2015 Florida Film Festival


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The Florida Film Festival has made their official announcement as to what movies and shorts they’ll be presenting this year and it is an impressive schedule indeed. Like last year, there will be 170 films on the schedule with more world premieres than the Festival has ever presented. There are also more movies by a very large margin directed by women this year.

As Enzian president Henry Maldonado is fond of saying about the Festival, there really is something for everybody. While we won’t be previewing every one of the 170 films being presented this year here, here are some to whet your appetite for the festival this year.

This year’s opening night film is Welcome to Me which stars Kristen Wiig as a socially challenged and borderline personality disorder woman who wins $86 million in the lottery and decides to purchase a talk show with it – with her as the host and the only guest. After her performance in last years The Skeleton Twins she’s definitely on the fast track to become one of the premiere comic actresses in Hollywood.

At the top of my personal list of must-sees at the festival is Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter which features Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi as a Japanese office drone caught in a dreary life. After watching Fargo and mistaking it for a documentary, she becomes obsessed with the idea that there is buried treasure in South Dakota – and she means to find it, setting off a journey that will change her forever. Fans of nature documentaries will get the opportunity to catch DisneyNature’s Monkey Kingdom a full week before it opens in theaters across the country as the intrepid DisneyNature camera crew heads into the jungles of Thailand to follow a family of monkeys displaced from their homes.

Previously reviewed here in Cinema365, The Search for General Tso looks at one of the most beloved Chinese-American dishes, how it came to be, and essentially the history of Chinese cuisine and culture in the United States. If it doesn’t make you hungry for Chinese food, I don’t know what will. Grazers looks at a farming co-operative that tries to survive in a world dominated by big agribusiness and increasingly hostile to small family farmers.

Aspie Seeks Love follows the search of a man afflicted with Asperger’s Disease for true love, which is a subject most of us can relate to. Limited Partnership follows the first same-sex couple in the world to get married and the obstacles they faced in merely trying to be allowed to live together in a documentary that is likely to get your blood boiling and your heartstrings tugged. Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound follows one of the most influential figures in modern country music that you’ve never heard of.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is an awkwardly titled but charming Swedish film about a dynamite expert who has lived a colorful life who decides to escape the retirement home he has been warehoused in on the occasion of his 100th birthday. X+Y is a lovely Irish film about a young man with social issues finding self-confident when he is selected to represent Ireland in the International Math Olympiad.

Sunshine Superman profiles Carl Boenish, the progenitor of base jumping which answers the question “Who was crazy enough to do it first?” Once Upon a Crime: The Borelli-Davis Conspiracy looks at a notorious murder in Denver that would expose corruption in the Denver police department as well as in the Denver media but would not break the friendship of two unjustly accused men.

The Tribe won the Grand Prix at Cannes this year and is entirely without dialogue, subtitles, music or sound effects, putting us in the world of the deaf-mute characters who are themselves played by deaf-mute non-professionals. Taking place in a school for deaf and mute teens, a new arrival learns to navigate the sometimes dangerous currents of a school ruled by a gang who with the tacit approval of the school’s administration are involved with drug trafficking, prostitution, extortion and assault.

The Editor is a midnight cult classic in the making from the wild Canadian filmmakers co-op Astron-6 who give us their take on an Italian giallo with a film editor who loses his fingers in a bizarre accident becomes the number one suspect when a series of gruesome murders take place among the lead actors of the bottom-feeding films he’s been working on. The Case of the Three-Sided Dream is a documentary about jazz legend Rahsaan Roland Kirk and his unique style of playing.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is the story of the National Lampoon, the magazine that began at Harvard and became the touchstone of comedy in the 70s and 80s, helping shape Saturday Night LiveSCTV, and a series of movies that included the Vacation series. Reversal is a horror tale of revenge and human trafficking that shocked audiences at Sundance earlier this year.

Tomorrow We Disappear follows the Bohemian residents of an Indian slum who are fighting to protect their homes from a developer who wants to build a shopping mall there. Welcome to Leith is a terrifying documentary about a white supremacist who attempts to take over a North Dakota town. The Keeping Room is the harrowing experience of three young women in the waning days of the Civil War trying to protect their farm from a pair of rogue Union soldiers. Gabriel follows a young man on a trial release from the hospital where he has been institutionalized for mental illness

The Festival will also be presenting three different movies on the Enzian lawn that are free admission for anyone who wants to come. (500) Days of Summer, Donnie Darko and Amalie are all quality movies and well worth seeing, particularly in the cozy confines of the Enzian lawn. As far as screenings for other films that aren’t new, Godard’s French New Wave classic Alphaville will be the closing night retrospective and Girl Happy will be presented in Winter Park’s Central Park.

