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Nerdies for Favorite Things of 2009

Hope you all are enjoying the holidays. Me, I’m having so much fun with family, I need more gigabytes in my brain to store all the memories being made.

I get grateful this time of year for 1) making it this far and 2) all the wonderful experiences I had in the last 12 months. So, between all the eating and social gatherings, I present to you my Nerdy Awards for favorite things this year.

Most Valuable Preposition: Up. Apparently, the best way to make sure a movie is good is by putting this two-letter word in the title. Up and Up in the Air tie for best movie I saw this year. Both are perfect blends of comedy and poignancy, light and dark, entertainment and explorations of what makes us human.

Best Reasons for Staying Home Wednesday Nights: Glee, Modern Family and Cougar Town. Wednesday nights are always a party in my house, as I sing along to Glee then laugh my face off with Family and Cougar. You’ve probably heard plenty about the first two but may not know that Cougar‘s cast, led by the game Courteney Cox, has really gelled into one hilarious ensemble.

Most Unique New Voices in Crime Fiction: Chet the Jet from Spencer Quinn’s Dog on It, Pietro Brwna from Josh Bazell’s Beat the Reaper, and Stella Hardesty in Sophie Littlefield‘s A Bad Day for Sorry. The field is crowded with cops and detectives but this year, I met fresh new characters starting with Chet, a dog who narrates the adventures he has while solving crimes with his human partner, Bernie. Brwna is a hit man turned jaded medical intern who uses a deadly weapon I’ve never seen used before. And Littlefield introduced us to a 50-year-old, slightly overweight woman who helps abused women keep their partners in line partly by using S&M restraints. These books are all first in a series so discover them now before the next installments come out (Chet’s new case, Thereby Hangs a Tail, arrives January 5).

Best Noir Debut: Richard Lange‘s This Wicked World. This is Lange’s first novel but it reads like he’s been writing them forever. Worthy of a place on my shelf among the genre’s greats.

Best Avoidance of Sophomore Slump: Gillian Flynn with Dark Places. Her debut, Sharp Objects, was so stunning, I wondered if her second novel would measure up. I was thrilled, then, to find Flynn delving even more deeply into the female psyche’s dark, twisted side in Places. Few writers can write about damaged, prickly women and make them so mesmerizing.

Fattest Books I Finished in Shortest Time: I got lost in Kate Morton’s gothic, 560-page The Forbidden Garden for 3 days, while my eyeballs were glued to the 512 pages in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played with Fire for 34 hours, finishing it in almost one sitting, minus a few hours of sleep.

Most Soul-Shaking Book: Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. This non-fiction tale of a star football-player-turned-soldier gunned down by friendly fire in Afghanistan ripped me apart and made me re-evaluate how I live my life. A searing read I won’t forget anytime soon.

Funniest Person I Least Expected to Be: Brian Williams on 30 Rock. The veteran NBC Nightly News anchor made me laugh hard when he unexpectedly showed up on Rock, telling Tina Fey he wanted to audition for her show within the show by doing a stand-up act. The punchline wasn’t funny at all but Williams’s hammy, goombah delivery was very much so.

Favorite Movie Trend: Women 45 and over kicking ass at the box office. Sandra Bullock had two big hits (The Proposal, The Blind Side), Meryl Streep had three movies (Julie & Julia, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, It’s Complicated), one of which may win her a third Oscar. And Sigourney Weaver returns as sci-fi queen in Avatar. I hope this trend continues so I can stop watching actors get older while their female co-stars get closer to infancy every year.

Best Performance by Any Actor, Male or Female: Mo’Nique in Precious. Not so much a performance as a terrifying inhabitation of a nightmarish character.

Most Memorable Movie Quote: I just met you and I love you.” —Dug the talking dog in Up.

What were some of your favorite things this year?


With all the holiday activities going on, I’m woefully behind on everything (haven’t seen Avatar—what?!) so the following reviews will be a little abbreviated. They’ll take less time for you to read so you can fulfill your obligations, too.

It’s Complicated

In writer/director Nancy Meyers’s ultimate female fantasy, Meryl Streep plays a woman who’s lusted after by two successful, attractive men: her lawyer ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) and the sensitive architect (Steve Martin) who’s renovating her house, an already gorgeous spread in Santa Barbara she’s trying to make bigger and more awesome.

The movie is a very mature, if flawed, exploration of the emotional complexities of divorce, not making anyone out to be the bad guy or completely blameless. Streep is as radiant as ever (she doesn’t age!), Baldwin has some very funny scenes, including an unfortunate Skype incident, and Martin turns in a lovely, understated performance as someone who might be falling in love but is reluctant to move forward with the bitter taste of his own divorce still fresh in his mouth.

