It's time for the wmtc annual movie awards. For my silly rating systems, so far I've done:
- Canadian musicians and comedians (2006-07 and 2007-08)
- my beverage of choice (2008-09)
- famous people who died during the past year (2009-10)
- where I'd like to be (2009-10)
- and last year, vegetables (2010-11). Yes, vegetables.
This past year was especially momentous for me, so for this year's rating system, I'm going with Life Events of the Past Year, best to worst.*
(* The actual worst day of last year was, without a doubt, when we helped the family of war resister Kim Rivera leave Canada. But of course that is hardly appropriate for this post.)
As always, these are movies and series we saw from (roughly) October to April, otherwise known as Movie Season, the opposite of Baseball Season. And as always, I try to only see movies I think I'm going to like, so the list should always be top-heavy.
Sometimes the best present is an absence. The greatest thing that happened to me last year was quitting my job at Evil Corporate Law Firm. My stress level plummeted, I was able to take more hours at the library (which helped me get a promotion), and was able to restore sanity to my final year of graduate school. Quitting was The Best Thing, and these movies were also The Best.
-- It's almost impossible to talk about this documentary without spoiling it. A man survives a horrible trauma, loses his identity, and re-discovers himself through art. That does not begin to describe it. You simply must see this movie.
-- Mercy, forgiveness, and why the criminal justice system should not treat children as adults. Moving and disturbing and excellent.
-- A myth of twinship, separation, and identity set in the modern-day Middle East. Gripping, masterful.
-- Once again, two seasons of this incredible series tops my movie list. I keep expecting the show to go downhill, but it never does. Seasons 3 and 4 were as amazing as Seasons 1 and 2.
Which was better, quitting my job or finishing graduate school? That's a tough call, and whether to put these movies in the highest category or the second-highest was almost a toss-up. These movies were all excellent, although sometimes with one small flaw that kept them from the I Quit category.
Into the Abyss
-- This Werner Herzog documentary explores a crime and its aftermath, namely, execution. Herzog's seeming need make his point of view explicit, rather than trusting the story, was the only minor flaw in this excellent film.
-- A double-cross thriller that will leave you guessing and gasping until the very end. One point off for one absolutely impossible suspension of disbelief. But still excellent.
-- An excellent documentary about the Toynbee tiles, and the people who are obsessed with them.
-- Another documentary that it's impossible to talk about without spoiling. What would happen if a lost child was reunited with his family as a young adult? Don't try to answer, just see the movie.
The Invisible War
-- I actually didn't see this movie, a documentary about rape and sexual assault within the US military. I was warned that it was one of the most devastating films ever made about rape, and I haven't felt up to it yet. Allan saw it without me and rates it in this category. I wanted to bring it to your attention.
The Pruitt-Igoe Myth
-- Why did the dream of public housing fail? Was it ever given a chance to succeed? This documentary about the famous public works project in East St. Louis unpacks the social, economic, and legal forces that caused the implosion.
How to Survive a Plague
-- Another excellent documentary, this one about the AIDS crisis and the birth of ACT-UP. Extremely well done, both elegiac and inspiring.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
-- Since we are soon off to Spain, it seemed time to re-watch this brilliant Woody Allen tale of love, lust, and polyamory. Penelope Cruz is still ravishing and the movie is still wonderful.
I really enjoy working in a library. Of course, it's still a job, so it's not perfect, but it's solid and satisfying, just like these movies.
Safety Not Guaranteed
-- This little gem of an indie film was borderline library/finish-grad-school. Absolutely lovely.
The Big C
-- Funny, sad, clever, insightful, plus Laura Linney and Oliver Platt. We really enjoyed the first two seasons, but that's where the fun ended for us.
Commander in Chief
-- If you can watch the first and only season of this series, featuring Geena Davis as POTUS and Donald Sutherland as her nemesis Secretary of State, you really should. The only disappointment is that there is no Season 2.
-- Rachel Weisz fights sex trafficking - and a cover-up - in the former Yugoslavia. Gripping and disturbing. It may be partially fictionalized, but how else could you get a feel for the real face of this horror?
-- If you like homicide-detective dramas and British understatement, this series is the best. I dare you not to develop a crush on Hathaway.
-- Did I say British homicide-detective dramas? Two words: Helen Mirren. I will be so sad when I get to the last one.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
-- I'm watching this for the first time. It is so entertaining! And quite addictive.
-- I swore I'd never see another teacher movie, but this one rises above the usual Hollywood cliche. Cultures clash and all parties gain some empathy, as a teacher with a secret helps his students with their own grief. Some problems, but a good solid movie.
Chico & Rita
-- I wanted a lot more music in this movie about Cuban music. But what it lacked in soundtrack, it made up for in visuals: gorgeously animated Havana, New York, and Paris. The plot itself is a Latino love ballad.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
-- Chico & Rita needed more music, and this doc about a master sushi chef needed more food. Even so, an opportunity to meet a master chef at work was a treat. Jiro runs the only three Michelin stars restaurant in the world that prepares only one type of food.
