Tag Archives: movies

I spent $258 at the movies last year.

Actually, I probably spent more.

You see,  in early 2009 I decided to start saving all the tickets stubs from the movies I went to see.  I have a notoriously bad memory, so I wanted to keep track of the films I saw, in the hopes that at year end, I would be able to reflect on these films and come up with the list everyone does.  The Top 5 Film List.  I am a woman with a limit budget, though.  I have to choose my films wisely.  Every now and then I’ll go crazy and splurge for the random film just because a bunch of friends are going and I want a night out, but for the most part I only see films that have somehow persuaded me to open my wallet and give up my precious cash.  Here is a list of the films I choose to do that with this year.  What does this list say about me as a person, as a film-goer? Let’s look at the list and see.
Click to jump to the list

This Week’s Top 5: Favorite Movies of 2009


  1. Summer Hours – This was definitely my favorite movie of the year.  I return to it regularly in my mind, and recommend it as often as I can. A complex, lyrical and passionate question mark about the state of culture, what is it and what does it mean to us. Of course the setting is France where these kinds of reflections have always been nurtured and contemplated. The film is a beautiful mirror of our expanding global culture and the unstable place of tradition and history within that ever-changing horizon.
  2. Fantastic Mr. Fox – Charming, fun, pure cinematic enjoyment. Wes back in form. And Jason Schwartzman stole every moment.
  3. Bright Star – A beautiful and lush look at a woman whose inner life and creativity rivals that of one of the most famous poets of all time. I did not want to leave the world created by Jane Campion.
  4. Adventureland – Funny. Melancholic. Terrific soundtrack. Its only missed note was the casting of Ryan Reynolds.
  5. An Education – I am happy to see two films on my list about women and directed by women. another woman’s life whose intellectual curiosity finds an equal partner in her own desires and passions, and who was willing to risk tradition for a life lived.


  1. The Hangover – I can’t remember the last movie I laughed so hysterically at.  Every scene had some piece of genius in it, not just the scenes used in the trailers that typically give away the funniest parts of a movie.  I loved the way this movie unfolded: the reverse (and uncharacteristic for a comedy) chronological order of waking up in utter chaos and using the rest of the movie to make sense of the chaos.  Of course it never hurts to have a cutie-pie leading man (Bradley Cooper).  I already own it on DVD.
  2. Where the Wild Things Are – Regardless of whether you are a Dave Eggers fan (he seems to polarize people), I thought this film was lovely and Eggers did a great job of taking an amorphous story and transforming it into a concrete screenplay.  The costumes were superb and amazingly resembled the drawings in the book.  The story was sad but not tragic and the characters were flawed but loveable.
  3. Whip It – This movie didn’t seem like it got much hype at the box office, but it was a lot of fun, it has a great soundtrack and features an all-lady roller derby team!  Directed by Drew Barrymore, she established a definitive style throughout, from the hand-held filming to the opening/closing credits.  It was also refreshing to see Ellen Page play a role other than her normal sassy, sardonic teenager.
  4. Up – A love story at heart, this movie is so sweet and playful it’s hard not to like it.
  5. New Moon – This was my most anticipated movie of 2009.  Okay, so probably not one of the top five movies of 2009 in terms of acting quality or special effects, but it was just plain scandalous entertainment.  Of course, I’ve read all the books, I’ve pitted myself on “Team Jacob” and I can’t wait for the next one to come out.


  1. Inglorious Bastards – Tarantino combines comedy and tragedy in epic style.  The steady and quiet opener is a master class in building tension, and the final theater scene is beautifully choreographed.
  2. Up in the Air – I love that Clooney stepped outside of his comfort zone here to play the old, lost guy.  The movie is subtle and very well paced, and when did you last see two great starring roles for women in such a movie?  I Love how Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga stir things up, evolve and surprise.
  3. Let the Right One In – This is unlike any vampire movie I’ve ever seen and the book is next up in my reading queue (thanks, Wendy!).  This quiet movie brings incredible sadness and loneliness to the life of a child blood sucker.
  4. 500 Days of Summer – This fulfilled my need for a solid rom com in 2009.  My favorite moment is when they discuss their former relationship on the park bench and she says to him:  “I woke up one morning and I just knew…What I was never sure of with you.”  A very straightforward answer to a topic that is never very straightforward – relationships.
  5. The Class – I love how this is like peaking into real life.  I love how it shows how people’s loyalties can turn on the toss of a dime.  I love how it shows that everyone has shades of grey.