As always there will be celebrity guests. The great Sam Rockwell, one of my favorite actors working today, will be present for a screening of maybe his best film, Moon, followed by a Q&A afterwards. Also, Bob Balaban will be on hand to talk about his long career as one of Hollywood’s best character actors and also a pretty good director in his own right.

There are also parties, panel discussions and informal get-togethers in the Eden Bar. It is an opportunity to rub shoulders with filmmakers and film buffs and talk about movies both famous and not. Those looking to buy tickets can still purchase packages that run from $50 for five vouchers for any five movies (which you can choose before they go on sale to the general public) to $180 for twenty. You can also get passes which range from the Matinee pass which admits you to all movies that begin before 5 PM (except for special screenings such as An Afternoon With…) for $99 to the fancy shmancy Producer Pass which gets you early entry to every film and entry to every event at the Festival. That’ll only set you back $1500. More popular is the Film Lover’s Pass which runs $600 and gets you early entry to all films, access to press screenings so you can get an early jump on your festival viewing and admittance to the opening night party.  Individual tickets go on sale this Saturday the 21st and can be purchased online, by phone or in person at the Enzian box office.

As with years past, Cinema365 intends to give as much coverage to the Festival as is humanly possible. All Festival-related reviews will include the Festival banner, which includes a link to their online ticketing system in case you want to purchase tickets yourself. There is also a link to it in the picture at the top of the post; just click on it and whoosh, there you are.

This is an event we at Cinema365 look forward to all year long. It is a chance to catch up with old friends, meet new ones and discover films we might not ordinarily have had a chance to see. It is one of the most filmgoer-friendly festivals in the country and consistently shows up in lists of top Film Festivals around the world. It is an event you shouldn’t miss and if you are or can be in the Orlando area from April 10th through April 19th, you owe it to yourself to check this out. If you can make it, be sure and drop us a line at cinema365@live.com and let us know so we can meet up. Look forward to seeing you all there!

Top 10 Movies of 2009


Top 10 Movies of 2009It is traditional amongst those who write about movies that as one year ends and another year begins that there is a certain amount of reflection that goes on about the year that has just passed and the movies seen in that period. In this list-happy society, most critics put together a list of the top ten movies of the year in order to give their readers some sense of perspective about the year in review.

Far be it for me to argue with tradition. I have always found top ten lists to be somewhat arbitrary – for example, why choose ten movies? What if there are more movies worthy of being honored as the year’s best than just ten? What if there are fewer? How does one distinguish between a big budget Hollywood epic and a micro-budget indie? How can you compare a romantic comedy with a historical drama?

I’ll admit the system isn’t perfect. Although I’m calling this piece the Top 10 Movies of 2009, what it really should be called is an arbitrary list of ten movies I thought worth singling out. Certainly, these are the movies that I found most praiseworthy of those released in Orlando theaters during the calendar year of 2009 – at least the ones that I saw (I was unable to see the very much acclaimed Up in the Air by the time this was written). These are all movies that, in some way large or small, affected me the most or I found to be the most innovative.

2009 will go down in the record books as a record box office bonanza as movie theaters took in over $10 billion in box office receipts for the first time in the history of the movies. Some of the movies on this list contributed a good deal to that bottom line, while others barely made a dent. It was a year of giant robots and of heart-fluttering teen vampires. Franchises were reborn while others were shown the door.

Hollywood continued to be youth-driven as movies tended to be skewed towards teen and family markets, the two demographics that tended to be responsible for the most repeat business. Studios resorted to innovative and alternative methods of marketing their films, sometimes eschewing traditional mean of marketing entirely in lieu of internet and viral campaigns meant to generate buzz. The stakes for the publicity machines have never been higher; most big budget releases have to make at least one third of their budget back in the opening weekend in order for the movie to have even a small chance of making back their budget. Hollywood began to live and die on a steady diet of buzz.

