5 Favorites of 2009: Steve Hockensmith

Being a family guy with young children and a writer guy with tight deadlines, I don’t get out much anymore. I consider myself a big-time film fan, yet I went to the movie theater *twice* in 2009. There was a time in my life I might’ve gone twice in a weekend. Hell, one nasty-cold Chicago winter’s day, I saw three movies in an afternoon…and I only paid for one! Those were the days. Weary sigh.

Thank Jebus for Netflix. Sure, it’s not the same watching something on a TV or a computer as a mondo-mega-screen with a pumped-up crowd. But how many theaters do you know where you can show up in your underwear sipping on a bourbon on the rocks? Only the cineplex in your house, my friends.

Which is why my entire top five came to me via Netflix. The movies I actually dragged my carcass out to see, by the by, were Watchmen and Star Trek. Which were fine! If this were a top 20 list instead of a top five, I’d write about them. But the winners are:

(1) Man on Wire: The most gripping thriller I’ve seen in years…and it’s all true! And all that happens is a crazy Frenchman gets up on a high wire! Alright, so the wire’s strung up between the Twin Towers circa 1974, so that raises the stakes a bit.

(2) This American Life, Season 2: I laughed, I cried, I was awestruck by the amazing stories these guys dug up. As a fiction writer, this scared me. If everyone could make real life this absorbing, I’d be out of a job.

(3) Anvil: The Story of Anvil: For the record, I am not a heavy metal fan. I like my metal light. And not so metally. Yet here’s a documentary about a struggling heavy metal band that has you rooting so hard for the wannabe rock gods, it doesn’t matter what you think of their music.

(4) Protagonist: What? Another documentary? I promise you, I am not trying to be pretentious! I guess I was just in that kind of mood this year. Anyway, this one’s kind of strange but really intriguing. Four very different men tell their life stories, and the filmmakers use Greek drama and puppets — yes, Greek drama and puppets — to explore the parallels. It helps that the guys are really interesting: One’s a martial arts expert, one’s a gay Christian, one’s a reformed bank robber, and one’s a German terrorist.

(5) 30 Rock, Season 1: I was going to say The Wire, Season 5, which is stupendous, of course. But you know what’s great to catch between documentaries (or TV dramas that *feel* like documentaries)? A great, palate-cleansing comedy. Twenty-something minutes of clever, yuk-inducing pleasure. Which would be 30 Rock. I’m a little late to the 30 Rock bandwagon, but that’s the great thing about the DVD/on-demand age: It’s never too late for anything anymore.

Steve Hockensmith is the author of the “Holmes on the Range” mystery series. His next novel, the “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” prequel “Dawn of the Dreadfuls,” comes out in March. Visit his site at http://www.stevehockensmith.com.