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January 14, 2010

2009: I

As 2008 moved into 2009…
…a few notable 2008 movies were not released in San Antonio until 2009:

The Class – Laurent Cantet’s film is the farthest cinéma vérité technique can be extended before becoming documentary. Like the teacher Francois Begaudeau, on whose autobiographical book the film is based, the students in the Parisian multi-ethnic, inner-city junior high school, other teachers, and administrators play fictionalized versions of themselves – often extemporaneously. What emerges is a valuable dialog about the challenges of social and educational responsibility in an age of multicultural diversity and widening class divisions.

Henry Poole Is Here – Mark Pellington’s amazing gem of a movie allows Luke Wilson to shine in the performance of his career to date (taking into account his wonderful turns in Wes Anderson’s repertoire). Henry Poole is dying and plans to waste away in the solitude and emptiness of a crumbling suburban tract house he’s bought for cash. A neighbor sees the face of Jesus in a stain on the stucco. What ensues grows out of human, not abstract religious, transformation.

Wendy and Lucy – Oh my god!! Brilliant, depressing, devastating, true. When left with no support from family, no money hence no transportation, a young woman must abandon her dog, her only companion, to hop a freight train – for what…? Kelly Reichardt’s little 80-minute jewel of a movie features Michelle Williams in what essentially amounts to an almost silent, one-woman performance.

(Courtney Hunt’s Frozen River opened here in 2008, but deserves a second mention in the context of Wendy and Lucy. Another film that confronts the jarring juxtaposition between the relative comfort in which those of us with even modest means live and the toll the daily grind of subsistence survival exacts. Melissa Leo seamlessly inhabits her role as the single mother for whom any one camel’s straw will mean devastation.)

One last note about 2008. There were a few excellent documentaries in 2009, but nothing to hold a candle to the two brilliantly poetic works that emerged last year. John Marsh’s Man on Wire documents Philippe Petit’s 1974 awe inspiring tightrope walk across the tops of the still unfinished World Trade Center towers. Werner Herzog’s rumination on Antarctica’s McMurdo Station in Encounters at the End of the World stuns visually and philosophically as it reveals hitherto unknown deep sea wonders while confronting our collective global nihilism. To not screen these two films is to risk compromising your humanity.

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