Favorite Films/Videos/DVDs of 2008

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Here are some of my favorite films and videos of 2008. I was trying to remember everything I watched and I came up with a much longer list this year ( 2008 ) than last. As with last year’s list, they were not necessarily released in 2008, I just got around to watching them in 2008.

This is a fairly eclectic list which includes documentaries, a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster and an animated series that was originally broadcast on pay-per-view in Japan.

In alphabetical order:

Bob le flambeur (France, Crime, 1956). Roger Ebert says this film “has a good claim to the be the first of the French New Wave,” adding,

before Godard and Truffaut and Chabrol, before Belmondo flicked the cigarette into his mouth in one smooth motion and walked the streets of Paris like a Hollywood gangster, there was Bob. “Bob le Flambeur,” Bob the high-roller, Bob the Montmartre legend whose style was so cool, whose honor was so strong, whose gambling was so hopeless, that even the cops liked him. Bob with his white hair slicked back, with his black suit and tie, his trenchcoat and his Packard convertible and his penthouse apartment with the slot machine in the closet. Bob, who on the first day of this movie wins big at the races and then loses it all at roulette, and is cleaned out. Broke again.

Also saw Melville’s Le Deuxième Souffle, another excellent gangster flick. My wife liked it better than Bob le flambeur.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (France, Biography/Drama, 2007) is a critics pick that is actually good. It is impossible to not go out and embrace life to its fullest after watching this. Who am I kidding, I poured myself a pint. Here is a synopsis from IMDp:

On December 8, 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby – age forty-three and editor-in-chief of the world-famous fashion magazine Elle – was living the “good life” to the extreme when he became the victim of a devastating cerebro-vascular accident that left him in a state of total paralysis, incapable of any verbal communication, in what is known in the medical community as “locked-in syndrome.” His mental faculties totally intact as he lay motionless in his bed at the Marine Hospital of Berck-sur-Mer in northern France, Bauby learned to communicate with the outside world using his left eyelid, the only part of his body over which he still had any control. During the next fourteen months, using a communication code developed by his therapist and his publisher’s assistant, who transcribed this code, Bauby was able to compose, letter by letter, a lyrical and heartbreaking memoir of his life struggle. Bauby died in 1997, two days after its publication.

Read about the family’s disagreements with the film here.

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Flag (Japan, Anime, 2006) is an anime series that tells the story of war journalist Saeko Shirasu. Anime News Network provides this synopsis:

The central Asian country of Uddiyana has for years been wracked by civil war and strife, problems which U.N. military intervention has had difficulty curtailing. A fragile cease fire which could lead to a peace treaty between the government and insurgent groups becomes embodied in an internationally-renown photograph of a flag taken by Saeko Shirasu, an up-and-coming Japanese photojournalist, which leads the people of Uddiyana to take the flag as a symbol of hope. That complicates matters when the featured flag, which was to be displayed at the treaty signing, gets stolen by an insurgent group determined to scuttle the peace process. To recover the flag before word of its theft spreads, the U.N. establishes the secret military unit dubbed SDC, which is to use cutting-edge HAVWC technology (i.e. a bipedal mobile platform) to do the job, and because she took the famous photo, Saeko is called upon to document the effort.

Uddiyana looks like a cross between Nepal and Tibet with the counter-insurgency sharing some similarity to U.N. operations in Kosovo giving the series a contemporariness which is lacking in much of the mecha anime genre. Director Ryosuke Takahashi goes to great lengths to make the animation look like you are watching a documentary rather than a feature film. The viewer is usually looking through a video camera, still camera or some other sort of lens. There might not be enough combat for true mecha geeks but, like Takahashi ‘s Gasaraki and Armored Trooper VOTOMS, Flag is recommended to anyone who likes their anime with some substance and depth.

The Intro:

I am not a huge fan of cgi and am glad it was kept to a minimum in Flag. Here is a brief cgi sequence of the HAVWC (High Agility Versatile Weapons Carrier):

Iron Man (Comic Book/Action, 2008). I used to read the comic book back in the 1970s and unlike many superhero adaptations, this one did not disappoint. More on Iron Man here.

