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.
The waltz, as originally defined by the wonderful folks at Wikipedia, is “a piece of music in triple meter, most often 3/4 but sometimes 3/8 or 6/8, generally having a 1.2.3. – 1.2.3. count and a slow tempo.” Usually associated with the flight of anxious feet gliding across the floor, the waltz as a dance number offers escapist fantasies for those obeying its hypnotic rhythm, but paranoia is never far behind and its bourgeois origins, an open class secret. Filmic space has stripped off its material weight, but the sonic structure remains, lighting the path for motivations, both virtuous and deceitful, as men and women enter and exit adjacent rooms only to find each other stuck on the same chessboard. The waltz ingrains itself easily into memory precisely because it’s the skeleton of the score, pared down from its excesses, its complexities, its distractions.
The hand of God and the “loom of fate” are too cynically applied to the waltz, for at its best, the choreography of destinies appears only as a byproduct of fruitless agency, a just reward in the service of good deeds and fortunate accidents, but at its worst, the waltz reminds us of the cyclical pounding of mistakes repeated, connections missed, and lives already cranked into motion by the black and white notes fluttering softly and dangerously in the air.
Howl’s Moving Castle (Miyazaki, 2004)
Joe Hisaishi – Sky Stroll
While rescuing the naive Sophie from the blob soldiers of his archnemesis, Howl, the dashing wizard, guides her body into the air, setting off an arduous romance and a whirlwind of tangential subplots, only stumbling towards a ridiculously tacky ending (almost ruined the whole film for me). Hisaishi’s enchanting signature is unmistakable, only Yoko Kanno is said to be his contemporary rival, a colloboration would be better off.
[Starts at 1:50]
Face of Another (Teshigahara, 1966)
Toru Takemitsu – Waltz from Tanin No Kao
A waltz in the vaudevillian strain, replete with German vocals, and sung during a surreptitious meeting between surgeon and patient after his face-lift, which later mirrors the faceless masses in the final scene. The disillusioned soloist dissolves into the cloud of pedestrian traffic, leaving only the erotic traces of a former life abandoned out of sheer impotence, and the Fascist remnants of a nation too eager for change on the outside.
Oldboy (Park, 2003)
Yeong-wook Jo – Cries and Whispers
“Be it a rock or a grain of sand, in water they sink as the same,” an extremely devastating message at the heart of a vengeance-driven grand guignol. Every action has a reaction, in this case, a retroactive backstory reinforced by guilt and helplessness. If madness is the only hope for salvation, then the carousel waltz only makes deeper lacerations without the insurance of resolution, and that’s enough reason for us to invest further.
The format of writing a film review for a daily or weekly newspaper and magazine is a difficult format to tackle. For such a short amount of space and time to write, the review is usually left to being a series of plot points and a set of opinions that must be simplified into “good” or “bad” piles, otherwise the rating of a man sleeping with his hat on his belly or a man flying off his chair clapping cannot be determined. While the result is a slough of written articles that begin to feel like the same article, but with each new writer pressing shift+F7 on a few words within the text, there are a few writers out there that have been able to work within the film review format but add a little more depth in their understanding of the film.
Though she has the reputation of purposely being a devil’s advocate to the dominant paradigm of opinions for any given film, Stephanie Zacharek of salon.com still manages to eloquently discuss the problems any given film may have. Her review published for Wall•E is no exception. Being one of the lonely splats on Rotten Tomatoes for the film (though I still do not know how the website decides which way to swing for mixed reviews), Zacharek is able to express the low points of the film with great precision and thought. While some may judge her for being a Debbie Downer to King Disney/Pixar’s parade, her points are well spoken and honest. That said, though my fellow Pixar kool aid drinkers focus on the negativity of the review and search for ways to discredit her opinion (i.e. “You can’t listen to her! She gave The Love Guru a glowing review!”), I focus on how her words of disappointment and critique reveals how the shortcomings she sees in the film can ultimately be interpreted as part of the narrative.
For Zacharek, it took only a few moments in the film for her to change her opinion from dazzling piece of art to disappointing Hollywood trash. She writes:
Toward the end of “WALL-E,” Stanton tries to circle back and recapture some of the wistful magic of the movie’s early scenes, but the spell doesn’t take. “WALL-E” gives us a hero who, by culling through the masses of junk that we so casually throw away, becomes a repository for human memories, a living (though not breathing) creature who has more feeling than actual humans do. Then it shows us actual humans — lazy, fat, brainless ones who have squandered and abused their free will — and asks us to forgive their foibles. The gloss of preachiness that washes over “WALL-E” overwhelms the haunting, delicate spirit of its first 30 minutes. This clearly isn’t a movie made by a robot; the drag is that it ends up feeling so programmed.
It Only Takes a Moment
It’s Wednesday of premiere week and still no A.O. Scott or Stephanie Zacharek filling the WALL•E profile on Rotten Tomatoes. The only thing posted as a top critic is Richard Roeper’s review and when you click the link to read more, the review does not exist! An attempt to creating a compilation post of various reviews has proven unfruitful as the overall silence amongst the critic heavyweights is deafening.
What appears as a display of silence and secrecy in reality is perhaps an inability to write about this film in normal review writing fashion. How does one write a review for a film that converges past (Keaton, Chaplin, and Lloyd), present (3D animation), and future (the destruction of Earth)? How does one translate the pantomime of a curious archiving robot into a writing style that requires an end point such as “Will be successful domestically, but mediocre internationally”? How can one not want to say and write more about this film than what is allotted to them on page E1 and E15 of the Art & Entertainment section of the paper?
In any case, here at Le Repertoire, we cannot express the level of excitement of this film’s premiere to the world. Yes, some of us may have a certain bias, ahem, but WALL•E is the second film, beginning with Ratatouille, to concrete the new wave of Pixar films, quite parallel to the Disney Renaissance of the mid-1990s. However instead of a re-invention of the musical via feats of 2D animation and solid melodramatic stories, the Pixar Renaissance shines through the depth of their stories that provide an open door for technological advances in animated shot composition.
Here are a few words from reviews that have been published (more to come):
Richard Corliss (Time) writes: Yet, as we spot the fret lines above his eyes and see the carcasses of other robots on the junk heaps, we realize that WALL•E is a lonely guy. There’s an instant poignancy to his puttering around the late, great planet Earth like a solitary child on an abandoned playground, or an oldster among his souvenirs. WALL•E’s special ache is his nostalgia for a life he never lived, for the intimate connection only humans enjoy.
Robert Wilonsky (Village Voice) writes: Many will attempt to describe WALL-E with a one-liner. It’s R2-D2 in love. 2001: A Space Odyssey starring The Little Tramp. An Inconvenient Truth meets Idiocracy on its way to Toy Story. But none of these do justice to a film that’s both breathtakingly majestic and heartbreakingly intimate—and, for a good long while, absolutely bereft of dialogue save the squeals, beeps, and chirps of a sweet, lonely robot who, aside from his cockroach pet, is the closest thing to the last living being on earth…Such reverence for movie history in general and sci-fi in particular is vital to the story, because it’s what ultimately gives WALL-E its wow factor and its weight—this reinvigoration of the past on the way to the future of filmmaking. (Charlie Chapin … in space.)
Mark Millar (creator of the graphic novel for which competing film Wanted is based on) states: Wanted 2 already being planned and they’ve asked me how I can develop some of the other stuff from the book into the sequel. We’ll see what box office is like at the weekend, but everyone knows this is going to make a LOT of dough…Wall-E permitting. Fucking bastard of a wee robot.