Posts Tagged ‘Movies’

Best Films of 2009

February 9, 2010

I realize how late this is, and I apologize.  But with the Academy Award noms in full swing I am finally being forced to lay decree to the year of 2009.  To tell the truth, it has taken me AT LEAST this long to catch up on most of the material in 2009 (and I’m still quite behind).  While I was initially going to give in to the popular kids and stack-rank, I decided that this year had too many excellent selections from extremely broad-ranging categories.  So, I decided to list the best picks that fit together and then list my number 1 and 2 favorite movies of 2009.  Yay for experimenting with narrative!  This list is of my absolute favorite flicks of the last year, complete with basic defenses of each selection. In the year that ended up being dominated by a record-breaking work of spectacle over ten years in the making, I seek to highlight some of the very positive advances in story that may have been overshadowed, both at the box office and overall.  So, without further ado…

_In the Realm of Innovative Story and Character:

Adventureland, (500) Days of Summer, Up in the Air,

Adventureland holds a special place in my heart.  While Mottola’s story is nothing revolutionary by any means, the overall style of the narrative itself along with the sincerity and charm that he managed to bring to the  characters all combined to create an encapsulating story about love and post-grad fears.  The acting is quite spot-on with Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, Ryan Reynolds, and Martin Starr playing post-teen angst and confusion with actual commitment and conviction.  Adventureland really plays like what a John Hughe’s movie would exist as in the decade of “returning to naturalism.”  While Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, and Matt Bush play more slap-stick roles in an effort to keep the movie buoyed between overwhelming depression and light comedy, the characters are overall so well-written and played so close to life by the actors that sympathy can be garnered for any, one character at any given time.  Despite infidelity, lying, false bravado, and apathetic sexual encounters, every character is so completely engrossing and thoughtful that the audience identifies with them and keeps from objectifying them.  An early win in the year for character and story, Adventureland did poorly at the box office and failed to garner an abundance of critical praise.  While skimmed over for its simplistic plot whimsical style, the piece is a great character study in the lives of young, idealistic people at a cross-roads in their lives.

Marc Webb’s first feature, (500) Days of Summer, is an awesome example of how narrative can be the crux of the story.  And while that may seem like an obvious statement, the point I’m trying to make is that Summer’s story is best told through the seemingly random sequence of narrative segments that we view to discover the rise and fall of the story’s main relationship.  I don’t want to give anything away, but everything about Summer is perfect.  The characters are completely attainable and relatable while still keeping enough of an essence of individuality to keep you guessing as to how the story will pan out.  Summer also takes full advantage of surrealist storytelling to make a common romantic rendezvous into something that both genders thoroughly enjoy.  Elements of the surreal keep most detractors of the genre ensconsed while the heart of the affair provides more than enough drama and romance for the die-hard followers of the style.  Summer may be, in effect, the first truly unisex romantic comedy.

Initially, when I was stack-ranking this list, I had included Up in the Air as the number 3 film of 2009.  Reitman constantly impressed me with a gorgeous story and an intriguing message that added the perfect piece of punctuation to the end. Clooney’s performance was dazzling, as well, as he carried the story on his back and managed to upend the “anti-hero” archetype by story’s end. As it is, Reitman ends up displacing all archetypes in Up in the Air, opting instead for turbulent characters that accomplish more in 109 minutes than most characters do in entire television seasons.  Expertly written and expertly directed, Up in the Air helped me wash the taste of Avatar out of my mouth as they were released around the same time.

_In the Realm of Imaginative Storytelling and Experimenting with Narrative:

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Where the Wild Things Are, and Moon,

