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January 15, 2010

2009: III-Honorable Mention

For Honorable Mention I have created my own categories.

Inglourious Basterds
Rambo and Death Wish meet The Producers, or something like that. QuentinTarantino’s ironic satire at its best. This guy is growing up.

A Serious Man – Existential Theater of the Absurd is alive and well in the Coen Brothers. Michael Stuhlbarg is marvelously affecting as the suburban Job (and another refreshing actor who has been around for more than a decade, but is not a Hollywood staple) in this homage to a 1960s nuclear-family man (but he’s Jewish for crying out loud) trying hard to do the right thing as unspoken cold war paranoia lurks in the background.

O’Horten – Norwegian Bent Hamer’s narratives are about the little, overlooked things in life and human relationships. O'Horten is a train engineer whose age forces him into retirement but who knows no other day-in/day-out. He goes through a slightly awkward process of adaptation, finally settling into a rhythm he can manage. And that’s it; that’s the story. I fell in love with Hamer’s work with the 2003 Kitchen Stories based on actual post-WII Swedish research that sent observers into Norwegian bachelors’ homes to silently document their domestic behavior. (Previous studies had been conducted on housewives.) Kitchen Stories imagines the inevitable relationship that evolves between subject and observer, no matter how insistently the research demands “objectivity.”

It Might Get Loud – I am a huge fan of music documentaries and this is among the best, not in the usual big concert sense, but in a uniquely intimate sense. (The best is arguably Martin Scorsese’s 1978 The Last Waltz.) Directed by Davis Guggenheim (who also directed An Inconvenient Truth), It Might Get Loud brings together Jimmy Page, The Edge, and (looking like the youngster here) Jack White. It is a film about their musical odysseys and about their guitars – from very first to the most customized and iconic. The final homage to their American musical legacy – what the music critic Greil Marcus has called “the old, weird America” – is at first stumbling, then morphs into balladic anthem. Their rendition of “The Weight” alone is worth the price of admission.

Nine – Rob Marshall (Chicago) lines up a stellar cast to put on a musical extravaganza that would bring a smile to Flo Ziegfeld’s lips. The film’s pedigree traces back through the Broadway musical by Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston from the Italian original by Mario Fratti borne of the iconic film 8 1/2 by Federico Fellini, at once a paean to the Golden Age of Italian cinema and a self tribute to Fellini himself. Daniel Day-Lewis’s Fellini is spectacular, the numbers are spectacular, everything about the film is spectacular – and the romantic conquests, in bustiers of every confection, are ALL spectacular, especially the 75-year-old Dame Judi Dench.

Note on Honorable Mention:
Another I can’t help but wonder if I would have considered, had I had the opportunity to screen it, is Werner Herzog’s The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans with Nicolas Cage as the cop gone bad, though it probably wouldn’t make it no matter what because Abel Ferrara’s very different Bad Lieutenant with Harvey Keitel is one of my favorite films of all time.

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