Exit Through the Gift Shop – A weird French guy living in LA decides he likes filming street artists, so he follows a bunch of them around for years, progressing from his cousin, who puts Space Invaders on things, to Shepard Fairey, who did the famous Obama/Hope poster, to Banksy, the most successful street artist in the world. After years of filming (and no editing), the French guy dumps all his footage on Banksy and decides to become an artist in his own right. He spends the next few months creating a whole lot of really bad art and promoting the hell out of himself and his upcoming show. It opens amidst organizational chaos and is a huge hit. Bansky himself directed this film, ostensibly a documentary, but who knows how much is real? It doesn’t really matter anyway. The film is a hilarious nose-thumbing at the art industry, made by people who more or less can’t stand many of the people their work appeals to. It’s an assertion of outsiderness from the wildly successful. It’d be irritating if it wasn’t for the fact that these superstar artists seem to be just as bewildered by popular taste, how they themselves went from the underground to being world famous, as the rest of us are. They clearly have ideas of what makes quality street art, but the Frenchman’s success decouples their own success from their own belief in their work’s quality (and if everything about the Frenchman is a hoax, what are they then implying about the quality of their own work, which is even more popular?) Beyond all that, the footage of the artists themselves at work is fascinating: sneaking around in the middle of the night posting giant abstract images of Andre the Giant, using industrial equipment to reshape a phone booth (and then filming the reactions of passersby), covert operations in Disneyland. No film has ever been more in love with art, and the creation of art, for its own sake.
Double Take – A not entirely annoyingly arty documentary that examines the psyche of late-50s early 60s America through the consciousness of Alfred Hitchcock and a conversation between the 1962 Hitch and his double from 1980. It intersperses a lot of footage from his TV series (which is easily the best part of the film: Hitchcock was hilarious), documentary interviews with a Hitchcock impersonator, footage of the Nixon-Kruschev “Kitchen Debates” and a series of coffee commercials and the whole thing is inspired by a Jorge Luis Borges story (which I haven’t read yet). It sounds crazy, but it actually all makes sense as you watch it, which is of course, what making this kind of film is all about. Rather than make a narrative argument about the culture of the time, it makes an emotional one: you feel the confusion and paranoia of a turning point in world history better than you could ever rationally understand it. It maybe it makes complete rational sense and I just didn’t get it. Either way, it’s a pretty good film. The #38 film of 2009.
Centurion – A rock-solid, more or less historically-based action film starring Michael Fassbender as a Roman soldier in Northern Britain, the lone survivor of a Pict assault who escapes only to join a larger expedition against the savages that also gets slaughtered, Last of the Mohicans-style. He and a handful of others (including the guy who played Mickey on Doctor Who) go after the Picts to rescue their captured general (Jimmy McNulty). What follows is an epic chase as the Romans are hunted by a tongueless psychotic woman who holds a real grudge (think Magua, again from Last of the Mohicans). As well as being a beautifully shot and competently edited action film (which is a rare enough thing these days, director Neil Marshall deserves a lot of credit, I really should see his horror film The Descent) the film also has at least something going for it thematically. At first, you get the sense that the filmmakers are trying to comment on Iraq or Afghanistan (imperial over-extension and whatnot), but sure enough, as the film goes on it proves to be not so much about the current wars as it is about every war, and every war movie. A tribute to one and critique of the other, and/or vice versa. In the end, it makes the most profound statement of all: rather than fighting, wouldn’t we all be better off living in a hut with Imogen Poots?
The Exploding Girl – A nice little indie character study of an epileptic young woman (played by Zoe Kazan) and her best friend Al (which is a weird name for a guy these days, isn’t it?), at home in the hipsterest parts of Brooklyn for spring break. Kazan has a boyfriend who doesn’t seem all that interested in her, and she and Al clearly dig each other, but they’re too shy or too scared or too something to do anything about it. It very sweet, and lovely to look at. It reminded me more than anything of Shunji Iwai’s April Story, which I really love. It isn’t that good, but it’s also a bit more jaded (though to be fair, everything is). The #27 film of 2009.
Looking for Eric – This is about the last thing I expected from a Ken Loach film, but since I only know his non-The Wind that Shakes the Barley work by reputation, I can’t say if its a real departure for him. What I can say is it’s one of the best heartwarming films I’ve seen in quite awhile. Steve Evets plays a postal worker who’s depressed about having to see his ex-wife every week (they’re watching their granddaughter while their daughter studies) and has no control over his hoodlum stepchildren, one of whom is in deep with a local gangster. So, under the influence of his kids’ pot, he has visions of former Manchester United star Eric Cantona (playing himself) who teaches him valuable life lessons. Imagine the scenes of Elvis advising Clarence in True Romance, but in a social realist comedy/drama about working class Mancunians. Cantona is hilarious, a constant stream of bizarre aphorisms that make just enough sense, and Evets’s transformation from sad sack to stand-up guy (abetted just as much by his loving group of coworkers and fellow United fans as the phantom footballer) is as wonderful as it is believable. The #22 film of 2009.