Inglourious Basterds

Although it is quite late in the year, my ten-best movies of 2009 list is very sparse right now.  There are several factors here, one being that I rarely see movies in the theater any more, or even rentals (kids, jobs, etc.), but a big one is that many of the best films wait until late December or even January to be released.  I have been waiting fairly impatiently for movies like The Road, Up in the Air and Avatar to finally come out so that I can see them and include them.  But as of this moment, my top five would have to be Away We Go, Inglourious Basterds, The Hangover, Harry Potter 6, and Star Trek.  As I mentioned, this will change quite a bit, but it is what it is in mid-December.

I watched Inglourious Basterds for the second time last night, and I have to say, it was even better upon a 2nd viewing.  Absolutely stunning visually, violent, hilarious, of course well-made, great soundtrack (incredible call with the Bowie song!), all the elements you would expect from Tarantino.  But it did three things especially well.  First and foremost, it created immensely watchable characters, some of the best of the last few yearsReally amazing performances from a host of actors.  I can think of at least half a dozen off the top of my head.  Second, I loved all of the long scenes – Tarantino really mastered creating tension in this film.  The tavern scene especially was ridiculous.  Long, and unapologetic, I was on the edge of my seat for all 25 minutes or so.  Third, I really appreciated that it was all about language.  The French spoke French, the German spoke German, the English/Americans spoke English.  And they reveled in that fact, and it played for both quite a few laughs and tense moments.  It also created a sense of realism in a movie that was ultimately fantasy.   Brilliantly done.  A really terrific movie from start to finish, and you don’t even notice its length.

That said, it certainly wasn’t a perfect movie, and had one major shortcoming that puts it at #2 for the year (so far).  If you haven’t seen the movie yet, stop reading now.  My one big beef with the film is that ultimately Shoshanna does not exact any measure of revenge on Hans Landa.  In fact, her plan ends up being not necessary in the first place.  Since Landa escapes, and gets credited with ending the war, Shoshanna is a mere forgotten footnote.  Was her character only in there to set up Landa’s?  What did the fire end up doing, really?  Was she merely a plot point used to move the venue of the premiere and lengthen the film?  Landa, the most evil character in the movie aside from the obvious (Hitler, Goebbles), gets very little in terms of come-uppance.  There is little to no retribution or repentance.  He doesn’t get what he deserves.  Shoshanna has endured a great wrong – she had to watch as her family was slaughtered in front of her.  And Tarantino had a chance to have the man responsible for that be in the theater, get what was coming to him, and have Shoshanna single-handedly end the war, and he didn’t take it!  Ultimately, Landa and the Basterds will be credited with it, and Landa gets away, while Shoshanna and her lover must die for something that in the end was redundant.  All of this causes the movie to lack the intellectual and emotional punch that it could have had, and results in it being close to but not quite the movie of the year (so far).


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