Movie reviews I wrote for movies released theatrically in 2009.
1. The White Ribbon, directed by Michael Haneke (10/10)
Absolutely incredible. I agree with the hype machine’s claim that this is Haneke’s best. It’s the best one I’ve seen anyway.
This is a magnificent film. It’s period lit (which just drives film nuts like me to orgasm). It’s so subtle. It’s got a neat little As I Lay Dying reveal that helps explain what is going on. I would explain it, but I don’t want to give anything away. See this film. Especially if you like Haneke. I will eventually write an essay on why it is amazing. Stay tuned…
2. In the Loop, directed by Armando Iannucci (9/10)
The best political comedy I have seen in some time. If I re-watch it, I will give you a proper review.
3. The Secret in their Eyes, directed by Juan Jose Campanella (9/10)
This is a very good movie that manages to balance a number of threads extremely well. It’s a rare movie that manages to balance a crime mystery and some level of romantic drama. It is also quite poetic about memory – though there is a little too much cliche Latin stuff about seeing someone’s soul through their eyes and about Love and stuff.
The one thing keeping it from absolute classic status is a montage that happens right around one of the reveals. It is a little confused and feels like someone was watching The Usual Suspects too much.
Oh, and the film’s final act could be paced a little better.
4. The Day God Walked Away, directed by Philippe Van Leeuw (9/10)
Extraordinarily hard to watch. A must see about the human consequences of war.
5. Moon, directed by Duncan Jones (8/10)
This is one of those sci-fi films that seems to exist relatively outside of annoying film conventions that would have severely weakened it. The plot goes somewhere we’re not expecting (and it does so slowly and deliberately, which is so foreign to 90% of sci-fi films of recent years). And familiar cliches are overturned. For example, this time the AI isn’t out to get us. Imagine that.
Rockwell is extraordinary (as he must be) and the rest of the film is unique enough and involving enough to make it well worth watching, and thinking about later.
6. Army of Crime, directed by Robert Guediguian (8/10)
This feels like a spiritual sequel, albeit a corrective one, to Melville’s classic Army of Shadows. In this version, the resistance is a ragtag group of foreigners, Jews and communists. It doesn’t have the same kind of suspense that Melville’s film has – I mean, what filmmaker is a master of suspense on the level of Mellville? – but it’s got a larger scope, as it is clearly intended as a an allegory – as a message of racial harmony for contemporary France.
But even without worrying about that message, the film is an effective depiction of the Resistance in France and it raises similar issues as Melville’s film (which, I really do feel like, is the inspiration). It has the same emotional heft, even if it isn’t quite as suspenseful, and it’s a worthy spiritual sequel.
7. Adrift aka A Deriva, directed by Heitor Dhalia (8/10)
This is a beautiful coming of a age story set in a gorgeous location. It’s one of those movies where nearly everything is note-perfect: the pace, the performances, the score and the atmosphere. It has a neat little turn where we learn, unsurprisingly, that the teen at the centre of the film doesn’t quite understand the adult world. Unlike some of these movies, the adults feel quite fleshed out and do not feel like token characters.
I have only two criticisms:
- One is that I have seen this film many, many times before in different guises. I appreciate when it is done well, like it is here, but I’m not desperate to see another one.
- The other criticism is a mild spoiler: I feel like there is a slight Lady MacBeth tinge to the plot twist.
8. The Art of the Steal, directed by Don Argott (8/10)
This is a great documentary about a private art collection that I had never heard of but that is larger than most museum’s and is one of the largest art collections in the world.
The documentary is very much on one side, but it’s told in a True Crime style that really makes you enraged about how this takeover was perpetrated. There’s nothing especially great about the telling, just that it convinces you of their point of view – whether or not it is correct – and makes you hurt for the art collection and its defenders.
This is a compelling film. I’m full of outrage and I want to do something about it. Whether or not the film is accurate, it’s really, really compelling.
9. Ajami, directed by Scandar Copti, Yaron Shani (8/10)
his is an ambitious, compelling, complex portrait of daily life – with a little crime thrown in for good measure – in Israel. In its ambition, it’s trying to be Short Cuts or Traffic but in execution it’s more Babel or Crash – okay, it’s not that bad.
Though the actors appear to be amateurs, they are very compelling.
As others have noted, the filmmakers don’t take sides in the religious / ethnic conflict at all, it’s just taken as context for the story.
The problem with the film, and the thing that prevents it from being a masterpiece is the end, which is really contrived and which is unfortunately shown multiple times.
Otherwise, this is well worth seeing and much more realistic than so many of these multiple narrative films.
10. Tales of the Golden Age, directed by Hanno Hofer, Razvan Marculescu, Cristian Mungiu, Constantin Popescu, Ioana Uricaru (8/10)
This is a highly entertaining omnibus film about life in Romania in the ‘80s under Communism. The segments are all directed by different Romanian filmmakers, they have different styles and vary in terms of how entertaining they are. But, on the whole, it’s a fine indictment of a form of government that has never helped those it was founded to help, and manages to be funny at the same time.
11. District 9, directed by Neill Blomkamp (8/10)
This feel’s like an attempt at combining an alien invasion movie with a Peter Watkins-style fake documentary. It isn’t entirely true to form, since we see the alien side of things and we can’t really understand how given that there shouldn’t be cameras around them.
And that remains a major problem as the film progresses, and we see more and more stuff that couldn’t possibly fit into the mockumentary. And that’s too bad, because otherwise we have a really cool idea and a really powerful reworking of the sci-fi genre.
