Debbie Cerda's blog

2009 in Review: Debbie's List


'Extract' World Premiere in Austin

Before I get into the meat of my personal best and worst of 2009, I'd like to reflect on my Slackerwood experiences with a slight tangent. Through my experiences as both an attendee and volunteer at South by Southwest over the years, I've come to appreciate "defining moments" -- an awareness of a synchronicity that represents that event. For SXSW Film Festival, one of these defining moments was my encounter with Jim Jarmusch (pictured after the jump), which I later conveyed in my "first" Slackerwood contribution for the Alamo Downtown Blog-a-thon. Other moments included a conversation with Penelope Spheeris in the ladies room at local bar, or the ultimate -- Louis Black introducing me to Jonathan Demme.

As a film geek, I'm grateful that Slackerwood founder/editor Jette Kernion brought me on in June to share the cool and interesting film happenings and my personal opinions of films. I'm especially grateful to the Slackerwood audience, for supporting us in our love for film, and for allowing me to share my Slackerwood defining moments. There are moments during a conversation with a filmmaker there's a self-awareness -- I'm getting some intimate filmmaking insight that I get to share!

Enough sentiment, on to my personal list:

2009 in Review: Notable Non-Profit Film Events


Lights. Camera. Help. Founders

During the 2007 Austin City Limits Music Festival, I had the pleasure of meeting musician Bela Fleck, star of the 2008 documentary Throw Down Your Heart. He asked me, "Tell me what you like about Austin, and don't say the music -- everyone says that!" Without hesitation, I responded, "The sense of community, whether it's music, film or volunteering."

Several non-profit film-related events of 2009 represented that special quality of Austin, with local theaters and filmmakers showing their support of non-profits in our community. One highlight was the newest event and local non-profit, Lights. Camera. Help.

From July 31 to August 2, Lights. Camera. Help. hosted the first of what it plans to be an annual film festival of non-profit and cause-driven films. Over 140 documentaries, PSAs and short films were submitted, with 20 finalists selected for screening. At the closing party, local filmmaker Layton Blaylock took top honors for his film Art from the Streets. The local program Art from the Streets, the subject of this film, received all the proceeds from the festival. This program provides the opportunity for homeless individuals to explore their painting and drawing skills in open studio art classes at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH).

Review: The Young Victoria


The Young Victoria

The historical biopic The Young Victoria focuses on the political struggles surrounding the throne of the United Kingdom of Great Britain as well as the romance of one of the most influential monarchs in history. Written by award-winning writer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), this film is a visually stunning and engaging portrayal of Victoria's ascent to the throne at a time when the monarch held few political powers. 

The title character in The Young Victoria (Emily Blunt) is the object of a royal power struggle. Her uncle, King William (Jim Broadbent), is dying and Victoria is next in line for the throne. Everyone is vying for her favor, but Victoria is kept from the court by her overbearing mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), who in turn is controlled by her own ambitious advisor, Lord Conroy (Mark Strong). Imposing the Kensingston system, the manipulative pair keep Victoria isolated in an attempt to keep her weak and therefore dependent on them.

Review: It's Complicated


It's Complicated

Writer/director Nancy Meyers (What Women Want, The Holiday) brings another romantic comedy to the screen with It's Complicated featuring veteran actors Meryl Streep, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin. This film about love and divorce puts a spin on the Other Woman story, and will leave most older women either shaking their head in disbelief or hopeful for re-kindled love. 

Jane (Streep) is the mother of three grown kids, and ten years after their divorce is on amicable terms with her ex-husband, attorney Jake (Baldwin). He is remarried to Agness (Lake Bell), a much younger woman who had been Jake's mistress. Jane has hit her stride as owner of a bakery/cafe, and looking to expand the house she'd moved into after the divorce.

Review: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel


Alvin and the Chipmunks

Just in time for the holidays comes the latest animated movie featuring the furriest pop sensations of the last 50 years, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. Based on characters created by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. in 1958, the singing group consists of three chipmunk brothers: Alvin, the lead of the group and the head troublemaker; Simon, the bespectacled nerdy intellectual; and Theodore, the chubby and gullible brother. The group is managed by Dave Seville, who also acts as a father figure to the young chipmunks.

In Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, an unfortunate accident leaves Dave(Jason Lee) laid up in Paris, so Alvin (Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (Jesse McCartney) are left in the care of Dave Seville's twenty-something gamer nephew Toby (Zachary Levi).

Review: Avatar


Avatar Neytiri and Jake Sully

Apparently James Cameron was not content just being "King of the World" with Titanic -- now he's tackling other planets, with lovers even more star-crossed than Jack and Rose in one of the most anxiously awaited epic science fiction film of the decade, Avatar.

