The Truly Alienated - Movies in 2008

In 2008, The Shine Box saw a total of 36 new films in the theater, 40 revivals on the big screen, and 81 movies on the small screen (including complete TV show seasons, which count for '1').

Top 3:

1. My Winnipeg, Guy Maddin.
The "forks beneath the forks. . ." Guy Maddin explicates the hometown in a language he finds most truly and artfully explainable. If any “documentary” on The History Channel were made as this movie, the consciousness of civilization may yet take a prodigious step forward.

2. Mister Lonely, Harmony Korine.
An evocation of sympathy for the supremely alienated, on a mountain lake commune of voidoid superstar impersonators, a reshuffling of human symbols in the free market of signs and signifiers. Diego Luna is a wannabe Michael Jackson who is in fact the true portrayal of Michael Jackson, visiting the island of the live dead, himself impersonating one who himself impersonates the Human Being neither male/female, white/black, young/old. Replete with close-up bloodshot-eyed Abe Lincoln in strobe-light reciting the Gettysburg Address while spinning on his finger a red white & blue basketball. . . .

3. The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky.
A bravura biopic in the vernacular of industrial city event halls and Jersey Dollar and decrepit winter boardwalks and strip clubs called ‘Cheeks’ and wrestling action figures and 80s heavy metal, where an “old broken down piece of meat” re-ravishes his identity on and off the mat, taking staples in his broad ram’s back for the crowd’s roar (which sounding is not the same made by the customers at the supermarket deli counter demanding potato salad). Mind’s survival instinct to the gruel and rancor of the Body, Marisa Tomei’s Cassidy/Pam engaged with her own deep reckoning, ass to the greasy crowd, a nether rung of show business enjambing selves who are losing the ability to play by it. A French cahier du-boy might point out that twenty years ago Mickey Rourke starred with similar biomatic subtext as the title anti-hero in Johnny Handsome.

[in no order]

4. Four Nights With Anna, Jerzy Skolimowski.
see Guest Screenings

5. The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan.
An extravagant arabesque proof that Justice must cast itself as the enemy in order to deliver the City from its crimes. Where Batman Begins was a revelation of History, The Dark Knight is the excoriator of Morality. The Joker is played as the hero as Batman lopes among Gotham’s shadows meditating the counter-deflection of purple terrorist thunderbolts. And “Zeus” Lister proving the People’s crisis rightward. . .

ps: The wholehearted acceptance of this movie by both the general public and pop culture nerdlingers is a bit inquirable, if not unnerving, in that audiences - whether of the hawk or dove - have approved it seemingly without any question as to its consequential or philosophical merits, as most of the country did back in 2003 with the Iraq War. It is not so certain that the dense schematic of themes in The Dark Knight are resonating with viewers as much as the shock and awe of its spectacular FX histrionics and the macabre, carnivalesque treat of Heath Ledger (most duly garnered of course). This moviegoer awaits a more fleshed-out take on the movie after shelling out $16 for the IMAX re-release later this month.

6. Pineapple Express, David Gordon Green.
Mark gravely the remark that this hysterical para-macho buddy smash-up gemstone will be a culty “have-you-seen” fav within the next year or so!

7. Redbelt, David Mamet.
Redbelt’s is the premise in which we all imagine our ethical lives take place, the dearth of opportunity to prove what is pure. To employ what one does best against forces which ineluctably break one. Mike Terry's world is manipulated against itself, and so he manipulates his opposing world likewise (a world which is of course not without Hollywood), brawling outside the ring, and as the victor is given the redbelt.

8. Wall-E , Andrew Stanton.
Classic knockabout existential sci-fi, the last operable machine on a planet junked to death by technology who falls in love with his would-be assassin. A doomsday movie that stays true to its bleak premise, when a machine must teach tub o’lard humans how to be human, set against a gloriously ravished landscape that takes cue from the apocalyptic panoramas of psych-era paperback bookcovers. And no less frightening is Fred Willard the evil technocrat!

9. Boarding Gate, Olivier Assayas.
If a Vin Diesel-style 00s globetrotting thriller were made devoid of flash and glam starring hyper-abused Asia Argento - execution rooms in the back of Hong Kong warehouses, shoot-outs at prefab port terminal offices at night, drugged drinks at Hong Kong karaoke clubs, the failed revisitation of sex acts before the assassination of Michael Madsen, and a good Eno score.

