Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My pick for movie of the year

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?


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.


Rebecca said...

To each his own. I kind of enjoyed Thank You for Smoking and I loved Juno. But Up in the Air left me pretty cold. Barely worth the price of a matinee ticket...maybe.

Out of the last 5 movies I've seen in recent weeks, most because I liked whoever was in them, Up in the Air came in 3rd. Way better than Old Dogs, slightly better than Everybody's Fine, not quite as good as Young Victoria (though that one gets a big FAIL for turning a true story full of love and intrigue into an insipid movie) and nowhere near as good as The Blind Side. And I've never been a Sandra Bullock fan, I only saw the movie because my sister coerced me into bringing my mother to see it.

But, yeah, Vera Farmiga was awesome and Anna Kendrick was really good too. Maybe it's because I've never been a Clooney fan, either. I think you're right that this is the role he was born to play, but it left me cold. Him and the character. Oh, and to compare him to Cary Grant is nothing short of blasphemous. He's a mere shadow of what Cary Grant was - if even that.

The movie wasn't real bad, there were some laughs. But I was pretty disappointed by it.

Danielle Solzman said...

I agree with Up in the Air being the movie of the year.

Tim W. said...

Great movie. Up In The Air was a close second behind (500) Days of Summer for my favourite movie of the year.

A lot of people don't seem to like Clooney, but he's made some of my favourite movies over the last ten or so years. Out of Sight, Three Kings, Syriana, Michael Clayton, Oceans 11 and now Up In Th Air are six movies I'd love to have on my credits.

ME said...

Agreed. And one of the few movies that I can say is actually better than the book. Reitman added a layer of complexity that wasn't there.

As for your question "And when was the last time you saw an American comedy that didn’t have even one pratfall?", the answer is simple.

Jason is Canadian. So he's not afraid to take chances. Politely :-)

He is quickly becoming THE director of his generation and we are proud. And hopeful. If only he'd do more work at home, but can't blame a guy for following the money. And the sushi.

Paul said...

Spot-on review. The movie was thoughtful, realistic, and gave a great overall feeling as to how this year was in general for most people.

Pat Reeder said...

To paraphrase Spencer Tracy, I don't go out and pay to see many movies, but the ones I do see are cherce. In other words, I never bother with movies that star the CGI team. Of the ones I did see this year, I'd put "Up In The Air" and "500 Days of Summer" at the top. And I've never been much of a Clooney fan, but I have to admit, he was perfect in this.

Larry said...

Vera Farmiga was the best thing in CAMP? I thought Anna Kendrick was the best thing in CAMP.

MattA said...

I'm glad a Dem admits that nothing good came out of 2009.
Anyway, I hope a writer for "Frasier" is not finding anything wrong with pratfalls. You guys used physical comedy to perfection on that show.
I like Clooney. I'll watch a movie just because he's in it. I think he has a great screen presence.
Finally, I haven't seen a lot of movies but I can't believe there is a better supporting actress performance than Anna Kendrick's. She'll win.

Vermonter17032 said...

I have yet to see Up In The Air, but hope to soon. Vera Farmiga is a wonderful actress, terrific in everything I've ever seen her in. If you're looking for a little seen gem, try Dummy from a few years ago. It stars Adrien Brody, Milla Jovovich, Illeana Douglas, Jessica Walter, Ron Liebman and Ms. Farmiga. Very funny and entertaining.

WV: Ously - Description of the film Herslock Olmesh

blogward said...

@rebecca: Give George time... Cary Grant's early comedies haven't worn well. Though I'll grant you (no pun intended but I left it in anyway) he was English.

Dana King said...

I agree with everything you say about UP IN THE AIR, except for the movie of the year part. And the ending. The story up to, and slightly beyond, the point where Clooney goes to Farmiga's house is great. The acting is superb all the way through.

The ending blows. I sat there watching him in the airport asking myself, "So what?" I hate Hollywood feel-good happy endings, so it could have been worse, but maybe we could have seen how he responded to going back on the road now that he's seen a different side of life. Or maybe he quit to take a job as an employment placement counselor. Something.

rms said...

"I love this woman! I want to write a movie just so she can be in it."

Okay, you've said it now, Ken. Get writing that movie! I'm waiting!

Troy said...

Ken, I've read your blog for quite a while now, and we're in agreement on a good many things...

...but we are way apart in our opinions of "UP IN THE AIR".

While I thought the premise terrific and incredibly timely, ACT THREE was like watching a train slowly move over a cliff.

Without giving anything away - i.e., no plot spoilers - a certain "surprise" near the end was completely bogus and negated everything that was believable about a certain character for the hour preceding. That this character could have been revealed to be the opposite of everything this character had been portrayed as being was jarringly unbelievable, and seriously damaged the movie.

And, lest you think this is a solo opinion, almost everyone I've spoken to after the movie has agreed to at least some extent. Many, like me, consider it to be a fatal flaw.

