Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dim Stars

The NY Times' Stephen Holden names his 10 worst movies of 2009. There's a typo in his article, which repeatedly refers to these as the "best" films, but a quick glance at their synopses shows that can't possibly be the case: In 2009 Films, Long Shadows of a Recession and a War

1.) Up In The Air: actually, this looks like an OK movie - a sophisticated adult comedy in the low-key spirit of Sideways. What makes it lousy is the analysis about What It All Means that this film has inspired:
“Up in the Air” has the trappings of a romantic comedy. But as Bingham dispassionately fires longtime employees played by actual victims of downsizing, what emerges is an indelible collective portrait of the chilly impersonality of American corporate life in the 21st century. In a shark-infested sink-or-swim culture where profits and stock price are everything, the bottom line trumps human values.
That's nice. It's also what good progressive film critics have said about every movie made about American business in the last 30 years.

2.) The White Ribbon: the latest from Michael Haenke, who made the Seventh Continent, the absolute worst movie I have ever seen. This looks no better:
a microscopically detailed examination of the rotten soul of a north German agricultural village just before World War I. In a situation that another filmmaker might have treated as a conventional horror movie, a series of unsolved crimes and acts of viciousness exacerbate the village’s already festering climate of suspicion and resentment. Within this rigidly patriarchal society, savage corporal punishment is meted out to children for minor infractions.
For some reason, every piece I've read about this movie mentions the "intense" scenes of children being caned.

3. Still Walking
Here a young art restorer (Hiroshi Abe), his new wife and stepson visit his elderly parents to commemorate his older brother’s death 15 earlier as he was saving a drowning child. That rescued child, now grown, is an overweight, directionless man who pays the family a courtesy call in which they delight in his discomfort.

4. The Messenger: yet another Iraq War movie about the Pity Of It All:
In “The Messenger” Ben Foster plays a soldier whose job it is to ring doorbells and break the news to families that a relative has died in combat. As you watch Mr. Foster’s character, who’s accompanied by a hot-headed fellow officer (Woody Harrelson), repeat a carefully scripted ritual whose strict rules bar physical contact with the bereaved, you are confronted with explosive anguish as the devastating news is absorbed. The harrowing scenes of people crumpling are only slightly softened by a sense of relief that the human cost of our overseas adventures is finally being acknowledged in movies without a veneer of sentimentality and flag waving.
Oh, bull****. If there has been a sentimental flag waving movie made about the Iraq War, I'd like to know its name.

5. 35 Shots of Rum
there is no real story in Claire Denis’s profoundly tender celebration of the bond between a taciturn, widowed train driver (Alex Descas) and his daughter (Mati Diop), a university student, who share a Parisian apartment,
No story? No problem!

6. The Hurt Locker: I know that this has been on a lot of "best of" lists. Credit someone with making an Iraq War film actually set in Iraq, and showing soldiers at war, but...a movie about a bomb squad? Until I see Bruce Willis hanging upside down from a chopper rescuing kite-flying Iraqi children from Michael Moore, there will be no definitive Iraq War movie. Also, the Hurt Locker traffics in some of the hoariest cliches about US soldiers:
The wild card among the three soldiers who are the focus of the story is Staff Sgt. William James (grippingly portrayed by Jeremy Renner), a profane, reckless soldier who gets high on the danger involved in his work. The movie is a pungent exploration of pressurized machismo in which demonic and heroic impulses fuse.
7. the Headless Woman:
The movie subtly compares her silent disavowal of responsibility for any crime she might have committed, to Argentina’s guilty historical memory of its military dictatorship, when suspected dissidents disappeared. It may also be a meditation on Argentina’s refusal to acknowledge a widening economic disparity between the classes.
The sound you hear is the sound of me not caring.

8. An Education: the only kind of coming of age story that people care about: a beautiful 16 year old girl losing her innocence in Paris.
Ms. Mulligan’s character, Jenny, balances two concepts — education as sex and travel, and education as academic achievement — that prove incompatible when pursued simultaneously.
9. Summer Hours
In the French director Olivier Assayas’s formally elegant film, the death of a matriarch with a valuable art collection brings home her three children, two of whom live outside of France, to discuss the disposition of her property.
At last, the birth of the Probate Drama.

10. Disgrace: Is it just me, or have there been a lot of movies made in the last few years about literature professors who lose their jobs in a racially charged environment? It's almost becoming a mini-genre
In the Australian filmmaker Steve Jacobs’s faithful screen adaptation ofJ. M. Coetzee’s Booker Prize-winning 1999 novel, John Malkovich plays its protagonist, David Lurie, an arrogant South African professor of romantic poetry who is fired from his job at a Cape Town university after sleeping with an attractive mixed-race student. In the story, set in post-apartheid South Africa, the unrepentant professor visits his daughter on the East Cape, where she is victim of a hideous atrocity. The film is a hard-headed allegory on the brute side of human nature within a social climate where past evil contaminates the present.

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