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BOP 20 of the Holidays 2009: #10-1

November 6, 2009

Before the invention of the'Hell, My Name Is' label

Stripey pajamas will be all the rage among mammals this season 10) The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Call us unabashed hipsters if you like, but a number of our staff members are big fans of director Wes Anderson. His films, including Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited, have all immersed the viewer into a carefully crafted world wherein the characters march to the quirkiest of beats. Some of the films are admittedly more successful than others, but each of them has at least one standout moment that sticks with you. And sticks with you. And sticks with you.

Having had enough of directing live-action versions of Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman, Anderson has now turned his attention to...directing animated versions of Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman. The Fantastic Mr. Fox looks exactly like what you might expect an animated film from Anderson to. It has the same color scheme, the characters are dressed in similar "costumes" and the same deliberate attention to detail is present.

Of course, The Fantastic Mr. Fox is notable for a couple of other reasons. It's a stop-motion animated film in a world where CGI animation is the rule of the day. It's also an adaptation of a well-loved Roald Dahl book, which is bound to get attention from literary types and kids who loved the author growing up. Finally, it's one of three November films to feature George Clooney in a starring role (though in this case, of course, it's his voice). If someone's gotta be overexposed, he's a best case scenario.

The movie itself tells the story of Mr. Fox, his family, his neighbors and their friends. When farmers get sick of Mr. Fox's raids on their chicken houses, they band together to take on the pest - and their plans have overreaching ramifications on all of the creatures who reside in Mr. Fox's vicinity. It's a fun-sounding little film with shades of Chicken Run, and even if it might not be precisely targeted for children, we're eager to see how it all comes together. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
From left: no, yes, no, no, yes, 10 years ago yes, yes, yes 9) Nine yes, its placement is strictly coincidental

Okay, here's where things get complicated. Nine is a musical film based on Arthur Kopit's book for the Tony Award-winning musical play of the same name. That theatrical production was itself inspired by an Italian play written by Mario Fratti. And that Italian play was derived from the Federico Fellini film 8 1/2. Whew. Are you worn out, yet? I know I am. (If not, we could also discuss the fact that in 2009, there was another movie called 9 as well as one titled District 9.)

Regardless of its circuitous route to the big screen, there's much to anticipate with regards to Nine. It's directed by Rob Marshall, who has had plenty of success in the genre. In addition to being a six-time Tony nominee, he was also given a Best Director nomination for Chicago (which in turn won Best Picture). From the looks of the trailer, he's infused the film with the frenetic tone of Moulin Rouge! while maintaining the style and pizzazz of Chicago. The late Anthony Minghella (director of The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain) wrote the screenplay, so there will be some sentimentality attached to the movie's awards candidacy as well.

The film also has a cast that's pretty much to die for. All of the following actors who appear in it have won Academy Awards: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench and Sophia Loren. Poor Kate Hudson could only manage a nomination. All of them look extremely well suited to their roles in Nine, which reminds me a great deal of All That Jazz (another musical that was nominated for nine Academy Awards nearly 30 years ago). That's a pretty big compliment in my book, and although this one wasn't necessarily on my must-see list before watching the trailer, it's pretty solidly in "I'm there on opening night" territory now. Clearly, a large part of the BOP staff agrees. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
Massive Headwound Harry 8) Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

We keep trying to buy what director Terry Gilliam is selling. Sure, Tideland went by virtually unnoticed (though the film has its proponents) and The Brothers Grimm was a bit disappointing. We still keep remembering that this is the man who has brought us such classics as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Brazil, Time Bandits, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King and 12 Monkeys. There's a lot of brilliance in that man's mind, and even spectacularly failed projects like Don Quixote have shown all kinds of potential.

His newest movie will be a curiosity for many because it is Heath Ledger's final role. Given what an unbelievable performance he gave as The Joker in The Dark Knight, that is understandable. But the appeal of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus goes even beyond Ledger's presence. It's the story of a man (The Doctor - no, not that one) who makes a deal with the devil and must then save his daughter from the terms he agreed to. He works alongside a traveling theater troupe and a mysterious outsider as they journey through parallel universes in an attempt to rescue the lovely Valentina.

