgate / Lee Daniels Entertainment

Runtime: 109 minutes

.

The film is about Clareece “Precious” Jones, an obese sixteen years old junior high school in Harlem that is on her second pregnancy to her father. She basically cannot read or write, at least intelligently. Even then, she was able to reach junior high school. When a school officer talks to her about her second pregnancy, she hears of the alternative learning program called “Each One, Teach One”. She doesn’t funny understand the concept of it, but she knows it could help her.

However, her terrifying and abusive mother Mary disapproves her plan to attend the school, as she believes that she is a useless fat bitch, and what she only needs to do is to go to the welfare. She experiences several abuse from her, but that never stops her from going there, as she has a dream.

In attending the class, she meets her lesbian teacher, Ms. Rain. She is instantly inspired by Ms. Rain and sees her as a role model that she could be to obtain her dreams. Here, she was able to express her dreams for her and for her child. But even then, her mother just hates her.

She gives birth to her child, and the whole class are happy for her. She goes home, but Mary still rejects her and threatens to kill her. As she wants to keep her child safe, she goes to Ms. Rain and lives there. She soon finds out that she is HIV positive, but Ms. Rain never stops caring for her.

As the climax of the film ensues, Mary now meets with Precious and Ms. Weiss, a social worker that has been Precious for almost a year already.  She is also the first one to discover the incest that happened to Precious and her father, causing her the two children that she bore. Mary wants to get her family back, but it is up to Precious whether she would give in to her or not, as she already learned how to live far from her mother.

I agree that this film is an emotional powerhouse, but not necessarily flawless, though.

The direction is full of ups and downs, mostly ups, but the downs are sometimes more memorable than the ups. The direction goes for over, as if it is obviously directed by someone. The fantasy scenes alone represent the weakness of the film, as the direction adds several unnecessary details that just distract the flow of this. Of course, the intentions are good – for us to see what Precious aspires, and for us to see a wider range of acting from Sidibe. But they are so noisy and stylized that you just want to skip those parts. One thing that I don’t like in a film is overdirection because it is just irritating to see.

But this doesn’t mean that I hated the direction. Its choice to go over is a misstep but it is already forgivable when we already go to the real dramatic scenes. Here, the direction gets the raw acting that it could get, particularly from Mo’Nique and Sidibe. It is when the direction really recovers from its previous faults. It brings us there, in Precious’ position. Some scenes are just emotionally strangling for me because the direction was able to put Mary into dominance, and with the perfectly decorated house of them, you feel confinement. There is emotional claustrophobia going on with Precious, and every time she’s in the house, she’s in danger. And the direction strongly holds that.

Also, the direction gives a sense of freedom in development as Precious starts to go into class. There is a striking difference when she first entered class and the preceding classes. It’s on how the direction handles those scenes that there is progress in her on her way to freedom. The film is emotionally dark, and the realities that the film handled by the direction is mostly hard to look at, but it’s all worth it when the film ends, thanks for the very good direction. Too bad it was damaged by those fantasy scenes, though.

The screenplay is not necessarily perfect, but I can’t deny that it is very emotionally rich and textured. The composition of Precious’ character through the words that she says are hard to watch and listen, as they are hints to what really happened to her life, but it does give hope for us who have seen it and makes us thankful for the life that we had. Precious is not manipulative or preachy in terms of its way of presenting the title character. The lead has flaws: she is aggressive, she has a foul mouth, she is a loser. But all of these makes her real.

It doesn’t even try to make Precious a saint. She’s presented as a victim, but a victim that is so full of unsympathetic characteristics that, if not handled well by the screenplay, we may hate her. But no, the screenplay uses her to present the effects of abuse and her surroundings. With these, we care for her, and we want her to have a better life, as she wants a better life for her children, too.

Also, the screenplay uses several stereotypes to create characters that we see everyday, and characters that are real. The slutty chick, the illegal immigrant, the strong-willed teacher – of course, we have seen this before. But these people are here for a cause. They are not just placed to fill the space with actors, they are used to create a world, a world that Precious lives in, a world that we can live in. And also, I would like to comment those lines that comes out from Mary. They are all lines filled with meat in it, filled with nuance that she just controls us and never lets go of it.

