MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington


Here are my ten best, from a year of my life I wish I had never lived, a year of sorrow and pain and occasional flashes of redemption and love.

What of the movies I watched during that time of personal tragedy? Well, this makes twice I’ve put Up at the head of a ten-best compendium this week. It also topped my DVD list. For me, inevitably, Up became a movie about how badly old people are treated in our society, and about dreams long deferred finally, fantastically, coming true. I wish that life were like that.

But I probably should have succumbed to sentiment and put The Wizard of Oz in that DVD lead position. I like it, of course. But it was also the last movie I ever saw, on a computer screen in the hospital, with my late mother, Edna, whom I loved far more.

The last movie I saw with my mother in a theater was, fittingly, my all-time favorite Citizen Kane. (I was also with her a half century ago, the first time I saw Kane on a TV, at 12.) And we saw it together last year at Facets in Chicago, Afterward, we talked with a young audience-class about Edna’s own meeting, as a high school girl, with the teenage theater whiz Orson Welles, who very much impressed her. She became a lifelong fan and just missed meeting him in Los Angeles. (See below.)

Life should not be so sad. Great talent and brilliance, like hers, should not go so unawarded. Goodbye, dear Edna. I love movies, because, as an artist herself, she taught me to love art in all its forms. That’s an important point: all the forms of art. Most ten best lists make little sense to me, because they’re top-heavy with American and English movies, relatively light on foreign language ones. There are actually few movie years where that kind of lopsided division in favor of English language films holds true years later, in retrospect. Even in 1939, the best film released was from France: Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game.

So here is a list of movie delights and movie art from all the world — in remembrance of Edna Tulane Wilmington, who brought all the world, and all its delights and art, to me.

..Wilmington’s Best DVDs of 2009
..Doug Pratt’s Best DVDs of 2009

1. Up
U. S.; Pete Docter, 2009

Up, this year’s new Pixar picture, which flies us right up into those realms of sky, flight and fantasy that Judy Garland’s Dorothy traveled in her Kansas twister ride to Oz, and to which little Pascal Lamorisse was whisked off by his air armada of Parisian balloons, at the end of his dad Albert’s The Red Balloon. Co-written and directed by Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) and Bob Peterson, it’s a great children’s movie, and another strong argument that the Pixar cartoon cadre is the strongest creative force operating in mainstream Hollywood right now.

If you see it without kids, you should love it anyway. And if you’re a kid, you should be in heaven. For us adults and older people though, Up will help bring back all those wondrous, heart-warming, spine-chilling childhood movie experiences, that once made a kid’s trip to the movie house so intoxicating and madly enchanting. And adventurous.

Yet, in what might appear a paradox, the hero of Up — albeit with a kid sidekick — is a harsh, isolate, seemingly past-it and mean old man named Carl Frederickson, voiced with classic gruffness by Ed Asner.

Much of up takes place up there in the sky too, in Carl’s balloon house and on hero-villain Muntz’s (Christopher Plummer) spectacular whirlybird, super-dirigible-like, propeller-driven sky-ship. And there are chases and wild escapes, and the characters fight and slide all over the sky ship’s body and Carl’s porch, in scenes that will either feed your vertigo or kill it dead. Exhilarating is a word that was made for the likes of Up.

It’s exhilarating though for more than mere (Mere!) adventure and spectacle. This is a movie which spiritually delivers a well-earned knockout blow to the rejection, marginalization and sometimes abusive mistreatment that the elderly here — and elsewhere — suffer. Damn your souls, if you have any, you anti-Health Care creeps. Edna might have lived longer and more happily, painted more pictures, or died with less pain, if not for the likes of you.

That’s the kind of theme and undercurrent that makes Up more than kid stuff.


2. Bad Lieutenant: New Orleans Port of Call
U. S.; Werner Herzog, 2009

Bad Lieutenant: New Orleans Port of Call is a weird title, but a great, crazy film. Its greatness is, in fact, inseparable from its craziness, or from Nicolas Cage’s fantastic, raging, brilliantly over the top performance as the bad madman cop, Terence McDonough.