In the midst of filming, Ledger passed away, which caused Gilliam to come up with the ingenious story device of having his character change appearance at various points in the film. Tony, the mystery man, is also portrayed by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell at various points, a novel and unique approach to the sorts of tragedies that constantly seem to beset Gilliam. Other cast members include Christopher Plummer, Verne Troyer, and Tom Waits as the Devil (perfect, right?).

Anyone who has seen the preview for The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus knows it offers visual delights that is unlikely to be duplicated in another movie this holiday season. It almost feels like a more upbeat Pan's Labyrinth. While it's likely to be as divisive as much of the director's previous work, this is a movie with a pedigree and that feels "different". And did we mention Tom Waits as the Devil? (Kim Hollis/BOP)




Viewers will find the song+dance number at the end to be and odd choice 7) The Road

So, apparently after Roland Emmerich and 2012 destroy the world, we're left with this...the end of the world as we know it. Unfortunately, REM was not correct, because it's pretty clear that the people left behind do not feel fine.

The Road is a post-apocalyptic tale set in an all-too-near future. A man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are struggling to survive in a United States where it's clear that very few people are even alive. Simple things like a can of Coca-Cola are seen as treasure. The two of them are desperately trying to get to the southeast coast, away from the cold and toward a place where they hope there will be supplies and other survivors. It's a very rough journey, though, because along the way they'll encounter cannibals and other remnants of society whose purpose is to pillage and plunder the less fortunate.

Like the Best Picture Academy Award winner from 2007 (No Country for Old Men), The Road is based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy. The book is one of the most critically acclaimed of the last decade, with spare language telling the story of desperate human beings. The prospect of a theatrical adaptation of the novel has always been exciting, particularly since so much was left to the imagination in the story that it will be fascinating to see the interpretation of director John Hillcoat and screenwriter Joe Penhall. There are some truly haunting images in the movie's trailer, and we're hopeful that the film can deliver some real suspense and moral debate. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
Uh oh, *somebody* just threw down.... 6) Precious

Clearly, this vote is further demonstration of BOP's obsession with Mo'Nique. The Soul Plane fan site simply was not a strong enough sign of our devotion. Or something like that. Look, we could do all of the same punchlines everyone else is doing about this cast, but there isn't a lot of point to that. Precious is a known commodity by now. It may feature a key cast member of Glitter and that really dumb chick from The View (no, not Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the other one), but it is by all accounts a wonderful story, according to the glowing reviews it has earned on the film festival circuit. A teen girl from a poor unbringing overcomes sexual and psychological assault from her parents to educate herself enough to attain the skills that give her hope that she can provide for her children in spite of her age. I would argue that Precious makes for a nice female-centric companion piece to The Blind Side and I like the symmetry of both earning a spot on our holiday list. (David Mumpower/BOP)
She has no idea how to spell 'Saoirse' either 5) The Lovely Bones

It's not a particularly well hidden secret that our staff...likes Peter Jackson. Heavenly Creatures is an underrated favorite, Braindead is schlocky good horror fun, King Kong has a remarkable second half, and then there's a trio of films known as The Lord of the Rings. We sort of love those movies. Thus, we're always going to be pretty thrilled when the director has a new project in the offing. Sure, he was attached as producer to summer's District 9, but we're all ramped up to see what he'll do with a more subdued story than he's attempted in some time.

Based on a popular novel by Alice Sebold, the movie centers on a girl named Susie Salmon (played by Atonement's Saoirse Ronan) who is killed by a neighbor, who is a serial killer and rapist. She finds herself in a Heaven-like place, where she observes her family's grief and also watches her murderer's plans to repeat his crime. Ronan has already been nominated for an Academy Award, and seems quite a solid choice for the role, and she stars alongside Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz and Stanley Tucci.

While the story sounds as though it might be akin to Mystic River or something similar in tone, the fact that Susie is in "Heaven" allows Jackson to play with effects and images in her ethereal location. The trailer is very intriguing, and we're guessing that The Lovely Bones will be in the discussion for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, along with a slew of other awards. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
Some Clearasil will clear those right up 4) Avatar

Every single pre-release discussion of Avatar will link James Cameron's next release to his previous one. That's what happens when a director creates the most successful film of all time then goes a dozen years without a follow-up (a Titanic documentary excluded). We are going to try to focus on Avatar as its own entity for the most part, but let's quickly review what Titanic accomplished. It is the most successful domestic release of all time by a full $70 million over a recently failed would-be usurper, The Dark Knight. Worldwide, it has made over $700 million (!) more than any other film. And it wasn't in the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen area of critical reception, either. Titanic went 11 for 14 at the Academy Awards, tying the record for most wins as well as most nominations. Titanic is the one and only perfect movie project.

