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The Notebook’s First Annual Writers’ Poll: Neil Young

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.
US distribution in 2008:
01 The Wrestler (Aronofsky, USA)
02 Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind (Gianvito, USA)
03 Wall-E (Stanton, USA)
04 Blind Mountain (Li, China)
05 Taking Father Home (Ying, China)
06 Alice's House (Teixeira, Brazil)
07 Yella (Petzold, Germany)
08 The Other Half (Ying, China)
09 Burn After Reading (Coen/Coen, USA)
10 Encounters at the End of the World (Herzog, USA)
Open field 2008:
01 The Wrestler (Aronofsky, USA)
02 The Call of the Wild (Lamothe, USA)
03 With a Girl of Black Soil (Jeon, South Korea)
04 WALL-E (Stanton, USA)
05 Unrelated (Hogg, UK)
06 Import Export (Seidl, Austria)
07 Somers Town (Meadows, UK)
08 Of Time and the City (Davies, UK)
09 Burn After Reading (Coen/Coen, USA)
10 Encounters at the End of the World (Herzog, USA)
Rescue Dawn (2006) : "The 'welcome back Dieter' section is, of course, yet another ancient Hollywood cliche, but Herzog amps it up close to the level of Preston Struges farce - simultaneously undercutting it via his distinctive brand of oddball, deadpan humour. When called upon to express his feelings to the assembled throng, Dengler's speech is a jawdropping, free-associative absurdist/spiritual haiku."
Cloverfield (2008) :  "In a world of 24-hour infotainment, many of us spend much more time thinking about movies beforehand and afterwards than on the actual watching of them. In this case: months of hype and anticipation; weeks of discussion, debate and analysis - and, wedged between, 70-odd minutes which barrel along so mercilessly we barely have time to catch breath, let alone engage brain."
Meet the Spartans (2008) : "Early on...Leonidas is humiliated when a giant penguin (supposedly a refugee from Happy Feet) squats down on his face and unleashes a torrent of milky excrement all over his face - one of countless deployments of icky bodily fluids for supposedly comic effect. One suspects that Luis Buñuel and company might well admire such wayward surrealism - the image is at least as bizarre and disturbing as anything in INLAND EMPIRE."
Trapped by the Mormons (1922) : "Watching the Dracula-like head Mormon stalk suburban Manchester in search of his prey - he mesmerises hapless young ladies with his dark, Novello-ish eyes - it's very hard to imagine that the picture was ever received as anything other than campy nonsense. Indeed, so elaborately absurd is the picture's anti-Mormonism that it may well have proved self-defeating and inadvertently propelled certain viewers towards the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - on the basis that, with enemies as idiotic as these film-makers seem to have been, the organisation must have been doing something right."
Go Go Tales (2007) : "In a sensible world Dafoe would have an Oscar nomination for his work, and Go Go Tales would be a smash arthouse hit - but the picture has had a very rocky reception since premiering at Cannes (where "everybody hated it", according to one expert witness). As it is, the picture is slowly establishing a copper-bottomed cult following - it's the kind of movie that makes you paraphrase Kenneth Tynan's comment about Look Back In Anger: I'm not alone in saying that I could probably never love anyone who didn't like Go Go Tales."
An American Werewolf In London (1981) : "At its heart, this is a wonderfully well-observed culture-clash story (Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court is referenced at one pivotal moment) about a wide-eyed American discovering the delights and oddities of multi-cultural, class-ridden Blighty a couple of years into the Thatcher era. Namely, the NHS, the police, the pub, the fleapit porn-cinema... and the charms of three-channel mid-afternoon TV: The Muppets, Cliff Lazarenko vs Rab Smith ('... neat, dapper little character. There's a lot said about big, gross darts players...')"
messidor Wanted (2008) : "... the picture also owes a considerable debt to the only two of Morgan's scripts which have previously reached the screen, underrated pair Cellular(2004) and The Fast and the Furious - Tokyo Drift (2006) both of which involve "ordinary" young men forced by circumstance into extraordinary behaviour. Wanted is ultimately a little less satisfactory than either, partly because McAvoy lacks the engaging charisma of Tokyo Drift's Lucas Black, partly because neither Cellular nor Tokyo Drift present their heroes' merits as anything to do with their biological ancestry. In Wanted, however, we're only a step away from the Skywalker family's Midichlorian-cell magic - the underlying message favouring heredity over environment every time."
The Dark Knight (2008) : "The film introduces an intriguing philosophical angle in which the Joker reveals that he's a nihilistic kind of 'freak,' much closer kin to Batman (all that theatricality, flamboyance, dress-up) than the city's square, conventional rule-bound cops. Fair point. Unfortunately the Joker has a gets the wrong end of the stick when it comes to his beloved 'anarchy.' Anarchy in its purest sense means no rulers. It doesn't really mean no rules."
fructidorThe Banishment (2007) : "Its most powerful single image is an overhead shot of children completing a jigsaw - as a playful kitten wanders absently through the frame from bottom to top. The jigsaw - an Annunciation, as it happens - is, like The Banishment, a large, beautiful, intricate, fascinating work...with an enormous hole slap-bang in the middle."
Brideshead Revisited (2008) :  "In terms of the champagne which Brideshead's younger characters near-incessantly quaff, the contents of a 15-litre Nebuchadnezzar have been poured into a 3-litre Jeroboam, with a predictably vast and messy amount of spillage."
Quantum of Solace (2008) : "Jeffrey Wright, in a couple of appearances as Bond's old CIA mucker Felix Leiter, brings a refreshing air of languid post-millennial, post-ideological je-m'en-foutisme to the party ('move your ass, James,' he drawls, just as all hell breaks loose in a Greeneland bar)."
Changeling (2008) : "...anyone who helps Collins is wonderful, angelic; anyone opposing her, evil. Two-dimensional characterisations abound - police-captain J J Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) might as well sport horns and cloven hooves. He's one of several stinkingly rotten apples in the LAPD exposed by the Collins case - but surely this particular institution is more an example of a badly-constructed 'barrel.'"
What’s the story behind the Ying films?
‘Taking Father Home’ (2006) and ‘The Other Half’ (2007) were both released in the US in 2008. Both are directed by Ying Liang, a young-ish (early 30s) filmmaker who lives in Sichuan province and works in close collaboration with his girlfriend Peng Shan. For me he’s the most talented and interesting of the younger Chinese filmmakers around at the moment. His new film is ‘Good Cats’ (2008) which I have on DVD and will be watching over the holidays. ‘Taking Father Home’ is the story of a young man who travels from his rural village to the big city in search of his father, who abandoned his family some years before. ‘The Other Half’ focusses on a young woman who works in a lawyer’s office – she has dealings with the public who explain their various grievances against public and private institutions, but she also has a tricky domestic situation of her own to deal with. Both films are shoestring-budgeted affairs which display a remarkable compositional eye, a flair for quotidian dialogue and characters, a nimble deployment of deadpan humour and a close attunement to the realities of contemporary Chinese society. Is this what you were after?
Great Neil! I hadn’t heard of Ying or those films before…
Its good to hear that both Ying Liang films have had a theatrical run in the US. Over here in the UK, releases are just pitiful…

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