Tuesday, December 6, 2016

2008: The Year in Review

This is an odd year in that it left me searching desperately for answers. It is the first period of the most modern era that clued me into the downturn in cinematic quality--the Hollywood studios seemed unwilling to do anything great, and so I had to search through indie output for a conclusion. The surprise ascension of Danny Boyle's ho-hum Slumdog Millionaire still leaves me with a feeling of "What the hell happened here?" So I had to rewatch the year's output all over again to find what production I really felt was the best. At first, I was ready to go with Tomas Alfedson's brilliant blending of horror and young romance Let The Right One In, but it didn't feel completely correct as a Best Picture choice. As much as I loved Charlie Kaufman's dazzlingly personal epic Synecdoche, New York, I also realized it's an incredibly odd film that probably would not connect with most viewers. Neither does Mike Leigh's most challenging work Happy-Go-Lucky, juiced by Leigh's unusual script and astounding performances by Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan. Meanwhile, the 2009 Best Picture winner, Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, first revealed at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival and a recipient of a few 2008 Independent Spirit nominations, was terrific in its visceral recreation of the Iraq War, but is also not factually correct in its depiction of military operations; I wish the movie was more well-researched (many veterans had problems with the film's screenplay). But it is incredibly strong in its most tense moments, and so there was a big push to make Bigelow the first female winner of the Best Director Oscar the following year. But I consider The Hurt Locker to be a 2008 release, and as such, I have to deny Bigelow the top spot. And, also, I see The Hurt Locker as a terrific imitation of a male-oriented tale, and so I am in search of something else.

I definitely agree that a female director finally needed to be recognized. And in my recount of 2008's output, I uncovered the film I believe should've been roundly lauded. Kelly Reichardt's debut, 1994's River of Grass, was a black-and-white, beautifully low-key hit at that year's Sundance Film Festival, but it would be years before her real breakthrough landed with 2006's Old Joy, a minimalist masterpiece about the last gasps of a male friendship, all breathed during a tentative, woodsy reunion. With only two films under her name, Kelly Reichardt had already commanded a unique place in American cinema. But this position was cemented by her biting, totally moving tale of poverty and desperation Wendy and Lucy. Reichardt lent her own sweet yellow dog Lucy as the film's co-lead and, in doing so, she perfectly portrays the undying adoration humans can have for animals (a focus I find needs more support from filmmakers; this is the most affecting film on this largely unexplored subject since Paul Mazursky's 1974 movie Harry and Tonto).

More importantly, Reichardt expertly portrays the desperation of poor people trying to find their way to happiness without a cent in their pockets (making it a perfect film for 2008, where the US and world economy took an epic dive). Michelle Williams, in the lead, delivers a crushing show as a woman whose savior trip to Alaska, dog in tow, is interrupted by complications that will send any pet-loving viewer into a frantic, head-grabbing tizzy. The economical Wendy and Lucy is easily the year's most emotionally effective movie--one that I defy anyone not to weep at its conclusion. And so I ultimately had to find in its favor as 2008's best film. It has so much to say to us. To those who haven't seen it: be patient. This is miles away from the year's most popular movie The Dark Knight (a well-crafted superhero movie most notable for Heath Ledger's startling supporting performance). Wendy and Lucy carefully dramatizes the desolate places we are headed. Are you a pet owner? It makes me sad to say it, but you might have to get ready to really experience something like this in the future. Even if you don't share your life with an animal, anyone with any empathy whatsoever will be reduced to tears and to further understanding by Reichardt's remarkable movie, and by Michelle Willams' undeniably ravishing performance. I love, love, love the bravery of Reichardt's subtly profound film. NOTE: These are MY choices for each category, and are only occasionally reflective of the selections made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka The Oscars). When available, the nominee that actually won the Oscar will be highlighted in bold.

