Saturday, January 10, 2009

2008 is Enough-Part Two: The Year in Film

As I've stated here in years past, I'm not a stickler about what I consider to be the best of any given year, especially since I don't see everything that is released in the theaters in supposed "time allotted"-Jan. 1 through Dec. 31. Therefore, I can really only give you my impressions of what I have seen.
I will start off by declaring that my favorite 2008 release is Tomas Alfredson's sensational kid vampire tale LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (see 11/17/08 post: Stuff 'n Nonsense) , followed very closely by Guillaume Canet's riveting whodunit TELL NO ONE (post 8/26/08: Dog Days and Nights). Yeah, they're both furren filyums and I'm not trying to be anti-American or an elitist snob, but they ranked highest in what I was able to catch this last year. I also enjoyed IRON MAN, CLOVERFIELD, most of THE DARK KNIGHT, BURN AFTER READING, SON OF RAMBOW and QUANTUM OF SOLACE.
There are, however, several films that I viewed at home and from other eras other than our own that far surpassed the few I've mentioned above. For my on-going film education, 2008 was a year of rediscovery and, as a result, confirmation. As time passes, we sometimes become blase and somewhat contrite about the past, almost taking artists for granted when they should be celebrated for what they've given the world. Often, we equate longevity with just dumb luck and forget what made others stand out from the pack and endure over time.
Case in point: Gary Cooper
For myself, I tended to consider him just another cog in the star system, pleasant, but more of a star than an actor. I ate those words from dusk 'til dawn when I caught MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN. Here's a film that I let get away in the past, regarding it as another Frank Capra feel-good (more words I ingested). DEEDS transcends the limitations I had set upon it by leaps and bounds, showing me the error of my ways. This comedy of a small town yokel who inherits a fortune works on every level and especially because Cooper inhabits this role with gusto that has either escaped me in the past or I let pass by out of pure ignorance. I got almost as much pleasure watching Cooper in Lubitsch's BLUEBEARD'S EIGHTH WIFE.

Then there was Boris Karloff, another actor pigeonholed and typecast by Hollywood, but who was able to give incredibly complex performances in such films I saw for the first time such as ISLE OF THE DEAD and THE BODY SNATCHER for producer Val Lewton (whose other works floored me especially CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE). Catch BODY SNATCHER for a Karloff that will both chill and tickle you to the bone.

I also rediscovered the hidden treasures of the spaghetti western genre with RUN, MAN, RUN, A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL and the extraordinary THE GREAT SILENCE, directed by Sergio Corbucci, probably the bleakest film of that era and one of the most powerful.

Finding a lost treasure is always a thrill. This year, it was Terrence Fisher's THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (aka THE DEVIL'S BRIDE), easily one of the finest productions from the legendary Hammer Studios. Christopher Lee always claimed that this, along with the original WICKER MAN, were his best. I agree.

Of course, the best of the best was Orson Welles' F FOR FAKE, his film essay about hoaxes that had this great artist working at the very peak of his form in a format he created himself and acting as playful as a 26 year old kid playing with the world's biggest train set again. This was the true find of the year for me and one I will treasure always.

I went ga-ga over several others in 2008, including:

Samuel Fuller's PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET, THE NAKED KISS and the restoration of THE BIG RED ONE

The Chinese Martin Scorsese, Johnny To's gangster dramas ELECTION, TRIAD ELECTION and RUNNING OUT OF TIME (see blog dated 5/15/08: BAH-DUMP-BUMP!)

Two superb films noir: Nicholas Ray's IN A LONELY PLACE and Elia Kazan's PANIC IN THE STREETS

More crime dramas, this time with a French accent: Jean Pierre Melville's LE DOULOS (with the great Belmondo) and Claude Sautet's CLASSE TOUS RISQUES starring Lino Ventura, the French Spencer Tracy

Francois Truffaut's film about film DAY FOR NIGHT

John Carney's ONCE-one of the sweetest romances in the last decade

Brad Bird's RATATOUILLE (the best last ten minutes to a film all year)

Anthony Mann's classic James Stewart western WINCHESTER 73

Seth Gordon's Uber-nerd doc KING OF KONG

Geoff Murphy's riff on the post Apocalypse THE QUIET EARTH

Gary Sherman's cult horror flick from the Seventies RAW MEAT

The best western of this decade THE ASSASINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD by emerging director Andrew Dominik with a sensational Brad Pitt portrayal of the famous outlaw

The brilliantly diverse Japanese Cinema: Kento Shindo's haunting ONIBABA, Seijun Suzuki's wacky Yakuza actioner YOUTH OF THE BEAST, Nobuo Nokagawa's literal vision of Hell JIGOKU, Kenji Fukasaku's utraviolent teenager survivor epic BATTLE ROYALE, the sublime Yasujiro Ozu's TOKYO STORY and Akira Krosawa's riveting kidnap yarn HIGH AND LOW

Giallo or Horror, Italian style in Dario Argento's TENEBRE

Sean Penn's faithful adaptation of INTO THE WILD

Satjayit Ray's second in the APU trilogy APARAJITO, a nice balance to SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

The Sixties ala American Internation Pictures in Barry Shear's WILD IN THE STREETS (Whatever happened to Christopher Jones?)

I cried like a baby and probably always will watching the HBO South African orphan docu WE ARE TOGETHER
Roger Corman directs a racist William Shatner in THE INTRUDER

and Erich von Stroheim's silent saga GREED

You know what? That ain't all. In fact, I saw 143 movies last year. These were the best of the best. Some day I'm sure that I'll see a movie a day, adding up to 365. But not this year.

I gotta get some air. See? You thought I was going to say get a life, huh? Fooled you. After all, to me, film IS life.

Happy New Year, Y'all
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