When you have a screenplay written by Michael Tolkin (The Player) and the late Anthony Minghella (director of The English Patient, Cold Mountain, and The Talented Mr. Ripley), Rob Marshall (director of Chicago) as the director, a fucking stellar cast, and material based on a Tony-winning musical, expectations are going to be a bit high. So high, in fact, that Nine is the kind of film critics love to rip into, which is exactly what they have done. Granted, I watched Nine with the lowest of expectations precisely because the critics have hated on it so much. However, despite its flaws, Nine not only exceeded my expectations, but I believe this film will be reevaluated by future generations of cinephiles.

Although you don’t need to be familiar with the famous Italian director Federico Fellini or his classic autobiographical film, 8 1/2, to enjoy Nine, it does help. The musical’s plot is inspired by 8 1/2 and its about film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) facing a midlife crisis as he struggles to begin shooting his latest film, Italia. His inner struggles interfere with his creativity and they lead him into a variety of complicated romantic involvements. Through his struggles to begin his movie, he deals with the women in his life.

Musicals are usually light on plot and focus more on the music and style. Nine is no exception. The storyline serves as a frame for the various musical numbers. I suppose some may find the filmmaker character’s inner struggles to be uninteresting, uncinematic, and whiny. Fortunately, when you get arguably the greatest living actor to play the main character, the character can stare at a wall for 3 hours and still be interesting. Admittedly, my familiarity and interest with the filmmaking and screenwriting processes greatly contributed to why I enjoyed Nine and it allowed me to empathize with the main character.

As I stated above, Daniel Day-Lewis is truly an exemplary actor who, in my opinion, is currently unmatched in talent by anyone in Hollywood. When he takes on a role, he fully immerses himself in the character and completely embodies him. Unlike many stars today, there is never a moment in a Daniel Day-Lewis movie where you feel like you are watching Daniel Day-Lewis playing a character. Here, Day-Lewis does a remarkable job playing the Italian maestro. In preparing for his role, Day-Lewis studied the Italian language extensively and remained in character in AND out of the camera. If there is any single reason to see Nine, it would be to watch Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance.

Of course, how can we discuss Nine without talking about the women in the film? For the most part, everyone does a fine job with some notable exceptions. I felt Sophia Loren’s character as the director’s mother was a token role created to simply have Sophia Loren in the movie for marketing purposes. Loren has little screen time and she doesn’t do much even when she is on screen. One thing that impressed me was that all the women did their own singing for the musical numbers. To that end, its not surprising for me to say that Fergie had the best voice and the best musical number in the film.

In terms of acting, I was especially taken by Judi Dench and Marion Cotillard’s performances. Dench plays the director’s costume designer and Cotillard plays the director’s wife. Dench is always great in everything she does and here she does a fine job as the costume designer. I was a bit disappointed Dench kept her British accent for her character, but she more than makes up for this in an awesome musical number where she essentially plays a Marlene Dietrich character singing with a French accent. Cotillard really impressed me in 2009 not only with this film but also with her great performance in Public Enemies. She has a hauntingly innocent face that belongs in a past time period. As Day-Lewis’ wife, Cotillard effectively portrays the betrayed wife who sadly discovers that the man she married is unobtainable by any single woman, including her. In a musical number that practically matches Fergie’s performance in quality, Cotillard sings and dances in a dive bar surrounded by horny men while Day-Lewis watches on in the background.

Nine’s musical numbers are similarly choreographed as Chicago’s, which was also directed by Rob Marshall. I didn’t mind Marshall’s choice to follow the same style of choreography because its just as dramatic and stylish as it was in Chicago. Why change something that already works so well? I greatly enjoyed not only the choreography, but also the songs. My biggest worry going into the film was that it would suffer from uncatchy tunes (like Dreamgirls, which because of its poor quality of music, it sucked a giant asshole). I am pleased to say that not since Chicago have I liked a musical’s songs enough to purchase the soundtrack.

In terms of style, Nine is an extravagant looking, sexy, and sophisticated production. The film undoubtedly had a very large budget and based on what you see on the screen, it was money well spent. The look and feel of Nine reminded me a lot of 1960’s international films in terms of the style of shooting, look, and feel. For anyone who has seen films like La Dolce Vita, The 400 Blows, and The Nights of Cabiria, you will know what I mean. There is a certain jetset, opulent European quality to the film and all of this can be credited to Dion Beebe’s cinematography and the film’s art direction. Based on the film’s poor critical reception, I don’t see Nine getting many award nominations, but at the very least I think its cinematography and art direction deserve recognition.

Nine ended 2009 for me as a pleasant surprise. Musicals are typically not my favorite film genre, but when a musical translates well to the silver screen, it is a pure pleasure to watch. I have read the many negative criticisms the film has received, but this is one of the rare instances where I simply disagree with the critics. The chaotic nature of the film that the critics didn’t seem to like is precisely what makes it work so well. Nine is probably the most overlooked movie of 2009 and I highly recommend it, especially on the big screen.