The movie, which starts in a parking lot with some police brutality and then shifts to a flooded jail in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, first shows Cage’s Terence being bad and self-destructively good. We see him robbing and raping suspects in the lot, then perched on a jail walkway with Val Kilmer as his partner, debating whether to save a trapped prisoner in a cell with the water rising. Cage’s Terence makes fun of the jailbird’s plight, then jumps in the water, soaking an expensive suit and underwear, and as it happens, also wrenching his back and throwing himself into near-constant pain afterwards.

From then on, in one appalling scene after another, Terence races around New Orleans, in the catastrophe’s aftermath, bent over from crippling pain, and swallowing and stealing stronger and harder drugs to kill it, laughing explosively and chattering maniacally, beating and blackmailing suspects and perps, recklessly piling up huge gambling debs with his perturbed bookie (Brad Dourif), plotting felonies with the local crime boss (Alvin Xzibit Joiner), screwing and snorting coke with his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes) and in general behaving as badly as any lieutenant possibly could — including Harvey Keitel, who was the original Bad Lieutenant in Abel Ferrara’s blistering original 1992 film. (Ferrara’s was more violent and just as crazy as Herzog’s, but not as flat-out weird.)

In Bad Lieutenant, Cage again abandons restraint and lets it rip. It’s as good (and deep-down bad) as he can do. And, defying expectations, it’s almost as good as Herzog can do too: a near-great neo-noir. Bad is mostly not shadowy neo-nourish. It’s noir as in the brutal, straight ahead vision of a Sam Fuller, a Don Siegel or a Phil Karlson, with a touch of Bunuelian surreal nightmare around the edges. Like true noir masterpieces such as Rififi, Touch of Eviland Double Indemnity, Herzog’s movie is about individual sin and social evil, with bad Terence as the crazy house mirror reflection of all the madness around him.

3. Everlasting Moments
Sweden; Jan Troell

Jan Troell’s beautiful period film, Everlasting Moments, is based on Troell’s wife’s family history, about a working class woman named Maria in 1900s Sweden, who, despite a troubled home life, shows improbable brilliance as a photographer. Troell (The Emigrants) is an admirer of both Ingmar Bergman and John Ford, and he’s worthy of both here.

The acting is superb (especially by Maria Heiskanen as namesake Maria, Mikhail Persbrandt as her genial but abusive husband, and Jesper Christensen as her kind but reticent photographer/mentor). The direction and cinematography (both by Troell) are magnificent, and the story is deeply moving. Moments is a great film from a great filmmaker. Many contemporary releases make you wonder how movies could sink so low; this one makes you happy they can rise so high.


4. The Hurt Locker
U. S.; Kathryn Bigelow, 2009

Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq War thriller, from a script by ex-embedded journalist Mark Boal, is a battle movie with a real sense of deadly expertise, male bonding, conflicts, and constant undercurrents of danger. Like many of the classic post-World War II movies — the darker ones like Attack! Men in War, The Big Red One andPlatoon, The Hurt Locker immerses us in the everyday details of battle, bloodshed and temporary calm. It shows us how a bomb disposal squad — a troop that includes Jeremy Renner as initially cocky and reckless Staff Sgt. William James, along with Anthony Mackie as the more somber and careful Sgt. J. T. Sanborn, and Guy Pearce as James’ dashing (and quickly exiting) predecessor Sgt. Matt Thompson, with pungent cameos byRalph Fiennes and David Morse.

Bigelow, with maximum intensity and concentration catches these men as they walk the war torn streets, scout the terrain, get dressed (in their bulky moon man outfits) and snip the wires, sometimes under fire. There was a famous movie ad tag line for Clouzot’s great nitro-on-the-truck thriller The Wages of Fear — You sit there, waiting for the theatre to explode! — and it fits here too.

The movie’s faux-documentary, camera-jiggling visual logistics are impressive, but so is its devotion to terse hard-packed action and character, in the Mann-Fuller-Aldrich-Boetticher school. And it also has that mystical timeless sense of desert carnage you get in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia or in Andre de Toth’s Play Dirty.

The Hurt Locker succeeds so well partly because, unlike most of the other Iraq war movies or documentaries, it doesn’t wear its politics on its sleeve, pro or con. Still, as Fuller has so cogently said: every truthful war movie is actually anti-war, something true all the way back toThe Iliad. And with this movie, Bigelow becomes indisputably one of America’s premier action movie directors. Her woman’s touch — manifested in the quiet skill with which Bigelow strips way macho illusions — only adds to this movie’s phenomenal power.


