Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve 2009 ... via 1972

"For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne ..."

Monthly Wallpaper - January 2010: 2009 - The Year in Film

As 2009 comes to a close, it is time to look back on the year in film, and what better way then with the Movie Dearest calendar wallpaper for next month!

22 of 2009's most popular movies make up the collage, so you can spend all of January gazing at the likes of Brüno, Carl, Carla, Coraline, George, Jacob, Julia, Logan, Max, Precious, Ryan, Salvador, Spock, Summer and all the rest. What a way to start off a new year ... and a virtual Academy Award to the first MD reader who can correctly name in the comments section below all 22 movies pictured in the collage!

Just click on the picture above to enlarge it to its 1024 x 768 size, then right click your mouse and select "Set as Background", and you're all set. If you want, you can also save it to your computer and set it up from there, or modify the size in your own photo-editing program if needed.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Mad About the Man

Tom Ford’s past as a fashion designer for Gucci is all over his directorial debut, A Single Man. As painstakingly period perfect as AMC’s Mad Men, the film is a mid-century marvel of clothes, cars and gorgeous buildings.

At times, Christopher Isherwood’s story of a man mourning the loss of his lover is overwhelmed by all the artistic flourishes, close-ups on women’s eyeliner and lips and all the slow motion. Still, Colin Firth utterly disappears into his role of a grieving lover determined to kill himself. His is one of many fine performances in the film, and one that deserves Oscar recognition.

I wish that Ford had crafted more scenes of George with his partner Jim (Matthew Goode), because what we see only hints at the great love affair these men shared over 16 years. It would point up the tragedy of how George is blocked from Jim’s funeral by his family, an injustice that still happens today.

Nicholas Hoult is mysterious and alluring as George’s student, who may or may not be seeking a relationship with him. Julianne Moore’s Charley is a sad counterpoint to him, an ex-pat Brit who pines for a connection with George that he cannot return.

Although the film is tinged with a great sadness, it has moments of sexual electricity, as when George literally runs into a gorgeous hustler (Jon Kortajaren) at a liquor store.

A Single Man is paced slowly and deliberately, which may put off some filmgoers. It reminded me of The Hours, which may or may not be an endorsement. If you give yourself over to the ravishingly depicted world of A Single Man, you’ll find a lot to love.

UPDATE: A Single Man is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

Awards Watch: National Film Registry 2009

Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, each year since 1989 the Librarian of Congress names 25 films to the National Film Registry that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant to be preserved for all time. And this year, they (finally) got a little gayer with the inductions of Dog Day Afternoon (with Al Pacino as a bisexual bank robber) and (to a lesser extent) Pillow Talk (starring Rock Hudson and Doris Day).

Other cinematic classics to make the cut for 2009 include the sci-fi favorite The Incredible Shrinking Man, the melodramas Jezebel and Mrs. Miniver (featuring the Oscar winning performances of, respectively, Bette Davis and Greer Garson), The Mark of Zorro (Tyrone Power), The Muppet Movie (!), Serigio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, The Story of G.I. Joe (Robert Mitchum) and Under Western Stars (Roy Rogers).

And it looks like even the Library of Congress can't escape the Michael Jackson fever that has swept the nation since his death earlier this year with the inclusion of Thriller, his groundbreaking music video (a first for the NFR). The remainder of the inductees are mostly obscure shorts and documentaries; click here for a full description (pdf) of all NFR's class of '09, or see the comments section below for a quick look.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Toon Talk: Top 10 of 2009

Princesses, puppets and pixies … oh my!

2009 had its fair share of classic Disney entertainment, on screens both big and small, from grumpy old men to swashbuckling heroes to all of terra firma. To celebrate the Disney year that was, proudly presents the ninth annual Toon Talk Top 10!

Reel Thoughts: Nine + 3

To borrow from the old song, “Nine is the loneliest number that you’ll ever know.” At least that’s what you’ll glean from watching Daniel Day-Lewis as the most isolated and depressed Italian film director of all time in Nine. Oh, sure, he’s a serial womanizer, but it doesn’t seem to give him much pleasure.

That is the great disappointment of Rob Marshall’s Nine. Based on the classic Fellini film 8 ½ and the rousing Maury Yeston-Arthur Kopit Broadway musical, Marshall’s version is a well-made downer, all hangover and no party. It’s definitely not heeding its own call to “Be Italian,” even if Fergie, as an earthy whore, momentarily brings the film to life with that number.

