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The Notebook's First Annual Writers' Poll: Zachary Wigon

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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Distribution:
Hunger
Paranoid Park
Encounters at the End of the World
Wendy and Lucy
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Reprise
My Winnipeg
Happy-Go-Lucky
Che
The Flight of the Red Balloon

Everything:

Hunger
Paranoid Park
Afterschool
Encounters at the End of the World
Wendy and Lucy
Sugar
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Reprise
My Winnipeg
Happy-Go-Lucky

I was thinking about trying to do a write-up that would consist of my thoughts on 2008 as an enclosed entity for cinematic trends and movements, until I realized that such write-ups tend to feel a bit forced to me. 2008 was not that different from 2007, and 2009 will probably not be much different than 2008, in terms of the amount of good or bad films produced, the amount and types of trends we see emerging, et cetera. One thing I did find notable was that 2008 saw not one, but two extremely young filmmakers premiere their films at the Cannes Film Festival, an exciting sign that younger filmmakers are finding it easier to get their work out there. I am referring to Antonio Campos and Josh Safdie, whose The Pleasure of Being Robbed I found admirable in its ambition, and enjoyable, but not enough so to make my list. It has been all too difficult in the past for younger filmmakers to make feature films and be taken seriously; perhaps that is changing.

My abbreviated thoughts on the three best films I saw this year:

Hunger (Steve McQueen) is one of the best films I have ever seen. I saw it at NYFF, but it wasn’t until my second viewing that I grasped how fiercely political this film is. The film is extremely, uncompromisingly formal, and its stylistic audacity is such that one becomes bowled over by it; a second viewing is necessary for the full political implications of the work to sink in. To risk sounding platitudinal, this is a film about the giant idea of sacrificing one’s life for a cause greater than oneself. That kind of commitment is the core of serious political action, and unsurprisingly, it is commonly tackled in films, almost always from a sentimental angle. Hunger has barely any dialogue in it, save for the one-act play that is found in the middle of the film, and never comes close to the realm of sentimentality. It understands how the body is a political instrument in a manner that illuminates the deep, physical connection that political heroes have to their causes. The film’s protagonist compares himself to Jesus at one point. It may be a bit much, but as Woody Allen once said, you have to model yourself after somebody.

Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant) is the logical endpoint of Gus Van Sant’s four film journey that began in Bela Tarr land, and ended with his own, distinct style of cinema. This journey produced two films that are great (Gerry and Last Days), one that is transcendent (Paranoid Park), and one mediocre film, Elephant. Van Sant really delved into the formal tenets of cinema with this digression, and came out proving that his grasp on what is purely cinematic is as strong as that of any filmmaker working today. From 2002 to 2007, no American filmmaker was more important. Paranoid Park is an extremely formal film, but Van Sant’s more subtle decisions are equally as powerful as his more obvious ones, such as the usage of dreamy, gorgeous Super-8mm. No one can photograph a face like Van Sant does, and his extended close-ups of his protagonist are more aptly compared to portrait photography and painting than to other examples of work in the cinema.

Afterschool (Antonio Campos) is the first film I’ve seen that captures exactly what it felt like to be growing up amidst the technological / internet boom that has occurred in this country over the last ten years. There have been plenty of attempts to incorporate the idea of digital reality as mediator of social interaction into a film (LOL comes to mind), but nothing with the eerie authenticity of Campos’ work of hyper-reality. Campos’ depiction of teenage self-consciousness and alienation finds its perfect double in the self-interest and reclusive tendencies encouraged by the Internet. On a superficial level, it’s true that it is not a realistic depiction of the way teens behave; but as Picasso quipped, “art is the lie that reveals the truth.” Campos’ film is hyperbolic in order to accentuate the tiny changes that are taking place amongst young people today – tiny, but pregnant with importance.
 

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