Moments Out of Time 2009

Images, lines, gestures, moods from the year’s films

By Richard T. Jameson & Kathleen Murphy

The blood beginning to spread on Reb Grosskover (Fyvush Finkel) just when we thought there wouldn’t be anyA Serious Man

The Hurt Locker: rust and scale popping off a derelict car when an IED explodes nearby…

• Middle Atlantic States summer heat and humidity visible in the air, the color, the softness—Taking Woodstock

• At the beginning of Summer Hours, the country house pulsing in and out of shadow, coming to light in memory; Olivier Assayas’s farewell to one small citadel of art, civilization, community…

Public Enemies: the thrill of seeing a piece of Manhattan Melodrama big as a movie-palace wall, with the luster of the brand-new. Worth dying for…

• Ghost on the smoke: the Giant Face, Inglourious Basterds

‘Inglourious Basterds’

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans: iguana sharing screenspace with Nicolas Cage; both rampant…

• In 35 Shots of Rum,” people know things about each other we don’t know. Father (Alex Descas) and daughter (Mati Diop) exchanging glances as he dances with Gabrielle (Nicole Dogué)…

• Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) mishearing the stewardess twice, when she inquires, “Do you want the can, sir?” Intimations of mortality, Up in the Air

Liverpool time: riding a log truck up a mountain, long enough for us to shiver in the freezing air, share the stoic discomfort of a nowhere man (Juan Fernández) heading for home…

• Grave red-haired Campion girlchild (Edie Martin as “Toots”) carrying big black-and-white cat, Bright Star

• Looking at a child and seeing meat—Garret Dillahunt’s hot-eyed hunger in The Road

• A child-wife gazes at the unlovely, massive flesh of her sleeping bridegroom, then flees to a bedroom “too little for [you] to come in.” Staying alive in Bluebeard‘s gender wars…

• Dumping a baby on the floor as casually as any other thing that a monstrous mother (Mo’Nique) devours and discards—Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire

The White Ribbon: Midwife borrows a borrowed bicycle and pedals out of the movie….

A Serious Man: the roof antenna that needs turned by hand, what the world looks like from up there, and the lady sunbather smoking…

• Summer (Zooey Deschanel) stepping up to sing “Sugar Town” in the karaoke bar, taking Tom’s and our breath away—(500) Days of Summer

• Breaking news from In the Loop: “To walk the road of peace it is sometimes necessary to climb the mountain of conflict.” (Did Obama see this movie?)…

• The missus (Meryl Streep) cracks wise in Fantastic Mr. Fox: “Excuse me, am I being flirted with by a psychotic rat?” That would be Willem Dafoe….

• In Taking Woodstock, Sonia Teichberg (Imelda Staunton) trying to shame the bank officer into granting an extension on the mortgage: “I walked here all the way from Minsk!”…

Bad Lieutenant: Grandson (Denzel Whitaker) steps through window to answer the cops’ questions. “Sorry, Grandma.”…

• The closing door to the prison restroom in Watchmen, and what we know will happen behind it…

The Men Who Stare at Goats: Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) demonstrating the dread sparkly-eyes technique…

• The quintessence of academia, A Serious Man: Arlen (Avi Hoptman) slanted in the office doorway, confiding in Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) that the tenure committee has received letters … not that anyone takes them seriously…

• “Hello, Terence Wilson, president of our corn business.” Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) wearing a wire, The Informant!…

• Flashlight bonding: Jonah Hill and Ben Stiller, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

• At the beginning of Where the Wild Things Are, the tunnel in the snow (real-life magic beats fairy tale)…

35 Shots of Rum: Noé (Grégoire Colin) dances with Joséphine (Mati Diop) in the bar where they’ve sheltered from the rain, and finally kisses her. They sit down to think about it….