However, I also found the flaw of the screenplay in Mary. She’s the abusive mom, and she has got a lot of terrific lines to deliver, and I lie those lines. And that’s the problem for me. Mary’s character is just a set of line deliveries. Mo’Nique was terrific, but the writing frequently lets her character down to a stereotype that you just hate. Of course, I felt something for her, I hated her. But as Mo’Nique tries to make a living character with full dedication with her scenes, the screenplay makes her two-dimensional. I’m sorry, but that’s how I see it.

The cinematography uses handheld cameras at times, with those frequent fast zooms, and I like that, most of the time. It’s like being there, and it creates the tension in Precious, but for a few scenes, it gets a bit distracting. Anyway, it’s forgivable because I like how the cameras were used here.

The editing is a success. It’s not the editing’s fault that we have those silly fantasy scenes, but looking at it alone, it’s really accomplished, editing-wise. Also, in the conversation and confrontation scenes, the editing makes it a thrill to watch. The editing knows it is an actors’ movie, and it embraces that by using several cuts for us to see the actors’ characterization of the roles. I like that.

The music is okay, if again, distracting. There some scenes that I wish that there were no more music or at least, a better music. The movie uses a lot of songs that most of the time, diverts our attention from the scene to the music itself.

And amidst all those imperfections, we have the stellar powerhouse cast of this film.

Mariah Carey and Paula Patton provide very strong performances as Ms. Rain and Ms. Weiss, respectively. Patton brandishes her acting skills to create a cool, smart, and respectable character. She is an image of authority, but also of kindred, and with her gentle face, she was able to do just that. She has a soft physical appearance, but there is the strong woman in her. The backstory in her character is very well-represented in her dramatic scenes. She lives up to the intensity that she faces because of Precious.

Meanwhile, Carey is surprisingly remarkable in her shorter role as Ms. Weiss. In her few scenes before the climax of the film, she creates a solid foundation in her character. She is a trustworthy woman that is tough when needed, but definitely approachable. The voice sticks in me, and I love how she tries to suppress the overpowering presence of Mo’Nique in the confrontation scene. She holds her grip firmly and she knows that it’s Mary’s fault that Precious had all of her problems, but she can’t stand the fact that she was, in a way, a victim of circumstances. She is unstable and she cannot take it. But she won’t let herself be affected by Mary’s hypocrisy. It’s a terrific performance from Carey.

Mo’Nique gives a perfectly shattering performance. She is not simply a bad momma. As what I have said a while ago, she was, in a way, a victim of circumstances. She cannot take it seeing her man who is supposed to make love to her is making love to her daughter. It devastates her character, and I believe, she wouldn’t have abused Precious if not because of that. But in the start of the film, she appears to be normal. But whenever she attacks and shouts and verbally assaults Precious, she makes us know that she doesn’t do that by free will, she does it because she is already emotional unstable and she doesn’t have the capacity to carry that dilemma on her. She registers so much on her character in those scenes which are ultimately elemental to the film.

She doesn’t want Precious to learn because she doesn’t believe that she’s ever going to learn even something. But the fact is, she doesn’t want Precious to be better. It’s her sort of revenge to her because of the jealousy that had been implanted on her. But she’s not just a destructive monster. She gives herself the time to be the one that she wants to be – to be happy. She believes in herself, and she knows she is not satisfied by living that life, so she makes temporary escapes in her life by dancing in front of the television with tight clothes, by masturbating, by hitting Precious.

All of this somewhat makes her a character, but Mo’Nique does her best to create something full. In every scene that she is in, she exerts dedication, but the result looks effortlessly masterful. While she is certainly not my favorite supporting actress of the year, she has got to be one of the best acted scenes this year. It’s her confession that makes me forget all those screenplay faults that her character had undergone. In here, she basically bares it all and simply gives the devastating truth to explain all of this. It’s a long speech to say, but Mo’Nique makes it thrilling to watch as Mary slowly loses her hold to reality to show us what’s really inside for the longest time. That scene is, for me, the best scene of the film, the one that sticks in my mind.

Gabourey Sidibe is simply wonderful as the title character. She is basically emotionally naked in this movie. I cannot see and shades of inexperience, and I love how she handles her scene of abuse. Instead of going over-the-top, she instead uses very subtle acting to make her character believable and real. Every look, every word that she says, all of it make a character.

