I refute the claim that 2008 was bad. Sure, there wasn’t the stunning pair of There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men, but there were some fine films – a lot of them much smaller on the release scale. My short list follows, with even shorter commentary. If I could summarize what I love about all these films, it would be the directors. I admire them for the strong and difficult choices they made, often resulting in opposing moods and tones that I’ve never seen sutured together so beautifully.
- Teeth – Pitch perfect in tone, this movie was smart, steadily directed (especially for a first feature), and downright hilarious.
- Waltz with Bashir – One of the most stunning explorations of memory and forgetting ever to play upon the screen. A perfect union of content and style.
- Synecdoche, New York – The simple fact that Kaufman can always blow my mind puts him up here. I’ll be coming back to this movie for a long time because it bent my brain in a way that only Lynch’s ‘Mulholland Dr’ ever has.
- Mister Lonely – Almost like a beautiful collection of short stories, every scene in this movie stood alone as a tiny film. Gorgeously shot and flawlessly cast.
- In Bruges – A film that turned out to be far deeper than it’s advertisements led on, I was hugely impressed by the film’s flips between the darkly comic and the religiously existential.
- The Dark Knight – It’s like Nolan made an action movie out of Soren Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling”. I’ve been quietly suposing that the man might be the reincarnation of Hitchcock, and now I’m just gonna come out and say it. (Plus, Ledger is bat-shit crazy).
- Up the Yangtze – Another documentary snuck its way in here, but well deserved. A heart breaking and quiet observation of a singular incidence of suffering in the massive devastation that is the Three Gorges Damn Project.
- The Wrestler – Aronofsky said that in his previous films he, “used the camera like a paintbrush. Here, I tried to use it more like a camera”. Aside from Rorke’s fantastic performance, I appreciate Aronofsky for boldly trying new things, new styles, and new formats (super 16!). Many directors are too chicken shit to stray from the style that made them famous, so props to Darren for mixing it up.
- WALL-E – There may or may not be complaints about the second half of this film, but the simple fact is that I was screaming with laughter for the first 30 minutes or so, and still giggling continuously after that. Plus, any movie that can make me feel intense empathy for a steel box wins something in my book.
- Vicky Cristina Barcelona – Woody Allen is smart and funny again! Yay!!
Editor’s Note: The rest of our team’s thoughts on the 2008 roster in future posts.
Yesterday, on Good Morning America, during Britney’s performance of her new single, “Circus,” also the title of the latest effort to reboot her career, I notice the familiar tune of Nino Rota’s score for Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963) as the opening and closing bookends for the song. Transporting us to some carnivalesque wonderland because you know…Fellini/Rota equals garish circus freaks and a barely sweating ringmaster attempting to sell the greatest show (I mean, preview) on earth, Britney is less of a performer than she was before, now a vampish marionette in the grand tradition of female has-beens, like Lola Montes and Mariah Carey, wearing her setbacks as pity points for fans’ financial support. By even comparing herself to the incredibly cluttered yet fluidly warm style of the late Italian master is more insulting if it was an intentional homage than simply browsing through Itunes for mood music.
To her credit, Britney revived my interest for Rob Marshall’s film adaptation (filming in the UK, due out 2009) of the Tony Award-winning musical, Nine (also thanks to Meg!), simply due to its stellar casting stunt alone: Daniel Day-Lewis, as the womanizing (ha, Britney) artist Guido with writer’s block, Nicole Kidman as his on-and-off again muse, Claudia, Judi Dench as the witty French reporter, Lilianne, Marion Cotillard as his faithful wife, Penelope Cruz as the voluptuous dim-witted mistress Carla, Sophia Loren as his Mamma only in memory, Kate Hudson as a composite character of American/European socialites parading around the set, and of course, the Duchess herself, Fergie as Guido’s first sexual conquest, a misunderstood monster of a whore Saraghina. Even though the film is adapted from a theater show and not directly a remake of the original Italian film, creating a compare/contrast profile chart of the character/actors gives us however, tiny of a clue, that Marshall is referring to both sources for his project rather than the musical itself (look at the exact hair styles!) and hopefully unlike its dour box office cousin, The Producers, another film-to-musical-to-film inbred, Nine should absorb or borrow the exuberant energy that made 8 1/2 a sensational box-office draw of its time, a classic in the kooky genre of films about films, transforming the behind-the-scenes of the production process into an exquisite confrontation between fantasy and memory, the tempting desire to let go and the stubborn will to create meaning.
As the reigning discourse around the word, “adaptation” brings to mind, the embarrassing accusations that the “film” didn’t do this or that justice to the “book,” or what I think is inevitably an impossible endeavor, one could distill the situations or more crucially, the sensual essence of the source, while taking liberties with how an actor will improvise spontaneously with words and gestures, or how a whole scene could be shot from a perspective that goes beyond what the book can imagine. Upon digging through the photo archives of 8 1/2, who could have known that Sophia Loren, visiting the set of the original film, would star in its redo’s remake. If originality is inherent in the original, could originality be transferable to a copy, cutting its ties to the original, plain and simple? I find it better to move away from the iron curtain of fidelity and towards a more conducive discussion around intertextuality. Excuse my academic jargon, but the term means what it says, suggesting the play of allusions and references that one cultural object refers to another. Rather than speaking in ad finitum about a singular piece, the plenitude of experiences between texts bring us closer to dissecting changing attitudes about times present and past, and how subjective interpretations are being filtered as objective criticism. If professional and amateur critics like to spin personal anecdotes only for the sake of attention, followed by defending their preferences through external standards of good taste, than for better or worse, in the probing spirit of 8 1/2, to think about the trivial and profound relations from one book to another, from one film to another, would surrender the human ego to the witness stand as its own judge and prosecutor…the artist have already sold his soul to the devil, it’s a matter of how long he can keep it.
Britney’s “I’ll just wiggle around the playpen” routine, listen for the beginning: