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The Notebook's First Annual Writers' Poll: Fernando F. Croce

Each of the Notebook's writers were given the opportunity to submit two lists of their ten favorite films of 2008.  One is resticted 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.
What a strange year 2008 was. David Fincher turned himself into Frank Darabont, Gus Van Sant channeled Milos Forman’s biopics, and Darren Aronofsky evoked the Dardenne Brothers. Wong Kar-wai and Hou Hsiao-hsien were strangers in strange lands, Charlie Kaufman illustrated the dead ends of brilliance, and 88-year-old Eric Rohmer made the year’s most sensual film. Stranger yet, this dyed-in-the-wool auteurist ended up with a film from some dude he had never heard of at the top of his list. José Luis Guerín’s En la ciudad de Sylvia, my favorite film this year, is, among other things, a sort of crystallization of cinema. Not so much Godard’s old “boys taking pictures of girls” definition (though that certainly plays into the film’s use of voyeurism), but a distillation of the medium as a synergy of spaces, faces, and emotions. And time. Like Jacques Rivette’s Out 1, which I at last experienced in all of its 12-and-a-half-hour splendor, it’s a picture that made me feel time as a palpable element, almost as another character in the narrative. It’s a very open film, and quite remarkable in the prodigious joy it takes (and invites the viewer to share) in looking at (and feeling) the world.
2008 was also a strange year in that I actually managed to compile a best-of list before the end of December instead of playing catch-up throughout January as I’ve always done. There are blind spots, sure (I particularly regret missing Carlos Reygadas’s Stellet Licht, André Téchiné’s Les Témoins and Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino), but, thanks to screeners and festival attendances, I’m pretty much up to date. Speaking of festivals, I was fortunate to attend the Toronto Film Festival for first time this year, where I got a taste of serious movie love all too rare around my usual neighborhood, met fellow writers whom I have long read and admired, and got snubbed by Claire Denis. There was also the weight of fanboy wrath over reviews of The Dark Knight and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, a broadly smiling Mike Leigh film and the Apocalypse according to Pixar, and the passing of mon maitre Manny Farber. Above all, I kept seeking, and discovering. Discoveries warm the cinephile’s heart—they’re evidence that, just when you think you’ve seen all there is to see, you’re really just getting started.
01 En la ciudad de Sylvia (José Luis Guerín, Spain)02 Ne touchez pas la hache (Jacques Rivette, France)03 Le Voyage du ballon rouge (Hou Hsiao-hsien, France)04 Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, U.S.)05 Still Life (Jia, China)
06 Les Amours d’Astrée et de Céladon (Eric Rohmer, France)07 Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, U.S.)08 Diary of the Dead (George A. Romero, U.S.)09 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Steven Spielberg, U.S.)10 The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, U.S.)
And the honorable mentions: Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog, U.S.), Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant, U.S.), My Blueberry Nights (Wong Kar-Wai, U.S.), Standard Operating Procedure (Errol Morris, U.S.), Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, U.K.), Mary (Abel Ferrara, U.S.), My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, Canada), Alexandra (Alexandre Sokurov, Russia), Un Conte de Noel (Arnaud Desplechin, France), Avant que j’oublie (Jacques Nolot, France), Married Life (Ira Sachs, U.S.), Chris & Don: A Love Story (Tina Mascara and Guido Santi, U.S.), La France (Serge Bozon, France), Une vielle maîtresse (Catherine Breillat, France), La Terza madre (Dario Argento, Italy), Låt den rätte komma in (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden) WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, U.S.), Moving Midway (Godfrey Cheshire, U.S.), Stuck (Stuart Gordon, U.S.)
Ten magnificent older films seen for the first time in 2008, in chronological order:
Shockproof (Douglas Sirk / U.S., 1949)
Hot Blood (Nicholas Ray / U.S., 1956)
Era Notte a Roma (Roberto Rossellini / Italy, 1960)
The Insect Woman (Shohei Imamura / Japan, 1963)
Goto, l’ile d’amour (Walerian Borowczyk / France, 1968)
Out 1 (Jacques Rivette / France, 1971)
Martha (Rainer Werner Fassbinder / West Germany, 1973)
White Dog (Samuel Fuller / U.S., 1982)
L’Amour a mort (Alain Resnais / France, 1984)
Sopyonje (Im Kwon-taek / South Korea, 1993)
Lastly, the unreleased-but-unmissable category: Go Go Tales (Abel Ferrara, U.S.), 35 rhums (Claire Denis), Le Silence de Lorna (Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Belgium), Les Plages d’Agnes (Agnes Varda, France), The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, U.S.), Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan), Of Time and the City (Terence Davies, U.K.), Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina). And onwards to 2009.
Fernando – I love your list, but Indy 4? Any expanded thoughts you might want to share about this particular entry?
Thanks for reading, Glenn. Yeah, I knew that one was gonna be the “cuckoo in the nest,” to use Mike Leigh’s words. I’m no Armond White, but I consider Spielberg a deeper artist than several of my colleagues think, and indeed I think he’s at his deepest when he’s doing supposedly mindless stuff like, well, Indy. I think it would have been a greater film had it stuck to 1950s America rather than venturing into the Amazon, but it’s still a heady combination of autumnal rumination and youthful brio. I’m all for serious analysis of Hollywood blockbusters — if they merit it, which I guess is where many of supporters of The Dark Knight and I part.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a solid movie… it won’t crack my Top 10, but I’m totally with you on “heady combination of autumnal rumination and youthful brio.”
I’m into a lot about Indy 4, like how his camera hovers, which mimics his affinity for the alien eye, and, of course, that mushroom cloud, but it’s just a lil off in spots for me, too, to crack the ten. This, ahem, from a guy who threw Speed Racer on his list. (My defense is something along the lines that it’s not about representation, doy, and that it’s simply about joyful creation, which is always a good thing—even if Spencer Breslin makes me vom.) I think you nailed the “problem” with the flick, tho, Fernando: it could have been mega turbo amazing if it’d stuck to the USA changing. But, then again, there wouldn’t be any little red lines if Indy didn’t fly south. And yet, then again (again), it could have gone back to trains for travel and the little red lines could have traced a pattern into our land, which would have been awesome. Still: “The spaces between spaces.”
Also: the Mayan civilization crumbled because they made a mistaken pact with space aliens… sounds like mountains out of molehills to me, but then, that is Indy 4’s opening shot.
‘Crystal Skull’ was good, solid fun and certainly far superior to The Dark Knight, the most overrated blockbuster in recent memory. At least Spielberg knows how to orchestrate action without confusing the viewers sense of geography (hello TDK’s thermal-vision conclusion). And as the alien ship rose up through the temple rubble I was reminded of the old Spielberg-Lucas magic that fuelled my childhood. Loved the titles set to ‘Hound Dog’ too.

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