Take Five
By George Rose
January 19, 2010

I wrote you a love song called I TiVo'd Your Top Chef Appearance.

Welcome to Take Five, your weekly list of five random movie recommendations. Most people don't have time to watch five movies in a week. Most people don't even have five minutes to take a break and relax. Take Five is here to quicken your search for reliable entertainment (or at least movies that I deem entertaining) so you can enjoy what little free time you have. And really, who reading this article doesn't want to spend their free time watching movies? It's not like you're on sports Web site.

Though I had to take a short break from writing to take care of some family matters over the holidays, Take Five is back and I'm ready to kick off 2010 with recommendations of the best movies I've seen over the last few weeks. Starting next week, I'll return to the more typical variety of recommendations – different genres, different decades, etc. – but for now, here's what you should watch before the awards season continues and 2009 is totally forgotten.

Avatar (2009)

That's right, Avatar's biggest nemesis (that would be me) is recommending it to the public. I'm doing this because I figured I needed one last public apology to James Cameron, who – despite all my ranting – is a great director. He really does produce quality product and, above all else, profitable films. Sure, some really terrible films go on to make absurd amounts of money (apparently all you need to do is call the movie a Squeakquel), but Avatar is not a terrible film. It's flawed, didn't deserve the Best Picture Golden Globe, and shouldn't win the Best Picture Oscar; despite this, it is a technical marvel, a visual masterpiece, and has widespread appeal, something few movies can claim these days.

At this point, you pretty much have to see the movie just because everyone else in the world has. It doesn't even really matter if you like it or not; seeing it allows you the ability to jump in on any of the hundred conversations you're likely to overhear in a given day about Avatar. It's bigger than American Idol and the news that Simon won't be returning next season. It's bigger than the Super Bowl. It's bigger than... well, just about everything other than Titanic. And no matter how much I try to be the iceberg that stops it, Avatar is moving full-steam towards being the biggest movie ever. Not even accounting ticket price inflation or 3D IMAX price increases will be enough to stop people from calling this the "#1 MOVIE EVER!" It's pointless to fight it, people. Avatar is the new Gone With The Wind. The only thing that can stop it now is Gone With The Wind: The Squeakquel.

Adventureland (2009)

For every good movie that makes more than it should, there is a great movie that goes relatively unnoticed. In 2009, that was Adventureland. There are many reasons to love this movie, but for me it was the cast. This movie was like a Who's Who of Hollywood – 2009 Edition. In the leads you have relative newcomer Jesse Eisenberg (who had a breakout year with his similarly-titled Zombieland) and Kristen Stewart (if you haven't heard of her, Twilight, or New Moon, then there is traffic somewhere nearby that you should walk into immediately). Together, these youngsters face life and love in their early twenties while working a summer job at the nearby theme park.

Though drama is present and hearts get broken, the film is actually pretty funny. That is in large part because of the amazing supporting cast, which includes another massive star from 2009, Ryan Reynolds (Wolverine and The Proposal) as the man who comes between Jesse and Kristen. Rounding out the crew of comedians are Bill Hader and Kristen Wig (of SNL fame), both in their element as the bumbling owners of the park. While the movie was never going to cross $2 billion at the worldwide box office and would have been lucky to see even $50 million stateside, it still deserved much more than the $15 million it exited theaters with. Hopefully, with my help and yours, we can turn this into a cult-favorite on DVD. It's quirky, honest, and always entertaining... which is more than some of the moneymaking 2009 blockbusters that the actors starred in can say.

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

I never understood the hype behind Iron Man. I have loved superheroes and the Marvel brand name since I was in kindergarten, and have looked forward to every Marvel movie to come out since the first X-Men. I've even gone to the early midnight screenings of some of their most awful products, like Daredevil and Ghost Rider. Why? Because Stan Lee needs my support. Or at least I thought he did. Then one day, out of nowhere, Iron Man comes out and everyone and their mother goes to see it and says it's the best super hero movie ever. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Yes, Iron Man was a great movie and the sequel looks even better. BUT, was it so much better than X2: X-Men United that it needed to make $100 million more than it? No, not even close. At first, watching the success of Iron Man infuriated me, because I wanted to see that same kind of support given to the X-Men universe. Then I realized the silver lining of Iron Man: Robert Downey Jr.