Let me preface this entry by stating two things, outright.  Number one, I have a GREAT affinity for Terry Gilliam’s style and vision.  And number two, like every Gilliam picture, The Imaginarium has some MAJOR flaws.  That being said, the story is FABULOUS.  Gilliam has managed to weave another fantastical fairy tale together involving some of the greatest actors of our generation.  Despite a huge crisis in the way of Gilliam’s lead, Heath Ledger, passing away in the midst of filming, Gilliam had to forge ahead and finish his work with some revisions to the script and the entire story, as a whole.  The characters are magical, the story is quite fun and imaginative, and, overall, Gilliam manages to remind us what CGI should be regulated to for the time being: Images and moments that we all understand to be completely surreal, anti-realistic, nightmarish, or absurd in nature.  Not to recreate life.  While the future will eventually bring about this technology, we just don’t have it yet.  AND THAT GOES FOR YOU, TOO, CAMERON!  Er…*ahem*…Sorry, allow me to get down from my soapbox…Anyway, this breed of absurdist fantasy combined with a stellar cast of actors and a director who can pull it off, really hit the mark that 2009 was otherwise devoid of.  While the third act does COMPLETELY fall apart and actually ends up being quite dreadful, the rest of the movie made me smile so wide it actually made up for it.  Oh, and did I mention that Tom Waits is in it?

There’s nothing that I can say in praising Where the Wild Things Are that hasn’t already been said.  Jonze characterizes childhood as expertly as possible with what is, in my humble opinion, the most fitting narrative form, absurdism.  Jonze’s use of language and plot structure don’t matter nearly as much in Wild Things as the raw emotional tone of the film matters.  I have often read that the film’s emotional core drives the narrative and acts as the crux of the film, rather than any concrete plot structure or story arc.  And I couldn’t agree more.  Along those lines, I would love to see a subset of cinema better explore this exercise, as it seemed to truly work for almost all audiences and I would love to see this largely unutilized technique become a more prevalant aspect of the industry.  Just think everyone!  Wouldn’t it be great if all films endeavored for an overarching catharsis!?!

Moon was another film that was largely overlooked last year but that deserved much more attention.  Again, there is much in this movie that I DO NOT want to give away, so I will merely say that the flick’s driving force is its adherence to the importance of its tone, above all else.  Like Wild Things, Moon’s emphasis is on the tone that it establishes with its audience early on and its experimenting with its tonal shift.  While Moon’s plot is quite exciting and original, it still is not as unique as the movies overall feel and it’s emotional bearings that it constantly shifts, forcing its audience to re-assess and re-evaluate what has occurred.

_In the Realm of “Just Plain Fun” Films That Kept Me Captivated While Adhering to an Excellent Structure

Zombieland, Star Trek, District 9, Taken, and Sherlock Holmes

An uncharacteristic amount of films came out in 2009 that didn’t exactly leave me awe-struck from a technical standpoint.  Nor did they inflect any sort of reverential admiration in the way they were written or produced.  While these films weren’t exactly revolutionary in any premiere way, however, they did still manage to evoke a visceral infatuation from me that the rest of 2009 failed to:  In other words, these films were a TON of fun.  Zombieland was a simply awesome romp following Woody Harrellson at the top of his game acting like a bad-ass tutor to the likes of Jesse Eisenberg as Eisenberg experiences his coming-of-age during a zombie apocalypse.  While fairly color-by-numbers the very criticism that detractors can take against Zombieland is the main reason I adored it.  Though you know every move that’s going to be made before they make it, the characters are so enduring that you desperately WANT to see these characters make those said choices.  Nothing shocking appears in this story and that’s exactly the way I wanted it. 

Taken was much the same way.  While extremely over-the-top and ridiculous at points, Taken fully understands the realm its playing in and unapologetically pushes it forward.  Liam Neeson spends the entirety of the movie kicking ass and taking names and the movie brilliantly succeeds because of it. 

Sherlock Holmes was fairly campy (adding martial arts to nineteenth century England usually incurs the wrath of the word “campy”)  but it truly was fun to see Downey battle it out with English degenerates while matching wits and solving capers.  Honestly never thought I’d say that.

District 9 actually WAS revolutionary, but only in the way it accomplished everything it set out to, and more, with a meager budget.  While still a simple sci-fi statement on imperialism, District 9 produced results MUCH MORE efficiently and creatively than James Cameron came close to…

And, of course, Star Trek.  Everyone’s favorite and the film that is receiving the most sympathy for being snubbed at the Oscar nominations.  An incredible reboot of the franchise with a fantastic Chris Pine helming the endeavor, Star Trek was EVERYTHING I wanted out of the film, a simple-yet-exhilirating and fun ride.

