O.k., I'm giving up (Previously entitled "The Dumping Ground")

I recently promised that all the missing reviews of films and books I consumed in 2009 and hadn't reviewed yet would be coming up. Well, they're not - it's about time the old year came to a close and I'm too lazy. (The best films of the noughties list is still coming, but I'll have to watch Avatar and Where the Wild Things Are first because there is a nontrivial chance at least one of them'll make it onto the list. The posts will be at the new movie blog, where my reviewing discipline so far has been a-hurray despite my being on a bit of a moviewatching bender these weeks, but you'll be properly alerted here.) Short movie reviews I'd already written are below.

The best new film I saw in 2009 - a weak year for films - was Revolutionary Road, which I sort of reviewed here. However, that already premiered in the US in 2008; the best new-new film of 2009 for me was Inglourious Basterds (8/10). You may have heard about it, I'll just add that (a) it has nothing to do with Germany or the Nazis per se and (b) it is not too long; in fact, its lack of tempo is one of its qualities (cf. Jackie Brown).

The best old film I saw for the first time in 2009 was Hiroshima mon amour (Wikipedia). I'm giving it 9/10, but be warned that it also gets a 4 on the Artsy-Fartsy-Meter. Honourable mention: Dressed to Kill, which gets a short review below.

I don't think I read a newly published novel in 2009. The prize for the best older novel I read in 2009 is shared by Ian McEwan's Saturday and The Hours by Michael Cunningham (9/10 each). I'll outsource information on Saturday, the greatness of which I find hard to describe, to Wikipedia again; as for The Hours, here comes a quote I typed down earlier. If you like it, you'll like the book:
It seems suddenly easy to bake a cake, to raise a child. She loves her son purely, as mothers do - she doesn not resent him, does not wish to leave. She loves her husband, and is glad to be married. It seems possible (it doesn not seem impossible) that she's slipped across an invisible line, the line that has always separated her from what she would prefer to feel, who she would prefer to be. It does not seem impossible that she has undergone a subtle but porfound transformation, here in this kitchen, at this most ordinary of moments: She has caught up with herself. She has worked so long, so hard, in such good faith, and now she's gotten the knack of living happily, as herself, the way a child learns at a particular moment to balance on a two-wheel bicycle. It seems she will be fine. She will not lose hope. She will not mourn her lost possibilities, her unexplored talents (what if she has no talents, after all?). She wil remein devoted to her son, her husband, her home and duties, all her gifts. She will want this second child.
That's right: feelgood book of the year.

More luck next year. Oh, and posts in which I actually utter something approaching original thought are coming up. I think.

***Short Movie Reviews***

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938): When Rocky Sullivan returns to his Irish-American working class neighbourhood after serving time, his first stop is his old friend Jerry Connolly's. Jerry, who used to be Rocky's partner in crime, is now the neighbourhood's priest, but Rocky does not intend to go straight. - Tightly scripted by no less than five authors and expertly directed by Michael "I make three pictures a year" Curtiz, this is a well-executed gangster picture that looks way more modern than the 1932 Scarface. (7/10)

Let's call it the Werther problem: A piece of fiction can't work if it depends on you caring about the main character and that character is unlikable. In this Hitchcock thriller - it's the one with the milk glass - we're supposed to be afraid for Joan Fontaine's Lina. But most of the time I just wanted to slap her in the face and shout: "Oi! Wake up!" In fact, I still feel like it. (5/10)

It's a Wonderful Life (1946): Holy Moly! If they would have called the evil banker Rosenzweig instead of Potter, this film might be banned in Germany along with Mein Kampf. Somebody else write a Ph.D. thesis about how this anti-capitalist propaganda piece became one of America's favourite films. I'll just note that it's a sentimental, visually uninteresting, cliché-ridden movie that, nonetheless, is not wholly unentertaining (6/10). Idea for a screenplay: Somebody gets shown what would have happened had he never been born and the results are so-so.

