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Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

SE&L’s 10 Must-See Films of Fall/Winter 2009

At last count, there are close to 80 movies slated for release in the next four months, not including the off studio independents, heralded foreign imports, and frequent film festival surprises. As the transition from summer’s popcorn pleasantries to fall’s forced import begins, it’s often hard to get a handle on what, exactly, deserves your dollars – and more significantly, your precious entertainment attention span. The push towards Awards season consequence is always complicated. Release dates shuffle, perspectives shift, and what seemed like a sure thing only a few weeks ago can fade into oblivion faster than a Will Farrell take on a classic Saturday morning kid’s show from the ’70s.

With that in mind, SE&L has been sizing up the offerings on tap for the next 17 weeks, and we’ve complied our very own Top 10 Must-See titles. Now, this is not an attempt to gauge the best films of the year, or what we think will end up being the most recognized/rewarded/revered come January 1. But if we were plunking down our own cash money on a movie, if you were to ask us what films have tweaked are often lagging critical/creative attention span, this cross section will give you a fairly decent idea. Naturally, it’s based on the information we’re aware of presently, those publicity and press materials making their way to our already overflowing inbox. Outside of the unknown quantities then, here’s what’s got us interested, in alphabetical order, starting with:


Somewhere around the middle of Manderlay, the second part of his proposed “USA – Land of Opportunities” trilogy, Lars Von Trier lost us. Up until then, we were with the unique Danish talent, enjoying his brash approach to cinema and his Dogme ’95 designs. But with the heavy handed take on American history, indulgent beyond all narrative necessity, a re-evaluation was in order. Now Von Trier is doing genre, delivering a controversial psychological thriller that scandalized Cannes. Suddenly, all is forgiven…at least for now.


The teaser trailer? Meh. Not very impressive, considering the amount of mind-blowing hype it that was heaped upon this project ever since James Cameron announced he was returning to the fiction film (his first since Titanic). In fact, it looked like a Final Fantasy game gone gonzo. But after spending 15 minutes in the 3D IMAX glow of the Avatar Day preview, we’re convinced. The CG is brilliant and Cameron’s flawless approach to action and adventure is evident in every frame. December can’t come soon enough.

Black Dynamite

As full blown card carrying members of the Dolemite fan club (bless his scatological soul – comic Rudy Ray Moore could absolutely do no wrong), this spoof of ’70s blaxploitation is right up our alley. The look and feel of the film – or at this point, the various green/red band trailers – are just right, and the jokes appear obvious without being insulting. Indeed, as long as filmmaker Scott Sanders remembers to be as reverent as irreverent, this should satisfy any devotee’s Human Tornado tendencies.

Gentleman Broncos

Napoleon Dynamite? Masterful! Nacho Libre? A big fat luchadore love letter! Now, Jared Hess is taking on a subject that seems perfect for his hyper-quirk sensibilities – sci-fi/fantasy fandom. The trailer alone is enough to have one free associating on the storyline set-ups for days. And then there is Flight of the Conchords‘ Jermaine Clement channeling James Mason. AWESOME!

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

No one has the potential to move and/or madden us more than Terry Gilliam. Even when he’s going overboard with the cloying kid con tragedy (2005’s Tideland), his visionary eye is dead on. Fate keeps f*cking with him, however, and it looked like we were never going to see this epic effort, even with the supposition of it being Heath Ledger’s last performance on film. Thankfully, a US distributor was found. Now begins the waiting.

The Lovely Bones

This is, without a doubt, Peter Jackson’s biggest challenge to date. Bigger than bringing Tolkien’s treasured trilogy to the big screen. Bigger than taking on the cinematic “Eighth Wonder of the World”. Much bigger. His objective here? Convince a fanbase that’s waited four years for his next, proposed “smaller” film that the delay was worth it. Blockbuster geek cred aside, it’s a tall order indeed. Here’s praying he pulls it off.

The Road

There is something inherently interesting about the post-apocalyptic film, especially for anyone who grew up during the chilliest days of the Cold War. So we have been waiting for this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer prize winning novel since the project was announced. Granted, we’re not overjoyed by the choice of filmmaker (imagine what someone like Steven Spielberg could have done with this), but with Viggo Mortenson in the lead, hope still springs eternal.

A Serious Man

Okay Coen Brothers, let’s keep it up. We’ve forgiven Ladykillers (well, sort of) and the less said about Intolerable Cruelty, the better. Since those two missteps, however, you’ve been on quite the creative jag – and you’ve got the Oscars to prove it. The trailer here is absolutely terrific, a sly combination of the boys’ deadpan dynamic and pinpoint period production value. Even when you’re bad, you’re interesting (see the opening of this paragraph). This time around, however, you’re looking very, very good.


Man does not live by filet mignon and crème brûlée alone. Sometimes, you got to have a little stinky, slimy cinematic Nacho cheese to go with your arthouse gourmet fare. After the trailer for this Roland Emmerich disaster spectacular was released, we knew exactly where our next massive helping of motion picture kitsch was coming from. Sure, Mr. Day After Tomorrow has a hard time with things like characterization and drama, but any movie celebrating the complete destruction of the planet has our full and unflinching support.

Where the Wild Things Are

Whoever handled the hype turnaround on this title needs a raise, pronto. Originally, this was the biggest bomb ever, a film so un-releasable in its then almost finished state that Warner Brothers was willing to scrap it – or worse, fire director Spike Jonze and literally start over. Now, many are considering it for major Oscar consideration. Doubting Mr. Being John Malkovich is one thing. Turning a disaster into a possible end of the year gemstone is a critical resurrection we can’t wait to experience.

DVD Honorable Mention:

Rob Zombie Presents the Haunted World of El Superbeasto

The man responsible for the resplendent, repugnant Devil’s Rejects does Ralph Bakshi – and succeeds beyond one’s wildest wanton imagination.