5. Summer Hours
France; Olivier Assayas, 2008

A wonderful French ensemble film — about the Chekhovian disintegration of a family whose mother was a major artist’s niece and favorite, whose house is full of rare mementos desired by museums, and whose second generation is plunged, when that mother dies, into conflict and sorrow by the tasks of keeping or disposing of the home and its precious contents. Following in the footsteps of Andre Techine’s and Patrice Chereau’s excellent French ensemble dramas, and of Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale last year, Summer Hours offers superb writing and performances (by Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jeremie Renier, Kyle Eastwood, Isabelle Sadoyan, and many others), as well as supple, contemplative direction and an ending that heightens the inward emotion by discreetly handling the outer. (In French and English, with English subtitles.)


6. Avatar
U.S.; James Cameron, 2009

Avatar, James Cameron’s` planet-shaking, moon-rocking, eco-worshipping, dragon-riding new science fiction fantasy epic-and-a-half, may not be a perfect movie. But it’s sure as hell an incredible experience. It’s a genre-movie knockout, a cinematic mind-blast and a technological marvel whose feats of 3D motion-capture and CGI pyrotechnics, and the spectacular and endlessly imaginative alternate world this snazzy technique helps Cameron and company create — set on a distant Alpha Centauri moon called Pandora, where the natives are blue and the zeitgeist is green — all keep blowing you away.

That gargantuan dream-world inside Avatar is so marvelous, so beautiful, so popping with delights ranging all the way from gut wrenching to lyrical, and from exalting to borderline campy, that your senses and susceptibilities will probably get seduced, even as your more literary sensibilities may flinch at the usual Cameron script shortcomings: the sometimes flat, mostly humorless dialogue, and the standard-pulp characterizations. Here, those flaws seem merely serviceable, while the stunning visual imagery and exploding action around them — those blue-skinned, golden-eyed, Na’vi extraterrestrials and the human-controlled Avatars or Na’vi counterfeits astride swooping semi-pterodactyls soaring above super-rain forest landscapes, in deep focus shots of astounding detail and overwhelming richness and color — are almost always transporting.

God, you think as you watch this movie’s bounteous gallery of visual wonders — its` vast luminous greenery, huge stomping robo-thugs and wave upon wave of deep-focus wonders — if this man could only tell a joke, he really would be king of the world!


7. Invictus
U.S.; Clint Eastwood

I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul. Those are the stirring last words of William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus,” the British poem from which black political prisoner and Apartheid foeNelson Mandela took heart during his 27 years in South African prisons.

Invictus the movie, is genuinely inspirational itself. Bringing to life an extraordinary true story that took place during Mandela’s first year as South African president — following the 1995 run for glory of the Springboks, South Africa’s long-mediocre, mostly white national rugby team, that, backed and encouraged by Mandela, made an improbable charge to the finals of the world cup rugby championship series — it’s a magnificent true-sports and true-politics drama.

It is also a strong, wise, and generous movie about national racial reconciliation, a story that cuts to the heart and gladdens the soul. Invictus, scripted by Anthony Peckham, directed byClint Eastwood, and starring Morgan Freeman as Mandela, in a full-bodied, large-souled, and spiritually transcendent performance — and Matt Damon, solid and strong, as the Springboks’ player-manager — is a memorable portrayal of how competitive sports can unite a once-divided nation, lift the spirits of divergent peoples and purge the poisons of racism from a long-warring culture.


8. Katyn
Poland; Andrzej Wajda

War is Hell, or at best, Purgatory, and few filmmakers have shown that more clearly than the 83-year-old Polish master, Andrzej Wajda, in classics like his World War Two trilogy of A Generation (1954) Kanal (1957) and Ashes and Diamonds (1958), his 1990 Korczak, and his most recent film, Katyn.

Katyn is a deeply human, woundingly personal story. In 1940, 15,000 Polish Army officers were systematically and brutally massacred — by either the Nazis (who were initially blamed) or the Russians (a dicier choice, especially after Poland went Communist after the war). One of the victims was Wajda’s father, and two of the characters in this kaleidoscopic look at the massacre, are based on Wajda’s parents: missing Polish officer Andrzej (Artur Zmijewski) and his desperate wife Anna (Maja Ostaszewska).

