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The Notebook's First Annual Writers' Poll: Andrew Grant

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.
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For the past several years I've relied on the Berlinale, which takes place in early February, as a gauge of what to expect for the remainder of the year. It's been a remarkably accurate instrument thus far, particularly in 2008 which was lackluster at best. The majority of films I saw this year, both at home and abroad, weren't exactly awful, but rather just so....forgettable. Few of them asked or required anything of me—it was a year of passive viewing, full of films that told me what to think or feel (and when) while repeatedly hammering their "meaning" into my skull lest I miss it. From the arthouse to the multiplex I found myself coddled more than challenged, and I'm convinced we're in the midst of a global will to mediocrity.

That said, there were some diamonds in the rough this year that helped lessen the blow dealt by all the others.  The following two lists– distributed and undistributed – are films that helped salvage an otherwise dire 2008.

1.    Synecdoche, NY (Kaufman, USA)
 Though I’ve written multiple posts about Kaufman’s directorial debut, each repeated viewing reveals something new that either strengthens or contradicts my arguments. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that the film provides enough substance to generate discussion, argument, or debate, even if to eviscerate it. Work is required from the viewer. How many other 2008 studio releases can make that claim?

2.    In the City of Sylvia (Guerín, Spain)
A stalker film for the arthouse set? More than any other film I saw this year, Guerín’s exercise on the male gaze served as a reminder about the potential of the medium. Like Synecdoche, its secrets are slowly revealed with repeated viewings.

3.    A Christmas Tale (Desplechin, France) 
Though not quite as perfect as Kings and Queen, Desplechin’s ensemble piece has everything you want from a dysfunctional family holiday drama, with none of the maudlin nonsense that usually comes with it. Insidious cruelty has never been more beautiful.

4.    The Secret of the Grain (Kechiche, France) 
Another epic family drama that functions as an interesting counterpoint to A Christmas Tale. A deeply humanistic piece on the solidarity of family and the struggles of the working class from a director who creates populist cinema with the sensibilities (and eye) of an auteur.

5.    Funky Forest: The First Contact (Katsuhito/Hajime/Shunichiro, Japan) 
It is my firm belief that if everybody on the planet watched this two-and-a-half hour surrealistic comic masterpiece once or twice a year, the world would be a happier, healthier place. One word: HOMEROOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!

6.    Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Allen, USA) 
I fully realize that following sentences might result in my banishment from this site. In 2008 I tried, once again, to learn to love Rohmer. I consumed nearly a dozen of his films but, alas, it didn’t happen. Vicky Cristina Barcelona, with its hypocritical, so-called sexually liberated characters who are undone by common petty jealousies reminded me of Rohmer’s films, though without all the pretentious twaddle. Allen’s characters are just as superficial and insufferable, but not so damn hateful. He seems conscious of the irony; something I’ve never detected in Rohmer. Bring on the hate.

7.    Reprise (Trier, Norway) 
Beginning with one of the strongest opening sequences in years, Trier’s ambitious debut feature is to writing what Trainspotting was to heroin. A film delicately situated on the threshold of adulthood, its youthful energy recalls the early days of the Nouvelle vague.

8.    Paranoid Park (Van Sant, USA) 
This ode to adolescence is the antipode of a Larry Clark film; poetic and artistic, and without a hint of exploitation or fetishistic fascination. I still find it hard to believe that the Van Sant of Paranoid Park is the same person responsible for the ever-so-mainstream Milk.
9.    I Served the King of England (Menzel, Czech Republic)
 The old Czech New Wave is alive and well. At 70 years old, Menzel has lost none of his satiric bite, while his love of humanity has only increased. Politically poignant and somewhat controversial, this lush, masterfully directed comedy is infused with the spirit of Chaplin, Clair, and Lubitsch. It’s a shame this film didn’t receive more attention this year.

10.    Waltz With Bashir (Folman, Israel)
A personal, cathartic meditation on guilt and the persistence of memory. That it’s animated is no mere gimmick – for how better to seamlessly blend fantasy, reality, dreams, and the nightmarish dimension of war?  

1.    Du Levande (You, The Living) (Andersson, Sweden)
2.    Sparrow (To, Hong Kong)
3.    Night and Day (Hong, Korea)
4.    Tony Manero (Larrain, Chile)
5.    United Red Army (Wakamatsu, Japan)\
6.    Jesus Christus Erlöser (Jesus Christ Savior) (Geyer, Germany)
7.    Voy a Explotar (I'm Gonna Explode) (Naranjo, Mexico)
8.    Guest of Cindy Sherman (Donahue/H-O, USA)
9.    Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Gervasi, Canada)
10.    Chugyeogja (The Chaser) (Na, Korea)
I was sure I’d see The Happening and The Visitor on your list Filmbrain!
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And The Dark Knight. ;-)
That’s funny, I’ve been thinking the same thing about the Rohmer/Allen comparisons since I saw “Vicky” a few months back. It’s a film that will probably end on my top 10 as well.

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