The Paradine Case (1947): Lawyer falls for attractive eastern European defendant in homicide case, and his wife's not delighted about it. The marital disagreement portion of the plot is a bit flat and the music's poor, but it has the proper shadowplay one expects from a b/w picture and lots of court scenes at the end. (7/10)

The Asphalt Jungle (1950): I liked this movie better than most films noir, but why? Are the streets darker? The women blonder? The men more desperate? Seriously, I can't tell you, but it's just that bit above most contenders. (8/10)

The Thing from Another World (1951): Up north, a team of American hotshots finds man in funny suit vegetable vampire encased in ice. Ice melts, conflict ensues. This 1950s B-movie, which, contrary to popular belief, may have nothing to do with fear of the commies at all, was exactly what I thought it would be. In fact, I don't think any film ever lived up to my expectations so perfectly. (unrated)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951): In contrast, this film, in which a spaceman lands on earth and tells its inhabitants he'll blow it apart if they don't start to live in peace is trashy in a boring way. Considered a classic in the USA, which must be one of the great mysteries of film appreciation. (3.5/10)

Le Cercle Rouge (The Red Circle) (1970): Shot in the subdued colours that I associate with crime movies of the same era set in New York, this French gangster film portrays a society of men in which there is little talk, and no hope. The right thing to watch for people who assume all heist movies are like Ocean's Eleven. (6.5/10)

Dressed to Kill (1980): This serial killer thriller film makes quite explicit references to Psycho, but with its subdued atmosphere, excellent cinematography and masterful use of music it is overall more evocative of a better Hitchcok movie; Vertigo. Trying to emulate a masterpiece can go badly wrong or, as in this case, wonderfully right. Probably one of my ten favourite films from the eighties. (8.5/10)

Escape from New York (1981): Early 1980s trash in all its glory. Each copy of the film should come with a big fat reefer so one can actually enjoy this. (4/10)

Outland (1981): High Noon in space. Sports a nice, probably Alien-inspired dark-/shabbyness, but towards the end the implausibilities start piling up. If you like Sean Connery. (6/10)

Boyz n the Hood (1991): This black ghetto film's loosely-structured narrative moves along nicely, but it's visually unimpressive and the synthesizer soundtrack warrants a point deduction. May make for interesting discussion material in a sociology course. (6/10)

The Nightmare before Christmas (1993): It's pretty simple, I think. However much you like this film visually, that's how much you're going to like it. Fun fact: Despite being also known as Tim Burton's The Nightmare before Christmas, this was not actually directed by Tim Burton. (7/10)

Factotum (2005): One might praise this adaption of Bukowski's book of the same name for not striving to look as grubby as Barfly, or alternatively one might wonder if Chinaski's beard isn't too neatly trimmed and the rooms he rents don't look too nice for an alcoholic with no money. But either way, it's not really important. Much in the manner of Bukowski's books, this moves along nicely without any direction, one anecdote after the other. (7/10)

Stranger Than Fiction (2006): This film, one guesses, was pitched as a crossover between The Truman Show and Being John Malkovich: IRS auditor Harold leads the aspergery, dull life one imagines an IRS type to lead until two things happen, more or less simultaneously: He falls in love with the conscientous tax objector Anna, and he hears a voice that narrates his life - it turns out Harold is a character in the new novel being written by renowned author Karen Eiffel, who has trouble coming up with a good way of killing Harold off. - The script could have done with a rewrite, including a bit of a demainstreaming. Three examples: 1. Harold's apartment is wrecked, he complains, and it turns out that, oops, the wreckers have the wrong address. 2. Why Harold falls for Maggie Gyllenhaal's Bambi-eyed Anna is no mystery, that she falls for him is harder to believe than the premise of the film. 3. This problem could have been averted if the filmmakers would have cared to give us an IRS auditor that is more than just a cut-out. - Yet the premise is a good one and the film features cinematography that is pleasing without drawing attention to itself, expert use of pop music, a deadpan performance by Dustin Hoffman as a professor of literature and one of the best two-liners I've heard in a long while. (6.5/10)

Frost/Nixon (2008): About the interviews in which Frost made Nixon say that "when the President does it, that means it's not illegal". The series of four dialogues is quite explicitly presented as a combat between the two men (and their respective teams) - and it's clear where our sympathies lie. Frost/Nixon has the advantage over war or sports films that it can show the likable ones lose each and every battle/match before the last one and yet win the war/championship. (7.5/10)

Das weiße Band (The White Ribbon) (2009): Modeled on the Twin Peaks TV series, this critics' fave about the daily violence in 1914 smalltown Germany presents the stereotypes about the babbits' badness ad nauseam, complete with a boy's hands getting tied to the bedposts because he maturbated, etc., etc. Also presents a strong case against the view that if you shoot a film in colour and then print it black and white, it's going to look good anyway, so you don't have to pay any attention to the cinematography. However, given the quick succession of scenes and the above-average acting, the film is nonboring most of the time. What do we make of this? 4/10, I guess.

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