Saturday, 3 January 2009

[114] Wild Tyme's Films of 2008, part 2

Here's the concluding part of the overview of my favourite and notable films of 2008.

I will take the time now to highlight one or two films I saw that warrant a re-assessment, or just missed out on the list . Noah Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding was an unforgiving and bleak look at rich, highly educated, dysfunctional American family life; it wasn't as immediately impressive or touching as The Squid and the Whale, but it still exhibited his intelligent, well-observed writing and featured good performances from Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and, particularly, Jack Black in an almost straight role. I also saw a re-release of Bernardo Bertolucci's 1970 film Il Conformista, which was an edgy thriller. However, I believe I wil get more from it after another viewing, if it is ever released on DVD.

Back to the rest of the main list.


The Visitor (dir. Thomas McCarthy)

A warm, politically relevant drama that mixes up boundary-crossing and social commentary. A jaded American college professor returns to his New York apartment to find two North African immigrants living there. He allows them to stay, and slowly builds up a friendship with Tarek, an afrobeat percussionist, and develops a passion for African Jazz. Back in July, I said the following: Indeed, the socio-political dimensions of The Visitor can perhaps give way to accusations of exoticism, naivety, liberal guilt-tripping or melodrama. However, the solid roots in character and performance give the film's soapbox turn an emotional depth and empathy.

The Counterfeiters (Die Fälscher, dir. Stefan Ruzowitzky)

An anomaly on the list because I didn't see The Counterfeiters in the cinema. I watched it on a plane to America. Again, this is a 2007 film, although it achieved international acclaim in 2008, peaking with the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film. I mostly avoid WW2 and especially holocaust-based movies, as especially in the Hollywood realm, they have become stodgy and melodramatic. The Counterfeiters, however, manages to build a complex story of survival, artifice and collusion around the usual thematic and emotional touchstones.

The Dark Knight (dir. Christopher Nolan), Iron Man (dir. Jon Favreau)

A joint entry for these two big-budget, high-grossing comic book films. Both were astounding successes, but for me both were full of grinding, deal-breaking flaws. Iron Man is half-brilliant, with Robert Downey Jr. stepping out as a perfect Tony Stark, who is an arrogant, loveable super-cool playboy. A James Bond in the time when even 007 producers don't have the guts to utilise humour and charm anymore. However, the film falters in its second act turn as an action film, and its mis -handling of the terrorist subplot. The Dark Knight, hailed by many as the pinnacle of the comic book movie genre, is another regression into faux-realism and pseudo-philosophy by Christopher Nolan. Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart are wonderful as The Joker and Harvey Dent, but the plotting is fumbled: the film can't decide whether Joker is realistic (a down-and-dirty madman) or mythic (a chaotic, omnipotent force of nature). Equally, Harvey Dent's transformation into Two-Face is shoe-horned and short-changed. I had a long list of misgivings, although I suppose I will eventually re-watch The Dark Knight and Iron Man and perhaps re-assess my opinion. Nevertheless, both films were unavoidable in 2008.

Man on Wire (dir. James Marsh)

Watching a documentary about the man who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in a New York cinema is notable in itself. However, Man On Wire is stylish, complex and truly gripping. It is helped in no small part by the natural showmanship and magnetic personality of French performer Philippe Petit , but Marsh's decision to frame Man On Wire as a heist movie gives it a thrilling momentum. It is also eloquent, of the shift in American and international sensibilities between the 1970s and now, via, of course, 9/11. The WTC attacks are left as the unreferenced elephant in the room, and the film is better for it, as a trite, sentimental conclusion would spoil its eloquence.

Wall-E (dir. Andrew Stanton)

Wall-E may not be the 'art-house' Pixar movie that certain exaggerating critics claimed, but it is still a memorable, commendable venture outside of the studio's comfort zone. The dystopic future setting is very well fleshed out, and quite haunting in its way. Equally, the silent opening, featuring Wall-E's day-to-day travels, is daring, challenging cinema for a Disney-owned studio. It is also the most enchanting part of the film, as exposition unfolds slowly and subtly. Once Wall-E discovers human life aboard the deep-space cruise liner, the satire becomes blunter and the style develops more along conventional Pixar lines, as Wall-E and his quirky little friends chase and are chased through corridors.

Jar City (Myrin, dir. Baltasar Kormákur)

A dark, chilly thriller based in Iceland, Jar City makes good use of its location. The landscape of Iceland is presented as harsh, unforgiving and bleak (far from the glacial beauty of tourist brochures), and is a suitable setting for this detective story of murder and genetic research. In theory, the film is quite conventional and generic; however, there are important aspects that make it stand out. The misanthropic detective Erlendur, played excellently by Ingvar Sigurðsson, is tough and straightforward, but withdrawn and deeply melancholic.

Of Time and the City (dir. Terence Davies)

Terence Davies' cinematic essay about growing up in 1950s inner city Liverpool is full of unique character. His use of archive footage and his own narration, invites the viewer into a world of recollection and kinky nostalgia, not unlike visiting a flamboyant, immensely articulate great uncle and being led through his photograph collection. Davies is a welcoming, if at times knowingly pompous, narrator. His film is boldly subjective and personal in its reflections on life, memory and place. However, his approach is pitched just right to be inclusive, as opposed to crotchety.

Dot (Nokta, dir. Dervis Zaim)

When I was given a press pass to the London Turkish Film Festival, I didn't expect to see such quality. Dot is an edgy crime thriller that is anchored in the spiritual and philosophical teachings of calligraphy. It exhibits a stylistic verve that most other (non-animated, non-Dylan) films on this list do not approach. It is presented as a seamless, smooth, single take, using veiled edits and fluid camerawork to create a stretch of film that emulates the flowing strokes of the calligrapher's pen. I said back in December that I don't believe I have seen a film where its disparate aspects (be they technical, thematic or narrative) have gelled together so well.

Times and Winds (Bes Vakit, dir. Reha Erdem)

Another Turkish film, this time a coming-of-age drama set in a rural village. The narrative mimics village life in its structuring around the daily calls to prayer. The idyllic countryside context is contrasted with the sometimes brutal and emotionally cold family life. Arvo Part's soundtrack gives the often mundane proceedings poignance and significance, as the children make their uneasy, uncertain steps into adulthood. Its ending was open, inconclusive, but nevertheless thought-provoking. Read my in-depth review here.

Waltz With Bashir (Vals im Bashir, dir. Ari Folman)

The final film I saw this year. Also the most expensive (over £9 for a bloody ticket!). Thankfully, Waltz With Bashir is a strikingly assured film, full of multi-layered genius. Ari Folman's personal journey into his suppressed memories of the 1982 Israel-Lebanon war is intensely personal, yet the content has more wider social and political relevance. The use of animation allows Folman to mix interview and documentary footage with more imaginative forays into dream, memory and nightmare. The result is at turns haunting and revelatory: a film like no other.


And that's it. Hope you enjoyed the indulgence. My list doesn't cross over with many of the professional or highest-grossing lists, but these were the films that struck me in 2008. Hopefully I'll find a way to see many good films in 2009, however due to the obscene pricing in London, it isn't looking likely.

1 comment:

Dom Sutton said...

I still haven't seen The Dark Knight. Disgraceful!

Nice list, a couple of films I hadn't heard of which I'll be adding to my DVD rental list.