Note: no embarrassing video of number one son this week, instead a bit of self-humiliation as I dig through some old files I found from the original version of this here blog post, and found some of my old movie pics…My god, but I was a naive young thing back when I was a mere 40 years old…I can’t believe I picked some of these for my choices of the year…but with minimal amending, and noted where applied here we go…
2009 was a bit of a funny one- the blockbusters generally disappointed (Public Enemies), didn’t appeal (Transformers 2, New Moon, GI Joe), the advanced word/ sneak peaks were so off putting I still haven’t got round to seeing them yet (X Men Origins- Wolverine, Terminator Salvation) *note: I eventually did. They were both awful. or were disappointing sequels to great originals (Angels and Demons. Ahem, yeah right…)
Truth be told in a year of limited business travel (and therefore not catching airline movies), and new DVD player/ Blu Ray, most of the watching was done at home, and the lines blurred between what came out in the UK cinema in 2008 versus 2009 (or maybe it was the wine that caused the blurring…)
2009 was a year of watching quite a lot of good old stuff at home that I’d criminally neglected, particularly documentaries and subtitled…but that’s another post.
For the most part the choices below are firmly from the 2009 calendar year, but a couple of choices ‘officially’ came out at the very tail end of 2008. In each case I don’t feel as if I’ve cheated in including them as they simply did not get any sort of wide scale distribution in the UK outside of festivals or micro art house cinemas. The one film I did leave out which was originally in my top ten choices was Gomorrah which on vague ‘research’ (cough- IMDB- cough) appears to have been out with reasonable distribution mid ’08.
10.Let the Right One:
Ignoring the various horror fests of 2008 that this popped up at it’s fair to say it’s a 2009 release in the UK. Directed by Tomas Alfredson and adapted by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist from his own novel it’s more condensed than the original source material, with a number of sub plots done away with or simplified, but this story of Oskar, a bullied 12-year old living in Stockholm who is befriended by Eli, a strange girl apparently around his own age with an aversion to sunlight, is more interesting than a dozen Twilight movies (but don’t start criticizing Buffy- that is a completely different situation).
Wasn’t quite as wowed with it as a lot of the critics, maybe in comparison to the novel it does seem somewhat toned down in the thornier potentially pedophilia elements hinted at , or maybe I didn’t see it as quite the new take on the vampire mythos many did, but it did a great job of capturing the winter washed out feel of Stockholm (even if not filmed there), and the potential horrors of childhood are played out as importantly as any ‘horror thrills’.
Of course, there’s a Hollywood remake on the way…and there was too – and what’s more, I didn’t hate Let Me In half as much as all the purists seemed to. Some individual moments, gasp don’t dare admit it, I thought were better than the original…
9. The Wrestler: again, appeared in a few film festivals in late 2008 but for the masses it was a 2009 release (whether at the cinema, on DVD or ahem, bit torrent). Mickey Rourke’s performance has been talked into the ground by this point and the question whether Sean Penn’s role in Milk was more of a ‘performance’ can go on, but Mickey is as fantastic as everyone said he was. Marisa Tomei’s not too shabby either. Story can be summed up in one sentence; ‘past his sell by date Wrestler tries to eke out a living and make a comeback’, but that makes it sound so much more ‘Rocky Balboa’ than it is. Brilliantly captured glimpse at the truth of professional wrestling which would be ideal to show impressionable adolescent boys that IT’S NOT REAL…although maybe not with the backroom back sex bit. (which would be impressionable on adolescent boys in a whole different way)
(Potential Spoiler) Also one of the only films that I’ve seen since ‘Color of Money’ where there appears to be no qualms about using the final shot of the film in publicity shots/ trailers…
