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What Is The Best Movie You Have Seen In The Last Year And Why
Reflecting on Gran Torino
This is in response to the question, "what is the best movie you have seen in the last year and why?"
I'm something of a film buff, and a lover of classic cinema. That said, I'm often dissapointed by most of the crap that Hollywood offers us every year. There are still some good movies out there, but for every great new instant-classic, there are a dozen remakes, rip-offs and generally bad movies that make me wonder why studios flushed their money down the toilet to make them.
One movie I watched this past year that helped renew my faith in the film industry at large was Gran Torino. This was easily my favorite film of 2008, if not of this entire decade. Clint Eastwood is truly a genius in my opinion. Of all the people I admire most in the world, Clint would definitely make the top twenty, probaby slightly above Hugh Laurie and Kevin Smith, but just a step below Rod Serling.
For those who didn't see it and hadn't heard about it, I'll give you the overview. Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a retired war veteran who, after losing his beloved wife, has become the living stereotype of a cranky old man. He's rude, insensitive, a little racist, and goes out of his way to socially isolate himself. But still, we as the audience find that we can sympathize with him.
Things change as large numbers of Asian immigrants start moving into the area. (I forget the exact region they're from, but it's talked about in the movie in some detail) Walt is opposed to their presence at first, but over the course of the film, he is reluctantly befriended by two siblings named Thao and Sue, who eventually coax him out of his shell and get him to warm up to the new neighbors. But, I'm getting ahead of the plot here.
The neighborhood has a lot of problems. Its inhabitants are poor, and many of the houses are falling apart. Teenagers can't afford to go to college, and there aren't any real jobs around for them, or at least none willing to hire them. So, the town's youth start joining gangs. Thao is constantly pressured by his cousin and his friends to join their gang, but Thao is uncertain about it. His first attempt at fitting in is trying to steal Walt's car, a beautiful Gran Torino that he takes great care of. Walt catches him and chases him away, but later when Thao's cousin and the gang come back to harass Thao and his family for his failure, Walt comes to their rescue. Walt of course claims he was just trying to keep the young punks away from his lawn, but he shows his good-guy nature later when Sue is being harassed by another gang.
So, time goes on, Walt starts to accept Thao and Sue's family, and they do the same. Walt teaches Thao lessons about being a man, and helps him to get a job. But all the while, the street gang is making their lives miserable. When Thao makes it clear that he has no interest in joining them, they get violent to show they mean business. Walt steps forward and tells the gang-bangers to leave the family alone, but this only escalates matters. Violence begets violence, and as the situation comes to a boiling point, Walt has to make a serious decision about how to restore peace to their neighborhood.
I won't reveal the ending, but suffice to say it's not what you expect. The whole movie is really original, though. The characters feel absolutely real. They're flesh and blood, and you can really grow attached to them, which makes the storyline all the more emotional and dramatic. The writing throughout is fantastic. I laughed, I cried, I wanted to pick up a gun and shoot some gang-banging punks, and maybe more significantly, I decided to lay that hypothetical gun down. The realism is intense, and the issues dealt with here are an absolute powderkeg of emotions. I found myself talking about the film and the political and ethical questions is raised throughout the entire 20-minute car ride home.
Long story short, Gran Torino is a modern masterpiece, and if you didn't get the pleasure of seeing it in theatres, I highly recommend you look into getting the dvd, or at least renting it so you can say you've had the pleasure of seeing it. And believe me, it is a pleasure to watch from start to finish.