Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Tag: Up in the Air

The Best Films of the Years 2000 – 2009

I’ve gone back to the year 2000 and attempted to highlight the Best Films of the Decade, with the decade starting in 2000. [This means, of course, that I’m one year short of 10 years of films, since 2010 has just begun.]

The criterion, for me, in listing my Best Films was whether I enjoyed them the most at the theater. Sometimes, the most heavily promoted films are not really that enjoyable. There are some “Best Picture of the Year” nominees that leave you completely cold after you have spent time watching them, so much so that you wonder, “How did THAT get nominated as Best ________________?” (Fill in the blank here). You may appreciate the achievement of a film like, for instance, “The Queen,” but did you really enjoy it that much, acting expertise aside?

Also, will this film hold up over the years? There are some films that were “hot” movies of that year, but the year was so weak that to name them as the “best” is simply to acknowledge that they were the best of a not-so-banner year.

I am not a huge fan of animated films, but some made my list. I like humor, but it should be somewhat witty, avoid formulaic situations, and not be so lowbrow that every vehicle in the parking lot is a truck with a gun rack, a rebel flag and a NASCAR sticker on view.

While acknowledging that Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy represented a huge achievement, the films were not as faithful to the books as purists would have liked, and, quite frankly, I was pretty bored throughout. (I looked down the row and my sister-in-law was asleep, although she later denied this.) The same is true of all the Harry Potter movies, for me. And, more recently, the “Twilight” films, representing, as they do, a teen phenomenon, are going to fall into the same category.

Some years were, of course, better than others, and that is why many Honorable Mention(s) follow some of the Ten Best lists. Other years have no Honorable Mentions at all. I’m not trying to suggest that your list of the Ten Best Movies of the Decade (to date) will match mine, but at least you’ll have a referent point for (maybe) picking a few from the past 9 years that you night have missed.  I should also note that the films are listed in no particular order.


Best Films of 2000:

“High Fidelity”



“Almost Famous”

“Cast Away”

“Erin Brockovich”


“Wonder Boys”


“Meet the Parents”/”Galaxy Quest”

Best Films of 2001:

“A Beautiful Mind”

“Lord of the Rings”

“Mulholland Drive”

“Black Hawk Down”


“Training Day”

“Monster’s Ball”

“In the Bedroom”


“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”

Best Films of 2002:

“About A Boy”

“About Schmidt”


“Bourne Identity”

“Bowling for Columbine”

“Minority Report”

“The Pianist”


“Rabbit-proof Fence”

“Spider-Man 2”

Best Films of 2003:

“The Fog of War” (documentary)

“Mystic River”

“Cold Mountain”

“In America”


“City of God”


“House of Sand and Fog”

“Under the Tuscan Sun”

“Pieces of April”

(*Honorable mention to “Finding Nemo,” “Master & Commander,” “Thirteen,” “The Cooler,” “Bad Santa,” “Lost in Translation,” “The Last Samurai,” “Calendar Girls,” “Love, Actually.”)

Best Films of 2004:

“The Aviator”

“Hotel Rwanda”

“Million Dollar Baby”



“Fahrenheit 9/11”



“The Sea inside”


(*Honorable mention to “The Manchurian Candidate,” “The Notebook,” “Mean Girls,” “Super Size Me”)

Best Films of 2005:


“Brokeback Mountain”

“A History of Violence”



“Batman Begins”

“Cinderella Man”

“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”

“Good Night, and Good Luck”

“Walk the Line”

(*Honorable mention to “King Kong,” “Jarhead,” “Match Point,” “Transamerica,” “North Country,” “March of the Penguins” and “Munich.”)

Best Films of 2006:

“Last King of Scotland”

“The Departed”

“Little Miss Sunshine”

“Pan’s Labyrinth”

“United 93”

“Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima”

“Casino Royale”



“Thank You for Smoking”

(*Honorable mention to “V for Vendetta,” “Blood Diamond,”  “Cars,” “Monster House,” “An Inconvenient Truth” (documentary), “The Queen,” “Babel,”
”Hollywoodland,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing” (documentary), “Who Killed the Electric Car” (documentary), “Children of Men,” “Little Children,” “A Scanner Darkly”)

Best Films of 2007:

“Michael Clayton”

“No Country for Old Men”

“Away from Her”


“In the Valley of Elah”

“Eastern Promises”

“American Gangster’

“Knocked Up”

“Charlie Wilson’s War”

“The Bourne Ultimatum”

(*Honorable Mention:  “The Savages,” “Gone Baby Gone,” “Waitress,” “Atonement,” “La Vie En Rose,” “The Diving Bell & the Butterfly,” “Elizabeth, the Golden Age.”)

