Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Yet Another Top 10 Movie List for 2009

My Top 10 Films of 2009

I don't go out to theaters to see new movies as much as I used to - blame it on NetFlix and cable TV's surfeit of movie options, from On Demand to my tried-and-true channel trifecta of Turner Classic Movies, IFC, and Sundance (not to mention Indie, Retro, and Flix!) factor in the fact that I'm a Cineplex-hating film snob who refuses to go anywhere but The Charles, The Senator, or The Landmark - but after seeing all the end-of-year Top 10 Lists on the newsstands and on the Internet, I checked my film log (yes, I'm the type of nerd who keeps a film log!) and this is what I came up with. In no particular order. Many of these films were released in 2008 but didn't make it stateside or play locally until 2009. Honest.

Hey...I notice from my notes that May was a banner month for good movies, with Michael Caine's Is Anybody There?, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata, Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell, J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, James Toback's Tyson, and Sacha Gervasi's Anvil! The Story of Anvil all hitting Baltimore theaters. All but the Caine film made my Best Of list, and that one was only excluded because of space limitations.

Top 10 Movie Movies, 2009:

  1. A Woman In Berlin (Anonyma - Eine Frau in Berlin)

  2. (Max Faberbock, Germany, 2008)

    Anonyma asks, "What's love got to do with it?"

    As Tom Verlaine sang, "I love disaster and I love what comes after." Berlin 1945 sure fits that bill. Russians, rape, death, and destruction. A time of eating, fucking, or killing anything that moves. Based on the suppressed memoir Ein Frau in Berlin by Anonyma, helmed by the director of Aimee & Jaguar, and starring Nina Hoss - the greatest Hoss since Bonanza's Dan Blocker - in the performance of the year.

  3. Revanche

  4. (Gotz Spielmann, Austria, 2008)

    Revanche is more than just a minge binge

    Revenge is a dish best served cold and nothing's colder than the corpse of your beloved - but the protagonist of Revanche eventually loses his appetite in this tale of love, loss, and serendipity. Director/writer Gotz Spielmann's intriguing narrative tells the story of a powerless ex-con (Johannes Krisch) who plans a bank robbery so that he can escape to a new life with his Ukrainian prostitute girfriend Tamara (Irinia Potpenko, pictured above), who toils away in a state of indentured sex-servantitude that reminded me of Lukas Moodyson's bleak Swedish film Lilya 4-Ever. But when Tamara is accidentally shot by a young policeman, Alex's plans go awry and he goes on the lam at his estranged father's farm, where he has an affair with the wife of the very cop who killed his expired ex. As the City Paper's Eric Allen Hatch observes: "With Revanche, director Götz Spielmann joins fellow countrymen Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl as world-class talents taking an unflinching look at the dark shadows of human behavior. Its story of an obsessive quest for revenge handles a dramatic shift in setting as well as any movie since Fatih Akin's Head-On; and, as with Spielmann's also-excellent Antares, the brutal notes are never forced, but struck only when honesty requires them."

  5. Coraline

  6. (Henry Selick, USA, 2009)

    "How can my parents be this hip?"

    I'm not a Neil Gaiman fanatic (he's far too hip for me), but I must admit that this adaptation of his book by director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) is brilliant and fun - and should serve as a cautionary tale to kids everywhere that if your parents start to seem too cool, they've probably been taken over by aliens or a witch's spell. I only wish I had seen Coraline in 3-D. Of course, Amy loved it because omnivore Coraline's appetite for the pleasures of the palate almost matched hers!

  7. The Damned United

  8. (Tom Hooper, UK, 2009)

    Great film about legendary British soccer manager Brian Clough's disastrous 44-day reign-of-error at Leeds United, penned by hottest-Brit-screenwriter-of-the-moment Peter Morgan (The Last King of Scotland, The Queen, Frost/Nixon) and starring hot-Brit-actor-of-the-moment Michael Sheen (he played Tony Blair in The Queen and David Frost in Frost/Nixon). I already blathered gleefully about it in a previous post, so I'll spare ya the rehash here.

  9. Star Trek

  10. (J. J. Abrams, USA, 2009)

    Spock gets all emo over Uhura's Vulcan Love Grip

    Loved this Portrait of the Star Fleet Captain As a Young Asshole, a Star Trek so entertaining that you could bring your girlfiend to it and she would find it fun and not nerdy! And because it was mainstream-friendly, you didn't have to be a Trekkie geek to follow it. Oh, and Simon Pegg (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz)'s turn as Scotty was truly inspired. And who woulda thunk it: Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (the smokin' hot Zoe Saldana - look for her next in Avatar) gettin' busy?

  11. Drag Me To Hell

  12. (Sam Raimi, USA, 2009)

    Never gyp a gypsy!

