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Tim Russell’s Top 10 (Plus Some More) Movies of 2009

Plus My Meryl Streep Moment

My day job is Entertainment Editor for CBS owned WCCO Radio (am830) in Minneapolis, which means I see over 120 films a year and talk about them on “The Morning News With Dave Lee”, every  Monday through Friday, twice an hour, from 5 to 9 am Central, you can stream us live at wccoradio.com. I review TV shows and theatrical productions, but my passion is the Cinema.

I think it’s impossible to list the top 10 films when you see that many movies in any given year: so many great foreign films, so many fine documentaries, so many brilliant small independent films that people will never get a chance to see without a DVD release, but nevertheless, I’ve put together a top 10 list with the addition of some Honorable Mentions.

Up in the Air

All things considered, I would have to put “Up in The Air” as the best film of the year, for timeliness; the story of an agent of downsizing, George Clooney, a road warrior, has it all, humor, great acting from Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick.

Serious Man Pic

At Number 2 it’s the Coen Brothers very personal remembrance of St. Louis Park’s Jewish Community circa 1967, “A Serious Man”. It’s entertaining, darkly humorous, and provocative, in the way it will have you discussing the meaning of it all, and well acted by a brilliant cast of character actors. I say this in spite of the fact that my appearance as “Detective 1″ could have sabotaged the whole project.

Number 3 on my list would be the latest from Pixar, “Up”. It’s a touching , entertaining film for the whole family, with an animated four minute segment at the beginning of the film that illustrates the love story between the Balloons Salesman, voiced by Ed Asner, and his life long love, that moved me more than any other movie moment this year.

PreciousNumber 4 is “Precious”, not the feel-good movie of the year, but a reminder of the power of the human spirit in overcoming monumental obstacles. Gaborey Sidibe is amazing as Precious, an possible Oscar winning performance from a novice actor. Monique, the comedian, is anything but comedic in her turn as Precious’ disturbingly evil mother, another sure to be Oscar nominee.

Number 5 goes to a comedy, “The Hangover”, a very funny “R” rated; bad things can happen in Vegas story, with brilliant timing from a talented cast including “The Office’s” Ed Helms, Zach Galifianikis, and Bradley Cooper.

Number 6 is a little seen British film called “In the Loop”, a brilliant script involving backroom shenanigans between the Brits and the U.S. in the run up to the Iraqi invasion. It’s an acid tongued mashup of TV’s “The Office” and “The West Wing”.

“Star Trek”, from J.J. Abrams, is my number 7 pick. It’s a great “re-imagining” of the “Star Trek” franchise with a clever story line and fine special effects. It says a lot that you don’t have to be a Trekkie to enjoy this one, a credit to the talented cast and director.

At number 8, “The Hurt Locker” from director Katherine Bigelow. This is perhaps the best war movie I’ve ever seen. Jeremy Renner is a revelation as an IED bomb detonation expert. He’s fearless and unpredictable, and the combat footage is amazingly effective.

AvatarNumber 9 goes to “Avatar”, not because of the storyline which has been done before; a mighty power trying to eliminate an indigenous population (the Nav’i) in a quest for a rare commodity, but because of the 3-D “performance capture acting” and imaginative world that James Cameron creates. You’ve never seen anything like these visuals before.

My number 10 film of the year is Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog”, a hand drawn 3D animation, in the classic Disney style the captures the sights an sound of New Orleans and the Cajun Bayou backwaters in a funny, raucous, toe-tapping fairytale that all ages will appreciate.

Honorable mentions go to:

Julie and Julia“Julie and Julia”. Meryl Streep should get an Oscar nod for bringing Julia Child back to life. Her stunning portrayal, and touching love story with her acting partner Stanley Tucci, as Julia’s husband, makes this film a delight for foodies and non-foodies alike. On a personal note, I bumped into Meryl as she was getting into her limo outside of the ABC “Good Morning America” studios. I was coming out of the Deli across from the hotel where we were stranded after the big Northeast Blizzard of ’09. She had just entered the back passenger seat, so I walked up and waved at the tinted window. I could see a had waving back, she lowered the window,  having remembered, evidently, the time we spent together on the 2006 Robert Altman film, “A Prairie Home Companion”. She was aware that we had just finished our New York run of Garrison Keillor’s  show at The Town Hall, and I complimented her on her latest acting triumph, “It’s Complicated”, and her amazing turn as Julia Child in “Julie and Julia”, giving the latter nod with my own impression of the late , very imitable, “French Chef”, and with a buoyant laugh, shw was of to her next interview.

“This is It”, the documentary of Michael Jackson’s preparation for what was to be his final tour, is a thrilling reminder of what and amazing talent, personal issues aside, Jackson was. He’s in charge, in command, and totally  engaged in what would have been the concert of the decade. We see, in the rehearsal footage, that as a live performer, he’s was gracious, generous, and in fine form, even just days before his death.

I really enjoyed the documentary “It Might Get Loud” from Oscar winning film maker ( “An Inconvenient Truth”) Davis Guggenheim. This is a story about three legendary guitarists and their love affair with the guitar. Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin, The Edge from U2, and Jack White from The White Stripes are all featured in archival footage, and together, jamming with their beloved guitars.

