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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?

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
Avatar
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious
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
Nine

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
Up
The Informant!
Avatar
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
Coraline
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess & The Frog
Up

No contest: Up is tops in my book!

Best Foreign Language Film
Baria
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!

Movie Debate: THE BLIND SIDE

It’s the return of PCN vs. EE. Every once in a while, I post a Siskel & Ebert-style movie review instead of a traditional one when my occasional movie partner, Eric Edwards, disagrees with my take on something.

We recently attended a screening of Sandra Bullock’s upcoming movie, The Blind Side (opening Nov. 20), based on the true story of Michael Oher, an African-American teen with a mother addicted to crack  who bounced through the foster care system before he was taken in by a Memphis family, the Tuohys. He eventually went to college and became a star NFL player with the Baltimore Ravens.

After the screening, Eric and I had the following discussion.

THE BLIND SIDE

Warner Bros./Ralph Nelson

PCN: What didn’t you like about it? It stars your girl, Sandra Bullock!

EE: Sandra Bullock is the best thing about it. Take her out of the movie and you’ve got something that should be a Lifetime movie of the week.

PCN: Yeah, but it does have Bullock and she elevates the material like she usually does. You can’t judge it on what it might have been.

EE: Okay, but you must admit the movie’s very safe. The stakes are never very high and no matter what Michael does, there are no repercussions. Also, we hear there are issues at school but we never get to see any of it. He may have had a rough past but once the family takes him in, everything works out and he’s beloved by everyone.

PCN: You’re right, the movie doesn’t break any new ground. But since there are supposedly only seven original ideas in Hollywood, I look at the execution. Bullock’s performance as Leigh Anne is quite engaging and there are some funny moments. The Proposal wasn’t an original concept, either, but Bullock made that watchable.

EE: But she only brings to life her role. She can’t carry the whole movie and whenever she’s not on screen, the movie drags.

THE BLIND SIDEPCN: I thought Quinton Aaron did a nice job as Michael. He’s got such sad eyes and a gentle soul, which make for an interesting contrast with his intimidating size. Aaron hasn’t done much film work but he kept up with Bullock.

EE: I think the director told him that less is more and that’s what he did. He let his eyes do most of the acting and he’s got great eyes.

PCN: The casting of Tim McGraw was curious. He turned in a good enough performance as Leigh Anne’s husband, but I was thinking, How come they had to get a country singer for this role? There weren’t any qualified actors who could have played that?

EE: I agree, and there’s no arc for that character at all. He’s pretty much written as one-note all the way through. The only justification I could think of for casting him is that it’s set in Nashville and he’s a country star.

PCN: Yeah, but this movie is opening nationwide, not just in Nashville.

EE: But country music is huge and maybe they’re going after those fans, to give the film any kind of advantage possible. I maintain, though, it’s not worthy of the big screen. It’s a nice family movie with very little drama and low stakes.

PCN: How about looking at is as a character study instead of a plot-driven piece? You didn’t find these people compelling?

EE: The problem is, the strongest character is Bullock’s, but the movie isn’t about her. It’s about Michael and he’s not that interesting.

PCN: He’s a kid from a really rough childhood who makes good in the NFL!

THE BLIND SIDE

Warner Bros./Ralph Nelson

EE: But we only get tiny glimpses of his childhood in flashback. It’s not enough to make me care. The story mostly deals with him living with the Tuohys, where it’s pretty much smooth sailing.

PCN: I know where you’re coming from; normally I’d be making the same arguments you are.  This time, though, I recognized the movie’s flaws but went with it anyway because I was rooting for Michael and thought the Tuohys were pretty cool for what they did. Maybe I just have a soft spot for true stories about kids overcoming adversity to achieve great things.

EE: It’s not a horrible movie but I’d still recommend waiting for the DVD.

Nerd verdicts—PCN: An enjoyable Side show, EE: Movie turns Blind eye to conflict

Review: THE PROPOSAL

proposalThe poster is unexceptional and the trailer is generic so I had no grand expectations going into The Proposal. Anytime you see a studio romantic comedy, you pretty much know what you’re going to get: boy and girl hate each other until something happens that changes their feelings and there’s a last-minute rush to the airport to declare their love.

That’s all here, but this movie is enormously elevated by the impeccable comic timing of Sandra Bullock, still one of the most charming actresses around, even when her character is supposed to be a nightmare. She makes physical comedy look easy, including a nude mishap that I wish hadn’t been spoiled in the trailer because it’s horrifyingly funny.

Bullock’s character, Margaret Tate, is a high-powered New York City book editor who’s about to be deported to her native Canada so she blackmails her long-suffering assistant, Andrew (Ryan Reynolds), into a fake engagement. The couple then fly to Alaska to break the news to his family. They bicker until the Alaskan atmosphere ironically starts to thaw her ice-queen demeanor, they begin to see each other in a different light and…well, you know the rest.

more proposalBut what you may not know is that the movie also veers into some wonderfully odd territory, like a dog-snatching eagle and an Alaska resident who inexplicably seems to have every job in town. Extra credit must be given to Oscar Nunez, normally seen as the quietly frustrated accountant on The Office, who is a revelation (literally) in this movie. He did some brave things that made me cringe and gape at the same time. Reynolds, whom I usually find to be frat-boy bland, raises his game here to keep up with Bullock.

Director Anne Fletcher directs with a light touch, encouraging uninhibited behavior from her actors. Everyone seemed to have a good time making this movie and that sense of fun should spill over onto audiences as well.

Nerd verdict: An engaging Proposal