The movie is a complex ensemble piece with a truly superb cast, both a portrayal of national tragedy and a testament of burning clarity and intensity. It’s a front rank late work by one of the greatest of all 20th and 21st century filmmakers. (In Polish, with English subtitles.)


9. A Serious Man
U. S.; Joel & Ethan Coen

The Coen Brothers’ typically dark, typically wry look at a Jewish boyhood (and fatherhood) in the Midwest, with references ranging from Jefferson Airplane to Job and the Dybbuk. Michael Stuhlbarg is the endlessly harried and persecuted teacher and Midwestern suburbanite husband-dad who undergoes the Job-like sufferings; though the movie has been accused of meanness toward its Jewish subjects, I think the Coens’ typical acerbic humor has an affectionate and even loving edge here. It’s one of their, and the year’s, very best.


10. Me and Orson Welles
U.S.; Richard Linklater, 2009

In Me and Orson Welles, Richard Linklater takes on a highly ambitious subject — a portrayal of the astonishing youthful theatrical triumphs of the 22-year-old Welles, his adroit and urbane (and long-suffering) producer John Houseman, and of their ingenious, experimental 1937 Mercury Theater production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar — as observed by a fictional, ambitious, sexy young cast member (Zac Efron). And he does them all proud. Linklater’s movie is wonderfully acted, written and directed –an exciting evocation of a thrilling era and some magnificent show people. At its center is one of the most extraordinary, and truly brilliant film performances of the year: Christian McKay’s amazing evocation of Orson Welles at 22.

This is an utterly convincing portrayal physically. And it also, crucially, suggests Welles’ inner being: the extraordinary genius and intimidating energy, his vaulting ambition and also his demonic, self-destructive qualities. We can believe that McKay’s Orson is capable of this Julius Caesar and the Kane to come. And we can also believe that he’s a hedonistic conniver capable of betraying his friends (like Houseman), tyrannizing his cast and crew and wounding his own career. Is an amazing job, a thrilling feat of character-catching, and it’s almost matched by others in this crack ensemble: Eddie Marsan as John Houseman, Ben Chaplin as the tormented patrician George Coulouris, Leo Bill as the elfin prankster Norman Lloyd, andJames Tupper, whose Joseph Cotten captures the Wellesian actor/crony’s elegance and bemusement. Star Efron, a relative weak link, does a passably charming and likable job.

Linklater tries, mostly successfully, to give us the creative ferment of American society, drama, and media in 1937, fueled by the Depression and the gathering war clouds in Europe, in a welter of pop politics both radical and reactionary, of burgeoning social change and cultural upheaval. What follows is a valentine to the theatre like Marcel Carne’s and Jacques Prevert’s Children of Paradise, a lovely distillation of a wondrous time. Like McKay’s Welles’ Caesar, it puts on a great show with a seemingly modest budget. It shows us again what we love about the theatres, media, pop and high culture, and, finally, the movies. It also shows us, through McKay’s alchemy, the spitting image of a giant of them all.


11. Still Walking
Japan; Hirokazu Kore-Eda

No filmmaker from any country made more exquisitely wrought and moving domestic dramas than Japan’s Yasujiro Ozu — most profoundly perhaps with that sublime, beautifully observed and fashioned 1953 tale of elderly patents and thoughtless children, Tokyo Story. But in Still Walking, Hirokazu Kore-Eda comes very close to matching the master.

Kore-Eda, the director of the austerely touching Maboroso and Nobody Knows, has been compared to Ozu (and that other family poet Mikio Naruse) before. But he’s never seemed more securely in that element than he does in this wonderful, touching, funny and finally profound ensemble tale of three generations of the Yokoyama family: the children and grandchildren of mother Toshiko (Kirin Kiki) and father, and one time doctor, Kyohei (Yoshio Harada), all gathering for their yearly memorial tribute to the brilliant elder son Junpei, who died years ago in a drowning accident, while rescuing a child. It will be one of their last such Yokoyama family reunions, though none of them quite senses it at the time.

The family party may be robust and lively, but Kore-Eda’s visual style is often as perfect and simple as Ozu’s. And, like Ozu, Kore-Eda reveals all these characters quietly, calmly, without illusions, but with unfailing empathy and compassion. As with that other respectful son and superb filmmaker, he fills his screen with life and emotion.

