Santa Cruz Good Times

Monday
Apr 27th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

At the movies in 2008

atthemovies2008As troubled as this year was, the same audacity of hope that drove people to the polls in November also fueled some of my favorite films of 2008. In the spirit of bi-partisan generosity, I refrain from listing my least favorite films of the year. This is no time to gloat over the losers; instead, let’s pull together for a brighter movie year in 2009!

THE FALL In 1915, injured movie stuntman Lee Pace spins magical stories, Scheherazade-like, to a rapt little girl in filmmaker Tarsem’s visionary epic. Both fairy tale and coming-of-age drama, it combines stunning visual beauty and a beguiling storyline in a witty and artful homage to both the early days of moviemaking, and the power of storytelling. Shot in exotic locations in 18 countries worldwide, this is pure cinema alchemy; prepare to be enraptured.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE What’s an uneducated teenager from the slums of Mumbai doing one question away from a twenty million rupee payoff on a TV quiz show? Dickensian in scope, incisive in its portrait of low and high life, tragedy and comedy, in India’s modern urban sprawl, Danny Boyle’s irresistible film tells an often heartrending story in marvelously buoyant and spirited terms. An amazing story of survival, courage, love, and hope.

MAN ON WIRE A man dances across the sky without CGI effects in James Marsh’s riveting documentary. In August, 1974, French aerialist Philippe Petit took his high-wire act to the Twin Towers of the newly constructed World Trade Center of New York City— without a permit, or a net. That we know he makes it  in no way lessens the drama, the awe, or the sheer exhilaration of Petit’s extraordinary feat.

YOUNG @ HEART The idea of a chorus of men and women in their seventies to nineties, singing music by the Clash, Coldplay, and James Brown may sound like a Monty Python routine. But Stephen Walker’s backstage documentary about the venerable Northampton, Mass, community chorus adds up to an enormously moving film experience.

IN BRUGES Martin McDonagh’s crime thriller about a pair of Irish hitmen sent to the Belgian city of Bruges to chill out is a moving, cynical and effective morality play. It’s also a subversively funny black comedy of very bad manners, an absurdist riff on the gangster melodrama served up with deadpan aplomb by pros Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes. No movie this brutal and bloody should be this much fun.

MILK Sean Penn’s engaging, heartfelt, humorous performance introduces a new generation to the ebullient Harvey Milk, whose journey from scruffy shopkeeper in the Castro, to openly gay SF Supervisor, to murdered icon helped transform gay activism into a human rights crusade that continues to this day.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY That it’s so worth the effort to discover the humanity and depth beneath the goofball exterior of a working-class grammar school teacher is due to a faultless performance from leading lady Sally Hawkins, and the skill with which veteran British filmmaker Mike Leigh tells her story—suggesting it’s up to each of us whether we choose to embrace life with tolerance or waste it in fear.

THE BAND’S VISIT A goodwill mission goes askew in this humane, slyly comic fable from Israeli filmmaker Eran Kolirin, in which the members of an Egyptian police force band encounter one snafu after another when they arrive for the opening of an Arab Cultural Center in a small Israeli town. The theme of finding common humanity in whatever circumstance as a balm for loneliness gives the film a powerful resonance.

FUGITIVE PIECES Jeremy Podeswa’s beautifully rendered adaptation of Anne Michaels’ novel concerns a young Jewish boy smuggled out of Nazi-occupied Poland by a Greek archaeologist (the fine Serbian actor Rade Serbedzija), who attempts to both honor and escape the memories of his past as a young man. An eloquent, passionate rhapsody on whether the past haunts us, or the other way around.

I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG The assurance of French filmmaker Philippe Claudel’s storytelling is matched by an exquisite performance from Kristin Scott Thomas as a prodigal sister on a wary collision course with family life after 15 years in prison. She infuses the screen with steel and grace in this tender, tough-minded meditation on love, loss, and the nature of forgiveness.