Even if she repeatedly undergoes severe drama, she never lets her guard down and, instead, makes a three-dimensional character in those scene. Maybe that’s why the movie had those distracting fantasy scenes. It’s a showcase of the range that Sidibe has. She definitely does not give a one-note performance with the drama alone, but those fantasy scenes were a bit help to create Precious as a natural human being, and not just a victim.

She’s a tough person to start and an unpredictable person. When she’s agitated, she fights back. All of this just makes her character more interesting because in all of the characterizations that she does and establishes in the first parts of the movie – that face that always suggest loneliness mixed with aggressiveness, that slow walk that she does, those words that she almost eats up – these make Precious a person we would want to know more. And thanks to her, she was able to do that.

I could easily say that this is one of the most powerful movies of 2009, emotionally. This is a grim, but definitely inspiring film to witness, but the film also took missteps that annoyed me. It’s an astonishing, but definitely flawed film.

For this, the movie gets:

4

What are your thoughts, dear reader?

Best Picture Profile: Up

Directed by: Pete Docter and Bob Petersen

Company: Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios

Runtime: 96 minutes

.

The film is about Carl Fredricksen, an aged man in the brink of a dilemma as his ever-caring and adventurous wife just died. They plan to go to Paradise Falls while they are still young, but unfortunately, he had lost his will to go there when she died. He leads a lonely and somewhat bitter life after that, as he thinks the only reason of his life is already gone. He is also faced by the fact that construction owners want to buy his lot because he is the only one making an interference in the construction happening in the surroundings of his house. But even if the offer is high, he will always say no, as it is a treasure for him and his wife

An accident caused him to be put into court, and was suggested to go to a home for the aged. He had no other choice, even though it was painful for him to leave the house. All he has to do is to spend his time waiting for the people from the orphanage to pick him up.

While on his way to total isolation, he meets a pushy but definitely cute and optimistic scout, Russell. He wants to do something for Carl, as he already wants to complete the badges he need to have s a scout, and he would get the award by assisting the elderly. He tries to make Russell go away, but he’s too pushy for him. Carl suddenly tricks him to go away, and so he did.

As the men from the orphanage already came to pick him up, he releases thousands (or even millions) of balloons from his house, making his house fly. Now, he is now set to go to his destination – Paradise Falls. He loves the feeling of solitude up in the air. But he hears one knock from the door. There is Russell in the porch! Of course, he had no other choice but lo let him in. His grumpiness overcome the child’s natural curiosity at times, but he knows it wasn’t really a bad thing at all.

As they travel, a thunderstorm turns their smooth ride into something that almost killed them. As they wake up, they are already almost there. Here, another problem rises, as they were able to get out of the house, they cannot get into it, leaving the house carried by them as they walk to Paradise Falls. In their journey, they meet Kevin, a rare bird, Dug, a talking dog, and Charles Muntz, Carl’s favorite explorer. However, sooner he finds out that his favorite explorer could be the one that could kill him.

The direction is intelligent, so to speak. The whole movie is a movie about an adventure that could be rooted since Carl’s childhood, and the direction was able to play with that with a pacing that is very well-decided. It didn’t try to rush things, but also, it never slows down to a point that it bores you. Even if the film is about to give us comedic scenes, the direction still makes it on-the-edge, thus enhancing the excitement that we should all feel about this man’s story. The whole film is his adventure, and the directors choose to make every inspired choice in the story’s movement by attacking the film’s gut wrenching thrilling scenes with mastery.

In almost every animated film that I know, there is at least an exciting part. Up has a lot of them, but whenever you watch them, you know you are not just watching an action scene done as it is, but there is a big amount of creativity in each thrilling scene that it does feel that it is special. I also feel that in their scenes featuring the wilderness. Others may argue that some scenes in the forest are just a showcase of the animators’ prowess in making something beautiful to look at, but looking deeper into it, it is the directors’ way of moving the story forward without rushing the proceedings. It was able to compress the exposition of the setting and the development of the plot in those scenes that no single minute is wasted.