This is my personal favorite of all his films. Kore-Eda, as much as Ozu this time, invites us into a home, Japanese but universal, in all its contradictions, all its darkness and light, all its humanity. (in Japanese, with English subtitles.)


12. Red Cliff
China/Hong Kong/Japan; John Woo

Huge armies facing each other across immense battlefields, thousands of warriors in gorgeous robes, ships aflame, arenas of war drenched in carnage and blood, hails of arrows, swords slashing in sunlight, ballets of death and martial arts exploding across vast frescos and panoramas of ancient beauty and ceremony… That’s what we get in John Woo’s latest film, his partly triumphant return to Asian moviemaking, Red Cliff.

But are we getting all we should? This Asian battle film super spectacle from action master Woo — a mammoth, visually breathtaking period epic based on China’s legendary 208 Battle of the Three Kingdoms (as recorded by historians like Chen Shou and numerous fictions and dramas since), and starring Hong Kong’s Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Japan’s Takeshi Kaneshiro — keeps building and building, and the battles keep rising until the final near-apocalyptic combat between the forces of tyranny and the supposedly rebel war lords. But it all goes by too fast. It’s a cut version of the original Chinese version.

Much of what we see here is amazing. But, personally, I was disappointed — not by Woo and company, but by the strategy of their local distributors. Red Cliff may be the most expensive, elaborate historical adventure China (along with production partner Japan) has ever made. But the version now playing in our western theaters is only a fraction of what we should be seeing: a two-part, five hour movie reduced for the West to two and a half hours. Let’s hope the original is rescued, if only on DVD.


13. Il Divo
Italy; Paolo Sorrentino

Italian actor Toni Servillo’s craggy wise-hood face — as impassive and immobile as a dentist staring into your mouth or a panther regarding its prey — is at the center of a jaw-dropping whirlpool of bloody events and political crime, as portrayed or exposed in Il Divo (subtitled The Extraordinary Life of Giulio Andreotti), Paolo Sorrentino’s amazingly audacious and stylish bio-drama about seven-time Christian Democrat Italian prime minister and center right icon Andreotti, and his alleged involvement in official corruption, Mafia co-projects, and, disturbingly, a number of mysterious deaths — including, the film suggests, moral culpability for the murder of his predecessor and political rival Aldo Moro by Italy’s Red Brigade in the ’70s, and some responsibility in a string of hits and assassinations that conveniently eliminated other Andreotti rivals or nemeses.

It’s a great deadpan performance by Servillo, who also appeared in that other superb recent Italian true-life crime saga, Gomorrah. And Il Divo is also a jolting, beautifully made, sardonic shocker of a movie. Sorrentino, Servillo and cinematographer Luca Bigazzi slam the ex-Prime Minister with one sphinx-like, dead-eyed close-up and damning torrent of facts after another.

Like Gomorrah, whose writer reportedly needs police protection, Il Divo is a great gutsy movie. It pulls us into a world of modern darkness and evil in high places, a weird sleek hell that’s engrossing, unsettling, stunningly credible.


14. Up in the Air
U.S.; Jason Reitman

In Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, George Clooney plays a prime/perfecto Clooney role: Ryan Bingham, a nice-seeming, glamorous-looking guy with a highly remunerated, very nasty job. Ryan is a severance expert, a corporate gun-for-hire, who flies around the country (so often he’s near a million mile Frequent Flyer award), firing employees whom their bosses are too gutless to face and fire themselves.

So Up in the Air becomes, in part, a movie about how far some of our corporate world is falling to pieces today — and also about the good looks and meaner reality of the gleaming, isolated lives of upper-class people still unaffected by the fray: the ones who hire and fire, or are paid to, like Ryan. It’s inevitably, a political subject, and it’s on the socio-political level, that this movie is least satisfying, with its cards played too close to the vest.

But as an intelligent romantic comedy, it’s one of the best around — mostly thanks to Clooney and costar Vera Farmiga and their great, fizzing chemistry onscreen together — and also to the double edge and smoothie charm of Clooney’s keen portrayal of this corporate rub-out man, and how he handles his own potential expendability. Clooney nails this character, even if Up in the Air doesn’t always fully exploit the milieu. It’s a fly-over movie that, at its best, is sharp comedy for people who yearn to see what’s going on both above and below their frequent flights.


