That's a wrap

Butte, beer and big issues help make the year in film

December 23, 2009

If you've lived in Missoula for any time at all, you've probably heard people grousing about how much better it used to be and how much it's changed, generally for the worse. Among Missoula's ex-hippie baby-boomer elite, it seems generally agreed upon that the Golden Age began as soon as they arrived (a window of roughly 10 years from 1968 to 1978), and ended somewhere around 1981. They're endearingly vain about it, some of them, but in a new documentary about that era's great Missoula shared experience—the Aber Day Kegger—one can see what all the fuss is about. Kegger is a one-of-a-kind window into this fabled golden era. (AS)

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Adventureland works in large part because it touches on something beyond the specifics of this story. A generation of McJob-hoppers who were only in training pants in 1987 will still know how it feels to look for a silver lining in a place where you really don't want to be. Those who did come of age during that era will remember the way music outside the synth-pop or hair-metal mainstream could come to define your world-view. Writer/director Greg Mottola delivers a sweet reflection on summer love at a summer job. His just happened to be in 1987—and you didn't have to be there. (SR)

In both content and form, Butte, America is nothing short of a revelation. Modern Butte is pocked with massive and mysterious landmarks to its past—the 90-foot virgin statue riding the high spine of the Continental Divide, gazing over the city in benediction; the festering Berkley Pit, fed insatiably by an unseen toxic underground; the largely shuttered old town business district—and Pamela Roberts' powerhouse of a documentary brings them all to life in a way that will, if justice serves, change the way this remarkable city is perceived both here in Montana and the world at large. (ND)

Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds is blasphemous to Spielbergian mythologizing, more profane than anything dreamt of by Samuel Fuller: gleefully violent, mindlessly amoral and just out to have a good time. And it is, man, it is—a really, really good time. (AS)

Invictus is a political drama for our time: an era in which social division seems to have led to a kind of national stasis over everything from health care legislation to the notion of "America" itself. In that context, as well as on its own terms, the drama of a president and a people moving through and beyond a history of terror, oppression and racism is inspiring. (KK)

Anchored by Mickey Rourke's towering performance, screenwriter Robert Siegel and director Darren Aronofsky have put together a wonderfully sad, particularly American kind of tragedy with The Wrestler: a look at what happens to someone who only understands himself in the context of a celebrity that has passed him by. (SR)

Mississippi Queen, a powerful documentary by Missoula filmmaker Paige Williams, cuts to the very definitions of love, religion, sexuality and family. Williams calls her relationship with her parents "extremely loving and extremely honest." But when it comes to her long-term relationship with a woman, and how that relationship meshes with her parents' devout Southern Baptist beliefs, Williams says they agree to disagree. (SB)

Gus Van Sant's Milk is a must-see film because in reaching back into the issues of the 1970s it speaks directly to our own times, in which discrimination (California's Prop. 8) and national cynicism (the grim Bush years) seem as though they might just give way to a new civic engagement, to a new sense of tolerance and to a politics of hope. Gay civil rights are at the forefront of America's political activism in the 21st century. (KK)

In Rough Aunties, British filmmaker Kim Loginotto uses a spare camera style and point-and-shoot framing to position the women front and center in the documentation of their personal and professional lives. Loginotto reinforces this subject-centered perspective by allowing the background and context of the women's lives to emerge out of their own narration in a non-linear fashion. Rough Aunties, which won best feature at this year's Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, therefore does what almost no first-world documentary about the non-Western world successfully does—it allows the subjects themselves, as much as is possible, to harness and to own the film's action and message. (KK)

Sugar is not a movie about the redemptive power of baseball, or the virtue of perseverance, or an unexpected culmination of the American Dream. And even though, as a sappy baseball fan, I wanted it to be at least one if not all three of these things, Sugar just might be a better thing than any of them. It's a film that digs deeply and truly into a world so many of us see from the outside but so few see lit up from within. And the complexity of the game itself is echoed in the hard choices forced upon the overwhelming majority of hopefuls who never come close to sipping that proverbial cup of coffee. (ND)

For a movie about the most balletic of team sports, Rudo y Cursi is surprisingly short on soccer action. You don't miss it, though, because one of the things the movie nails perfectly is the dreaming—the waiting on the bench, and the tenseness of the players, but mostly, particularly for those confined to the stands and sidelines, the watching and the dreaming. (AS)

Local filmmakers Josh Wagner, Brad Wilson and Jon Aaseng play with the idea of perception in Adam Funn. The topsy-turvy story—filmed entirely in Missoula with local actors—offers up a classic scenario: If you woke up one morning and the entire world had gone mad around you, would you question everyone else's sanity, or your own? The short film recreates the eeriness of a "Twilight Zone" episode and combines it with unending, nonsensical contradictions akin to that of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (and not the benign Disney version). (EF)

Perhaps the Coens feel like they can take more of certain kinds of risks when their casts are merely speckled, rather than studded, with major star power. The cast of A Serious Man is like a rogue's gallery of peripheral players—actors whose faces you recognize but whose names you can't remember or never knew. The film may not be to everyone's liking, but it's a timely reminder of the Coens' vitality. And versatility. And artistic freedom; this is what directors get to do once they win Oscars. (AS)

The flesh-eating undead are not, understandably, every moviegoer's cup of tea. There are plenty of folks who perused their local movie listings this fall, and—whether due to assumptions about quality or a queasy stomach—didn't bother going past the first six letters of the title Zombieland. And that's a shame, because they missed the funniest American comedy of 2009. (SR)

Film reviews by Andy Smetanka, Nick Davis, Katie Kane, Scott Renshaw, Erika Fredrickson and Skylar Browning. Note: Both Milk and The Wrestler, technically 2008 releases, didn't reach Missoula screens until February.

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