The most refreshing element for me was seeing how the family, though damaged by divorce, is so functional. They talk things out, they’re respectful towards each other and the kids don’t seem to prefer one parent over the other. Conflicts exist and obstacles abound; the affected parties just don’t turn their affairs into a Jerry Springer episode. I’m not sure what it says about the state of our times when I was surprised, but pleasantly so, to see family members not bitching each other out on screen. Nerd verdict: Complicated but fun.


After Marine captain Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) goes missing and is believed dead in Afghanistan, his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) helps his wife Grace (Natalie Portman) and daughters Isabelle and Maggie (Bailee Madison, Taylor Geare, respectively) through the grieving process. Uncle Tommy gets a little too close and of course, this is exactly when Sam comes home. [Note: This isn’t a spoiler. We see him alive in Afghanistan even while the family mourns.]

Maguire does impressive work as the conflicted soldier who comes back haunted by things he was forced to do to survive, actions for which he can’t forgive himself. He’s a shadow of his former self, unrecognized by loved ones, feared by his children. He’s intense in a quiet way, which is much scarier than an over-the-top way.

Portman is more sensual and womanly than usual as a young wife and mother trying to navigate uncharted waters. Gyllenhaal is believable as Maguire’s brother but I didn’t buy for one minute that he’s some tough ex-con who just got out of the Big House. The real stars for me, though, are the two actresses who play Sam and Grace’s little girls. They have a natural, easy style that made me think they were simply being, not acting. It’s an easy concept to grasp, not necessarily to execute on camera. Drawing out amazing performances from young actresses (see In America) is a specialty of director Jim Sheridan, who makes his movies intensely personal.

I also like his way of covering heavy subject matter with a light hand. He often cuts away from a scene before its natural end because he trusts we can fill in the rest. When two military reps arrive at Sam’s house to notify Grace of his so-called demise, we see Grace approaching the open door, the horrible realization washing over her face, and the scene ends without the actual notification. Sheridan doesn’t jerk tears; this isn’t a war movie. It’s about people trying to find a way to live again after a part of them dies. Nerd verdict: Relatable Brothers.

The Last Station

I’m going to keep this one brief because I fell asleep three times while watching it. The performances can’t be faulted, except for maybe Paul Giamatti’s scenery chomping as a devout Tolstoyan who wants Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) to will his estate to the movement, much to the chagrin of the author’s wife. The movie is one long melodramatic tug of war between Giamatti’s Vladimir and Helen Mirren’s Sofya and none of it was compelling. It’s more a history lesson than entertainment and even James McAvoy’s presence as Tolstoy’s secretary couldn’t save this for me. Nerd verdict: Bypass this Station

67th Annual Golden Globe Nominations

In case you haven’t seen them yet, here’s the full list. Film highlights (if a title is underlined, click on it to read my review):

Best Picture, Drama
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Up in the Air

I haven’t seen Avatar but unless it’s awesome, I’m rooting for Up in the Air.

Best Picture, Musical/Comedy
500 Days of Summer
The Hangover
It’s Complicated
Julie & Julia

Haven’t seen The Hangover. So excited to see (500) Days in there! It’s a charming little film you need to rent when it comes out Dec. 22. As long as the winner isn’t Nine, I’m good.

Best Actor, Drama
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Tobey Maguire, Brothers

Haven’t seen Invictus or Crazy Heart. Nice surprise to see Maguire nominated; he’s quite good in Brothers. I’d love to see Clooney take this, though.

Best Actress, Drama
Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious

This category is a tough one; I like all these. I’d narrow it down to Blunt vs. Sidibe.

Best Actor, Musical/Comedy
Matt Damon, The Informant!
Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine
Robert Downey, Jr., Sherlock Holmes
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 500 Days of Summer
Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man

Another tough one to call. Might as well do eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

Best Actress, Musical/Comedy
Sandra Bullock, The Proposal
Marion Cotillard, Nine
Julia Roberts, Duplicity
Meryl Streep, It’s Complicated
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Streep deserves it for Julia & Julia but if she cancels herself out, Cotillard should take it. I like Roberts and Duplicity just fine, but her inclusion here has got to be the biggest shocker.

Best Supporting Actor
Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

This one’s easy: Christoph Waltz.

Best Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo’Nique, Precious
Julianne Moore, A Single Man

Another easy one: Mo’Nique all the way, baby!

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Clint Eastwood, Invictus
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

I’m on Team Reitman but Lee Daniels was robbed for Precious.