8. Watchmen: the ‘unfilmable’ comic book adaptation came in for criticism from a lot of quarters: fanboys complaining it strayed from the source material in its finale, (no squid) non fanboys saying it didn’t make a whole lot of sense if you didn’t know the source material, and from most general viewers as having too much slo-mo or being too stylised/ long/ violent, although the most cited criticism seemed to be singled out for the love scene to the backing of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. I went on the weekend it opened and loved all three hours of it for most of the reasons many didn’t like it (except the Hallelujah, but it’s STILL not as bad as what the x factor arses did to it last Christmas…). It didn’t shy away from the issues raised by the comic and did as much as anything outside of an extended tv mini series hey, 10 years on and they’re making one of sorts, apparently…could do with it, and with a budget north of $130 million it’s still amazing it was as firmly 18 certificate as it was. No it wasn’t perfect (although the Director’s Cut supposedly runs more smoothly) well, it was longer…, some of the casting was a little off (although Jackie Earle Hayley was pretty much perfect as Rorschach , but the look and design of the whole thing was fantastic. If it didn’t live up to the anticipation of the long running online promotion it was never likely to…but it was a good effort. And I don’t care that everyone I’ve told has laughed at me for having this in my top ten…so there. And I still don’t – its still better than a lot of DC productions have been since…
7. Moon: made for around $5 million Moon is an amazing achievement in all sorts of ways: as a first time directorial outing, as an (almost) single handed (or double handed- if you’ve seen it you’ll know, if you haven’t you’ll understand quickly enough) performance from Sam Rockwell, and as an example of the production values that can be gotten with some imagination.
It’s not a spoiler to outline the basic plot of the movie- Sam Bell, sole employee coming to the end of his three year stint on a moon base begins to question his sanity and whether he is alone on the moon station. After an accident he finds he is no longer alone on the base.
There are direct and indirect references to a whole raft of movies- from Kevin Spacey’s voice work as Gerty yeah, in retrospect this line sort of negates that whole earlier waffle about not giving away the two-handed bit (and no, that’s not a cheap Spacey gag all these years on), the base’s computer, with it’s echoes of HAL from 2001, to the ‘deep space is he mad’ elements of Solaris, Event Horizon, Silent Running et al.
Some have criticised that they ‘guessed the twist’ early on. That’s not the point though, as exemplified at the three quarter mark of the film when rising suspicions are flat out confirmed- it’s the micro details that continue to mount and build that are of more interest.
In many (positive) ways, Moon reminded me of a college student film: there was obviously a lot of good will involved to get a film made that looks like this, features this talent, for this much money. It does just strike as a shame that for once a little more money DIDN’T go into the marketing to get a few more people in to see it.
And Sam Rockwell for an Oscar nomination? Could be an outside bet at Paddy Power…* (Didn’t happen in the end) I may need to watch this again; never felt the need to see it more than the once.
6. Star Trek: Ok, just to be clear: wasn’t a big fan of the original Star Trek tv series: would watch it as a kid on a Monday night if I’d come out from behind the settee from Dr Who whenever that was on. Haven’t seen any of the movies, be they the good odd ones or bad even ones (or vice versa, whichever way round it apparently is).
Not particularly a JJ Abrams fan either- saw the first episode of Lost recently (how up to date?), saw one episode of Alias, ten years on I never watched another episode of either of them… and wasn’t dying for this to come out. But, it was my 40th birthday, so long ago…sighs.. and I dragged the family along to see it as my birthday demand….and we all loved it. Maybe it was the lack of reverence to Star Trek past (although I did have to deny my geekiness at recognising the references to Sulu’s sword skills and the ‘red shirt’).
Nope, never claimed to be a big Trekkie, but this did exactly what a summer fun flick should do, and worked for me in a similar way that Iron Man did as the first biggie of the season last year. Maybe NOT being tied emotionally to the original helped- rebooting the series- no problem, changing the mythology of key characters- fine with me. Humour inserted? Didn’t like the way it was done in the Star Wars prequels- here, I’m fine with the swollen hands gag or Scotty’s cuddly toy side kick…hmm, in retrospect wish I’d made a prediction about JJ and Star Wars…
There have been criticisms from some quarters about a weak villain, about space time paradoxes not being fully worked out, and by contrivances in Kirk’s being dumped on an alien planet where he meets an old (and a new) friend. Personally, couldn’t give a damn. No, I wasn’t sure what exactly the purpose/ thinking behind the major McGuffin plot point was, but did it spoil anything? Nope. Not at all.
The young(er) cast all work well, and the secondary characters are all nicely rounded. It would have been all too easy to either pile irony and/ or knowing winks or to merely offer impersonations of characters we know (even if we’re not ‘fans’.) Abrams plays it perfectly in taking the known, playing with it affectionately before throwing all the cards in the air and b… (no, not going to go with a boldly going where no film maker has gone before shite joke) brazenly throwing in a time travel paradox which allows the film makers to follow the tag line of ‘the future begins here’ for any sequels to come. And they will come…no doubt.
It looks pretty damn good on Blu Ray as well…
So there were some negative comments from the critics: No less than Pauline Kael claimed “there’s no breath in the picture, no lyricism,” and that it had no “emotional grip.” Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader stated, “None of these characters has any depth, and they’re all treated like the fanciful props and settings.” On the positive side, pretty much everyone was prepared to admit the special effects and action were ground breaking.
Ok, none of the above referred to Avatar, but were some of the first things I found when googling ‘negative reviews Star Wars a new hope’ (the ‘New Hope’ part was important otherwise you get a million or so bitch fests about episodes 1-3…and there was also a clue it wasn’t about Avatar in that Pauline Kael died back in 2001). By this point in time pretty much half the world has apparently seen the film given it’s billion plus box office take at the time of typing, and pretty much every one has given an opinion on it. Currently at number 37 in IMDB’s Top 250, and with an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes it’s clear the public haven’t just gone to see it but like it as well.
Some of the same criticisms levelled at Star Wars has of course been laid on Avatar: Star Wars was a mash up of Saturday Morning Matinees, Avatar is Dances with Wolves/ Pochahontas/ Smurfs in space, and you can’t argue the dialogue is ‘clunky’.
But seeing Avatar in a good cinema, with a big screen, good sound system, and in full 3D it was the film event of the year. Not the best film, but the biggest spectacle. There may not have been too many surprises in the story arc- or the character development, but the constant surprises of just how immersed it was possible to get within the world was fantastic.
The fact was J and I came out of it with big stupid grins all over our faces, (and popcorn all over us- that little kid next to us freaked when the bomb exploded and bits of 3D metal fragments flew at us- the film does incredible things with the 3D but isn’t too proud to include the occasional old school cheap shock) and headed home.
We decided we’d pretend we didn’t enjoy it (having talked incessantly about it for the last couple of months we thought that might be amusing somehow), we broke down under questioning in all of about 10 seconds.
Whether it has the lasting impact on 9/ 10 year olds the way Star Wars did on me I don’t have a clue. Whether I’ll like this as much in a couple of years time as I still do Terminator 1 and 2, Aliens, Abyss or True Lies I can’t say. I can now – I have never felt the urge to watch Avator again. Maybe it was that big screen effect…I do know that I’d rather watch action scene set pieces from Cameron than pretty much anyone else out there, and that as a first 3D film to see at a cinema (I don’t count Space Hunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone at Whitley Bay Playhouse back in ’83) it was a pretty amazing one to start with. Now, to find somewhere it’s showing on IMAX….
- Inglorious Basterds
After the bloated boredom of Death Proof I was in no rush to see IB. Knowing Tarantino had been working on the script for some 10 years my concern was whether he was going to try and include ALL the work in the running time of the film, not helped when feedback from initial screenings in Cannes were decidedly mixed.
The trailer whetted my appetite but still wasn’t convinced.