_Most Underrated Movie of 2009

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs along with Where the Wild Things Are proved that all you need are a handful of sentences and some childlike imagination to take an audiance on a wonderful adventure through storytelling.  The film was EXTREMELY loosely based on the children’s book in that food did, in fact, fall from the sky in both productions.  Going into Meatballs I was extremely skeptical, as I have qualms about rendering stories from pre-existing materials, especially when those materials are darling of children’s literature.  Meatballs quickly shut me up, however, with its lovely array of characters that proved to be both charming AND complex.  Each character had its own arc and structure and it truly reflected the care that the writers put into the film.  Meatballs easily made its money back, but did so gradually, and without much more than a peep from critics.  It deserves to sit as a distant second, but still tangential addition to the likes of Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are as proof that adaptations can take both successfully take artistic liscense, as well as actually produce entertaining cinema.

2. Up


Pixar rarely fails to awe, and Up is no exception. In addition to the small task of producing one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, Pixar managed to market this endeavor without giving away ANY crucial plot turns, WHATSOEVER.  Short of the “elderly citizen reluctantly takes kid on adventure in flying house” clips that we were shown, nothing that is central to the plot can be surmised from the entire advertising campaign. And the end result was a movie choc-ful of surprises.  Within the first 20 minutes of the movie I was welling up with tears, and by the end credits, my eyes were bleary again.  Ed Asner delivers a wonderful starring performance and proves that a narrative revolving around a senior citizen, a boy scout, and a flying house can captivate audiences better than any blockbuster revolving around giant, killer robots.

1. Away We Go


Completely underrated and unbelievably snubbed by the academy, critics, and end-of-the-year-list-makers alike, Sam Mendes’ latest directorial treat was absolutely wonderful in every cinematic aspect.  John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph both brighten up the screen in their melancholy world.  Conquering the mid-mid-life crisis, Kransinski and Rudolph’s characters both carry Mendes’ film as it explores our position in this life and how we, as people, come to find our meaning.  There is so much truth in this movie that it made me complete reassess Rudolph and Kransinski as actors.  After only seeing them in comedies on TV, it was so refreshing to come away from a film with MORE respect for actors,rather than less.  And while the acting is what fully sold me, the story, pacing, and overall style of the film are impeccable, as well.

Now, before anyone starts screaming about how many wunderbar flicks I left out, remember, these are my PERSONAL tastes.  It’s is SO hard to delineate what makes one film better than another.  I loved Zombieland, of course, but I feel Mottola hit more cinematic buttons with Adventureland, and besides, they are two COMPLETELY different films.  To be fair, however, I’m going to keep a tab of films that, as of January 13th 2010, I have not seen and therefore could not qualify in my list, however, I do recognize that they were regarded as “good.”

ANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNND the embarassingly long laundry list of flicks that I have yet to see:

Movies I Have Not Seen So I Cannot NOT List Them:
_The Princess and the Frog
_Invictus
_A Single Man
_A Serious Man
_Brothers
_The Bunny and the Bull
_The Road
_Fantastic Mr. Fox
_The Box
_The Men Who Stare at Goats
_Precious
_A Christmas Carol
_An Education
_The Hurt Locker
_Big Fan
_The Reader

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Board Games+Hollywood=FAIL

November 16, 2009

This absolutely blew me away.  If I ever need proof that the last 10 years of Hollywood have been mostly devoid of originality, I no longer have to search any farther.  /Film recently authored a post responding to Wikipedia’s listing of the top 50 highest grossing movies of the past decade.  Of the top 50, only NINE were original titles.  That is, not based on a previous story whether that be a comic book, TV show, play, clothing line, Disney Ride, whatever.  In fact, in the top 20 only one title (#15) emerged without owing allegiance to a previously liscensed property.  That being: Finding Nemo.  It’s absolutely staggering to think that since 1999 eighty percent of the highest grossing films were adaptations of some sort. 

