Not that WALL·E is entirely lacking in virtues: the film's famed first forty minutes are as good as everyone says. Where critical laurels truly seem misplaced (for this writer) is in the praise lavished on Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York and Tarsem's The Fall (2006), my joint selections for the year's worst. With regard to the Kaufman, Synecdoche provided 2008's most unrelentingly bleak vision of the world, effectively extrapolating from the filmmaker's proxy's own unhappiness a world in which all suffer from this same despair. Clear point-of-view? Yes. Unbelievably myopic and staggeringly unpleasant self-portrait of extreme self-concern? Certainly. The Tarsem, on the other hand, manages a balance of cloying sentimentally and sadism, supported by, as Lisa K. Broad puts it, a film grammar that is the functional equivalent of a novel penned by an illiterate.
Now on to the not awful... heck, on to the very good. For Tativille's two authors, Anderson and Broad, the distinction of the best American narrative film of the year belongs to Michel Gondry's evidently-undervalued Be Kind Rewind (pictured). Improving on his strong The Science of Sleep (2006), Gondry once again pulls together the often antithetical spheres of the cinema and the visual arts in his relational aesthetic-inspired latest foray into videotape nostalgia. This wasn't the funniest of a handful of strong American comedies in 2008 (Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder, Role Models and Forgetting Sarah Marshall were all funnier individually; Adam McKay's Step Brothers had its moments, most of which made their way into the film's many trailers, though McKay's mise-en-scène was mind-numbingly lazy) but it was certainly the finest in many other respects.
Then again, Japan provided a number of challenges to Gondry on the comedy front: Adrift in Tokyo (Satoshi Miki, 2007), Dainipponjin (Hitoshi Matsumoto, 2007) and Fine, Totally Fine (Yosuke Fujita), the purely funniest of the group, represent three rare instances of comic filmmaking that all touch on human transience and the institutions of its country of origin - which is to say, these were three remarkable works of art. Yet, none of the above could touch a fourth Japanese film of the past twelve months, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's masterpiece Tokyo Sonata, which like the former grouping dissects its nation's mythology and its present-day economic situation. Tokyo Sonata was Broad's choice for the film of the year and a very close second for Anderson.
My own choice for the film of the year - and Broad's #2 - was Lucrecia Martel's career-peak The Headless Woman (Argentina). For me, The Headless Woman proved the year's fullest inter-mixture of form and discourse, providing a genuine attempt to remake film language in the image of its material. It was the un-Diving Bell and Butterfly (2007, Julian Schnabel) in its achievement in providing a plausible platform for its protagonist's perceptual irregularity. In fact, from global reports, 2008 may well be a year defined ultimately by the Latin American cinema generally and Argentine film specifically.
But back to the local. Posted below are Lisa and my choices for the year's top ten, selected from our favorite New York and New Haven theatrical and festival screenings (with an additional unreleased picture from Northern Europe making the cut). Through the New Year, I will also link to our favorite colleagues' selections on various sister sites. Please check back in the coming days for these updates.
-Michael J. Anderson, 12/23/2008
- Michael J. Anderson, Tativille
- Lisa K. Broad, Tativille
- Andrea Janes, Spinster Aunt
- Pamela Kerpius, Scarlett Cinema
- Mike Lyon, Tits and Gore
- Matt Singer, Termite Art
- Richard Suchenski, Ten Best Films
- R. Emmet Sweeney, Termite Art
- Karen Wang, Scarlett Cinema
- Alberto Zambenedetti, Termite Art
Updated: A 'mini' year-end poll, comprised of tabulations of the above lists, is also available on Tativille affiliate Ten Best Films.