Iron Man, as a movie, is good. Heck, I'd even say it's great. But what made it the phenomenon that it was is Downey. He took what could have been another Daredevil or Ghost Rider and made it bigger than X-Men. That is no easy feat, and while it's a feat I'm not happy about, it's a feat I can appreciate. After that, there was no doubt he would turn Sherlock Holmes – a property I deemed too old and boring to become a blockbuster – into another amazing action movie. If he could do it to Iron Man, he could do it to anything. With the help of director Guy Ritchie (who I cannot praise enough for his resume), Jude Law (who I have HATED since he had an affair with a nanny and now completely forgive), and Rachel McAdams (to know her is to love her without question), Sherlock Holmes was transformed from the unbearable books I was forced to read in middle school to a big screen epic. It was amazing the first time I saw it, and has only gotten better with each additional viewing. If it weren't for Avatar, Sherlock Holmes would surely have become the biggest movie of the holiday season. Because of Avatar, it must sit at third behind that abomination of a Squeakquel.

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

It's nice when winter holiday movies perform like unstoppable summer blockbusters. In 2008, the biggest holiday movie was Marley and Me with just under $150 million. It was a nice, quiet winter that year, with the focus of time spent on family instead of ticket lines and popcorn refills. In 2009, both Sherlock Holmes and Alvin 2's Pesky Squeakquel made more than that. As you may have heard, there was also Avatar, which pretty much made as more money as every movie released over winter 2008 combined. That's the joy of the box office, its inconsistent and unpredictable nature. It's also fun to be an analyst when small independent movies break into the mainstream and become major successes in their own right. One such 2009 release was (500) Days of Summer.

While the unpredictable nature of the box office is what gives me something to talk about, it's not always what I WANT to talk about. What I want to talk about is good things happening to good people, which is why I hate talking about the amazing success of douche bag James Cameron's Avatar. (500) Days of Summer gives me that ability, so here is what I have to say: Zooey Deschanel is a goddess. Reviews for this anti-love story were glowing from the second it was released, all the way up until it left theaters many, many weeks later. Some movies are built on the back of stellar buzz and this was one of them. Stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel play two coworkers that fall in and out of love over the course of 500 days. It is not told in sequential order, which makes it all the more gripping. The writing and story are wonderful, and the story is told and paced very well. At the center of all this perfection is Deschanel, the queen of indie cinema and a ray of light in any release she appears in. She's the only reason to see Elf, The Happening or Yes Man, and though (500) Days of Summer stands high on its own two feet, it's all the better because of her presence.

Up in the Air (2009)

This isn't one of the best movies I've seen in the last few weeks. This isn't the best movie of the holiday season. This, my friends, is the best movie of the year. For the last few months, the only Oscar hopeful to really get on my radar was Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones. Why? Because he's Peter-freaking-Jackson. Precious came out and everyone started saying that was going to be best movie of the year, but I knew deep down it would still be The Lovely Bones. Then Avatar came out and everyone changed their mind, saying that Avatar was now the best picture of the year. Still, I knew to wait for The Lovely Bones. In the midst of my waiting, I kept hearing about this small movie called Up in the Air. Then I went to see the movie. Then I stopped waiting around for The Lovely Bones.

Early buzz on the Peter Jackson film has not been kind, unlike that of Up in the Air, which has been garnering stellar reviews since its debut. George Clooney is always reliable as a lead, even if the movie around him isn't that good. That wasn't much of a risk this time around, as Up in the Air is directed by Jason Reitman, of Thank You For Smoking and Juno fame. Throw in Vera Farmiga, who proved her acting chops in The Departed, and you have yourself certifiable Oscar bait. But this movie isn't just talking the talk; a movie can have the parts but still not come together as well as expected. After Clooney's Men Who Stare At Goats, I expected this film to follow the same footsteps and become an underperformer, despite an amazing cast and promising storyline. Then I saw the movie and discovered what makes it stand out above the rest of the over-hyped movies that tend to win awards: Anna Kendrick. I knew Clooney's acting would be good, because he's Clooney. I knew the directing would be good, because of Reitman. But since Kendrick has only been seen in the Twilight series, it seemed smart to assume she'd be a bumbling ditz lost in a sea of talent. Boy, was I wrong. She's a stunning beauty with immense talent, and the real crime is that she didn't land a bigger part in Twilight. She deserves so much more than to sit in the background of a teen romance, and I am so thankful she was given the chance to shine in Up in the Air. While it wouldn't surprise me at this point if Avatar took home best picture, my vote is entirely behind Up in the Air, and Anna Kendrick as Best Supporting Actress.