And, Jen Mae’s Top Five Movies with a twist:  The ones she wishes she’d seen if she didn’t have a beautiful two-year-old at home.

  1. An Education – I’m a sucker for a good coming of age story, especially one with a female protagonist.  Looks a little sappy, but I’m o.k. with that. This one didn’t make it to a theater in my area, so I have to wait for the DVD release.
  2. Fantastic Mr. Fox – I really wanted to watch this with my daughter, but after several unsuccessful trips to the theater, I decided against it. I think it’s funny that Bill Murray is the voice of a badger in this film.  After years of acting alongside burrowing creatures, he finally gets to play one!  Of the few children’s movies we did make it through, Up! was my favorite.
  3. Men Who Stare at Goats – Come on! George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, and Jeff Bridges? Looks like a movie I could watch over and over again.  My husband saw it and compared it to Raising Arizona.  Now, those are some big shoes to fill.
  4. Where the Wild Things Are – Almost made it to this one… I’ve heard mixed reviews, but I’m trying not to make any judgments ’til I see it myself.
  5. Up in the Air – I know, I know. Clooney overload!  When movies are hyped up like this, I’m usually disappointed, but the optimist in me says this could be different.

The Ultimate Grease vs. Grease 2 Song Off

This weekend, we decided to pit Grease and Grease 2 in a duel and judge each song individually – free of bias, emotional attachments and story and character development.

This was not an easy task. After repeated childhood viewings of Grease 2, my friends and I knew every single word and every single dance move.  I was a Pink Lady (and possibly still am at heart). Michelle Pfeiffer was one of my heroes. Our obsession led us in fourth grade to be called into the office of Ms. America Novas, our very big and intimidating elementary school principal whose asthma spread across the loudspeakers every morning during assembly, for a lecture about the fact that “gangs” would not be tolerated in our Catholic school.

This didn’t mean that we ignored the original.  It just didn’t connect on a meaningful level – Olivia was no Michelle and never would be.  Believe me, I know these are controversial opinions – that Grease is held in incredibly high esteem and most people blow off the sequel as a joke.  In fact, that very difference of opinion resulted in this song off.

The results are below and averaged from a careful analysis by a male Grease fanatic and, well, me!


Grease: C

This is like being asleep at the wheel.  Not a great way to kick off the movie, and, in retrospect, probably one of the reasons Grease has always been judged inferior by my “gang” (as a fellow member recently said).

Summer Nights:  A

A fun-filled he said/she said with humor and heart.  It pulls an A for the ending itself – John Travolta’s dramatic sigh (“but…’oh”). Just, please, accept that this song is a karaoke killer.

Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee: B

A quick and funny ditty proving that girls can bite, too.  Stockard Channing shows off her ballsiness with a badge.  Still, this feels more like an interlude than a full number and because of that fades away.

Hopelessly Devoted:  A+

Agreed to be the King of All Grease Songs and, really, the only one that can stand alone – melodically and lyrically – apart from the musical.  If we’d heard this song on the radio and never seen the movie, it’d still be a hit.  I dare you to listen to this once and not get it stuck in your head for days to come.

Greased Lightnin’:  B-

You think you like this song but you really don’t.  The words are too fast and Travolta’s voice too deep.  No wonder I don’t know (or care about) half the lyrics.

Beauty School Dropout:  C+

Our initial reaction was to fail this one because …who ever cared about Frenchie?   Yet, we both had to admit that it is a decent tune that we’d love to listen to on vinyl.  Still, the questionable intro and outro chain it to mediocrity.

Sandy: B+

Our notes refer to the “explosive chorus” and the Beach Boys-reminiscent castanets.   Travolta’s voice is much better suited to this pace.

There are Worse Things I Could Do:  B+

Again, we both cringed when this one started and then realized this is a solid 50s girl power ballad and a starring vehicle for Channing.   I want to hug and high five her after this performance, which is the perfect length and has the perfect flow.  Someone should cover this (Kelly Clarkson?  Lady GaGa?) and give it new life.

You’re the One That I Want:  A

Not only catchy, but powerful, fun and sporting great harmonies.  Raise your hand if you’ve tried to master the little hand-in-the-pocket shimmy when they walk down the stairs.

We Go Together:  A-

This is a party I want to be invited to!  A rambunctious way to end the movie and a surprising follow up to You’re the One that I want; instead of winding down, the movie ramps up and you speed off the cliff into the sunset.


