Monday, March 09, 2009

2009... So Far So Good Great

We're only two and half months into the year -- this is right around the time I start going to movies again, waking from my Oscar hibernation -- and even though Watchmen didn't pan out, going from complex heady source material to a stiff 'eh?' as a film, we already have at least two fine candidates for a compelling, diverse and meaty top ten list come year's end. Some might call Steve McQueen's Hunger a 2008 film, what with its release in the UK and its 7 day stint in a single theater in LA last year (god, someone kill the "qualifying release"...drag it to hell!) but for my purposes it's a 2009 film. So 2009 is starting strong. Even Confessions of a Shopaholic was better than expected. That's a nice change of pace for the first three months of the year (although you wouldn't know it from the box office top ten which is 30% Mall Cops, Dogs & Tyler Perry, 40% extreme violence spectacles and 20% critically trashed romantic comedies)


If you haven't seen Coraline yet I urge you to do it while it's still in theaters. You can't get its 3D effects at home. The movie doesn't throw things towards the screen to make you "ooh" and "ah" over its technical accomplishment --everything is story/character based -- but Coraline doesn't need the hard sell because it's completely confident. Director Henry Selick's previous animated features (Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach) also had this enviable trait. They know what movies they are through and through. They don't seem to second guess whether or not you'll be buying what they're selling. A lot of lesser animated films and frankly, a lot of live action blockbusters should watch and learn.

Coraline the movie, adapted from the brilliant Neil Gaiman story about a girl who finds a door into a world mirroring her own, isn't scared of quiet scenes or laying the groundwork for its richly creepy 'grass is greener' conflict. I saw it in a theater filled with kids and for the most part they were as quiet as they were during WALL•E and Spirited Away. Kids can handle animated movies that are smart enough for their parents. And Coraline definitely has a lot to offer adults. The psychosexual subtext alone is hilarious what with teenage boys warned against entering the Pink Palace ("it's dangerous!") and vaginal tunnels leading to "Mother" and "Other Mother" as the case may be. A-

Hunger, on the other hand, is not all ages safe. It's a political bio / prison movie of sorts about Bobby Sands and the deadly Irish hunger prison strike of 1981. To be blunt, I'm not sure the film is any ages safe but safety is overrated in art. It's a brutal film --not in the typical "here's some gory violence to quench your insatiable bloodthirst!" movie-movie way but plenty harsh, putting the audience through the ringer psychologically, politically and emotionally. One of its first images, a shot of bloody knuckles under water, hurts more than most stabbings or gunshots on film, and once we see how the knuckles got bloody, the sting worsens. I realize this doesn't sound like a fun time at the movies (it's not) but why does art always have to be fun? Most of us understand this about music and paintings but we seem to have more trouble with it in movie theaters, always equating "the movies" with "good time at..." if you know what I mean. As cinema Hunger is pretty amazing (especially considering it's a debut film) and it's long can't-look-away shots and compelling juxtapositions of voiceover and static imagery will be more potent in theaters where you truly can't look away. I fear the movie's full gale force will be muted on DVD once you have the pause option. A-

Two terrific movies out already in 2009 and I haven't even managed to catch Two Lovers yet (of which I keep hearing good things). Coraline is still in 1000+ theaters. Hunger opens on March 20th in limited release, keep a look out for that one since it won't stick around long.

24 comments:

J.L said...

Don't forget also the swedish movie Everlasting Moments has been released :D

James Colon said...

Man, I guess I'm really the only guy who liked WATCHMEN. Maybe its because I haven't read the book.

By the by, finally was able to see THE CLASS and thought it was terif!

Paul Outlaw said...

Coming Soon:

Sunshine Cleaning - B
an above-average Lifetime movie starring Amy Adams and Emily Blunt

The Great Buck Howard - B
starring my least favorite (but undeniably) great American actor, John Malkovich. Would have been Oscar-bait if released in the fall.

In these two movies, Emily Blunt is seriously angling to win the title of young Cate Blanchett or next Kate Winslet. Plays American in both. And they both feature Steve Zahn, (too) briefly bare-assed in the former film and with oversized moustache in the latter, as it should be.

PIPER said...

My 11 year old was terrified by Coraline. But my 5 year old loved it. I've always thought she was the most twisted of the two.

I have yet to see it, but I've lost my two reasons to go and do so. I might have to take my 5 year old again.

Terry said...

Two Lovers is very good... and Koreeda's wonderful film Still Walking could be getting a 2009 release in many countries.

PIPER said...

And to James,

I also enjoyed Watchmen. And I did read the book.

Terry said...

... I forgot to mention one of my favorite 2008 films Tokyo Sonata, which is getting a limited US release this Friday!!

pomme said...

i didn't see Coraline but i saw Hunger.It's not a funny movie but is awesome,you can't forget it easily!

Anonymous said...

random note: Slumdog Millionaire is about to surpass Ben Button at the box office. It needs like $65000. It would become the highest grossing Best Pic nominee of the year, just saying..

Wayne B. said...

Enjoyed the write-up on "Hunger". You definitely intrigued me on to this movie. I like how you comment on the point of movies as art rather than entertainment. I think in order to grow as a patron of the arts, you have to expose yourself to ideas and concepts that make you uncomfortable. That's why I'm looking forward to being put through the emotional wringer with "Hunger"! :)

Chazz said...

"Two Lovers" is great. Read my review here:

web.me.com/inreviewonline/inreviewonline/FILM_REVIEW.../2/15_Two_ Lovers_(2009)_Directed_by_James_Gray.html.

Marshall said...

Even WATCHMEN presages an excellent year. It's a troubling and challenging film, but it offers a lot of greatness within its disappointment.

Dom said...

You seen this Nathaniel?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hdp-wBfR0lg

Guess the qualms about Drew Barrymore were wrong...

NATHANIEL R said...

what qualms?

Dom said...

Didn't you have a comment du jour of someone who was worried that the lack of Drew in the last promo could mean that her performance was subpar?

Dom said...

I didn't mean you had qualms, just that qualms were out there :)

NATHANIEL R said...

oh yeah probably.

i thought you were talking about me and i've always thought Drew was a better actress than people gave her credit for.

here's hoping she starts challenging herself in her feature films, too.

Marshall said...

Dom I'm certainly rooting for Drew but what exactly is there in that clip that shows anything one way or the other? Emmy City for Jessica Lange and Jeanne Triplehorn no doubt.

Middento said...

God, I loved Hunger. Is it open in the US already? That is a seriously harrowing film, and yet so beautiful. Man.

Dom said...

Are you kidding, Marshall? The opening of the clip is dead on! I didn't even recognize that it was Drew until a few seconds in. The change in her voice is perfect!

Kamikaze Camel said...

I... didn't like Hunger.

Am waiting for Coraline though.

Shawn said...

Was going to see Watchmen this past weekend, but decided at the last minute to check out Coraline. What a fantastic movie! Just wonderful through and through.

And based on reactions to Watchmen, it seems I made the smart choice.

Actionman said...

Gomorrah, Coraline, Two Lovers and Watchmen are all a terrific way to start the year off.

Taken -- not so much.

Michael said...

HUNGER was one of my favourite films from last year. Such authority in a film commands respect, and I give it up willingly.

There were a few last year that really rocked my boat...
The Edge of Heaven
Hunger
The Flight of the Red Balloon
Aleksandra

A good year for arthouse fiction, I thought.