Sunday, January 18, 2009

2008 Lists (Long Version)

Okay, I'm getting tired of tracking down 2008 releases - it's time to move on. So here's my wrap-up of films that received their first one-week theatrical run in New York during 2008. (I exclude films that were made too long ago to feel contemporary.)

The ten-best list that I published at the Auteurs' Notebook needs modification, because I saw Silent Light a second time and got more excited about it. And also because I guess I'll stop my list at nine.

1. The Tracey Fragments (Bruce McDonald)
2. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas)
3. Ballast (Lance Hammer)
4. Still Life (Jia Zhang-Ke)
5. Une vieille maîtresse (The Last Mistress) (Catherine Breillat)
6. Nights and Weekends (Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig)
7. Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-soo)
8. Before I Forget (Jacques Nolot)
9. The Wackness (Jonathan Levine)

Any film on this list of honorable mentions (in alphabetical order) could fill the tenth slot: Beaufort (Joseph Cedar), Entre les murs (The Class) (Laurent Cantet), In the City of Sylvia (José Luis Guerín), Leatherheads (George Clooney), Opera Jawa (Garin Nugroho), Paraguayan Hammock (Paz Encina), Poor Boy's Game (Clement Virgo), Stuff and Dough (Cristi Puiu).

Films with a lot going for them: Alexandra (Alexander Sokurov), Burn After Reading (Joel Coen & Ethan Coen), Ne touchez pas la hache (The Duchess of Langeais) (Jacques Rivette), The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin), Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog), Good Dick (Marianna Palka), Hamlet 2 (Andrew Fleming), Milk (Gus Van Sant), My Brother Is an Only Child (Daniele Luchetti), Romance of Astree and Celadon (Eric Rohmer), Shotgun Stories (Jeff Nichols), The Silence Before Bach (Pere Portabella), Son of Rambow (Garth Jennings), Summer Palace (Lou Ye), Take Out (Sean Baker & Tsou Shih-ching), Waltz With Bashir (Ari Folman), (Naissance des pieuvres) Water Lilies (Céline Sciamma).

Films with something going for them: Alice's House (Chico Teixeira), Appaloosa (Ed Harris), Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry), Beauty in Trouble (Jan Hrebejk), Brick Lane (Sarah Gavron), Canary (Akihiko Shiota), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher), Elite Squad (Jose Padilha), Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien), Four Christmases (Seth Gordon), 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu), A Girl Cut in Two (Claude Chabrol), Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh), La Question humaine (Heartbeat Detector) (Nicolas Klotz), I Served the King of England (Jiri Menzel), Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson), Love Songs (Christophe Honoré), The Man From London (Bela Tarr), Mukhsin (Yasmin Ahmad), My Blueberry Nights (Wong Kar Wai), My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin), Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant), The Pleasure of Being Robbed (Joshua Safdie), Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind (John Gianvito), Reprise (Joachim Trier), Roman de gare (Claude Lelouch), Slingshot (Brillante Mendoza), Standard Operating Procedure (Errol Morris), Stuck (Stuart Gordon), Warsaw Bridge (Pere Portabella), Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt), Wonderful Town (Aditya Assarat), Yes Man (Peyton Reed).

Films that some people liked but I couldn't get into: Baghead (Jay Duplass & Mark Duplass), Che Part I (Steven Soderbergh), A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin), Frownland (Ronald Bronstein), Diary of the Dead (George A. Romero), I've Loved You So Long (Philippe Claudel), JCVD (Mabrouk El Mechri), Jellyfish (Shira Geffen & Etgar Keret), La France (Serge Bozon), Liberty Kid (Ilya Chaiken), Married Life (Ira Sachs), Mary (Abel Ferrara), Momma's Man (Azazel Jacobs), My Father, My Lord (David Volach), Noise (Henry Bean), Of Time and the City (Terence Davies), The Other Half (Liang Ying), The Pool (Chris Smith), Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme), La Graine et le mulet (The Secret of the Grain) (Abdellatif Kechiche), Snow Angels (David Gordon Green), Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman), Taking Father Home (Liang Ying), Tehilim (Raphael Nadjari), Times and Winds (Reha Erdem), WALL*E (Andrew Stanton), The Wedding Director (Marco Bellocchio), The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky), XXY (Lucía Puenzo), Yella (Christian Petzold).


Jaime said...

Dan, what did you see in







Eric said...

I have a lot of things to say, but I'll hold them off for an in person conversation. . .

Dan Sallitt said...

Hamlet 2: I'd never seen an Andrew Fleming film before, but I liked the way he used acting and editing to create a light, distanced tone. The material was full of the usual silly stuff like reflex villainy and crude story manipulation, but none of it carried enough weight to bring the film down, thanks to Fleming's control of emphasis. The behavior was fast, light and pleasing almost across the board; and anyway, I'm a sucker for "Someone Saved My Life Tonight."

Appaloosa: I got off on the wrong foot with this movie, but somewhere along the line Ed Harris eased up on the silly genre-by-numbers routine and engaged with the characters on a modest, slightly comic scale. The Renée Zellweger character wasn't very well grounded in the film's reality, but the conception points to the human, likable scale of the direction, with the bemused protagonists struggling to empathize with her pragmatic sluttiness. I certainly didn't like the film as much as I did Harris's Pollock, but I walked away without any hard feelings.

Benjamin Button: this one was locked in a Hollywood/Disney death grip that threatened to squeeze every drop of reality out of it. But an interesting philosophical tone snuck into the script at some point, so that even the joyful stuff was a little sad, and death was never too far away from the characters' thoughts. The beginning and end didn't appeal to me, and I really can't make a good case on the film's behalf.

Yes Man: I really like Peyton Reed's Down With Love, but lately he seems pinned down by big stars and big projects. Carrey is way too mocking to put a real emotion across, and the film is full of contrivance, but there's something genial about the way the film generates so many wacky over-the-top events and still stays even-keeled and good-natured during Carrey's "yes" phase.

Four Christmases: there's some seriously good direction here. Seth Gordon effortlessly found a fast, cut-happy abstraction that acknowledged and justified the extremity of the concept. But I'm not sure that he cares a lot about characters, and unfortunately the film gets even more cartoonish when the lovers' conflict takes a serious turn. Could be that the guy's strengths are tied to debilitating vices - we'll see.

Jaime said...

I never liked the Elton John song until I listened to the lyrics. Now I find it powerful, moreso in the first, setting-up half.

Great comments, Dan. I would like to talk to you about the Coens' film at some point.

Dave Kehr's blog is a remarkably adequate replacement for a_film_by, no? There is occasional drama but it's quashed by some kind of quiet sense of propriety that everyone eventually comes to remember and heed. Dave K is the anti-Camper: he doesn't say boo and is far more effective in the bargain.

Dan Sallitt said...

Yeah, Dave's place is really happening. I get the feeling that Dave has a healthy respect for the forces of negativity and conflict on the Internet, and has improvised a strategy to keep the damage to a minimum.

I really should see the Coen film again. The scenes with the CIA guys near the end really made me see the whole project in a different and better light.