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2009 Wellington Cinema Year in Review

Welcome to the 2010 “cut out and keep” guide to video renting (or downloading or however you consume your home entertainment these days). I suggest you clip this article, fold it up, stick it in your wallet or purse and refer to it whenever you are at the video shop, looking for something to while away the long winter evenings of 2010.

Slumdog Millionaire posterFirst up, the ones to buy – the Keepers. These are the films that (if you share my psychology and some of my pathologies) you will cherish until you are old and the technology to play them no longer exists. Best film of the year remains Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. Mashing together several archetypal stories with a vivid visual style and a percussive energy, Slumdog may not represent India as it actually is but instead successfully evoked what India feels like, which is arguably more important. After Slumdog everything I saw seemed, you know, old-fashioned and nothing has been anywhere nearly as thrilling since. There are films you respect, films you admire and films you love. Slumdog is a film you adore. “Who wants to be a … miyonaire?” indeed.

Inglourious Basterds posterThe others in the Keeper list are films with so much going on they’ll reward repeat viewing for a long time to come. The brilliantly perverse humour of Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds masked a cutting critique of American foreign policy; the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man managed to be a film about everything while seeming to be about nothing; and Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are has provoked more discussion in the circles in which I move than Avatar: it’s the best melancholic film of the year.

Rachel Getting Married posterI’ve added each of the following to my Fatso queue in the hopes they’ll turn up one day in 2010. The Reader contained a peerless performance from Kate Winslet and careful direction from Stephen Daldry while Rachel Getting Married used a ramshackle hand-held style to tell an intensely personal story of a family doing its best. District 9 and Star Trek led the way with punchy re-inventions of a tired genre and franchise respectively. District 9 will turn out to be a game changer for the economic side of the industry the way that Avatar has transformed the technology.

This is It posterMichael Jackson’s This is It thrilled me unexpectedly and I’d love to watch that again and see if I can’t get the home system to sound as good as the Embassy or Empire. I’d happily watch Pixar’s Up again, if only for the first 10 minutes in which a beautiful story is distilled into a perfect cinematic haiku. At the end of the year, Soderbergh’s The Informant! contained some wonderfully clever voice-over which made me wish my note-taking was better (or even existent). And Aorere College Assistant Principal Gary Peach in Juliette Veber’s almost flawless documentary Trouble is My Business, is my hero of the year.

The Strength of Water posterI enjoyed Steve McQueen’s Hunger, Armagan Ballantyne’s The Strength of Water and Warwick Thornton’s Samson and Delilah but have no immediate desire to see them again – maybe because they were hard work. But in a good way. How does one turn Dostoevsky into an adjective? That’s the word I want to use to describe Two Lovers starring Joaquin Phoenix and directed by New Yorker James Gray.

Lastly, there’s plenty to avoid after a year in which the average was dragged down by the number of absolute turkeys: The Limits of Control, A Pain in the Ass and Forever Strong were arthouse and indie turkeys. The Ugly Truth, Bride Wars, Couples Retreat and Confessions of a Shopaholic were romantic-comedy turkeys. 2012 and Seven Pounds were turkeys that should have known better. Dance Flick, Orphan, Lesbian Vampire Killers and Big Stan made me want to scoop my eyeballs out with a hot spoon.

But let’s not be too downhearted – there’s some good stuff coming down the pipe: Musical Nine starring Daniel Day-Lewis; Up in the Air starring George Clooney and by the director of Juno; Invictus, Clint Eastwood’s version of the 1995 Rugby World Cup story starring Morgan Freeman as Mandela (as a friend said to me, I’m only interested if he’s re-written the ending so the All Blacks win); A Single Man by Tom Ford (yes, the guy from Gucci); The Road, adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel and starring Viggo Mortensen; and Shutter Island, the new Scorsese. And that’s all before the World Cinema Showcase in April. Happy viewing for 2010!

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 6 January, 2010.

I deliberately exclude any Festival-only screenings from consideration – it’s commercial releases only here. This obviously means some great films miss out, but they’ll get proper consideration on their return to cinemas. It just doesn’t seem fair to be pimping films that not many people had a chance to see.

Dan

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