The Best of 2009

Posted on December 31, 2009 at 8:00 am

It’s so hard to decide! But at the moment anyway, here are my top films of the year, including three films based on books for children that became movies primarily for adults:

Up in the Air The perfect timing of this story of downsizing and dislocation adds additional resonance to the canny script and graceful performances in this story of a man who learns that staying unconnected is not as easy as he thought or as comfortable as he hoped.

Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak’s spare, poetic, and deeply wise book has been lovingly unfolded into a movie about the child who lives in all of us, brave and fearful, generous and needy, angry and peaceful, confident and insecure, adventuresome and very glad to come home.

Precious Brilliant performances from Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey, Paula Patten, and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe make this brutal and disturbing story of an abused girl transcendent.

Fantastic Mr. Fox The screen is filled with enticing details, but it is the performances that keep us connected to what is going on. The story of a thieving fox is based on Roald Dahl’s book for children, expanded by director Wes Anderson and his co-screenwriter Noah Baumbach into a complex and engaging tale of the struggle between civilization and the call of the wild.

500 Days of Summer The best romance of the year is this bittersweet story of love and loss starring the marvelous Zoey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The out-of-order structure means that by the time we see those first, early moments of heady connection, we can tell that the sweetness of those initial feelings will become almost unbearably poignant.

District 9 It has cool and creepy giant insect-looking aliens and there are very cool sci-fi weapons and shoot-outs and chases and space ships and a super-cool giant insect-robot thing, and it is very exciting and scary and sometimes extremely gross (but in a cool, sci-fi way). But, like all great science fiction, it is in aid of speculative allegory. The interactions between humans and aliens all the more powerful for being understated, taken for granted, and filmed in an intimate, low-key fashion that makes it feel like a documentary.

Coraline In the grand tradition of Alice, Dorothy, Milo, and the Pevensie children, Coraline enters a portal to a magical world that is both thrilling and terrifying, one that will both enchant her and demand her greatest resources of courage and integrity. And it will teach her that she does being given whatever she wants is not what she thought — that what she thinks she wants may not be what she wants after all. The creepier it gets, the more mesmerizing the visuals, ravishingly grotesque and dazzlingly inventive.

Up Pixar makes it look easy. Just write a brilliant story about endearing characters and tell it with outstanding voice talent and stunning visuals. This one makes it 10 out of 10 for Pixar. It is the story of a journey involving a grouchy old man, an earnest little boy, an exotic bird, some talking dogs, and a zillion balloons, and it begins with a brief, almost-wordless introduction that is the sweetest on-screen love story of the year.

Star Trek Audiences should be set to stun with this splendid reboot of the 40-plus year old “Star Trek” series. By boldly going where many, many have gone before, J.J. Abrams of television’s “Lost” and “Alias” has managed to make a thoroughly entertaining film that respects the fans but stands on its own.

An Education In this story of a teenage girl who becomes involved with an older man, Danish director Lone Scherfig perfectly captures London just as it is about to move from the drab, stiff-upper-lip, world of post-WWII deprivation to the brash and explosive era of mods and rockers, Carnaby Street and the Beatles, Twiggy, “The Avengers,” and Joe Orton. All of this nicely parallels what is going on with the main character, based on a brief memoir by journalist Lynn Barber.

Runners up: “The Hurt Locker,” “The Damned United,” “Passing Strange,” Anvil: The Story of Anvil, “Cold Souls,” “It Might Get Loud,” “Sugar,” “Julie & Julia,” “Sin Nombre,” “The Princess and the Frog,” and “In the Loop” — and yes, “The Hangover.”

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Washington Area Film Critics Awards 2009

Posted on December 7, 2009 at 8:01 am

up-in-the-air-movie.jpgThe Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) today announced their 2009 winners, awarding Best Film to “Up in the Air.” The film’s star, George Clooney, took home the Best Actor award, his second win (“Michael Clayton,” 2007). In a WAFCA first, Kathryn Bigelow took home the prize for Best Director for the Iraq War film, “The Hurt Locker,” the first woman to do so.
Relative newcomer Carey Mulligan took home the Best Actress award for “An Education,” while what many considered the only locks of the season — the Best Supporting Actor and Actress categories — went to Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”) and Mo’Nique (“Precious”), respectively. “Precious” also walked away with the Best Breakthrough Performance for first-time actress Gabourey Sidibe.
“We are thrilled with these results,” said Tim Gordon, president of WAFCA. “As with every year, there were consensus favorites as well as surprises that both stunned and delighted us. In a year full of as many great films as this one, things are always…up in the air!”
In other categories, Sheldon Turner and two-time winner Jason Reitman (2006’s “Thank You for Smoking”) won Best Adapted Screenplay for “Up in the Air.” Quentin Tarantino won Best Original Screenplay for his heavily lauded “Inglourious Basterds.” “Up” snagged the Best Animated Film award, the fourth WAFCA win for the Disney/Pixar juggernaut. Best foreign film went to the immigration drama “Sin Nombre,” and Best Documentary went to “Food, Inc.”
The Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association is comprised of 48 DC-VA-MD-based film critics from television, radio, print and the Internet. Voting was conducted from December 4 – 5, 2009.thehurtlockernuevoposter.jpg
Best Film:? “Up in the Air” | Paramount
Best Director:? Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”)
Best Actor: ?George Clooney (“Up in the Air”)
Best Actress:?Carey Mulligan (An Education)
Best Supporting Actor:?Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”)
Best Supporting Actress: ?Mo’Nique (“Precious”)
Best Ensemble:? “The Hurt Locker” | Summit Entertainment
Best Breakthrough Performance:? Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious”)
Best Screenplay, Adapted:?Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner (“Up in the Air”)
Best Screenplay, Original: ?Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”)
Best Animated Film: “?Up” | Walt Disney & Pixar
Best Foreign Film:? “Sin Nombre” | Focus Features
Best Documentary:? “Food, Inc.” | Magnolia
Best Art Direction:?Nine | The Weinstein Company

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Tallgrass Film Festival

Posted on October 24, 2009 at 11:37 am

I am thrilled to have been asked to attend the Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita, Kansas, later this month and especially looking forward to spending time with my beloved B98 buddies, Brett and Tracy and am forever grateful to them for making it possible for me to be there.

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I am very excited about the line-up of screenings, including a preview look of a work in progress, the documentary “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” based on the best-selling book by Thomas Frank about shifting political priorities and coalitions. The film features former Kansas Congressman and Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, who now serves as the head of the Motion Picture Association of America. And I am really looking forward to introducing the family film program, featuring “Alice Upside Down.”

The program is filled with enticing choices from exotic international releases to heartland American stories. I can’t wait.

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