Above all of these is the direction’s way of handling the dramatic scenes. Those scenes were handled with subtlety and honesty that the emotional scenes of the film, for me, are the film’s best scenes. They move so gracefully, and these are the scenes where the film takes its time to have our own reflection on the character’s back story which plays a very vital role in the success of the film, and if you did not understand it, you will not be able to make any sense on Carl’s motives. The drama is still on-the-edge, and the excitement comes from the reality in these scenes. Those scenes did not involve fairies, or princes, we see an old couple. You can get the best dramatic scenes from reality, and the direction, with the help of the screenplay, makes it all real and we can simply identify to character for a very short period of time. It’s like ‘oh, I know you well.’ The film, as an adventure, lives up to the genre with its relentlessly gripping thriller.

The screenplay is fantastic. What makes me really enthusiastic about it is that it was mature. Mature enough to make me believe and root for its wonderfully written characters, mature enough to be able to pull off tears because of mature problems, mature enough for its issues concerning aging and life acceptable to younger audiences, and mature enough for me to make me care for it as a serious movie that achieves this certain height of emotional complexity that live action movies do.

First of all, the story itself is not about a child, or even child at heart. Here is an old man experiencing life crisis. We see his gradual separation from the happiness of his life because of the death of his wife. And it’s a serious part of his life. Of course, I liked how the screenplay lightened it up with some laughs which are intelligently placed and, undeniably, far from offending. It doesn’t make jokes about the wife’s death or his emotional condition, and the thing is, it doesn’t make jokes. The humor of the film lies on Carl’s way of reacting to the situation. It is his change of attitude from being cheerful to being grumpy and on how he faced the people around him with bitterness that makes it funny.

But for the rest of the movie, the screenplay’s strength flourishes with the exchange of words between Carl and Russell. Carl thinks Russell is just an addition to the problem, but Russell doesn’t know that. Russell sees everything as an adventure, something to explore. Their views about life greatly differ, but it is on their interaction that makes this film certainly remarkable. It gives us a very good question – how will two people of very different views about life and even age stay together for days if they are alone together? And it doesn’t answer it directly. Instead, we are able to listen to the various exchange of words between the two.

Their isolation marks Carl’s biggest character development. He realizes that he cannot do it without Russell. Russell gives the flavor in this point in his life. And what does he do? He reaches to another human being. That’s the first step that he takes as this man to make a connection. He knows he cannot live without connections right from that part. And when he encounters these several animals that befriended him, it adds up to his realization of the fact that he simply cannot be alone. I don’t know if I said it all well, but what we have here is an emotionally rich screenplay charged with the energy and reality to make a very effective adventure movie with a heart.

The cinematography, or on how the scenes were captured, were just stunning o see. It offers a vivid perspective on how we see Carl’s life. The tone of the color used in the scenes, especially in the opening scenes, are brilliant. It’s the happiest and the “homiest” scenes of the film. Those scenes gives a sense of nostalgia and age. We see how he gets old, and the shots perfectly capture the feeling of it. Alas, some of the more memorable shots come when the adventure starts. The shot of the house flying in the level of the clouds is an image to remember. When we see the Paradise Falls for the first time, and for the last time, just sticks into our memories. It’s a beautifully rendered film, in terms of the visual part. The lush blending of colors are all played out well.

The editing is close to perfection. The editor knows that there are scenes that could be short, but the impact wouldn’t be lessened. For example, the simple scene where Carl’s wife fixes his tie. In that very short scene, we see a passage of time in that. The film didn’t rely on effective but totally over-used fades as a sign for transition. It avoided the clichés, and the film’s most remarkable achievement in terms of editing is the montage of Carl and his wife. It’s simply a well-put montage with the genius if the editors put to it. The sound is very good. It was able to make the wilderness and the adventure more “real”. Just take a look at Dug’s leash as an example. The language change was continuous as Russell switches it continuously, and it’s all genius.

The musical score is the year’s best, undoubtedly. Michael Giacchino was able to pull off such melodious and thrilling pieces of music for the film that the music was a character in the movie itself. The music is the ‘someone’ who is with Carl even if he is alone. It is his persona, the music. The music in the film creates the epic feeling suited for it. The piece “Married Life” is the zenith of the music’s brilliance. I just seconds, it was able to immediately change moods and immerse us into different kinds of emotions. It’s arguably the single best written piece of instrumental in years. “Carl Goes Up”, the one played in the freeing of the balloons, did not only play in harmony with the epic freeing of the balloons, but it is in fact Carl’s freeing of his soul. “Stuff We Did” cannot stop from making me cry, as it just plucks your heartstrings so powerfully that if you’re not going to cry to it, you’re a stone.

