Sunday, March 7th, 2010
The best movie I saw this year won't be winning any awards tonight at
the Oscars. It wasn't even nominated for anything. In fact, it wasn't
even shown in the United States. Yet, I'm confident that, if you had had
a chance to see it, you would likely agree with me that this is a
brilliant film, a rare gem.
It's called "Troubled Water
(not to be confused with last year's superb Katrina doc, "Trouble the
Water"). "Troubled Water" is from Norway and it is a work of art and
great storytelling from the opening frame to its final fade to black. It
tells the story of a young man who is paroled after spending time in
prison and gets a job as a church organist. He claims to be innocent in
the drowning of a child, but the boy's mother won't let it go.
When the film was over, I sat there amazed and wondering, "Why can't I
see movies like this all the time?" What is wrong with filmmaking, with
Hollywood? Why are most films just the same old tired assembly line
stuff -- sequels, remakes, old TV shows turned into movies, predictable
plots and storylines... "If you've seen the trailer, you've seen the
But "Troubled Water" was not like that -- and therefore its distribution
to the theaters of America was, in essence, doomed.
That's not to say we don't make great movies anymore. I loved "Avatar,"
"District 9," "Inglourious Basterds," "Up in the Air," and "Up" among
Some critics have hailed "The Hurt Locker" because the film "doesn't
take sides" in the Iraq War -- like that's an admirable thing! I wonder
if there were critics during the Civil War that hailed plays or books
for being "balanced" about slavery, or if there were those who praised
films during World War II for "not taking sides?" I keep reading that
the reason Iraq War films haven't done well at the box office is because
they've been partisan (meaning anti-war).
The truth is "The Hurt Locker" is very political. It says the war is
stupid and senseless and insane. It makes us consider why we have an
army where people actually volunteer to do this. That's why the right
wing has attacked the movie. They're not stupid -- they know what
Kathryn Bigelow is up to. No one leaves this movie thinking, "Whoopee!
Let's keep these wars going another 7 years!"
James Cameron has been targeted by the crazy right, too. Because -- and
Fox and Rush have this one correct, too -- "Avatar" is, in fact, an
allegory for America -- a land stolen from an indigenous people who were
slaughtered, a nation that not only allows corporations to call the
shots but let's them privatize our wars (wars in distant places with the
objective of controlling a dwindling energy resource), and a people who
seem hell-bent on destroying the environment.
Cameron is a brave and bold filmmaker, a college drop-out who became a
truck driver and then one day just decided he was going to make movies.
"Avatar" is an idea he's had in his head since he was a teenager -- and
somewhere, somehow, his dreams and creativity weren't snuffed out by the
machine. Thank God.
There is so much more I want to say about the state of movies these
days, but you've got better things to do on this beautiful Sunday. I
love this art form, and tonight is the night to celebrate it!
In fact, the Oscars are about to start. I'll try to "tweet" along
<http://twitter.com/mmflint> with you during the show.
Finally, let me leave you with a list of 20 great movies I saw in 2009
that received little or no recognition or distribution in the U.S. They
deserve to be acknowledged on this important night, and I hope you can
find them somewhere, someday (a number are already on DVD). They
represent the hope I have for the movies being the inspiring force I've
always believed in.
Be well. And -- no extra salt or butter on the popcorn!
P.S. Here's my list of 20 "best pictures" I saw in 2009:
1. *"Troubled Water"* (see above)
2. *"Everlasting Moments"* - A wife in the early 20th century wins a
camera and it changes her life (from Sweden).
3. *"Captain Abu Raed"* - This first feature from Jordan tells the story
of an airport janitor who the neighborhood kids believe is a pilot.
4. *"Che"* - A brilliant, unexpected mega-film about Che Guevara by
5. *"Dead Snow"* - The scariest film I've seen in a while about zombie
Nazis abandoned after World War II in desolate Norway.
6. *"The Great Buck Howard"* - A tender look at the life of an
illusionist, based on the life of The Amazing Kreskin starring John
7. *"In the Loop"* - A rare hilarious satire, this one about the
collusion between the Brits and the Americans and their illegal war
8. *"My One and Only"* - Who woulda thought that a biopic based on one
year in the life of George Hamilton when he was a teenager would turn
out to be one of the year's most engaging films.
9. *"Whatever Works"* - This was a VERY good Woody Allen film starring
the great Larry David and it was completely overlooked.
10. *"Big Fan"* - A funny, dark film about an obsessive fan of the New
York Giants with a great performance by the comedian Patton Oswalt.
11. *"Eden Is West"* - The legendary Costa-Gavras' latest gem, ignored
like his last brilliant film 4 years ago, "The Axe".
12. *"Entre Nos"* - An mother and child are left to fend for themselves
in New York City in this powerful drama.
13. *"The Girlfriend Experience"* - Steven Soderbergh's second genius
film of the year, this one set in the the post-Wall Street Crash era, a
call girl services the men who brought the country down.
14. *"Humpday"* - Two straight guys dare each other to enter a gay porn
contest -- but will they go through with it?
15. *"Lemon Tree"* - A Palestinian woman has her lemon trees cut down by
the Israeli army, but she decides that's the final straw.
16. *"Mary and Max"* - An Australian girl and and elderly Jewish man in
New York become pen pals in this very moving animated film.
17. *"O'Horten"* - Another Norwegian winner, this one about the final
trip made by a retiring train conductor.
18. *"Salt of This Sea"* - A Palestinian-American returns to her
family's home in the West Bank, only to find herself caught up in the
struggles between the two cultures.
19. *"Sugar"* - A Dominican baseball player gets his one chance to come
to America and make it in the big leagues.
20. *"Fantastic Mr. Fox"* - A smart, adult animated film from Wes
Anderson that at least got two nominations from the Academy.
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