The Internet and sites like Latino Review, Ain’t It Cool News and Collider began to be major players in determining the marketability of films to the target audience of internet-savvy young people, whose buy-in to a movie was critical to a film’s success – and whose lack thereof could be lethal. Movies like Paranormal Activity became critical and commercial successes despite having almost no budget and no star power, being solely driven on a clever internet marketing campaign and word of mouth as generated over the net. Studios took note of the success of the movie and are quietly gearing up sub-divisions to develop smaller-budget movies for niche audiences.

While many complained that Hollywood relied too heavily on concept films, sequels and merchandising-driven films in an overall litany of accusations that there is no originality in Hollywood anymore (a claim, ironically enough, that is unoriginal in itself), certainly there was plenty of innovation to go around. From new means of storytelling to breakthroughs in special effects, movies continued to push the boundaries of filmmaking in 2009. Avatar released near the end of the year ended years of speculation and delivered on director James Cameron’s assertion that it would change moviemaking forever – and it will. That is why it is on the list below.

As with most lists, this is meant to generate discussion and I invite you to participate by adding your comments. Certainly, you won’t agree with every movie on this list – I can almost guarantee you that even I won’t agree with every movie on this list in a week’s time. What I can guarantee is that every one of these ten movies deserves at least a viewing, whether in a theater if the opportunity is still there, or at home on DVD, Blu-Ray, On-Demand or Cable. I’m sure you’ll find something worthwhile about all of them. Therefore, without further ado, here is my list. Enjoy.

The Hangover10.  THE HANGOVER

(Warner Brothers) Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Heather Graham, Justin Bartha, Sasha Barese, Jeffrey Tambor, Ken Jeong, Rachel Harris, Mike Tyson, Mike Epps, Jernard Brooks, Ken Jeong. Directed by Todd Phillips

Released June 5, 2009 In a summer crowded with sequels, big budget science fiction and action movies and high concept films, this comedy from the people who brought you Old School didn’t attract a lot of attention; that is, until people actually saw it. One of the funniest movies to come along in years, it took the conventions of male buddy movies and turned them on their ear. It would establish the three leads of Cooper, Galifianakis and Helms as legitimate box office stars and establish box office records for “R” rated comedies.

WHY IT IS HERE: We’ve all had lost weekends, but none like this. Waking up with no memory of what happened the night before in a totally trashed suite at Caesar’s Palace is the stuff that dreams are made of, or in this case box office gold. As the events of a wild night of debauchery are slowly pieced together, everything becomes significant and nothing is left to chance. This is as well-written and well-conceived a comedy of this type as I’ve seen in decades.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The madness of Ken Jeong, as a kidnapped Asian high roller who leaps out of the trunk of the Mercedes stark naked and screaming invectives. It is one more surreal moment in a movie filled with them.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $277.3 million domestic (as of 12/17/09), $459.4 total.

BUDGET: $35 million.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. A sequel is scheduled to be released Memorial Day weekend, 2011.

Red Cliff9. RED CLIFF

(Magnet) Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei, Hu Jun, Zhang Fenyi, Lin Chiling, Shido Nakamura, You Yong, Ba Sen Zha Bu, Hou Yong, Philip Hersh (voice), Jiang Tong, Song Jia, Tong Dawei. Directed by John Woo

Released November 18, 2009 John Woo was once the most acclaimed action movie director in Asia, with some of the best movies of the ‘90s to his credit. Hollywood beckoned, and Woo went on to make memorable movies like Face Off and Mission: Impossible II. In his first movie in his native country in more than a decade, Woo surprisingly did an epic period movie, something he wasn’t particularly known for. With his action movie flair and his over-the-top visual style, Woo would create the most expensive movie ever made in Asia but the gamble paid off when it became a huge hit there.

WHY IT IS HERE: Hollywood has not made many movies with this kind of scope except in replication by CGI. Here, there is literally a cast of thousands. Every scene is filled with subtle visual nuances as well as grand, epic scale. Soldiers march in disciplined formations, a massive flotilla floats majestically down the Yangtze River and arrows fly like a swarm of deadly locusts. These kinds of movies are prohibitively expensive to film, so chances are we won’t see many of them ever again.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The sea battle scene in which Zhuge Liang entices Cao Cao’s forces to loose 100,000 arrows at his straw bale-covered ships.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $485,186 domestic (as of 12/27/09), $531,538 total (note that these figures are for the truncated single-film release here in the States, not the massive, two picture extravaganza originally released in Asia where it set box office records).