Best Films of 2008:

“The Reader”

“Batman: The Dark Knight”

“Iron Man”

“Gran Torino”

“Slumdog Millionaire”


“The Wrestler”

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”



(*Honorable Mention:  “Burn After Reading,” “In Bruges,” “Frozen River,” “The Visitor,” “Tropic Thunder,” “3:10 to Yuma,” “Bourne Ultimatum,” “The Bucket List.”

Best Films of 2009:

“Up in the Air”

“The Hurt Locker”

“The Informant”


“500 Days of Summer”


“Red Cliff”



“The Messenger”

(*Honorable Mention to “Star Trek,” “The Hangover,” “2012,” “Public Enemies,” “I Love You, Man,” and “Jennifer’s Body”)

“Up in the Air” is a Clooney/Reitman Triumph

up-in-the-air“Up in the Air,” a Jason Reitman-directed (and written, with assistance from Sheldon Turner) film stands a great chance of being named this year’s Best Film of the Year. It’s definitely a front-runner and will (no doubt) duke it out with the likes of “Precious,” “The Hurt Locker,”  and “Up in the Air.”

I had the feeling, as I watched the movie, that without George Clooney in the pivotal role of the commitment-phobic Ryan Bingham, who travels the United States terminating people from their jobs and accumulating frequent flyer miles (his goal is 10 million miles), this movie would not be nearly as strong. Clooney’s reputation as a ladies’ man helps us to accept him in the role and aids the film immensely.  I also had the feeling that Clooney’s expert light comedy touch might go unrewarded, again, just as Woody Allen’s comic film masterpieces did for so many years, (until “Annie Hall.”) [Personally, I would have given Clooney the Oscar for his performance in 2007’s “Michael Clayton,” portraying the title character.]

While “Precious” has Oprah in its corner, and “Invictus” has Clint Eastwood in its, Jason Reitman’s film, based on the novel by Walter Kirn, has both Clooney (a formidable asset), and the fact that unemployment in this country has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. Lay-offs are as common as crab grass, but far more devastating. With the horrible economic conditions abroad in the land and unemployment rates of 10% becoming routine, the film capitalizes on the nation’s preoccupation with losing one’s job.

Everyone knows someone who has either been fired or fears he soon will be fired. The ability to empathize with the illiterate black teen-ager of “Precious” may not be as universal an empathetic emotion, so let’s give the edge to “Up in the Air” in that department, Oprah effect or no Oprah effect.  Plus, this is a fun and lightweight film, while no one would ever characterize “Precious” as that, nor “Avatar,” nor “The Hurt Locker.” I’ve already declared “Invictus” to be only mediocre entertainment, despite the best efforts of its fine stars, and the rest of the race (“The Hurt Locker?” “Up?”) is wide open at this point in time.

There are numerous vignettes of people being fired, since, in the film (if not the book) the company that is responsible for doing the dirty work of actually terminating employees is considering moving away from the use of real people to do the dirty work and is moving towards the use of long-distance technology (computers). Some of those getting the bad news are actors we recognize (J.K. Simmons, the father in “Juno,” as Bob and comedian/actor Zach Galifiakanas as Steve). Some are not

So, how does the movie measure up to the book?

In the book, Clooney’s character is obsessed with using big words and expanding his vocabulary. In the book, there are more women (other than Vera Farmigia, the female lead, as Alex Goran), more sex, and implications of drug abuse. In the book, Vera Farmigia’s character is desperate for Clooney’s character (Ryan Bingham) to return the affection she feels for him, but he remains indifferent and emotionally aloof. In the book, Ryan Bingham, the traveling terminator, talks about the physical toll of his constant travel, and there is no subplot involving using technology to replace face-to-face termination(s).  But who’s keeping track of such minor details?

The film based on the book is great fun! It is a lightweight soufflé that, ultimately, both entertains and enriches, with a message that relationships do matter and, without them, you may end up “up in the air” with choices drifting by you and floating all around, as an original song by Kevin Renick, (a fan who sent the song to Director Jason Reitman), puts it. I was taken with the use of the song by an unknown over the closing credits, because the daughter’s Nashville mentor, Rick Clark, was the person responsible for selecting the songs used in the film and this one seemed very apropos.  The music in the film opens with “This Land Is Your Land”, sung by Sharon Jones, a soulful rendition, as a plane flies above a variety of midwestern cities.

Much of the film was shot in St. Louis, although other Midwestern cities (Omaha, Des Moines, Dubuque) are also mentioned onscreen, as well as locations such as Miami and San Francisco.