15. Inglourious Basterds
U. S.; Quentin Tarantino, 2009 (Universal)

Quentin Tarantino shoots the works in Inglorious Basterds, a wild movie-movie-lover’s blend of WW2 action film pyrotechnics, subtitled art cinema romance, inside-movie allusions of every type and description, grand spaghetti-operatic Sergio Leone stylistics, and a brash Let’s-rewrite-World War 2-and make-it-a-De Palma flick ending so crazy it keeps blowing emotional and technical gaskets as you watch it explode on screen.

The last demonically loony Tarantino set-piece is about a star-Nazi-studded movie premiere of a German patriotic blockbuster called Nation’s Pride held at the last minute in a Paris theater run by vengeful Jewish femme fatale, Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), with Hitler and Goebbels in the audience and two assassination/massacre schemes in operation inside. One plot involves Shosanna and the other. the bloody and misspelled Basterds of the title: a Dirty Dozenish wild bunch of Jewish Nazi-scalpers ramrodded by the cheerfully sadistic Lt. Aldo Raine — played by Brad Pitt with Southern-fried tongue deeply in cheek.

The show is a lot of fun to watch, especially if you share many or some of Tarantino’s madly eclectic movie tastes (I do, mostly), and it contains sequences of real brilliance and high cinematic gusto, and a crackerjack (mostly) cast. Tarantino here displays his genius for spiky, punchy, clever genre dialogue, as we haven’t heard it for a while, since the great gab of Pulp Fiction and Jacky Brown. It’s obvious he’d like be Leone, but its nice and nasty to hear hisElmore Leonard side again. Crazy as Inglourious Basterds may seem, it’s alive.


16. Earth
U.S. Alistair Fothergill/Mark Linfield, 2009 (Disney)

This is the shortened theatrical version of Planet Earth, the extraordinary BBC TV series from writer-narrator David Attenborough and producer Fothergill – with a new narration read byJames Earl Jones, for American audiences. The original is the one to see or own, of course; it’s one of the greatest, most beautifully photographed documentaries ever made. But, as shortened by the original’s producer-director, Fothergill, this rapid-read Reader’s Digest edition of Planet Earth is a still-stunning substitute, if you’re time-challenged. (A note for the squeamish: Be forewarned. This is nature as it really is. There’s a lot of sex and violence.)


17. Star Trek
U.S.; J. J. Abrams, 2009

The latest Trek movie, is a genuinely audience-pleaser of a movie, one that should give a thrill to the mass audience, to the hard-core fans — and even to moviegoers (there are probably a few) who couldn’t care less or think Trek is dreck and that Spock was the baby manual their parents or grandparents used.

Here, director J. J. Abrams (of Mission: Impossible III and TV’s Felicity and Lost) and writersRoberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (of Transformers) show how young Kirk (Chris Pine) and young Spock (Zachary Quinto) met after dear old days at the Starfleet Academy and their assignment (a complex chore, in Kirk’s case) to the Enterprise, under Captain Chris Pike (Bruce Greenwood) — just in time to lock horns with the crazed Romulan villain Nero (Eric Bana), who’s hell-bent on blowing up everything Federated in sight. This is the first time out against heavy firepower and lizard-faced bad guys for the classic Enterprise ensemble. And now we know why Kirk was always so cocky, Spock always so calm. At saving the universe, they’re genuine naturals. It’s fun, a blast, a terrific fresh start.


18. 24 City
China; Jia Zhang-Ke

China’s Jia Zhang-ke, one of the world’s great filmmakers (if neglected by the mass public), takes us to an old munitions plant, Factory 420, that’s been operating since the Korean War, but is now due to be mostly razed to make way for a huge new condominium complex, to be called 24 City. That new condo Ville will displace Factory 420’s 30,000 workers for 3 million plus square feet of ritzy living space, and thousands of trendy condo residents.

Was it worth it? The movie gives us interviews with nine Factory 420 workers — five real ones and four dramatized, fictional characters played by well-known movie actors. All of them usher us back to the past, when Factory 420 was first a buzzing Marxist weapons plant, and practically a private city unto itself, and later a steadily failing, dying industry that laid off workers and slowly atrophied.

The stories told us, both by the real workers and the fictitious ones (whose tales are composites from other real interviews), are, as usually with Jia, bittersweet, deeply humane, a bit elliptical and freighted with sad irony. These people worked hard, lived together and took some small pride and happiness in their world, and now that world is about to vanish: gutted, stripped and collapsing into rubble. Part of it falls and dies right before our eyes.