So, what did it end up being? A 153 minute five chapter wartime fairy tale set in Nazi occupied France. (There’s a clue to all this in the chapter card of the first chapter- Once Upon a Time In Nazi Occupied France)
Whereas Death Proof’s bar room dialogue seemed long winded and…well, just, self indulgent, the opening scene here, where we see Nazi colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) carry out an interrogation of a French dairy farmer about the whereabouts of a family of jews who we soon find out are hiding under the farmer’s floorboards, is carried out with the torturously slow and imbedding doom of a Leone western, or the Dennis Hopper/ Christopher Walken scene of Tarantino’s own scripted True Romance, and sets the scene, pacing, and brilliance of the rest of the film. It’s Tarantino’s movie, and his rules from first to last (Literally- the last line uttered by Brad Pitt’s Lt Aldo Raine; “I think this might just be my masterpiece.” is as self referential as they come, but thanks to what has come before does not come across as wanky (technical term there).
The cast is universally excellent- Christoph Waltz is getting deserved recognition and Oscar buzz, but all of the ensemble cast are great and give Tarantino’s dialogue the service it deserves.
The film gained a 31/50 score in terms of explicit content on the IMDB guidance. Which (among oh so many other things) makes me a bad parent and guide as far as what is appropriate for letting J see it, although I think it’s figuring in his film of the year list as well- more concerning is how it might affect his history exam results…it really is QT’s world and the rules don’t apply. But without giving spoilers away, it’s amusing to see some of the suggestions in the IMDB ‘goofs’ section…
3. The Hurt Locker
Made on a budget of around $11 million by Katherine Bigilow from a script from first time movie writer but long time journalist Mark Boal the Hurt Locker benefits from (according to Boal), a complete lack of demands from studio execs to present an ‘unhollywood’ view of a bomb squad disposal unit on a tour of duty in Iraq in 2004.
From the opening scene of an army squad sergeant (Guy Pearce) approach to an IED the film makers make it clear there are no conventions to rely on here- if anything, spot a familiar face in the movie and you can pretty much guarantee they aren’t going to be around for long.
So what’s it about? Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) comes in as new team leader of a bomb disposal unit (oops, guess that gives a bit of a clue to that mention of the opening scene and guarantee comment). He’s a guy that doesn’t play by the rules, see? A maverick, a ticking bomb if you will, or inappropriate pun apart, a Martin Riggs Lethal Weapon in Iraq. Yes, that’s the way the film could have gone, but it’s that previously mentioned lack of executive input that means this is no by-the-numbers Hollywood ‘war flick’- there’s virtually no exposition in the movie, (We don’t even learn what ‘hurt locker’ means).
It’s almost a cinema verite approach- and clearly a ‘cinema of truth’ is of central importance to the makers: to try and give a genuine view from the soldiers’ points of view and avoid big P politics. How well it does this I couldn’t comment, but watching it in a week where another British bomb disposal officer died in Helmand Provence was a pretty sobering experience.
It’s not the explosions that affect so much, but the downtime in between: the slow, incendiary build that’s expressed in that opening scene and repeated thematically throughout the ensuing two hours. The brilliance of the verite approach is the resolute refusal to produce a traditional style of narrative: there’s no big baddie bomb builder to be confronted, no real story arc, but a series of brilliantly conceived and executed set pieces (particularly the opening scene with Pearce and a great sniper fight cameoing Ralph Feinnes) that are at times disorientating, overwhelmingly tense, and in the midst of it all at times, somehow amusing, that together work as an engrossing piece of cinema. If it works better as exquisitely tense set pieces rather than a full flowing narrative, and if there’s a strange action chase interlude in the middle that doesn’t seem to fit, then so be it, overall it’s still an incredible piece of work.
2: Where The Wild Things Are
In slight recap of choice number 6:
As a child I was also not a fan of Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’. As an adult I wasn’t a huge fan of Spike Jonze full length features (I say I like Being John Malkovich, but that’s the law, isn’t it?)
I was pretty intrigued about a film based on a book of twenty pages and 9 sentences, that began filming in 2005, originally had a May 08 release date, which was pushed back under much speculation about Warner Bros’ absolute horror at what Jonze had done with their intended child friendly fare.
And I was desperate to see it once I saw the trailer, which I still think could be the best trailer ever created and made me both download the Arcade Fire album and lament how unfair it was the movie was coming out in the States months before it came out in the UK.