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Playing in limited markets. Aired on HDNet cable in December. Scheduled for home video release March 23, 2010.

Star Trek8. STAR TREK

(Paramount) Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Eric Bana, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Bruce Greenwood, Leonard Nimoy, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder, Chris Hemsworth, Jennifer Morrison, Rachel Nichols, Faran Tahir. Directed by J.J. Abrams

Released May 7, 2009 When Star Trek: Nemesis tanked and the television ratings for “Star Trek: Enterprise” were disappointing, it appeared the franchise had lost its steam. Paramount, not willing to give up on one of its most important assets, took some time off to retool and put the fate of the franchise squarely in the hands of producer-director J.J. Abrams, creator of such television fare as “Lost” and “Alias,” as well as movies like Cloverfield and Mission: Impossible III.  The move proved to be a wise one as anticipation grew among not only diehard Trekkers but among summer action movie junkies as well, especially once the trailer hit. Paramount was rewarded with the biggest box office for any Star Trek movie.

WHY IT IS HERE: While I admit to having a bit of a blind eye when it comes to Star Trek, this really is a terrific movie. It is action packed and character driven, a rare combination. Perfectly cast, the actors recreate the roles of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest of the Enterprise crew with nary a false note, adding the actors’ own takes while remaining true to the spirit of the character. Dizzying special effects, a script that paid respect to the original Federation mythos while making logical sense was a feat in itself. This is a movie even non-Trekkers can love.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The halo dive from a shuttle craft to the mining platform by Kirk, Sulu and an expendable security officer was breathtaking.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $275.7 million domestic, $385.4 total.

BUDGET: $150 million.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. A sequel is in the planning stages.

Inglourious Basterds7. INGLORIOUS BASTERDS

(Weinstein) Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Melanie Laurent, Daniel Bruhl, Samm Levine, B.J. Novak, Til Schweiger, Michael Fassbender, Gedeon Burkhard, Jacky Ido, Mike Myers, Denis Menochet, Sylvester Groth. Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Released August 21, 2009 Tarantino can always be counted upon to take something conventional, turn it on its ear and then give it a Wet Willie besides. Here, he takes the war movie, revs it up a notch, dials up the amp to 11 and unleashes it on the late summer audience. The result is Tarantino’s best opening weekend ever and one of his biggest grossing movies to date. He also gave us Christoph Waltz, one of the nastiest villains since Goldfinger and certain to get an Oscar nomination for Supporting Actor next month.

WHY IT IS HERE: You have never seen a movie like this. You will never see a movie like this again. Hip and retro and intelligent all at once, nobody can make B movie conventions seem so damn smart like Tarantino. His movies are maniacal grins, fueled by tequila and mescaline, meant to be experienced as the kick-off to a weekend-long bender. Did I mention this movie rocks?

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: There are several, but the one that made me sit up and take notice came near the end when Hans Landa interrogates Bridget von Hammersmark in the theater office. He knows, you know he knows, she knows he knows but what follows is still shocking and brutal.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $120.5 million domestic (as of 12/17/09), $311.7 total.

BUDGET: $70 million.

STATUS: Currently available on home video.

Avatar6. AVATAR

(20th Century Fox) Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi, Laz Alonso, Peter Mensah, Matt Gerald. Directed by James Cameron

Released December 18, 2009 They say that James Cameron’s entire career has pointed to this. When the dust settles, it will undoubtedly be the phenomenon of 2009, the movie that changed everything. It is expected to be second only to Cameron’s own Titanic on the all-time box office list and is almost certain to spawn several sequels – Cameron himself said that it would be a waste if the programs that created Pandora were not used for a second movie at the very least.

WHY IT IS HERE: This is the most fully-realized alien environment ever captured. The ecology makes sense; the technology makes sense as well. Earlier, we talked about traditional epic movies going out of fashion; this is what will replace them. Worthington delivers a star-making performance that is sure to elevate him to the top echelon of Hollywood actors.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Where to begin? I love some of the scenes in the forest as the various phosphorescent flora are explored, but the last battle sequence will take your breath away.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $352.1 million domestic (as of 1/4/10), $1.018 billion total.

BUDGET: Not available, but the general consensus in Hollywood is that it is north of $300 million.