Day-Lewis plays beloved Italian film director Guido Contini (a fact you’ll never forget; half the lyrics are people repeating his name), a narcissist in artistic crisis. He is set to start his new film, but he hasn’t even written it. It is to star his muse, Claudia, played as a gorgeous blank by Nicole Kidman, but she won’t agree to it. In the midst of an antagonistic press conference, Guido flees to a spa, and he entreats his sexy mistress Carla (Penélope Cruz, channeling her Maria Elena role from Vicky Cristina Barcelona), to join him.

Unfortunately, his long-suffering wife Luisa (a standout Marion Cotillard) shows up as well. Despite good advice from his faithful costumer Lilli (Judi Dench), Guido messes up royally, retreating into a world of fantasies and memories that include a boyhood encounter with Fergie’s prostitute, visions of Sophia Loren as his mother and a fun but disconnected dance number featuring Kate Hudson as an American magazine writer.

The musical onstage is vibrant and entertaining, but Marshall has created something different, a dour psychological production that diminishes its source material. Nine is a polished piece of work, with moments of exhilaration and great performances from the entire cast, but it is not a film you’ll want to see again — never a good sign with a musical.

Marshall’s work on Chicago almost single-handedly revived the movie musical, but Nine threatens to put it back into hibernation.

Guy Ritchie is back in fighting shape with Sherlock Holmes, a fun, witty and exciting retelling of the classic story. Don’t let the “for-the-idiots” trailer fool you: it’s not a dumbed-down, sexed-up howler. Robert Downey Jr. cements his place as the go-to guy for offbeat heroes, and Jude Law radiates a confident sexiness as Watson.

The homoerotic undercurrent — Watson’s moving out and getting married and Holmes is pissed off — makes Rachel McAdams’ character a lovely distraction. I love McAdams, but she’s too lightweight as Holmes’ con-woman girlfriend, Irene Adler. Perhaps Rachel Weiss or Cate Blanchett could have added some heft.

The story is an entertaining tale of a secret society and the supernatural in Victorian England. The production design is exquisite and the film packs a lot of action. Sherlock Holmes is the most fun you’ll have this holiday!

Jason Reitman, director of Juno and Thank You for Smoking, seems incapable of making a bad movie. His latest, Up in the Air, is pretty great, and features George Clooney’s sexiest, most vulnerable performances in years.

Vera Farmiga is smart, sexy and in control as Alex, the first woman to break through the defenses of Clooney's Ryan Bingham. Both are frequent flyer point junkies who get turned on by comparing rewards program cards.

Ryan is a professional firer — he flies the country laying off people. When he’s paired with hotshot Cornell grad Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who’s devised a way to fire people via teleconference, he’s in danger of losing the thing he loves most in the world — unlimited travel.

Reitman’s film punctures Ryan’s perfect but empty existence in the most adult, intelligent way. Up in the Air is up with the best films of the year.

Invictus is the latest film by Clint Eastwood, featuring a terrific performance by Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela. It is also a generic inspirational sports story that will mostly appeal to Phoenix Storm fans.

Rugby is a hard sport to capture on film, but since Mandela used the maligned apartheid-connected Springboks rugby team to bring South Africans together, it’s a necessary element. Freeman captures Mandela’s humane essence, and costar Matt Damon manages a pretty good South African accent.

However, the story, while based in fact, has such a tired familiarity, I doubt you’ll find yourself invigorated by Invictus.

UPDATE: Now available from Up in the Air on DVD and Blu-ray; Sherlock Holmes on DVD and Blu-ray, Nine on DVD and Blu-ray and Invictus on DVD and Blu-ray.

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Reel Thoughts Interview: Miss Patti LuPone

Patti LuPone has regrets? Not when I spoke to her earlier this fall. She was too busy preparing to take her only son Joshua off to college. The Long Island-born star of shows like Evita, Anything Goes, Sweeney Todd and Gypsy sounded for a moment more like Libby Thatcher, the loving mother she played in the groundbreaking show Life Goes On, than a Juilliard-trained perfectionist who is constantly challenging and outdoing herself on stage. “I’m just trying to get my kid to college,” she said. “It’s a rite of passage. It’s gonna be hard.” She mock sobbed a moment before laughing and admitting, “It’ll be fine.”