It’s still a pretty great film, but I feel like the filmmakers should either have committed to the mockumentary concept whole-hog or should have abandoned it completely.
As an aside, the lead actor is incredible. It’s hard to play that kind of role.
12. Inglorious Basterds, directed by Quentin Tarrantino (8/10)
Far from his best movie but lots of fun and lots to digest, as usual.
13. A l’originie, directed by Xavier Gionnoli (8/10)
This is a strange story – ostensibly a true one, and the little bit of research I did suggests the film is reasonably accurate – that can best be described as the poor small French town equivalent of Three Kings, albeit with a very different tone, cast, etc. It’s an incredible story that’s hard to believe, but there’s a tone of realism to the film that wins you over. Also, the pacing really helps.
The film gets slightly Hollywoody near the end but, on the whole, the French understatement makes the thing a lot more believable had more attempts at plot been forced onto what is already a crazy story.
14. An Education, directed by Lone Scherfig (8/10)
One of the things this film does is remind you how it wasn’t that long ago that we weren’t really culturally attuned to the idea that just because a man is older doesn’t mean he knows better.
This film gets under your skin in part because even though we know where it’s going and we know this relationship is pretty much a terrible idea, nobody else seems to. We forget that not that long ago – and still, in many parts of the world – an older man expressing interest in your teenage daughter was a great thing. The unease I felt in spite of everyone’s best intentions is a remarkable accomplishment.
But the film doesn’t quite elevate itself, in part because of its ending.
15. Ashes of American Flags, directed by Brendan Canty and Christopher Green (8/10)
I love Wilco therefore I love this movie
16. The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights, directed by Emmett Malloy (8/10)
These are some pretty great performances. They are impassioned and often contain elements not in the original songs. All the more impressive is the fact that they don’t have set lists. Though this might hurt some shows, it doesn’t hurt a film that is the highlights of a bunch of shows. It sounds like they were on in every one, but that’s just because they picked some of the better takes. This is more than I expected. I particularly like the version of “Fell in Love with a Girl.” Now I really want to see them in concert. Update: I saw Jack by himself in 2012.
17. A Single Man, directed by Tom Ford (8/10)
This is an affecting film about loss that is nice to look at to boot. It’s a significantly different approach than I had it would be, as it had a look of “period” to it. The approach – necessitated by the novel – works much better than I would have guessed, too.
17. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?, directed by Werner Herzog (8/10)
I’m not as familiar with Oedipus as I evidently should be. This is sort of exactly what one would expect from a Herzog-Lynch collaboration. It’s totally out to lunch. In a good way.
18. Get Low, directed by Aaron Schneider (8/10)
This is very well-acted, entertaining and even a little affecting. Despite the unnecessary flashbacks and a very contrived card game scene, it succeeds because of the strong sense of time and place and because of the ridiculously good cast. In other hands, it might not work so well. Well worth watching.
19. Cairo Time, directed by Ruba Nada (8/10)
This is beautiful looking film. It makes me want to go to Egypt. On top of that, it tells its story well and surprisingly succinctly. It’s one of those films that, though it hardly changes your opinion of movies or changes your life, does exactly what it seeks out to accomplish. Everything about it is effective. A couple scenes at the end are quite affecting, and deeper than you might have expected.
20. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans, directed by Werner Herzog (8/10)
First off, lets get this out of the way: Herzog has stated repeatedly in interviews that his American distributors forced the title on him and this movie has nothing to do with the Harvey Keitel movie of the same name from about 30 years before, except in a thematic sense. I haven’t seen that film all the way through but I believe it was some kind of supposed morality tale; this is a comedy (albeit a very dark one).
Cage is absolutely bizarre in this film but it’s funny, either he or the writer (or both) have definitely had some experience with using drugs or with drug users as some of the moments in here hit really close to home for anyone who has known a user. (The reviewer on Zip.ca who claims narcotic addicts can’t function like this – and that hence this is a bad movie – evidently doesn’t know any narcotics addicts, as they do function, and people don’t stop them, and sometimes they get rewarded for their behaviour; this is what happens and why we have a major problem in the world with drug use.)
This movie clearly isn’t going for realism but I still found some of the scenes (particularly everything hinging around the dog) to be quite realistic. On top of that, it is pretty damn hilarious (especially the longer it goes on) with some classic moments and classic one-liners (the best is escaping me right now). Add to that the mood set by post-Katrina New Orleans and we get quite an effective portrait of an absolutely out of control cop whose superiors can’t or won’t deal with, which is actually pretty realistic.
21. The Cove, directed by Louie Psihoyos (8/10)
Painful to watch.
22. Beautiful Kate, directed by Rachel Ward (8/10)
Movies about people returning home to deal with their demons are really hit and miss for me. And movies that use flashbacks heavily usually don’t sit well with me. And
Movies about incest can also be problematic. (As an aside, why is Rachel Griffiths always in things with incest?)
But this is done quite well. Though I struggled with the presentation initially – the overwhelming use of flashback, for example – I warmed up to it in part because of the performances, all of which are great (the roles in the present, anyway). I guess something about the setting, too, as I love Australian scenery. (I have spent a bit of time in the Flinders, so this was a bit of a nostalgia trip for me too…)
The one issue I have is perhaps just me projecting, but I don’t like it when movies essentially assign blame to the woman/women because of the “foul temptress” explanation. (And that’s obviously not an explanation for behaviour.) And I feel that’s more than a little present here. But, for whatever reason, I feel willing to forgive it in this case.