Now, while it is imperitive to keep in mind that this list constitutes highest grossing box offices and not ALL of cinema over the last 10 years, it does still make a very declaritive statement about the state of film as we have come to know it.  The box office numbers drive production and Hollywood’s willingness to greenlight projects.  And if you were a number’s analyst, wouldn’t you lean more heavily towards projects you knew were going to profit for the studio?  With adaptations and revamps becoming a monetary must for studios, it seems fair to assume that we have a long way to go through the storm of upcoming adaptations.  In case you hadn’t heard the apocalypse-inducing news, Hollywood just recently went on a greenlighting frenzy to board game and toy properties, each of which makes the one before it look less and less absurd.  The laundry list goes as such:

_Candyland
_Battleship
_Risk
_Ouija
_Monopoly
_Clue

And those are just the movies about BOARD GAME adaptations. When you take into account the multitude of ALL upcoming adaptations, the figures are staggering. What’s even more interesting is the cast and crew that are attached to these projects. Ridley Scott is directing Monopoly. Etan Cohen (writer of both Idiocracy and Tropic Thunder) is writing Candyland. And when I last checked, Gore Verbinski was attached to Clue! It sounds insane but these big budget, fully backed films are even getting certified production teams. So while the most prudent reaction would be to sit back and give each production its due and allow these upgrades to try to speak for themselves and deliver a compelling revamped storyline to a priceless piece of Americana, I can’t help but worry that this is going to plunge us into a period of unoriginality the likes of which Hollywood has never seen. The question I’m most concerned with is, do we really want our generation of cinema-storians to be remembered as the era of the remake and revamp?

Welcome to Gimmicktown!

September 20, 2009

dreamworks_animation_logo

Being the old, crotchety miser that I am, I try to stay open-minded to new endeavors in cinema, but the truth is, I’m always reluctant to accept a new, sensationalist change on a classic tradition that I hold near and dear. Reason being, is that most of these changes I’m referring to come about in an effort to increase revenue, not to increase creativity or production. My topic of concern is that movies are being more and more redily made into 3-D. Dreamworks, the perpetrator in this situation, started the machine tentatively, producing only a handful of 3-D movies in the last two years. However, the movies that they did release in 3-D went above and beyond their monetary expectations. While the argument still stands that this could be the wave of the future for film and that any revenue is good revenue in an economy where most people have LITERALLY no income, it’s still very hard to look anyone in the eye and tell them that 3-D IS more than just a money-making gimmick. Harder still to tell them that Hollywood will use 3-D to further storytelling and enhance the medium rather than to cheapen good narratives for the next few years and then suddenly drop once its profitability wavers. DON’T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT, THOUGH! Just take a gander at actual quotes from Jeffrey Katzenberg which I found on /Film:

The consumer has shown now time and time again not just a willingness but an aggressive ambition to trade up for a premium experience. There’s been zero price resistance, in the worst economy in our lifetime. And as the economy changes and improves, that’s only going to continue to grow….The research we’ve done everywhere in the world said the consumer said they got a valuable experience at a $5 premium. And nobody has done a $5 premium.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!!!

In a business where margins are sinking like a stone in water, suddenly something comes along that for a small incremental investment you create huge incremental income possibilities for you. Why every studio isn’t out making three, four, five 3D movies is inexplicable.

Now, before you get your pitchforks and torches out let me reiterate a VERY valid point that /Film makes. Katzenberg is an executive. His sole purpose in life is to drive sales and fill the company’s wallet. That’s what he’s paid to do. In /Film’s Russ Fischer’s own words, “Granted, Katzenberg is an exec. It’s his job to make money, and his job to drum up support for plans that will put coin in his coffers. So a statement like this isn’t too surprising.” But my earlier point only stands strengthened. I hardly believe that anyone in the upper echelons of Dreamworks have any intentions other than fiscal ones when they add 3-D to their films. This gold-plated gimmick is far from being used for the right reasons, and until we can even fully undertand what the “right” reasons for using 3-D storytelling are, we shouldn’t do it. I SAID, “GOOD DAY,” SIR!

2009-2010 Must-See List

September 15, 2009

hollywood

After a lackluster-at-best summer movie season, we have all been (strangely) blessed with an incredible 09-10 season to look forward to.  I seriously haven’t been this jazzed about movie-going in a few years.  It seems that an amazing new debut is announced weekly at this point, which is really cutting in on my Hollywood bitching time.  Below, I’ve created a haphazard, make-shift rundown of what I am absolutely chomping at the bit to see in the upcoming season:

ROAD MCCARTHY FILM 2
The Road-Cormac McCarthy’s novel’s big screen adaptation was recently pushed back to Thanksgiving, frightening me all the more as I fear that studios are losing faith in its bankability.

sherlock-holmes-movie
Sherlock Holmes-Robert. Downey. Jr.