LuPone is coming to Phoenix on January 2 to perform her one-woman show, Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda ... Played That Part, which gives the Broadway legend the chance to perform roles and songs she never got to do. ”It’s the songs that I may have sung, or wanted to sing, or didn’t get a chance to sing. It’s sort of a chronological history of my life on the stage,” she explained. What roles? “Roles I’m too old for now, like Nellie Forbrush in South Pacific, Ruth in Wonderful Town, Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, Ado Annie in Oklahoma! … sometimes I like to go for the second bananas because they’re the better parts.”

Patti LuPone started her career as part of the first graduating class of Juilliard’s Drama Division, becoming a member of John Houseman’s Acting Company and a frequent collaborator with playwright David Mamet. It was her Tony Award-winning role as Eva Peron in Evita that made her famous, leading to a number of other career highlights (see comments section below), including another Tony for her Mama Rose in Gypsy.

Lupone considers herself “lyric-driven” as a performer, adding that doing solo work taught her more than four years at Juilliard. “On Saturday nights (after Evita), I would go down to a club called Les Mouches and do a cabaret act at midnight, and I discovered that I learned more about delivering a song, so when I went back to Evita, I was better. “Facing an audience as oneself and delivering a song, it doesn’t mean I’m not playing a character — it’s just not a book musical. It is me and I will act a song, but I’m not in costume and make-up and wigs.”

I asked LuPone how she chooses her roles. “First of all, if it’s offered to me, I rarely say no,” she replied. “Just because I’m grateful that they do. I don’t know. It’s all instinctual — I sort of know that I should do this show or not do that show, and I’m not always right.” She also trusts in the way each role leads to another challenge, such as her opera debut in To Hell and Back led to her Grammy Award-winning Los Angeles triumph in Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogonny, which in turn led to her Evening of Kurt Weill at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago.

LuPone’s trademark bluntness and brash talent has made her beloved to countless gay fans, including Jack McFarland on a memorable Will & Grace episode. She has also appeared on Ugly Betty (as Michael Urie’s mother), 30 Rock, Frasier and Oz. The inspiring Life Goes On tackled HIV issues through Chad Lowe’s character Jesse, who wed Kellie Martin’s Becca.

LuPone finds herself inspired by “anyone who’s good and committed. If I go to the theater and I see someone who reaches across the footlights because they want to tell me the story — I’m moved. That’s why we go to the theater. If I’m hooked, I’m inspired.” She is also grateful for her fans. “I love to see fans. It’s really heartening to see how many young people are coming to the theater. When they talk about the death of Broadway, I don’t think it’s true.”

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda is only one of five shows that LuPone is performing across the country, including one with her former Evita costar, Mandy Patinkin. While the show at Symphony Hall may shed light on LuPone’s life in the theater, an upcoming memoir promises to be even more revealing. “It’s an interesting process to relive my career — not always happily. There’s a lot of trials and tribulations in my career and I don’t know if it’s going to be interesting to anyone else but me,” she said, laughing.

Surely, LuPone had to have reached a point long ago when she admitted to herself that “she’s arrived” as a star? “I don’t think that I’m there yet. I still have fairly strong critics,” she laughed. “I don’t think I’ll ever be there, because I’m always wondering if I’ll ever get hired again. So I go out there and my training and my talent have seen me through. Only after I retire will I consider that I’ve arrived. It’s a constant struggle. I’m grateful that I’m given the challenges so deep in my career. To be able to meet that and succeed is incredibly encouraging. I never turn down a challenge, and if I fail, that too is a lesson. I don’t want to fail in front of a paying audience.”

Don’t say you "coulda, woulda, shoulda" seen Patti LuPone … see her show January 2 at Phoenix Symphony Hall!

Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Reverend's Reviews: Best Films of 2009

Gay men and a Jewish family struggling through personal and cultural challenges; an abused, teenaged girl claiming her dignity and self-worth; a mousy receptionist who discovers the twin joys of cooking and blogging; and a black woman born to surprised, white parents in apartheid-era South Africa are among the central characters in the ten best films I saw in 2009.

It was a great year on movie screens for the marginalized and the misunderstood, the neglected and the underdog. The best movies weren’t those with big budgets or, with a couple of exceptions, big stars but were themselves films on the fringes of the film industry.