-- Two Canadian teens travel to the old country together. A very solid portrayal of adolescent love and confusion, and of family bonds. Won't change your life, but you won't be sorry you bothered.
-- Deeply affecting drama about mercy and forgiveness, with a few twists.
Woody Allen: A Documentary
-- If you recognize Woody Allen as one of the great filmmakers of our time, you should enjoy this movie, a laudatory look at his life and work.
-- Chris Rock's documentary about the big business of changing "bad hair" to "good hair" in the African-American community. Very eye-opening and very well done.
The Black Robe
-- A fictional imagining of the European settlement in Quebec - crime, tragedy, and triumph, depending on your point of view.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
-- The world is ending, and Steve Carell and Keira Knightley have just met. Starts out as a romantic comedy, with the humour gradually falling away until only love and loss are left. A nice movie.
-- This was an indie knockout in 1990, and it holds up well. Think of it as a junior "Manhattan" made by a talented Woody Allen wannabe.
-- This documentary follows the tour of a group of Romani musicians as they tour North America, and you also see their homes in Spain, India, Macedonia, and Romania. Parts were fascinating and the music was great, but it was also repetitive and too long.
The Story of Film: An Odyssey
-- So far we've watched the first five of this 15-episode documentary on the history of the movies. I'm learning a lot and it's packed with fascinating tidbits. On the other hand, the voice of the narrator (who is also the filmmaker) drives us batty, and some of his tropes get tiresome. I find it's best experienced one episode at a time, with lots of other viewing in between. We'll go back to it and eventually watch the whole thing.
-- Seasons 1 and 2 would have been in the finish-grad-school category, but Season 3 was just a soap opera with great clothes and British accents. And Maggie Smith. But like all good soap operas, it's addictive, and I will keep watching.
-- I was so happy to be able to watch this entire show end-to-end on Netflix. It starts out as a quirky detective show, but ends up with more depth and growth that we have any right to expect from network television. I wrote about it here.
-- More British detective drama, this one based on the Jackson Brodie detective novels by Kate Atkinson. Jason Isaacs is very appealing in the title role. Much better than the book.
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey
-- A documentary look behind the voice of Elmo, and what it takes to be a master puppeteer. Really interesting and entertaining.
-- Two women - formerly a seminal punk band - reunite, and see where they've been and where they might be going. A bit predictable, but good.
-- Jack Black stars as the most popular man in town, who also happens also to be a murderer. This movie was too long and too repetitive, but narrowly escapes falling into the category below.
I was watching movies in August and September last year: that's how bad our baseball season was. The 2012 Red Sox were a crappy team. But it was still baseball, and that's something. Like the 2012 Boston Red Sox, these movies had something, but not a lot.
Dance Me Outside
-- I hear this Bruce McDonald movie was a breakthrough in its day, but now, it's just there.
-- Movies with unlikeable main characters are always difficult for me. This comedy-drama-romance had some nice moments.
-- I was supposed to love this British homicide-detective series, which predates Inspector Lewis and introduces Kevin Whately's character. John Thaw is excellent in the title role. Unfortunately, the pace slows from contemplative to plodding, and plots become so intricate they are impossible to follow. When I realized I fell asleep halfway through every episode, I gave up.
-- Movies about deep personal choices should not be completely predictable from the very beginning. Some good stuff, but mostly transparent. Borderline library-2012 baseball.
-- Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon go on a road trip. They crack jokes, eat food, and call their partners.
-- Bob Marley is a fascinating subject, but this documentary about his life obsesses on odd moments and barely touches on his groundbreaking and influential music. Some good tidbits, but mostly a chore to sit through.
-- A movie about quirky teens in love, and I didn't like it? That's how much I dislike Wes Anderson's mannered style. I wanted to love this, but found it barely watchable.
-- A murder story that goes off the deep end. Starts out strong, then tanks.
-- This movie was visually beautiful. That is the only nice thing I can say about it.
-- Apparently everyone thought this movie was hilarious except for me and Allan. Oh well. We did laugh a little.
I didn't quit my job until September. These movies won't bring you nine months of suffering, but you'll be happier if you quit them before you start.
-- IMDB says this film is about "a city girl who moves to a small town and becomes entangled in a love triangle between her high school teacher and a stoner classmate". I wouldn't know, because I didn't make it past the first 20 minutes. And I was being generous, Allan would have turned it off after five.
-- A mess of a documentary. A good idea, very poorly executed.
The Tracey Fragments
-- Yikes. Exhibit A in the Canadian Critics Boosterism awards. Perhaps their jobs depend on writing positive reviews of all things Canadian.
Conan O'Brien Can't Stop
-- Perhaps obsessive Conan O'Brien fans would like this movie? I don't know.
Marie & Bruce
-- You know how annoying it is to be around a couple who snipe at each other, correct each other's stories, and work out their relationship issues in public?
This Is Not A Movie
-- The end of the world, pop culture, and paranoia. A very bad movie. Not to be confused with "This Is Not A Film," a documentary about clandestine, banned filmmaking in Iran, which sounds very good. That's what I get for writing down the wrong title.