Further, to brand Jason Reitman "The Next Thing" based on this is ridiculous. Really? The waaaaay too long wedding montage? How many montages with underlying insipid vocals does this guy get to use as a crutch? Very annoying and amateurish - unless one aspires to be the next Nancy Meyers.

Honestly, while I loved the premise and even enjoyed the first hour or so, I still kept thinking, even during that first hour, "Yeah, this is okay, but what in the world is all this Oscar buzz about?"

Have we become so starved for movies that don't involve CGI or comic book charcters that any adult drama, even an average one, must be overpraised?

Final score?

"UP IN THE AIR" first 2/3: Okay.

"UP IN THE AIR" final 1/3: "OVER A CLIFF".


Dana King said...

I wish to amend my comments ans ditto what Troy just wrote, though I thought the first 2/3 was better than okay, in the "pretty good-good" range.

By Ken Levine said...


I had to delete your comment because you gave away the ending. Please rephrase without that. Thanks, buddy.


Tim W. said...


Apparently you didn't watch the movie very closely. There was a very big scene when you realize that that certain character is not everything she pretends to be. The scene when they are describing what they look for in a mate was extremely revealing, especially when you realize that she is not talking about Clooney's character.

And Ken,

J.J.'s comment still seems to be showing, but I'll ask you this, at what point did you realize the spoiler? The whole time or up until he shows up? I realized about 30 seconds before, which isn't all that predictable.

Tim W. said...

Well, now J.J.'s comment is gone. Forget what I said in response to it.

Alan Coil said...

"Picture a taller, sexier, younger, straighter Ann Heche..."

Hmmm...I always thought Anne Heche had good posture.

Unknown said...

Imagine the VIP cards Jason Reitman got from Hertz, Hilton and American Airlines for this long form ad. Good film but not up to his first two...

By Ken Levine said...

I screwed up and deleted JJ's revised comment so here it is. Sorry JJ.


Okay, here's my revised statement. Up in the Air as best movie of the year? Umm... no.

Is it a good movie? Well, yes it is. It's okay. But its predictable moments are... well... very predictable. For instance, in one of the "firing" scenes unfolds, I turned to my wife and said, "Before this is all over, she does exactly what she says she will do." And then I said what else would happen because of that incident. Referencing the Farmigia character both of us said, "She has a secret." As attractive as Vera Farmigia is, her body double is even more so (look at her legs, they give her away). As good as Clooney is, he's still being George Clooney.

I liked the film and Reitman is fast becoming the "it" guy in town, but for me Up in the Air just isn't the "movie of the year."

Troy said...

Tim W.: If what you're saying is true, then I and most other people I spoke to after the movie missed this important piece of information in the scene described, which leads me to think either

a.) The "hint" was too well disguised, or

b.) The scene was, in fact, further proof that this particular character later 180-ed for artificial story impact, rather than any truth born of said character. If so, there's a technical word for this in the lexicon of Hollywood...

"Bad writing".


DJ said...

I could see the Academy giving Reitman a nomination, but not the award, thinking that "he's young, he'll have plenty of opportunities." Then, giving the award to Kathryn Bigelow for Hurt Locker, who made her Best Picture candidate for a thirtieth of the price of her ex-husband's.

Max Clarke said...

Vera Farmiga was excellent in The Departed, first time I've seen her. She was the psychiatrist/psychologist who moved in with Matt Damon. Glad to see her getting some notice in this film as well.

If Ken's vote is a sign of the Oscars, that will be two movies she worked in which won Best Picture.

Anonymous said...

how can "straighter" be good when talking about a female actress?

Tim W. said...


Apparently you and JJ need to talk. He saw spoiler scene from a mile a way, you thought it came out of nowhere.

Do you know the scene I was referring to, when the three are sitting and discussing what they look for in a potential mate? You didn't notice a couple of things Vera Farmiga's character said that were a little jarring considering how she was portraying herself? It's not as if they made me predict anything, but when the `event' happened, I immediately thought back to that scene and realized who she was talking about- not Clooney.


One of the problems with watching a lot of movies, and knowing the structure of screenplays, is that you can predict a lot more than the average viewer. Take a look at Troy's comments. If Reitman had made it any ore subtle, then it would have seemed to come out of nowhere for all but a handful of viewers. It's a delicate balance, to tell the viewer enough, but not too much. Personally, I thought he did a great job. Any more and I'd be in your camp, any less and I'd be in Troy's.

te said...

This may be a deal-breaker: does anybody join hands and lip-synch/dance to old Motown songs?

If not, I'll give it a shot.

Mary Stella said...

Thanks for the review, Ken. I hope that Up in the Air comes to my lovely, local, one-screen theater. This weekend I think it will still be showing Sherlock Holmes so I'll see that. I'm also hoping that It's Complicated comes to town, despite your pan. *g*

I saw Young Victoria over the weekend while away on vacation. It didn't wow me but I'm glad I saw it... sort of like I enjoy Dove chocolate but Bissinger's is so excellent it makes me weep in chocolate ecstasy.

