So many directors describe their movies as “personal” that the sentiment becomes commonplace, even cliché. Not so with Mike Mills – the Thumbsucker director, not the R.E.M. bassist – who drew on intimate details from his private life as the starting point for his powerful new drama Beginners, which opens Friday.
Sure, he changed the names and embellished the timeline – Mills, 45, says he never intended to make an autobiography, much less portray close friends on screen without their blessing. But in his real-life story, fraught with unexpected revelations and profound self-realizations, the director saw a unique opportunity to connect with wider audiences.
This has been heralded as the year of the animated movie, and with good reason: Fantastic Mr. Fox, Coraline and Up, among others, proved as engaging for adults as for children, validating a genre unfairly dismissed as kiddie fare by some critics and too many Oscar voters.
To me, 2009 was most memorable for its documentaries. Tyson, Capitalism: A Love Story, The Beaches of Agnes and The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers entertained as well as informed, and all remain worthy candidates for end-of-the-year accolades. Consider them (as well as Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are) runners-up to my list of the year’s best films.
For almost any other filmmaker, Inglourious Basterds – yes, it’s really spelled that way – would represent a career-defining achievement, an audacious spaghetti western-style World War II fantasy that dares to rewrite history and give the Nazis their due. For Quentin Tarantino, it’s just par for an elevated course.