Giacchino proves to us the power of music in films. He proves to us through his wonderful composition that music is indeed one of a movie’s life-givers and one to the key to its over-all impact to the masses.

The voice work is a great one, too.  As the grumpy old man Carl, Edward Asner was able to use his voice as a channel of emotions for he character. He may be tough, he may be rough, as you can hear in his voice. But when he speaks, and exhales, you know that the guy is vulnerable. The layers of the characters are placed in his voice throughout. He speaks that somehow, he needs someone because he is disappointed and laden with sadness. And Asner proves that he can use his voice to do just that.

Jordan Nagai is wonderful as Russell. He comes of as high-pitched and really cute, but never irritating. The childhood is celebrated in his character, and he was able to convey that through his voice. Another wonderful thing, too, is that he never sounded miscast. Anyway, the character that he plays is jolly and it’s a child, but he has feelings, too. The joy that he feels when he feeds Kevin with the chocolate, or his angry determination to go back to the airship to get Kevin is all well-played out in his voice.

Christopher Plummer is deliciously villainous as Muntz. In his first scene, he sounds like a very inspiring and soulful explorer. That alone convinces us to the truth established in the film that Carl admires him. Plummer evokes trust in his voice before he unleashes his demonic attitudes. He’s the old guy that I have been inspired of to travel to Paradise Falls – that is the challenge that the character carries in his first scenes with Carl. Of course, he goes evil due to his selfish intentions of getting Kevin alive. And it’s not just about getting angry. The desperation that clings in his voice is wonderfully realized by Plummer, and he does make a delicious villain.

To simply sum this up, Up was magical. It never tried to bring us to an another world. It was ambitious in its objective of making this story real. And it succeeds. When we have great direction, smart screenplay, lush animation, flawless editing, delicious sound, majestic music score, and high-class voice acting, what would you ask for more?

For this, the movie gets:

What are your thoughts, dear reader?

Best Picture Profile: District 9

Directed by: Neill Blomkamp

Company: TriStar Pictures / WingNut Films / QED International

Runtime: 112 minutes

.

The film is about the actions of the South African government to the millions of aliens residing in Johannesburg. Their project is to move the millions of the so-called “prawns” from District 9, a camp established by the government for them place in the city, to a place farther from the city, called District 10, as the prawns started to cause chaos in the city to the humans. One of those prawns is Christopher Johnson, together with his son and a friend. The people want them out. The people want them to go away, as they have stayed in the city for decades, for their mother ship is stranded above the city.

MNU, the Multinational United, is tasked for the alien affairs. Wikus van de Merwe works in there. He was assigned by his father-in-law to be the leader in relocating the prawns by serving eviction notices even if it is in fact illegal. In the process, Wikus accidentally sprays a suspicious liquid in himself. As his exposure to it goes on, he starts to become ill and ultimately, his DNA starts to change, turning it to those of the prawn’s. Due to this, MNU starts to put Wikus into different tests. But he won’t let that happen to him, and he escapes.

His father-in-law, who happens to be an executive, tells to the press that Wikus was infected by an STD from the prawns, together with the pictures to prove it. Soldiers start to hunt and capture him. He meets Christopher and is informed that the liquid will be used to run the mother ship and for him to return to his normal human state. However, the canister that contains the liquid is with the MNU. They decided to get it back from them using alien weapons that they stole from the Nigerian gang leader that victimizes the prawns with their cat food scam.

They were able to get the canister back from the MNU but their biggest challenge comes: to come back to load it to the mother ship.

Whenever I think of this film, the first word that comes in my mind is “fresh”.

The direction is clearly action sci-fi at its best. There is this staggering amount of tension immersed to us in the whole length of the film. It never lets us rest for a moment, it just brings us on the spot. It has the power to make us feel that it is in fact real and it was able to pull it off and create a sociocultural commentary about segregation. The themes of apartheid and discrimination are being underlined in this film, but the direction never makes it ‘in-your-face.’ It attacks the subject with intelligence that you only soon realize, upon later reflection, that it was indeed underlined in the film.

