Monday, 29 December 2008

Favourites of 2008

I joked with my friend the other day that I was just about ready to do my Top 10 list for the year - except that the year was 2004.

I watch a good deal of movies every year (I'll be around 450 this year), but I don't really see a whole lot from the current year in the theatres - typically maybe one a month. My count is higher this year because of several film festivals, but I can't claim any kind of definitive "Best Of" list for the year. It doesn't mean I won't slap one together anyway, but I'll supplement it with some favourite moments from other films I saw for the first time this year.

So here's my stab at a compilation of a few faves...

Favourite Female Performances From 2008 Films

  • The female cast of "Synecdoche NY": Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Diane Weist, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Jennifer Jason Leigh and a luscious Hope Davis are all terrific and a great deal of fun in their roles. I know, the film is not usually attached with the word "fun", but I think the actresses throw themselves right into their roles so well that you can't help but gain a great deal of pleasure from what they've created.
  • Lina Leandersson (in "Let The Right One In"): As Eli, she has the central role of the film and does a wonderfully subtle job of creating an old soul within her 12 year old frame.
  • Agnes Varda (in "Plages D'Agnes"): Not so much an acting role, but just being herself on screen and chatting about and walking through moments of her life. As I had mentioned in an earlier review, had she showed up for a post-film Q&A the crowd would have given her a group hug.

Favourite Male Performances From 2008 Films

  • Alfredo Castro (in "Tony Manero"): It's hard to watch Castro's character Raul at times - he's ugly, self-centered and brutal - but he's fascinating.
  • Kare Hidebrant (in "Let The Right One In"): Oskar is awkward, unsure and doesn't seem to be much fun to be around. In other words, he's 12 - and Hidebrant brings that across wonderfully well.
  • Antoine L'Ecuyer (in "C'est Pas Moi Je Le Jure!"): There's an amazing naturalness to Antoine's portrayal of 10 year old Leon in Philippe Falardeau's film. I can't help but think that he has the potential to be one of Canada's finest actors in the next 10-15 years.

Favourite 2008 Films

  1. Synecdoche NY
  2. Still Walking
  3. Country Wedding
  4. Man On Wire
  5. Let The Right One In
  6. WALL-E
  7. C'est Pas Moi Je Le Jure
  8. 4bia
  9. Anvil! The Story Of Anvil
  10. Soul Power

Favourite First Time Viewings of Older Films in 2008

  • "Once" (2006 - John Carney) - Enjoyed it so much I watched it again the very next night.
  • "Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter" (1970 - Yasuharu Hasebe) - Meiko Kaji (I may have mentioned her before...) is just so striking and powerful in this great looking, fun and occasionally goofy film.

  • "Lola" (1961) / "Bay Of Angels" (1963, Jacques Demy) - Seeing both of these Demy films on the big screen was simply tremendous. I can't think of a more perfect definition of the word 'bittersweet' than the ending of "Lola". And "Bay Of Angels" didn't let go of me once from the moment it opens on Jeanne Moreau with that great pull back shot to the end - swelling music and all.
  • "Royal Wedding" (1951 - Stanley Donan) - Immediately became one of my favourite musicals of all time after seeing the exceptionally upbeat number "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life". Of course, Fred Astaire dancing on ceilings, walls and with a variety of gym equipment helped as well. And so did Jane Powell's adorable performance.
  • "A Hundred And One Nights" (1995 - Agnes Varda) - Agnes Varda grew leaps and bounds in my estimation after viewing this film. I already thought highly of her after seeing "Vagabond" and "Cleo From 5 To 7", but this was a unique and very entertaining take on celebrating the history of film and Varda's own influences as well. The actual plot elements aren't as interesting as Michel Piccoli's rambling stories (in his guise as different characters) and appearances from Moreau, Deneuve, De Niro, Mastroianni, Delon and a bunch of other stars.
  • "Antonio Gaudi" (1984 - Hiroshi Teshigahara) - I can't believe the people of Barcelona get to live with this every day. I want to go there now.

  • "Jean De Florette / Manon Of The Spring" (1986 - Claude Berri) - I think it was David Gilmour's terrific book "Film Club: A True Story Of A Father And A Son" that finally made me watch this duo of films. I'll have to thank him one day as they are brilliant in just about every way.
  • "Cloverfield" (2007 - Matt Reeves) / "The Mist" (2007 - Frank Darabont) - Two monster movies that I had zero expectations for and absolutely no plans on seeing initially. Boy am I glad I got around to them.
  • "Murmur Of The Heart" (1971) / "Lacombe, Lucien" (1974) / "Au Revoir Les Enfants" (1987, Louis Malle) - I saw a bunch of other Malle films this past year - "The Lovers", "Vanya On 42nd Street", many of his documentaries - but these three truly stood out as remarkable character portraits. I'll admit that none of their descriptions really grabbed my attention, but each reeled me in within minutes and kept me completely enveloped in their characters' lives until the end.