Joy Division (Documentary, 2007). Music documentaries can be so lame (often little more than an extended music video) so I did not have high expectations. This was different. By situating the band–and the band members lives– within the broader context of post-industrial Manchester we are able to get a glimpse of why Joy Division emerged in this particular time and place. Great interviews, old video footage and much, much better than Control (see below).

Man on Wire (France, Documentary, 2008). This was more like a heist movie than a documentary. By now I’m sure you know the story of Philippe Petit, the man who walked out on an illegally rigged wire between the World Trade Center towers. He spent close to an hour tightrope walking 1,350 feet above the streets of lower Manhattan. Totally crazed…

The Wire (HBO Police Drama, 2002-2008). I know this was a television series but I included one on last year’s list too. This receives a big thumbs up from my wife and I. We watched the entire series in less than a month.

I should add that my wife liked Atonement (2007) and hated Sex and the City (2008).

Surprises:

In Bruges (Crime/Comedy, 2008). Violent and gory but fun and entertaining at times. Nice to watch with a friend when you have nothing better to do.

Cleaner (Drama/Thriller, 2007). Not a must see by any stretch of the imagination but an enjoyable “who done it?” staring Samuel L. Jackson and Eva Mendez. I’m not sure if this was released straight to video. I do not remember seeing any advertising on the subway or television.

Manda Bala “Send a Bullet” (Brazil, Documentary, 2007). When my wife picked up this video I thought it was going to be a piece of sensationalist garbage. Frog farms, cosmetic surgery and corruption? Are you kidding me?

Mongol (International, Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan and elsewhere, Action/Drama, 2008 ) chronicles the the hardscrabble childhood, youth, and early adulthood of Temüjin aka Ghenghis Khan. I was impressed by the cinematography, especially the sweeping landscapes and battle sequences. I was less impressed with the plot (wish more attention had been placed on the development and expansion of the Mongolian empire) and acting but well worth renting.

The Visitor (Foreign, Drama, 2008). Burned out academic finds two immigrants living in his apartment. Does he call the cops? No. He lets them stay a while. A friendship develops and one of the pair is locked up for lack of immigration papers. Our friend who works for an immigrants’ rights organization did not enjoy it. We did. I say rent it.

Bummers:

Control (Biography/Drama, 2007). As a long-time Joy Division fan I thought I’d really like this film, especially after all the positive reviews. It was totally boring. Within the first half hour I had no interest in the band, the band members lives, or the movie in general. If you like their music I recommend the Joy Division documentary (mentioned above).

There Will Be Blood (Drama, 2008). Based on Upton Sinclair’s novel, Oil!. Many critics liked this movie but I wanted and expected more. For example, one common theme of Sinclair’s work is a critique of the state (especially when in collusion with business interests) combined with an explicit advocacy of union activism, democratic socialism or both. I’m not sure why this was left out. I also found the acting a bit over the top and corny.

The Wackness (Comedy/Drama, 2008). I thought I could get into a film about a dude pedaling his ice cream rig around NYC selling weed. Especially a flick with a “classic 1990s hip-hop soundtrack”. But this flick seriously lagged, man. With Ben Kingsley as a washed-up psychiatrist, Mary Kate Olson as a jam band skank and Method Man as a Jamaican rasta, it all adds up to a prescription for total crap. They should have called it the Crapness.

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2 responses »

  1. Flag was a great movie. I also thought the Joy Division documentary was much better than Control. I loved the band back in the day, and while Control was made rather well, it simply felt like an endless romanticizing of the band’s front man, and a glamorizing of the narcissistic worldview he held.

  2. Joy Division is part of the soundtrack of my teenage years so I had high hopes for Control. When I watched it I thought the director did a nice job evoking the look of the era, the fashion and sense of style, etc. But there was nothing beneath the surface, no depth. I never got interested in who these people were and why they were doing what they were doing. It just dragged on and on and on.

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