(2nd: Synecdoche, New York (US, Charlie Kaufman)
followed by: Let The Right One In (Sweden, Tomas Alfredson)
Happy-Go-Lucky (UK, Mike Leigh)
The Hurt Locker (US, Kathryn Bigelow) (won in 2009)
Still Walking (Japan, Hirokazu Kore-Eda)
In Bruges (UK, Martin McDonagh)
The Beaches of Agnès (France, Agnès Varda)
WALL-E (US, Andrew Stanton)
Somers Town (UK, Shane Meadows)
The Wrestler (US, Darren Aronofsky)
Hunger (UK, Steve McQueen)
Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Canada, Sacha Gervasi)
Tropic Thunder (US, Ben Stiller)
Man on Wire (US, James Marsh)
Of Time and the City (UK, Terence Davies)
Julia (France/US/Mexico/Belgium, Erick Zonca)
Trucker (US, James Mottern)
Two Lovers (US, James Gray)
Vicki Christina Barcelona (US, Woody Allen)
The Promotion (US, Steve Conrad)
Nights and Weekends (US, Greta Gerwig and Joe Swanberg)
The Dark Knight (US, Christopher Nolan)
Doubt (US, John Patrick Shanley)
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (US/UK, Marina Zenovich)
Role Models (US, David Wain)
Medicine for Melancholy (US, Barry Jenkins)
Waltz with Bashir (Israel, Ari Folman)
Blindness (US, Fernando Meirelles)
Bronson (UK, Nicolas Winding Refn)
Idiots and Angels (US, Bill Plympton)
Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes (UK, Jon Ronson)
Departures (Japan, Yôjirô Takita)
Pray The Devil Back to Hell (US, Gini Reticker)
W. (US, Oliver Stone)
The Class (France, Laurent Cantet)
Be Kind Rewind (UK/France/US, Michel Gondry)
The Baader Meinhof Complex (Germany, Uli Edel)
Iron Man (US, Jon Favreau)
Burn After Reading (US, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen)
35 Shots of Rum (France, Claire Denis)
Changeling (US, Clint Eastwood)
The Wild Man of the Navidad (US, Duane Graves and Justin Meeks)
The Bank Job (UK/US/Australia, Roger Donaldson)
Frozen River (US, Debra Granik)
Gran Torino (US, Clint Eastwood)
I’ve Loved You So Long (France, Philippe Claudel)
Frost/Nixon (US, Ron Howard)
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (US, Nicholas Stoller)
JCVD (Belgium/Luxembourg/France, Mabrouk El Mechri)
Lovely Still (US, Nicholas Fackler)
Transsiberian (Spain/Germany/UK/ Lithuania, Brad Anderson)
Dying Breed (Australia, Jody Dwyer)
What Just Happened (US, Barry Levinson)
Baghead (US, Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass)
Revolutionary Road (US, Sam Mendes)
Che (US, Steven Soderbergh)
Zack and Miri Make a Porno (US, Kevin Smith)
Rachel Getting Married (US, Jonathan Demme)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (US, David Fincher)
Shine a Light (US, Martin Scorsese)
Gran Torino (US, Clint Eastwood)
Wanted (US, Timur Bekmambetov)
Milk (US, Gus Van Sant)
Slumdog Millionaire (UK/India, Danny Boyle)
Australia (US/Australia, Baz Luhrmann)
Me and Orson Welles (US/UK, Richard Linklater)
Speed Racer (US, Lilly Wachowski and Lana Wachowski)
The Reader (US, Stephen Daldry)
Twilight (US, Catherine Hardwicke)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (US, Steven Spielberg)
The Happening (US, M. Night Shyamalan)

ACTOR: Mickey Rourke, THE WRESTLER (2nd: Michael Fassbender, Hunger, followed by: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Synecdoche, New York; Tom Hardy, Bronson; Joaquin Phoenix, Two Lovers; Josh Brolin, W.; Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon)

ACTRESS: Michelle Williams, WENDY AND LUCY (2nd: Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky,  followed by: Tilda Swinton, Julia; Michelle Monaghan, Trucker; Angelena Jolie, Changeling; Meryl Streep, Doubt; Kristin Scott Thomas, I've Loved You for So Long)

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Heath Ledger, THE DARK KNIGHT (2nd: Eddie Marsan, Happy-Go-Lucky, followed by: Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder; Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road; Brad Pitt, Burn After Reading; Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker; John C. Reilly, The Promotion)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Viola Davis, DOUBT (2nd: Penelope Cruz, Vicki Christina Barcelona, followed by: Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler; Tilda Swinton, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Amy Adams, Doubt; Samantha Morton, Synecdoche, New York; Lina Liandersson, Let The Right One In)