Like Kieslowski, Loach and the Dardenne brothers, Jia powerfully melds documentary and drama, truth and fiction, nowhere more potently than here. In Mandarin Chinese, with English subtitles.


19. The Last Station
U.K.; Michael Hoffman

The last days of Leo Tolstoy, as seen by his loving but hot-tempered and imperious wife, his worshipful agent and the young writer-diarist watching and recording it all. In those four roles,Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren, Paul Giamatti and James McAvoy are all superb — and writer-director Hoffman sets them off beautifully. Mirren, I think, was unsurpassed this year by any other female movie role — with only the inevitable Meryl Streep (as the lovably fussy gourmet Julia Child, of Julie and Julia) a very close second.


20. 35 Shots of Rum
France; Claire Denis

Claire Denis, the marvelous French writer-director of Chocolat and Le Beau Travail, is a poet of everyday life. She’s a filmmaker who can make magic out of the simplest tasks or events — whether preparing a meal, taking medication at evening, or dancing after hours in a little restaurant. In 35 Shots of Rum (or 35 Rhums) Denis returns to her favorite subject: the consequences of racial relations between blacks and whites in France and its one-time colonies. And once again, she fills the screen with life and poetry and humanity. Denis also universalizes her subject matter in another way. She turns her story into a classic statement, like those of the great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, on parents and children, and the pain of parting.

It’s her best film, I think. In following the lives of her subjects — quiet African émigré train engineer Lionel (Alex Secas) and his bright bi-racial college student daughter Josephine (Mati Diop) — and also of their apartment building neighbors (and prospective lovers), the cheery taxi driver Gabrielle (Nicole Dogue) and the sullen egotist Noe (Gregoire Colin, a favorite actor of the director’s), Denis manages to create a little piece of cinema time and space that seems almost flawlessly real.


21. Crazy Heart
U.S. Scott Cooper

Just as Mirren and Streep headed the women, no male movie actor was better this year than the always excellent but under-awarded Jeff Bridges, in a role — a fading, self-destructive alcoholic country and western star — intended for Waylon Jennings. A fine debut by writer-director Scott Cooper.


22. Hunger
U. K.; Steve McQueen

Harshly physical and scarringly violent, this stark drama about the 1981 I.R.A. hunger strike at Maze Prison in Belfast, and the death by starvation of strike leader Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), is full of ugly brutish deeds in incongruously beautiful images. From the first moments, when the film plunges us into the famous H Block cells, where the walls of one cell are decorated with abstract shit paintings — to the systematic beatings and humiliations, the threats, the assassination of a prison guard (Stuart Graham), and the slow awful wasting away of Sands during his strike, the movie bombards us with nearly unbearable visions of an awful time, while inspiring inevitable connections to our current debates about torture and extreme prison abuse.

The ending is devastating. Even if Irish artist-painter-filmmaker McQueen (no relation to our Steve) never completed another movie, he’d have a place in Irish film history for this one.

Michael Wilmington
January 1, 2010

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.


awesome stuff. OK I would like to contribute as well by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some amazing and easy to modify. check it out at All custom premade files, many of them totally free to get. Also, check out Dow on: Wilmington on DVDs: How to Train Your Dragon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Darjeeling Limited, The Films of Nikita Mikhalkov, The Hangover, The Human Centipede and more ...

cool post. OK I would like to contribute too by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some amazing and easy to customize. check it out at All custom templates, many of them dirt cheap or free to get. Also, check out Downlo on: Wilmington on Movies: I'm Still Here, Soul Kitchen and Bran Nue Dae

awesome post. Now I would like to contribute too by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some beautiful and easy to modify. take a look at All custom premade files, many of them free to get. Also, check out DownloadSoho.c on: MW on Movies: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Paranormal Activity 2, and CIFF Wrap-Up

Carrie Mulligan on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Great Gatsby

isa50 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Gladiator; Hell's Half Acre; The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Rory on: Wilmington on Movies: Snow White and the Huntsman

Andrew Coyle on: Wilmington On Movies: Paterson

tamzap on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Magnificent Seven, Date Night, Little Women, Chicago and more …

rdecker5 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Ivan's Childhood

Ray Pride on: Wilmington on Movies: The Purge: Election Year

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon