So we’ve had the best and the worst of 2008. Now for the most
awkward. And that will be the last list from 2008. From me, anyway.
Never the most comfortable person in a high profile social
situation, I have had my share of gaffes when interviewing celebrities. Some of
them in the past, such as with Billy Crystal, James Caan and Shirley MacLaine,
have come close to ending in serious injury, if not death.
Recently I was
reading the article “The Cobra”
Friend in the January 19 “New Yorker”
and stopped dead in my tracks at this quote from Sony Screen Gems’ Clint
Culpepper : “Most critics are not the target audience for most of the films
being made today, so they’re not going to respond to them. How a
fifty-six-year-old man feels about a movie aimed at teen-age girls is
Best Movies of 2008 -- A. S. Hamrah
1. Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
2. Cassandra’s Dream (Woody Allen)
3. A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin)
4. Stuck (Stuart Gordon)
5. A Girl Cut in Two (Claude Chabrol)
6. Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood)
7. Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt)
First of all, I’d like to apologize to the Academy for
underestimating their boldness in their Best Foreign Language Film nominations
No way did I think that such dark and challenging films as “Revanche” and “The
Baader-Meinhoff Complex” would get in. It suggests that maybe the demographic of Academy members is getting
younger, if not chronologically, then mentally and in terms of taste.
We say farewell to Palm Springs, to its outstanding film festival, its balance of stalwart patriotism and ironic kitsch,
its natural wonders, such as
the desert and
hummingbirds (as common as houseflies -- and harder to swat!)
And white doves of peace, escapees from a wedding at the Wyndham and regularly fed by the attentive hotel staff.
Every year around this time my fellow local critics and
myself look at the short list of Foreign
Language Oscar Nominees nominees
and we say, “Huh?
These are the nine films selected by an Academy committee
from the 60 odd submissions from individual countries to be voted on by the
Academy at large for the five final nominees.
Much to my surprise, a film I saw the other day had a torrid sex scene in a crummy room followed by a cut to the guy smoking a cigarette. I thought to myself, what, no pizza? So much for that inexplicable international motif.
Other themes, however, seem to hold strong. For example, a preoccupation with desperately poor and exploited Third World-like settings in which audiences can a) vicariously enjoy the sordid sex, violence and melodramatic injustice of the characters a-la "Last Stop 174" without getting too worked up by the political ramifications and responsibilities.
As rewarding personally as I find the experience of participating as a member of FIPRESCI juries in fa-rflung international festivals, I sometimes wonder what impact it has on human history. What, for example, ever happened to the Kazakstan director of the lovely little film “Notes of a Trackman” which got the prize a couple of years ago at Turin, whose name I can’t even remember? That’s why I was enthusiastic about working as a juror at the Palm Springs Film Festival, founded by the late Sonny Bono 20 years ago.
Some more of my esteemed fellow Phoenix critics have offered their lists...
1. The Wrestler
The Wild Samoans meet the Dardenne Brothers in Darren
Aronofsky’s penetrating character study, starring an awesome Mickey Rourke.
2. Tropic Thunder
In a great year for comedy, Ben Stiller’s Hollywood
satire was the funniest and most audacious.
Many critics noted Ann Savage’s performance as the daunting
mother in Guy Maddin’s “My Winnipeg,” her first screen role since playing “Sister
Harriet” in “Fire With Fire” in 1986 (one
wonders how she might have tackled the Meryl Streep part in “Doubt”). It was
enough for her to garner the 13th spot in the Best Supporting category in the “indieWIRE”
2008 Critics Poll (she
got my vote
I invited some of my highly respected colleagues at “The
Phoenix” to send me their ten best lists (and worsts, if so inclined). Here are
a few responses.
1. My Winnipeg Meta-oneiro maestro Guy Maddin’s most personal launch into the
timeless void, and probably his simplest, and perhaps his most moving.
These might not seem the worst films of the year, nor even
the worst that I might have seen (I have a privileged position that allows me
to assign the very worst to other critics). Those are too easily dismissed and
mean nothing in the big scheme of things. These films are the worst in that
they represent some of the most pernicious trends in movies.
In which Aronofsky deconstructs rumors that he was inspired
by Roland Barthes’s essays on wrestling and striptease, and explains why Marisa
Tomei’s character is not a dental hygienist.
PK: Marisa Tomei, was she who you had in mind first for the
DA: It was a very hard role to cast, because of the nudity,
so I kind of cast a big net, and I didn't have any ideas about who I wanted
because I figured I'd be more of a beggar than a chooser.
After spending years trying to put together his epic about
eternity, “The Fountain,” only to have the critics excoriate it, Darren
Aronofsky decided he was ready to face the ultimate challenge: Mickey Rourke.
So far the gamble has paid off in a big way for both director and actor. “The
Wrestler” won the Golden Lion for Best Picture at the Venice Film Festival and
the film and the director and actor, not to mention co-star Marisa Tomei, have
come up repeatedly as winners and nominees in the ongoing flurry of critics awards, Golden Globes and ten best