*(but should definitely see)
As some of you may have heard, I recently had the honour of being appointed as the Assistant Returning Officer for Halton with Elections Canada. It's a tremendous opportunity for me, but unfortunately it also means that, in the interest of non-partisanship, my career as a political blogger is on hiatus for the interim.
Happily, this blog is also my film and television review forum, so I thought this would be a good time to resurrect my pre-Oscar round-up of film gems you may have overlooked this past year.
You might actually have heard of this one, if only because it was the film Liam Neeson was in Toronto shooting when his wife Natasha Richardson died so tragically. The main focus, however, is on the relationship between Julianne Moore and the mesmerizing Amanda Seyfried, as a jealous wife and the escort she hires to tempt her husband into straying. Like most of director Atom Egoyan's films, it travels a long and winding road that doesn't end up anywhere near where you'd guess.
Cooking With Stella
I'm a big fan of both Don McKeller and Deepa Mehta, so seeing them both involved in the same project filled me with glee. It's a frothy little tale about the husband of a Canadian diplomat in India who asks their larcenous housekeeper for cooking lessons. The style borrows liberally from Bollywood, with plenty of humour, romance, and twists of fate. Just a whole lot of fun.
Don't Look Back
This is a strange and fascinating French film about a woman who finds herself transforming into... someone else. Flashes of memory that aren't hers. Clothes and furniture - and eventually, her family - that are suddenly not the way she remembers. Even her own face begins to transform, even though no one around her seems to notice. The whole thing leads in some unexpected directions, and is fascinating to watch beginning to end.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
A surreal and hilarious profile of one grafitti artist by another. How much is real, how much is performance art, and exactly who is making a movie about who, are all still matters of debate. But in the end it really doesn't matter. This one has been nominated for Best Documentary this year, which raises at least two interesting questions: 1) Is it really a documentary?, and 2) Will the elusive Banksy make an appearance at the Oscars on Sunday?
A lovely, wise 'tall tale' starring Robert Duvall as an ornery old hermit in 1930s Kentucky who decides to throw himself a funeral party - while he's still alive to participate. In the process he manages to resurrect some ghosts from the past, and throw the life of the local undertaker and his assistant (Bill Murray and Lucas Black) into complete chaos.
Never Let Me Go
A haunting parable about three young people growing up in a world where they and their kind are raised for the sole purpose of being organ donors. It's a familiar premise in the realm of science fiction, but this is not a science fiction movie. It all takes place in a perfectly ordinary-looking world, and presents us with three perfectly ordinary people just coping with their own fate. It's a beautiful movie to look at, and the three leads are extraordinary.
This was one of my big favourites this year (although it was apparently released in 2008), about an independent and heart-hardened trucker suddenly forced to be a mother to the 11 year-old son she deserted years ago. The film handles the situation in a completely unsentimental and unconventional fashion, and the performances will just take your breath away. And yes, you Browncoats can get your full dose of Nathan Fillion, too.
This is one of those wonderful, quirky movies that can really only be made in this country. Jay Baruchel plays an earnest young man convinced that he is the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, who attempts to live out that destiny by trying to unionize his fellow high school students. It's a refreshing take on the usual 'teen empowerment' fare, pulled off mainly by Baruchel's utterly deadpan performance. Colm Feore is deliciously villainous as the principal, and my beloved Saul Rubinek plays Leon's frazzled father.
When I was a teenager back in the 80s, I remember being profoundly effected by a TV movie about a high school teacher who runs a bit of an experiment with his students who are having a hard time understanding how Nazi Germany could have happened. The story - loosely based on a real incident - stuck with me over the years, so I was very pleased to hear that it had been re-told in this German film. It's a brilliant thesis on fascism and how easy it is for ordinary people - especially youth - to be seduced by it.
Welcome to the Rileys
'The Sopranos' has made a lot of people forget what a talented and diverse actor James Gandolfini really is. This film should remind them. He plays an unhappy businessman in a lifeless marriage who finds a new reason for living in a surprisingly platonic relationship with a teen-aged stripper he meets on a business trip to New Orleans. The man, the girl, and the wife who comes to fetch him, are all deeply broken people who somehow manage to heal each other. It's a lovely movie that manages to be uplifting despite the often dark subject matter.
This is the only film on my list this year that has actually been nominated for Best Picture, and the recognition is well deserved. The story doesn't sound like much - a teen-aged girl raising her younger siblings in utter poverty in the Ozarks is forced to confront her drug-dealing, violent relatives in order to keep her home - but the effect is so much more. I can't explain it. A big part is the performance of newcomer Jennifer Lawrence, who in a perfect world would win for Best Actress. But it's more than that, even. Just watch it - you'll see.
So there you go. Get thee to a video store!