Friday, January 02, 2009

The Best of Ought-Eight

Ah, the year-end list. Nothing makes me shudder with excitement more. Let's get it out of the way. From any festival and theatrical screenings in 2008, in alphabetical order:

A Christmas Tale

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Flight of the Red Balloon
Gran Torino
The Headless Woman
In the City of Sylvia
Still Life
Tokyo Sonata
Wendy and Lucy

Honorable mentions: United Red Army, Wall-E, The Duchess of Langeais, RAZZLE DAZZLE, Step Brothers, La France, The Romance of Astree and Celadon, Before I Forget, You Don't Mess With the Zohan, Redbelt, Che, Happy-Go-Lucky, Mad Detective, 24 City, Fengming: A Chinese Memoir, My Winnipeg, Be Kind Rewind, The Secret of the Grain

Now I feel better. It's been another strong year for American cinema, and a heartening one. The continued maturation of David Fincher is probably the most exciting news, his talent for subordinating digital gimmickry to the demands of story and character is unparalleled. Benjamin Button is not only a technical marvel, but a lovely meditation on all that is fleeting in life. As far as treatises on death go, it's an adult next to Synechdoche, New York's adolescent self-loathing. Then there's Eastwood's on-going investigation of aging and violence, Kelly Reichardt's devastatingly soft-spoken Wendy, and the perplexing audacity of Soderbergh's Che, a mammoth anti bio-pic about the process of waging a guerilla war and filming one. For me personally, I'd take this year in American film over last year's more ballyhooed crop of No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. And that's without even mentioning the vibrancy on the comedy scene, with the buzzing anarchy of Step Brothers, the sentimental lunacy of Zohan, and the various small character pleasures of the Apatow and Stiller crop.

The movie that I urge one and all to see, though, is Johnnie To's deliriously passionate Sparrow. Screened only as part of the New York Asian Film Festival, but now availabe on HK DVD, it's a project To had been working on for 3 years, in between his higher budgeted features. Often described as a musical without songs, it follows a group of pickpocketing brothers as they get ensared in the web of Kelly Lin's femme fatale, who has been forced into a union with a local crime boss. Filled with lyrical passages of a bustling HK, it then explodes into symphonically complex heist sequences, done with little regard for common sense. Balloons float down affixed with a safe key, criminals engage in a thieving dance underneath a downpour, with the umbrellas used in twirling Busby Berkeley-esque patterns. Suffused with a love of movies and his hometown, it's irresistable and astonishing.

And by all means look out for Tokyo Sonata next year, which is getting a NYC release next March. It's a new high for Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who takes his talent for haunted male psyches into the sphere of family drama. Koji Yakusho steals the show.

EDIT: To copy the sage Matt Singer, here are my fave older releases that I saw in '08:

A Modern Musketeer (1917) [MoMA]
3 Bad Men (1924) [Ford at Fox box set]
Man's Castle (1933) [TCM]
Ceiling Zero (1936) [BAM]
The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) [DVD]
99 River St. (1953) [Film Forum]
Lola Montes (1955) [Film Forum]
Doomed Love (1979) [BAM]
Bronco Billy (1980) [DVD]
Mélo (1986) [DVD]


In other, less-informed news:

My favorite albums of the year are:

1.The Unreleased Hank Williams

Ashton Shepherd - Sounds So Good

Lucinda Williams - Little Honey
Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III


2666, by Roberto Bolano
Senselessness, by Horacio Castellanos Moya
Terror and Consent, by Philip Bobbitt

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Blogger Michael J. Anderson said...


As always a very strong list; outside of "Wendy and Lucy," which I have not yet seen, these are all films that I would second without hesitation. Also, and in particular, very nice choices for your ten older films. "3 Bad Men" is indeed glorious Ford, "Man's Castle" and "Ceiling Zero" are two exceedingly extraordinary films of the next decade, and "Doomed Love" and "Melo" are each in the conversation for their maker's best. To see these films alone make for a very fine year indeed.

12:39 PM  

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