Monthly Archives: January 2010

Curious Case of 2009 DVD Rentals

This tasteful NY Times digital graphic makes me think one thing instantly. What the hell kind of hold did Benjamin Button have on people in 2009?

Milk is the leader in most parts of the Tri-State area and in my own New York neighborhood, but that is a lot easier to understand.

Heather Struck


Those Game-Changing Films of the 00’s

Some excellent film-making happened during the Cold War, a time when paranoia pervaded movies with such atmosphere and rhythm as to make them fairly indispensable to our back-looking view of those decades. What happened in the post 9/11 years of the 21st century was something different though. Parameters were stretched with visual tactics and narrative structures were blasted and remolded by fantastic writing talents. The films in this list are the game-changers for film in the last decade. They are chosen both for their artistic merits as well as for their popular appeal, and because I will always fall for the masters of the pen.

Dancer in the Dark (2000) – Just a tremendous masterpiece.

Lord of the Rings (2001) – Screenwriters Fran Walsh (married to Peter Jackson) and Philippa Boyens, were both working in flush territory of fantasy and English poetry with this script. I can’t imagine why elves and goblins make a good picture, and military brats and blue aliens don’t, but alas, we have Avatar.

Lost in Translation (2003) – This film helped solidify a new age for introspection and malaise in cinema, Coppola’s muse. Well done, because this one stuck.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) – Charlie Kaufman is a master. Anthony Lane remarked at the time that he would have liked to see Mark Ruffalo and Jim Carrey switch parts in this film. So would I, you know, just for a laugh.

Shaun of the Dead (2004) – This film came right on the heels of the break-out British comedy series, The Office, and it had, along with Simon Pegg’s fine comedy writing, the same idea to embark. We are all, in our hazy, slightly terrified, uncertain daily lives, already zombies.

Naploeon Dynamite (2004) – I may have been persuaded by the time capsule of nostalgia that this film is, but ultimately it’s about friendship, and it pulls off that journey with humor and fluidity. It also lets Jon Heder dance like a white boy at the end.

Brokeback Mountain (2005) – Annie Proulx’s fiction is a solid base for Ang Lee’s beautiful piece. The American West is the star, but Lee respects emotional conflict enough to let the characters stir up a brilliant narrative.

This Is England (2006) – My favorite film of that year, because it so eloquently said and did what everyone was trying to do — Show that we ache for the lives of others, and that, in itself, is life.

The Host (2006) – Funny and sad, scary and…salty. Lots of ramen. A great take on what a horror film should be.

There Will Be Blood (2007) – If the Western was at all revisited in this last decade, it was to broaden the limits of the ideals implicit in the genre, Brokeback did a lot for that, while films like those by Paul Thomas Anderson, operatic and gorgeous, simply use their existing limits to expose a general uneasiness and fear about our present modern world.

Heather Struck

Oscar-Gala Part 1

Because predicting Oscar winners and losers is what we do in moments of boredom. Not that there’s anything right about that. According to my historical logic, Up In The Air wins Best Picture and Avatar takes home a BAFTA for Best Actress. Here is Part 1:

AvatarKill Bill (Not nominated, 2003)

The $300 million sci-fi back-breaker that J. Hoberman says is a “spectacular instance of political correctness,” I simply call really freakin disappointing. If this is Sci Fi, why is it not acting like it, and if it is expanding the boundaries of a genre, it didn’t work. Sigourney Weaver’s presence in the film tears at my heart and makes me wish for a scene half as awe-inspiring as one from Alien, and one that campaigns for whatever office he’s going for three times less vehemently. The campaign fails because Avatar is a film that seems to have lost its real plot somewhere in production, and is left with a project that is predictable, reused and offensive, which is exactly how this writer felt, as she wrote for The Awl. Hoberman is right to expect a back-lash from the Right as much as Bustillos is right to expect one from women. The former may deride Hollywood and 20th Century Fox for the audacity to pointedly bash the Bush years with little dropped-in lines like “shock and awe” and a delightful ideological battle between science and political power,  but he fails to expect a similar backlash from the Left. What, exactly, are we watching? And why is the American colonization story being used so fluidly without even a nod to the origins of that story? Is this a space story or not, man? I liked some of Kill Bill, but Tarantino’s eagerness to fly his film’s heroine from genre plot point to genre plot point was too jarring to form a cohesive whole. We were left with pieces of some pretty cool filmmaking, but not a film. Cameron hit the same errors with his passionate flight to make a film he could burst back on the scene with. He didn’t realize that 2009 is a far throw from 1994. You just can’t pull one over on us anymore.

Up In The AirCrash (Best Picture, 2005)

Jason Reitman’s respectably neat film may be this Oscar season’s Crash, not in the sense that it’s an overblown, overrated act of atmosphere, but because it offered a view of ourselves in 2009 that seemed to flow directly into a recognizable cultural ethos. Up In The Air is a good film with a surprising ending and actors who are up to the task of comedy and everyday drama. It finally, in the end, shows us that we are indeed wounded by an economic storm that has left more men and women out of work than have been in 3 decades. Its real effectiveness, however, is in Reitman’s ability to draw out the flaws and desires of his central character, whose own heartbreak and ultimate realization mirror our own. We were ready for this easy film because it happily reminds us how to live. And we will always take that reminder.

-Heather Struck