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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

HYS... Staff Best of 2009 (Elliott)

Our 'Best of 2009' on DVD lists are available in store, but for those who want a closer look, here ya go. We begin with Elliott's Picks.

The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins.
Pietra Brettkelly's fascinating documentary on art superstar Vanessa Beecroft's obsessive quest to adopt African twins transcends the obvious Brangelina trappings and instead creates a complex portrait of a gifted and misunderstood woman. Granted almost unlimited access to her subject, Brettkelly's film is both disturbing and a refreshing commentary on modern celebrity.

For Her
Another year, another well crafted French thriller. The vastly underrated Diane Kruger stars as a woman found guilty of a heinous crime she claims she did not commit. Imprisoned for three years, her only hope is the obsessive detective work of her loving husband. Great performances and nail-biting suspense help establish one of the most entertaining crime stories of the year.

Johnny Guitar
Finally available for your viewing pleasure at Have You Seen, Nicholas Ray's vibrant feminist western is both supremely entertaining and a clever allegory for the era's rampant McCarthyism. The indomitable Joan Crawford stars in one her more memorable roles with a truly crackling screenplay by Philip Yordan. Both Pedro Almodovar and Martin Scorsese have cited this film as a major influence.

True Blood
As expected, HBO's latest runaway hit is everything its cracked up to be. From Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) comes a rural Vampire yarn that is funny, creepy, sexy, basically everything you'd want in an hour long program. Anna Paquin leads a cast of excellent character actors through twists and turns that are unexpected and satisfying. Fear not, it couldn't have less to do with Twilight.

District 9
Neil Blomkamp's mainstream debut is easily the best sci-fi romp in the last few years. Essentially given free reign by producer Peter Jackson, Blomkamp creates a dystopian Johannesburg that is frightening and credible. More intimate than Star Trek, less bombastic than Avatar, the film is still rich with action and dry humour. Some have complained the faux documentary style mixed with a linear fictional narrative made the film seem disjointed, but this merely a quibble in the presence of a bold, original work.

A hypnotic, powerful examination of IRA prisoner Bobby Sand's hunger strike is superbly acted and realized. Michael Fassbender's intense performance is a revelation and the sparing use of dialogue and real time is extraordinarily effective. Intelligently presenting both sides of a conflict that remains a pivotal moment in British history.

That Hamilton Woman
Winston Churchill's favourite film is presented in a stunning new transfer from our friends at Criterion. This opulent, romantic epic stars Vivien Leigh in a role that brilliantly complements her earlier turn as Scarlett O'Hara. Mirroring her real life relationship with husband Laurence Olivier, the film works as star-crossed romance and elegant nautical spectacle.


Henry Selick's long awaited adaptation of Neil Gaiman's children's fable is completely enchanting. A wonderfully depicted fantasy world that is both colourful and menacing, Coraline is a cautionary fairy tale in the tradition of Brothers Grimm and a refreshing change of pace from the trend of CGI animals that dominate most contemporary children's fare.

The Reader
The film that finally landed Kate Winslet an Oscar, and rightly so. A fascinating study on loneliness and the consequences of choice, Stephen Daldry's follow-up to The Hours treads similar territory, but is vastly more interesting. Leading a uniformly excellent cast, Winslet shines as a mysterious woman with more then a few skeletons in the closet.

A truly different take on the zombie film. Bruce Mcdonald creates a claustrophobic tone that is tense and great fun. Stephen McHattie stars as the scenery chewing shock-jock who is forced to remain on the air despite the possibility of spreading the verbal infection. And yeah, its pretty cool to hear "the infection has spread to Peterborough!"

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