Also, what I praise the most in this film’s direction is that it was able to create this reality that I have never seen in a movie before. It’s hard to make a sci-fi film, but it’s much harder for it to place you in the environment, convey an ‘in-the-place’ feeling, and most importantly, to make you believe in it. The direction speaks of visions coming alive through the style it utilizes for the movie, which is undoubtedly fit for the substance. It didn’t stick of traditional filmmaking techniques, it uses innovations and that’s what pulls me to it. I love this film because it was inventive on how it tackled and on how it captured the whole subject.

The screenplay was also very good. Most of the time, screenplays in action films or sci-fi film or more so, action sci-fi films, are mundane or cliche-filled, focusing more on the technical part of the movie. Some would not  even care for it. However, District 9 features a central story that is indeed heartbreaking and affecting. Of course, the lead character is Wikus, who is a somewhat absent-minded person. And the documentary parts of the film, with the interviews of different people, comes as very intelligent and natural for me.

But at the core of the film is the story of Christopher Johnson and his son. Christopher wants to be able to come home with his son. They experience hardships in the earth, but Christopher always protects his son. That is the most important part of the story for me because it is where the emotional part of the movie lies. I wouldn’t care for the film as much as I would if not for the story of the aliens. We are given this story as the backbone of the whole film. They are not just terrifying aliens, they are also with human feelings even if they are not human themselves. Though it is not one of the greatest screenplays ever, it gives this very accomplished movie the shadings of the characters and I love how it was done.

The cinematography is over-all excellent. It uses a lot of different styles in shooting. Sometimes by CCTV camera, sometimes by point-of-view, but it all evokes the sense of being there. There is one shot that I liked the most, and that is Wikus standing in front of the city’s skyline with the mother ship above it. It was able to infuse the whole effect of reality and fantasy together in that one shot. It’s brilliant all around.

The editing is. . . WOW. It is the one of the  film’s greater assets. It was unbelievably put together. Right from the start of the film, with the documentary-style part, it totally shakes us with its intensely gripping editing. It must be a very complicated job for the editor. Pretty much, no matter how great the direction or the screenplay or whatever, the film’s strength relies on the editing. It played a very vital role in the film’s power to make this film an experience. It was able to juice out every possible thrilling or nerve-wrecking moment possible without making the film “heartless”. It has a heart, but it also carries the thrills throughout.

The sound is also a very accomplished aspect of the film. The sound of the prawns are very creatively made. Who could have thought of its very different sound? It’s inventive, and the sound is something that will stick in your mind. The music is also helpful for the film. It provides this very thrilling and ethnic feeling to it.

The make-up is the best of they year. Never have I seen such ambitious or even daring make-up work in any film of 2009. There is this slow process of Wikus turning into a prawn and the transformation he undergoes in the length of the film is amazing to watch. The details are so well-paced that you just want to close your eyes whenever you see Wikus’s open cuts bleeding with black blood. Of course it is gross, but again, it is essential and it is so believable you wouldn’t even stop believing it was just make-up. It’s painful to watch, but if you look underneath those, you will see a very fine work that make-up can do to enhance the film’s believability.

The visual effects are stunning to see. Its integration to the reality that makes me love this film. The effects are not those obvious CGI (Avatar or Star Trek), but those which needs to be as real as possible. District 9 achieves that level or reality that you may want to examine the details, but you will still be able to see that it is just masterful craft.

Sharlto Copley leads this one-man show. Technically, it is not really a one-man show, but he carries the film all throughout the film. With almost no experience at acting, he was already able to prove the range that he has in terms of acting. Right from the start, he’s acting somewhat stupid, but he isn’t. Through the next scenes, we learn that he is just a positive thinker, someone who others may claim not fit for such serious job in alien affairs. He gets people agitated, and he’s not absent-minded. Actually, he is smart enough to be able to do his stuff, he just happened to be too positive in his job that those more serious co-workers are irritated by him.

