Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 19, 2009 9:54 am 
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(Text as submitted to Cinescene.)


Though year's-end arrivals like Frost/Nixon, Doubt, Rachel Getting Married, Happy-Go-Lucky and the Cinderella surprise Slumdog Millionaire are impressive award contenders, nothing hit me in late 2008 as No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood did last year, or had that unmistakable stamp of Great Movie on them. So I’d like to step away from the game of lining up the year’s "best" for a moment and first highlight some films I specially care about.

Technically US releases for the most part, these were hard to see outside the festival circuit or NYC. Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light, about adultery in a Mennonite community, is haunting and magical; it confirms that this still relatively little-known Mexican is one of the most distinctive and gifted directors working in the world today. Steve McQueen's Hunger astonished me; I’d never heard of this young Black UK artist. His first film about the Irish nationalist Bobby Sands's struggle to the death is as artistically elegant as it is emotionally strong--a stunning debut. Lance Hammer's Ballast was made with local first-time actors in the Mississippi Delta. It’s the American indie debut of 2008 with the most integrity and authenticity.

Other personal "prejudices" make me single out Gus Van Sant, Tarsem (Singh), and some new French films. Van Sant’s Milk is another gay mainstream movie milestone, like Brokeback Mountain, and that’s important to me as a gay person. Let’s also remember that Van Sant’s 2007 Paranoid Park, another of this most high-profile American gay directors' artistic visual poems about death and boyhood, the most accessible of the stylized quartet that includes Gerry, Elephant, Last Days, also technically had its US theatrical release this year. Tarsem (Singh)'s generally overlooked The Fall, a multiple-location, exquisitely-costumed dream vision, is a rare feast of visual exotica that puts middlebrow high-tech slogs like Benjamin Button to shame. France still produces great movies, and I admit I’m very partial to them: The Class, A Christmas Tale, Summer Hours (not a US release), The Secret of the Grain are all fine, and movingly full of a sense of family, culture, and society. But it's Honore’s Love Songs, a film about young people in love and in mourining in the Bastille quarter of Paris, that went beyond admiration and became a real personal fetish of mine. Mark Olsen wrote in Film Comment that "Christophe Honoré's films aren't just films you like; you develop little crushes on them." That's true for me, at least this time. A very post-Jacques Demy French film musical, it really is something a lot of Americans don’t seem to "get." At the Lincoln Center screening, a number of press people shook their heads and said it was terrible. Fortunately all of these recommendations of mine can be enjoyed on DVD away from critics and head-shakers. And when the Oscars are over, we’ll see what matters most.

Some other notes: Documentaries continue to be in far richer supply than in the past. So many are worth a look, it's impossible to list them all. Taxi to the Dark Side is the one essential one. The horrors perpetrated by the old regime aren’t going to go away just because of a charismatic new leader: let Alex Gibney's film be a reminder of the grim legacy. In contrast, quite apolitical and even indifferent to matters of legality, Man on Wire is a movie whose exhilarating finale moved me more than any other "real" footage this year.

Below are my formal lists, but I have not tried to give out prizes. You may be sure that they all contain the highest accomplishments in all fields, including acting. A few memorable performances came in films that aren’t so special, notably Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, Clint Eastwood in his own Gran Torino, and of course, the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.


(Not ranked)

Ballast (Lance Hammer 2008)
The Fall (Tarsem Singh 2006)
Frost/Nixon (Ron Howard 2008)
Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh 2008)
Hunger (Steve McQueen 2008)
Milk (Gus Van Sant 2008)
Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant 2007)
Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme 2008)
Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle 2008)
WALL·E (Andrew Stanton 2008)

Alexandra (Alexandr Sokurov 2007)
A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin 2008)
The Class (Laurent Cantet 2008)
Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin 2007)
The Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiau-hsien 2007)
Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson 2008)
Love Songs (Christophe Honoré 2007)
The Secret of the Grain (Abdelatif Kechche 2007)
Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas 2007)
Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas 2008)

Battle for Haditha (Nick Broomfield 2008)
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Mark Harmon 2008)
Take Out (Sean Baker, Tsou Shih-Ching 2003)
The Visitor (Thomas McCarthy 2008)
Waltz with Bashir (Ari Forman 2008)
Wrestler, The (Darren Aronofsky 2008)
Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt 2008)

American Teen (Nanette Burstein 2008)
The Betrayal: Narakhoon (Ellen Kuras 2008)
Bogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (2008)
Constantine’s Sword (Oren Jacoby 2008)
Man on Wire (James Marsh 2008)
Patti Smith: Dream of Life (Steven Sebring 2008)
Stranded: I Come from a Plane That Crashed in the Mountains (Gonzalo Arijon 2007)
Surfwise (Doug Pray 2008)
Taxi to the Dark Side (Alex Gibney 2008)
Trouble the Water (Carl Deal, Tia Lessin 2008)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher 2008)
The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan 2008)
Four Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days (Christian Mungiu 2007)
Frozen River (Courtney Hunt 2008)

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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