Sunday, February 28, 2010

Jeremy's Top 10 Films of 2009

It's no secret that many good movies came out in 2009. These were the best:

1. Du Levande (You, the Living)
The best US-released film of 2009 was actually made in Sweden a couple years ago, but it's lost none of its absurd magic since it premiered. Following a mosaic of characters around a modern city with perfectly composed, surreal vignettes, Roy Andersson's touching, peculiar, utterly distinct masterpiece catalogues loneliness, dreams, the human condition, love and how fleeting it all is. Andersson isn't afraid of any subject matter as he delivers sly stone-faced gags and rich emotions of all sorts through his remarkable imagery. It's not my fault if this description doesn't do the film justice—the only way to know it is to see it.
(Get the new US R1 DVD (slightly cropped from 1.66:1 to 1.78:1) or stream it on Netflix (in the correct aspect ratio—don't ask me…).)

2. The White Ribbon
There's a palpable, thick feeling of dread present throughout Michael Haneke's chilling story of a small town that experiences a series of horrible, mysterious crimes. Haneke slowly studies different manifestations of authority, shame and trauma through the eyes of the town's young school teacher, building toward a series of scenes that are horrifying in their subtle implications. Haneke already made the best film of the decade in "Caché," and he continues to astound.
(Now playing in theaters. You can pre-order it, but don't miss it in theaters.)

3. Inglourious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino never gives us what we expect, but always gives us something to think about and something deliciously entertaining. His ensemble war revenge comedy epic turns genres and icons on their heads with exceedingly smart writing and taut direction. Supporting actor nominee though he may be, Christoph Waltz commands every scene he's in as the cool, calculating, witty, sleazy Nazi villain Hans Landa. And yet, in the ultimate credit to Tarantino and the rest of his cast, Waltz isn't even in the film's best scene, a masterfully built-up extended set-piece of suspense in a basement tavern. In a world of films that simply kill time between their big set pieces, Tarantino wows us with classic moments in every scene.
(Now on Blu-ray and one- and two-disc DVD editions.)

4. A Serious Man
Fill a blender with The Book of Job, Jefferson Airplane, Kafka, Hebrew mythology, simmering anti-semitism and collegiate ethics, and you might not get something so gloriously existential and funny as "A Serious Man," but Joel and Ethan Coen sure did. Michael Stuhlbarg plays a man who is tested in his faith, resilience and moral certitude, and finds himself struggling to maintain his character while facing the meaningless barrage of life. I'd tell you whether he succeeds, but I wouldn't want to spoil one of the most brilliant closing sequences of all time (the final shot may even top the Coens' "Barton Fink!").
(Available on DVD and blu-ray, although the Columbia Record Club may have already sent you one if you didn't do anything.)

5. Sugar
The path we expect to travel isn't always clear, and won't necessarily take us where we think we're going. "Sugar" is about realizing that. The film follows a Dominican baseball player as he leaves his small town to work his way up from the minor leagues in America, but writer/directors Ana Boden and Ryan Fleck recognize that things more often than not don't go according to the script. Boden and Fleck soak in the atmosphere of three very different locations, and Algenis Perez Soto touchingly plays a young man who goes from being the star of his small town to a foreigner in a strange land where he doesn't speak the language.
(Hey, this one is also on DVD and blu-ray.)

6. Up
Even if you don't take its brilliant opening montage into account, "Up," is full of clever gags, exciting action-adventure and great characters. It only gets better once you consider one of the decade's most poignant moments of filmmaking, which depicts our main character's life from young boy to old man. It captures the joys and heartaches of an ordinary life full of ordinary missed opportunities and re-adujusted dreams, recalling King Vidor's "The Crowd." This one sequence elevates the entire whole film by establishing a solid understanding of a character's mindset. It's clear that director Pete Docter and co-director Bob Peterson are two more fine storytellers working at Pixar.
(Jesus, Disney. I'm not going to link to the single-disc edition when it costs the same as the "Four-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + BD Live" version and only a buck and a half less than the two-disc DVD edition.)