23. Black Dynamite, directed by Scott Sanders (8/10)
I haven’t seen any blaxploitation films in some time but, from what I remember, this is a spot on parody. And, like every great parody, it takes itself seriously enough of the time that the film and characters feel committed to the genre even as they tear it apart.
There are some really solid jokes here, about the genre itself, about African-American culture, about filmmaking in general, and even some “lower” stuff (of the kind you might find in a “spoof”). Though the film probably works better if you are a fan of the genre, it still works quite well even if you haven’t seen anything but Shaft.
24. Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, directed by Jessica Oreck (8/10)
This is a fascinating if idiosyncratic documentary about the importance of insects in Japanese culture. It’s not structured in a traditional manner and features literally one talking head, but the the off-centre approach works as a means of involving you in the material differently than, say, a strictly educational film might.
Despite my general interest in Japanese film, I was pretty much completely unaware of any of this, and I found the film enlightening in addition to being unique and involving.
Different but well worth the time.
25. The Disappearance of Alice Creed, directed by J Blakeson (8/10)
Great and that’s all I can say as I promised the filmmaker (kidding). Update: I have now seen it twice and somewhat changed my opinion so I moved it down in the rankings.
26. The Hangover, directed by Todd Phillips (8/10*)
In retrospect this seems like an extraordinarily high rating for a movie that is just very, very entertaining.
27. Best Worst Movie, directed by Michael Stephenson (7/10)
28. Alamar, directed by Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio (7/10)
Alamar is a nature film posing as a coming of age “drama” – I use the word loosely. Set primarily on (and off) an island off of Mexico, the film uses the vacation a boy experiences with his father one summer – his parents are separated or divorced -to show both the beauty of the place and way of life of the few residents.
It’s an interesting concept – and a pretty novel one, I think – but it’s one that I think most people (myself included) have to be in the right mood for in order to fully appreciate. The backstory is told well: via cellphone video and then postcards, we learn very quickly that the couple are separated.
However, once the boy arrives in Mexico to spend time with his father, whatever story there is goes out the window. I don’t have a problem with that but you feel the film’s length, and it’s not a very long movie. I was captivated by the place – I would love to go there – and everything about the father son relationship felt real. But I spent the entire movie waiting for something to happen; perhaps that’s just because of the mood I was in.
It’s a pretty film and a neat idea, but you must be prepared for virtually no story, and basically just treat it as a nature film with a very loose narrative tacked on to it.
29. Watchmen, directed by Zack Snyder (7/10)
This is an admirable, ambitious attempt to adapt what is, for many people, The Greatest Comic of All Time. Read the full review.
30. Budrus, directed by Julia Bacha (7/10)
Well, it’s totally out of date now, but it’s still probably worth your time. Read the review.
31. Sonicsgate, directed by Jason Reid (7/10)
Sonicsgate is a very biased movie but that doesn’t make it bad. After all, all movies are inherently biased and it’s what people try to do to balance their bias that counts. In the case of this film, they certainly go out of their way to be accurate – especially for its origins as a Youtube movie – and to have some people on the other side of the argument. That approach is by no means perfect and I still see this as very, very biased but this attempt does make it stand out among other “conspiracy” types of “documentaries.”
Unlike so much that is made for Youtube, that is meant to convince just with emotion – and often in complete opposition to reason – this film does a very good job at both
- etting you to side with the Sonics fans at an emotional level and
- convincing you through actual evidence that the NBA and OKC Thunder ownership group shouldn’t have been allowed by law to move the team.
And it also suggests that a further movie should be made on the NBA’s extortion of “smaller” market cities’ public funds (and the funds of the state governments those cities are located under) for buildings that should not generally be funded by the public (except for perhaps in small amounts).
Well worth watching despite the obvious bias.
32. Applaus, directed by Martin Zandvliet (7/10)
This is an affecting and (mostly) understated portrait of a bad parent trying to change her life.
This is an old trope – both the delinquent dad and the neglectful mother feel like really old tropes to me – and even though the conceit is a little contrived – this woman is acting in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for chrissake – the bravura performance at the centre makes it all a lot easier to take, in terms of old tropes.
Maybe the digital video graininess is a little much but I feel like this is as good as these types of movies get.
33. American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein, directed by David Ridgen, Nicholas Rossier (7/10)
This film does a good job of bringing some level of balance to an extremely controversial figure.
Though it is clear that the filmmakers are on Finkelstein’s side, they try rather hard to show the other opinion, that Finkelstein is a menace/a self-hating jew/a charlatan/etc. The film is pretty typically told, for its era, and nothing about it stands out from a storytelling sense beyond the attempt at objectivity. If you’re at all interested in academic freedom or the Israeli-Palestine conflict, you should watch it.
34. American: the Bill Hicks Story, directed by Matt Harlock, Paul Thomas (7/0)
This is a very conventional documentary about a comedian I knew literally nothing about that is marred by terrible CGI but is greatly aided by both a lack of talking heads and an absolute ton of archival footage.
As someone who doesn’t know him I felt the film did a good job of both conveying to me why people remember him so fondly and suggesting I might want to listen to his albums.
35. Good Hair, directed by Jeff Stinson (7/10)
Like others, I was a little sceptical about this film. But I actually found it surprisingly informative (and a little shocking / eye-opening). Rock is a little awkward as a interviewer (in certain circumstances) but his humour offsets this. The film is annoyingly structured. But these things are offset by the compelling questions the two craziest modifications raise. The film never really answers these questions (and yes, comes down a little hard on the people who choose to do these things) but that’s not really the point of a documentary. The point is that this issue is “outed” and now there can be a discussion; a serious discussion about why people but dangerous chemicals into their hair; about why people would pay upwards of $1000 for someone else’s hair when they can’t afford the rent.