As he progresses in his transformation to a prawn, the terror that he evokes through his character comes as genuine and devastating to see. He almost makes an impression of a very unlikable character, but under it is a character that we will care for. He’s a decent man, he’s a cheerful person. And in terms of how he reacts to the situation of his slow destruction as a human being, he gives a powerful performance oozing with confidence. It’s really hard to believe that this was his film debut, but it was. There is the sense of experience that we feel in him. I think his best scene was his quiet plea of mercy to a soldier that he will not kill him. He’s definitely in the middle of being a human-prawn, and the pain of being one is all in his eyes. He doesn’t say a word, just asks for mercy for the soldier not to kill him. That powerful moment simply counts as one of the best-acted scenes of 2009.

I guess, to sum this up, the film talks about communication and connection. It all happens to us, the problems of communication. And it’s all presented here – man to man, man to alien, alien to alien, man to man-prawn – we all see the realities here. This not only speaks of aliens, but of people. The segregation presented here is a horrifying but completely unmistakable truth we should all give time to see.

This is not only an achievement of filmmaking, or sci-fi filmmaking, or indie filmmaking, it’s an achievement in terms of its way to connect an important message.

For this, the movie gets:

4

What are your thoughts, dear reader?

Best Picture Profile: An Education

Directed by: Lone Scherfig

Company: Sony Pictures Classics / BBC Films

Runtime: 100 minutes

.

The movie is about Jenny Mellor, a young British lady whose does so well in her school. It’s already a usual thing for her to be praised by her teachers for excellent in class. She has friends, and suitors, and of course, a family. Her family consists of Jack, her father, a very outspoken and opinionated man, and Marjorie , her mother, the complete opposite of Jack, a quiet and gentle woman.

Everything does fine in her life. She even manages to do her hobby which is cello playing. She plans on going to Oxford to read English, but it all changes when she meets David Goldman, a financially stable gentleman who is much older than her. He takes interest in her, and started dating her as a friend.

As her frequent meeting with him ensues, her  grades start to go downhill, much to the dismay of her father. Her relationship with David deepens, turning their relationship into something romantic. She goes with him to the continent, and she lives the best of live with him. This alarms the headmistress who cares so much for her school girls. Thinking that she has already found the right man for her, she fights for it, even if it means general disapproval from the faculty.

However, she finds out that David is already married, shocking her. He simply vanishes, leaving her heartbroken. With nowhere else to go, she goes to her teacher to ask for help.

In a very simple look at it, you won’t find any extraordinary about it. And I know that it is not extraordinary. But it does something more than that.

The direction is as smart as it is understanding. In the given runtime it has, the direction makes the most out of it to give us this drive at the life of the lead character. What’s so great about this film is that it never wasted any moment in the film. Every minute, there is a development. Some, or most, films take some time to relax or to loosen up, often dragging us. But the direction in this film is so swift and full of intellect that it knows how to make things as tight as possible.

Of course, there are relaxing moments, like the scenes in Paris, but it always adds up to something. The film achieves the pinnacle of subtle direction by doing just that. And there aren’t any false moments in its entire length because the director knows how to tun and manipulate things in a way that we can follow Jenny’s life throughout the turbulent 100 minutes and we thoroughly understand it. The direction’s not of epic proportions, but it’s somewhat a feat.

The screenplay couldn’t get anymore smarter than this. It totally focuses on Jenny’s character but at the same time, it never makes the supporting characters useless. Each character around Jenny signifies the continuous development that the main character undergoes, and it’s all wonderfully placed. Even then, the film never neglects Jenny.

Jenny is the most important character, of course. Here, with the focus it has on her, the screenplay should never let the whole thing down. It should be believable in every way it would be looked at. And it succeeds in capturing the maturity that Jenny experiences that turns out to be immaturity in disguise. But of course, it’s not obvious, so it needs to plant details at the movie before it’s finally exposed. Thankfully, the screenwriter is skillful to do that. It doesn’t deceive us to believe in something false because the dimensions of Jenny and the story are clear to us. It’s a screenplay that is very worthy of the accolades that it got.

The cinematography is simple but charming at times. The editing is simple and well-thought. The sound is perfectly fine. The musical score is tender. The songs used are definitely of equal importance. The production design is well-made. The costumes area thrill to watch.

And now, we have the acting. This film features one of the best ensemble performances of 2009.

