1. Metropolitan (Whit Stillman, 1990): Oh my god, it’s like WASP Woody Allen. The style is very Woody — long talky scenes with people being self-aware but totally not self-reflective — and there are some long shots of people walking down the street straight out of Annie Hall. But the content is something else entirely. It’s a bunch of college kids during debutante ball season, running around trying to be witty and knowing but not really knowing things. “Oh, I don’t read novels,” our hero says after offering an opinion about the heroine of Mansfield Park, “I prefer good literary criticism.” Another character is disappointed in the false advertising in the title of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. It’s worth pointing out for the long analysis of this I’ll probably write someday that the action — mostly set in a claustrophobic New York City — ends in the Hamptons, near the beach, with a freeze frame, just like The 400 Blows. I actually watched this again a week later, I liked it so much. (And Alex obviously had to see it.)
  2. The Hurt Locker (Katherine Bigelow, 2009): I was a bit dizzy when I walked out of this one; I had to hold onto the escalator rail with both hands on the way out. Just really really well-done. I think this may have actually been the first fiction film about this Iraq war that I’ve actually bothered to see (despite having written a paper about filmic representations of the first Iraq war). The aforementioned first Iraq war movies all had a tendency to make the Iraqis themselves pretty much invisible — this distant video-game enemy — presumably because everyone was still operating under the assumption that history was over and wars would all just be fought remotely and no one important would get hurt. That is, um, not how The Hurt Locker rolls and it illustrates how different the two wars are in the popular imagination. It seems like the humanity of the Iraqis is all-too-present in The Hurt Locker, which is part of why the bomb squad we spend the movie has to spend so much time letting out aggression and stuff. Mostly you just walk away from it glad you’re on solid ground and not in the desert though. Intense.
  3. District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009): It was so good, and so exciting, and so new, I wish people didn’t harp so hard on the political angle, since as far as I could tell, Blomkamp didn’t really make a political allegory (if he did — I don’t really want to think about what his point would have been). As a science fiction movie with, certainly, a background that was grounded in politics, which gave the story an urgency it would not have otherwise had, it was excellent. I loved that the protagonist was such a consistent dick: this really makes the whole thing more suspenseful, since you actually don’t know what will happen.
  4. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009): I actually wound up seeing this one twice, as well. The first time, I was intensely uncomfortable watching it. I was fully aware of the people in the theatre, laughing along with the movie the way Hitler was laughing at his propaganda, and, I still think that Tarantino meant that segment to be uncomfortable and thought-provoking, watching the whole thing again I’m not sure what his point was with that in particular. I don’t know that he really had one — one of the things with postmodern cinema, something people respond to, is that it doesn’t really ever offer solutions or clear moral resolutions — though people generally want to find these resolutions. Watching it again and being prepared for the painful, uncomfortable tension he wrote into it (which is not a criticism, I think it was very effective), it was easy to notice how gorgeous it was. Like, visually, stunning. The scene where Shoshana’s making herself up so beautiful, more so than anything I can think of that Tarantino’s ever done.
  5. Paper Heart (Nicholas Jasenovec, 2009): Aw! I am one of the people who hasn’t gotten sick of Michael Cera yet, and he was literally playing himself in this, so I think that’s a prerequisite for liking it. Well, it helps to like Charlyne Yi, since the movie’s really about her. The premise is that she’s travelling the country doing a documentary about how she doesn’t believe in love — and then she meets Michael Cera and starts actually falling in love. It might come off a bit precious — there are little puppet shows of real people’s love stories, she writes a song about Michael Cera and how he smells like Christmas — but it’s pretty effective since all the stuff really feels genuinely homemade and personal. Also, because at its core is Yi’s inability to tell him that she loves him when she’s not sure she means it, it feels pretty real to the actual difficult part in relationships? Putting on my real media critic hat, it was interesting that they chose to make a fake documentary about a real relationship and have a lot of the conflict come from the invasive nature of the cameras, etc. Also, the ending with the puppets, where Yi puts herself in the muscular badass hero role (in Brampton!) is awesome.
  6. Female Trouble (John Waters, 1974): Amazing! I love John Waters so hard, I can’t even deal with what a genius he is. So this movie really drives home that his big theme is (and as far as I can tell, always was) celebrity. Dawn Davenport is “a thief, and a shitkicker, and she wants to be famous.” It’s somewhere between Sunset Blvd and I Want To Live! at the end, with the electric chair and the “ready for my close-up” insanity. It’s interesting given the way a lot of people have accused him of being exploitive of his stars that Waters would kind of deal with the adoration/exploitation difficulty so early in his career with the photographers who encourage Dawn in her insanity (and feed her make-up/drugs — which is a delightful metaphor, if unsubtle) and then turn on her when she actually makes people “die for art.” There’s so much to unpack here, I am kind of only hitting the serious theme bits and not the utter hilarity and total confrontational grossness of the whole thing, which I love!