Each of the Notebook's writers were given the opportunity to submit two lists of their ten favorite films of 2008. One is restricted to films receiving at least a week's theatrical run in the U.S., a limitation regretfully imposed only so that we may arrive at a final tally of the Notebook's overall favorites released this year. The second list is optional, and opens up the field to anything seen in 2008, new or old, festival or regular release. Each writer is also given space for words of explaination, rant, annotation, or anything else that occurs to them about their film viewing in 2008.
Top 10 New Movies, Calendar Year 2008:
1. A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin)
2. Gitmek: My Marlon And Brando (Huseyin Karabey)
3. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh)
4. Of Time And The City (Terence Davies)
5. Tony Manero (Pablo Lorrain)
6. The Order Of Myths (Margaret Brown)
7. Vicky Christina Barcelona (Woody Allen)
8. Just Anybody (Jacques Doillon)
9. Tulpan (Sergey Dvortsevoy)
10. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan)
2008 is, at press time, being pretty much universally acknowledged as a mediocre year for film; granted, there's always a substantial group of people to say this every year (except for 2007's equally universally acknowledged bonanza, which may explain why more people than usual are grumpy and cinematically hungover this time around). But the lousiness of the year was amplified by the endless firings of critics (and attendant, even more depressing and eventually tiresome speculations about what said firings meant) and the simultaneous erosion of even the most token American releases of significant world movies. Three of the movies on my list screened in some festival context in New York, then disappeared without any news of future distribution; one, In The City Of Sylvia, didn't have a distributor at all — just a one-week run courtesy of Anthology Film Archives — which didn't stop indieWIRE's polled critics from giving it 22 mentions for the #12 spot in the overall results. More than ever, people (mostly critics and industry types) with access to festivals and the ability to schedule their lives around rare screenings are disconnected from the vast majority of film-viewers — not just in what they're interested in watching, but in figuring how to get access to these films in the first place if interested. These trends have been ongoing for a while, but in 2008, more than ever, trying to keep up with worthwhile world film increasingly resembled the hunched-over position of a confirmed music geek: while i was scanning blogs for buzz and album downloads, friends in far-off locales were doing the same for film, reading up on Greencine then jumping over to hubs like karagarga to torrent themselves back into the discussion.
Faced with this dismal trifecta — a statistically kind of unavoidable slump year, the irritatingly over-discussed death of criticism as a paying occupation and a more fragmentary film culture than ever — good riddance to 2008. Still, there's perks: less time watching new movies means more time to watch rep cinema — and since, by all reliable accounts, 35mm rep programming is disappearing even faster than anyone could imagine, you should do as much of this as possible if you have the option. Everything these days seems to be a spangly new print: I guess this has something to do with studios overhauling their archives for DVD transfer, which means this may never happen again, but for the moment it's all fun and games. To prove my point, here's an alphabetical list of 10 terrific older movies I saw in pretty much pristine condition for the first time this year that are shamefully underknown and not available, as of right now, on Region 1 DVD:
Age Of Assassins (1967, Kihachi Okamoto) — I don't really do OMG JAPANESE WEBSANITY, but Age Of Assassins is crazy yet focused. Anchoring some kind of gibberish plot about a mental asylum training assassins for neo-Nazi hijinks is one of Tatsuya Nakadai's most virtuosic performances — from Jim Carrey goofball to suave secret agent man — and a nasty message about the hangover of imperial culture and fascist tendencies in '60s Japan. Okamoto's represented on Criterion with Sword Of Doom and other samurai films; this should be next.
Audition (1963, Milos Forman) — The only Forman film you could really call humanist in any way; with its emphasis on blurring documentary and re-enactment, though, it's arguably the groundwork for much of Forman's career (the sort-of real auditions in Taking Off, the Brechtian interaction of actors and the real participants in the events being restaged in his latter-day biopics). More glibly, it's the only documentary on Czech brass bands you'll ever need to see.
Bye Bye Braverman (1968, Sidney Lumet) — No one's ever really figured out how to film Philip Roth successfully, but this Lumet tour of late-60s New York and Jewish neurosis comes close. Featuring a Jew so humorless he decries converts as "Too much, too late."
Celine And Julie Go Boating (1974, Jacques Rivette) — Why the hell isn't this on R1 DVD? Seriously.
Dry Summer (1964, Metin Erksan) — Just restored and shown at MoMA's invaluable annual To Save and Project series, this is a ridiculously brutal Turkish melodrama (cited by Fatih Akin as a peak of Turkish cinema no less). In it a dog is shot and a chicken has its head cut off — for real and for keeps. Indelible if disturbing.
Emergency Kisses (1989, Philippe Garrel) — One of three Garrel films I saw revived in New York this year in impeccable condition (the othes: La Lit De La Vierge and I Don't Hear The Guitar Anymore), and my personal favorite. None are available on DVD (though it being Garrel that's not very surprising if we're being honest).
Garde A Vue (1981, Claude Miller) — Miller's generally written off as a middlebrow hack, but there's honor in this underrated curio, which is basically little more than excuse for Lino Ventura, Michel Serrault and Romy Schneider to take turns going at each other in lengthy exchanges. The plot and direction are unexceptional (and the ending misguided), but if that sounds like a good time to you, you're definitely the target audience. This is exactly the kind of low-key pleasure that belongs on DVD.
Naked Island (1960, Kaneto Shindo) — An elemental stunt: one year in the life of a family cultivating an impoverished island. No dialogue, just a hypnotic nascent version of arthouse minimalism.
Quadrille (1938, Sacha Guitry) — There's the barely masked leering and desire of '30s Lubitsch, and then there's this: barely filmed in any meaningful sense (the takes are beyond-Preminger-long, presumably to help the theatrical actors set their own pacing), with a climax that involves Guitry listening to his lover explain, with no verbal euphemisms, what exactly she did and who with. Bracing.
U.S. Go Home (1994, Claire Denis) — This is neck-and-neck with Nenette Et Boni for me as Denis' greatest film. It features Vincent Gallo actually acting as opposed to enacting his performance art project one more time. It's an hour long and the print is slightly bedraggled, but god bless MoMA for digging it up in the first place.