Best Screenplay
Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell, District 9
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Nancy Meyers, It’s Complicated
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

Rooting for Reitman & Turner. And wha…?! Precious snubbed again? No matter. I’m still certain it’ll be Oscar nominated in this category.

Best Score
The Informant!
A Single Man
Where the Wild Things Are

Michael Giacchino has had an amazing year and will win for Up (he also scores Lost, Fringe and Star Trek). Up‘s theme is the only one I can still hum and I saw it back in May.

Best Song
“Cinema Italiano,” Nine
“I Want to Come Home,” Everybody’s Fine
“I Will See You,” Avatar
“The Weary Kind,” Crazy Heart
“Winter,” Brothers

The prestige song here is “Winter,” by a socially conscious band about a serious subject (our military personnel). But I came out of Nine singing “Cinema Italiano,” and I didn’t even like the movie that much.

Best Animated Film
Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess & The Frog

No contest: Up is tops in my book!

Best Foreign Language Film
Broken Embraces
The Maid
A Prophet
The White Ribbon

No clue here. Haven’t seen any of them. If I had to guess, I’d say Ribbon.

What did you think of the noms? Who are you rooting for? I think I’m most excited about Ricky Gervais as host!

Fall Movie Guide

Back in January, I did a sneak peek at some of this year’s most anticipated movies. Surprisingly, the post is still getting lots of hits and I’ve received requests to do another one focusing on fall movies. I’ve previously written about some of these but now the titles are together on one list—though it’s hardly comprehensive—for your easy reference.

I’ve broken it down into categories, with release dates and links to trailers (click on the titles). I’ll likely see many of these before their official release (studios provide free advance screenings during awards season) so check back often for my reviews.

Let the Oscar prognostication begin!


whishaw & cornishBright Star (Sept. 18)—Ben Whishaw plays the poet John Keats and Abbie Cornish is his muse Fanny Brawne in Jane Campion’s movie about their passionate but short-lived romance. Judging from the trailer, the leads seem to have good chemistry and Cornish’s performance has garnered some buzz. (UPDATE: Read my review here.)

carey & peter

Photo by Kerry Brown

An Education (Oct. 9)—Carey Mulligan is another young actress getting good heat for her performance as a ’60s London schoolgirl trying decide if she should continue her studies to get into Oxford or run off to Paris with an older playboy (Peter Sarsgaard) “and have fun.” The ridiculously talented cast also includes Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams, Rosamund Pike, Dominic Cooper, and the divine Emma Thompson. Oh, and it’s written by Nick Hornby based on Lynn Barber’s memoir. (UPDATE: Read my review here.)

The Road (Nov. 25)—Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron headline this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel about a man and his son trying to survive after the apocalypse. I like both actors but not sure something this depressing will be high on my must-see list. (UPDATE: Read my review plus notes from Q & A with filmmakers here.)

Amelia (Oct. 23)—I’ve seen a rough cut of this movie and but will wait until I’ve seen the final version to review. I think it’s okay to say, though, that Hilary Swank is perfectly cast as Earhart. (UPDATE: Read my review here.)


Photo by Anne Marie Fox

Precious (Nov. 6)—Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe stars as a Harlem teen trying to cope with her second pregnancy and an abusive mom, played by Mo’Nique. This film won both the Grand Jury and Audience Award at this year’s Sundance and features an almost unrecognizable Mariah Carey in mousy wig and makeup. (UPDATE: Read my review here.)


Photo by Emilio Pereda & Paola Ardizzoni

Broken Embraces/Los Abrazos Rotos (Nov. 20)—Pedro Almodovar’s latest collaboration with Penelope Cruz, who plays an actress obsessed with a famous director. Hmm, is this based on their relationship? Nope, Cruz said in Entertainment Weekly that she was more obsessed with Almodovar when she first met him.

nicole & ddl

Photo by David James

Nine (Dec. 18)—I could sum up the trailer in one word: steamy. And I don’t even like musicals. But I’d watch Daniel Day-Lewis and all those gorgeous women even if they’re singing about a bucket of beans (you can hear Kate Hudson & Marion Cotillard perform two numbers here). For the record, though, this is the movie version of the musical stage adaptation of Federico Fellini’s classic movie 8 1/2. Got that?

Brothers (Dec. 4)—Tobey Maguire plays a Marine who goes missing in Afghanistan and is presumed dead. Jake Gyllenhaal plays his brother who starts hanging out with Maguire’s wife (Natalie Portman) and ends up falling for her. Of course, this is exactly when Maguire’s character turns up very much alive. I tend to stay away from war movies but this one is directed by Jim Sheridan (In America), whose work I revere.

