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Top 10 From Two Critics

Why 2009 was a cinematic success

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With the final hours of the decade approaching, Boise Weekly's dueling screen critics--two mature men with diametrically opposed ideas of on-screen entertainment--sat down to discuss their favorite films that showed in the Treasure Valley in 2009. Here, listed alphabetically because we don't believe in hierarchies, are the 10 films Estvold and Wierenga felt managed to enliven their year while also enlightening their souls.





Gran Torino

Despite approaching his 80th birthday, ageless actor/director/producer Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven) perennially turns out quality films. This year's gem is the subtle story of a man whose mileage, like that of the classic Ford stowed in his garage, has been piled on. But with some unsolicited assistance from young neighbors, this hateful old codger and his machine are polished to a high shine. As per his norm, Eastwood provides emotional, thought-provoking fare.

Moon

Bowie's boy done good. While the "Space Oddity" singer's oldest progeny, Duncan Jones, seems to shares his father's lunar fixation, his directorial debut forgoes space-glam stylings to tell a stellar story of isolation and alienation. With stunning visual aplomb and a hypnotic, blistering performance by Sam Rockwell as a lonely dark-side ore digger, Moon makes a return to the essence of science fiction--the examination of ordinary people in out-of-this-world situations.

A Serious Man

The quality of a Coen Brothers film can only be measured according to their full filmography. A Serious Man, inspired by the siblings' Minneapolis upbringing, is a darkly humorous investigation of one man's spiritual crisis, and it ranks with their best. With a stellar--and mostly unknown--cast and the brothers' superlative gang of regular contributors, A Serious Man will be an endless source of examination for thoughtful film lovers.

Sita Sings the Blues

Too often a literary text adapted for the screen diverges from its source. In the case of the ancient Sanskrit epic, The Ramayana, more than 300 versions have emerged through regional bias, cultural interpretation and oral re-imagining. Brooklyn-based animator Nina Paley adds her slant with a riotous retelling focused on the marginalized and maligned character of Sita, whose woes are expressed through the songs of chanteuse Annette Hanshaw. Using multiple animation styles and a hilariously disparate trio of narrators, Sita is a gorgeous visual treat.

Star Trek

Elaborating upon the younger lives of iconic characters Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, director J.J. Abrams (creator of ABC's Lost and Alias) re-imagines the travels of the famed starship Enterprise and its crew. Some characters perfectly mimic their 1960s TV counterparts and some are reinvented, but all are splendid to watch. Somehow pacifying both Trekkers and the unenlightened, this film--and its big-budget special effects--is an intelligent yet high-octane sci-fi roller coaster not to be missed.

Summer Hours

This museum-commissioned drawing-room drama marries a mature story of familial discord with a sumptuous setting—the art-filled manor of a lifelong collector. Featuring Juliette Binoche and Jeremie Renier, the film is a picturesque perusal of the things that make up family—remembrances, fellowship and, sometimes, the history of a home.

If Joaquin Phoenix's alleged retirement lasts, this is a great film to go out on. Phoenix plays a shy depressive whose decision of whom to court--the sophisticated party chick or the parent-approved Jewish girl--holds great significance. An impeccably crafted film with spot-on performances and some of the cleverest cinematography this side of the Atlantic, Phoenix's swan song has much to love.

Up

Excitement and humor abound in this tale of a grouchy old-timer who, in order to fulfill a childhood dream, flies to a South American adventure locale by suspending his house under hundreds of helium balloons. There's extra emotion packed into the first 10 minutes, but as always, if you're looking for fare the entire family will enjoy, go Pixar (WALL-E, Toy Story); the animation studio continues to create lovable favorites year after year.

Watchmen

This is a different kind of superhero film based on a different kind of graphic novel--one in which the line between good and evil is thoroughly blurred. Cast, shot and acted beautifully, director Zack Snyder (300) creates the antithesis of the Saturday matinee: an exceedingly dark, profane, violent, R-rated film more than 160 minutes long. Though perhaps not a film for the timid, Watchmen is arguably the most faithful live-action adaptation of a comic book to date.

Where The Wild Things Are

Director Spike Jonze is a master of the mind trip, and this PG-rated fable is no exception. While the subtle subtext and languorous pacing might put the kiddies to sleep, Jonze--along with co-writer Dave Eggers and a spot-on vocal cast including James Gandolfini and Forest Whitaker--have created a gentle, heartfelt re-imagining of a children's classic.


(Ed. note: one of the Top 10, Summer Hours, was missing from the print version of this article.)

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