Saturday, January 17, 2009

Picking out 2008

Without much to go on (personally, I was rather underwhelmed this year) here are Being Boring's top 11 medial events of 2008 in no particular order. It felt like it was a very good year for the smaller pictures. All the big "important" films were startlingly lackluster, leaving the indie and genre films to work their own brand of cinematic magic. And they did...

Rambo and In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale - I have to tie these because my ardor is aroused from the same space. Stallone’s redonning of the bandana and Jason Statham’s cerebral CG swordfights with Ray Liotta conjure different cultural associations and come from rather different narrative places but their desire for audience involvement is couched in the same space. I’ve watched Rambo a few times since that fateful first encounter, but every time, in that blood drenched denoument, I swear to god, I throw up my hands and shriek, lost for any other apt response to this grotesque form of spectacle. It’s sublime. I’m confused and agitated… and I love it…

Un Conte De Noël – A veritable who’s who of French cinema, Arnaud Desplechin’s newest offering was certainly the best title I watched at this year’s London film festival. Amassing a formidable body of French talent (Deneuve, Almaric, Poupaud, Mastroianni, Consigny) the film becomes a bit of a meta-Christmas gathering, allowing this “family” to spar in their strange familiar arrangements centered not around love but direct communication and (at times) respect. The film is best when allowing Almaric and Deneuve to deliver matter-of-fact below the belts about death and dispassion. Almaric, in particular, displays his signature verve and, colliding with family members on this would-be festive occasion, forces the secrets to bleed through that pulsate beneath any gathering of this sort. Mostrioanni and Devos are masters of there craft here, suggesting with the slightest glances the dialogue that is all-too-frequently reserved for the male family members.

Une Vieille Maitresse - Now, of course I would include the new Breillat film here and, in truth, I’m a bit of a cheat. I saw it in 2007 at the AFI fest, but, for some reason, didn’t see fit to include it in the 2008 round up. I revise this misstep with its existence here. The fright conjured when some heard that Breillat’s next film was to be a costume drama was paralleled only by my fright that it was to star Asia Argento. I do not like Asia, but I forget that Breillat is a far smarter person than I (and Asia, thankfully) and uses Argento’s star persona to expert means. When Velini arrives on the scene sucking on an ice cream cone and Fu’ad Ait Aattou grunts at her vulgar appearance, there’s a fantastic filmic double entendre that Breillat is too well aware of. The games that ensue might have taken place in Anatomie De L’enfer’s beach house or the summer spot of Fat Girl, but gussied up with the frocks and pretense of this nouvelle morality is a clever way of speaking to the present state of sexual politics. Let’s hope Breillat puts this knowledge to good use when she sets her lens on Naomi Campbell in her next film, Bad Love.

The Wrestler - If Barthes were alive, he might have made an addendum for the mug of Mickey Rourke. Sure there’s a parallel between wrestlers and film stars, whores and film stars, but the mere use of the body in Darren Aronofsky’s film makes it worthy for inclusion in these ubiquitous year-end list things. As staples are ripped from Rourke’s leathery flesh – or more subtly, tears stream the tanned and botoxed face – the viewer builds a sense of the sensorial bodily experience I have not witnessed in the cinema in a great while. That it melds this with a brilliant brand of American old-school melodrama, more power to it. When this bulbous body of masculine fantasy begins to fail, we understand a tried and true cinematic formula that actually does the film more favors than most of its artistic or narrative flourishes. Much of Aronofsky’s deliberate techniques are tad clunky, but it makes little difference in the face of such inertia that the film has (like that body) build to.

Mother of Tears - Asia again. This film was a bit like the Rambo/Statham inclusion in its total embrace of excess. When the first murder involves an archaic device which smashes out the victims' teeth, disembowelment and strangulation using the entrails procured by step number two of this dispatch (the poor girl, all the while, moans in a post-pain form of disbelief that any scene can last this long), you know you’re in for it. Nothing is sacred in Dario Argento’s grisly no holds barred grotesquerie. Not babies or even Udo Kier, who all but smirks as his likeness is pummeled into mere memory by a large piece of cutlery. The witch orgy that closes the film really must be seen to be believed and we’re with the leads at the film’s close as they double over in laughter in horror and, yes, abject disbelief at these narrative absurdities.

