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The Notebook’s First Annual Writers’ Poll: Ryland Walker Knight (Wrangle yourself and laugh)

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.
It keeps happening: my movie years continue to become defined more by the "old" films I saw rather than the "new". The most current example of this trend is the (rather bare-bones, hardly trumpeted) DVD issue of an "Extended Cut" of Terrence Malick's The New World, about which I have plenty to say (genuflection can brim and overflow up as much as grovel down), but will reign in to a simple, "Buy it, please," right now. The biggest example of this trend is my spring-time encounter with the work of Pedro Costa at the Pacific Film Archive. I learned more about movies that week than I did at any other point in that final semester; perhaps more than during any other period of my tardy return to university.
That said, I learned a lot about myself in 2008 outside that institution in some mountains up in the bottom of Colorado. Yep: The Telluride Film Festival was big for me. I saw some good films, sure, but I took a lot more than just that from the trip. I was reminded, with a laugh, about laughing. It's a gay science we're after, right? Which is why I think I was especially ready to adopt Arnaud Desplechin this fall as a new kind of hero. His generosity and particular curiosities speak to pretty much everything I enjoy thinking about and laughing about and crying about and living with here in this muck. However, it would be foolish to ignore the films that lead into this appreciation and acknowledgment. To begin, back at Telluride, Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky charmed me silly with its bullheaded optimism and its wonderfully paradoxical, which is to say rather simple (or even classic), "get out of the way while getting in close" mise-en-scene; not to mention its tender-hilarious amor fati affirmation of living in and with the world.
In October I encountered Jean Eustache. I'm still wrestling with all the things his cinemas (his cinemaseems to contain many cinemas, just as we contain many me's) speak to—in each other, in me, in the cinematic tradition he inaugurates and breaks from, in the world. Needless to say, Eustache is huge; he exceeds me. And I work slow, for the most part, with words, when dealing with such magnitude. The other luminary that defined my fall season comes from a congruous artistic perspective as Eustache—they both seek to document our ephemera, our daily performances—but his mode diverges pretty quickly, and, as far as I can tell with my white American eyes, his cinema (while it may inherit a certain sensibility from some Italians and one master-of-models Frenchman) seems decidedly of its country of origin: I'm talking mainland China's very own Jia Zhang-Ke.
Trying to wrangle my brain around both Jia and Eustache in the same month was a difficult task that, I will admit, I mostly failed at; I'm forever amazed by writers such as our editor here, that tireless Kasman, who find (or simply make) the time to contribute something about practically everything. But (like, duh!) that's why he does what he does and I do what I do; that's why I'm happy to be here.
So, with much (unnecessary) anxiety—the crisis of criteria is perpetual, it seems, and unavoidable for my brain—I offer ten "of-now" favorites from my 2008. I did not number them, despite certain preferences, because, of course, they're all doing different things and I love that I can love them all for different reasons. However, when I get down to it, there's only one on this list that I paid full price to see three times in a week. And while I'm sorry I cannot account for some films (Denis, Ferrera, Garrel, Reichardt, Breillat, Cantet, Hammer, and on and on; and really, where the ladies at below, right?), we know that those films will find their way to my eyes and ears at some point in the near future—and that we here in the Notebook have a mighty choir to sing praises to different corners of this film world. For instance: how funny is it to look below at those last two titles sitting next to one another?
Burn After Reading (Coen/Coen, USA)
Un Conte de Noel: Roubaix! (Desplechin, France)
Diary of the Dead (Romero, USA)
Le voyage de ballon rouge (Hou, France)
Happy-Go-Lucky (Leigh, UK)
En la cuidad de Sylvia (Guerin, Spain)
Ne touchez pas la hache (Rivette, France)
Paranoid Park (Van Sant, USA)
Speed Racer (Wachowski/Wachowski, USA)
Still Life (Jia, China)
And here are twelve other films from ten other years (listed chronologically) that all made me gasp more than once and that have all entered into some kind of pantheon I carry in my breast as much as in my head. Of note: this list was much harder to trim and pack tight. Plenty have been left to the side, including other films by these very filmmakers, and others I've recently written about in these very webpages, but I think this should suffice. For now, at least.
The Last Command (Von Stroheim, USA, 1928)
La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (Dreyer, France, 1928)
Only Angels Have Wings (Hawks, USA, 1939)
Out of the Past (Tourneur, USA, 1947)
On Dangerous Ground (Ray, USA, 1952)
Lola Montes (Ophuls, France, 1955)
Le cochon (Eustache, France, 1970)
La maman et la putain (Eustache, France, 1973)
The Terrorizer (Yang, Taiwan, 1986)
Esther Kahn (Desplechin, France, 2000)
No Quarto de Vanda (Costa, Portugal, 2000)
Où git votre sourire enfoui? (Costa, France, 2001)
You submit a list but won’t explain Speed Racer? I demand explanation! A good digi-cinema-double-feature with the Costa films from your second list?
I won’t explain anything! Jokes. I will, however, direct the curious reader here for some words.
You guys have any idea when/if the Rivette will get a wider Theatrical release or American DVD release? I’ve seen it on just about every list of the critics I read. And the anticipation is starting to drive me crazy!
Glenn, it got a limited run by IFC Films and I think was available On Demand at the time. IFC Films has a deal with Blockbuster which gives the latter some kind of headstart for home video, so I believe the Rivette has been available to rent there on DVD for some time now, but I may be wrong…
I have no idea. All I know is that it is perhaps the most singular film of my “of-now” list. So much so that it simply weirded my friends (Cuyler and Jen!) OUT while I was just trippin on how cool and smart and sad and beautiful it played. The weight of Guillame. And one of the finest final reels around. Like, so good. I’ve been afraid to write about it since I saw it only once and, after failing to explain my attraction to C+J, it has faded from concrete memory in the months since. (It was a ruff summer.) On a lighter note, it’s a really fun game to play: making double bills with one film from “2008” and one from the “older” list. The one that would probably fuck me right up is Sylvia followed by On Dangerous Ground. And, no, Danny, I think I’d go for disjuncture. I’d throw Speed Racer first and then follow with The Last Command or Only Angels Have Wings. [WUT WHAT?!] Then, of course, you got Still Life followed by Le cochon; and HHH with Esther; Lola set free by Poppy; maybe Mitchum could teach lil Portland skaters how to really kill a man; while Vanda and her (non) man flee zombie Lisbon before those preppy jerks try to flee zombie PA; and, finally, the Vuillards teach us how to look with love, just like Straub and Huillet.
Daniel, As always, thanks for your suggestion…and you were absolutely right. I went down to my local Blockbuster (a place I swore I would never visit again) and found a veritable Art House jackpot. Not only the Rivette, but The Last Mistress, Mad Detective, and My Winnepeg! I’ve got some catching up to do. Happy Holidays Auteurs!
In the car yesterday my friend (Cam!) said, “Maybe Speed Racer is the most ‘singular’ on your list.”
And yet, as is expected, Xmas Tale is always already in conversation with other works and forms of art. It’s singular in how it carves its corner in a bigger picture. It really is the termite, eating everything, burrowing into itself and its spaces, making confetti with every edit. So, of course, Merry Christmas, everybody. Make your own confetti today. Rip those gifts open! (Or, you know, keep lighting candles! Bring us light!)
Around a Small Mountain will be released on DVD by Cinema Guild and is coming out in march.

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