Friday, September 6, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Randomly Selected for Additional Screening

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.
It didn't officially win Best Picture, but it did in Cody's heart and mind. 

UP IN THE AIR (2009)

Written and directed by Jason Reitman and based on a novel by Walter Kirn, Up in the Air stars George Clooney (The Descendants) as Ryan Bingham, a man who works as a "career transition specialist". Which means he fires people for a living, travelling around the country to inform business workers that they've been terminated from their job position. As the economy crumbles in the U.S., Ryan's business is booming. In the last year, his job kept him on the road for 322 days, which was fine with him. The 43 days he had to spend in his barebones apartment in Omaha, Nebraska were miserable for him, despite the casual, sexual arrangement he had with the woman next door.
Ryan thrives on being on the road, having no attachments, finds comfort in the routine of travel. He looks forward with great anticipation to his upcoming milestone of having racked up ten million frequent flyer miles. He's so into his lifestyle that he even has a side job giving motivational speeches encouraging others to live without relationships and possessions dragging them down. That's all a home and personal connections are in his opinion, weights on a person's shoulders. He believes he is experiencing true freedom.

But there is no story without conflict, and a combination of events brings some turbulence into Ryan's life.

His career is put in danger of being irreperably damaged when young upstart Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick, 50/50) notes that their company's tactic of keeping twenty-three employees on the road for an average of 250 days a year is expensive and inefficient. She offers an alternative idea: no travel at all. Employees can work out of their home base, be with their families for all holidays and important events, and perform their duties entirely over the internet through video chat sessions.

Ryan's co-workers may like the sound of that, but it's a nightmarish prospect to him. He's also appalled by how impersonal Natalie's suggested approach to the job at hand would be, likening it to breaking up with someone via text message. He's angered that this young woman has just walked in and made his job irrelevant and is attempting to revolutionize the company he works for when she has no experience with what its workers really do. When he voices his complaints to his boss, he's offered a deal - he can stay on the road for a while longer, but he has to take Natalie along with him and show her the reality of the circumstances someone who does his job has to deal with.

At the same time, issues also come up for Ryan in his personal life - during his travels he meets a woman named Alex (Vera Farmiga of The Conjuring and Source Code), who has a lifestyle similar to his and an attractive personality. They arrange rendezvous, meeting up as their paths cross on their ways around the country, and the more time they spend together, the more Ryan falls for Alex.

The troubles at his job and his developing feelings for Alex, along with a family situation that causes him to return to his hometown and get involved with the lives of his relatives for the first time in years, soon has Ryan seriously reconsidering his approach to life.

Up in the Air was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor/Actress nods for Clooney, Farmiga, and Kendrick, and Best Picture. It was the film I was rooting for to win Best Picture during that year's ceremonies, and given that it was up against films by personal favorites like Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers, that's a major testament to how effective the film was for me.

I connected with the film on a very personal, emotional level. There are many aspects within it that I could relate to, like the concept of being isolated even while surrounded by people, the angle of focusing on broader things and goals rather than others but also coming to the realization that making connections with other humans may be the most important thing there is. The struggle to figure out what this "being a person" thing is all about. I totally got a conversation about the counterproductivity of giving yourself deadlines in life, how worrying about getting things done by a certain age can be a hindrance to getting those things done. Also, in 2009 I could very much relate to an absolutely devastating event that occurs late in the film, because I had just gone through something similar myself early that year.

I even connected to a song on the soundtrack, "Help Yourself" by Sad Brad Smith, relating its lyrics to my own struggle with depression and the support of my family and friends through the times, the years, when I've felt completely worthless.

Clooney, Farmiga, and Kendrick are all fantastic in their roles and were definitely deserving of their Oscar nominations, as was Reitman.

I had enjoyed Reitman's debut film Thank You for Smoking, I thought Juno was great and it made him one to keep watching, and he really delivered on his follow-up to that film. This one totally cemented the fact that I'm going to be there to see every movie Jason Reitman makes. (And he continued the streak with his next one, Young Adult.)

Up in the Air didn't end up winning any gold men, but if the choice had been up to me, it would've walked away with the top honor.

This week's viewing was just the second time I've watched the movie since I saw it in the theatre, and it still connected with me in the same way. I understand and feel for Ryan Bingham, the movie touches my heart and breaks my heart... and it inspires me. The way this film makes me feel reminds me why I want to be a filmmaker. The opportunity you have to reach people emotionally with this medium is amazing, and I hope someday I can make some things that connect with people the way Up in the Air connects with me.


  1. I didn't see it until home video - but it was calling to me - and when I saw it I knew why - like you it also was a real revelation to me - it's a truly marvelous movie with crackerjack performances all around and excellent scripting and direction. Have you tried the novel to see if it resonates as much or more so? (I haven't...yet...)

    1. I haven't read the novel yet, either. The synopsis on Wikipedia makes it sound like it has a very different tone, but I don't know.

      - Cody