  • "Dance Party U.S.A." (2006 - Aaron Katz) - The oddly and unfortunately named Mumblecore "movement" had its own travelling film festival named Generation DIY. Though rather poorly promoted, I was able to attend a couple of screenings when it rolled through Toronto and "Dance Party USA" was by far my favourite - perhaps because it was based around a couple of high school kids, it felt so much more honest than some of the other whiny loser films of the "genre" that I've seen (I couldn't stand a single character in "Hannah Takes The Stairs" and though I found "LOL" much more interesting, each of the guys in it were freaking doofuses). I was able to chat with director Aaron Katz for a bit after the film and he was very friendly and talked about how his ideas and scripts came from real life encounters or situations. I still need to catch up with his follow-up film "Quiet City" and I hope we see more from him.
  • "Only Human" (2004 - Dominic Harari, Teresa Pelegri) - The first film I chose for my ongoing series of Goin' In Blind reviews was one of my favourite discoveries of the year. Expertly timed character based comedy that still allowed for plenty of silliness and slapstick.
  • "Midnight" (1939 - Mitchell Leisen) - I've had ups and downs when delving into the 30s-40s era of screwball comedies (e.g. "Bringing Up Baby" just didn't click with me), but "Midnight" is a no-doubt-about-it keeper. There's an ease in the flow of banter between Colbert and Ameche that's very charming and John Barrymore seems to be at his best here.
  • "One, Two, Three" (1961 - Billy Wilder) - One of the most consistently funny movies I've seen in quite some time. Sharp, witty, satiric and very silly.

  • "The Celebration" (1998 - Thomas Vinterberg) - Almost painful to watch at times, I just couldn't look away from this train wreck of a family gathering. A remarkable set of actors work within the confines of Dogme 95, but the style helps to put you right within all the chaos.
  • Aki Kaurismaki - Each of Kaurismaki's 5 films I saw this year were perfect little slices of life - darkly comic, bittersweet and sometimes quite sad lives. I can't wait to see more of his work.
  • "The Skull" (1965 - Freddie Francis) / "Strait-Jacket" (1964 - William Castle) / "Spider Baby" (1968 - Jack Hill) - Three of the most fun films I saw on DVD all year (what does it say about me that all of them contain murder and mayhem?). Each film understands exactly what it is and plays on that and yet also delivers beautiful cinematography, terrific framing and perfect pacing.
  • Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2008 - As much as I love Hot Docs and as great as TIFF was for me this year, there's no more fun then the Toronto After Dark festival. I saw every screening this year except the late midnight one for "Donkey Punch". The lineup can be a bit of a mixed bag, but the vast majority of the films were at least entertaining and fun to watch with a crowd - with several of them being exceptional: "Let The Right One In", "Mirageman" (which would've been on my Top 10 of the year, but it is actually an older film), "4bia", "Home Movie", "Idiots And Angels" and the WTF experience of "Tokyo Gore Police".

    Almost better than the movies is the "vibe" in the theatre and the crowd itself. Much of this can be attributed to the fearless leader of the fest, Adam Lopez. He has a genuine love for these films and wants to really share that with others. I was also fortunate enough to meet a number of truly excellent folks this year - this made each viewing more memorable and the nightly pub nights (after the films) fun discussions about, well, just about anything. So thanks Shannon, James, Sarah, Sarah's Mom, Rob, Andrew, Kurt, Trista, Stephen, Chris, Polly, Matt...

  • "Silent Light" (2007 - Carlos Reygados) - Just stunning. The visuals perfectly pace the story and move towards a truly breathtaking end.
  • "Le Doulos" (1962 - Jean-Pierre Melville) - I will not rest until I see every single one of this man's films.


Anonymous said...

Nice list, Bob. You've been championing "Country Wedding" for a while now. I'll definitely look out for that one. "Le Doulos" is arriving from Netflix Friday! Can't wait.

Bob Turnbull said...

Thanks Joseph. Yeah, I guess I do tend to repeat myself on several fronts, don't I? B-)

The thing I loved about Country Wedding was how each character had their own secret that pops out at different moments in the film and how none of it feels forced. I haven't heard much talk about it though, so I don't know how likely a wider release will be. The director is Valdis Oskarsdottir who edited "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind", "Finding Forrester", "Mister Lonely" and "The Celebration", so hopefully that will help her get some wider attention.

And "Le Doulos" is simply terrific.

Anonymous said...

What an absolutely joyous list, it looks as though you've seen quite a bit of great films this year. Your 2008 list puts me to shame, I've seen only 3, and heard of maybe 2 or 3 others. I'll have to look into a few of those.