STATUS: Still in wide release, as well as selected IMAX and 3D venues.

Invictus5. INVICTUS

(Warner Brothers) Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge, Patrick Mofokeng, Matt Stern, Julian Lewis Jones, Adjoa Andoh, Marguerite Wheatley, Leleti Khumalo, Patrick Lyster, Penny Downie, McNiel Hendricks, Louis Minaar, Zak Feaunati. Directed by Clint Eastwood

Released December 11, 2009 As an actor, Clint Eastwood could be counted upon to display toughness. As a director, he can be counted upon to create compelling movies that are Oscar contenders year after year. This one is no exception. While it hasn’t gotten the box office love that many of his other efforts have created (see below), it is nonetheless a brilliant movie that gives us a peak into a time and place most of us have little or no knowledge of.

WHY IT IS HERE: It’s Clint Eastwood, right? As underdog sports dramas go, most have little impact beyond the moment they portray in the community that is depicted. The moment here shows a country, once bitterly divided, coming together and learning to co-exist. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The final scene, which portrays a moment of historic importance in the history of South Africa. It will send chills up your spine.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $30.89 million domestic (as of 1/4/10), $30.89 worldwide.

BUDGET: $60 million.

STATUS: Still in wide release. General release has yet to take place overseas.

4. DEPARTURES

(Regent) Masahiro Motoki, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ryoko Hirosue, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Kimiko Yo, Takashi Sasato, Taro Ishida, Yukiko Tachibano, Genjitsu Shu, Sanae Miyata, Toru Minegishi, Tetta Sugimoto. Directed by Yojiro Takita

Released May 29, 2009 The winner of the 2008 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar was this entry from Japan. Reviewed recently on this site, it deals with mourning and death in a way that Western filmmakers would never have even considered. Because so few movies deal with the grief of losing a loved one in a truly realistic way, it makes movies like this one all the more impactful.

WHY IT IS HERE: This is a movie about dealing with death in our lives, and as such can be a really useful tool. It is beautifully made, covering the gamut of human emotions. There is some surprisingly subtle humor, as well as pathos that will make your heart ache and your throat constrict. There are tears and laughter and turmoil, and this is as cathartic a movie as you will find ever.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: There is a scene where a husband, who has berated the lead characters for being five minutes late, breaks down at the funeral of his wife. Even just writing about it here is bringing tears to my eyes.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $1.49 million domestic (as of 1/3/10), $67.9 total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Currently available on home video.

Up3. UP

(Disney) Starring the voices of Ed Asner, Jordan Nagai, Christopher Plummer, Delroy Lindo, John Ratzenberger, Bob Peterson, Jerome Ranft, David Kaye, Elie Docter, Jeremy Leary, Mickie McGowan, Danny Mann. Directed by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson

Released May 29, 2009 Year after year, Pixar outdoes itself not only in the look of their animated films, but in the complexity of their stories. This is their best outing yet, a movie that appeals not only to children with its exotic locations, sense of whimsy, talking dogs and brightly colored big birds but also to adults. The relationship between Carl and Ellie Fredericksen is real, believable and something we all aspire to. The regrets of Carl Fredericksen are the regrets we all feel as we age.

WHY IT IS HERE: Quite simply, it is perhaps the best animated feature ever made. It is certainly in the running for a Best Picture nomination for the Oscars later this month, and it is a shoe-in to win the Best Animated Feature. There are plenty of animated movies that have made me laugh; there is only one that has made me cry. All right, two if you count the time I saw Bambi when I was four years old and was devastated by the death of his mother.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The opening montage that depicts the life of Ellie and Carl together; it is one of the most emotionally effective sequences of any movie, let alone an animated feature.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $293.0 million domestic (as of 1/6/10), $683.0 total.

BUDGET: $175 million.

STATUS: Currently available on home video.

Capitalism: A Love Story2.  CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY

(Overture) Michael Moore, Wallace Shawn, William Black, Marcy Kaptur, Elizabeth Warren, Baron Hill, Elijah Cummings, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, Robert Powell, Sarah Palin, John McCain. Directed by Michael Moore

Released September 23, 2009 Some movies are just going to be polarizing no matter what. Conservatives hate this movie with a passion while extreme liberals tend to love it. I guess its placement on this list gives you an idea where my political beliefs lie. Moore, one of the most controversial documentarians of all time, takes on one of the most sacred of cows in the American landscape – capitalism itself. Long held as the source of our freedoms and prosperity, Moore skewers it on the lance of logic and humor and shows that it is the source of freedom and prosperity only for a very few.

