Fellow cinephile Franz encouraged me to post an appendix of Honorable Mentions to my list of The Best Films of 2008 (take the time to read Franz’s list, too). Those ten film were of course singled out for a reason, but that that doesn’t mean that they were my only notable movie experiences last year.
As I believe I wrote when I posted the original list earlier this month, lists like this are always works in progress. It’s perfectly acceptable to change your mind as you see new movies or as you rewatch those you’ve already seen, but this list seems to have been a particularly sloppy work. When I sat down to compile the list, I told myself to include the superb Lebanese drama Captain Abu Raed, whose heart-felt humanism, sincerity and wisdom deeply moved me at the Bergen International Film Festival screening just this past October, but for some reason, I forgot to give it the honor.
In a belated effort to do justice to the simple yet multi-faceted story of the janitor who is mistaken for a captain by the local youngsters when he picks up a worn-out pilots cap from the airport were he works, and whose inspiring (yet fictional) stories of how he has traveled the world not only brings optimism but also painful revelations into their lives, I recommend it warmly. Having been a staple of worldwide film festivals over the last couple of years, I not sure if it’s possible to find (yet?), but if you do, don’t pass on it. Please.
Also in the aftermath of my original post, at one point I labeled Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood my biggest disappointment of 2008. Let me take a minute to withdraw what I first said about it. Just a couple of days after I wrote about my skepticism, I decided to rewatch it, and my entire perception of the movie changed. Yes, it’s still somewhat slow, but it has that almost majestic feel to it that make its pacing seem just about perfect. In several of my previous articles (most notably about The Mudge Boy and Margot at the Wedding) I’ve made a point of criticizing how the somewhat shrouded psychological motivations of its main characters made them harder to accept, and the first time I saw it, that was part of the problem I had with Paul Dano’s (whose performance is otherwise excellent) character in Blood. Viewed a second time however, and watched through a prism of charismatic religiousity and and his complex relationship with Daniel Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview, it takes on a greater significance. And finally, if I ever said that Day Lewis’ performance was overrated (which I sort of did), I’ll take that back as well. The final scene is an instant classic, not only for its exhausting emotional climax but also for its almost frighteningly crisp cinematography. In summary, Blood pretty much is a tour de force of slowly building suspense, particularly in the final half-hour. I was lost, but now I’m found.
With those two out of the way, let’s get down to the actual honorable mentions, in no particular order:
3:10 to Yuma
It’s people like me who really need a movie like this, simply because we need a decent introduction to the western genre, without all the limitations of John Wayne (or Clint Eastwood) era westerns. James Mangold’s remake has a playfulness that’s inviting to skeptics like me. Russell Crowe (whom I normally don’t like that much) gives a particularly good performance. Also, the scene from the besieged building is vaguely reminiscent of Thomas Vinterberg’s western hommage Dear Wendy (2005).
She’s A Boy I Knew
Intimate but never intimidating documentary about a woman who’s still in love with her partner after having had a sex change operation (from Steve to Gwen). Family footage and personal interviews reveal something deeply profound not only about family, but also about the fluidity of sex/gender roles, and how little they should really matter. Anything but navel-gazing, this movie project give friends and immediate family a chance to talk about how their relationship with Gwen have changed over time.
Of Time and the City
More a movie essay than a traditional documentary, this is a gay man’s deeply moving and thoroughly original ode to Liverpool. In an almost poetic narrative style, it’s a sketchy portrait of how the city has evolved over the last several decades. Laced with self-deprecating humor, it’s also a personal take on class, gender and nature of history. Due for British DVD release in late March.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Since I’m definitely no Apatowian (director/producer Judd Apatow, whose long shadow casts all over Hollywood at the moment), I was a little surprised by how much I liked this one, but much is due to the clever script and attention-grabbing guest performances. Paul Rudd is better than I’ve ever seen him as the surfer dude, and both Jonah Hill and Jack MacBrayer are surprisingly sweet. Russell Brand’s character starts out as someone you’d love to hate, but in the end, you simply end up loving him. And like in other Apatowian vehicles (Superbad, Juno) there are moments of genuine sweetness. Here it has to do with a Dracula puppet musical.
Like with Sarah Marshall, this probably is just as much a Guilty Pleasurable than an Honorable Mention, but that makes it no less pleasurable. The most important thing if you are to succeed with a musical like this, is that you have the guts to see if you have the songs to tell a story, not if you have the story to sing a song, which is basically the reason why Mamma Mia! worked, and Across The Universe did not. The result was that Mamma Mia! felt a real musical, however goofy and imperfect. The cheerfulness of even the saddest ABBA songs (The Winner Takes It All) make them flow seamlessly into the fabric of the movie, and everyone involved seemed to having a jolly good time. I had, too.