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The Good Old Summertime

I had a great summer this year, ranging from an excellent class (that I didn’t think I would enjoy) to an excellent weekend at the Texas Shakespeare Festival (which I was pretty sure I would enjoy). And, as always, in the midst of traveling the country to visit friends and family and taking care of business here at home, I had some amazing movie-watching experiences. Unfortunately, summer being what it is, there was a bit of a frustrating slow-down on Moviegoings activity. This is particularly annoying because I ought to have more time to post during the summer, not less (and, in fact, I do . . . but nevermind). In any case, I had an extraordinarily difficult time narrowing my viewing experiences of the last few months down to a top ten . . . but here they are, in no particular order:

Wise Blood

The Battle of Algiers

The Conversation

Kicking and Screaming

Marjoe

Bonnie and Clyde

Boogie Nights

The Hurt Locker

The Virgin Spring

Waltz with Bashir

I’ve wanted to see John Huston’s adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood ever since I first heard that it existed some years ago, so as soon as I learned that it was getting the Criterion treatment, I was ready. The movie did not disappoint: A rich adaptation that brings the source to life in a unique way that I’m sure I will revisit again and again. And this wasn’t the only spiritually-challenging film I encountered. I was floored by the 1972 documentary Marjoe, in which a fraudulent evangelist invited a film crew to follow him around the country for one last tour to expose the shallow trickery employed by him and others like him. It was an eye-opening experience, even for someone (like me) who has always been a bit suspicious of such methods. I was also deeply moved by Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, a raw, shocking examination of human responses to evil and suffering.

I also experienced three amazing war films. There was the startlingly relevant 1966 French film The Battle of Algiers, detailing that conflict with an astounding attention to both detail and the bigger picture. In 2003, the Pentagon organised screenings of the film subtitled “How to win the battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas.” It is an apt description that doesn’t seem to have been taken to heart. Speaking of the War in Iraq (and political commentary thereon), I was totally blown away by The Hurt Locker, the best American movie of the year so far. The film tells the story of a few months in the lives of an elite American bomb squad in Iraq, and is probably the first genuinely successful movie about the conflict precisely because it avoids heavy-handed political undertones and simply tells an amazing story. Finally, I at last had the chance to experience Waltz with Bashir, an animated movie which is unlike any film I have ever seen (animated or otherwise). The movie really brings home both the short-term and long-lasting horrors of war, evoking timeless anti-war classics like All Quiet on the Western Front (novel and film).

The somber mood continued with The Conversation, in which the best surveillance expert in the business experiences a crisis of conscience over one of the jobs he has taken on. This Coppola-directed Best-Picture nominee has been overshadowed by his masterful Godfather, Part II, but it deserves to be seen and discussed. Also nominated for Best Picture, but still deserving attention, is 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde. This film definitely lives up to its reputation as a seminal American film, and it’s a lot of fun as well.

Finally, although nothing I chose for the top ten could be called genuinely light-hearted, both Boogie Nights and Kicking and Screaming walked a fine line between comedy and tragedy. The former is Paul Thomas Anderson’s towering epic (and it really does belong in that genre) about the adult film industry during the 1970s and ’80s. The latter is an ennui-filled movie about a group of brilliant-but-directionless recent college graduates who can’t seem to escape the orbit of their alma mater. It might have struck a bit close to home. Maybe.

Honorable Mentions:

Up

Pixar strikes again with a funny and moving story about dreams deferred.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Hard to believe I had never seen this before, but I loved it. Great music, great concept, great production values. I could go on and on . . .

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

Documentary filmmaker Kurt Kuenne sets out to make a movie about his best friend Andrew after he is murdered by his girlfriend (who also happens to be pregnant with their child). The result is an incredible story that needs to be seen and heard.

District 9

The surprise blockbuster of the summer is undoubtedly this action-packed sci-fi allegory about apartheid in South Africa. It blew away all of the pricey, shiny American contenders.

Shadows and Fog

In this hilarious Woody Allen film, his character is pulled out of bed by the neighbors to wander the streets in search of a serial strangler who may or may not be out there. Mob insanity and existential musings ensue.

One, Two, Three

Dr. Strangelove remains the definitive Cold War comedy about nuclear war, but One, Two, Three starring James Cagney has the market cornered when it comes to Iron Curtain farce. Cagney plays a fast-talking executive of the Coca-Cola company branch in Berlin, assigned to chaperone his American boss’s daughter (and frustrate her determined attempts to marry a dashing young Communist).

Moon

This small sci-fi drama was another pleasant summer-release surprise. Sam Bell is nearing the end of a 3-year solo shift mining precious resources on the moon. He can hardly wait to get home to his wife and daughter, but an unfortunate accident and a startling discovery threaten his mental stability and his chances of returning home.

The Verdict

Paul Newman is a broken-down old lawyer who sold his soul a very long time ago . . . but he finds an unexpected chance for personal redemption when a fat medical malpractice suit falls in his lap.

Ponyo

Hayao Miyazaki’s latest animated masterpiece has arrived in America, and does not disappoint. The story is slight and definitely aimed at a much younger audience than some of his previous works, but viewers will still be amazed by the artistry of his visuals.

Knowing

This apocalyptic Nicolas Cage thriller is much better than it looks. At least, I thought so. The concept is intriguing, though outrageously far-fetched. However, anyone willing to simply “go with it” will likely be entertained.

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~ by Jared on August 25, 2009.

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