7. Police, Adj.
Corneliu Porumboiu can do more with a simple camera pan or a character exiting or entering the frame than most filmmakers do with 100 shots. The Romanian writer/director followed up the hilarious "12:08 East of Bucharest" with another deft study of the comedy and tragedy of human nature, about a policeman who doesn't want to bust a teenager for marijuana possession. The film is all about meanings and interpretation, of language and of law, and attempts to leap—or maybe fall down—the gulf between what we say and what we feel.
(This one isn't out on DVD, blu-ray or Netflix yet, and isn't playing in many theaters—though I must say the transfer I saw doesn't do the 35-mm print justice. But in many areas you can get it on-demand via the ol' cable companies.)

8. Jerichow
The postman always rings twice, but the UPS man pushes the bell with a stick as he starts to run away. German writer/director Christian Petzold updates a familiar old story to modern times, and finds different dynamics between the characters, different targets for their desires and even a different place for the beginning, middle and end. Expertly shot and acted, this film makes the story as fresh as it's ever been.
(You can stream this one on Netflix or get the DVD.)

9. We Live in Public
As Bernstein told us in "Citizen Kane," "It's no trick to make a lot of money if all you want to do is make a lot of money." Josh Harris, the subject of Ondi Timoner's documentary, made plenty of money as an Internet pioneer, then blew it all on bizarre, elaborate, technological art projects. In many ways, Harris foresaw the future of tweets and status updates and people broadcasting away their privacy, but he acted them out with odd experiments like a closed community where everyone was recorded and broadcast, or a site that delivered constant streaming video of his life with his new wife. The character study that emerges depicts a mad genius high on his ego and hellbent on self-destruction.
(This film has yet to have much of a theatrical release, but you can pre-order the DVD.)

10. The Hurt Locker
Here is an action film that grabs you not just by showing tense, dangerous situations, but by viscerally relaying the experience of those situations. Even when the film's psychological overtures play off key, Kathryn Bigelow has so masterfully captured the in-the-moment terror of diffusing bombs in Iraq—the suspicious neighbors who could be civilians or insurgents, the IED that could blow at any moment—that this film will stand as one of the few that truly places its audience in a war.
(You can still catch this in some theaters thanks to an Oscar-time rerelease, or you can stay at home like a sissy and watch the DVD or blu-ray.)

11 Tied for Eleventh:
"Bright Star"
"The Brothers Bloom"
"The Beaches of Agnes"
"The Class"
"Fantastic Mr. Fox"
"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
"The Headless Woman"
"In the Loop"
"Lorna's Silence"
"Still Walking"

Honorable Mention
"Anvil! The Story of Anvil"
"Burma VJ"
"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs"
"The Cove"
"Il Divo"
"An Education"
"Food, Inc."
"Goodbye Solo"
"The Hangover"
"I Love You, Man"
"The Informant!"
"Summer Hours"
"Sita Sings the Blues"
"Star Trek"
"Three Monkeys"
"35 Shots of Rum"
"Where the Wild Things Are"
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Monday, February 15, 2010

I just threw up in my mouth

If this turns out to be true, I will have officially lost faith in everything and everyone. And I quote:

In what is surely the most bizarre rumour to emerge from this year's Berlin film festival, it is whispered that Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro are preparing a remake of Taxi Driver, their 1970s tale of a man who stood up, saw clearly and shaved his hair into a mohawk. Only this time, it transpires, they may have a fresh passenger on board – Lars von Trier could be riding shotgun.

In fact, to keep myself from any violent activity, I propose a fun game - mostly to Jeremy, but it's open to others who are interested in joining in. Like a children's therapy session, we're going to come up with pictures expressing how we feel about this news/rumor/harbinger of doom. I'll start:

UPDATE: That's it, Jeremy. It's been days, and you've greatly disappointed me. And the world. Not a single visual?* Shame! Well, time's up. Thankfully, though, the story turned out to be false.

(But that won't stop Jesus from giving them the finger.)

*Unless you were the one who posted the advertisement for free overnight prescriptions, in which case well done.
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