    What a ball this film was! I felt like a kid on a rollercoaster ride after ingesting a whole box of Pixie, fun, fun, and a return to comedy-horror form (circa Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness) by Sam Raimi. It starred a note-perfect Alison Lohman and The Mac Guy, Justin Long, doing his usual sensible geek guy thing. And it was instructional as well. I learned that you never, ever turn down a loan request from an old gypsy lady (The Young and the Restless' Lorna Raver) cuz she'll give you the evil eye and put a curse on your family. I think of this every time I see the old gyspy grannie pandhandling at the York Road Giant (I now always carry at least a buck in change in my car!). I just wish there was more screen time for Gypsy Grannie Ganush's niece, the overtly sexy Serbian actress Bojana Novakovic (star of Aussie TV's brothel series Satisfaction, pictured below).

    Bojana Novakovic

    The only quibble I had at all was Lohman's remorse-free kill-my-cat-to-save-my-ass scene in which the heroine tries to counter the gypsy voodoo spell. Kitty lovers beware!

  13. The Class (Entre les murs)
    (Laurent Cantet, France, 2009)

    This class is NOT saved by the bell

    Author and former high school teacher Francois Begaudeau basically stars as himself -a Paris school teacher in a culturally diverse inner city public school - in a film he co-wrote along with director Laurent Cantet (Heading South, Time Out, Human Resources) and Robin Campillo. Not only is Begaudeau a screenwriter, he's also a football columnist (you can tell because there are a number of soccer references in the film, which I loved!) and former punk singer. Anyway, the French title means "between the walls" and reflects the film's point that students and teachers lives extend well beyond the classroom and the school's walls and into the communities, homes, and cultures they come from as well. I like that it offered no easy solutions to anybody's troubles and admitted that some problems are beyond the scope of the teacher - and that teachers are human and make mistakes too (i.e., never call a student a skank - it's a bad career move!). Forget To Sir With Love; this is the real deal - literally, as it features real kids playing themselves. No wonder so many Baltimore city school teachers have come into the library asking for this documentary; no wonder it was the first French film since 1987 to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes (and by a unanimous vote, to boot).

  14. In the Loop

  15. (Armando Iannucci, UK, 2009)

    Tease me, squeeze me: Capaldi and Gandolfini
    yank each other's chains

    "A cynical, razor-sharp, truly laugh-out-loud farce about the symbiotic relationship between ineffectual, flip-flopping bureaucrats and the sneaky, petty spin doctors who need them" (GreenCine), In the Loop expands on director (and co-writer) Armando Iannucci's BBC TV comedy series The Thick of It. Basically, Iannucci takes the piss out of America's hubris-heavy rush to war in Iraq with this tale of an insignificant bureaucrat's off-hand remark that gets blown out of proportion and leads to an inevitable full metal jack-off. I only wish I had seen it with subtitles because the ball-busting blue dialogue comes fast and furious (especially when Scotsman Peter Capaldi is slinging the snaps) and I think I missed some good disses.

    Fave line: James Gandolfini as Lt. Gen. George Miller to Peter Capaldi's Malcolm Tucker, "Look, Tucker, you might be some scary little poodlefucker over in England, but out here you're nothing. You know what you look like? A squeezed dick. You got a big blue vein running up your head all the way to the temple. See, that's where I'd put the bullet. Only I'd have to stand back 'cause you look like a squirter."

  16. Tokyo Sonata

  17. (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan, 2008)

    All in the Family, Tokyo-style

    Departures may have won the Academy Award as Best Foreign Film, but color me underwhelmed; far from being the year's best foreign film, it wasn't even the best Japanese film that year - that honor goes to Kiyoshi Kurosawa's timely tale of economic hard times and family implosion, Tokyo Sonata. Imdb plot: "Tokyo Sonata is the story of the Sasakis, a middle class family in Tokyo, Japan. The father, Ryuhei, loses his administrative job at a sports medicine company after it gets shipped off to the cheap labor paradise of China. Embarrassed, Ryuhei returns home without a word to his wife, Megumi, about getting fired. Ryuhei stands in line for hours in the coming days at "Hello Work!" - a social welfare program meant to help the unemployed find jobs. Ryuhei is offered work as a convenience store clerk, but he indignantly declines to take the position. Meanwhile, the Sasaki children, Kenji and Takashi, find themselves swept into the troubling zeitgeist of the late 2000s as well. Takashi, who has just graduated college, decides to join the U.S. Army and is deployed to the Middle East. Kenji, an elementary school student, starts embezzling his lunch money to pay for piano lessons."

    Roger Ebert summed it up best: "A sonata is a classical form in which two musical ideas are intercut. In the beginning, they are introduced. In the following sections, they are developed in passages revealing the secrets or potentials of both. The conclusion does not resolve them; instead, we return to look at them, knowing what we know now. The "themes" in this movie are the father and his family. At the end, they feel the same tensions as at the beginning, but the facade has been destroyed, and they will have to proceed unprotected."