10. Che, Steven Soderbergh; & 11. Milk, Gus Van Sant.
Che and Milk follow men driven by human ideals surrounded by a band of activist freedom fighters, and in each movie, in each band, there is one woman. Crusader movies based on an actual personage, Milk's guerilla territory is 1970s San Fran, Che's is both 50s Cuba and 60s Bolivia, and both figureheads are persecuted. Milk shaves his beard and ponytail, Che grows his whiskers longer. They each die by assassination from the gun of political agents. They are similarly styled, with rich, subtle soundtracks, a commanding male lead, a picturesque backdrop, and each a period piece of a recent decade past.

Che, ever cornered deeper in the Bolivian mountains, morale and provisions capsizing, calls on the influence of Sartre and Bertand Russell to corral the discourse in his favor. In Part I, we see Che in New York commingling with diplomats among the spacious LeCorbuism of the United Nations. He makes small talk with Eugene McCarthy at a Silk District cocktail party hosted by journalista Lisa Howard. It is an evocative flourish that Part II begins in the mode of a spy movie, Che infiltrating a distressed Third World nation in disguise - he even spends time with his family before the mission in his bald head and thick-rimmed glasses and potbelly. The movie, even at its length, is a fine-trimmed work of art, and succeeds to subvert the biopic. Che's methods work in one environment and fail in the other, and, as Howard Hawks often does, the events are sequenced to maximize the vigorous movement of many men in clashing scenarios, out in the wilds of nature, in space, against time. After the revolution, Fidel is broadcast on TV, the angle askance a nameless screen, while Che heaves for breath under the ensnaring jungle.

Milk is the Me Decade revolutionary, brutally honest, shameless of his faults: an outgoing, magnetized personality. His lovers – whiskerando James Franco and tortured, infectiously loopy Diego Luna - dramatize Milk’s public life played out in his private. Anita Bryant is a most formidable villain, her character shown only in site-specific footage - she is the Joker to Milk's Batman, and so Dan White is Two-Face, the tortured do-gooder whose identity-collapse effects evil doings.

In each movie an antagonist is ghostly manifested and the grand opposition is finally spiritual. Van Sant surely was personally strategic in making his movie, to its benefit - just as Soderbergh is not vested in Che as a textbook profile. Each moviemaker has proved they can tell a straight-up story (Drugstore Cowboy, The Limey, Sex Lies, Private Idaho), and Che and Milk can stand alone as melodramas rooted in the ideology of historical events. In this way, W. might as well have been an Adam Sandler romp.

12. Synecdoche, New York, Charlie Kaufman.
The paranoid artist dream movie where all fears make a narrative that slips again into where it began, a re-mapping of a self's space and time, two things death takes away, turning on its head the trope of Hollywood family/failure who makes good/inspirational genre, with zeppelins flying over the Brooklyn Bridge and grotesque physical afflictions and characters playing other characters until new characters for that character must be introduced. Crypytically measured, hypertexted, significantly acted, precisely designed, almost vividly edited, and mercilessly sucking all romance out of the life of the Artist who is ever compelled to remake the world within which he slugs by.

Not Best But Most Certainly Not Worst:

Step Brothers, Adam McKay.
The McKay/Ferrell/O'Reilly franchise contemporary vaudevillian domestic romporama. The opening George Bush quote propels the sociological framework for the world in which the movie takes place, as if a Twilight Zone episode. A swell hark to the clever episodic ribaldry of National Lampoon magazine.

Body Of Lies, Ridley Scott.
Highly wrought and twisty to the intellect, nailing the twists and the unraveling of the "body of lies," the action scenes are not Bauer/Bourne-ized, and the most visceral consequence is caused by a wild dogs bite, engendering rabies stomach shots. An Iraq war movie told by the ordnance of intelligence, an opening quote from W.H. Auden, capped by a new Guns 'N' Roses tune..

Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, Steven Spielberg.
The Indy team did right right by the series and played into the late 50s setting with an opening slam-bang nuclear setpiece that is self-consciously giddy and paranoid, the Indiana Jones homage to postmodernism. At the end, Mutt Jones is about to don the fedora as if the next generation taking over, but Indy is quick to grab that hat and put it back on his own head where it belongs. It cannot be said that the new James Bond movie did likewise.

Best Film Writing 2008
The inimitable avant-hermenaut J. Hoberman, "What We Learned about the Election in This Summer's Movies"

The Furies, by Brynn White.

Movies To See But Not Yet Seen
JCVD, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, Rachel Getting Married, Ballast, The Last Mistress, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Still Life.

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