Letter From The Editor - Issue 40 - July 2014

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show

     CHRIS BELLAMY'S
TOP TEN OF 2009

1. You, the Living (directed by Roy Andersson)

2. Inglourious Basterds (directed by Quentin Tarantino)

3. A Serious Man (directed by Joel and Ethan Coen)

4. Fantastic Mr. Fox (directed by Wes Anderson)

5. The White Ribbon (directed by Michael Haneke)

6. Lorna's Silence (directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)

7. Up (directed by Pete Docter)

8. Goodbye Solo (directed by Ramin Bahrani)

9. Where the Wild Things Are (directed by Spike Jonze)

10. The Brothers Bloom (directed by Rian Johnson)

HONORABLE MENTION

Sugar

35 Shots of Rum

In the Loop

The Informant!

The Headless Woman

Police, Adjective

The Hurt Locker

Hunger

Sita Sings the Blues

The Class

Moon

An Education

Star Trek

Summer Hours

Bright Star

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

ALSO WORTH CHECKING OUT:

Il divo; Tyson; Thirst; The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus; Still Walking; District 9; Knowing; Mary and Max; Brüno; A Perfect Getaway; The Hangover; Funny People; Adventureland; Drag Me to Hell; Just Another Love Story; Crazy Heart; Up in the Air; Black Dynamite; Anvil! The Story of Anvil; Capitalism: A Love Story; Food, Inc.; Che; Tulpan; Revanche; Sin Nombre; Coraline; Gomorrah; Ponyo; Broken Embraces; Me and Orson Welles; Humpday; State of Play; Whatever Works; Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.

The Best-of-2009 List That Time Forgot

After a long, unexpected delay, at last, the best in sci-fi, fantasy, horror and animation from 2009

I know, I know. It's so late in the year! Forgive me, but time and circumstances got in the way, and the best-of-the-year list got thrown by the wayside. But here it is, belated as it might be. I got to review a number of strong films for IGMS this year, even though - I admit - my interpretation of what qualified as "fantasy" may have been a bit liberal. Does Inglourious Basterds really count as a fantasy - other than that of the wish-fulfillment variety? Probably not, but it existed in enough of its own twisted reality that I made a judgment call. So there you go. But without further ado: the best science-fiction, fantasy, horror and animation in cinema, 2009. At this late a date, consider it a retrospective if you must. My full Top Ten of 2009 appears in the side panel.

YOU, THE LIVING

Directed by Roy Andersson

Once in a while, a filmmaker comes along who . . . well, who makes a film like You, the Living. A movie like this forces us to scoff at all those times, at one film festival or another, that we heard the typical bombast about someone's "unique artistic voice." In Andersson's case, such a quality is self-evident. This, his second masterpiece of the decade following Songs from the Second Floor, explores the hilarity of grief and despair and the beauty of impending doom in a breathtaking style all his own. In its surreal, absurdist way, it somehow - amazingly, really - cuts to the anxieties of the human race. Fearful, desperate, self-absorbed, ruthless, fatalistic but, yes, even hopeful - and nothing if not profoundly human. In Andersson's tragicomic vision of humanity, life can be the funniest thing you ever saw or the saddest thing you ever heard, even at the same time.

Click here to read my full review.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

When Quentin Tarantino takes on World War II, he re-writes the rules for how to do a World War II movie. And when Quentin Tarantino re-writes the rules for World War II movies, that just might mean he re-writes World War II as a whole. Which is exactly what he did with Inglourious Basterds, an exhilarating genre cocktail about a charmingly sadistic S.S. sleuth, a band of gleefully unapologetic Nazi hunters, a German war hero, a vengeful Jewish gal and the grandest, most explosive movie premiere of all-time. It is virtuoso filmmaking at its funniest, ballsiest, most suspenseful and most playful. The man is a savant, and Basterds features some of the best filmmaking of his - or anyone's - career. (And a landmark performance by Christoph Waltz doesn't hurt, either.)