Runners Up

Let the Right One InGONZO: THE LIFE AND WORK OF DR. HUNTER S. THOMPSON Celebrated journalist Thompson not only got the story, he was the story, as portrayed in this provocative, entertaining Alex Gibney documentary.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN What better place for a vampire than the almost eternal night of a Swedish winter? An achingly sweet, deeply subversive coming-of-age tale whose horror elements sneak up on the story like a shadow in the dark.

WALL-E Future humans are indolent blobs so coddled by robotic servants we no longer use our decorative legs. It’s up to a plucky little trash-compacting robot with a yen for 1950s pop culture to revitalize humanity and save the planet in this sweet, incisive, very funny Pixar family toon.

THE DUCHESS Bracing and absorbing in its view of the sexual politics of its era, this gorgeous-looking historical drama about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, 18th Century ancestor of Diana Spencer, is directed with wit, asperity and finesse by Saul Dibb.

VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA Woody Allen’s bittersweet romantic comedy boasts strong, likable characters, and a gorgeous locale. Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, and sizzling Spaniards Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz give the comedy its pizzazz.

They Coulda Been Contenders

THE DARK KNIGHT Cool, formidable Christian Bale returns as Batman at war with his own methods. The irreplaceable Heath Ledger delivers a perverse, insanely funny performance of pure rampaging id as the Joker, but it’s all swamped by Christopher Nolan’s dense narrative, incomprehensible action, crashing battles, and thunderous music.

REDBELT The effortless gravity and grace of Chiwetel Ejiofor as a modern jujitsu master on a journey to fulfill his personal warrior code almost convinces us we’re watching something special. But the idea that a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do hardly qualifies as motivational logic.

BURN AFTER READING Basically the same plot as the Coen Brothers’ last movie, No Counry For Old Men, done as slapstick farce: no one has a moral compass, violence is random, greed prevails. Too bad a deft cast led by George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Frances McDormand couldn’t make us care about any of it.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

We Can Rebuild You

A look back at how downtown Santa Cruz recovered from the 1989 earthquake

 

International Earth Day—Mother Earth Day

Every April 22, humanity celebrates International Mother Earth Day and Earth Day. As more than a billion people participate in Earth Day activities every year, Earth Day has become the world’s largest civic observance. The massive concern to build right relations between humanity and the living being we call Earth is evidence of humanity’s love of the Mother. In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed April 22 International Mother Earth Day, with a significant resolution affirming “the interdependence existing among human beings, other living species (the kingdoms—mineral, plant, animal and human) and the planet itself, the Earth which we all inhabit.” The Earth is our home. Celebrating Earth Day helps us define new emerging processes (economic, social, political) focused on the well-being of the kingdoms. Through these, humanity seeks to raise the quality of life, foster equality and begin to establish right relations with the Earth. We dedicate ourselves to bringing forth balance and a relationship of harmony with all of nature. Learn about planting a billion trees (the Canopy Project); participate in 1.5 billion acts of green. Disassociation (toward Earth) is no longer viable. We lose our connection to life itself. Participation is viable—an anchor, refuge and service for all of life on Earth. Visit earthday.org; harmonywithnatureun.org; and un.org/en/events/motherearthday for more information. From Farmers Almanac, “On Earth Day, enjoy the tonic of fresh air, contact with the soil, companionship with nature! Go barefooted. Walk through woods, find wildflowers and green moss. Remain outside, no matter the weather!” Nature, Earth’s most balanced kingdom, heals us. The New Group of World Servers is preparing for the May 3 Wesak Buddha Taurus solar festival. We prepare through asking for and offering forgiveness. Forgiveness purifies and like nature, heals.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Mission Critical

How reading Lisa Jensen’s reviews taught me to love film
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Oral Fixations

Blown away by a Tuesday night dinner at Oswald

 

What would you like to see a TED talk about?

Hydrogen-gas cars that are coming this summer. Scott Oliver, Santa Cruz, Professor

 

Sarah’s Vineyard

Sarah’s Vineyard of Gilroy is known for crafting fine wines—and one of my all-time favorites is its Chardonnay. But this time, its Viognier has my vote.

 

Munch

East Coast meets West Coast in new meat lover’s paradise