The scene in which Brendan Fraser brushes his teeth in Journey To The Center of the Earth in 3-D. There’s all of this talk lately as to whether or not 3D was a bankable idea with many theaters not being able to make the 100,000 switch to digital 3D in time for (the dreadful sounding) Aliens vs. Monsters and the new James Cameron film, Avatar. What foolishness! If one only looks to the past, it is apparent that such films have always been produced in times of desperation as pure novelty. I say, watch Brendan Fraser brush his teeth in 3D. This is the best use I have seen these silly glasses put to! We’ve seen great big dinosaurs. I yawned as he careened towards me. To duck as the water flows from Fraser’s chiseled face into the sink/camera! This IS spectacle in a profound way that makes us see things anew. And you don’t need a team of CG specialists to do sometime Brendan does twice a day.

The return of Grace Jones (of course!) - “Pleased to (re)meet you,” she purrs from her youtube viral and my lifelong love affair is vindicated. Jones made a splash last summer at festivals across the UK using her video for ‘Corporate Cannibal’ as the opening number. A shoddy, handheld copy showed up online days later and Jones gave us a July 4th gift of the actual video shortly thereafter. Perfectly employing her self-mythos, the video breathed life into a song which could have been seriously mishandled. Her Dazed spread with Chris Cunningham threw her naked, 60 year-old body into the face of its 20-something readers with a voraciousness we’ve forgotten to ask for in our performers. Grace is always quite careful of her self-presentation and these two gestures – Corporate Cannibal and the nude Dazed spread – harked her return in a brilliantly provocative manner. Keep it up! Keep it up!

Les Chansons D’Amour – we’re all subject to moments of emotional folly. I sense that perhaps this isn’t one of the best films of the year, but Christophe Honore‘s film, for me, possessed an emotional resonance that sided quite well with his (mostly unnecessary) songs. The one truly needed number found the second great use for Chiara Mastroianni this year, singing one of the saddest songs you’ve ever heard in a frigid park. But the film harbors the potential to bounce back and the warm and loving close finds me returning to the film for repeat sessions of les chanson. Of course, it never hurts to look at either Ludivine Sagnier or Louis Garrell. Now, if only Honore can let go of those New Wave nods which hinder his work with their weak forms of retro-pastiche.

Savage Grace – I didn’t like Savage Grace, at first. I’m always searching for reasons to maintain my love for Julianne Moore however hard she makes it for me. Over time, those such-drenched beach scenes of erotic fecundity kept creeping through my mind and that final scene of incest is SO memorable in its absolute uneasiness that I wonder if I granted Tom Kahlin’s too-long in the making follow-up to Swoon too little consideration. Moore’s performance is flawless and Eddy Redmayne’s startling face sculpts the narrative around this rotten familial/erotic theorem. Not sure if this really deserves it’s place here, but with the dull flicks that this year has offered, Savage Grace showed what provocative works can still grace on screen (however brief the stint).

Otto; or Up With Dead People – Oh, Bruce La Bruce. Leaving behind the blatancy of The Raspberry Reich (a blatancy which worked, considering the content) La Bruce mines the Zombie film’s ever-referenced sociopolitical critical potential for his Otto, a gay vegan zombie going through an identity crisis. When Goth indie filmmaker, Medea Yarn, posts a flyer calling for actors in her politico zombie porn, Otto answers, hoping to find guidance and meaning in this crew. Of course, he finds imposters and a rather flaccid political extremism that accomplishes precious little in Yarn’s rantings (though such verboseness does yield my favorite line of the year; after spouting off a statistic of how much waste America produces a year, enough to fit in X amount of football fields, she rolls her head to the other side and sighs, “and though I can think of now better use for football fields…”) La Bruce takes the content to more meaningful terrain as the film progresses and it’s surprising how much emotional content he is able to fit in this punk gay horror porn. Otto is a treat to look at, but there’s something lurking underneath that surface and La Bruce, thankfully, never lets us forget it.

Sarah Palin v. Katie Couric - Truly a landmark moment in television history. I can say little more. I heard the disastrous rumors about this speech and watched, only to find that the hopeful was far more hopeless than I could have ever imagined. Watching this moment of self-destruction was a medial event that only comes once in a lifetime.