Back to School Again:  B-

The energy of this opener kicks Grease to shame and it does a great job of introducing all the major players and personalities.  Still, the song suffers from overindulgence.

Score Tonight:  A-

This is a Latin-rhythm infused good time with a killer breakdown – “You bowl me over!”  Here, you notice what a superior singer Lorna Luft is compared to her peers and can’t help but chuckle at Adrian Zmed’s screeching, over-the-top, on-his-knees howl.

Cool Rider: A-

Pfieffer achieves total coolness in her black-outfitted, solo performance.  If just one more voice was introduced it wouldn’t have worked as well – a rare moment of subtlety for the sequel.

Reproduction:   B

Grease 2s version of the he said/she said with the raunch factor turned up.  Could have been cut short in both length and number of vocal parts, but the bass turnaround point (“Where does the pollen go?”) is a good one.

Who’s That Guy:  C

The chorus far outshines the verses here.  The Cycle Lords’ group singing is laughable and, again, there are just too many vocals that suffer even more from awkward transitions.

Let’s Do It for our Country:  A

This cohesive and catchy tune would have been doomed by second character indifference if it weren’t for this face off.  What we uncovered was a great melody that overcomes the silly lyrics and plot.  Please, keep an open mind.

Prowling: C+

While it’s nice to have a little bit of Rock & Roll representation, the verses are too weighed down.  This sounds like stomping your feet in mud.

Charade:  C-

This could have (should have?) been sung by Jack Wagner.  It seems like the producers weren’t even sold since the song just sort of sneaks into the scene as if wasn’t welcome to begin with.  Super boring, cheesy and out of place.

Girl for All Seasons:  A

This is probably the most fluid of the Grease 2 offerings and a great example of how various vocal parts can work when done right.  But, damn the producers for cutting it off with…

Turn Back the Hands of Time:  C+

Sorry, this is just too much cheesiness for one song to bear.

Rock-a-Hula-Luau: B

It’s like the producers decided to rip off and split off Grease’s We Go Together.  The first part is this Luau, which just begs you to hand jive and drink a daiquiri.

We’ll Be Together:  B-

Part II is the weaker rip off.  It starts off strong, but should never have slipped into secondary character territory.  The lyrics are embarrassing: “I like what you got.  I guess it’s ok, if you want to show it.”  Or:  “Will I ever score?  There’s nothing wrong with just liking each other.”  And the electric guitar is cringe worthy.

RESULTS: GREASE (B+ ; 3.2); GREASE 2 (B; 2.9)

Yes, it pains me to write that.

Posted by: Mariela (with help from David)

A.O. Scott Watch: Where the Wild Things Are

PSYCH!  No matter how much I wanted this one to be Scott, it wasn’t.  It was Manohla Dargis.  And what she wrote gave me chills.  From today’s NY Times:


“…after jolting the story to excited life, Mr. Jonze quiets the movie down for a series of flawlessly calibrated scenes of Max alone and with his sister and mother (Catherine Keener), an interlude that tells you everything you need to know about the boy and that announces all that will happen next.

These scenes, lasting 20 minutes or so, are achingly intimate and tender. Mr. Jonze, working with his regular cinematographer, Lance Acord, brings you close into Max’s world as he builds an igloo in the street, starts a snowball fight with Claire’s friends and is left to weep alone after the igloo is destroyed. (When Max slides into the igloo, the camera is right there, which means that you’re there too when disaster strikes.) The world is cruel, children too, lessons that Max absorbs through a smear of tears and hurt. The wound doesn’t heal. Max clomps and then stomps and then erupts: he roars at his mother. She roars back. And, then, like his storybook counterpart — like everyone else — he sails into the world, adrift and alone.”

Posted by: Mariela

Just Did It: The Way We Were and Robert Redford at BAM

When Katie Morosky Gardner says to Hubbell Gardner, “Wouldn’t it be lovely if we were old? We’d have survived all this. Everything thing would be easy and uncomplicated; the way it was when we were young,” you sort of agree with her because you just want “The Way We Were’s” gorgeously scripted and portrayed couple to make it.  But then, we wouldn’t have memories and a challenge, and Carrie wouldn’t have a scene to act out on the steps of The Plaza when Mr. Big has just become Mr. Big…and married.   (On this viewing, I even thought one of my favorite “Almost Famous” lines – when Penny Lane asks sweetly what kind of beer her rock star lover Russell Hammond sold her for – was inspired by Hubbell’s “What kind of pie” line.)