36. The Men Who Stare at Goats, directed by Grant Heslov (7/10)
A little uneven but the point is well taken.
37. The Inner Life of Glenn Gould, directed by Michele Hozer, Peter Raymont (7/10)
38. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, directed by Niels Arden Oplev (7/10)
38. Girl Who Kicked a Hornet’s Nest, directed by Daniel Alfredson (7/10)
I feel like when I saw these I could have told you which was superior. But now I can’t remember.
40. The Brothers Bloom, directed by Rian Johnson (7/10)
There’s a lot here to like and I really want to like this movie. And I guess I would say I generally do. But there are some pretty significant issues:
- the third act feels really pasted on, there two narrators (!) and we don’t ever really learn why
- and sometimes it’s a little too hard to figure out the motivations of a couple of the main characters.
I feel like the film is a rough draft.
On the other hand, it’s amusing, clever and the score is pretty great.
41. Crab Trap, directed by Oscar Ruiz Navia (7/10)
The director of the Dirty Saints (see below) should have seen this movie instead of making his own.
42. Tetro, directed by Francis Ford Coppola (7/10)
The production is interesting, the story not so much.
43. The Wild Hunt, directed by Alexandre Franchi (7/10)
Crazy. It would be better if the female protagonist’s behaviour made more sense. I guess I need to locate the review.
44. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, directed by David Yates (7/10)
This appears to be the series’ Empire Strikes Back and, as such, is the strongest from a story perspective. (Why do I keep comparing Potter to Star Wars? I don’t know. I guess I just don’t watch a lot of fantasy.)
The school storyline is actually at the service of the greater story, for once, and things go as bad as you could pretty much ever imagine for these characters. I really don’t understand why the Half Blood Prince is called that – I don’t think that’s ever explained – but otherwise this might be the strongest movie in the series (so far), despite the fact that Yates is no Cuaron.
Also, I think this movie finally gets teenage angst right – before it felt like a diversion to me – and the movie has the series’ most effective growing-up scenes (for me, anyway).
As an aside, had I been say 11-14 sometime between 2000-2009, I think Emma Watson’s Hermione would slay me. Here you have a strong female character in a completely ridiculous situation who is at least semi-realistic (the nerd) and relatable. I find her – and the other characters – a far more effective strong female teen character than, say, Katniss, who is just to unrealistic to be relatable (I assume). And I guess I am saying that I think that at least Harry Potter gets teens right, whereas the teens in The Hunger Games are too super-hero-esque. That being said, a lot of the other female characters in this series aren’t as strong.
45. A Town Called Panic, directed by Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar (7*/10)
I’m sure this wouldn’t hold up to repeat viewings but its endearing.
46. Coraline, directed by Henry Selick (7/10)
Inventive and dark. Read the review of Coraline.
47. Cropsey, directed by Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman (7*/10)
Interesting but uneven and a little directionless.
48. Adventureland, directed by Greg Mottola (7/10)
I don’t know that I would like this as much on a repeat viewing.
49. Boogie Woogie, directed by Duncan Ward (7/10)
This is a reasonably amusing, reasonably ‘on’ satire of the London art world which could well be called the Short Cuts of art world movies – at least it aspires to be that. There’s an All Star cast, there are lots of inter-cut stories, there’s a fairly ruthless attitude towards many of the characters.
Not having spent any time in these circles, I assume that most of this is fairly spot on. The only real issue for me is that it’s not consistently entertaining. (Well, I guess the other one would be: who cares about the problems of rich art snobs?)
But I appreciate satires that are more ruthless than funny more than I appreciate satires that are more funny than ruthless, so I’ll take this one. It’s not Short Cuts (what is?) but it’s still alright.
50. Whip it, directed by Drew Barrymore (7/10)
I can’t say that I wanted to watch this, but I heard lots of good things about it so I did.
For one thing: it’s surprisingly funny. For another, it is surprisingly good despite the paint-by-numbers plot; we know pretty much exactly what will happen (except for perhaps one thing). But despite this, we manage to care anyway. I think part of it comes from the relatively unique situation the formula plot is put in.
51. L’affaire Farewell, directed by Christian Carion (7/10)
This is an interesting attempt at making a “real” spy movie, one where the spies behave like real spies, without car chases, without shoot-outs, without super-intense interrogation scenes. Read the full review.
52. Burma VJ, directed by Anders Ostergaard (7/10)
Out of date as of 2011 but worth your time if you are interested in human rights or protests or Myanmar. Read the review.
53. Baaria, directed by Giuseppe Tornatorre (7/10)
This is one of those movies that tries to tell the story of a town/place/region/country through the lives of a character or family of characters. In this case, it’s a man and his family in a town in Sicily.
There are inherent problems with this type of film and that’s evident through much of this movie. The filmmakers assume way too much knowledge on the part of the audience – they assume, in this case, that the audience is Sicilian or, at the very least, Italian. I don’t know my Italian history like Italians and so I found a number of the scenes set in older eras to be lacking context.
A second problem with these films is that they tend to be episodic and is this one ever episodic. Scenes just end all the time because, well, it’s time to move on to the next chapter in the story and so we get scenes that feel like fragments cut from a longer film. It actually makes it feel like this movie should have been a mini-series like Best of Youth.