We made it a family outing: N was quite into seeing it, I could tell J thought it was going to be a bit childish and didn’t like the idea of going to something with a pg certificate. (He relented when I promised he could see Inglorious Basterds the next day…kids today, sheesh…)
From the opening, super 8 hand held style indie camera work following Max tear around the house, terrorizing the family dog, I began to wonder how the mass group of 3 year olds who’d been horded in behind us (lying bastard ticket desk swore they were going into a different screen. Should have guessed they weren’t there for Antichrist…) were going to take it. Because, over used as the line is, this was a film about childhood, not a children’s film. I don’t think it’s too scary for young children – although explaining to a child that the bit they missed when they went to the toilet was when that monster ripped the other one’s arm off because he was so angry may have been interesting…
N was disappointed there wasn’t more plot to it. Truth be told that was exactly what I loved so much about it, the whole feel of the film- from the creature designs, to the voice work, to the sets, to the performance from Max Records (and the always great Catherine Keener), to the brilliant voice work (James Gandalfini and Catherine O’Hara being particularly affecting) and the dialogue with it’s innocent mayhem with the hint of menace never too far away…as when Max sees the bones lying around and asks if they’re from previous kings- to which Carol the wild thing replies unconvincingly:
“Oh those? I don’t know anything about that. Those were like that when we got here…”
It’s a strange film, to be sure, and even stranger that Warner Bros asked Jonze to do it in the first place, or that they gave him a million dollars to do so. Umm, I think it was a hundred million, actually…
But I came out of it so glad they did.
Now what’s next? David Lynch directing ‘Calvin and Hobbes’… I can but hope.
1: The Fall
A film I know didn’t make any other best of lists of 2009 of any other list of best ofs I came across. No surprise there given that the film’s official release date in the US was June 2007, and in the UK September 2008, but didn’t hit any cinema I had the chance to visit. We eventually saw it on DVD in mid 2009.
So a bit of a cheat for a best of 2009, but I don’t care. Given that it made less than $3 million at the US box office I don’t think anyone else saw it in 2008 either…
I haven’t really given a synopsis for any of the films 10 through 2, in most cases because they’re probably well enough known that you have at least an idea of the plot details. That may not be the case with The Fall, but I don’t want to give details away. Perhaps the reason I enjoyed this so much was how cold I went into it, I knew next to nothing about it other than the fact it was directed Tarsem Singh who’d previously directed the Jennifer Lopez flick ‘The Cell’ which had amazing visuals but little else to recommend it, that it was filmed in lots of countries (turns out to be 26 locations across 18 countries), and having heard some vague talk that it was an incredibly visual affair with none of it’s surreal look created through special effects.
In terms of plot the story revolves around a Los Angeles hospital during the ‘20’s where Roy, a paralyzed stunt man shares a hospital ward with a young girl named Alexandria recovering from a broken arm. Initially to pass the time, later for darker reasons he tells her stories of adventure of six disparate heroes.
Beyond that go in cold. Don’t check the trailer out- it’s both misleading in tone and too revealing in detail.
The film was for me the best unexpected gem of the year- initially just through the sheer beauty of the look of it, the powerful performances (in particular Catinca Untaru, at the time of filming only 9 in a completely charming role), and the quirkiness of the tale, longer term it’s even more impressive when looking at the level of dedication shown by director and crew to get the thing made.
See it without knowing anything about it if you can. I’m still looking forward to seeing it again now that I’ve got it on Blu Ray…and yet, ten years on I don’t think I’ve actually watched it again since…maybe one to dig out this week…
Is Anybody There?
Gomorrah (would have been in there if it wasn’t so definitely ’08 and I hadn’t made my one exception with The Fall)
Drag Me to Hell (Bring on Evil Dead 4)
In The Loop
The Damned United
Trick r Treat
In retrospect now, there are at least three of those honorable mention films I have watched again and again in the intervening years, and four of my ‘top ten’ I’ve never glanced at since…
Observe and Report
Crank: High Voltage
Could have been a contender if I’d seen it:
Up Yeah, that would have made it in there…