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Alice in Wonderland-Tim Burton’s CGI-fest update of Lewis Carrol’s classic.  Though I am EXTREMELY skeptical, Depp as the Mad Hatter with Matt Lucas, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Michael Sheen, Crispin Glover, Stephen Fry, and Alan Rickman are keeping my cries of “CGI-FOUL!” at bay.

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Iron Man 2-I’m intrigued to see Downey fight Mickey Rourke.  Intrigued enough to include this entry on this list.  Past that, to be honest, I don’t see this film panning out much differently than its predecessor, but, as long as they deliver on some great Downey/Rourke headbashing, I’ll be content.

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The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus-This is, hands down, the crown jewel of this list.  Terry Gilliam’s fantasy epic starring the late Heath Ledger had to improvise with its script as Ledger passed away during filming.  So what is one of the most revered directors in Hollywood to do when he loses his lead actor?  Simple, he calls in Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Ferrell to replace him.  All in one movie.  Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Ferrell, and Heath Ledger all play the same role.  I was trying to come up with a new word to describe this event, but I simply can’t.

zombieland_ver2

Zombieland-I’m not even a self-professed zombie-buff like many of my co-horts, but the trailers for this endeavor look too astounding to pass up.  Watching Woody Harrelson annihilate zombies while taking the less-than-menacing Jesse Eisenberg under his wing is all I wanted over the summer ’09 movie season.  Was that so much to ask?

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I Love You Philip Morris-Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor in a dark comedy about an inmate who breaks out of jail once his lover is released from the same prison.  I love Jim Carrey.  I love Ewan McGregor.  I love the premise.  I Love You, Philip Morris.  (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

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A Christmas Carol-Robert Zemeckis retells Dickens’ classic utilizing Jim Carrey as Scrooge and all three ghosts.  Need I say more?

Fantastic_Mr_Fox_Pic_1_jpg_595x325_crop_upscale_q85

Fantastic Mr. Fox-Wes Anderson helms this Roald Dahl retelling with a cast the likes of Meryl Streep, George Clooney, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson.  CAN. NOT. WAIT.

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Inception-Christopher Nolan’s first at-bat (no pun intended) since The Dark Knight.  A sci-fi/thriller starring Leo DiCaprio.  How many good things can we combine into a single movie? 

youth_in_revolt

Youth in Revolt-Michael Cera adopts an alternate persona all in the hopes of wooing a love interest.  My description doesn’t do the title nearly as much justice as images of Cera with a faux mustache. 

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Bronson-Having been called A Clockwork Orange of our time, Bronson chronicles the true story of Charles Bronson, the prisoner, who attained superstar status from simply being an unruly inmate.

zz0534202a 

(Untitled)-An art flick commenting on the absurdity of art flicks and art in general.  Seems to be everything Art School Confidential promised to be but failed to deliver on.

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Gentlemen Broncos-Jared Hess’ latest directing forray is a surreal fantasy about a down-on-their-luck sci-fi writer who steals a young boy’s manuscript and profits greatly.  I was sold upon reading “A surreal fantasy.”

the_box_movie_image_cameron_diaz_and_james_marsden_day_3

The Box-Richard Kelly (who I’m STILL giving credit for Donnie Darko) directs James Marsden and Cameron Diaz in a thriller about a married couple who discover an obscure box left on their doorstep.  Try to forget Southland Tales for just a minute and remember: James Marsden.

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World’s Greatest Dad-This could very well be the role that brings poignancy back to Robin Williams’ career.  Williams plays a failed poet father who finds his son dead due to auto-erotic asphyxiation.  To lull his son’s unfortunate fate, he writes a beautiful suicide note that gets absurd publicity and paints his son as a genius.  Williams then must decide whether to out himself as the genius or maintain his son’s newfound celebrity.  Did I mention that Bobcat Goldthwait is helming the project?

vampireassist

The Vampire’s Assistant-All production stills simply do not do this flick justice, you HAVE to check out the trailer.  Otherwise it just looks like John C. Reilly attempting a recreation of Nic Cage’s The Magician’s Apprentice, and that isn’t even out yet!  This quasi fantasy-quasi comedy-quasi drama seems to be perfect for John C. Reilly who stars in the lead role. After pulling schlock duty at the Apatow-Factory for the last few years, it will be good to see him be able to stretch again and actually play with something with some meat to it.

