Sunday, December 14, 2008

Over the last few days, i've been compiling my list of notable movies of 2008, which will be winnowed down to the proverbial Top Ten. So many people have been vocal about how mediocre this year has been, but i've come up with at least 40 movies that i think were worthwhile. Scott Foundas sent along a master list... but i think there are omissions. Three omissions: Bill E. Jones's "Tearoom" (which had a "run" as part of the Whitney Biennial: it played twice daily for over four months during the run of this year's Biennial, and it was a premiere, i.e., it hadn't been shown anywhere else before); Ken Jacobs' "Razzle Dazzle" (it had a week's run at Anthology Film Archives in the spring) and "Return to the Scene of the Crime" (it had a week's run at MoMA this fall)... and i have a question about Guy Maddin's "Brand Upon the Brain" which had its "concert" showings at the beginning of 2008. But those two-three day "events": was that enough to constitute a "theatrical run"?

The "directors" of the year were obviously: Guy Maddin with "Brand Upon the Brain" and "My Winnipeg", Ken Jacobs with "Razzle Dazzle" and "Return to the Scene of the Crime", and Gus Van Sant with "Paranoid Park" and "Milk". The most perplexing director was Gus Van Sant: "Paranoid Park" was probably the most accomplished of his "lost youth" movies ("Gerry", "Elephant", "Last Days"), an elegiac snapshot of disaffection and alienation, and after having devloped this decidedly antidramatic style, he went into "Milk" which (on the surface) seems to be a "traditional" biopic, an "inspiring" story of one man's courage and political effectiveness. Yet at almost every turn, Van Sant seems to undercut the emotional highs, he (unintentionally?) tempers the bravado. Yet "Milk" is effective in spite of itself. But it is an example of a "cool" director working on a "hot" subject. It should be more "rousing", yet the understatement becomes its own statement, and ultimately works in the film's favor.

In terms of "acting": this year is also perplexing. There were movies with terrific performances given by nonactors, such as "August Evening", "Ballast" and "Chop Shop"; then there were real "star" turns, such as Sean Penn in "Milk" or Asia Argento in "The Last Mistress" or Fanny Ardant in "Roman De Gare".

And the oldtimers of the Nouvelle Vague came up with some fascinating work: Jacques Rivette with "The Duchess of Langeais", Claude Chabrol with "A Girl Cut in Two" and Eric Rohmer with "The Romance of Astrea and Celadon".

I have to admit i've gotten sick of documentaries: there were just too many. And yet... i was glad i saw the Hurricane Katrina doc "Trouble the Water", "Man On Wire" about Philippe Petit was sensational and utterly engrossing, and Herzog's "Encounters at the End of the World" was just about the most visually beautiful film i saw last year.

And "Waltz With Bashir": what is it? It's an animated... documentary? Yet it was amazing.

Yet there were so many wonderful movies: the Turkish "Times and Winds", the Israeli "My Father, My Lord", the Thai "Wonderful Town". There were excellent American indie films, at a time when the movement seemed exhausted, yet there were "Ballast", "Wendy and Lucy", "Momma's Man".

So i don't understand why people don't think there were any good movies this year. But now i've got to make my choices....


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