Wallis Lane said...

Definitely want to see this film. But it would be hard to beat the three films that I thought were by far and away the best of 2009:

District 9
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Hangover

The first two for creating genres all their own (science fiction social documentary and stop-motion anthropomorphic dramedy), and the third for making me laugh harder than any movie since A Fish Called Wanda.

danrydell said...

Ken, my thought was that this movie was what Elizabethtown could have and should have been.

J.J. said...

@ Tim W: For me the problem with writing movies (which is what I do) is not telegraphing what's going to happen. I picked up where the relationship between Clooney and Farmiga was going right away. The clues were all right in front of me (as almost every scene layed out just the way I thought it would) and I saw them. I realized where the script was going and how it would end. Had it ended differently, I would have been surprised and given Up on the Air higher marks. But I'm a tough audience, so, for me, it was just an okay film. Entertaining enough that I don't regret paying to see it (I tried to use my WGA card, but got shut down), nonetheless it was just a so-so movie that I'd hope would've gone differently.

Brian Phillips said...

I just saw "Up in the Air". Having traveled quite a lot for my job and having been fired, some of the experiences resonated for me.

I enjoyed both the movie and the review of it; the "spoiler" scene surprised me, however, there are times that even when you figure what's going to happen happens, it doesn't necessarily ruin the experience. If that were the case, I would, heck, most of the whole world would stay away from James Bond movies. If I enjoy the ride, I won't begrudge a few cliches and the movie, like many movies have a lot of them, some that are so ingrained, they aren't worth commenting about, such as the attractiveness of the leads. Robbie Coltrane isn't (were I a straight woman) my idea of a hunk, but having seen him in "Cracker", I bet he could have pulled off Clooney's role and in some ways made it effective in a different way, because at that point, what he says to the people he fires becomes even more important, because news of your job loss isn't coming from a good looking man or woman.

I appreciated this movie for the cliches that it didn't fall into, for example, even as far back as silent days, Charlie Chaplin lamented, "Must every comedy end with a chase?" This movie doesn't and it is a trope still used to-day. Not that I mind it every time, but when I see a chase at the end of a comedy, I think of Chaplin's comment.

There are two points that I would like to mention:

One day, I'd like to become a music supervisor. Kudos to Rick Clark and/or Stephen Coleman for choosing the Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings' version of "This Land is Your Land", a song and a band that I have seen and championed on my radio show.

Rolfe Kent's score was great as well, although I have the niggling feeling that his name should actually be Kent Rolfe. I will cede this point if his brother is dating a woman named Lois Lane.

The other point I'd like to make is Jason Bateman's performance is wonderful. He is, well, let's face it, somewhat malevolent, but the screenplay doesn't make him incompetent or a beneficiary of nepotism. He's just good at what he does and unapologetic.

Great movie, I was not disappointed.

WV: tranta: How German kiddies address their parents' sisters.

Troy said...

Tim W.: While I appreciate your reasoned discourse, I still disagree. It's difficult to fully discuss this, of course, because we don't want to give too much away, but I'll try one last time.

Whether or not there were embedded antecedents ("hints") in the scene you mention is, to me at least, immaterial. Why? Because with or without them, the character's behavior in every other scene and in every other way belies the jarring, artificial, and ultimately unbelievable Reveal this character undergoes.

This character could not have led the mirror-image lifestyle of the protagonist as portrayed early in the movie and still care as much about her revealed position as she purports to at the end. One or the other, yes. Both simultaneously? No.

And that's probably the true crux of our disagreement.

This disconnect is further exasperated by an incredibly cloying wedding montage I referred to earlier, where again, this character is portrayed one way only to snap around later for story convenience.

All that said, I'll lastly point out the obvious: Everyone reacts to movies differently. I thought "A BEAUTIFUL MIND" was mediocre. The Academy gave it a Best Picture Oscar.

To each his own.

J.J. said...

@Brian--glad you liked Rolfe's score (he's a friend), and his name is indeed Rolfe Kent, but what can you expect, he's British.

te said...

Well, I just saw it. And to me, the ending was what I hoped it would be, with the person totally in character. Ending it the other way would have been the cop-out I was dreading.

wv (bear with me here) "sycomyo" -- Hey, homes, there's a funny show on the SyFy Channel.

Anonymous said...

Jason Reitman is Canadian by way of Santa Barbara, and he's not remotely a risk-taker.

"Vera Farmiga (the best thing about THE DEPARTED)" is as dull as ditchwater, and doesn't do anything in this film to change my opinion.

Pat Reeder--you're not paraphrasing Spencer Tracy, you're quoting the writers, the Kanins.

Anonymous said...

Hey - Lay off Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back! That movie is comedy gold. And I speak as one the few people who regards Volunteers as a wrongly-dissed classic.