On The Year’s Best Pictures (pt.1)

December 25, 2008

With no live action, non-documentaries having scored higher than 90 on Metacritic (4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days suffers from foreign release date syndrome), 2008 is shaping up to be the worst year for movies of this decade. 2003 was pretty bad as well, weighted down by the portentous Return of the King, and fully marred by the last ten minutes of Mystic River, ten minutes that ruined what was shaping up to be one of the best crime films ever told by twisting its characters into unrecognizable shapes of their former selves; and 2004 wasn’t so great either, thought it’s at least saved by the best love story/weepie of the last decade (Finding Neverland), and The Aviator, an ode to the possibilities of cinematography that transcends into something greater as we watch DiCaprio develop his form; but, as of now, it’s safe to say that 2008 is the worst.

Still, there are a few bright spots. Slumdog Millionaire is over-hyped, over-acclaimed, and frequently under-acted, but it’s still a pretty darn good movie. The shots of the Mumbai slums are legitimately stunning–proof that tight, claustrophobic shot composition can be just as luxurious as the great wide west. Its hyper-kinetic visual style is something to be admired, at times channeling the movement and that made City of God so thrilling. But if City of God was defined by its bloody violence, Slumdog is marked by its total absence of blood. It’s a pretty graphic movie, yet we never see the results of the action. One could say that it’s trying to eat its cake and have it too, that it wants to remain a family fable while also portraying the violence of modern India, but this is just a conceit; if anything, things are often more disconcerting in their total irreality. It’s an inventive style of fimmaking, but one that falls into a thoroughly predictable plot. Overall, a fully enjoyable movie-going experience.

Rachel Getting Married and Milk after the jump

Rachel Getting Married is the type of family story we’ve seen many times before, but one that can achieve greatness when done well. And though the film doesn’t quite achieve greatness, it falls somewhere along the spectrum between pretty good and very good. Anne Hathaway is fantastic. We may have long suspected her of being a serious actress, but this is the movie where she shows real maturity. The other thing separating Rachel from similar films is the handheld cinematography. There’s an intimacy to the film that’s truly rare, almost like we’re watching home movies. It’s not quite voyeurism, but something newer. Mario 64 began with Mario meeting the camera man, Lakitu, and the unfolding game is supposedly filmed by his camera, but Lakitu immediately disappears and there’s only the occasional moment where he’s visible, a mirror we might see him through. The camera in Rachel Getting Married functions in much the same way (though we’re never officially introduced): we know there’s a camera, all the more so because it’s so shaky, constantly drawing attention to itself, and we may even see the “official” camera at one point, as actors on-screen make their own movies, but we try to pretend that we’re the ones actually there, no matter how impossible it would be for us to see what we see, or stomp on a goomba. Rachel is often indulgent–no more so than the wedding scenes where we watch dance after to dance to song after song, one for each region of the world–but sometimes the excess works and we’re glad to be along for the ride.

Unlike the other two films, Milk is remarkable in its aesthetic conventionality. Some of Van Sant’s earlier movies are marked by their homoeroticism, by the palpable connections between the male protagonists, and the ways he visualizes the unsaid (his segment in Paris, Je t’aime, is something of a precis of this phenomenon). But Milk, after exploring this tension in its first scene, wipes away the eroticism. The result is that the physical relationships in Milk are just like the on-screen relationships in any other film. It’s a remarkable achievement, when you think about it, given the way people continue to view homosexuality. A political love story, Milk proves that all love stories are about politics and politics has to be about love. It’s extremely well acted. Sean Penn gives an incredible performance, while all the supporting characters (particularly Josh Brolin) manage the impossible task of holding their own.

None of these movies match the heights of There Will Be Blood or No Country for Old Men–even the surprisingly excellent Michael Clayton–but they’re still entertaining, and at times remarkable.

2 Responses to “On The Year’s Best Pictures (pt.1)”

  1. […] blog is definitely one of the best film related blogs out there. My own thoughts on Slumdog here. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)2009 Watch: Why Your Favorite Movie Will Not Be […]

  2. […] to be in less prominent films, like “Away from Her” and “Volver.” “Rachel Getting Married” is the strongest recent example. Through the immediacy of the camera we’re able to […]

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