The Lovely Bones (Dec. 11)—Peter Jackson, whose Oscar shelf is probably threatening to collapse, directs the movie adaptation of Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel. The trailer looks creepy, intense, and I’d put money on this movie to get at least acting, adapted screenplay and art direction noms. (UPDATE: Read my review here.)

Avatar (Dec. 18)—Click here for my take on the 16 minutes of this movie shown at the recent IMAX screenings.


The Informant! (Sept. 18)—Steven Sodebergh directs Matt Damon in a movie based on a true story about an executive at an agricultural firm who blows the whistle on his employers’ price-fixing policy. Turns out he’s also embezzling from the company. The subject sounds The Insider-ish but the trailer looks hilarious.

The Invention of Lying (Oct. 2)—I apologize to my regular readers since I’ve written about this movie a couple times already; I just can’t wait to see it. It looks sublimely silly and has not one but three comic geniuses in the cast: Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey and Christopher Guest. A bunch of other really good actors—Jennifer Garner, Patrick Stewart, Jason Bateman and many more—also contribute to the hilarity. (UPDATE: Read my review here.)

clooney staring at goats

Photo by Laura Macgruder

The Men Who Stare at Goats (Nov. 6)—Like The Informant!, this is another absurdist take on a supposedly true story. Based on Jon Ronson’s book, that title alone cracks me up, and then there’s the cast, which includes George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Lang and Jeff Bridges (in Dude mode!). Clooney plays a man claiming he’s a military psychic spy who can kill animals by just looking at them. Just watch the hilarious trailer; you’ll put it on your must-see list, too.

Did You Hear About the Morgans? (Dec. 18)—Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker play a couple on the verge of divorce who must go into witness protection after they witness a murder. If you’re going to do a fish-out-of-water movie, you can’t do much better than putting Grant in a rugged environment like Wyoming and watching him chop wood and deal with bears.

streep & martinIt’s Complicated (Dec. 25)—Nancy Meyers writes and directs Meryl Streep, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin in a comedy about a woman (Streep) who has an affair with her ex-husband (Baldwin), who has remarried. Martin plays an architect who wants to horn in on the action with Streep’s character. Love all these actors; as far as Meyers is concerned, I hope this will be closer to Something’s Gotta Give than The Holiday.


Where the Wild Things Are (Oct. 16)—I am filled with wonder and joy just watching the trailer. I love movies directed by Spike Jonze. (UPDATE: Read review here.)

Fantastic Mr. Fox fmrfx(Nov. 13)—George Clooney voices a wily fox who tries to protect his family and animal friends from evil farmers who want them gone. I think the stop-motion animation looks, er, fantastic. Based on the Roald Dahl book, directed by Wes Anderson and also featuring the voices of Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman.

Planet 51 (Nov. 20)—An astronaut lands on Planet 51 and finds a race of green aliens already living there. He then becomes the alien in the ironically human-looking environment. Featuring the voices of Dwayne Johnson, Justin Long, Jessica Biel, Gary Oldman and John Cleese.

The Princess and the Frog p&frog(Nov. 25 in NY & LA., Dec. 11 everywhere)—This time, when the princess kisses the frog, she turns into one, too. The movie features Disney’s first animated African-American heroine (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) and is the studio’s first hand-drawn animated movie in five years.


Surrogates (Sept. 25)—Based on graphic novels, the futuristic plot is about people virtually interacting with others via surrogate robots. When these robots start getting killed, Bruce Willis’s character has to actually enter the real world to solve the mystery. I’d think this movie was cheesy if it weren’t for the respectable cast, which also includes Rosamund Pike, Ving Rhames and Radha Mitchell.

Couples Retreat fav & davis(Oct. 9)—Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn do their Swingers thing, only this time they’re married (to Kristin Davis and Malin Akerman, respectively). They agree to go on a idyllic retreat with two other couples to work on some of their marital issues. Not sure if this will be good but the scenery is breathtaking.

Law Abiding Citizen (Oct. 16)—Gerard Butler plays a man who turns to vigilante justice after a prosecutor makes a deal that lets his family’s killers go free. Looks kind of generic but Butler is super intense in the trailer and with Jamie Foxx as his prey, things could get interesting.

The Box

Photo by Dale Robinette

The Box (Nov. 6)—Cameron Diaz and James Marsden play a cash-strapped couple visited by a stranger with a disfigured face (Frank Langella) who makes them a mysterious offer: If they push a button on a box, they’ll receive $1 million but someone they don’t know will die. Yeeks. Here’s when the audience screams “Don’t do it!” but I assume someone does or else there would be no movie.