DIRECTOR: Kelly Reichardt, WENDY AND LUCY (2nd: Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche New York, followed by: Tomas Alfredson, Let the Right One In; Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky; Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (won in 2009); Andrew Stanton, WALL-E; Agnès Varda, The Beaches of Agnès)

NON-ENGLISH LANGUAGE FILM: LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (Sweden, Tomas Alfredson) (2nd: Still Walking (Japan, Hirokazu Kore-Eda), followed by: The Beaches of Agnès (France, Agnès Varda); Waltz with Bashir (Israel, Ari Folman); Departures (Japan, Yôjirô Takita); The Class (France, Laurent Cantet); The Baader Meinhof Complex (Germany, Uli Edel); 35 Shots of Rum (France, Claire Denis); I’ve Loved You So Long (France, Philippe Claudel))

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: THE BEACHES OF AGNES (France, Agnès Varda) (2nd: Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Canada, Sacha Gervasi), followed by: Man on Wire (US, James Marsh); Of Time and the City (UK, Terence Davies); Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (US/UK, Marina Zenovich); Waltz with Bashir (Israel, Ari Folman); Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes (UK, Jon Ronson); Pray The Devil Back to Hell (US, Gini Reticker)))

ANIMATED FEATURE: WALL-E (US, Andrew Stanton) (2nd: Idiots and Angels (US, Bill Plympton), followed by: Waltz With Bashir (Israel, Ari Folman))

ANIMATED SHORT: LAVATORY--LOVESTORY (Russia, Konstantin Bronzit) (2nd: The House of Little Cubes (Japan, Kunio Kato), followed by: This Way Up (UK, Adam Foulkes and Alan Smith); I Am So Proud of You (US, Don Hertzfeldt))

LIVE ACTION SHORT:  THE WITNESS FROM THE BALCONY OF ROOM 306 (US, Adam Pertofsky) (2nd: Next Floor (Canada, Denis Villeneuve), followed by: Toyland (Germany, Jochen Alexander Freydank); Signs (Australia, Patrick Hughes))

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Martin McDonagh, IN BRUGES (2nd: Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York; followed by: Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky; Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, and Jim Reardon, WALL-E; Shane Meadows, Somers Town)

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: John Ajvide Lindqvist, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2nd: Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond, Wendy and Lucy; followed by: John Patrick Shanley, Doubt; Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David Goyer, The Dark Knight; Justin Haythe, Revolutionary Road)

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Hoyte van Hoytema, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2nd: Frederick Elmes, Synecdoche, New York, followed by: Wally Pfister, The Dark Knight; Sam Levy, Wendy and LucyAnthony Dod Mantle, Slumdog Millionaire)

ART DIRECTION: SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK, The Dark Knight, Australia, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

COSTUME DESIGN: REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Duchess, Australia, Synecdoche New York 

FILM EDITING: THE HURT LOCKER (won in 2009), Wendy and Lucy, Let The Right One In, In Bruges, The Bank Job

SOUND: THE HURT LOCKER (won in 2009), The Dark Knight, Wall-E, Wanted, Iron Man


SOUND EFFECTS: WALL-E, The Hurt Locker, Wanted, The Dark Knight, Speed Racer

ORIGINAL SCORE: Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders, THE HURT LOCKER (2nd: A.R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire, followed by: Thomas Newman, WALL-E; Johan Söderqvist, Let the Right One In; Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, The Dark Knight)

ORIGINAL SONG: “The Wrestler” from THE WRESTLER (Music and lyrics by Bruce Springsteen) (2nd: “Down to Earth” from WALL-E (Music by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman; lyrics by Peter Gabriel), followed by "Gran Torino" from Gran Torino (Music and lyrics by Clint Eastwood, Jamie Cullum, Kyle Eastwood, and Michael Stevens); “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire (Music by A.R. Rahman; lyrics by Gulzar))

SPECIAL EFFECTS: THE DARK KNIGHT, Iron Man, Synecdoche New York, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Speed Racer

MAKEUP: TROPIC THUNDER, The Dark Knight, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

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