• Elevated highway curving into gray nowhere, The Road

A Serious Man: the clumps of mown grass on Mr. Brant’s lawn (and part of Larry’s)…

• In Up, dust and lint puffing up out of a floor vent at the onset of the storm…

• A lullaby in a minor key tickles the nerves as a disembodied mechanical hand scissors open a cloth doll to pull out her innards. Something like horror at the beginning of Coraline

• Blackest of branches against whitest of snow—The White Ribbon

Krabat: Leading his apprentice to the edge of an abyss, a black-robed sorcerer steps off, folding into the form of a soaring raven….

The Men Who Stare at Goats: Uniformed and be-medaled, sporting a very long pigtail, Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) channels a DI straight out of Full Metal Jacket, then segues seamlessly into hippie mode: “Let’s dance!”…

• The sun-bronzed haze of Mrs. Samsky (Amy Landecker), A Serious Man: “Do you take advantage of the new freedoms?”…

• In Taking Woodstock, the Earthlight Players hovering on the periphery like crazed moths, waiting the cue to epiphany and their surefire artistic statement: bursting free of their clothes…

• Lynn Shelton, gracious, witty, sexy hostess for a key sequence in her own breakout movie Humpday

• In (500) Days of Summer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s show-stopping, post-sex musical extravaganza featuring a Hall and Oates tune, a marching band, and the bluebird of happiness…

• Moses as schlub, The Invention of Lying: Ricky Gervais’s Sermon on the Stoop, improvising commandments off the backs of two pizza boxes…

Taking Woodstock: Setting a plate of gray-brown nutriment in front of her son Elliot (Demetri Martin), Mrs. Teichberg commands: “Eat.” As Imelda Staunton weights it, that one word of dialogue becomes an accusatory dirge….

• The unsettling sound of acorns bombarding the cabin roof in the Eden of Antichrist

• Sudden, casual death on a roof in Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant; below, an orange-tinged fog creeps into the dark street….

35 Shots of Rum: kids with Japanese lanterns among the dune grass at sunset…

• Three figures in a distant field, Bright Star: Keats (Ben Whishaw) infuriated over the valentine Fanny (Abbie Cornish) has received from Mr. Brown (Paul Schneider)…

• Two dust devils following the “Invictus” memory-vision of Mandela’s imprisonment—Invictus

• A dead tree wipes a gray landscape as it falls. The man and boy on The Road don’t even register the thwump when it hits the ground….

The Messenger: driving away from a father (Steve Buscemi) doubled over by grief in front of his shattered home…
• Brad Dourif’s weary equanimity, Bad Lieutenant

• “I have come back,” ad infinitum—Hank Azaria, as the darkside Pharaoh, channeling Boris Karloff, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

• Alan Rickman, as Snape in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, inserting about a seven-second pause into “You just … know?”…

• In Limits of Control, Tilda Swinton’s platinum-blonde-wigged femme fatale reminding us that The Lady from Shanghai made no sense either…

The Exploding Girl: On her way to a party, Ivy (Zoe Kazan) dials the hostess and says, “I’m downstairs … I think.”…

Crazy Heart: Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character can’t help blushing: “My capillaries are close to the skin.”…

Taking Woodstock: the glow of the side door in evening, as community members exit the church after the Chamber of Commerce meeting…

• Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle X 2: In Up in the Air, a modern-day Flying Dutchman contemplates a screen-spanning airport monitor listing dozens of destinations, arrival and departure times; in A Serious Man, Larry Gopnik chalks his mathematical proof that nothing is for sure over every inch of a wall-sized blackboard….

• How does a polar bear know its nose is black?—The Informant!

• Pursuing an eagle, frantically trying to trade a puppy for the iPhone the big bird’s just made off with—Manhattan exec Sandra Bullock in The Proposal

Paranormal Activity: In the dead of night, a white sheet rises and shapes itself to the invisible form slithering into bed next to the woman who’s the object of its desire….

Avatar: Kneeling, arms and tails in communal contact for optimum prayer, the glowing Na’vi look from above like a living root system, or an organic motherboard….