Since the film's unprecedented triumphs in 1997 and 1998, people have anxiously anticipated Cameron's next project. Realizing that he was under the largest microscope in the history of the industry, the director took a step back and carefully weighed his options. Over time, he was linked to several major projects before eventually settling on the one closest to his heart, Avatar. It offered the one thing that has always been catnip to Cameron: technological innovations. Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Titanic all had that commonality. Cameron is a gadget geek, just like so many of us on the Internet. I bet he has a man-cave that would put even Batman to shame.

With Avatar, Cameron has a chance to redefine the movie-going experience. It's an ambitious goal to be sure, but we would expect nothing less from the man who submerged cameras on an 85-year-old shipwreck to add realism to his masterwork. Avatar's celebration of emerging IMAX and 3-D technologies is intended to be an immersive interaction for consumers who feel themselves to be a part of the story. Historically, this sort of user engagement has been limited to amusement park rides, but Cameron is hoping to adapt that feeling to the cinema. The director has placed himself in a position for a lot of second guessing if Avatar is anything other than a fundamentally unique film viewing. The question then is whether he can fulfill all of these unspoken promises.

Judging by Avatar's placement on this list, our staff is conflicted about whether he can. To a large extent, Avatar has been the most important movie on the schedule ever since its original announcement. Following up Titanic is the biggest challenge any moviemaker has ever faced and rather than return with a low-key, understated affair, Cameron has gone the other way entirely by pointing to the centerfield fence then swinging as hard as he can. We're hoping that he pulls off this magnificent feat, but the trailers for the film are...befuddling. Avatar looks like Last of the Mohicans as told by World of Warcraft animators. In fact, it forcibly reminds us of a similarly high-minded and technologically unprecedented release, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, one of the biggest financial disasters in the history of our industry. So, we are taking a lot on faith to say that we think Cameron can succeed where Sony failed. In some ways, Avatar should be a slam dunk to be the most anticipated film of the holiday season whereas in other ways it feels like a train wreck in the offing. Then again, many would have said the same thing about Titanic a few months before its release. Can Cameron pull off the seemingly impossible once again? BOP is uncomfortable betting against arguably the greatest living director. We just wish Avatar didn't look so...artificial. (David Mumpower/BOP)
In all fairness, the goat did just beat him at Rock Paper Scissors 3) The Men Who Stare at Goats

The ideas of telepathy, telekinesis and other aspects of extra-sensory perception date back almost to the dawn of man. Their mere existence creates a quandary for soldiers of war. If such ludicrous premises are based in fact, they must investigate the behavior. Otherwise, they would be ceding tactical advantages to the opposition and no self-respecting military infrastructure would ever allow that. Such is the basis for George Clooney's newest film, which seems like Syriana on the surface level but is clearly Confessions of a Dangerous Mind at its core.

This film has been a curiosity for us for a while now. The moment it was added to the schedule, the title mystified us. None of our staff had yet read the Jon Ronson novel upon which it is based; ergo, it was all but impossible to envision what this film could be about. I strongly suspect that you were the same way right up until you saw the trailer. If you are like me, you cracked up the instant you understood the genius of the title. There is something intrinsically hysterical about a man staring at a goat until it falls dead on the floor. While I would argue that this entire sequence hearkens back to a character from 2006's Accepted, it was funny then and it's still funny now. The Men Who Stare at Goats features a staggering amount of talent in a tale that is equal parts conspiracy theory and satire. In fact, the whole thing looks like an article from National Enquirer brought to life on the big screen. Clearly, the idea of the Warrior Monk military official is one whose time has come and we can't wait to see what Clooney does with it. (David Mumpower/BOP)
Yeah, George, we all notice your *other* movie up there. 2) Up in the Air

We know, we know. You get it. We like George Clooney. The thing is, we've also really liked Jason Reitman, too. The director of Juno and Thank You for Smoking has a talent for delivering fresh feeling films with a dose of quirk and stellar dialogue, and if early reviews are any indication, Up in the Air might be his most celebrated success to date.

