Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Stephanie Huettner's tops in 2009

Stephanie Huettner (AKA Rumblefish on CineRobot) is from Tulsa, Okla. but has lived in Austin, tx since 2002. She has produced a number of independent shorts, including I Am Nick Robinson, The Peacemaker, Harvest Home (which played at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner), and Mighty Mutant Mollusks. She is currently learning how to be a projectionist (at the Alamo Drafthouse) just so that she can have a specialized skill.

Career highlights relating to film include: Being cast in a speaking role in the Duplass Brothers' Baghead only to have her lines cut before its Sundance premiere; driving Keith Carradine to set in Lockhart, tx (we talked about how Tulsa is a better city than OKC); being a double/stand-in for Blake Lively one day while her regular stand-in was ill (I'm 1/4 inch shorter than Gossip Girl); hosting a sold-out presentation of a Lifetime movie at the legendary Alamo Drafthouse Downtown; attending the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and being in the same theater as Martin Scorsese, Tilda Swinton and Harvey Weinstein (so intimidating in person, even from 20 feet away) to watch the first-ever screening of the restored print of The Red Shoes.

She is very excited to be a guest blogger for CineRobot. Thanks to Joshua Peck and Vern Snackwell.

12. Moon - This may be all the way at position 12 because I just watched it. I hunted around Austin to find it (3 of our fine independent video stores were fresh out of copies) and enjoyed it about as much as I predicted. It hasn't had much time to sink in, but the visuals alone are enough to earn it a spot here. Sam Rockwell, as many have said before me, is incredible. It would give away a plot point to say much about his performance, but it's the best I've seen him since...the last time I saw him (anyone else pissed off that he wasn't nominated for Best Supporting Actor for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford?) The film explores loneliness, longing and the moral consequences of technological advancements. Again, to write too much would give away too much. Comparisons with 2001: A Space Odyssey were inevitable upon its release. However, this film does not share much with Kubrick's masterpiece other than the setting. On a side note, Sam Rockwell attended the SXSW screening of Moon and a woman in the audience asked him if he thought that he was best in movies about space. She clarified this by saying the only other movie of his she'd seen was Galaxy Quest. That is a prime example of why generalizations (and Q and As) are so pointless. A person can sit through a movie like this, with stunning visuals, an amazing performance, and thought-provoking questions and come up with "I see, it was about space." In this film, the setting serves the story. It is more about the internal world of humanity than the external world of space oddities.

11. Where the Wild Things Are - This movie is not only one of my favorites of the year, but Vern Snackwell and I both agree that it had by far the best trailer of the year. The flawless mix of suit actors, CGI and lively voice performances gave all of the creatures an immediately realistic and empathetic quality. Throw in the boundless imagination of Spike Jonze and an unaffected, not-cute-for-a-second performance by the wonderful Max Records (also great this year in The Brothers Bloom) and you've got some magic, baby.

10. Up - I wish that I could say that I saw this movie premier at Cannes this year. However, due to a mix-up with a power converter and no wireless, I could not order my ticket and missed out. I later saw a preview screening at a fairly crappy multiplex in Austin with a baby flicking water on me for 20 minutes. So, about on par with the experience I would've had in the Theatre Lumiere. Like everyone else with a heart and tear ducts, I wept throughout the first 15 minutes of this film. We are introduced to Carl and Ellie, and immediately fall in love with both of them. We are rushed through their life together and dropped on Carl's lonely doorstep as he spends his remaining years alone, waiting for the mail and being crotchety to the construction workers tearing up his neighborhood. For the next hour or so, we love pretty much every character on screen. A chubby wilderness explorer named Russell, a talking dog named Dug and a chocolate-loving bird named Kevin. I think I liked everything about this movie that everyone else did, so just pick out your favorite parts and those are what I liked, too.

9. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs - I didn't expect this movie to be here, either. Then, I had the pleasure of seeing it at Movies 8 with a five-year-old on my lap. While she giggled throughout the film and was fully engaged by it (on her second viewing), I'm pretty sure that I was having a better time. The plot centers around a small island town called Swallow Falls, which is facing economic hardship due to the fact that its one and only industry was a sardine factory. As our protagonist, Flint Lockwood (voiced by Tulsan Bill Hader), explains, this was bad "because sardines are totally gross." Everyone in the isolated town is thus forced to live off of a diet of the nasty little fish during these hard times. Flint has been an oddball inventor in this small town for his entire life and thinks that he has come up with a way to solve this pescatarian problem: a machine which turns water in to food. Let me stop with the plot description and just list a few reasons why I like Meatballs so much. 1) This film is beautiful. Even the crappy, dollar theater print which I saw looked great. 2) The voice acting is expressive and hilarious in a way that feels honest. I feel like they would all give the same vocal performance in a live action film, which is a refreshing thing. 3) It has Mr. T. Perhaps some of you knew this, but I did not and thus was pleasantly surprised when he popped up as the local cop. He's the same Mr. T we all know and love, strange vocal inflections and all. 4) There's a scene in which a man does the Charleston in the middle of the street as pizza rains down around him. If that last reason isn't enough for you then I don't think we need to meet.

8. Star Trek - Sadly, I saw this film only once in theaters. I was very sick and thus could not laugh at all of the funny parts (it hurt to laugh). However, I remember thinking "That's funny!" or "How creative!" a number of different times in my altered state of illness. I'm a fan of Alias seasons 1, 2, 3, 5 and of J.J. Abrams in general. The casting was spot-on for all the roles (even little Jacob Kogan as "Young Spock"), the pace was fast but not rushed, Leonard Nimoy was used in a touching, non-gimmicky way...To tell you the truth, I can't remember disliking anything about this movie, so I'll just leave it there.

7. District 9 - I agree with pretty much all the hype you've heard about this film. It's immediately engaging, wildly creative and has some of the most impressive CG you've seen in a long time. It also has the added bonus of having a heart. Yes, I know this would baffle Michael Bay, but it is possible to have explosions and emotion in the same film, even in the same scene! Sharlto Copley gives one of the very best performances of 2009 as Wikus van der Merwe, who is one of the most intriguing characters on screen this year. The mental, physical and emotional arc which we witness in this man is something rarely seen in the best-reviewed, awards-laden films. It's all the more impressive to watch knowing that Copley had never acted professionally before and improvised every line of dialogue. We have a new great director and a brand-new movie star all in one badass sci-fi film.

6. The Hurt Locker -- This film is by far the most critically-acclaimed of the year. While it's not my favorite (thus the position at numero seis) there is a lot to love. As others have noted, it's the first film about our country's most recent war which drops all attempts at the hard sell of any agenda and simply tells a story. The Hurt Locker follows an EOD unit stationed in Iraq. Jeremy Renner plays SFC William James, a loose cannon who also happens to be brilliant at dismantling explosives of all kinds. He is assigned to a unit who has just lost a man, and he does not quite clique with the group. That's the bare bones of the plot and pretty much all you need to know. The rest of the film is about moments and characters. Kathryn Bigelow has been directing action-packed films for quite some time now (Point Break, Near Dark) and manages to find just the right balance of explosions and humanity to keep the audience totally enthralled. A particular gem is a long segment involving a sniper shootout in a remote location. It is one of the most well-directed, intense pieces of any film this year. Renner and Anthony Mackie play incredibly well off one another in this scene (and in the film as a whole). Their characters do not see eye to eye on much, and screenwriter Mark Boal thankfully spares us the learn-to-love-one-another storyline. There have been some who have come out against the film with accusations of embellishment. Questions of realism should, in my opinion, be left at the door on this one. There will always be naysayers when a film about a war still in progress comes out. What is not realistic in Locker is included for a reason. The film does not contain one single extraneous scene. Every frame brings the characters (and the audience) not to a resolute end, but to one that is true to the story and does not presume to have all the answers.

5. Sin Nombre - This is one of those films that seems like it has roughly 0% chance of being made. A first-time filmmaker (Cary Fukunaga) directing a movie in a language he has just recently learned with a cast of young, first-time actors and a tiny budget. Oh, and most of the action takes place on top of a moving train. This film was gorgeously shot. Not letting the small budget and an unforgiving environment be an excuse for crappy-looking, shaky digital is wonderful to see. It is a gritty, violent, moving story and I can't wait to see what Fukunaga does next (apparently an adaptation of Jane Eyre with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender).