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Where the Wild Things Are-Spike Jonze’s adaptation of everyone’s favorite children’s book looks amazing and I’m very curious to see how good/bad it pans out.

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9-Back to John C. Reilly!  This voice cast is amongst the best I have seen in years.  Christopher Plummer is a catch in any medium. 

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The Lovely Bones-The trailers all look AMAZING and have kept my appetite satiated for this neo-fantasy thriller involving a young girl slain before her time and her attempt to reach out from beyond the grave.

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Big Fan-Patton Oswalt has put down a show-stopping dramatic performance that has stunned and stupefied most critics with its un-abashedly powerful and sincere dramatic intent.  Oswalt steps out of the image he has been stereotyped with and fully explodes on the scene with a (hopefully) attention grabbing portrayal.

NotQuiteHollywood

Not Quite Hollywood-A documentary (which I am usually a sucker for) about the explosion of the Australian film market in the ’70’s.  Pure.  Genius.

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Kick-Ass-Michael Cera and Nick Cage star in Mark Miller’s adaptation of his own graphic novel in which an everyday kid takes on the mantel of the superhero.  Miller’s graphic novel has a die-hard, monstrous fan base while being a relatively new title.  Plus, Nic Cage.

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Cold Souls-Paul Giamatti plays himself in a Being John Malkovich sort of drama, in which Paul, a successful actor, takes part in a breakthrough soul-removal-procedure.

This entire effort seems fairly frivolous, because, while this is all I can think of now, as soon as I finish writing this article, fourteen more trailers will be released and will stupify me.  I’m FAR from complaining, however, as it has been years since I’ve been anywhere near this excited about anything Hollywood has done. Happy movie-going everyone!

Shameless self-promotion, everyone!
Bears With Sparklers

The Importance of Cinema

April 25, 2009

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Interesting article from Variety.  It would appear that some major players from the MPAA converged on Capitol Hill with lawmakers to discuss the future of the movie industry in relation to the country and the economy.  Apparently, in February, the Motion Picture Industry lost $246 million in revenue due to revised tax breaks in the Obama administration’s stimulus bill.  This decision came hot on the tails of the Motion Picture Industry’s record-breaking box office month of January.  Hollywood appealed to Washington stating that the Entertainment industry is crucial to the nation’s economy and its eventual recovery.

While 90% of this meeting was the usual blowing-smoke/ass-kiss fest that all lobby meetings in Congress are, I actually see the merit.  Of course, I’m biased.  I love film and honestly want to devote the rest of my life to the medium as an art form.  But (and not to get too artsy-fartsy on you) there is something to be said about the American tradition of cinema and having that natural release available to the masses that only celluloid can deliver.  Because with cinema comes the capacity to dream.  To imagine.  To hope.  And at no point in America’s history do we need more hope than we do know.  Disenfranchisement and disillusionment are running rampant in this country right now, and I truly believe that most people need to have their spirits uplifted, they need to be entertainedthey need to share a moment with a loved one in front of a silver screen, they just need to smile.  And film seems to be the one artform that is most capable of accomplishing those things across the board.  Not many people escape through painting or sculpture.  People’s musical interests are too incredibly varied, plus, there’s this weird stigma in our culture that music is the one validated art form and to take it away is a crime.  And few people truly read for leisure.  I am in no way, shape or form discounting these art forms, they are all equally important.  But, that being said, I believe that we need cinema just as much, if not more.  For the cinema presents physical, human experiences right in front of us to enjoy.  Sure, they’re contrived.  But that’s what is so beautiful about them.  With cinema, we can create the experiences that we would have never had, otherwise.  We can dream whatever we want.  We can envision whatever we want.  We can idealize whatever we want.  And in this time of misery and despair, the opportunity to imagine something, anything, is a golden one.