In the film, Clooney portrays Ryan Bingham, a man who travels around the country to terminate employees for various companies. (If you've seen the trailer, you can see why they might want to contract such work out.) He loves his life on the road, relishing the fact that he never gets involved in any long-lasting relationships and soothing any pain with sex and booze. That changes for him when his own employer decides to ground him, putting him into a position where he's more involved in their Omaha, Nebraska corporate headquarters. Clearly, a reevaluation of what's important is at stake.

It's a strange-sounding premise to be sure, but we're betting that Reitman can make it work. Much will depend upon Clooney's ability to make an unlikeable-sounding character sympathetic. As of this writing, the praise for Up in the Air is simply glowing. It's currently sitting at 100% (18 out of 18 reviews) at RottenTomatoes, and while that is bound to change as more people see the movie, the comments that accompany those reviews would have you believe this film is something truly exceptional. There's always the risk that the movie will suffer due to overhyped expectations, but everything we're seeing so far has us very, very excited indeed. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
Remember, don't chase them until you hear Yakety Sax start 1) Sherlock Holmes

He is a talented but troubled man, a recovering addict whose proclivity for recreational drugs was almost his undoing. His skill set is such that he intimidates others simply through various demonstrations of his craft. He is inimitable, resourceful and influential. And when I say "He", I could be talking of either Robert Downey Jr. or the character of Sherlock Holmes. When Arthur Conan Doyle put quill to paper and created a complex, brilliant addict whose abilities were unrivaled in his field of expertise, he may as well have been a seer looking into the future and recounting the characteristics of Downey. This is what makes the union so perfect, mayhap too perfect.

In 2008, Robert Downey Jr. put a career of self-implosion behind him, hopefully for good. Along the way, he reminded us of what a gifted thespian he has always been. Iron Man was a tour de force performance, one that seemed right in his wheelhouse. The main character, Tony Stark, was also a talented but troubled man, a mercurial genius oftentimes undone by his personal demons. Downey found the role relatable and worldwide audiences ate up the performance to the tune of $580 million. It is currently the 52nd most successful film of all time, 22nd in terms of domestic revenue. He followed this up with a brilliant run as conflicted character actor Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder. After a career of low budget titles and box office failures, Downey had two of the 25 biggest hits of 2008, both of which earned over $100 million domestically. He could have starred in any project he wanted after that, but in typical fashion, he chose an eclectic role, that of Sherlock Holmes in a Guy Ritchie film.

Ritchie himself is a man who has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons lately. His split from ex-wife Madonna was contentious and followed on the heels of years of tabloid fodder about the extra-marital romantic liaisons of both parties. What was lost in all of this nonsense is that Ritchie had proven himself to be one of the most talented directors of his generation before getting mixed up with Madonna. His work on Lock, Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels and Snatch established him as the go-to guy for films about the criminal underground. An interpretation of Sherlock Holmes is in some ways a corollary to this previous work for Ritchie.

What surprises us about the trailers is how vaudevillian they have been thus far. Some of the behavior here hearkens back to the days when Downey was a cast member on Saturday Night Live (this is true if you have forgotten or are too young to remember). The casting of Jude Law as Watson makes this feel like a 19th century buddy cop movie more than anything. That concerns us a bit in that there has to be a happy medium somewhere between zany comedy and the underlying malevolence of Johnny Depp's Sherlock-esque performance as Frederick Abberline in From Hell. Nonetheless, one of Ritchie's strong suits throughout his career has been gallows humor and we rather like that Downey isn't getting too full of himself after the misstep of The Soloist, admittedly a film he had taken before 2008 made him the A-List actor he always should have been.

The vote for the best holiday release of 2009 was so close that only one a handful of votes separated first from eighth place. In the end, we acquiesced to the star power of Downey and the proven greatness of Guy Ritchie despite very stiff competition. The next two months of movies are poised to be one of the greatest periods in recent cinema history, but to the staff at BOP, Sherlock Holmes stands out. (David Mumpower/BOP)

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