Peter Sarsgaard is very good as David Goldman. He evokes a sense of adulthood to Jenny and to us in a very gentle way that we understand why Jenny is comfortable being with this man. He seems to be all-knowing, smart, and knowledgeable to what he is doing in his life that we trust him as Jenny trusts him too. He gives an assurance in his character that I am genuinely shocked when Jenny finds out that he is already married. He’s not a bad guy, he just needs Jenny because he thinks they’re meant for each other, but he cannot escape the truth that he has a family by himself. What we felt for him after the incident was not hatred because he betrayed her but disappointment because we trusted him but in the end, the relationship just won’t work anymore.

Alfred Molina is also very good as the father. His character Jack has a very defensive and perfectionist nature. He wants Jenny to prosper in anything that she does. He doesn’t want French singing in his house. He is alarmed when Jenny goes to the continent because people there don’t really like them. He is very sensitive in the topic of antisemitism. He is disappointed when someone who courts Jenny wants to travel around, as he sees it as being a “teddy boy.” But he does all of this not because he is hostile but because is afraid. He is afraid of what might happen to his daughter because he was afraid himself. He is scared that something wrong may happen to her just because he loves her so much. He gives very strong remarks but he does all of it for Jenny. It’s a commendable turn from Molina in a wonderfully written character.

Rosamund Pike is cool as Helen, a socialite who turns Jenny into a socialite herself. She is very calm and joyful when she talks to everybody and seems carefree, but underneath those fur coats is a woman very cautious of what’s happening. She’s not just there to wear make-up or her nighties, she knows what’s happening.

Olivia Williams is effective as Miss Stubbs. She always praises Jenny for her good job in her class. That’s why she is very disappointed when her academic performance starts to go downhill. Her dismay of Jenny is not a sign of irritation, but it’s a sign of her care for her because she believes in her capability to do anything that she wants because she is smart. And to see her go head over heels for this man with a very bad effect on her studies just hurts her. So, it was a consoling thing for her when Jenny approached her to help her correct her mistakes.

Cara Seymour is delightful as the mother Marjorie. Although she is, I think, the most passive of all the characters, she provides a sturdy foundation for Jenny’s character as you see this woman as a mirror of what will happen to her in the future. It’s the dedicated mother stereotype, but Seymour, being a talented, but questionably underrated, actress, was able to do something to make it not all used up. She is contented with her life, but it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t want anything anymore. She supports Jenny in her life because she has dreams too. It’s a very humble performance, but it’s a very three-dimensional performance from Seymour. Thoroughly textured, it’s a very good performance.

Emma Thompson is startling as the Headmistress. She’s the person with the least screentime in the whole cast, but if you’re going to ask me, she has a bigger impact than some of the other actors. Her character has three big movements in the movie – warning, confronting, amending – and in these three short pieces, she was able to make a character that we understand. She wants the best for the women in the school and she doesn’t want anyone to do foolish things, but as she sees Jenny would do what she wants, she reminds her that education is valuable. The only thing that she could do is to remind her of the reason of educating them. The last beat of her performance is her reminding Jenny of the mistakes, as a student and as a woman. She all does it in a very clam way. But Thompson uses her experience to create a woman of authority. She is a woman to look up tom. In her two-and-a-half minutes, she creates a strong woman who lives in the tradition of education. But she doesn’t preach us in what we should do. She is there to give intellectual opinions to Jenny. And, of course, we believe her.

Matthew Bear and Dominic Cooper also provide good if not really noteworthy performances.

Carey Mulligan is simply fantastic as Jenny. I won’t say really much about it other than it’s great, it ‘s a performance that ultimately grows on you, it’s a performance that is acted by a gifted actress and an actress who used her acting skills to give us a character so believable and so humane that its power makes it a credible core for this very fine motion picture.  It’s a very natural performance that almost seems to come out of her naturally. It’s an entirely rich performance that will be remembered for the years to come.

Now, we arrive at this question – is this film extraordinary? Well, it doesn’t have any topical issues (Up in the Air), grandiose production (Avatar), or racial discussions (Precious), it shines a s a very fine motion picture. Now, what makes it special from the other period films? It’s so smart and polished and intelligent. It moves in a very speedy pace, and it never brings any boredom in the table. It’s fantastic.

For this, the movie gets:

4

What are your thoughts, dear reader?