Saturday, January 17, 2009
Some background: For me, 2008 will be remembered as The Year I Graduated and The Year I Got To Work. I happily earned a BA in English for writing an essay mix ‘n’ matching the utopianisms of Thomas More, Emerson, Peter Weir, and Into the Wild while computer programming on the flip side and riding that technical knowledge to my very own 9-to-5 cubicle. And, oh yeah, there was an election or something. This all left very little time for my already quite limited blogging and forum posting, and, despite hosting a blog-a-thon with mixed results, Film at 11 went into hibernation for much of ’08. Consider this post a revitalizing jolt of electricity.
Where to start…Despite the economic downturn, Hollywood chugged along, for better or for worse. The Dark Knight’s cape hung over mainstream fare since its release; I readily admit to seeing the biggest American moneymaker of the year three times with three sets of friends, and finding myself each time in a familiar role: the lone holdout with reservations. It’s difficult to simply like the movie anymore, for all that’s been said and done in its holy gilded name. But I stand by Ledger’s thoughtfully maniacal performance as one of the best of the year, and the whole thing as a well-oiled engine of narrative propulsion. Its 150 minutes fly by. Other mainstreamers like Spielberg, Shyamalan, and Scott brought tepid projects, the latter two attempting to be relevant, that failed to retain the spark of predecessors. For all of those, however, there were still vital gems of pop cinema, ranging from Jon Favreau’s buoyant Iron Man to Michel Gondry’s lo-fi community remixes in Be Kind Rewind.
But it’s no surprise that 2008’s standout mainstream entertainment came from the able craftsmen at Pixar. It has been decades since the mere name of a studio guaranteed at least a modicum of quality, but Pixar has consistently delivered that and more. WALL-E, apparently one of the concepts drummed up over lunch by the studio’s founders in 1994, marries a plainspoken environmentalist and anti-overconsumption message with eye-poppingly effective sci-fi trappings. Equally echoing the articulate beeps of R2-D2 and the emotional relationships of Silent Running, the robotic protagonist Wall-E and his iFashionable counterpart Eve provide the necessary grounding in character to make the film succeed. From innovative sound design to that right mix of cuteness and chrome, Pixar hit another one out of the park in ‘08.
I’d hate to call 2008 my own “year of Change,” but there it is, staring me in the face. As I want to write more frequently about cinema, I find myself with less and less time to do so. As much as I’d like to keep abreast of world cinema, I have neither the money nor time to mount an expedition to even the nearest festival location. So I guess the ‘Net will have sate me in the meantime. Fortunately, I’ve also become increasingly inured against some of the end-of-year Oscar bait pandering by the mainstream critical press and more intrigued by international festival fare. Sorry Clint, Gus, Doubt, et al. Lack of blogging time hasn’t stopped me from following the exploits of those in my blogroll to the right, though, and they’ve kept me generally up to speed. Other broad events of note:
-some of my favorite contemporary filmmakers, like Kiyoshi Kurosawa and the Dardennes, released flicks this year, not that I was able to see them;
-parts of the critical establishment feted a return-to-form from a guy who never lost his stride in the first place (Jonathan Demme) and another who made his comeback a few years ago (Mickey Rourke, in 2005’s Sin City);
-topical cinema from Oliver Stone and Errol Morris got trounced by the politics of absurdly contemporary DC paranoia in the Coens’ Burn After Reading and of brute materialism in Steve McQueen’s Hunger, and everything got trumped by the election drama on TV;
-Slumdog Millionaire joined my lukewarm list while audiences cheered;
-young Ju Xiao played a boy in CJ7, Robert Downey, Jr. played black, Jean-Claude Van Damme played himself, and Mike Leigh played happy.
To come back to my Top 11: ’06 and ’07 were my strongest years to date in terms of seeing everything I wanted to see, but I quickly realized these utopian notions were for nought, and that was part of the fun. I haven’t seen everything I would have liked to have seen before this calendar year winded up, and until I can write about film professionally, I probably won’t. No matter. Using IMDb dates has its advantages: your lists don’t tend to look like anyone else’s, and you’re constantly ahead of or behind the curve depending on your point of view. On the flip side, it makes 2008 look like an even paltrier year than it really was, what with the Hou, Rivette, Rohmer, Chabrol, Herzog, Breillat, Jia, and Maddin movies, to name but a few, actually world debuting in ‘07. But I find reevaluation an imminently important critical process, and despite (thanks to?) my penchant for listmaking, I have no plans to carve this or any other Top 11 list into stone. For the record, here are my most unfortunate blind spots for 2008:
Che (Stephen Soderbergh)
A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin)
Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman)
And without further ado, as of exactly…now, my Top 11 films of 2008:
11. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson)
10. Four Nights with Anna (Jerzy Skolimowski)
9. Splinter (Toby Wilkins)
8. Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt)
7. Sparrow (Johnnie To)
6. Burn After Reading (Joel and Ethan Coen)
5. CJ7 (Stephen Chow)
4. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh)
3. Hunger (Steve McQueen)
2. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme)
1. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton)
In ’08 we lost some undeniable artists, ranging from Manny Farber, Paul Newman, and Richard Widmark to Kon Ichikawa, Youssef Chahine, and Bruce Conner. Most lived full lives while enriching the cinematic landscape. But who knows how many more roles Heath Ledger could have played or more announcements Don LaFontaine could have made?
So what will happen to Film at 11? I hope to keep it and its Top 11s companion more up to date in the coming year while expanding the types of content I put up. Video criticism is still, Kevin Lee notwithstanding, an underutilized tool, so I may experiment with that, trigger-happy copyrighters be damned. Every blog seems to be film-related or political or both, making niche-carving a necessary proposition. I’ll have to see what I can come up with. In any case, I guess I’m back, if I was ever “here” at all. Onwards and upwards to ’09!
And on a side note, thanks to Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, Peter Avanzino, Dwayne Carey-Hill, and everyone else involved in bringing Futurama back from the dead. I don’t think you’ll disappoint on the final DVD.
Posted by Adam K at 2:04 PM