WHY IT IS HERE: When I heard about this movie, even I thought he was going over the top. Like most people in America, I had always believed capitalism to be a good thing, and socialism and other economic systems to be failures. However, Moore is able to show very effectively how the system has failed us and how it has become a monster, designed to keep the very wealthy in power and to make them wealthier. It is a compelling argument, even if you don’t necessarily agree with all of his conclusions. He also makes me hope that Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) runs for president someday; she would make a far more effective leader than Secretary Clinton or even, IMHO, President Obama.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Moore’s attempted citizen’s arrest of banking executives.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $14.3 million domestic (as of 12/17/09), $15.9 total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Scheduled for home video release on March 9, 2010.

(500) Days of Summer1. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER

(Fox Searchlight) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Clark Gregg, Minka Kelly, Matthew Gray Gubler, Chloe Moretz, Rachel Boston, Geoffrey Arend, Patricia Belcher, Yvette Nicole Brown, Maile Flanagan. Directed by Marc Webb

Released July 17, 2009 There are a lot of critics who have declared the romantic comedy is dead, and certainly it appears to be a bloated corpse in many ways. Hollywood seems to be content to churn out formula rom-coms with the same attractive stars and the same invariable results. They continue to do it because we, the audience, gobble them up like a kid with his candy bag on Halloween. Perhaps that is why Webb decided to make an anti-romantic comedy. Despite the presence of the hysterically funny The Hangover on this list, this is what makes the top spot as not only the funniest movie of the year but also the best.

WHY IT IS HERE: Webb takes filmmaking conventions and turns them on their ear, telling a non-linear story using a variety of techniques and makes each of them work. Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel make the most attractive couple of the year and even after they explain why it would never work, you nonetheless root for it to. There isn’t a false note in this movie; from the moment I saw it at the Florida Film Festival back in April of 2009, I knew this was something special. Some people look at indie movies with the same high regard they hold picking up dog feces in and I will admit, this is as indie a movie as it gets – still, it is a groundbreaker and a game-changer in the way cinematic storytelling is done, perhaps not as obviously as Avatar is but still. When choosing the best movie of the year, it has to meet the criteria that if you were going to recommend only one movie made in 2009 for someone to see, which one would it be. I chose this one. I hope you take the opportunity to go see it on home video if you missed it in the theaters (and many of you did, given its limited release). You won’t regret it.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: There are a ton of them, but for me the best scene was the one in which Tom goes to a party that Summer is hosting; shown on split screen are what he is anticipating will happen and what actually does. The differences are subtle but devastating.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $32.4 million domestic (as of 12/17/09), $46.6 total.

BUDGET: $7.5 million.

STATUS: Currently available on home video.

(500) Days of Summer


Happy loving couples make it look so easy...

Happy loving couples make it look so easy...

(Fox Searchlight) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Clark Gregg, Minka Kelly, Matthew Gray Gubler, Chloe Moretz, Rachel Boston, Geoffrey Arend, Patricia Belcher, Yvette Nicole Brown, Maile Flanagan. Directed by Marc Webb.

We all get into relationships for different reasons. Sometimes – most of the time, I’m hoping – we get in because we honestly believe that this person may be The One. On other occasions, we’re just doing it to pass the time until something better comes along. And other times, what starts out as “just friends” deepens into something special.

Tom (Gordon-Levitt) is a romantic. He believes that true love is inevitable, something that finds you, something you know the moment you set eyes on your soulmate. He has been through the wars of love and has had his ass kicked. He’s something of a settler in most respects; trained as an architect, he has found work as a writer for a greeting card company. However, the one thing he won’t settle for is the love of his life. That is an absolute for him.

Summer (Deschanel) is a beautiful woman who has turned heads ever since she was old enough to know how. She’s had her share of lovers, but watched her parents endure an ugly, bitter divorce. It was bad enough that she has erected emotional walls the Chinese would envy. She’s looking for like, not love – for her, true love is a myth, much like Santa Claus.

