Thursday, December 31, 2009


Last year, I decided to write about every movie I saw on the big screen. It took four months. This year, I say fuck that. Pronouncements about what this year in film meant culturally? Not interested. I really liked almost everything I saw this year on the big screen and pretty much liked everything, but I don't think I saw any flat-out masterpieces (not counting the old stuff I saw at film society and revival screenings). That doesn't mean anything. I'm not paid to do this, so I avoid anything I think I will hate and see almost everything I think I will like. Here's what I saw this year, broken down into three categories: Top Shelf, Almost Top Shelf, and Decent, followed by my favorite film society and revival screenings of the year.

Top Shelf (in no particular order - this applies to the other three lists, too)

Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt)

The Class
(Laurent Cantet)
This is the only accurate movie I've seen about teaching high school, which means nothing in terms of its success as a piece of filmed art. It's pretty good on those terms, too.

Goodbye Solo (Ramin Bahrani)

The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)

Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
The critics who called this movie misguided revisionist history and unintentional anti-Semitism were curiously silent when Schindler's List came out and culturally replaced the actual Holocaust, as well as its strongest film record, Claude Lanzmann's documentary Shoah. Besides that, they failed to recognize the exploitation, drive-in tradition Tarantino marries to classic, mainstream cinema. This movie-mad revisionist WWII fantasy is about the Nazi as classic movie villain and about other WWII movies, as well as spaghetti westerns and men-on-a-mission films. Tarantino's visual imagination continues to expand, and I love that he created an American box-office hit out of a movie that is mostly in subtitled German and French, contains 10 or 11 long scenes instead of a headache-inducing barrage of quick cutting, and references several German and American films from the silent era to the 1940s. And a David Bowie musical montage.

Lorna's Silence (Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne)

Beeswax (Andrew Bujalski)
I might be overrating this one a little because I was an extra in it, and I got to see my name in the credits on a big screen in one of my favorite theaters, but I was actually cut out of the frame and didn't end up in the final product. Unlike the other practitioners of the media-created "mumblecore" gang, Bujalski shoots on film and has a sophisticated approach to structure and visual space lacking in his peers' work (Duplass Brothers, the almost completely worthless Joe Swanberg, et al.). This time, his characters are stronger, richer, and more likable, and the mystery of how he creates such watchable films out of such mundane, ultra-realist material continues to deepen.

A Serious Man (Joel & Ethan Coen)
These guys are on a roll again.

Antichrist (Lars Von Trier)
When will people stop seeing him as a misanthropic carnival barker charlatan and start seeing him as one of the most innovative formalists of the last thirty years? The critics hated Led Zeppelin when they were a going concern, too.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog)
Takes the prize for both the most fun I had in a theater this year and the most unwieldy title since Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. For only the second time in a forty-year career, Herzog is working from someone else's script. He creates a weird combination of reliable genre action/thriller and crazy fucking Herzog movie. Nicholas Cage is fun again. It all somehow flows. I thought it was going to be an interesting trainwreck, but it's way better than that.

Almost Top Shelf

The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky)
I hated Aronofsky's first two movies and didn't see his third, but the actors and subject matter made me take a chance. I'm glad I did. The cliched premise doesn't even play like a cliche.

Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood)

Tokyo! (Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, & Bong Joon-Ho)
The Carax segment by itself is Top Shelf.

The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch)
I'm guessing that most people I know will be bored out of their minds by this movie. I'm sorry about that, because it's not boring.

Drag Me to Hell (Sam Raimi)

Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze)
This was probably the best-looking movie I saw this year. Those sunsets. That fur. Those mouths and noses. That tree house.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)

Me and Orson Welles (Richard Linklater)


Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme)
The moment when TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe sings Neil Young's "Unknown Legend" a capella is Top Shelf.

Chelsea on the Rocks (Abel Ferrara)
His last two movies haven't been released in the U.S., but this minor documentary got a limited release. Boo for the Sid & Nancy and Janis Joplin dramatic recreations and for any part where that smug idiot Ethan Hawke talks and/or plays his "music." Yay for everything else.

The Road (John Hillcoat)
Viggo Mortensen is awesome. (I think I have a heterosexual man-crush on him. I don't know what you do with those. Befriend him somehow? The man has charisma.) The rest is a competent cross between Mad Max and a Hallmark card. The book is essential reading. The movie is a fine way to kill an afternoon.

Favorite revival and film society screenings
(Watching these will cure all your ills.)

Phantom of the Paradise (Brian De Palma)

It Happened One Night (Frank Capra)

The Gay Divorcee (Mark Sandrich)

Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin)

The Landlord (Hal Ashby)

The Black Cat (Edgar G. Ulmer)

Forbidden Planet (Fred McLeod Wilcox)

Day of Wrath (Carl Theodor Dreyer)

The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey)

Avanti! (Billy Wilder)

1 comment:

N. L. J. said...

Awesome! I have only seen 3 of these and I will now go look for the rest. Thank you, Dr. Mystery.

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