The Interesting in 2008
[In no particular order though I probably liked Che and Waltz with Bashir the most.. as always these lists are ongoing efforts much like my earlier 2006 and 2007 lists (accessible in the sidebar)]
An ambitious biopic which presents the great revolutionary’s life as an exercise in iconography. There is a before and after structure to the work which interestingly never captures Che in his full moment of plenitude or right after his success in Cuba. This intelligently creates a gap in the narrative that works especially well if one has seen the roadshow version at one sitting. Che remains enigmatic through the film and yet completely persuasive as a legend in the making. Splitting the difference would seem to be rather hard but Soderbergh does it admirably well (as does his lead actor). Additionally, he also brings a different palette, differing screen ratios, in general a distinct set of visual cues to contrast the film’s halves.
This exercise in ‘neo-realism’ seems like a detour for Aronovsky whose last project was the very compelling fantasia of the Fountain but the director is nonetheless in great form here. The work is affecting and the symbol of the ‘wrestler’ injects oxygen into what would have otherwise become more predictable fare. The director creates sharp and surprising edges around the lead character and Rourke is the perfect actor for the part.
Synecdoche New York
A sprawling Proustian work about ‘time present and time past’. Kauffman is perhaps less fluid in handling the films latter portions but the film is still a near masterwork of difficult pleasures.
Possibly the year’s quietest film. Certainly one of the more subtle ones. An immense ethical treatise on the guest and hospitality and on the political ramifications of these seemingly simple terms.
Remarkably successful adaptation of the Schlink novel. The story itself is perhaps a little too neat and there is danger in the kind of ‘romanticization’ the film indulges in on more than one level. Yet for all this it is also a very moving story that avoids some political cliches.
This terrain of alienation and angst is not new for Gus Van Sant but he makes up for this by fashioning possibly his most hypnotic film yet. This film could also be read as a complement, even correction, to Elephant.
The Dark Knight
One misses the purity of Nolan’s prequel here, one also wonders why the film’s successes had to be achieved at the expense of draining the mythic tone of the story. The director certainly displayed a great understanding of the latter element in Batman Begins but here holds ‘myth’ in suspension till the very last moment. Even so it is hard to imagine a superhero film surpassing this by much if at all.
This film was eclipsed by Dark Knight but in many ways it was a much more joyous attempt in the genre and one with very many dazzling sequences. The first film was somewhat edgier, the new one as a blockbuster attempt loses its soul a little.
One of the great animated films of all time. Many crucial themes of the current moment abound in it even as testimony is offered to older enduring ones.
A bit of a minority view here in nominating this over the director’s other and more obvious Gran Torino. Eastwood fashions an enigmatic film with a nice marriage between pace and ambience. The social commentary in the work is a bit of a red herring for the much darker fairy tale that unfolds.
Man on Wire
The quirkiest work of the year. A film about transcendence, the power of the imagination and its concurrent risks. The visuals make it a singular work.
Cutting through the controversies, all the attendant colonization debates, this work is thoroughly seductive. Yesteryear Bombay film glory gets a face change in this very ‘Bollywood-like’ production.
Wendy and Lucy
A minimalist film with Antonioni and that entire school of cinema as the presiding spirit. This independent film, not particularly ‘new’, nevertheless earns these ‘alienated truths’.
I’ve Loved You So Long
A harrowing tale of crime and trauma even if perhaps a bit too neatly resolved, an extraordinary lead performance that is more the film’s ‘atmospherics’ than anything else, and finally superb pacing for this package.
A thoughtful, deconstructive subversion of an entire history of the American gangster film even if this work is somewhat uneasily balanced between ‘auteurism’ and popular entertainment.
Waltz with Bashir
A stunning work and possibly the one that comes closest to being a truly unique film experience. An unparalleled meditation on violence that combines extraordinary animated visuals with an often haunting soundtrack. This work is easily one of the most profound interventions in the crisis that is its subject.
The Baader-Meinhof Complex
This film though a strong work at very many levels is nonetheless more descriptive than analytic which is a bit of a disappointment given the ambition of the work. It aims to be exhaustive in some ways but the genuine human interest story is perhaps missing and the film therefore for all the fantastic montages that pepper the narrative always operates at a bit of a distance.
A fascinating conversation is brought about here concerning the ‘post-immigration’ fabric of the contemporary Western nation-state. The film opens onto larger questions of difference and hospitality. The title is regrettably misleading in the English translation. The French is ‘between the walls’ which is appropriate to a film where the nation-state’s founding fictions are increasingly vulnerable and the easy certainties of a noun like ‘the class’ are not available.
Bahrani delivers his best film to date in this extraordinary dialog staged between the immigrant and the native that is also a stunning monologue on the part of the former always awaiting the response of the latter. Not the least of this work’s many impressive gestures is the avoidance of an easy denouement.
The Last Homecoming
A heart-aching little gem whose little ‘liminal’ universe with a moving love triangle at its heart opens onto larger questions of fractured political identity. This is a film about loss and memory and the film’s mythic conceits are all too appropriate for both.
Another mysterious film from Egoyan that in keeping with the director’s recent work engages with different modes of the ‘fictional’ as he re-treads the space of the national and religious other and the question of the ‘border’. This work seems to be most immediately a companion piece to his earlier Ararat but here the director takes a step forward in his interrogations by introducing the other not only as the familiar neighbor but also as an unnerving specter.