Lola has been high on my to see list for what seems like years, I love Demys. I'll try and see it in 2009.

I have to see Royal Wedding too, didn't see quite as many musicals last year as I would have liked.

I saw both Cloverfield/The Mist this year too (though the Mist was a rewatch), certainly among the better monster movies of recent years. The latter especially is so goddamn bleak, beautifully put together though.

Midnight and One Two Three... seen both, I prefer the former, but they're both amusing. Not among my favourite comedies of the golden era, but still very good.

[rec]... the ending was absolutely horrifying.

Anonymous said...

450 movies in 2008 alone? Yikes! I've got the Benten DVD of Dance Party USA and Quiet City if you want to borrow it sometime. I liked Dance Party USA more, actually, but I think Quiet City could grow on me with another viewing.

Bob Turnbull said...

Thanks Justine. "Lola" and "Bay Of Angels" are only notches below "Umbreallas" and "Rochefort" when it comes to Demy - just those 4 films make him one of my favourite directors. I'd be curious to hear what you think of "Royal Wedding" - many people see it as a minor musical, but I had a great deal of fun with it (cheesy plot points not withstanding).

Any recommendations on other golden era comedies? I've been anxious to delve into more of late and just haven't worked them into the tall pile at home. "Desk Set" and "Woman Of The Year" are on the list to see as are "Topper" and "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House". The rest of the Thin Man films too (I've seen 3 of them I think).

James...Yeah, I'm not sure if I should be happy or terribly sad that I watched 450 films in a year...B-) I may take you up on that offer for the Quiet City DVD - I wouldn't mind seeing Dance Party again (especially with its very short run time).

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

Wow, you made it through 450 films this year? That's astonishing. I thought I was kicking over the cake at around 350!

Great list of 10 fave films. It was a pretty astonishing year.

Isn't Lola fantastic? That was the first film I saw at Cinematheque years ago. Beautiful.

I'm with you on Cloverfield and The Mist, both were great fun horror films.

I can't wait to see what 2009 will bring!

Anonymous said...

I love almost all musicals, even if they have cheesy plot points!

I haven't seen Topper yet, but I don't think Mr. Blandings is particularly good. Some golden comedies you might not have seen are; Cluny Brown, The More the Merrier, Anything Sturges/Lubitsch, Libeled Lady, Christmas in Connecticut, Ball of Fire, Nothing Sacred and the Awful Truth.

Bob Turnbull said...

Shannon, I agree with you about 2008 - I see where many critics are coming from regarding their comparisons to 2007, but there was still a wealth of great stuff this year. And for me it stacks up with 2007 (though I expect the Oscar contenders would be down a notch from last year - again, I'm guessing because I haven't seen many of them).

Hadn't realized you saw Lola Shannon - yeah, it's all kinds of awesome.

Thanks for the recommendations Justine! I've seen a good chunk of those you mentioned (most of Sturges, I need more of Lubitsch) - I love Ball Of Fire and Christmas In Connecticut (Stanwyck!) as well as The Awful Truth and Libeled Lady (which I just saw recently). The others are now in my queue.

Fox said...

450 Bob??? That's disgusting!!

But it did give you a nice list, though I don't know half of your Top 10. (Will Google them post-comment...)

But I wanted to share joy with you on the Aki Kaurismaki that you discovered. I two took in three of his films this year, and loved two of them: Lights In the Dusk, and Ariel. The latter, I thought, was just about damn near perfect!.

Bob Turnbull said...

I knew I shouldn't have mentioned anything about how many movies I saw...B-) Let's just say there were a lot of 2:00AM bedtimes. I'm likely going to have to change that this year.

But Kaurismaki was a joy to discover...As much as I like Ariel, I think I rank Shadows In Paradise a shade above it. The last line of that film is perfect and was set up brilliantly.

drewbacca said...

Yeah, 450 flicks beats me out of the water.

Nice to see "4bia" on someone's list this year. Definitely makes my honorable mention list. Also glad to see "Once" on there. I championed for that film pretty hard last year.

I'm hearing lots of good things about "Anvil!" so I'm going to have to track that one down.

Ok, off to finish "Silent Light" - so far my pick for best directed film..

Bob Turnbull said...

I swear, there was a lot of short films in that list...B-)

I was late to the game with "Once" (only catching up with it on DVD) and I admit I was skeptical going in, but its charms got to me. I remember reading about the uproar about the DVD cover (where the two of them were photoshopped to look like they were holding hands) before I saw it and thought perhaps people were overstating the case. Then I saw it and agreed completely - it does the film a disservice.

I'm glad you're liking "Silent Light" Andrew. Reygadas certainly has a great eye - I'd love to hear your thoughts once you finish it up.