The story takes place on Pandora, a lush planet light years from Earth where a multinational corporation has established a mining colony. Harvesting of the rich deposits of the fittingly named unobtanium on the planet is made difficult by the toxic air and seemingly primitive and hostile inhabitants, the Na'vi. In an attempt to make nice with the natives, the conglomerate uses "avatars", remotely controlled biological bodies created by mixing the "driver" human DNA with that of the native genome. The avatars can then act as proxies within the local inhabitants to infiltrate and then negotiate their exodus from a prime mining location. The guns for hire military forces prefer wielding a heavy stick, with oversized armored robots and firepower, than finding a peaceful solution. In a world where everything is connected -- think biodiversity -- mining under the Na'vi Hometree and the "Sky People" brute force has cataclysmic effects.

Austin Film Critics Association Announces 2009 Winners


Austin Film Critics Association logoThe Austin Film Critics Association announced their annual awards on Tuesday. The best movie of the year honor went to director Kathyrn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, a drama about a bomb disposal unit based in Baghdad, Iraq. Bigelow was also awarded Best Director, and the film, which played SXSW 2009, won the Best Cinematography category for Barry Ackroyd's work.

The Austin Film Award, given to a movie directed by a local filmmaker or shot in Austin, went to Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles. The film, which Jette reviewed, also won an award for Best Breakthrough Performance by Christian McKay, who played Welles.

The local critics' group awarded Best Original Screenplay to Austin favorite writer/director Quentin Tarantino's WWII-era movie Inglourious Basterds. Best Actress went to Melanie Laurent for her performance in the film, which we reviewed, with my personal favorite Christoph Waltz winning Best Supporting Actor.

Best Actor went to Colin Firth for his role in A Single Man, which has not yet had an Austin release, and Anna Kendrick received the honor of Best Supporting Actress for Up in the Air, which opens Friday in Austin.

The Austin Film Critics Association, of which Slackerwood editor Jette Kernion is a member, also voted on the top movies of the decade, a list headed by the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

You can read the full list of awards after the jump, including Top Films of 2009 and the Decade.

Review: Serious Moonlight


Serious Moonlight

Veteran actress Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) directs her first film, Serious Moonlight, a dark comedy that premiered as the opening-night film at this year's Austin Film Festival. This film depicts a couple who would seem to have a perfect marriage of 13 years, but turns out that the husband thinks otherwise. Louise (Meg Ryan), a high-powered Manhattan lawyer, is touched when she arrives for the weekend to her family’s upstate getaway to find it strewn with rose petals by her husband of 13 years, Ian...

Louise (Meg Ryan) is a high-powered Manhattan lawyer who finally manages to get away early for the weekend to their upstate home, where she finds her husband Ian (Timothy Hutton), who has also arrived early. Only Ian is expecting his young girlfriend Sara (Kristen Bell) and is planning on breaking the news to his wife that he's leaving her. Louise appears to take the news well -- until she duct tapes Ian to a chair, with the intent of not releasing him until he commits to working out their marital issues. Mistress Sara arrives looking for Ian, as the lovestruck couple are about to fly to Paris for a romantic getaway. The situation gets even more complicated with the arrival of a gardener turned home invader, played by Justin Long (Dodgeball, Zack and Miri Make a Porno).

Review: Invictus



After the success of his first sports movie, Million Dollar Baby, Clint Eastwood takes on the sport of rugby, but with a social consciousness slant. Based on the novel by John Carlin, Invictus tells the story of Nelson Mandela's ambitious plan to use South Africa's national rugby team, the Springboks, to help unite the country in the wake of apartheid. The Springboks had to defy the odds to be able to make it to the 1995 Rugby World Cup Championship, held in South Africa.

After the first democratically run election in 1994, South Africa was still divided racially in the financial and political sectors as well as the sports arena. Reminders in the colors and symbols of the white supremacist rule are despised, but President Mandela recognized the opportunity to unify both races of his recovering country through the universal language of sport. Mandela's decision to keep the Springbok name, jersey, and colors is not approved of by the sports association or his advisors, yet he stands his ground in an attempt to reconcile with the Afrikaners.

Interview: Richard Linklater and Christian McKay, 'Me and Orson Welles'


Christian McKay and Richard Linklater on set of Me and Orson Welles

Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater and actor Christian McKay were recently in town for the regional premiere of Me and Orson Welles. This is McKay's first major film role -- he plays Welles, staging his now-famous version of Julius Caesar in 1937. Zac Efron plays a teenager who is pulled into the whirlwind of the stage production.

I managed to catch up with Linklater and McKay before the red carpet and talk about the film. Here's what they had to say.

Christian, you've done Orson Welles on stage, and now on film -- how do the two feel to you?

Christian McKay: They are completely different characters. On stage, I played him up to the age of 70  with a fat suit -- my dad used to say you don't need that -- and the stick-on beard. To play him right at the beginning of his career, at 22 starting out with the Mercury Theatre -- it's extraordinary, it's a brave time. To make such an astonishing success of it, that it is still considered one of the greatest Shakespearean performances in North American theatre history. It's just amazing and this is of course before War of the Worlds and Kane, to do all that by the time you are 26.

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