Photo by Ralph Nelson

The Blind Side (Nov. 20)—Sandra Bullock always manages to make me laugh doing comedy but I think she’s underrated as a dramatic actress (remember her bitchy turn in Crash?). She gets a chance to show off her serious side again in this true story about a tough Southern woman who takes in an African-American homeless teen, helps him overcome obstacles and become an All-American football star. (UPDATE: Read my review here.)

new moonThe Twilight Saga: New Moon (Nov. 20)—Is there anything I can say about this movie you haven’t already heard ad nauseam? Didn’t think so. Let’s move on.

Sherlock Holmes (Dec. 25)—Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, and Rachel McAdams in a movie about the first detective I ever idolized. It’s all good.

Which movies are you most excited about? Which have already put you to sleep with its description alone? Anything not on the list you can’t wait to see?

Review: JULIE & JULIA–The Movie

Photo by Jonathan Wenk

Columbia Pictures/Jonathan Wenk

Even though I’d eaten a perfectly good dinner right before the screening of Julie & Julia (opening August 7), I went home after the movie and ate some more. Talk about a gut reaction.

The film—based on Julia Child’s book, My Life in France, and Julie Powell’s memoir, Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen—is a delectable treat starring the unstoppable Meryl Streep as the famous chef and the adorable Amy Adams as the contemporary woman who attempts to make every recipe in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One in a year.

The narrative moves back and forth between Child’s experiences as she learns to cook at Paris’s Le Cordon Bleu and Powell’s progress in her self-imposed project. Parallels are drawn between the women as it becomes clear they’re both trying to forge an identity for themselves, to do something meaningful in the world and perhaps even change it with their cooking. It’s no spoiler to say both succeeded in becoming  published authors with a movie based on their books but the fun comes from watching how they got there.

Columbia Pictures/Jonathan Wenk

Columbia Pictures/Jonathan Wenk

When Streep first appears on screen, looking like a giant (Child was 6’2″; apple boxes must have been used because Streep’s feet are rarely seen) and speaking in that voice, there was a round of hearty laughter in the audience. You will laugh, too; there’s no point resisting. But as the movie unfolds and Streep’s magic takes over, you’ll get used to the voice because the actress has fully embodied the chef and that’s just how Child talked.

In lesser hands, the performance could’ve easily devolved into caricature but Streep somehow makes every big gesture believable and endearingly quirky. Her gift of complete transformation into every role is remarkable and she will undoubtedly receive Best Actress nominations from all the major outfits come award season.

Adams does her usual sparkly work as Powell, making her an accessible Everywoman who’s a little sweeter than the author comes across in her book, where her language is saltier. Meanwhile, I don’t get the appeal of Chris Messina, who is as bland playing Powell’s husband, Eric, as he was in Made of Honor and Vicky Christina Barcelona.

Columbia Pictures/Jonathan Wenk

Columbia Pictures/Jonathan Wenk

As Child’s husband, Paul, Stanley Tucci fares better, generating sweet, sensual chemistry with Streep. This is especially noteworthy considering the last time they appeared together onscreen, he played a gay underling cowering from Streep’s nightmare boss in The Devil Wears Prada. Jane Lynch is so winning as Child’s sister, Dorothy, I wish she had more screen time. And Mary Kay Place pulls off several moments of hilarity as Powell’s mom though she’s only heard on the phone and never seen.

Director/screenwriter Nora Ephron did an impressive job keeping the pace zippy, the dialogue tart, seasoning each scene perfectly and never letting it overcook. Alexandre Desplat (The Queen, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) turns in another memorable score, and cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt (Charlie Wilson’s War, Angels in America) made me want to book a trip to Paris immediately with the way he captured the City of Light, as golden as the perfect dishes Julie & Julia pull out of their ovens.

Nerd verdict: Julie & Julia is a delicious feast

Eat This Up–The JULIE & JULIA Trailer is Here!

2009_julie_and_julia_003I know that’s Meryl Streep in the trailer (see it below) but her voice and look are uncannily like the famous chef’s. I freaked for a moment: “Julia Child is dead! How can she be in this movie?!”

“Based on two true stories,” the feature is about Child finding her calling and a woman named Julie, played by Amy Adams, searching for a purpose in life by cooking her way through one of Child’s cookbooks in one year. The trailer looks so-so, but it’s got Streep and Adams and Stanley Tucci and Jane Lynch and Mary Lynn “Chloe” Rajskub (who has the funniest line in the trailer) so it has to be smart and witty, right?

What do you think? Gonna see it when it comes out August 7? (UPDATE: I went to a screening. See my review here.)