• Husband and wife (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg), naked, fucking at the foot of a great tree, the flesh of other lovers entwined in its roots—Antichrist

• Choreographed gunplay as performance art; the shootout all around the Guggenheim Museum’s spiraled spaces, in The International

• The whole bar scene in Inglourious Basterds set up in terms of complex conversational dynamics, winding from silver-screen trivia into linguistic unmaskings and bloody massacre; even the coda taking the form of a touching, if unconvincing, speech…

Public Enemies: after the Bohemia Lodge raid, the woodland chase, both immediate and spectral in Dante Spinotti’s HD cinematography…

A Serious Man: the traffic accident that doesn’t happen. But does….

• The terrible uncertainty of what lies on the road behind her, as The Headless Woman drives on after having hit something…

• Old people disappearing up flights of stone steps in Summer Hours and Still Walking

Pirate Radio: hipshot in a doorway, Bill Nighy as elegant stem: “I bestir myself from my traditional languour.”…

• “I love it! I just love it!” The glee of the Bad Lieutenant (Nicolas Cage) upon making a sly arrest…

• The “surry” with the fringe on top: the witty, niggling offness of Bruce Willis’s smooth blond FBI agent in Surrogates

• In Cirque du Freak, Ken Watanabe as the lofty, weirdly aslant Mr. Tall, whose every sibilant word slides around his mouth like molasses…

• One of the burlap-and-zippered heroes of 9 settles down on a huge stone hand (human) and, by the light of the moon, gets high on the pleasurable effect a magnet has upon his metal parts….

• The tender curve of dark eyelashes on an Arab boy’s cheek, cruel contrast to the perverse and bloody use that’s been made of his flesh in The Hurt Locker

• In A Serious Man, an afterthought. Larry: “What happened to the goy?” Rabbi Nachtner (George Wyner): “Who cares?”…

Taking Woodstock: the uninsistent delight of the buddyship that evolves between Elliot’s dad (Henry Goodman) and Vilma (Liev Schreiber), the beefy ex-Marine in blond wig and sundress…

• Toots walking through cherry orchard in Bright Star: every time the little redheaded girl turns to look, the playful lovers behind her freeze in place. Campion’s homage to “Ode on a Grecian Urn”…

• A little girl takes a fatal fall, real-life casualty of fairy tale—Bluebeard

• Kiddie porn in Orphan: All dolled up in lipstick and strapless gown, his little girl (Isabelle Fuhrman) puts serious moves on dad (Peter Sarsgaard)….

• Monster menus X 2: In Where the Wild Things Are, little Max goes down a big, hairy girl’s gullet as slick as can be, finding refuge in something like a womb … while Coraline, menaced by a Mommy Dearest literally hungry for love, naïvely insists that “Mothers don’t eat daughters!”…

• Thick gray fur of a dead cat stuffed into a green garbage bag, 35 Shots of Rum

• Ticking of hot metal in rusted-out car as James (Jeremy Renner) feverishly searches for the bomb, in The Hurt Locker

• The breeze that billows muslin curtains over Fanny as she lies down on her bed; benison and omen in Bright Star

• David Bowie growling “Putting Out the Fire with Gasoline” as scarlet-gowned Shoshanna applies warpaint, channeling the Marlene Dietrich of von Sternberg’s Dishonored, in Inglourious Basterds

Up in the Air: As silky and elusive as quicksilver, Alex (Vera Farmiga) breaks the news to the frequent flyer (George Clooney) she’s grounded: “You’re an escape, a break, a parenthesis.”…

• In a room suffused with late-afternoon, blue-gray light, a beautiful old woman (Edith Scob) muses on the “secrets, stories, objects” that will become “residue” when she’s gone—the past slipping away in Summer Hours

• What spaces and places look like after people leave them: a man hikes up a snow-covered hill, then simply disappears from sight–and the movie that is Liverpool

• In Bright Star, the cat trying to get at one of the captive butterflies on the window while Fanny weeps over the letter…

Taking Woodstock: As Elliot, his father and Vilma stand watching nude bathers in the pond, a faint shudder from beyond the hill and maybe a mile up the road signals that the first performance has begun….

• The tornado beyond Fagle, A Serious Man


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