let the love parade begin!
so... 2008 was a pretty sub-par year for all the pop arts, as far as i'm concerned. the even-numbered years usually pan out like that, huh? or is that my confirmation bias run amok? oh well. anyhoo, methinks only my top 2 or 3 picks will really linger with me, but linger with me they shall.
for what it's worth, here's a few films i missed that, as a list-o-holic, i felt compelled to see: TOKYO SONATA, SILENT LIGHT, WENDY AND LUCY, CHE, THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN, MY WINNIPEG, GOMORRAH, and BALLAST ... that's bout it.
and i apologize in advance for how half-formed and scribbly the thoughts below are... but lists are silly anyway. silly and TOTALLY NECESSARY. for my brain. anyhoo, the following took 2 hands and used 1 eye, as the other one was watching the penguins get smoked by the bruins (thus far). okay, please to enjoy!
20. HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY - Guillermo Del Toro
Del Toro completely unhinged - a crackerjack (yup) story that is beyond conducive to Del Toro's creature feature desires... the market scene alone allows him to scratch his itch for phenomenal make-up / animatronic work without feeling the least bit forced. the world he creates feels downright tangible, and for worse or for worse you can almost smell its inhabitants. the compositions are tight and the action kinetic, coherent, and breezy (take note, chris nolan). the character work is divine even if the relationships aren't the least bit compelling, and the whole thing just feels like a well-oiled gift from start to finish. doug jones deserves an oscar of some kind.
19. THE EDGE OF HEAVEN - Faith Akin
Turkish filmmaker Faith Akin's works seem to stir their amorphous beginnings into sumptuous and satisfyingly complete narratives as if by pure kismet, a method or phenomenon best illustrated by his latest film, the edge of heaven. a series of interweaving tales that inevitably yet without sentiment or brazen manipulation tie around each other and resolve themselves into an air-tight knot, the edge of heaven is divine slice of life cinema by way of the fates. it moves with the rhythms of life on tracks decidedly laid by the hands of cinema (though the characters feel like old friends rather than constructions), and provides insight into bliss (and the twisting road to it) and contemporary multiculturalism as lovely as they are lovelorn.
18. HAPPY-GO-LUCKY - Mike Leigh
poppy is awesome, and sally hawkins is awesome as poppy. few films this year were as defined and consumed by their protagonists. poppy starts off as a one-note gimmick and evolves (primarily courtesy of one enthralling if brazenly obvious scene involving a hobo... is that pc, hobo?) to the point where she's able to seamlessly incorporate her most artificial of charms into an entirely believable character who i wish i knew and - more importantly - envy tremendously.
17. A CHRISTMAS TALE - Arnaud Desplechin
a characteristically sprawling, messy, relentlessly buoyant family saga that never bothers to resolve itself into anything but. dan in real life plus cancer and minus the treacle (and substitute mathieu amalric for dane cook while you're at it). catherine deneuve is the casually yet terminally ill matriarch of a sizable french family that is gathering together for one last christmas in their lovely, bergman-esque chateau (well, it's not really a chateau i guess, but i feel like every house in france should be called a chateau). betrayal, deceit, adultery, schizophrenia, death, techno, and a lots of french ensue, all of which is of critical importance to these characters and none of which is presented with even an iota of undue gravitas or forced sentimentality. not the most corrosive cinematic family of the year, but certainly the most fun.
16. THE WRESTLER - Darren Aronofsky
wow, did evan rachel wood ever deflate this movie? i mean, this is darren aronofsky in a whole new light - engaging whilst significantly paired down, where for the first time in his career the story is not subservient to the telling... a dynamic he's afforded by virtue of a great character that - in lesser hands - could have been rocky in tights but here is chock-full of genuine pathos. mickey rourke gives the much-ballyhooed performance of his career virtually playing himself... in tights, and the last shot could not possibly serve its subject any better... but in an otherwise note-perfect script by former onion writer robert siegel, it's a real shame to see the secondary characters fall so flat, and be so obviously and exclusively used as the bumpers, the course-correctors to the ram's trajectory... be it marissa tomei's how-the-hell-is-she-still-so-damn-hot role as the stripper who provides ram with some trivial inter-personal connection or - more disastrously - evan rachel wood as his painfully bland and unctuous daughter whom he's better off without... either way, doesn't derail a stirring character piece.