“Paranormal Activity” deserves credit for moving the Horror Genre back from torture porn (the Saw franchise) to a very real fear of the unknown. The hyper-realistic home video style, with two unknown actors, gives you a visceral reaction to things that go bump in the night.

For a similar reason I think “District 9″ was one of the most effective movies of the year. An unknown South African cast and great special effects give this reminder of the dangers of Segregation a power that stays with you long after leaving the theater. Hats off to first time director Neill Blomkamp.

into temptation

And finally, a nod to local filmmaker Patrick Coyle whose award winning “Into Temptation” did sold out Box Office business in the Twin Cities, where it was filmed last year. Great script and performances by Jeremy Sisto as a priest in crisis mode, and Kristin Chenowith as a troubled prostitute. It’s well worth a look on DVD.

Thanks for tuning into “The Morning News with Dave Lee” for my entertainment reports, I look forward to your next visit in 2010.

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Behind the Scenes with Tim Russell on the Coen Brothers’ “A Serious Man”

Serious Man PicThere’s a new Behind the Scenes Featurette on the making of the new Coen Brothers’ movie “A Serious Man.” For some reason, my scene as “Detective #1″ is featured at the 1:52 to 2:08 mark of the 3 minute, 21 second video. I had no idea they were filming it that day, but it’s fun to see the scene from a “behind-the-scenes perspective.” Check it out, but, more importantly, go see this very funny film.

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Tim Russell is cast in new Coen Brothers Film

I was cast as a Detective, circa 1967, in the new Coen Brothers Film “A Serious Man”, now shooting in Minneapolis, St. Paul, MN. I auditioned for casting agent Rachel Tenner August 5 and had a callback on the 12th with the Coen Brothers. It’s a small speaking part but it’s a thrill to be involved.

On August 23 I met with Mary Zophres, the costume designer for a wardrobe fitting. There was a large room filled with every conceivable outfit, male and female, from the late’60’s, a look I remember very well. I received a nice dark suit, skinny tie black shoes and socks, white shirt and a “Blues Brothers” hat. I had a nice chat with Debbie DeLisi, the extras casting director. She worked on the Robert Altman film “A Prairie Home Companion” with me and brought me up to date on what the producers and crew had been up to.

September 1, Labor Day, took me to the floor of the Republican National Convention as part of my day job with WCCO, a CBS radio station, and “The Morning News with Dave Lee”. I’m the Entertainment Editor as part of the morning show, but during the convention I served as a roving reporter ambushing the big names with my trusty Flash Mic, a portable digital Microphone with a built in flash memory. I Talked with Laura Bush, NBC’s Meredith Vieira, Rep. Ron Paul, Face the Nation’s Bob Shieiffer, former Governor Jesse Ventura, CNN’s John Roberts and many others. The security was intense, but since we arrived at 4am each morning it was smooth sailing getting in and out.

After the last day, September 4, my wife and I left for vacation in Buenos Aires, Argentina The Coen Brothers had some concerns about our planned return date of September 15th since my shooting day was to be the 16th, so we arranged to come back on the 13th, traveling back through Houston.

Buenos Aires Filete paintingArgentina was great, good food, great people, and fine architecture. Hurricane Ike was of some concern through our week there, so we moved our return to September 11th, arriving in Houston on the 12th. It became a race with the clock, when we arrived in Houston our 11am flight had been canceled; they were closing the airport at Noon. We were able to rebook getting the last two seats on the 7:10am flight to MSP, but had just 20 minutes to make the flight. We were very lucky. Judy’s cousin Patty lives in Houston and said we could stay in their guest room if we got stranded. Ike hit in the wee hours of Saturday the 13th and later that day we got a call from Patty that a tree had smashed through their roof right into the guestroom that had been prepped for us. We were very, very lucky.

1.jpgTuesday the 16th I arrived at the base camp of the Coen Brothers Film at 9am, got into my costume and waited for my call. The base camp is a Lutheran Church in Bloomington, a postwar suburb with the right look for the period. The block of homes that serves as the exterior set was hit with straight line winds a few years back so all these ramblers had newly planted trees making it look like 1967. We I got the call for my scene after a great film set meal, I was blown away by the time travel aspect of the one story houses with mid 60’s cars in every driveway.

11.jpgI play Detective #1 and my partner, Detective#2 is played by Guthrie Theater actor, Jim Lichtscheidl. We looked like Jake and Elwood, The Blues Brothers, in our hats so the Coen Brothers decided to ditch the hats. We blocked the scene then waited 20 minutes for them to set the camera and lights. The props department had just given us badges to use…”Badges! Badges! I don’t need no stinking badges!” I used the time practicing whipping my badge out of my suit coat pocket with authority.

We did four takes, shooting us from inside the house through a screen door, with minor adjustments each time. The brothers were very nice and seemed pleased with the results. They even thanked me for coming back from my vacation early. When I told them about our close call Ethan said, “I guess we saved your life then”. We return on October 13th to film the scene again from our viewpoint of the scene, the exterior of the house looking in to the living room.

It’s about 30 seconds, so I don’t think I’ll be submitted for anyone’s consideration come Oscar time, but it was a big thrill. I just hope I escape the cutting room floor.

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