There was a handful of acclaimed or highly anticipated movies (Invictus, Up in the Air, The Lovely Bones and Avatar) that I haven't been able to screen yet. No matter; I am proud of and grateful for the following films and the artists behind them:

1. Departures: The surprise winner of the 2008 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film didn’t receive theatrical release until this year. It is a deeply moving and frequently funny story of a young Japanese man who inadvertently becomes a mortician and finds himself ostracized as a result. A must-see, it is scheduled for release on DVDin January.

2. A Single Man: Out fashion designer Tom Ford makes a smashing debut as a filmmaker with this adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s novel about a gay man mourning the sudden death of his longtime partner. Colin Firth deserves an Oscar nomination, at least, for his delicate performance. One of the best gay-themed films to date.

3. After the Storm: The best among several great documentaries I saw this year, including Outrage, Every Little Step and Valentino: The Last Emperor. It’s depiction of a group of theatre artists helping young people in New Orleans mount a production of the musical Once On This Island in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is truly inspiring. Visit the film’s website for more information about the project and ongoing efforts.

4. A Serious Man: The Coen Brothers’ latest (not to be confused with A Single Man, above) is both their most autobiographical and their most theological film to date. A Jewish family in 1960’s Minnesota grapples with questions about God’s existence and mysterious ways. Long Beach native Michael Stuhlbarg is great and a likely Oscar nominee as the flummoxed patriarch.

5. The Last Station: Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren are magnificent as Russian author-activist Leo Tolstoy and his wife. After 48 years of marriage, they are facing Tolstoy’s waning health, political opportunists hoping to cash in on his legacy, and a growing call for revolution. The film evokes classics including The Lion in Winter and Reds while telling a unique, true-life story.

6. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire: Raped and impregnated by her father, beaten by her mother and harassed by her schoolmates, Precious (an amazing performance by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe) is overweight and seemingly going nowhere. She gradually discovers her value with the help of a hopeful teacher. The film (directed by Lee Daniels) is hard to watch at times, but you’ll be glad you did in the end.

7. Little Ashes: The little-known romance between Spanish poet Federico García Lorca and surrealist painter Salvador Dalí is brought to vivid life thanks to a fine script, great direction and bold performances by Javier Beltran and Twilight’s Robert Pattinson. The film will be released on DVDnext month.

8. The Baader-Meinhof Complex: Included among last year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Foreign Language Film but only released this year. It manages to be both informative and exciting as it recounts the rise and downfall of a group of idealistic young people in post-World War II Germany who, sadly, became terrorists themselves. Superior filmmaking in every way.

9. Julie & Julia: Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, reunited after last year’s powerful Doubt, are wonderful as, respectively, world-famous chef Julia Child and a contemporary, rudder-less woman who drew inspiration from her and blogged about it. Nora Ephron adapted the latter’s autobiographical book and directed the movie to entertaining, hunger-inducing effect.

10. Skin: The true story of Sandra Laing (a great Sophie Okonedo, who was Oscar-nominated for 2004’s Hotel Rwanda) who, through a recessive gene bursting to the fore, was born black to two white parents in South Africa. Her family’s subsequent internal struggles and fight with the apartheid government make for powerful, fascinating drama.

I also want to give “shout outs” to honorable mentions Coraline, the best of a large number of 3-D animated releases, and The Road, a masterful, faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s acclaimed apocalyptic novel.

Alas, into every otherwise good orchard of cinema a few bad apples must fall. My picks for the worst movies of 2009 include:

1. It’s Complicated: We love La Meryl, which is why we hate to watch her reduce herself to getting drunk, getting high and having unwise sex with her ex-husband (a puffy Alec Baldwin) in a desperate attempt to get laughs. Only the truly funny John Krasinsky, as Streep’s character’s son-in-law, emerges from this strained misfire unscathed.

2. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans: I admire German director Werner Herzog’s films and I like actor Nicolas Cage a lot, especially when he is at his most unhinged. This pseudo-sequel to the much better 1992 Bad Lieutenant is a waste of both men’s talents and moviegoers’ time.

3. Dim Sum Funeral: Shamefully manipulative, poorly acted dramedy about a Chinese-American family coming together following the presumed death of their matriarch.

4. Oh My God: Director Peter Rodger traveled around the world, posing the question “What is God?” to an eclectic assortment of people. Their responses are rarely illuminating, and only point out how hopelessly impossible to answer the question is.

