I don’t see every movie that comes out. I used to. But then I just reached that point where I realized it was stupid to see everything just because I was in the industry. I think that moment came ten minutes into WHAT WOMEN WANT.
I mention this because when I tell you what I think is the best movie of the year it is with the disclaimer that there be something better that I just haven’t seen. I read film critics’ top ten lists and don’t recognize half of the titles (or half of the critics for that matter). So without seeing ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL, here is my pick for the best movie of 2009.
The envelope please?
UP IN THE AIR.
Writer/director Jason Reitman is the real deal, folks. THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and JUNO were not flukes. And now comes UP IN THE AIR, a smart, funny, bittersweet, thoughtful, topical film with an ending that’s either uplifting or sobering depending on your point of view. I found it optimistic but you know me – always the optimist. UP IN THE AIR also manages to somehow be modest and ambitious at the same time.
You’re familiar with the plot by now I’m sure. George Clooney is this emotionally vapid executive who happily spends his life on planes, in airports, and Hilton Inns. He sees the world from either 35,000 feet or Hertz shuttle vans. His job is to swing into towns, fire people, and move on. He’s like the Lone Ranger except when he leaves a silver bullet it’s in a person’s heart.
Along the way this loner meets his female counterpart, played to utter perfection by Vera Farmiga (the best thing about THE DEPARTED). In this case “similars attract”. You’ve gotta admire a woman who says to her lover, “Just think of me as you with a vagina.”
Finally a romantic relationship you haven’t already seen a thousand times. They’re two grown-ups. They don’t act silly. They aren’t needy. It is possible to make a middle-aged couple funny and interesting without having to resort to a hundred Flomax and menopause jokes (are you listening, Nancy Meyers?). And when was the last time you saw an American comedy that didn’t have even one pratfall? This is what I mean about ambitious. This movie takes big chances!
Ryan Bingham was the role George Clooney was meant to play. He’s been playing it in every movie but this time the character fits! He’s not Cary Grant (women would sacrifice their own jobs just so Cary Grant could fire them) but he’s sure close. It’s not easy to have sympathy for a hatchet man who fires so many he already has enough frequent flier miles to fly to the NGC 6397 globular star cluster (and get an upgrade).
Anna Kendrick as the young corporate wunderkind wound tighter than her poni-tail also shines. Nice to see her not in a vampire movie, by the way.
Still, the real revelation is Vera Farmiga. Picture a taller, sexier, younger, straighter Ann Heche with the smarts and sassiness of Bogey’s Becall. I love this woman! I want to write a movie just so she can be in it.
Rounding out an excellent cast is pitch-perfect non-actors. As a poignant touch, Reitman uses real people to talk about what it’s like to be fired. Seriously, this young filmmaker is a major talent. There will not be a JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK in Mr. Reitman’s future.
Kudos to all concerned including co-writer Sheldon Turner and Walter Kirn who wrote the novel from which the movie was based.
Years from now I think we’ll look back at UP IN THE AIR and compare it to CABARET (follow me on this one) – two very entertaining movies about time periods that really sucked. Prewar Berlin or PostBush Omaha – it’s all pretty much the same. Not a lot of good came out of 2009, but at least we got UP IN THE AIR. If it was my call I’d give Jason Reitman an Oscar and a lifetime American Airlines Platinum card.