Capsule Reviews 2009

A couple of months before the announcement of the Academy Award nominations, Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly posted his predictions. Since Karger is usually pretty accurate, I worked off of his list.  When the announcements came, I only had a few films to see.  All and all there were nine films that I needed to watch in order to be prepared for the Academy Awards. I got to eight of them, which is pretty darn good.  Some of these had limited releases that just didn’t get to a theater near me, like Hurt Locker or Secret of Kells, which only played for two weeks in Burbank, the bare minimum to be eligible; some I didn’t think I needed to bother with (The Blind Side, Coraline) but most I just didn’t have the time or was too lazy.  Anyway, as usual, I don’t have time to give them all full write ups, so here are some short reviews.

Coraline

It is a source of great personal embarrassment to me that I hadn’t seen four of the five Animated Feature nominees. Chalk it up to my reluctance to see children’s films in theaters because there is likely to be children there. Coraline is dark bit of weirdness from Neil Gaiman’s fertile imagination. A lonely girl moves into a gloomy boarding house with her distracted parents and discovers a hidden world that seems to offer her everything she ever wanted. Of course there is a price. Like a lot of Gaiman’s work the ideas are better than the execution. Still it’s watchable.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Wes Anderson’s adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel is a critic favorite because of it’s slacker mentality. George Clooney and Meryl Streep do some great voice work here, but Anderson’s trademark irony gets in the way. It’s an interesting attempt but not fully realized.

The Princess and the Frog

This is a middle of the pack Disney ink and paint offering. As you would expect the animation is fluid and imaginative, although the color palette is a little subdued.  The voice work is excellent and Randy Newman’s songs, inspired by his beloved New Orleans are terrific. It serves up the standard Disney themes about dreams, love and family and is genuinely funny in places. It’s worth checking out.

The Secret of Kells

The conceit of this film is actually pretty clever. Design the characters in the style of medieval illuminated manuscripts and animate them. The movement is pretty limited and the story is standard fare, but there is a mood to the film that draws you in.

Julie and Julia

I wasn’t as annoyed by Amy Adams’ performance as other critics were. The girl was going through a personal crisis and probably can be excused for a little self absorption. But this is two films and Meryl Streep’s is by far the more compelling movie. They really should have made a straight biopic of Julia Child’s memoir.

The Blind Side

This is basically a mediocre sports movie with one great performance. Sandra Bullock gives an amazing and revelatory effort here. We’ve always known that she was cute and that she could be funny, but who knew she could actually act? Her nomination is well deserved. The film’s? Not so much.

A Serious Man

I avoided this one, hoping against hope that it wouldn’t be nominated. It was. I would describe this as a darkly comic adaptation of the Book of Job, only without the happy ending. As with all black comedies, you laugh but you can’t get too involved with the characters because they’re either going to do something bad or something bad is going to happen to them. I enjoyed it more than I expected.

The Hurt Locker

This is Kathryn Bigelow’s meditation on the addictive qualities of war. It follows a bomb disposal squad as it plays out the last days of it’s tour in Iraq. There’s no patriotism here, no sense of duty or even purpose, only the hope of survival, or in the case of SSG William James, played by Jeremy Renner, the attempt to feel alive by flirting with death. It is a subtle and gripping examination of life during war, definitely the best Iraq war movie this year, maybe the best film of the year, period.

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