15. THE FALL - Tarsem Singh
the most aesthetically jaw-dropping movie of the year (decade?), tarsem's years in the making opus marries the visual flair he demonstrated in the cell with a movingly elegiac account of an era of primal storytelling as seen through the eyes of a little girl and the silent actor / prince who drops injured into her life. tarsem's camera is obviously the star of the show here, but it bolsters the story rather than overpowers it, and while it's not the gut-punch it might have been with a stronger script, it's a unique experience that the blu-ray format was practically invented for.
14. PINEAPPLE EXPRESS - David Gordon Green
well, green's snow angels was a stupendously awful way for me to kick off my movie-going year (how does amy sedaris + sam rockwell = the worst?), but DGG was just saving the goods. after an awkward opening scene this thing kicks it in to crude high gear. while not as lolkatz as the other apatow flicks, this thing is a true blue movie from start to finish, with a nifty little story (rosie perez + gary cole = amazing casting) complete with brilliant character work (danny mcbride finally earns his hype) and a james franco performance that harkens back to the glory days of freaks and geeks... and the last 30 minutes... that action scene in the barn, AGAIN more invigorating than anything in the dark knight, and almost inconceivably epic... elicited laughs just by virtue of the fact that it was still going on at a certain point... twas wonderful.
13. WALTZ WITH BASHIR - Ari Folman
subverted and reworked the documentary format like no other film this year save for jia zhangke's 24 CITY... i don't entirely buy folman's pretenses for making this film (his memory loss seems a wee bit too tidy for me), but his methods are hypnotic and dig for the ecstatic truth by circumventing documentary reality in a way that would make werner herzog himself proud... the real and the fake... the historical and the imagined... blended together into something that drives at the essence of a truly terrible landmark in the ever-complicating relationship between israel and palestine, a process which shrinks a large-scale massacre to a personal level without reducing it in any way. the actual footage at the end is unnecessary, but folman has already worked wonders by then.
12 . LET THE RIGHT ONE IN - Tomas Alfredson
a confidently told tale of adolescence and the many different ways in which people use one another as seen through the prism of androgynous swedish vampires... now that's a logline. well, a little abstract for a logline, but you get the idea. a taut, atmospheric gem of a movie that never errs in character or tone and has a penultimate scene for the ages.
11. PARANOID PARK - Gus Van Sant
easily the more intriguing and more accomplished of van sant's two films this year, paranoid park is not to be lumped in with the gerry, elephant, and last days in either approach or style... it may not contain the mainstream sensibilities of finding forester, but it's far more internalized than the aforementioned tryptic (all of which had their own, externally-driven momentum). whereas those films hurtled inescapably towards death, paranoid park kicks off with one and works itself up into a tizzy of ethereal catharsis... chris doyle's cinematography turns long skateboarding montages into fluid growing pains... and taylor momsen shows she's got chops outside of gossip girl. anyone else think this could be read as a metaphor for coming out of the closet?
10. STILL LIFE - Jia Zhangke
i'm gonna go ahead and bust out the word elegy again here... as no film on this list calls for it as much as this one. a stolid yet moving ode to the relentless cultural recycling that has come to characterize contemporary china, where even on the stillest of rivers life can be seen invisibly chaotic that every man is really for himself, with the intangible bonds of family and the villages where they were sown vulnerable to being wiped away at any moment (in this case literally, by one of china's largest dam projects). zhangke's world seems impossibly placid, but this place is more turbulent than gotham itself.
9. CLOVERFIELD - Matt Reeves
I effing loved this movie. actually, my feelings for cloverfield aren't entirely attributable to the reels that splayed out in theaters... this thing was a complete entity, an experience that pounced upon me in the moments before transformers last summer and didn't end until j.j. abrams and co. had finished leaking out their last image (of a dead something or other on a beach) months after the film had vacated theaters. a new experience that whipped up an enthralling mythology from the ether and nailed it home with fantastic creature work and a wonderfully effective gimmick with an even more wonderfully defeated ending... i loved everything about this (minus perhaps the annoying character holding the camera) and drool at the thought of a sequel.
8. WALL-E - Andrew Stanton
What everyone else said. love the choice of hello dolly! works wonders. i do feel, unfortunately, that the film loses its wit, charm, and overplays its purpose when the humans take center stage, and the final moments back on earth feel a little bit short-shrifted... but the first act alone earned this baby a spot on this here list. pixar, you dog, you've done it again. now bring back brad bird!
