Saturday, March 7, 2009

Eyes: '08 Edition (Volume One, Issue One)

Personal favorites from the cinema of 2008. Kind of in a descending order though only slightly...

Paranoid Park (dir. by Gus Van Sant) "Best Film of the Year"
A cinematic poem to innocence and the loss of. A hyper-culmination of the style developed and explored in Van Sant's self-proclaimed "death trilogy" (Gerry, Elephant, Last Days), Paranoid is much more kinetic than his previous three films and benefits heavily from an emotive soundtrack and beautifully steady visuals. These images float onscreen and possess a lyricism sorely lacking in today's cinema of "realism."

Best in Realism
Rachel Getting Married (dir. by Jonathon Demme)
This film depicted life as both euphoric and tragic (as opposed to the one-sided Synecdoche, New York which seemed unfairly obsessed with the latter). Although Anne Hathaway recieved most of the attention for this film (deservingly), its Bill Irwin's performance as the eager yet helpless head of the family that I found the most heartbreaking. The scene in the kitchen, packing the dishwasher is simultaenously the emotional peak and nadir of the film. Witness the American family trying to be whole once more in the aftermath of divorce, family tragedy, drug addiction and general disfunction. With Tunde Adebimpe from TV on the Radio!

Happy-Go-Lucky (dir. and written by Mike Leigh)
Another great realist film that follows the blissfully positive Poppy, an elementary school teacher in London, as she attempts to hold on to her self-prescribed naivete in the face of psychotic driving instructors, child-abuse and the homeless. Beautiful in its highs as well as lows.

Best in Vampires
Let the Right One In (dir. by Tomas Alfredson)
What a strange little film. A beautiful story of adolescence and young love accented with scenes of intense horror and violence. The ending is one of the most perversely satisfying endings of any film I've seen in a long while.

Best of Hollywood
Milk (dir. by Gus Van Sant)
Gus Van Sant returns to the populist cinema of Hollywood to make a movie about the political life and death of a gay politician in San Francisco. What a guy. Like Elephant and Last Days, most of the audience knows how Milk ends but Sean Penn and Josh Brolin's performances doubled with Van Sant's visual poetry elevates the script above its trappings as a standard biopic. A bar raid shot from outside with a gradual zooming single take not only captures the hysteria better than a handheld, choppily-edited sequence would but also shows the thought put in to even the smallest of details.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (dir. by David Fincher)
Forrest Gump makes me cry. I don't think its a coincidence that Button also wrecked me. I mean REALLY wrecked me. Good thing I saw this alone because it was embarrassing. I can't even remember the last I was this emotionally devastated by a picture. A subdued love story (no grand emotional peaks or valleys) was boring to many but I found it quietly beautiful.

Iron Man (dir. by Jon Favreau)
I saw this film on opening night in packed Paris theater and it was one of my proudest moment as an American abroad. No one does spectacle like Hollywood. And no one does snark and charm like Robert Downey Jr. U S A!!! U S A!!! U S A!!!

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (dir. by Nicolas Stoller)
The funniest movie I saw all year. Its taken me a while to warm up to Jason Segel (I found him annoyingly whiny and pathetic on Freaks and Geeks [perhaps it just hit a little too close to home?]) but he was great in this (though still pretty pathetic). I'm working my way through How I Met Your Mother currently and find him hilarious there, as well. Wheelz seems disgusted by the idea that Segel is a "star" but I'm happy see his average mug on billboards across town. Nice counterpoint to all the Clive Owen posters.

Best de l'Amour
Wall-E (dir. by Andrew Stanton)
A beautifully felt picture that glued a stunned smile to my face for the majority of its runtime. The Hello, Dolly touches were particularly affecting. And that ballet in space was quite magical. Though it deserved a better third act, the perfection of the take-off made forgivable the stilted landing.

Slumdog Millionaire (dir. by Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan)
The "Its His Destiny" answer at the end made me scoff but it was a fun ride. Danny Boyle's cool.

Best in Joints
Pineapple Express (dir. by David Gordon Green)
Has gotten better with each repeat viewing. More Undertow than George Washington as far as Green goes but that's not a slight. Tim Orr's gorgeous cinematography floats through scenes of awkardly realistic violence until the end where Seth Rogen is fucking flying around the warehouse. Little touches like the young overweight Hispanic girl in a swimsuit staring at James Franco crying into a sandwich and the weightlifting neighbor of Rogen's girlfriend show that Green still has an eye for the beautiful oddities of life. The walking through the forest interlude stands as the most poetic sequence in the film.

Smiley Face (dir. by Greg Araki)
A strange and hilarious picture that would surely benefit from a good joint. While its still good sober the unspeakably bad cinematography tires the eyes and the mind. Anna Farris continues to impress, throwing herself into these silly roles with such reckless abandon.

Best in Comebacks
JCVD (dir. by Mabrouk El Mechri)
Jean-Claude is incredible in this movie and its a shame it didn't get as much attention as the other comeback role this year. But this isn't so much a comeback as a realization of the skills that Van Damme has. He's funny, sad and beaten by the end of the film and vulnerable in a way no other star was this year, except maybe ...

The Wrestler (dir. by Darren Aranofsky)
A nice piece of realist filmmaking that shows Aranofsky roping in his style in order to let Mickey Rourke dominate the screen. He goes out on top with the only family that stands by him - his fans. The last shot of this movie was one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking endings of any film this year (though JCVD's was pretty devastating also). We leave Rourke soaring through the air, knowing full well he's falling just as much as flying.
I need to work on being more concise. Next time.


  1. Forget about concision, if anything I would like you to expand your thoughts. Maybe delve into one topic more deeply? Or (urban) sprawl(s) as wildly as possible? Or don't listen to any of my suggestions?

    I also liked the finale "The Wrestler," but I thought his quasi-triumphant entry to "Welcome to the Jungle" was more moving and more character-specific than the somewhat-belabored final shot, good as it was.

    I thought that "JCVD" offered one of the most poignant wordless closing shots of all time. Up there with "City Lights" and that's no joke. I also feel like JCVD (the man) offered more control and more blistering emotion than the Oscar-clip moments of "The Wrestler."

  2. Yeah, I think you'd be better suited to writing longer updates, Daren.

    And even though I really wanted to like it, I have to disagree on 'Smiley Face.' It was too formless and really just exists without doing anything... can't say I was a fan.

  3. I must say I really enjoyed 'Smiley Face' and found its lackluster cinematography to be more conceptually defendable than Tim Orr's strangely/deliberately (?) sub-par work on "Pineapple Express."

    The main thing I wanted to say though was how strange I thought it was that you titled this piece "Eyes" as it is about cinema post-1927 and you once described your top pick, "Paranoid Park" as "aural and visual poetry." EXPLANATIONS PLZ.