5. Hannah Free: Sharon Gless is very good but miscast as a supposedly 80-year old lesbian confined to a nursing home, pining for her partner who is dying in the same facility. It’s hard to swallow the 60-ish Gless and the overall plot.

By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Reel Thoughts Interview: A Single Man’s Savior

Designer Tom Ford is one of those insanely talented men you want to hate. He’s gorgeous, a brilliant clothing designer, and now a first-time director with Oscar buzz building around his debut, A Single Man. Based on the book by Christopher Isherwood, it tells the story of a professor George Falconer (Colin Firth) in 1962 Los Angeles who, bereft at the death of his partner (Matthew Goode, Ozymandias in Watchmen), decides to commit suicide. As his presumed last day unfolds, George sets about putting his life in order, planning a last night with his devoted friend Charlie (Julianne Moore, looking ravishing in period gowns), and enjoying a sexually-charged conversation with a handsome James Dean-like hustler (Jon Kortajarena).

He is interrupted in his mission by Kenny, one of his students, who may be just what George needs to shatter his suicidal funk. Kenny is played by a striking young man, Nicholas Hoult, who you’ll be amazed to recognize as “the boy” in the Hugh Grant film, About a Boy. Hoult took time from his twentieth birthday to speak to me about A Single Man, and why British actors have fewer hang-ups about playing gay characters than American actors.

NC: First of all, happy birthday. You’re not a teen-ager anymore.
NH: Thank you. Yeah, I’m twenty today. Odd.

NC: And I just remembered, we (the Phoenix Film Critics Society) gave you an acting award for About a Boy in 2003.
NH: Yeah, which was fantastic. It’s in my house.

NC: So how did your love of acting come about?
NH: It was more of an accident, to be honest with you. My brothers and sisters were involved in the same thing. My mother took me along at three, and the director saw me in the audience, and used me in her next play. It sort of all kicked off from there. It was kind of a hobby which I continued to do — instead of playing for a sports team, I’d act.

NC: Kenny’s a pretty forward character. How did you approach playing him?
NH: The main thing about Kenny is, he’s not necessarily that confident. He’s about embracing the moment and living in the now. I think anyone would seem that confident if they were just about the present, and not worrying about the past or the future. I think that’s where Kenny’s coming from.

NC: It’s just what George needs at that moment.
NH: That’s why their relationship works so well, because George is someone who is living in the past very much and dealing with the loss of his lover. He’s not been spontaneous and gone swimming in the ocean at night and all that. A lot of people in life don’t have those experiences enough.

NC: For you, what was the best part of working on A Single Man?
NH: For me, it was working with such talented people as Tom and Colin and the whole crew. It was a real labor of love for everyone. It’s a nice experience on a film set when it’s not all about making money.

NC: A colleague was grateful that the film showed a healthy gay relationship (before the lover’s death), rather than self-loathing characters.
NH: That’s a key part of the story is that it’s about love and loss, and it would have worked as well if George’s partner who died had been female.

NC: Was it hard slipping into the time period and the American accent?
NH: I had a great dialogue coach and she just made sure that the accent was specific to the time and place we’re in, and it gives you the confidence to forget the fact that you're speaking in an accent when you’re acting. The script was so beautifully constructed by Tom, that everything you needed was in there.

NC: What are Kenny’s motives in respect to George?
NH: I think it was to have a connection and an understanding with him. It’s pretty rare in life when we do have a beneath-the-surface sort of connection with someone.

NC: I notice that British actors seem to have a lot less hang-ups about playing gay roles. Why is that?
NH: I don’t know if it’s that British actors are so happy to be working (laughing). There’s not such a huge air of not being cast in something else because you played a gay character, because people aren’t defined by their sexuality — they’re more defined by many other things in their personality. I think maybe it’s something to do with looking past that as well.

Hoult will also be seen in the big budget film Clash of the Titans, which he enjoyed. “It’s great to see how those films are made. I think it could be a very popular film,” he remarked. For now, he hopes people will see A Single Man. “It’s a great piece of cinema,” he said, that teaches people to live for the moment and enjoy life.

UPDATE: A Single Man is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from

Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Take Me Back to Manhattan

The friendship, the fun, the fashion, the ... camels?

Click here to watch the first trailer for Sex and the City 2, in theaters May 28.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Reverend’s Reviews: Best DVDs of 2009

Now that standard DVDs, Blu-Ray discs and online films are thrown at us on a daily basis, our entertainment options are more plentiful than ever. I was surprised, therefore, that it took me very little time to identify the ten best home-viewing releases of 2009. Not all of them are of specifically GLBT- interest, but I doubt many readers will quibble (at least not much) over the significance of my selections.