7. RACHEL GETTING MARRIED - Jonathan Demme
ya know, i usually hate these kind of movies. characters suffocated by their own eccentricities coming together to revel in some self-satisfying quirk under the umbrella of an eventually revealed family tragedy of some kind... but this thing just works, and it works well. the characters never become too flighty (grounding forces like tunde adebimpe and his amazing voice sure help) and the inevitable tragedy feels as legitimate as the stamford locations in which they ostensibly occurred. anne hathaway risks becoming subservient to her character's traits rather than her essence during one crucial scene, but rebounds wonderfully... and while the multiculturalism of the whole affair is a bit... much, rachel's is a family i found worthy of examination.
6. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD - David Fincher
kidding. brad pitt and long titles... sheesh. i've written bout this here movie in this here space quite a bit, a sufficient amount i'd say. and i'm lazy and this is getting predictably long. but yes, false expectations lead some people awry on this one, but fincher magically contorts the stately, graceful narrative economy he introduced in zodiac to a story about death. well, a story ostensibly about a guy aging backwards, but really a peon to loss and impermanence... heavy-handed though it may be, the image of that giant clock being subsumed by katrina's waters is plenty effective, and yet the journey is so critical here that individual visuals or platitudes just don't suffice. a film i plan on re-visiting many a time.
5. ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD - Werner Herzog
werner herzog is my favorite filmmaker. ever. and while this is a decidedly minor contribution to the master's oeuvre, it's wry humor, chortling fatalism, and the new means by which it excavates new crevices of the ecstatic truth are just such a delight to behold. the antarctic visuals alone are worth the price of admission even if herzog's compositions have been more famed for their spectacle rather than their grandeur, but the ways in which he makes the unplanned subjects he encounters work for his thesis... robert flaherty would be proud.
4. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD - Sam Mendes
a biting look at the dangers of thinking yourself special... of thinking your ambitions and capacities truly your own in a cookie-cutter world. sure, it's suburban angst all over again (even if yates, author of the original novel, was king of the topic) but if anything it's well-worn path (it's practically a full-fledged genre at this point) only serves to reinforce the plight of its unhappily married subjects... vaguely evocative of antonioni, now that i think about it. ah, i miss academia. and michael shannon is just the bestest, as is ms. winslet, who earns yet another oscar she wont be receiving.
3. HUNGER - Steve McQueen
this one will be out in march, i believe, and is... well, it's certainly not much of a shocker that it's the debut feature film from an acclaimed visual artist. the compositions are uniformly remarkable, packed to the gills with filth and meaning. this account of a famous troubles hunger strike is effective in so many ways... sharply partitioning itself like no film since tropical malady a few years back, its one scene of dialogue (an unbroken 20 minute shot) is all the words the film needs, as the visual carry it the rest of the way. focus loosens towards the end, but mcqueen is a phenomenally assured storyteller, supporting his unreal images with the best sound design of the year.
2. MAN ON WIRE - James Marsh
eh, see what i wrote about philipe petit's "performance" in this one, more or less sums up my thoughts on this deeply excellent movie. i'm getting lazy.
1. BLIND MOUNTAIN - Yang Li
it wasn't even close. i caught this back in february and not a single film so much as threatened its standing. li's second film (the follow-up to his 2005 work, blind shaft), is a nail-biting thriller, a gut-wrenching tragedy, a heist film (of sorts), and an anthropological condemnation all rolled into one film as troubling as it is nauseatingly entertaining in a b-movie, vaguely exploitative, late samuel fuller-y sort of way. the tale of a young chinese woman who visits a rural chinese village under the pretense of work only to find herself drugged and sold into a rather unpleasant forced marriage (as if there's any other kind), blind mountain is never subtle, the nature of its story doesn't really allow it to be... it's the same old story... the girl is raped often, tries to escape, finds herself pregnant, tries to escape again, finds a glimmer of hope, finds out the cake is a lie... repeat. but everything li attempts here he accomplishes with bravado, turning the endless vista of the eponymous mountain into a venue even more claustrophobic than the mineshaft central to his first film... and yet, the supposedly evil villagers, the captors, are almost pitiable... china has panned out in such a way that abducting women into their community is their only means of preserving their way of life... it's tragedy as status quo, and it's remarkable filmmaking. and if my hockey-distracted thoughts here aren't enticing enough, blind mountain has the single most satisfying final shot i can remember seeing in years and years... oooh, the mystery!