  18. (500) Days of Summer

  19. (Marc Webb, USA, 2009)

    Suave-as-fuck Joe Gordon-Levitt and a doe-y Zooey

    Starring the he from Brick and the she from She & Him. A winning pairing in a genre (Hipster Romantic Comedy), I usually don't like, but one that ends realistically and not like all those Sandra Bullock and Lifetime movies. I liked that the 500 days refers not just to the couple's time together, but to how long it took them to get over each other. And (spoiler alert!) I like that a heart-broken Joseph Gordon-Levitt trades up from the cute-but-high-maintenance Zooey Deschanel to a hotsie Latina (schwiiing!). Reminded me of every crush and failed relationship I've had (except the part about trading up for a hotsie Latina), especially the all-important Getting Over It (And Moving On) Phase. And reminded me of how good Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel work together, having previously been paired in 2001's Manic. Bitchin' soundtrack, too, heavy on The Smiths ("There Is a Light That Never Goes Out," "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want," and a She and Him cover of "Please, Please, Please...") and the usual indie hipster suspects (two Regina Spektor tunes, Doves, Feist), plus a pleasant surprise of a chanson by France's First Lady, Carla Bruni.

    Oh, and I gotta mention one more because, even though I didn't see it in the theaters (I saw a bootleg DVD of it!), it impressed me to no end...

  20. Precious

  21. (Lee Daniels, USA, 2009)

    Mo'Nique: Mommie Dearest of the 'Hood

    I didn't think watching a fat girl from the 'hood with a Down's Syndrome child and an abusive mother would keep me enthralled for two hours. I was wrong. Though I refuse to refer to it by its official drafted-by-the-lawyers-with-an-eye-to-fine-print full name of Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. Baltimore-native Mo'Nique is riveting as the abusive mother ("Don't you serve me no motherfucking pig's feet without greens!") and as Claireece "Precious" Jones, Bed-Stuy homegirl Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe fills the frame with more than just her girth - the young lady radiates true screen presence. And I can't believe I didn't notice Lenny Kravitz as the male nurse!

Top Documentary Movies, 2009:

I only saw three; blame it on being inundated with the titles I catch on Sundance Channel's Monday "Doc Bloc." And yes, Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story didn't make the cut because, while I'm a fan of his work, he's starting to repeat himself with the same tired tropes, grandstanding, and gimmicks; far from telling us something new, this is just a lazy rehash of his old tricks that gets old quick - I was looking at my watch long before the end of its unnecessarily bloated 127-minute running time.

  1. Anvil! The Story of Anvil

  2. (Sasha Gervasi, USA, 2008)

    History is written by the winners, but the losers are almost always more interesting. Such is the case with Anvil, a Canadian metal band I had never heard of, though my friend Dave Wright not only had all the albums, he actually met the boys before this doc breathed new life into their not-so-legendary legend (see photo below).

    Lips and Dave Wright, then (1984)

    Lips and Dave Wright, now (2009)

    Anyone who's ever dreamed of rock and roll glory but had to resign themselves to the inglorious realities of having to put food on the table by taking the most mundane of day jobs because playing at skate rinks or to 30 people on a Wednesday night at some Podunk tavern doesn't pay the rent owes it to themselves to see this movie. Check out Anvil's official site:

  3. Tyson

  4. (James Toback, USA, 2008)

    James Toback's doc about fellow New York tough guy Mike Tyson is fascinating - Tyson trusted Toback (the two had worked before on Toback's 1991 film Black and White) and it shows in the incredible access and intimacy the director got in his attempt to understand one of the most inscrutable athletes of all time. (Toback has always identified with high-profile/misunderstood black athletes, going back to his association with Jim Brown, with whom he collaborated on Jim: The Author's Self-Centered Memoir of the Great Jim Brown). Hardly played a week here at The Charles, and to sparse crowds at that (though I did spot Eric Allen Hatch there!), but well-worth checking out. The analysis of the relationship between Tyson and his trainer-mentor Cus D'Amato is especially valuable; Tyson was never the same after his surrogate father figure died. (Some might say the same thing about Tiger Woods after the passing of his dad.)

  5. Food, Inc.

  6. (Robert Kenner, USA, 2008)

    Yummy! Assembly-line style industrial food looks so appetizing!

    If nothing else, seeing Food, Inc. justified my love of Stonyfield yogurt (they're one of the good "organic" vendors profiled in this film, though they get bought-out by the food-trend marketers at Wal-Mart!). It could also justify turning vegetarian in an instant, especially the scenes of obese corn-fed chickens standing up to their bulging chicken necks in chickenshit (Eat Mor Chikin?) or cows ("Pleez eat Mor Chikin!") being gouged, prodded, and pulverized by forklifts until they meet their maker in slaughter pens. The depictions of abused livestock and fowl in this film are disturbing, to be sure, though right after seeing it my girlfriend got a sudden craving for a pulled pork sandwich (obviously forgetting the scenes of the little bacon-enablers not-so -merrily waddling around in the mud, slop, and their own feces). Inspired by their books, the film features the Dynamic Foodwatch Duo of Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and foodie guru Michael Pollan, whose collective insights provide the film with its gravitas and narrative framework. Perhaps the most important doc of the year in terms of impact on our daily lives and educational value.


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