Click here to read my full review.

FANTASTIC MR. FOX

Directed by Wes Anderson

When an idiosyncratic, intensely personal film-geek darling like Wes Anderson suddenly decides to take the plunge into animation - old-fashioned stop motion, no less - and adapt a children's book, we certainly stand up and take notice. But that doesn't mean we expect a film quite as charming and perfect as Fantastic Mr. Fox, which oddly enough may be his best work yet. Then again, his films have always had a storybook quality, so maybe it makes perfect sense after all. Anchored by a gorgeous and distinctive visual style (including the finest production design of 2009), the film makes a clever hybrid of heist movie, domestic comedy and Western, and Anderson 's palette doesn't waste a single frame. The cinematic vocabulary he displays here (and challenges himself with) is enviable. Oh, and the film is incredibly funny, too. I didn't stop smiling for a second.

Click here to read my full review.

UP

Directed by Pete Docter

All you need to know about the level of filmmaking that exists at Pixar is in a three-minute montage early in their latest classic, Up. In fact, all you need to know about a lot of things is captured in there. Tracking the entire arc of one couple's lifetime together, it is a magnificent, poetic piece of filmmaking in and of itself. (During this sequence, the film geek in us can't help but be reminded of the visual language of great silent cinema and the style of Woody Allen.) If the entire rest of the movie had stunk, Up still would have been worth seeing just for those three minutes. Thankfully, the rest of the movie doesn't stink - in fact, it's tremendous fun, both a great adventure story and a great screwball-ish buddy comedy.

Click here to read my full review.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

Directed by Spike Jonze

Whaddya know? Of the ten best films of the year, two were based on children's books and adapted by prominent indie directors. Go figure. See? "Children's" movies don't have to be dumbed-down after all! Spike Jonze certainly proves that with Where the Wild Things Are, one of the most honest films about childhood I've ever seen - primarily because it understands the complexity and inexplicability of childhood experience and refuses to simplify it to placate a certain audience. Instead, it expresses those complexities with a beautiful interpretation of a story most of us are so familiar with - not only from the book we read as kids, but from all the times when we were kids that we acted out and wanted to get away, even if we didn't know why. There are a number of incredible sequences in Where the Wild Things Are, but my two favorites seem to encapsulate the film best - first, when Max tells a sad, piercing story about vampires to his mother (only mildly conscious of its subtext) while she secretly types it up for safekeeping; and a scene near the end, when Max leaves the island and shares a distant look with Carol (James Gandolfini) that says what words can't. Now that's a kids' movie.

Click here to read my full review.

SITA SINGS THE BLUES

Directed by Nina Paley

Distributed for free online, Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues is a wonderfully realized low-budget animated feature that combines parallel narratives and multiple forms of animation with the music of noted jazz singer Annette Hanshaw. The central focus is a re-telling of a Sanskrit folk tale, and the various interpretations of it by our three narrators. Interspersed between those sequences is a story based on Paley's own life and musical numbers that play as expressionistic reactions to both stories. It's a surprisingly penetrating look into the way we read and interpret the stories we (both individually and culturally) grow up with, both historical and mythological. It's a funny and enjoyable trip - and Hanshaw's voice is the kicker.

MOON

Directed by Duncan Jones

One of the most unfortunate crimes of this year's awards season was the absolute lack of attention paid to Sam Rockwell's lead performance in Moon, one of the most captivating sci-fi films of the last few years. Without revealing the film's secret, it is essentially a sad personal story about a man coming face to face with his own irrelevance. He plays a man coming to the end of a three-year term aboard a lunar space station - three years of solitude but for the companionship of the HAL 9000-esque "GERTY." What he discovers about his mission, and the way he reacts to it, is devastating, and Rockwell nails it. Imperfect but fascinating, Moon is a film destined to be discovered on DVD and Blu-ray by those who missed it last summer.

Click here to read my full review.