But despite these issues – and despite my general dislike of the way Italians, especially Sicilians, behave – it’s heartfelt, it’s full of good performances and the attention to historical detail is clearly immense.
54. Amer, directed by Helene Cattet, Bruno Frozani (7/10)
This is a French tribute to / revision of the Italian Giallo genre – used in the English sense of the word – that encompasses everything that is great – crazy colours and visuals, insane cutting, music that will not let you ignore it – and everything that is bad about Giallo – all of the above plus narrative incoherence – but the twist is that it comments on the genre by using elements of other genres. (At least, this is what I think it’s doing. I don’t mind saying that I don’t like Giallo, and so I have no idea how truly novel this approach is.)
So, we get a coming of age film mixed with Giallo, for the most part, which is bonkers and original (to the best of my knowledge) and so, whatever I think of the genre, I have to give them that.
The third act is much closer in narrative to traditional Giallo but the twist (or my perception of the “twist”) saves it, even if it’s telegraphed.
55. Bananas!*, directed by Fredrik Gertten (6/10)
56. Avatar, directed by James Cameron (6/10)
A technical landmark in film history and little else. He relies on Aliens way too much for the human elements. And Pocahontas, of course.
57. A Christmas Carol, directed by Robert Zemeckis (6/10)
Nice to look at. A little too serious for me. Read the review of A Christmas Carol.
58. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, directed by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller (6/10)
I bet this is a wonderful children’s book. Had I kids, I can imagine reading it to them, them loving it, and me feeling good about reading it to them. But as a movie, I’m not 100% sure that it is up there among the great kids films. Maybe that’s just because I’m old.
For some reason, I’ve seen a bunch of animated kids movies over the last month or so, and I must say that this is the least of them. The setting is inventive, but the animation isn’t particularly. It’s fun, as an adult, to play spot the voice actor, but I’m not sure that makes the movie enjoyable. I chuckled a number of times (more as it went on) but not consistently. And the rest of it feels kind of formulaic in terms of the romantic plot. And there are too many adult things. For one: a Freaks reference.
But I understand why kids like this.
59. City Island, directed by Raymond De Felitta (6/10)
An Italian American spin on the aughts indie comedy. Read the review of City Island.
60. Away We Go, directed by Sam Mendes (6/10)
This is one of those moderately funny, moderately affecting American indie romantic dramedies that were just everywhere in the aughts. The soundtrack – filled with the music of a man named Alexi Murdoch – is perhaps the most obvious clue that you are watching something made in the aughts, but the whole vibe is just too similar to too many other films of its era to really make it distinguished. It’s the kind of film I think I would like had I not seen 50 other movies like it. But this one is better than normal – it’s more over-the-top but that results in bigger laughs and makes the journey a little more fun, even though you know exactly where it is going.
61. 9, directed by Shane Acker (6/10)
This is a very well made animated feature that suffers from a lack of a great narrative. The story is an old one – though this time around it is told vaguely enough so that there appears to be more mystery than there actually is – and the resolution is unfortunately bizarrely spiritual and seemingly disconnected with the reality of the film.
Great to look at though.
62. Bakjwi aka Thirst, directed by Chan-woo Park (6/10)
63. Capitalism Hits the Fan, directed by Stu Jhally (6/10)
Analysis is good, predictions and solutions are bad. Read the review of Capitalism Hits the Fan.
64. Bright Star, directed by Jane Campion (6/10)
Maybe it’s my age, but I had trouble feeling the feelings of the protagonists in this film, which dramatizes John Keats’ final love affair before his death. I feel like I have seen too many of these films which fail to connect with me – ‘seen one historical love affair, seen them all’ is how I’m inclined to feel.
I find Brawne rather implausible for the 1810s, though it seems like she was well researched. She just seems way too sure of herself. That’s a nice change from so many of these films, even if I didn’t quite buy it.
And everything about the film felt well done: the acting doesn’t feel false, the sets and costumes were well done. I didn’t notice the score which, in a film like this, is a good thing from my perspective.
But I just don’t see what about this makes it worth watching over some other dramatization of a historical romance, unless you’re really into Keats.
65. The Boys are Back directed by Scott Hicks (6/10)
For much of its run, this feels like a much more authentic version of the ‘widowed single-parent struggling to raise children’ sub-genre. It has a location and a concept that are not typical of the genre and the whole thing feels more naturalistic despite characters talking to dead people). However… (Spoilers, if this type of film can be said to have a plot point spoiled.)
Though this film is ostensibly based on a true story, that sense of naturalism is harmed significantly by the feeling of a Big Movie Climax with the house party (not to mention the Hollywood denouement). It weakens what is an otherwise a pretty decent variation of this type of film.
66. Beeswax, directed by Andrew Bujalski (6/10)
This is a bare-bones indie dramedy about two twins at a particularly crucial point in their lives in Austin. It’s one of those indie movies where there isn’t much of a plot – though this has more than most – and there is not much in the ways of production – the actors are shot giving their lines but it feels as if some of the dialogue is improvised (or under-rehearsed), lighting is natural and so on.
This is a very particular style of movie and I guess if you really like the style, you might really like this movie. But I feel like I’ve seen loads of movies like this and this one is not noticeably more funny or affecting than most.
67. The Last Station, directed by Michael Hoffman (6/10)
I feel like this could have been more.
68. Mao’s Last Dancer, directed by Bruce Beresford (6/10)
Very nice to look at, at least.