We were lucky enough to watch “The Way We Were” on the big screen for the first time.  But, we were even luckier to walk over to BAM’s Harvey Theater for an “Inside the Actor’s Studio”-type Q&A with Mr. Redford himself.  On our way there, we spotted him getting out of his car and it was shocking how grandpa-ish and stiff he looked.  Autumn’s spin?  “Maybe it was just a long car ride.”  It made us sad, but seeing him on stage from a bit of a distance quelled our fears.

Redford (aka “The Man Who Does Not Engage,” per Sydney Pollack) was sharp and a great storyteller.  I learned:

  • He’s wary of anything remotely artificial.  In fact, he used that word various times throughout the night to describe everything from his first impressions of Hollywood to quiz shows.
  • His first paying TV job was on…a quiz show.  It was Merv Griffin’s “Play Your Hunch,” where they asked him to fudge the truth, hide behind the screen and get booed by the audience.
  • How he spent his first big paycheck:  “I ate!”
  • Steve McQueen and Warren Beatty were slated to play Sundance.  In fact, Paul Newman was slated to play Sundance and the original title was “The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy,” but when Redford prevailed the universe was sorted.
  • He went to high school with Natalie Wood, who he didn’t know until they made movies together because she was already making movies in high school.
  • He was responsible for adding Hubbell’s character flaw – “he would never be able to deliver on what he appeared to be” – to the script, avoiding a “Ken Doll” role.
  • About Paul Newman he said:  “He created a life that mattered.”

Unfortunately, our audience questions didn’t get picked from the pile so, Mr. Redford, if you’re reading, maybe you can address:



Posted by: Mariela

A.O. Scott Watch: Scott on Hughes

From today’s NY Times:


“You might say that, as an artist, John Hughes never outgrew high school. It’s disconcerting to consider how many of the stars of his films have remained stuck in the ’80s, unable or unwilling to turn the corner and become grown-up movie stars. And it’s a little eerie that Mr. Hughes died so soon after Michael Jackson, another fixture of ’80s popular culture locked in perpetual youth.

Their deaths make me feel old, but more than that, they make me aware of belonging to a generation that has yet to figure out adulthood, for whom life can feel like a long John Hughes movie. You know the one. That Spandau Ballet song is playing at the big dance. You remember the lyrics, even if it’s been years since you heard them last. This is the sound of my soul. I bought a ticket to the world, but now I’ve come back again. Why do I find it hard to write the next line?”

Posted by: Mariela

Remembering One-Eyed Willie

All this talk of pirates has made me nostalgic for the coolest pirate of all — One Eyed Willie.


Ever since I first saw The Goonies in a San Juan theater in the summer of 1985, I wanted to be a Goonie and looked up to Willie, the “First Goonie” — his charm, his mystique, his cleverness.  But the clip above reminded me that he wasn’t exactly the friendly neighborhood pirate that I recalled.  He actually murdered his crew so that they couldn’t go near his treasure.  Whoa!  My happy-go-lucky, eight-year-old mind must have glossed over that part.

Still, I think The Goonies’ adventure — led by the rousing Sean Astin — proved to be Willie’s redemption.  Not only did his treasure help save everyone’s home from foreclosure and avoid the dismantling of the Goonie gang, but the obstacles they overcame with smart choices, brave feats and sometimes plain luck provided memorable coming-of-age moments.

Their questionable talents — including Mouth’s shaky command of the Spanish language, Data’s gimmicky gadgets and Andy’s novice piano playing — all unquestionably led to their triumph.  And Astin, as the crush-worthy Mikey Walsh, evolves from insecure dreamer to leader of the pack.  I swear, his underground monologue still brings me to tears.

“Don’t you realize? The next time you see sky, it’ll be over another town. The next time you take a test, it’ll be in some other school. Our parents, they want the best of stuff for us. But right now, they got to do what’s right for them. Because it’s their time. Their time! Up there! Down here, it’s our time. It’s our time down here. That’s all over the second we ride up Troy’s bucket.”

This one’s for you, Willie, and the Goonie greatness you inspired.


