Typing Faster

December 31, 2009

Ten Movies You Should Have Seen In 2009

Filed under: Features, Stuff I Like — petertypingfaster @ 10:53 am

The Daily Beast has put together a great list of 10 films you should have seen in 2009. It’s a slideshow, and if you’re anything like me you hate slide shows, but the list itself is worth taking a look at, so I’m going to repost it here in non-slideshow format.

Here we go, in no particular order:

1. Adam

Adam is a perceptive look at a man with Asperger’s syndrome. Max Mayer’s movie has none of the earnestness of many other movies about people with disabilities. Instead of focusing on the disorder, the film unfolds as a love story between Adam and a young woman (radiantly played by Rose Byrne) who is charmed by his honesty and only mildly fazed by his malady. Mayer deserves credit for creating a story that avoids sentimental pitfalls and manages to turn an afflicted young man into a three-dimensional hero who explodes every possible stereotype. Hugh Dancy nails the role with a brilliant performance.

2. The Damned United

The Damned United focuses, by contrast, on a charming egomaniac—British soccer coach Brian Clough, who is brought to life by the marvelous Michael Sheen. In his earlier movies, The Queen and Frost/Nixon, Sheen was essentially cast as straight man to showier characters—Helen Mirren’s Queen Elizabeth and Frank Langella’s Richard Nixon. This time, Sheen gets to play the flamboyant character, and he proves to be utterly charismatic. In a richly nuanced performance, Sheen discovers the insecurity behind Clough’s brash facade. His interplay with his assistant coach, Timothy Spall, and his archrival, Colm Meaney, adds layers to this portrait of a hard-driving sports maniac.

3. The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker is the one movie on this list that probably will turn up on year-end 10-best lists, and even in the Oscar race. It is one of the best reviewed movies of the year, but chances are that many of you didn’t see it, simply because it’s a movie about Iraq, and every single movie about Iraq has failed to ignite the box office. This one did slightly better than any of the other movies (including In the Valley of Elah and Stop-Loss), but it grossed less than $13 million in the U.S. Unlike other Iraq downers, this one works as a taut suspense thriller about a demolition squad trying to defuse roadside bombs. Director Kathryn Bigelow’s filmmaking skills are prodigious, and the film also qualifies as a sharp character study of the psychological effects of a combat on a courageous but slightly deranged warrior (superbly played by Jeremy Renner).

4. The Stoning of Soraya M

The Stoning of Soraya M is another painful movie about chaos in the Middle East. This is a historical drama, based on a journalistic account, about a horrific, government-sanctioned crime that took place in Iran after the fundamentalist regime of Ayatollah Khomeini seized power in the 1970s. Shohreh Aghdashloo, nominated for an Oscar for House of Sand and Fog, gives a searing performance as the aunt of Soraya M (Mozhan Marno), trying to let the world know about her niece, a young woman murdered by a village full of zealots, who stoned her to death for an alleged act of adultery. Director Cyrus Nowrasteh has crafted an indelible picture of murderous intolerance masquerading as piety.

5. Afghan Star

Afghan Star is a documentary that also examines the benighted attitude toward women in some Muslim societies. This film, which won the audience award as best international documentary at Sundance this year, chronicles a weird American Idol-type competition in post-Taliban Afghanistan. The premise allows for some choice comic moments, but the film takes on a graver tone when it scrutinizes the dangerous consequences for a female contestant who challenged the sexist assumptions of her society by daring to dance in public.

6. Skin

Skin exposes oppression in another embattled section of the world. This is another extraordinary true story, about a light-skinned black woman (the dynamic Sophie Okonedo) born to white parents (Sam Neill and Alice Krige) in South Africa during the apartheid era. Her father’s battle to have her classified as white despite the color of her skin led to a life of isolation and alienation for a woman caught between cultures. The great strength of the film is that it subordinates the larger political turmoil to a more personal drama, finally coming down to the story of a mother and daughter struggling to express their love for each other in a country under siege.

7. Lemon Tree

Lemon Tree features a superb performance by another Middle Eastern actress, Hiam Abbass, best known for her role as the mother of an imprisoned Syrian immigrant in The Visitor. In this wrenching Israeli film, Abbass plays a woman trying to hold on to her family’s lemon grove when the Israeli defense minister moves in nearby and declares the orchard a security risk. This film from director Eran Riklis humanizes the Arab-Israeli conflict by showing how ordinary people are affected by the larger tensions. Abbass’s character finds a silent ally in the wife of the Israeli minister, who feels equally oppressed by the paternalistic culture that surrounds her.

8. My One and Only

My One and Only is a more lighthearted story of female emancipation, this time set in America during the 1950s. Despite some very good reviews, audiences ignored the film as soon as they heard it was based on incidents in the early life of actor George Hamilton. Viewers indifferent to the growing pains of the well-tanned movie star missed a deliciously impudent comedy, with a vivid script by Charlie Peters that caught the contradictions of a society in transition. Renée Zellweger gives one of her most complex performances as Hamilton’s maddeningly self-absorbed mother, and the film also boasts a wonderfully natural performance by Logan Lerman as the young George and another by Mark Rendall as his cheeky gay brother.

9. Herb and Dorothy

Herb and Dorothy is a real-life love story about two seemingly ordinary people—a postal worker and a librarian—who amassed a world-class art collection on a working-class salary. Pursuing their own interests in modern art, Herb and Dorothy Vogel bought art that could fit into their modest New York apartment. This engaging documentary by Megumi Sasaki celebrates their selflessness. When major museums came calling, the Vogels opted to donate their collection to the National Gallery of Art without asking for a penny. This overlooked film registers as a stirring tribute to the generosity of the true artistic spirit.

10. The Messenger

The Messenger is another masculine character piece, taking a very different approach to the Iraq War from that found in combat pictures like The Hurt Locker. Ben Foster gives the performance of his career as a young soldier enlisted for the painful job of informing family members that a loved one was killed in Iraq. As the officer who tutors him in the art of delivering the worst possible news, Woody Harrelson also gives an explosive performance. Their encounters with grief-stricken family members have a terrifying rawness. This homefront drama highlights the devastating consequences of a war that few people in this country want to contemplate.

I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve only seen a couple of movies on that list (The Hurt Locker and Adam), but if the rest are as good as those two, then they’re definitely all worth checking out.


1 Comment »

  1. […] the original here: Ten Movies You Should Have Seen In 2009 « Typing Faster Share and […]

    Pingback by Ten Movies You Should Have Seen In 2009 « Typing Faster | Afghanistan News — December 31, 2009 @ 7:33 pm

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