Thursday, December 24, 2009

My favourite films of 2009

I've got a music post slow cooking on the back-burner, but for now here's my annual top 15 films. For 2009, that is, because I did 2008 last year, and 2007 the year before that. I'm chronological like that.

1. Sugar: If you like indie dramas and/or baseball movies, you'll really, really love Sugar. The story of a dirt poor Dominican (Algenis Perez Soto) climbing his way up the minor league ladder in search of fame and fortune, this feature from writer/director team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (the pair responsible for the equally fine Half Nelson in 2006) neither asks the viewer to suspend disbelief nor relies on mawkish sentimentality to make its point. Just about perfect.

2. The Hurt Locker: Director Kathryn Bigelow puts it all together in this superb, old-fashioned character study about a bomb disposal expert (Jeremy Renner) who lives life on the edge in occupied Baghdad. My dark horse Oscar pick for Best Picture.

3. Precious: With the names Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry attached as executive producers, I figured Precious would be a slick piece of Hollywood uplift. Wrong. It's a gritty, realistic drama that ends just when you're ready to see what happens next. The ensemble cast of the year is highlighted by Mo'Nique's performance as an abusive, but all too human, mother.

4. The Men Who Stare at Goats: The year's most subversive comedy, with a great performance from Jeff Bridges as a hippie bringing New Age enlightenment to the United States Army.

5. The Cove: This gut-wrenching documentary takes a look at a particularly unpleasant practice: the slaughter of dolphins for 'scientific research' and school lunch meat in Japan. Manipulative, but moving and unsettling.

6. In the Loop: A take no prisoners British comedy examining the lies and distortions adopted by the body politic in the days and weeks leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. A bitterly funny and thoroughly depressing analysis of how government works.

7. Black Dynamite: Unfortunately and unfairly condemned to the midnight movie circuit, Black Dynamite tickles funny bones that have lain dormant since 1988's I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. If you grew up watching 'blaxploitation' films, you'll bust a gut watching Black Dynamite, which deftly and profanely parodies the genre to thrilling effect.

8. Capitalism: A Love Story: It's easy to pick fault with Michael Moore, but there's no other filmmaker who can effectively critique The System and still sell a ton of tickets.

9. Gomorra: It's rather confusing at times (at least for Anglophones), but Gomorra is a powerful indictment of the consensual relationship between organized crime, big business, and government in contemporary Italy.

10. Up: There's nothing wrong with a little Pixar, and Up's underlying message--that a great white explorer could also be a bad guy--is most welcome.

11. Coraline: Want to give the kiddies a good fright? Rent Coraline and turn all the lights off. The little buggers will be hiding under the blankets in no time.

12. The Road: Want to give yourself a good fright? Go and watch The Road, still in cinemas. Directed by John Hillcoat (The Proposition) and with a score by Nick Cave, this is hands down the most depressing film of the year, and as bleak a vision as you are ever likely to see on film.

13. The Informant!: Steven Soderbergh's shaggy dog tale about a man who just can't seem to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth isn't perfect, but you gotta check out Matt Damon's moustache.

14. Zombieland: An indie road movie deftly marketed as a splatter film. Bill Murray offers the most surprising performance of the year.

15. Avatar: Even if you don't care for the story, this is the most visually impressive film of the year. Must be seen in 3-D to be appreciated, though.


GAMER. This appalling 'future shock' thriller inexplicably got some good reviews when it came out, causing our family to purchase three tickets to see it. Refunds were not available.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sorry I've been gone for a bit. I'm hoping to update the blog on a more regular basis--say, every other week. But no promises!

Anyway, Judeo-Christianity inspired me to get the blog going again. No, I didn't get in touch with my spiritual side (in fact, I don't have a spiritual side, which leaves me in the awkward position of being comprised of ONLY ONE SIDE) or find Jesus. Wait, I did find Jesus...he's under the settee, with Saddam's WMD and Obama's Change We Can Believe In...oh, sorry, that's just some loose change.

It's all Moses fault. I recently picked up a copy of the 1974 soundtrack LP, released by RCA Victor to accompany the television mini-series Moses the Lawgiver (starring Burt Lancaster as the Man in Sack), which I'm pretty sure I watched when it first aired because, well, because I spent virtually every non-school hour I could spare in front of the boob tube. And in 1974, the only shows on TV were Wide World of Sports, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, Happy Days, Moses the Lawgiver, and Bad Ronald. Oh, and Lamp Unto My Feet, but that was on on Sunday morning, so I never watched it.

Anyway, this particular soundtrack features a score composed by a gentleman named Ennio Morricone, with an orchestra conducted by a gentleman named Bruno Nicolai, and with vocals by a gentlewoman named Gianna Spagnolo. You've probably heard of the fellas, but you may not know Ms. Spagnolo, at least not by name. You've probably heard her, though, because this is the woman Morricone and many other Italian composers hired when they needed something a accompany their score. If you've heard the astonishing theme song from Sergio Corbucci's 1966 western Navajo Joe, you've heard Gianna, who I don't believe ever received a single screen credit for ANY of her amazing body of work.

Anyway, back to Moses. This is, quite simply, amongst Morricone's best. If you happen across a copy of this LP in your local record emporium--and I don't think it's a particularly rare item--grab it, and don't let that annoying young clerk with the eyeball ring and the Hello Kitty tee-shirt shame you into putting it back in the rack. It's that good, and if it helps you get back in touch with that ol' time religion, well all the better. Me, I'm going to go and covet my neighbor's oxen. See you in a week or two.

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I am a semi-aquatic marine mammal who enjoys eating fish and krill, as well as taking long underwater swims