In my personal order of preference, they are:

Yentl- Barbra Streisand’s much-beloved “drama with music” finally made its DVD debut in early 2009, shortly after the 25th anniversary of its 1983 theatrical premiere. Streisand stars as a young Jewish woman who disguises herself as a man so she can continue her studies of Talmud following the death of her loving, progressive father. The film is notable for being Streisand’s superior directorial debut as well as for its beautiful score by songwriting greats Alan & Marilyn Bergman and Michel Legrand. The disc is a must-have not only for the film itself but also for a number of great behind-the-scenes extras.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs- Walt Disney famously bet several years of his life and virtually all his assets on the first feature-length animated movie in history. Fortunately for him, it became a smash hit and instant classic. The recently released home video “diamond edition” reveals why this adaptation of the Brothers Grimm story remains so enduring. This is also the first time Snow White has been available on Blu-Ray, providing the strongest visual argument yet to buy a Blu-Ray player.

The Wizard of Oz- The Judy Garland classic looks and sounds better than ever thanks to its recent, 70th anniversary DVD re-release. It, too, was also just released for the first time on Blu-Ray, making the cinematography’s “no place like home” sepia tones warmer than ever and its “merry old land of Oz” color scheme truly eye-popping. The disc is also available in a lavish box set that includes a variety of goodies.

Milk- Sean Penn masterfully, even exuberantly, re-incarnates Harvey Milk, the first openly gay US politician. As a well-deserved result, Penn won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Actor. Director Gus Van Sant made full use of his knowledge of filmmaking and GLBT history, making this important story engrossing no matter what one’s sexual orientation. The disc also features several interesting documentaries about Milk and his legacy.

Gone With the Wind- Scarlett, Rhett, Bonnie Blue, Melanie, Ashley and Mammy are all here (albeit briefly in Bonnie Blue’s case), for the first time on Blu-Ray as well as in a lovingly re-mastered standard DVD. A truly immortal film (if at times uncomfortable due to its pre-Civil War, Old South setting), GWTW is graced with vivid cinematography and performances and a classic music score.

Ready? OK!- I’ve been raving about this movie via numerous outlets for the last year-and-a-half. Now that it is available on DVD, I’m delighted to have an opportunity to rave about it all over again! The charming story of a little boy who longs to join his Catholic school’s cheer squad was a hit on the 2008 film festival circuit, and is worthy of the broader exposure it now has courtesy of home video.

Coraline- A visually amazing and emotionally haunting stop-motion animated adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s fairy/morality tale. Not just for children, it spins a web — not unlike its spider-ish villainess (voiced by Desperate Housewife Teri Hatcher) — composed of equal parts whimsy and danger. The home video version comes with 3-D glasses in hopes of replicating the superlative theatrical experience to some degree ... the bigger and more hi-def the TV, the better.

Humpday- This provocative yet sensitive exploration of male relationships narrowly missed being included among my ten best films of 2009. Two longtime, seemingly straight buddies make a bet to have sex on camera … with each other. Gay men, bisexual men, straight men, curious men and the women who love them should all see this movie (did I mention that it’s primarily a comedy?) for its bold take on sexual politics.

Up- Disney-Pixar’s most recent animated hit is a decidedly more mature work in both plot and execution. An elderly man mourning the death of his wife takes off in a helium balloon-laden house on an adventure to the one place they didn’t get to travel to together. He and a stowaway, overly-eager Boy Scout discover considerably more than they bargained for. Many critics named this one of the best films of 2009, and it could well end up in the running for Best Picture among this year’s Oscar nominees.

The Strange One- One of the more obscure movies among 2009’s video releases, this 1957 drama features Ben Gazzara and a young, dreamy George Peppard in their film debuts as cadets in a military academy. Homosexual tensions run high, and the original theatrical release was censored as a result. Thankfully, the film has been restored and is now presented uncut for the first time on DVD.

Before concluding, my TV-loving partner, Jim, would say I was remiss if I didn’t mention that 2009 also marked the long-awaited home video debuts of Lucille Ball’s later-life series Here’s Lucy and The Lucy Show,as well as the final season of Bewitched.

May 2010 bring you and yours many happy viewing experiences!

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.