Posted by: Mariela (Goonie for life)

A.O. Scott Watch: Duplicity


This is one movie I had almost no interest in watching until now.  From today’s New York Times:

“Along the way, Mr. Owen, on whom a two-piece suit becomes as brazenly sexual a uniform as anything you can imagine, opens many bottles of Champagne and looks hungrily at Ms. Roberts, even though Claire is more of a natural predator than Ray. For this film, her first real starring role in quite a while, Ms. Roberts has almost entirely left behind the coltish, America’s-sweetheart mannerisms, except when she uses them strategically, to disarm or confuse. Curvier than she used to be and with a touch of weariness around her eyes and impatience in her voice, she is, at 41, umistakably in her prime.

Mr. Gilroy’s most ingenious structural gamble — the duplicity of ‘Duplicity’ — is to make foreground and background almost perfectly reversible. It’s a sharp, sexy comedy masquerading as a twisty tale of intrigue, and vice versa. And as soon as you grow impatient with the pre- or postcoital repartee of Ms. Roberts and Mr. Owen, a nimble army of supporting players comes forward to deliver Mr. Gilroy’s mordantly funny dialogue with perfectly straight faces. “

Posted by: Mariela

Can You Identify 100 Theme Songs in 10 Minutes?

This is the most fun I’ve had in 10 minutes in a very long time.  

I probably could name about 25 at first listen, but I’m about to break out a pad and pencil (non mechanical) to be sure.

Posted by: Mariela

My Netflix Vocabulary






I’ve been a loyal Netflix (noun) customer since 2002.  I did downgrade last year from the three-at-a-time to the two-at-a-time plan, but I’m loyal nonetheless.  Through the years, I’ve developed a close relationship with the online DVD rental service.  Netflixing (verb) has become a part of my life and I’m happy to see that Netflix-like (adjective) companies have been springing up, like BookSwim. Just like you would with a long-term boyfriend or with a best friend, I’ve developed a Netflix vocabulary and an informal survey of fellow Netflixers (noun) has shown that many of you have, too.  So, it’s time to get these in writing.

Queue Anxiety — When you returned a movie but forgot to check to see if your movie mood and circumstance and your movie queue lined up.  Is Schindler’s List coming, when you really just want to see Definitely, Maybe?  A friend shared her anxiety the other day when she realized her boyfriend was going out of town and it was the perfect moment to catch up on old Shirley Temple movies. But…had Glengarry Glenn Ross already shipped?  The race was on to find out.

Queue Spotting — You’ve felt a little out of the movie loop.  Maybe you hadn’t been religiously reading A.O. Scott or some important New Releases passed you by.  What do you do?  Check out your friends page to see what everyone else is watching.  Guaranteed that there will be some moments of, “Yes!  I meant to catch that one in the theater.”

Binging — This is particularly prevalent around the end of the year, but can happen anytime when someone decides to do a retrospective or movie list of sorts.  All the NY Times critics list their favorite movies of the year, and you’ve only heard of 15 out of 30 of them.  Or somebody decided to rank the best Grace Kelly movies and you determine that you just haven’t had enough of the Princess of Monaco in your life.  Then, you log into Netflix and add every single one of those movies to your queue — 5, 10, 15 at a time.  You just got a whole lot busier.

Purging — This is when you decide that you have way too many movies on your queue for it to be manageable and meaningful.  Sometimes, you may not even recognize some of those titles.  For example, I’m hovering at about 70+ movies right now and it’s making me cringe.  When I hit 75, it’s usually time to purge, start over and let nature take its course.  However, some folks are perfectly comfortable maintaining massive queues.  Autumn currently has 537 movies in her queue and she’s very well adjusted.

Queue Blocking — This is a very common problem.  There’s one movie at home that you just can’t bring yourself to watch.  You may be on a long-term hiatus from heavy documentaries, or not at all in the mood to watch a war movie.  The bottom line is: you’re not ready to hit play and the movie sits at home for weeks — sometimes months — at a time blocking your queue.  The key here is that you keep talking yourself into the idea that you will get around to watching it.  But you won’t.  And it’s much better for everyone (well, except for Netflix because queue blocking makes you a very valuable customer) if you realize that you’re just not that into that movie at this time and send it back.  Just be aware that the chances that you will ever re-queue (verb) that movie are slim-to-none.

Betrayed by the Queue — This is when the queue lets you down.  You think you’re getting the perfect movie, and you excitedly rip the envelope open only to find that it’s an unwanted one.  How does something so inconceivable happen?  It’s usually because your top choice unexpectedly became a long or short wait title, and you didn’t make the cut.  That hurts.

Do you have anything else to add to this list?

Posted by: Mariela