Category Archives: Coraline

Hilleke’s musings on 2009’s film offerings – almost a list but not quite

Alright, 2009 is over and done with and twenty-ten is well under way. I’ve been staring at my blog draft for The best films of 2009, rapidly renamed to The Top 5 ‘Top 10 films of 2009 lists’ and now living in limbo without a title until I finish writing this post and am forced to make one up.

The idea of making a ‘best films’ list is very tempting, but is also, inevitably, flawed. Because I am not a film critic or even a film reviewer. I don’t get sent along to see films for free, or even paid to see them (wouldn’t that be nice though?). So the films I see come with built-in bias. They’re almost always films that are well-publicized, happen to be playing near me and happen to be playing when I have money to go see them. They also have a slight sci-fi slant to them, courtesy of Mr T who loves watching these on the big screen, are very rarely serious dramas (which we save for watching at home on DVD so we can cry with wild abandon… but then never actually get round to watching because we’re too busy) and tend to be recommended by our favourite reviewers (Harry Knowles for Mikey and Roger Ebert for both of us).
So within these constraints, I shall endeavour to come up with my favourite films of the year, and my list of why-haven’t-I-watched-these-yet? films which should or could also be on the favourites list. My judging criteria are simple: good, fun, original entertainment, or epic adventure, or any other film that sticks well to it’s genre and does what it says on the tin – with some added spark. Basically something that can guarantee two (plus or minus) hours of escapism and leave you feeling better off afterwards – not too hard you’d think?
Okay, so the easy stand outs for me this year, because they’re memorable, obviously brilliant and I’ve seen them recently (old age, memory loss, you know…) are Up and Where the Wild Things Are. Yes, they’re ‘kids’ films but they’re also very much adult films.
Up is the most touching story I’ve seen in a long time, and has amazing CG, it’s beautiful, inspired, inspiring. It makes you want to be a kid again! It’s full of adventure and excitement. Full review here…
Where the Wild Things are does the same but in a completely reversed kind of way. It reminds you how tough it is to be a kid. Yeah the kids a brat… or is he? Maybe we’re just in denial that we were like that too (my parents sit behind their monitors nodding sagely as they read this). It’s tough being a kid – noone understands you, everyone expects more of you than you know and they never spell out what they want. You’re ignored, harassed and lonely… and then to top it all off you have to go do your chores! WTWTA understands this, and adapts the very short picture-book in a way that helps you understand it too. Because despite all the hardships of ‘growing up’ it can also be a wonderful thing – as long as you look for ‘the wonder’ in the right places. Mike puts it into words better than I can in his review, found here.
I might as well wrap up the animated/kids films now with Coraline. Coraline was my most anticipated film of 2009. And although it was brilliant, and I enjoyed it, Coraline is what the above two flicks aren’t – a true kids film. It was criticised for being too dark and scary, but I’d argue that kids can handle dark and scary better than we can. And they understand the line between fiction and reality better than we think they do. So I’d say watch Coraline with your (or someone else’s) kids and you’ll enjoy it. Watch it by yourself and you’ll think you’ve just seen a really good kids film. More from me here.
Growing up now… and moving to NZ.
Avatar and District 9 both get honourable mentions (aren’t they all just honourable mentions?), not just because they were made in NZ, or friends worked on them, but because they’re both good fun entertainment. Well, District 9 gets pretty gruesome at times, but wins me back with it’s originality. Whereas, Avatar may not be a terribly original story it won me over with it’s shear beauty and style. More here for Avatar and District 9.
The two stand out films of the year were Let the Right one in (not technically 2009 but viewed in that period so it counts) and Moon. Both are simply amazing films. They tick all the boxes and then some. Original stories, amazing cinematography/effects, well-acted, haunting and creepy where needed, amazingly memorable and leaving me wanting to watch them again and again. (Damn, I should have made this list before Christmas – I don’t have either on blu-ray yet!).
Let the Right One in is being re-made this year in the US (original was Swedish) and re-titled with the more correct translation ‘Let Me In‘. One to watch out for if you don’t fancy sitting through two hours of sub-titles – although I will frown on you and shake my head disapprovingly if you don’t give the original a go first. It is a testament, however, to the quality of the original that they are willing to re-make it so soon, simply to have it appeal to the rather large market in the US who don’t want to read sub-titles.
Moon director, Zowie Bowie – oops, I mean Duncan Jones, of course – is working on his second feature, a Blade Runner inspired tale set in future Berlin called Mute, which will also be released in the coming year(s). As well as rumours of Moon sequels. Another one to watch out for.
Finally, to end on a more cheerful note, although again technically not a 2009 film, we watched it and went there in 2009 so it will do. In Bruges was possibly the best subtle/dark comedy I’ve seen in a long time. Very well-acted, original and quite brilliant. If you haven’t watched it check it out. It’s not necessariy laugh-out-loud funny (unless you have a creepy dark sense of humour like me) and gets quite bloody, not to mention the foul language (there’s a bonus feature on the DVD highlighting the monotonous vocabulary of some characters), but it’s good fun. Try it.
Honourable mentions go out to:
Milk, Watchmen, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Inglorious Basterds, Harry Potter 6(? Is it 6? well, whatever one came out this year. I lose count), and The Hangover.
Special mention to: Rudo y Cursi (which is a small indy Mexican film, worth a watch if you can get your hands on a copy).
Dishonourable mention to:
Transformers 2, Twilight and Angels & Demons – for lowering audiences expectations and giving Mike something to rant about.
Look at me, I could totally be handing out awards at a prize-giving…
And finally the very very long list of amazing (I hope or have heard) films which I haven’t seen but want to:
The Hurt Locker, The Lovely Bones, Away We Go, Men Who Stare at Goats, Zombieland, Paranormal Activity, Coco before Chanel, The Informant!, New York, I love you, Amelia, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Vicky Christina Barcelona, The Wrestler, Ponyo, 9 (the animated film, not ‘Nine‘ the musical), The Princess and the Frog, The Road, Invictus and Fantastic Mr Fox.
(Consider this a shopping list for future birthdays and Christmases! Mike can probably add a few more to this…)
Righto, I am done. Now I have to think up a title for this post…
postscript of sorts:
For those who want a broader opinion, can I direct you to:

Harry from Ain’t it Cool

If you’re still with me, go back to Roger Ebert for his best 10 films of the decade!

And finally the people (or US teenage film geeks with too much time on their hands) vote over at, who have published their best films of the 2000’s list.

Coraline – Hilleke’s humble opinion

Loved the book, liked the film.Mike and I were lucky enough to get tickets to a special preview screening of Coraline in 3D last Wednesday followed by a Q&A with director/script writer Henry Selick and author Neil Gaiman.

I put them in that order because I believe Coraline is really Henry Selick’s film. He has missed out on credit for some of his best creations (Nightmare before Christmas being the most notable one) and Neil Gaiman has made a conscious effort in all publicity relating to Coraline (the film) to fully credit Henry Selick for it’s creation, (to the point where a poorly researched review received the full might of the twitter-verse‘s mockery – and has since disappeared from the world wide web). And rightly so. The film took roughly 4 years to get to the screen and was painstakingly created by hand… every little detail.
Henry Selick explained that while they did use some CG to paint out wires etc. the vast majority of the film was made by hand (Official Coraline website really is worth seeing). I mention this because I have huge admiration for anyone with the patience required to work in stop-motion. I for one do not. But it is an art and Henry Selick is a genius at it. When watching the film it is impossible to see any seams, thumbprints or jerkiness. And all this in 3D. Coraline truly is a beautiful film.
But I haven’t yet mentioned the story. I’m going to cheat and paste an image from the website for the summary. They write it better than I can.
And now comes the crunch point. Did the film live up to the book? I loved the book. Yes, it is written for children and reads very much like a children’s novel. Much more so than the Harry Potter’s and Golden Compasses’ of children’s literature. It is a very simple and fairly short story. A there and back again adventure, if you will. And yes, it is quite scary. But Coraline has quite a bit of spunk (to use a word that suits her – not one I’d normally use) and you have faith in her even when she has no faith in herself.
So she gets bored of her parents, runs into the ‘other parents’ who on the surface seem much more fun and interesting, AND more importantly, attentive. But she remains suspicious and returns to her own world – remember this is in the book. In the film she succumbs to their charms more easily, a change possibly devised to keep the pace up, as it sadly lagging in the first 30 minutes. After the initial set up both book and film continue along the same lines, except for the addition in the film of the character, Wybie, a boy-next-door who accompanies/stalks Coraline and gives her someone to talk to. Wybie works great in the film, and this shows Henry Selicks genius in adapting the novel for the screen. Looking back, I don’t know how it would’ve worked without Wybie (short for Wybourne, or as Coraline calls him ‘Why-were-you-born’).
And the film does work. And I liked it. I really really wanted to like it, and I did. The 3D worked well and wasn’t over-used or gimmicky, the stop-motion animation was absolutely stunning and the details amazing, the story also worked well – the pace picked up after the first 30 minutes and continued along nicely, although I still think they could have tightened it just a fraction.
The pacing was clearly also an issue for Henry Selick. When asked what part of the novel he couldn’t include and regretted most, he mentioned a scene where Coraline recalls an incident with her father and a wasps nest. They had stumbled upon a wasps nest and the angered wasps were about to start chasing after Coraline and her father. Realising they couldn’t both get away unstung, her father told Coraline to run, remaining in the thick of the wasps to get stung himself so that she could get away. This touching little story really helps you to understand Coraline’s loyalty to her own parents, even though they are boring and busy, deep down she knows they love her in a way that the ‘other parents’ never will. It’s a key bit of motivation and story-telling which the film lacks.
And after this was pointed out to me, I realised that despite how beautiful the film was, I’ll always prefer the book.
My many rating systems:
If I rated films with little *’s: **** out of 5
Will I watch it again/buy it? Absolutely, and can’t wait til my niece is old enough to see it (She’s only 1 now, so it’s a wee wait!)
Watch this if you like: Good solid scary/fantasy kids films, like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (the child catcher) and creepy Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Just a little add-on: (found this on Neil Gaiman’s blog, quoting a Time Out New York review, quoting Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. Seems quite necessary to add it.)

In Coraline’s epigraph, Gaiman quotes G.K. Chesterton on why we believe in fairy tales: “Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

Harry swoons over CORALINE!!!

Harry swoons over CORALINE!!!

One of the many reasons I love this site, is that they love the films I love. The other, is that they’re not into bullshit film gossip.