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Jan 19, 2010

Fletch's Film Review: Up in the Air

My Up In the Air awareness/opinion timeline:

Summer 2009: I assume this is roughly when I first heard about it. Jason Reitman, fresh from two critical hits in a row (Thank You for Smoking, Juno) plus George Clooney = sounds like a winner.

Fall 2009: Air plays at a number of film festivals, including its world premiere at the ever-ubiquitous TIFF. Buzz is building, but has yet to reach the mainstream.

November 8, 2009: I post a new poll here at Blog Cabins asking readers which of Clooney's three fall/winter films they plan on seeing. Up In the Air wins handily, earning a score of 100%, including a vote from yours truly.

December 1, 2009: The film, having recently completed its run of festival play, becomes the projected Best Picture winner for the first (and only) time on The Awards Circuit's tracker. It would lose that spot as of the next "ranking" on December 9, to The Hurt Locker (which retains the projected top spot to this day). Expectations are getting lofty.

December 4, 2009 - The film begins an ultra-limited release, opening in 15 theaters.

December 11, 2009 - The limited campaign expands to 72 theaters. It becomes all-too common to hear it regarded as one of the best, if not THE best film of the year.

~ December 12, 2009 - I see Up In the Air.

December 18, 2009 - The Best of 2009 issue of Entertainment Weekly hits my mailbox. Lead critic Owen Gleiberman declares the film the best of 2009. Co-critic Lisa Schwarzbaum picks it as her #4 film of the year.

December 28, 2009 - During the taping of LAMBcast #10, host Big Mike Mendez selects Up In the Air as his #1 film of the year.

January 8, 2010 - Entertainment Weekly features the three leads on its cover, which proclaims "The Oscar Race Is On."

January 17, 2010 - Avatar beats Up In the Air for the Best Picture - Drama award at the 67th Golden Globe Awards.

January 18, 2010 - I've yet to write a review.

Today - It's safe to say that the pre-release buzz/hype built up Up quite a bit in my head. That combined with my enjoyment of Reitman's prior directorial efforts and Clooney's work in general had me believing the hype, that it would no doubt make its way into my top three, at the very least.

Yet into the theater I went, attempting to wipe away all of those virtual accolades to that I might enter with as clean a slate as possible (yeah right). I enjoyed the movie - it was smart, funny, well-acted, light at times and heavy at others - in other words, it was just like Reitman's earlier work...only, I never once considered it to be amongst the elite of 2009, much less the decade. In fact, minus the biting satire part, it's probably most equatable to Thank You for Smoking in terms of how it plays out, only that film entered the pop culture consciousness with little-to-no fanfare aside from "Hey, Ivan Reitman's son is directing something!" and it being Katie Holmes first movie to be released post-couch jumping. In other words, it was a delightful surprise - a film that came out of nowhere with no expectations and impressed the relatively small audience that caught it.

Now some 30+ days since having seen the film, I'm feeling a bit like a backlasher, minus the vitriol that usually comes along with that territory. I don't hold any ill-will towards Air at all, and I wouldn't had it won the Golden Globe or should it go on to win the Best Picture Oscar (perhaps an upset at this point?). It is a wonderfully constructed, very good film...

...yet the more I think about it, the worse it gets. It goes full circle, and like you'd expect from a 360 degree journey, that means that you end up in the same place, a place that you knew you were headed the whole time. Many crucial moments are telegraphed, and perhaps the one GOTCHA! twist is one that doesn't make a whole heck of a lot of sense when you think about it for a moment.

"But what about all that it says about life in 2009?," you might ask me, to which I might respond "Ok, what is it really saying?," since I sometimes like to answer a question with a question. Clooney's Ryan Bingham seems to have learned a little something about the importance of human (and not flight) connections, that his family might mean more to him than he had initially let on. Yet he seems content treading the same path at both the beginning and the end, even if his potentially lucrative and possibly pointless side business may not go on. Vera Farmiga's character learns nothing. The poor saps getting fired don't particularly care whether or not their hand is held in person or via remote. So what's left? The economy is bad? People are vulnerable and emotional when terminated?

Go for the top-shelf acting, sharp dialogue and, of course, Sam Elliott and an all-too-brief Zach Galifianakis sighting - but leave the accolades at home.

Fletch's Film Rating:
"Darn tootin!"
Shaky Cam Rating (details):LAMBScore:
Large Association of Movie BlogsLarge Association of Movie Blogs


8 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: Up in the Air"

Fitz said...

I don't think you could say he was "content" treading the worn path he walked before.

It was more along the lines of he realizes that he waited too long in life to build meaningful relationships and he's now doomed to the life he created.

Fletch said...

It felt like a few pat concessions on his part (or the writer's, depending on how you want to look at it), as in what he did with the miles and for Kendrick's character, but those simple gestures didn't add up to all that much for me.

Nick said...

What? No J.K. Simmons comment?

But I agree. While I really enjoyed it, I don't think it was the best of the year. Though it might have ended up on one of my lists had I seen it prior to the end of the year.

TJMAC510 said...

I think why I love the film is because of the WRITING and ACTING more than anything. Does that mean its a game changer of a film that twists how we think? No, it was just a well acted and written satire.

Think about his previous movies.

What was Thank you For Smoking about? Lobbyists? Douchebag tobacco company employees? Rob Lowe never sleeping?

And Juno? Teen pregnancy is bad and embarrassing? Michael Cera will always be akward? Adoptive dads can be creepers who listen to sonic youth?

I don't think Reitman's films are meant to be deep game changers but films that are cleverly written and well acted.

Fletch said...

Nick - nope, shame on me - no Simmons comment. Always nice to see him though, and his scene was actually one of my favorites in the movie. Showed the master's touch that Bingham had.

It should also be mentioned that this might've been the first time that I wasn't annoyed by Danny McBride at all; nice to see him toned-down a bit. The wedding detour was one of the more enjoyable parts of the film, if you ask me.

Travis - not sure I'd call Up In the Air a satire, but I'm in agreement with the rest of what you stated. Reitman's films are extremely focused, well-written, acted, and put together, but they haven't been "classic"-level in my book. Not yet, anyway.

THN said...

I really like the young broad in this movie, though not so much in Twilight. Given my hankering for Republican Wool, I really hope she has some GOP leanings,as then she would fully fit my type.

I know, I have no idea what that means, either.

sarahnomics said...

Just got back from this film, and will write my review sometime this week (no rush - I missed the LAMBscore deadline) but I did want to drop in here and say that I agree with you.

I was charmed, in a dim sort of way, by Clooney, but left the theater confused at the accolades being thrown around about this pedestrian fare.

I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised, considering that Juno is one of the most overrated films of the decade.

Fletch said...

THN - so you're admitting that you saw (at least one) Twilight? Really?

Sarah - Not sure I would go so far as to call it pedestrian, but we're on the same track. I just hate how hype/buzz/expectations/whatever-you-want-to-call-them can really sabotage a movie for you. It's overcome how I watch movies. The sadly ironic thing is that we'd probably all be better off if we just didn't read or see much of anything about a film before we see it ourselves...but then, we might never know what we want to see in the first place. A terrible catch-22.