Cinema 2008

CN&R film critic looks back at the year in film

THE GOOD STUFF<br>Some of the best to make it to Chico’s big, and small, screens (from left): <i>The Diving Bell and the Butterfly</i>, <i>Mad Men</i>, <i>Belle Toujours</i> and <i>There Will Be Blood</i>.

Some of the best to make it to Chico’s big, and small, screens (from left): The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Mad Men, Belle Toujours and There Will Be Blood.

I have mixed feelings about 2008 as a movie year.

And how could it be otherwise when movie-viewing has gotten so spectacularly and convolutedly immersed in the great mass-media mash-up of television, video, the Internet and the multiplex?

Or when there are more good movies within reach, especially on video, than even the most obsessive film buffs and scholars can possibly keep up with?

Or when a mini-series on cable TV—AMC’s Mad Men—is better film drama than almost anything in the theaters?

Or when you’ll go to the trouble of acquiring a film on Region 2 DVD—Jacques Rivette’s The Duchess of Langeais—while also avoiding The Duchess, with Keira Knightley, even when it’s in a theater near you?

Or when you could find yourself feeling averse to the manipulations of contemporary mainstream entertainment, as I did one day this summer when the choices for a matinee were Momma Mia! and The Dark Knight, and I preferred to sit still for neither?

Be that as it may, a great many movie pleasures came our way in 2008:

The year’s best: Four Months Three Weeks Two Days, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Man on Wire.

The rest of the best: I’m Not There, There Will Be Blood, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Edge of Heaven, The Duchess of Langeais, Mad Men, My Blueberry Nights, Flight of the Red Balloon, Young at Heart, Encounters at the End of the World.

Honorable mention: Appaloosa; The Band’s Visit; Belle Toujours; Cassandra’s Dream; The Fall, Changeling; Ghost Town; Her Name Is Sabine; Miracle at St. Anna; Persepolis; Redbelt; Roman de Gare; The Savages; Shine a Light; Synecdoche, New York; When Did You Last See Your Father?

Foreign affairs (DVD mostly): Edge of Heaven (Germany/Turkey), Syndromes and a Century (Thailand), I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (Taiwan), and a host of remarkable films from France: Flight of the Red Balloon, Belle Toujours, The Duchess of Langeais, Romance of Astrée and Céladon, Lady Chatterley, Love Songs, Dans Paris, Tell No One, The Witnesses, Her Name Is Sabine, Klimt (and that’s without counting a handful of very promising items I expect to be seeing soon: A Christmas Tale, I’ve Loved You So Long, Molière, A Secret, The Girl Cut in Two).

Unjustly overlooked English-language movies: Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park and Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream.

Hot dox: The best documentaries were Man on Wire and Encounters at the End of the World in theaters, and Helvetica and Her Name Is Sabine on DVD; best music films were Young at Heart and Shine a Light in theaters, and The Future Is Unwritten on DVD.

Avant-garde shorts: The Lawrence Jordan Album (Facets Video boxset) is an exceptional collection of work by a major experimentalist, including some masterpieces of pre-computer animation.

Film buff’s delight: Restored silent-movie classics, at the Redding Silent Film Festival in October, and in handsome DVD boxsets including Murnau, Borzage and Fox; Lost and Found: The Harry Langdon Collection (Facets); The Last Laugh (Kino); and Douglas Fairbanks: A Modern Musketeer (Flicker Alley).

Blockbuster books: Two table-sized tomes devoted to old masters, Federico Fellini: the Book of Dreams (Rizzoli) and The Ingmar Bergman Archive (Taschen) loom very large indeed. But for my money, the most indispensable film books of the year are Richard Brody’s Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard (Metropolitan) and David Thomson’s “Have You Seen…?": A Personal Introduction to 1000 Films, including masterpieces, oddities, guilty pleasures, and classics (with just a few disasters) (Knopf).

Long goodbye: Manny Farber, modern painter and pioneering film critic.