2009 The Year In Movies: 3-Drama

THE BURNING PLAIN (Guillermo Arriaga)

A look at this year’s Sundance winners and the backlog of US independent films awaiting international release makes us believe dramas are prevailing among 2009 cinematographic offer.

Of Imminent arrival is Guillermo Arriaga’s debut as a director, “The Burning Plain”. Arriaga was the screenplay partner of Alejandro Gonzalez-Iñarritu (“Amores Perros”; “Babel”) but after famously splitting up with the Mexican film-maker, he decided to swap roles. His first project, also self-penned, shows again his trademark multiple stories in multiple geographical locations with a final link style. Kim Basinger and Charlize Theron figure on its cast. However, and regardless of the brilliant standard of his work in the past, this directorial debut received mixed reviews in Berlin.

Not only writers want to turn into directors, some actors also will take the lead, among them Samantha Morton. The Academy Award nominee British actress will debut with “The Unloved”, a view of the UK’s care system for orphans and children in danger, from the perspective of one of them. Little else is known so far.


Biopics are often a good source material for drama, and there won’t be in short supply: Jon Amiel will deliver “Creation,” based on the marital and religious conflicts between Charles Darwin’ work and his wife’s beliefs, with Paul Bettany and Jennifer Conelly in their skins. Another high-profile biography will be “Precious” a story about the achievement of Olympic winner Precious McKenzie, who managed to transcend the tough conditions of her South African background during apartheid times; directed by Frederik Du Chao and performed by Viola Davis (Doubt), Franka Potente and the young Mo’Nique.


Another reliable platform for fine drama is normally Sundance’s festival indie crop. The awarded ones this year are likely to make an impact. Lee Daniels swept the board with “Push: based on the novel by Sapphire” conquering the Grand Jury and Audience Prizes, as well as an award for her lead actress, Mo’Nique’ on her jump to fame. The film tackles child abuse, young pregnancy and lack of self-esteem and society’s few ways to deal with those issues. Mariah Carey, who restores her reputation as a potential actress after being laughed at in “Glitter”, and Lenny Kravitz also appear.

In the same festival, Oliver Hirschbiegel, returning to the political/historical grounds of his acclaimed tale of the last days of Hitler (“Downfall”) after a faux-pas in Hollywood blockbuster hell (“The Invasion”), won the International director award for “Five Minutes Of Heaven”, in which Liam Neesom and James Nesbitt are men in the different sides of the recent Irish conflict, The film also earned screenplay honours.

BALLAST (Lance Hammer)

One of the most acclaimed American indie last year, with multiple nominations for the Spirit Awards, Land Hammer’s “Ballast”, the story of a suicide in the Mississippi delta area and the impact that it has on the life of three people, will hopefully find international distributor.

A Former winner for the fascinating documentary “Capturing the Friedmans”, Andrew Jarecki will benefit from the talents of Frank Langella, Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst and Jeffrey Dean Morgan in another look, this time fictional, at a family dynasty and its dark secrets in “All Good Things”.

FROZEN RIVER (Courtney Hunt)

More Independent Spirit winners: Courtney Hunt, who also scooped two Oscar nods for his screenplay and for Melissa Leo’s performance in “Frozen River”, was one of last year’s most notable indie triumphs. The movie will finally hit our screens in a couple of months. Other noteworthy female performances are likely to be Nicole Kidman’s vs. Naomi Watts’ in Ryan Murphy’s “Need.” In which a therapist discovers one of her patients is having an affair with her husband.


Race, community and relationships are the subject of “Medicine for Melancholy” for which Barry Jenkins also got nominated for the Spirit Awards. Other film dealing with race issues, as well as personality disorders, is Geoffrey Sax’ “Frankie and Alice”, with Halle Berry tipped to have a career boost after the many lows that followed her panned “Catwoman”

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BIG FAN (Robert D. Siegel)

Patton Oswald, an alternative comedian, is progressively finding his way into feature films. He will be the star of “Big Fan”, in which a huge follower of the Giants has to cope with being beaten by one of his idols.

Former actor and writer, Scott Cooper will debut with one of the most eyebrow raising casts of the year in “Crazy Heart”, including Colin Farrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall and Jeff Bridges.

THE GREATEST (Shana Feste)

Dramas often offer star-vehicle possibilities for high-calibre actors but even more often end up drowning their good intentions in the dangerous waters of sentimentality; two of this year’s high octane performing showcases at risk of going one or the other way are Shana Feste’s “The Greatest” in which Susan Sarandon, Pierce Brosnan and up and coming Carey Mulligan will become a family trying to get over the loss of one son. Other peculiar example could be the one of Joe Pesci and Helen Mirren, impersonating the married couple who opened the first legal brothel in Nevada in “Love Ranch”. Mr. Mirren himself, Taylor Hackford, will follow-up his multi-nominated Ray Charles biopic with this film.

FLASH OF GENIUS (Marc Abraham)

Veteran producer Marc Abrahams slips into director’s shoes with “Flash Of Genius”, the story of the inventor of the windshield wiper and his legal David vs. Goliath type of battle against the Detroit motor industry, for stealing his idea. Greg Kinnear stars alongside Alan Alda, Dermot Mulroney, etc.
Kevin Spacey will become a celebrities psychologist who loses his way after a personal tragedy in “Shrink” , helping Jonas Pate jump from TV series to big screen director.


Left at the doors of the Oscar nominations due to overcrowding, veterans Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson conquered audiences at last year in Toronto’s film festival in Joel Hopkins third effort, the crowd pleaser “Last Chance Harvey”.

Other veteran duo of renowned performers, Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn illuminate the low budget tale about an elderly man discovering love in “Lovely, Still”, Nicholas Fackler’s debut.

THE TEMPEST (Julie Taymor)

In the chapter of literary adaptations, the controversial Julie Taymor will dare to bring Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” to the big screen, with an curious cast including Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Chris Cooper, David Strathairn, Alan Cummings, Alfred Molina and Djimon Hounsou. Oscar Wilde’s “Dorian Gray” will also be revisited by British director Oliver Parker, who seems to be specializing in Wilde’s body of work as some of his past films include “The Important Of Being Earnest” and “An Ideal Husband”.


Rebecca Miller, Mrs. Day-Lewis, hasn’t had a terrific film career so far, but this may be about to change thanks to “The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee”. Julianne Moore, Keanu Reeves, Robin Penn Wright, Maria Bello and the reappearance of Winonna Ryder are likely to help boosting its profile, even when it was somehow ignored on its presentation in Berlin.

And with a more modest cast, but also full of recognizable names (Dermot Mulroney, Hope Davis, Gabrielle Anwar, Selma Blair, Keith Carradine…) “Happy Together” will tell the story of yet another dysfunctional family given a second chance to set things straight by the mother’s memory loss.

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