Clooney’s terminator du jour takes up with Vera Farmigia’s character of Alex because they have much in common in terms of constant travel. Only a fellow frequent flier would find the prospect of becoming only the 7th member to reach the 10 million mile club “sexy,” Lines like “To know me is to fly with me” resonate as the film progresses, and Ryan’s side-job as a motivational speaker who encourages others to “unload their backpacks” of responsibility serves as a nice counterpoint to allow Clooney’s character to express certain key philosophies in his life. Example:  “We weigh ourselves down until you can’t even move. And moving is living.”

As a woman of a certain age, I laughed out loud at Clooney’s young sidekick Natalie Keener, well played by Anna Kendrick. Anna is young and inexperienced. She has never actually fired anyone, so she is sent out on the road with Clooney by boss Jason Bateman (Craig Gregory) to learn what the process is really like, up close and personal. When she says, to Vera Farmigia’s character, “I really appreciate everything that your generation did for me,” and tells her that she hopes she looks as good as Vera does “in 15 years,” you have to smile. (Either that or cry.)

There is a telling scene in the film with dialogue that pretty well snaps into focus the idea that it is immature to shirk responsibilities and work so hard to remain unattached, footloose and fancy-free. The women in the film drive it home the most directly, declaring that they are  “grown-ups” who consider Clooney’s character’s approach to life immature. As he declares to rooms of rapt seminar listeners, “The slower we move, the faster we die.  We’re not swans, we’re sharks.” As they say, “You are an escape. A break from our normal lives. A parenthesis.”

Clooney tells his soon-to-be brother-in-law (who is experiencing a bad case of double approach-avoidance response, otherwise known as cold feet, on the day of his wedding to Clooney’s sister (played by Amy Morton, better-known from her continuing appearances as the neighbor on television’s “Two and One-Half Men”): “Life’s better with company. Everybody needs a co-pilot.” The prospective brother-in-law, played by Danny McBride as Jim Miller, has shut himself away reading “The Velveteen Rabbit” and is undergoing a moment of existential angst. He asks Clooney (who is sent in to convince him to go through with the wedding), “What is the point?” Clooney’s answer? “There is no point.”

Another great exchange has Clooney saying to his sister Julie Bingham, (Melanie Lynskey) “I tell people how to avoid commitment.” She responds, “What kind of f*****-up message is that?”

By film’s end, you’ll have your answer, and so will Clooney’s character of Ryan Bingham.

The Ten Best Movies of 2009

ChicagoOvercoat1-002The Ten Best Movies of the Year 2009…or any year…are always difficult to pick, even if you have been doing your homework and attending film festivals (Chicago, Toronto) in order to be able to see those that are most-lauded. The best of the best always seem to hit the Quad Cities late or not at all. [I remember having to drive to Iowa City to see Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway” in 1994, which limped into town months late.]


The films I’m going to point out have not necessarily played the Quad Cities yet. In some cases, that is because they haven’t been officially released yet.  I hope they will arrive in town soon. Film festivals give you a chance to get an “advance peek” at a few and to hear about them from the actors, directors and producers themselves.


Please note:  These are in no particular order.


“The Hurt Locker” – Director Kathryn Bigelow took newcomer Jeremy Renner, an unknown (surrounded by a cast of unknowns) who plays a hell-bent-for-leather bomb defuser in 2004 Baghdad, and delivers a film that is one of the year’s best. Intense. Riveting.


‘Up in the Air” – Jason Reitman directs George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick in a film about a man who travels the world firing people and collecting frequent flyer miles. As the “New York Times” put it, Clooney and Farmiga are voted “the couple most likely to have an argument and get off on it.” I have a vested interest in seeing the film do well. The music for the film was selected by Rick Clark, my daughter’s mentor in Nashville for three years of her college classes in Music Business at Belmont University and she often assisted him with his selection(s) and with his Sirius radio show. (Clark also advised on the music for “Juno”). A sure-fire Oscar contender.


“The Informant” – Matt Damon played two strong roles this year, and this one, as a midwestern mid-level employee of ADM who turns informant for the F.B.I. was terrific. His turn in “Invictus” (a Clint Eastwood-directed film with Morgan Freeman undoubtedly bound for Oscar nominations) as a soccer player helping Nelson Mandela bring South Africa kicking and screaming into the post-apartheid period will undoubtedly score big in March as well. [Since the latter hasn’t played here yet, just remember, on March 7th: “I told you so.”]


“Up” – Films with the word “up” in the title did well in 2009. (Next year “down”?) This is the Pixar animated film about the widower who attaches balloons to his house and goes…well…up…with a young stowaway aboard. I saw it in 3D in a theater on Sunset Boulevard with a live Disney show preceding it; the film’s a touching bit of animated magic.