4. Fantastic Mr. Fox - Basically, I love all of Wes Anderson's movies. Bottle Rocket is subtly funny, creative and full of heart. The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore are so clearly masterpieces that I don't need to discuss them. Up to this point, I think I have a lot of company. His next few films are where some people fall off the wagon. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou flat-out confused some people who were expecting the wild humor of the first three films. I found it to be a serious film full of strange characters and some moments of oddball humor. I found The Darjeeling Limited to have the same brand of Anderson humor and charm, with some intense emotion thrown in. So, with Fantastic Mr. Fox, I was not surprised to find an animated film which felt so much at home at that place in my heart where all of Anderson's films live. It's beautiful, full of fun characters and impeccable visuals, has an impromptu jam session led by Jarvis Cocker and, (another signature Anderson move), creative use of music. Only he would use "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones in a Roald Dahl adaptation. Anyone up for a game of whackbat?

3. The Road - A bleak adaptation of an unceasingly bleak Pulitzer Prize-winning novel had 1200 people on the edge of their seats all at once at this year's Austin Film Festival. The film, as with the novel, puts the reader/viewer in a constant state of suspense, only to release them in the final paragraph/frame. Perhaps I'm partial to this film because they've cast a slew of my favorite actors in supporting roles (Garrett Dillahunt, Robert Duvall and Michael K. Williams) and have not compromised the content of the novel to make it more appealing to a wide audience. Director John Hillcoat has shown that he isn't afraid to throw intense and disturbing images at an audience (The Proposition) and he does not hold back in this outing. Viggo Mortensen and the amazing Kodi Smit-Mcphee are heart-wrenching as a devoted father and a child unspeakably damaged by growing up after the apocalypse. The exceptional visuals tell a story of their own. One could easily watch this film on mute and still understand the heart of the story. I'm smitten.

2. Inglourious Basterds - We all know that Christoph Waltz is going to win that Oscar. We all love Eli Roth beating Nazis to death with a baseball bat. We all smiled wryly at Brad Pitt's retarded yet brilliant southern accent. I want to talk about my other favorite things in Basterds. Well, the casting was genius. Two of my favorite German actors, August Diehl and Daniel Bruhl are both wickedly good; Melanie Laurent gives a breathtaking, kickass performance as Shoshanna; and pretty much every extra was intriguing to me. The setting was used to maximum effect. Parisian cafes, isolated country cottages, and old film palaces all serve their purposes brilliantly. Tarantino's dialogue-heavy writing is back in top form and is used as a tool of supsense rather than simply an outlet for his endless knowledge of film. Also, like every film-lover out there, the choice to use film as a literal weapon made me smile from ear to ear. Basterds pulled me along for a ride like no other this year.

1. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans - Two words: Gator cam. To quote my friend, Melissa, after our first viewing of this masterpiece: "Bad Lieutenant, port of call my heart!" Nicolas Cage finds the perfect vessel for his edge-of-madness tendencies and is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast (Shea Wigham gives an Oscar-worthy performance in two scenes). This is a film that grabs you by the neck, pulls you in, spins you around for more than an hour and then gently places you back where it found you, bewildered and mystified by what you have experienced. Please, just go see it.

Note: I still haven't seen A Single Man. There are probably some others that I haven't seen. Like Joshua, I keep track of these things. I saw 303 feature films this year and 128 short films. Still, I'm sure I missed some good stuff.

6 comments:

Billy said...

Some great descriptions of why you liked the movies on your list, enough so that of the several I missed seeing in theaters, I'm going to make sure I see them ASAP.
Thanks for taking the dryness out of usual reviews and making them fun to read all on their own!

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

Stephanie/Rumblefish's sum ups make mine seem lazy, ha. Possibly one of the longest posts ever on CineRobot!

Rumblefish said...

Haha, sorry Joshua. They didn't seem that long in the email. I do tend to run on when it comes to talking about movies.

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

Not being critical as the longer the better! It will challenge the people coming up to work on theirs more, ha.

larry said...

Stephanie,
Great descriptions and summaries. I've added many that I did not see to my Netflix Queue. I hope Joshua will let you guest blog again real soon.

Rumblefish said...

Thanks, Larry. Me, too!