69. The Girl Who Played with Fire, directed by Daniel Alfredson (6/10)
The weakest in the series.
70. Backyard, directed by Carlos Carrera (6/10)
This is an ambitious film, based on a true story, that centres around a female cop and some other women trying to end an epidemic of violence against women and murder in Juarez. It takes the general serial killer tropes and expands them into a more serious, almost Traffic-style drama. I really wanted to like it.
However, there are some major, major problems:
- many of the characters are drawn too thinly;
- a radio DJ’s spiels are used as a major plot device and it feels forced and awkward – especially his early rants, which sound like they are introducing the plot
- and there is one scene where the underlying politics of the film are made so bare – and in such an awkward way, involving a Mexican state governor, a US congressman and the head of a multi-national corporation – that it feels like I was watching a lecture.
It’s too bad, because there’s a lot to like here, and this is a story that should be heard.
72. Sherlock Holmes, directed by Guy Ritchie (6/10)
If you ignore the film around him, Downey’s performance is incredible. I will argue till I’m blue in the face that his is more Sherlock Holmes than any other portrayal I have seen [to date]. I think most people who do not agree haven’t actually read the stories. The classic Hollywood version is not the real Holmes. That being said, the movie around him is ridiculous.
73. The Boat that Rocked, directed by Richard Curtis (6/10)
A mess, but an entertaining one.
74. Cleanflix, directed by Andrew James and Joshua Ligairi (6/10)
Nowhere near as good as it could have been, because it’s not that well made. And that soundtrack is borderline terrible. Dear Low Budget Filmmakers, If you are going to make a movie and can only hire a really terrible composer, don’t use any music. Please.
75. Daybreakers, directed by Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig (6/10)
Has some really interesting bits the but the CGI doesn’t look very good and it is more conventional than it should be.
76. Valhalla Rising, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (6/10)
Well this is quite the artsy attempt at an “action” film (for lack of a better term, though there is little action). One suspects that a lack of budget somewhat contributed to this, as its certainly easier to film in “mist” than worry about backgrounds and such.
Unfortunately, too much is left out of the picture to really get enough of what is supposedly of import (I really have no idea).
I have some major issues with the geography of the film – though Scotland does a good job of standing in for Canada, how the hell did they get to Canada? – and some problems with its excessive moodiness.
On the other hand, it certainly prompts more questions than just about every other viking movie I’ve seen.
77. Big River Man, directed by John Maringouin (6/10)
This should be a great documentary. You have the makings of something special with a character as wacky as this guy, and with a team of supporters some of whom as are crazy.
The biggest problem, beyond the fact that the film is organized poorly, is that the director decides – seemingly at random – to try to enter the minds of the crazies, and we are treated to some wannabe Space Odyssey effects and other things which in no way help the film. Oh well.
78. The Hole, directed by Joe Dante (6/10)
Subtle 3-D (until the end) but you shouldn’t ever see inside the hole! That’s the whole (ahahahahahaha) point.
79. Coco avant Chanel, directed by Anne Fontaine (6/10)
This is, I think, the slightly better of the two Chanel films that game out around the same time. It covers a different time in her life and is more grounded in reality. I feel like it is the more consistent film, if the other is perhaps more interesting. It is interesting that both films completely avoided the most controversial behaviour of her life, during WWII.
Anyway, as a biopic this is competent and well-done. Like so many biopics, it thinks it can tell us the story of someone by focusing on only one part of that person’s life, which is it’s biggest flaw.
80. Carcasses, directed by Denis Cote (6/10)
A provocation. Read the review of Carcasses.
81. Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder, directed by Peter Avanzino (6/10)
The last of the Futurama movies, this one too has its moments like the others but, also like the others, just feels like an overly long TV episode. It lags in places and the whole thing feels a little less purposeful (at least until the end, when it is anything but) than Bender’s Game.
It’s not the weakest by any means (I’d say that’s probably the first one) but it’s just too scattershot to really love.
82. Carriers, directed by David Pastor and Alex Pastor (6/10)
Better than it has any right to be.
83. Antichrist, directed by Lars Von Trier (5/10)
I think he titled this film this way solely to provoke. Read my review.
84. Black Sheep, directed by Humberto Hinojosa Ozcariz (5/10)
This is a movie that tries to tell a relatively simple story using complicated narrative techniques. The movie is told in flashback, almost entirely, but the reason for use of flashback is not revealed until the film’s reveal and, until that moment, it’s hard to know why exactly the film is told in flashback because it’s handled rather clumsily both in the way it’s done – at points with, essentially, flashbacks within the flashback – and because the flashback device is forgotten at times and suffers from a Saving Private Ryan problem, where the narrator was not present for much if not most of the action he is relating. (Now, there’s a way around the latter problem, but this film doesn’t exactly deal with it.)
But even when the reveal comes, it’s hard to know why the flasbhack was used. In fact, it’s easy to conceive of the film without the narrator. It’s unnecessary.
In addition, the reveal is handled poorly and rather abruptly – as if they had run out of film stock, which would be a good burn if this film had been made 15 years earlier. And it’s hard to know exactly why this is a “wool coming down from our eyes” moment – it’s handled that poorly. Why the fuck do I care if things unfolded slightly differently with Jose getting away?
And all of this is sad, because I think the story would make a good movie if it was told conventionally.
85. Cellule 211, directed by Daniel Monzon (5/10)
A new spin on the “good guy in a bad place” doesn’t work as well as it could have. Read the review of Cellule 211.
86. Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, directed by Jan Kounen (5/10)
Doesn’t really know what it wants to be.
87. Carmel, directed by Amos Gitai (5/10)
Self-absorbed. Read the review of Carmel.
88. Agora, directed by Alejandro Amenbar (5/10)
Is this film about the development of the heliocentric model of the solar system (well, even the film admits it isn’t really about that) or is it about the rise of Christianity as a mass movement? It is about staying true to one’s beliefs in the face of mass ignorance, or is it about the history of Alexandria in the 4th century? I’m not exactly sure what it’s about, but I know what the message is. That’s the problem. The message is obvious and super-heavy handed. And though I agree with the sentiment – religious fanaticism is dangerous – I don’t agree with the methods.
First off, the film poses as docudrama when it is very, very loosely based on a person we know virtually nothing about it. Timelines are out of sorts and all sorts of events are conflated or even invented.
Then there’s the shots:
- If you’re going to attempt to show us the changing perception of the universe through science, why not actually show it, rather than showing satellite views of Egypt?
- Does filming a scene upside down suggest that the Christians turned the world upside down? Really? That’s subtle.
89. My Bloody Valentine 3-D, directed by Patrick Lussier (5/10)
90. Fanboys, directed by Kyle Newman (5/10)
This is a sporadically funny comedy that relies on perhaps too much knowledge on the part of the audience for much of its humour. It also makes some pretty ridiculous generalizations about nerds – especially nerds in their 20s – which may or may not be true. I wouldn’t care so much if this was funny.
But it’s not really funny. It’s just kind of like “geeks and nerds are uncool, yuk yuk yuk, but are people too, aw.” And that’s the movie.
89. Pandorum, directed by Christian Alvart (4/10)
91. The Age of Stupid, directed by Franny Armstrong (4/10)
Somewhere in this movie there are the makings of a great “message” documentary about climate change. With some more money and a different “director” – if it was indeed directed by one person – maybe this could be the movie they wanted it to be, the movie some critics apparently thought they saw. Read the full review.
92. The Invention of Lying, directed by Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson (4/10)
I’m trying to figure out how so many talented people made such an unfunny movie.
From the opening Gervais monologue – which is almost self-parodying – there is something off about it. I can’t exactly figure it out but it has a lot to do with the timing of everything: many if not most of the jokes fall flat because it seems like everyone is in on it. There is no straight man! At least until the invention of the title, which improves things a little.
I think the whole “we’re telling you the concept” opening just sets everything up for a fall. If we have to be told the concept, instead of shown the concept, already there is a major problem.
And it feels like a lot of the film is hammering us over the head with this “Oh my god people cannot lie! Crazy! Let the hilarity ensue!” And all of this ignores the fact that there is a major philosophical problem underlying the basic concept: how would we recognize a world where human beings didn’t lie? We obviously couldn’t.
The movie reeks of re-shoots but I don’t know if they actually happened.
93. Doghouse, directed by Jake West (4/10)
Don’t really remember it now.
94. Capitalism: a Love Story, directed by Michael Moore (4/10)
Full disclosure: I don’t like Michael Moore. I agree with him on many, many things – at least I think I do – but I absolutely can’t stand the way he manipulates his audience. I am a political philosophy major and so a lack of clarity of concepts makes me insane. So…Read the rest of this review.
95. Exam, directed by Stuart Hazeldine (4/10)
Surprisingly not as bad as I would have thought. Should have been terrible.
96. The Dirty Saints, directed by Luis Ortega (4/10)
The four is only because I might have missed some religious imagery and because the subtitles were badly done (they looked rushed for the festival) so maybe I missed the meaning. But this is possibly a horrible movie. I want to give it the benefit of the doubt, but more than likely it is horrible and I should have given it a 3 or a 2.
97. Don’t You Forget About Me, directed by Matt Austin (4/10)
These filmmakers seem to be unaware as to why someone would want to watch a documentary about a subject, in this case John Hughes. I think it’s safe to presume the audience wants to watch this movie to learn about John Hughes, not about the opinions of the nobodies making the film.
And certainly there is lots of information about John Hughes. Since these people have been making this movie for 2 1/2 years (as they never cease to remind us), there was probably even more in the way of good interview and archival material.
Unfortunately, much of the movie involves the filmmakers. We know nothing about them – and are soon happy that we know so little as they are annoying to put it nicely – and so we don’t really know why we should care what they have to say about Hughes. They certainly think we should care. It seems they think we should care more about what they think than what his old cast and crew think.
It’s one thing for a filmmaker to put themselves on screen in a documentary. That happens a lot, sometimes by accident. It can also be necessary. See Stevie, This Film is Not Yet Rated, or any number of other movies where the filmmakers have some kind of personal relationship with the subject. These people do not. But they think we care about their status as fans (and hardly the most devoted of fans, either). They think we care so much that they devote half the movie to themselves: it’s exhausting, unnecessary, and it totally wrecks the film.
To aspiring documentarians: never put yourself on camera unless you have a reason to be there.
98. Angels & Demons, directed by Ron Howard (3/10)
This is one of those movies where even a little bit of a thought unravels everything. Tom Hanks’ character makes insane “deductions” and everyone (rightly) thinks he’s insane, yet somehow the plot machinations always bear him out. It’s utterly ridiculous stuff, especially the climatic scenes where there’s literally no way that anyone could have possibly set up such elaborate clues or interpreted them.
Frankly, the high production values are literally the only thing that saves this from being an utter disaster.
