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Best of 2009

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…

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A Sort of 10-Best-Films-of-2009 List from My Niche

I’m not an adventurous filmgoer.

Meaning I’m very seldom in the house for a first-run Hollywood picture.

Rio Bravo - revived
Rio Bravo - revived

There’s generally a lag of a few years – during which a film acquires something of a reputation, or maybe I caught part on it on television – that I’ll check it out more fully.

And then – if it really makes an impression – look for a theatrical revival.

Such was the case – and to the credit of the Egyptian Theater here in the Seattle area – that I had the opportunity to catch up to Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction at weekend midnight screenings.

The following pages of this cover file introduce the other four file uploads, plus other work samples through which I hope to persuade you to sponsor my plan for a stereoscopic three-dimensional news beat.

Then there are the films and filmmakers that I’ve admired maybe even back as far as when I was a little kid watching them on the late show.

And have always wanted to see in a theater at least once before I die.

So the best revivals of 2009 that I’ve seen, is the theme of my ten-best-films list.

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Good Things in Big Packages: DVD Box Sets of 2009

I’m winding down my year in DVD coverage with this highly subjective survey of the box sets of 2009 that brought new titles to DVD (no collections of previously released titles in new packages here). To be clear, I didn’t see every set that came along, or even every film in those that I did see, but I made an effort to see as many interesting things as I could over the course of my duties as the DVD reviewer for MSN Entertainment. (Conspicuously absent is Criterion’s lavish AK 100, simply because I did not receive a review copy and couldn’t afford to plunk down the purchase price for a set with only four DVD debuts.) Here are the most interesting sets I had the pleasure to see in the course of my DVD reviewing in 2009, in brief sketches. I have written at more length about some of these releases and offer links to those reviews where possible.

10. The Secret Policeman’s Balls (Shout! Factory)

Alan Bennett, Peter Cook. John Cleese and Graham Chapman
Alan Bennett, Peter Cook. John Cleese and Graham Chapman

When Amnesty International needed to raise money and their profile, John Cleese called up his buddies (which included the members of Monty Python, Beyond the Fringe and The Goodies) to help put on fundraiser. And then another. And the rest is history. This three-disc set collects the films made of five of these benefits, beginning with the 1976 Pleasure At Her Majesty’s, part documentary (with extensive footage of rehearsals) and part performance film. Adding to the fun is role swapping: Peter Cook in a Python sketch, Terry Jones joining Beyond the Fringe, everyone belting out “The Lumberjack Song.” Pete Townsend provides acoustic musical interludes in the 1979 The Secret Policeman’s Ball, where Rowan Atkinson (among others) joins the fun. Musical guests became more prominent in The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball (1981), including Sting, Bob Geldoff, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, and downright dominate The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball (1987), but the skit comedy focus returns in the final benefit film. The Secret Policeman’s Biggest Ball (1989) opens with Michael Palin and John Cleese doing “Pet Shop” (with a twist punchline) and features Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (in their first live appearance together in years), Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, and Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. The set also features a wealth of unseen skits and musical performances and the feature-length 2004 documentary Remember The Secret Policeman’s Ball? among the supplements.

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Ten DVD Releases That Made 2009 Great

I’ve done my “Best of 2009 on DVD and Blu-ray” list for MSN, which features the usual mix of films old and new and packages creative, lavish and otherwise really, really cool. Here I’d like to do something a little different. This isn’t about the greatest transfers, the most splendiferous supplements, the coolest commentaries, the biggest box sets or the latest, most lavish edition of some perennial collectible (be it The Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind or The Seventh Seal, all of which were rereleased on DVD in impressive new editions in conjunction with their stunning Blu-ray debuts). This is all about the movies themselves, those long awaited releases of classics, landmarks, auteur oddities and cult favorites. And yes, quality is an issue, but not the issue.

I’ll be tackling box sets, cult oddities and silent releases in separate features but I begin with ten films that made their DVD debut this year. Not necessarily the most important or the greatest, but those unheralded releases that make my job such a joy. In no particular order, I count them down starting with my own modest contribution to the year in DVD…

The Exiles
The Exiles

10. The Exiles (Milestone/Oscilloscope) – In the interests of full disclosure, I was involved in the DVD release of this amazing American indie, almost forgotten until Thom Anderson featured it in his documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself. I play moderator on the commentary track with author/filmmaker Sherman Alexie and I interview Alexie for a separate audio-only interview on the second disc of the collection. That said, this is arguably the great archival release of the year. Kent Mackenzie’s independently produced 1961 drama (when independent cinema was the realm of mavericks and dreamers working in the margins, rather than studio subsidiaries and major actors looking for a challenge) chronicled the lives of urban American Indians (all of them non-actors drawing from their own lives) on the Bunker Hill area of Los Angeles over one long, alcohol-lubricated night.

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