STAR TREK

Directed by J.J. Abrams

If nothing else, J.J. Abrams should certainly be commended for making Star Trek cool again. Far from a movie just for Trekkies, this reboot was a flat-out electrifying action movie - a perfect guideline for would-be action directors about how to pace a movie. Perhaps its most impressive accomplishment is the fact that it took some of the most recognizable and well-established figures in pop culture and managed to make them seem fresh again. Consider Zachary Quinto as Spock - playing that role is almost a trap. Spock has such distinctive and specific characteristics, it would seem to be difficult to actually make any new incarnation an actual character rather than an imitation. Yet Quinto completely pulled it off.

Click here to read my full review.

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE

Directed by David Yates

For some, it might be easy to try and dismiss the late entries in the Harry Potter franchise because, well, all they're doing is following up on a story already established, right? Not so. What they might fail to realize in David Yates' Half-Blood Prince is just how delicate a balancing act he pulls off between the comedy of teenage emotional crises and the spectre of impending doom in the form of Lord Voldemort. What Yates does with this world is essentially establish what amounts to a terrorist state, and contrasts that reality with the urgency and absurdity of the various couplings and flirtations at Hogwarts. Which is more urgent? Well, you'd never quite be able to tell - which is what makes the film such a surprisingly honest coming-of-age tale. The two elements of the story don't just contrast - they are a reflection of one another, and of the realities of growing up.

Click here to read my full review.

THIRST

Directed by Chan-wook Park

If anyone could do anything actually interesting with the recent vampire craze, of course it would be Chan-wook Park. The Oldboy director combines the most vital and sacred elements of vampire mythology and Christian theology and makes a playful allegory of them in a story about a priest who turns into. . . well, you know. Thirst is a gleefully tongue-in-cheek exploration of morality, as our hero tries to suppress all his carnal desires, both of the flesh and of the blood. The film revels in its macabre details and Park hilariously taunts and tests his characters' will power - and despite some awkward storytelling early on, makes it all worth it with a sensational final 45 minutes. This is what a vampire movie should be.

Click here to read my full review.

THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS

Directed by Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam's latest troubled production - halted halfway through because of the untimely death of star Heath Ledger - is for that reason, and others, an almost remarkable success. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is classic Gilliam - an at-times ungainly set of fantastic visual inventions, satirical jabs and eccentric characters. Following a series of wagers of hundreds of years between the titular Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) and the devil, going by the moniker Mr. Nick (the great Tom Waits), the film is both frantically out of control and completely exhilarating. And, in moments that are pure Python, absolutely hilarious.

Click here to read my full review.

DISTRICT 9

Directed by Neill Blomkamp

The year's best success story was a sci-fi allegory requiring significant special effects but with just a $30 million budget. The finished product is the kind of film that should put a number of emptier, more expensive blockbusters to shame - if, that is, they had any shame. Serving as an interesting apartheid allegory, District 9 doesn't take the easy route through its story. In fact, quite the opposite. It would have been extremely easy (expected, even) for the filmmakers to simply make the alien characters (prawns) as one-dimensional as most alien adversaries are. (Too often, the simple fact that an alien is an alien is as far as the character development gets.) Instead, the prawns are actual characters, which makes all the difference. And, of course, it doesn't hurt that they have totally sweet weaponry.

Click here to read my full review.

KNOWING

Directed by Alex Proyas

I will never understand the scorn levied upon Alex Proyas' Knowing, a fascinating convergence of faith and reason, determinism and randomness, that was somehow written off as silly proselytizing. What those who scoffed at the film missed was an ambitious film that actually attempted to reconcile forces of nature that would seem to be mutually exclusive. Knowing could have easily suffered from a gimmicky plot set-up - and it is gimmicky - but Proyas imbues it with such a breadth of detail, visual bravura and strong pacing that it overcomes that flaw. We see apocalyptic thrillers at the movies all the time - but few have the sense of purpose, curiosity and earnest, intelligent though that Knowing does.

Click here to read my full review.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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