99. The Box, directed by Richard Kelly (3/10)
100. Solomon Kane, directed by Michael J. Bassett (3/10)
This has rather high production values for one of those bad fantasy films made in Eastern Europe.
Like so many of these movies, there’s virtually no character development – beyond the obvious arc for the hero – the plot is rather telegraphed and I strongly doubt the film has much to do with its source material.
But the acting is extremely good for a bad movie, and the production values are shockingly high. I’m not sure Marc Antony from Rome really works as a leading man, but whatever.
So as these things go, it’s certainly less terrible than most of them. But I still can’t rate it any higher as it’s just a bad fantasy film with above average production values and acting.
101. Lesbian Vampire Killers, directed by Phil Claydon (3/10)
It was instructive watching Cabin in the Woods – the greatest horror comedy of all-time – the night before I watched this. One movie showed you how to properly make a genre comedy, the other showed you how not to make a genre comedy.
First off, this movie has virtually no laughs in it at all. Maybe two. Maybe three. That’s being charitable. Almost every joke was predictable ahead of time or just fell flat because of a lack of timing by the actors and / or screenwriters and / or director. Half the time I was wondering about how much these guys love Shaun of the Dead.
The other (possibly worse) failing is the crew’s need to spell out all the jokes. And they don’t do this in a way that makes you laugh at them doing so, because it’s not the characters who spell out the jokes to other characters, it’s the actual film. At one point, the actually spell out the joke itself, on the screen. I am not making this up. They spell it out letter by letter, just to make sure we, the retarded audience, get it. That is inexcusable. I do not appreciate being treated as an idiot.
So not only did I not laugh, but I had my movie-going intelligence repeatedly insulted. These people shouldn’t make movies. They should go into advertising or something.
102. The Tournament, directed by Scott Mann (3/10)
This is a pretty terrible one. The premise, which is of course not very good or new, and has been done better before. The plot is pretty transparent and full of minor holes that if you start thinking about, it become annoying. The characters are hilarious: they’re cold blooded killers, except when they’re not (like when they pause for the obligatory “dang you got me” moment). I guess the action is passable, but I have seen far better edited films (one poorly lit scene with two white guys with ponytails shooting at each other is particularly confounding). Trash.
103. Gamer, directed by Mark Nevdeline, Brian Taylor (2/10)
Gamer has a vaguely interesting and plausible premise – I stress the vaguely – though it is a little too reminiscent of an update of The Running Man. And it has a surprisingly strong cast, almost all of whom do a great job. So why is it a terrible movie?
I don’t know where these two directors came from, but it is fairly evident to me that they have never had to make a feature film before.
It turns out they have: they made both Cranks. I haven’t seen either, but now I don’t want to.
This film is a giant mess. I think it would be an insult to film editors to claim it had been edited. The story is rendered incoherent by the insane amount of cutting, flashbacks and the “Is this real or is it all a game? Whoa dude I just blew your mind!” nonsense that is hammered into the audience. And then, it goes all art-film on us when the movie climaxes with a musical number! I have no words.
In other people’s hands this might have been fascinatingly revisionist, but I can’t acclaim crap.
104. Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, directed by Patrick Tatopoulos (2/10)
Ostensibly a prequel, this is really an attempt to semi-reboot the series by hopping on the medieval fantasy trend. Needless to say it’s no better than the first sequel.
105. G.I. Joe: the Rise of Cobra, directed by Stephen Sommers (2/10)
This is basically a bad James Bond movie with Team GI Joe substituting for Bond, with a much more active MI6.
The filmmakers could have gone completely fantastic or realistic and they decided for some reason to try to do both. The result is beyond ridiculous with numerous attempts at some vaguely realistic sounding gobbledygook with numerous complete disregards of the laws of physics (as well as things like military protocol and the like). Just a little more attention to the script might have helped at least that aspect.
Unfortunately much of the CGI looks like it’s from an animated film and not from a major, big budget blend of live action and CG animation. Whole sections of the film look like a cartoon, which begs the question, why not just make a cartoon?
What actually gets up on screen is definitely one of the weakest Hollywood blockbusters I have seen.
106. Knowing, directed by Alex Proyas (2/10)
107. Case 39, directed by Christian Alvart (2/10)
Renee Zellwegger, Ian McShane, Bradley Cooper and Callum Keith Rennie star in this film. Why have you never heard of it?
Well, the reason is because this film is awwwful and my guess is that it was dropped at some point when nobody would pay attention to it. It is awful in so many ways:
- the characterizations are awful – Zellwegger is the world’s worst social worker, or close to it, McShane is supposedly competent until he is utterly incompetent, Cooper is a better social worker than Zellwegger but that is damning with faint praise;
- the script is awful – it’s transparent, the dialogue was written by people who clearly have never spent any time anywhere near social works, or children;
- the direction isn’t good – I don’t know if I jumped once and the child’s transformation is handled really poorly.
That’s just three of the many ways in which this film is awful. It is among the shittier films I’ve seen recently with such a cast.
108. 2012, directed by Roland Emmerich (1/10)
Terrible. Read the review.
109. The Blackout, directed by Robert David Sanders (1/10)
Just don’t bother. No budget nor anything else.
1. “No corras tanto,” directed by Cesar Diaz Melendez (7/10)
A neat little film made entirely from sand!!! which is kind of weakened by the fact that the Spanish music in the background tells us what to think about it (the lyrics are translated). I feel like this would have been a bit of a classic without the lyrics making it obvious.