She’s impulsive enough to move from Michigan to Los Angeles because she’s bored. She gets a job at the same greeting card company that Tom works for, and the two connect almost instantly. They both like the Smiths, for one. They both have a quirky sense of humor, and they both are intelligent, hip people. Tom’s closest friends – MacKenzie (Arend) and Paul (Gubler) are wary for Tom. He’s lost his heart on more than one occasion, but this time is different. Even Tom’s sister Rachel (Moretz), whom Tom most often turns to for romantic advice (what the hell, she’s twelve, she knows plenty more about the subject than he does) can see it.

The two seem well-suited for each other. Tom is completely smitten, but Summer has a bit of a reserve that Tom is okay with for the time being. After all, it looks like she’s beginning to let him in. Then, with a suddenness that sets his head to spinning in all sorts of directions, she dumps him. He’s left to review the various points of the 500 days he spent with summer (aha! Clever title…) and try to figure out where things went wrong – and what is really important to him.

Director Webb, who has mostly worked in the music video field, takes a very intelligently-written script (by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber) that is somewhat difficult to film because of the constant bouncing forward and back in time frames and manages to weave it into a cohesive whole. From the opening graphics, the viewer becomes totally aware that they’ve lucked into something special. The humor is laugh-out-loud funny, and universal to nearly everybody.

It is also unique among comedies. Now, while I have nothing against Judd Apatow and modern comedies like Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Knocked Up, there’s beginning to be a certain sameness about them. As anti-formulaic as they were, they’ve become so imitated that they’ve become their own formula. (500) Days of Summer is completely different. It has some of the cutting edge elements of those movies, but has cut out the raunch, and added a double dose of intelligence. This is as well-written a romantic comedy as you are likely to find, although in a very real sense this isn’t strictly a romantic comedy – more like an anti-romantic comedy. They do warn you with voiceover narration in the movie’s opening moments that this is not a love story, and the filmmakers stay true to their word.

Part of the movie’s success revolves around the likability of the leads. Both Deschanel (The Good Girl) and Gordon-Levitt (Brick) have plenty of indie cred to begin with, but are also are moving rapidly to the A-list, which they may very well take a huge leap towards after this movie comes out. They have some support – “Criminal Minds” uber-nerd Gubler as Tom’s stable friend, Arend as his manic friend and Boston as a semi-sympathetic ear on a blind date for Tom after the break-up. While it’s true that Deschanel has made a career out of playing the quirky indie girl (and plays one here), she gives Summer just enough depth to make her stand out amidst the pack.

While there is a scintillating indie soundtrack, don’t make the mistake of lumping this with all the indie movies that populate the art houses year after year. Things come out of left field, center field – Hell, out of the bleachers from time to time – enough to keep even the sharpest and most savvy moviegoer on their toes. The humor is biting and sometimes takes shots at indie sacred cows (like a montage of foreign film spoofs during Tom’s dream sequence). How refreshing for a film with this kind of background to not take itself so damn seriously, as indie films are wont to do.

In the end, the movie is about expectations versus reality. We tend to see things the way we want to see them, particularly when it comes to love and relationships. We may love someone so much that it hurts, but love has to be a two-way street, otherwise it’s just obsession. When you run into a movie that is so well-written and that understands what love truly is without the rose-colored glasses and treacle Hollywood is well-known for, you find yourself feeling like you’ve just met someone that you know is going to be your good friend for the rest of your life. It’s the kind of movie that alternates between hysterical and insightful and does just enough of both to keep you off-balance.

(500) Days of Summer is the kind of movie you’ll be quoting to friends and have in the forefront of your mind for a long, long while after the lights come up. For my money, this is the frontrunner for Best Movie of 2009 until another comes along to knock it off its perch – and that’s a big “if”.

REASONS TO GO: A well-written, intelligent romantic comedy that takes on the subject of true love without the rose-colored glasses of Hollywood. Attractive, likable leads have you rooting for them for all the right reasons. Laugh-out-loud funny at times, insightful at others, all set to a scintillating indie soundtrack.

REASONS TO STAY: Can’t think of a single reason to miss this movie.

FAMILY VALUES: Some fairly muted sex scenes and a few adult situations (like a dare to shout the word “penis” as loud as you can), but otherwise suitable for the entire family.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt previously worked together on the 2001 film Manic.

HOME OR THEATER: This is a movie that may be somewhat hard to find, but it is well worth the effort, and a movie this innovative and entertaining deserves all the support it can get.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: District 9