500 Days of Summer” – I was on my way to a showing of “The Cove” (a likely nominee for Best Documentary Oscar dealing with the trapping and killing of dolphins) and stumbled into the wrong theater. I stayed to see this romantic comedy. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and Zooey Deschanel are young lovers, but the film’s ultimate message seems to be that there IS more than one perfect “love” for us if we just keep an open mind and a positive outlook. The “breaking-into-dance” scene, alone, makes it one of the more imaginative film treatments at the movies this year.


“Precious” – Undeniably gut-wrenching. Haven’t seen a film more depressing since “The Hours” or “Angela’s Ashes,” but it is powerful stuff. Oprah is promoting it Big Time, and it’s bound to garner nominations, probably for its unknown star, Gabriel Gabby Sidibe and others. Strong performances from Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz contribute and the film has generated major Oscar buzz. [Tickets in Chicago, where it premiered, went for $50, minimum].


Red Cliff – This is a film by the great John Woo. I wandered in not expecting much and found a film that makes “Braveheart,” “Spartacus” and “The Gladiator,” all rolled into one, look like a square dance. Back in top form after years of trying to fit into the Hollywood studio cookie-cooker mold with films like “Mission Impossible II “ and “Face/Off”, Woo returns to his native land and does this ancient Chinese story proud. (see www.weeklywilson.com and/or www.associatedcontent.com for complete review). It’s very long, and, yes, it has sub-titles, but it’s really a breath-taking film achievement.


“An Education” – Peter Svaarsgard’s film about a May-December romance is garnering much buzz for the female lead, Carey Mulligan as Jenny. (For those who care, Ms. Mulligan is supposedly Shia LeBouef’s off-screen girlfriend of the moment).


2012:  Sure, it’s CG generated, but it’s terrific audience fun. The actors are less important than the special effects, but John Cusack, Amanda Peet and Woody Harrelson don’t disappoint in this film about the end of the world in 2012. Woody Harrelson, this year alone, played Charlie Frost in 2012, Tallahassee in the fun flick “Zombieland” (they’re already making “Zombieland 2”, and Captain Tony Stone in “The Messenger.”


Toss-Up: “Brothers” and/or “The Messenger”: These films have similarities. Saw “The Messenger” in Chicago, with Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster. Foster was there, in person, answering questions after the screening. “The Messenger,” like John Irving’s novel “A Prayer for Owen Meany” deals with the soldiers who must give the bad news of the death of a loved one to military families. Co-starring as the woman getting the bad news is the Oscar-nominated Samantha Morton, who was so good in “Minority Report” and as Sarah in the 2002 film “In America.” “Brothers,” starring Jake Gylenhall, Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman, explores the damage to the psyche that war creates. Jake and Tobey are brothers, one a screw-up, one a war hero. Fine performances, also, from Sam Shepherd as Hank Cahill, the father who always favored Tobey, and Mare Winningham as Elsie Cahill. The little girls are great. Taylor Geare as Maggie Cahill melts your heart in her scenes, and her little sister Cassie, played by Carrie Mulligan, is good as well. When Tobey returns from having been a POW (briefly) in Afghanistan, he cannot get it out of his head that his brother (Jake Gylenhall) and his wife (Natalie Portman) have been sleeping together. He is also consumed with guilt over his actions while held prisoner and something’s got to give. He comes home a totally different individual than when he left. Problems ensue Tobey McGuire turns in a riveting Ocar-caliber performance, the best of his career. The movie was filmed in New Mexico.


Honorable Mention:  I loved “Jennifer’s Body,” despite the gore, the new film scripted by Diablo Cody (of “Juno”) starring Megan Fox. Haven’t seen “Coraline” but hear it’s a likely nominee come March in some categories. Likewise, haven’t had a child to take with me to “Where the Wild Things Are.” Looking forward to “The Road” (Not yet released) – which looks like it will make a better film vehicle for Viggo Mortenson than the Cormac McCarthy book was a read, as it takes us into post-Apcalyptic America. “Avator’ (James Cameron returns on 12/18). I liked “Public Enemies” with Johnny Depp, Marion Cotillard and Christian Bale in a Michael Mann-directed crime romance, because Johnny finally looked more like “People” magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” than he has in many of his screen outings. Also good: “Star Trek” with Zachary Quinto, Chris Pine and Eric Bana, “I Love You, Man” with surprisingly fresh performances from Paul Rudd and Jason Segel as buddies who bond, and the year’s most-watched comedy, “The Hangover,” good stupid fun in the “Animal House” tradition. I’m still waiting to see “Shutter Island,” the Martin Scorsese-directed film with Leonardo DeCaprio. (Where did it go?) Likewise, want to see “The Invention of Lying” (Ricky Gervais) and Sam Mendes’ “Away We Go.” (So many movies; so little time.)


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