Monday, February 15, 2010

2009 films to catch up with

Mike here. With Oscar nominations out, a good number of you feel it's time to catch up with nominated films you haven't seen. So let me be your guide. I'm looking at this not only as what nominated films I haven't seen yet, but also to form a Best of 2009 list I generally post just a few hours before the Oscar telecast.

To aid us all, I'll post films that have received a 2009 release in New York and break them down in the following way:

films Oscar nominated in at least one major category that's still in theaters,

Oscar nominated films in minor categories still in theaters,

Oscar nominated films in at least one major category on DVD,

minor Oscar nominees on DVD,

and films that did not receive a nomination but stood out in 2009 in some way that it (probably) deserves to be seen as much if not more than a few of the nominees.

Along the way, I'll post comments, maybe a quickie review, with some but not all. For the record, I consider Picture, Director, the four Acting categories, the two Screenplay categories, Foreign Language, Documentary, and Animated Film to be major categories. The order posted it strictly out of convenience. Here we go:

Major nominations in theaters: Up In The Air, Crazy Heart,

Precious (comes out on DVD two days after the Oscars ceremony, so unless you have a screener, try to find it if you haven't seen it by now.),

Avatar, The Last Station, The White Ribbon, An Education

The Blind Side (please don't make me repeat my rant from the last post. If you haven't seen it by now, just wait for DVD/cable.),

A Single Man (a good performance from Colin Firth that resulted in a deserved nomination. A good performance from Julianne Moore as his lonely alcoholic fag-hag friend, for which I was surprised there was no nomination. A well done visual execution of the Mad Men era, visually. The rest of rookie director Tom Ford's choices take a long while to get comfortable with, but it pays off for the patient viewer. Even a surprising bit of humor, considering the loneliness and suicidal tendencies depicted. So good start for director Ford, but next time, please pick up the pace more.),

Invictus (almost out of theaters, so hurry),

Fantastic Mr. Fox (barley in one theater on the lower East Side, and it's almost gone. Doesn't come out on DVD until March 23rd),

The Princess and The Frog, (after President's weekend, will probably be difficult to find.),

Nine, The Lovely Bones (Yes, I know both have received lousy reviews, but they qualify. I haven't seen either one, and I only know one person who recommends both. Hopefully the facts that he paid a combined one dollar to see them because of SAG connections and he had nothing else to do didn't influence the thumbs-up.)

The Messenger, The Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (both also barely in theaters; at the Village East and Cinema Village respectively.)

Minor nominees in theaters: Sherlock Holmes (I'm ok with the idea of a physical Sherlock Holmes. The idea of him turning the breaking of a man's body into a science is cool. But showing the breakdown in slow motion, then show the whole thing at super speed, then repeat the whole process ten plus minutes later, oh come on. I can learn to deal with an ass-kicking Watson, though it takes major adjusting after seeing Nigel Bruce on the constant verge of a heart attack after all those Basil Rathbone pictures. But giving Holmes only a minor mystery to solve, then spend half the film being a Victorian superhero, oh please. Throw in a lame main villain, a badly written Irene Adler with a miscast Rachel McAdams, now we have problems. But the action scenes were mostly fun, especially the shipyard scene, the whole film has an impressive look and good score, and how can you not like Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock. But guess what? The film has no ending! It takes its cue from Young Sherlock Holmes, and I didn't care for that either. Back to the Future had the same kind of ending, but they still made sure their first story could stand on its own, and Sherlock Holmes failed that standard.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The Young Victoria

Major nominees on DVD: The Hurt Locker, Inglorious Basterds, In The Loop, Up (if you haven't seen any of these nominees in theaters, and chances are you haven't seen Hurt Locker and In The Loop, or if you can only catch up with so many flicks on DVD, stick with these four and fill in the rest where you can. Hurt Locker, In The Loop and Up have been re-released in at least one theater in Manhattan.),

A Serious Man, Julie and Julia,

Coraline (Director Henry Selick's best film up to this point. Sorry Nightmare Before Christmas fans, but there wasn't a lot of meat to that bone of a story. It was the characters, music and overall dark tone that sold Nightmare to me. But it's Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm compared to some of the dark territories Coraline goes, especially in its more frantic second half. While this and Fantastic Mr. Fox can't keep up with its CGI compatriots in terms of box office, its nice that both films do honor to the idea of using stop-motion animation to tell feature length stories. Though I wish Coraline wasn't passive in the final fight, after being a tough cookie for so much of it.),

District 9 (I guess I'm surprised how many people I know really disliked this picture. Yeah, they could have ditched the mockumentary style earlier for my taste, and the villains in Avatar are more complex. But about ninety minutes of well crafted tension, leads to twenty minutes of payoff. Better action in those twenty minutes than in the typical Michael Bay film, and an everyman lead performance from Sharlto Copley that made every other community performer and career union background actor jealous. I mean, no acting experience, and he's the lead and does it well?!?!?

Not the one of the ten best films of the year for me, but at least it continues to be recognized as something good, so I'm fine with that.)

The Cove, Food Inc. (Two films nominated for Best Documentary; the likely winner and its major competitor, respectively.)

Departures (won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 09.),
The Baader Meinhof Complex (Nominated for Best Foreign Film in 09),
12, Katyn (two of the other nominees for Best Foreign Film of 09. 12 is a Russian remake of Twelve Angry Men. When you think about it, Russia is a country where you can buy the idea of an white male jury these days. Most of the film is pretty good, with enough Russian history and different ethnicities to make the story their own. But the last fifteen-twenty minutes, with its twists and melodramatic ending may not be for all tastes. Katyn is the opposite of uplift, usually showing humanity at its worst. Considering that what is depicted happened to director 's family, especially his father, the sense of need to tell the truth is palpable. Depicts what happened in World War 2, when Germany and Russia both invaded Poland. The Russians take over 10,000 Polish soldiers hostage, slaughter all of them, and blame the Nazis for decades, crushing citizens who say or try to prove otherwise. Slow, but brutal and haunting.)

Minor nominees on DVD: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Bright Star, Coco Before Channel, Il Divo, Star Trek, Paris 36, Transformers:Revenge of the Fallen (yeah, good luck getting me to see what the Razzies refer to as Tranies Too.).

And now, other films that helped to round out 2009 in NYC:

Gomorrah (was in my top 10 of 2009 list despite not having a 2009 NYC release. For those who gave me grief without having actually seen this, you can catch it on DVD, and see how far it goes on your list. Or not. I won't repeat my rave from last year's list here.),
Sugar, Seraphine, Anvil! The Story of Anvil,

Antichrist (still playing at IFC Center, but also available on IFC On Demand. Not for under 17, mainly because it will go over their heads, and not for the squeamish, either. You'll either like it or you won't, but don't consider this a recommendation.),

Moon, Broken Embraces, Sunshine Cleaning, Where The Wild Things Are,

I Love You Man (my favorite comedy of 2009, especially after repeat viewing. Leisurely paced and the set-up is a little too cutesy for my taste, but not a bad thing that effects it overall.),

Watchman, 500 Days of Summer, Tyson, The Hangover,

Public Enemies (Johnny Depp and a very few gunfights that aren't marred by the herky-jerky digital camera movements, are the long term parts of the film that keep things interesting, and give this a thumbs-up. The script's efforts to take real life events into Heat redux, the mostly unsuccessful use of you-are-there camera shots in action scenes, and a very dull Christian Bale hurt this film),

Bruno (not quite as funny as Borat, particularly after the scene on the Jerry Springer show. But there are still some big belly laughs, like the Jerry Springer show, and the finale.).

There's your list, have some viewing fun. Later all.

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