Five Favorites of 2009: Roger Smith

District 9

This nasty little alien fable is flat-out the only film to have come out of South Africa (albeit via Canada and the U.S.) worth talking about. After decades of turgid and over-worthy apartheid-angst pieces, this is fresh, slick and has a dark sense of humor that is uniquely South African. And I had to chuckle when the Nigerian government banned the film because it depicted some of their citizens as gangsters!

Californication

I’ve enjoyed the company of David Duchovny the last couple of years, playing it close to the bone as failed writer, Hank Moody. Drug and sex addiction, near-incest, jabs at publishing and the movie business and knockout dialogue enliven this superior Showtime offering. Television for adults by adults. Hallelujah.

Man on Wire

A hypnotic documentary about Philippe Petit’s high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Great footage from the early 70s is intercut with contemporary interviews with Petit and the people who assisted him. The spine of the film is Petit himself, who is as eloquent a speaker as he is a daredevil, communicating the nature of his obsession in vividly poetic language. The walk didn’t cost him his life, but it cost him his lover and some of his closest friends and collaborators.

The Wrestler

Sure, the story is a tired as Mickey Rourke’s hair – broken down wrestler with heart problems making one last tragic comeback – but his performance is unforgettable. Watching Rourke, who looks like he’s wearing his organs and circulatory system on the outside of his skin, is like watching a really bad car wreck: horrifying, but it’s impossible to drag your eyes away. How can he ever top this?

The Big Lebowski

Okay, I know this was released way back in 1998, but I watch this movie at least once a year and 2009 was no exception. I suggest you put the feet up, reach for your recreational drug of choice (or not), fire up the DVD and put yourself in the hands of the brilliant Coen brothers. Jeff Bridges gives the performance of his career (and that’s saying something) as Jeff Lebowski “the Dude”, a dope-head 60s slacker who has washed up in early 90s Los Angeles. With brilliant cameos by John Goodman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and John Turturro as a sexually perverse bowler named Jesus, this is just too good to miss. The tag line, “Times like these call for a Big Lebowski”, is as apt today as it was way back in the nineties.

Roger Smith was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and now lives in Cape Town. His debut thriller, Mixed Blood, was published in March 2009 and released in paperback by Picador Crime in December 2009. His second book, Wake Up Dead (Henry Holt & Co), is coming in February 2010. The movie version of Mixed Blood is in development – scheduled to start shooting in Cape Town in late 2010 – starring Samuel L. Jackson, with Phillip Noyce directing.