I skim a lot of “Best of…” lists each year to see what I might have missed, things I might want to add to my queue, also to see what consensus has to tell us about popular opinions of published critics. But me, I create my own list every year, based on the films that I saw both in the cinema and at home. And because I see both new films and some quite old ones, my list is not about only the films released, it’s about the films that I saw. And I see a lot, a wide spectrum, perhaps more so this year than ever. I certainly saw a great deal of movies on DVD.
In the cinema, I didn’t see too many new films that I really was wow’ed by, though I did start the year off with Paul Thomas Anderson’s brutal There Will Be Blood (2007), which was intense and interesting, though perhaps the opposite of pleasurable. Like a lot of people, I enjoyed the superhero films Iron Man (2008) & The Dark Knight (2008), but the film that I was most impressed with that was a new film was Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park (2007). And while his later film Milk (2008) was also quite good, I preferred his strange, trippy film about teenage psychosis and coming of age in a world that makes little sense.
For older films that I saw in the theater, I was blown away by Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), a feature-length animated silent film that is animated with cut-out’s in silhouette, a film to which there is no other for comparison. It’s something that is truly unique, beautiful, and entertaining. Really, really extroirdinary. Additionally, Bruce Weber’s documentary about Chet Baker, Let’s Get Lost (1988), was an amazing film, beautiful, sad, and fascinating, a poem to a once handsome, always talented trumpet player, who prematurely aged himself and was really not a very good man, but still something beautiful. It’s excellent.
I saw 169 movies on DVD this year, possibly too many to fully fathom. And certainly I saw a number of good, great, awesome, awful, everything. So picking the favorites is tough, tough, tough to keep the list managable. So here goes:
At the beginning of the year, I kicked it off with a couple of amazing Samurai films by Kihachi Okamoto, Kill! (1968) & The Sword of Doom (1966). They were both excellent, but Kill! in particular knocked my socks off and made watching Samurai films a theme of the year. The other one that I liked best, even though I saw some major efforts of the genre, was Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957), my favorite of his Samurai films by far.
From more recent foreign films, I became interested in two directors, Germany’s Fatih Akin whose films Head-On (2004) and The Edge of Heaven (2007) were both fantastic: vivid storytelling about the world of Turkish Germans and the relationship between people, their culture, their countries. Akin is an amazing storyteller and his movies are profound and moving. But also I discovered Zhang Ke Jia, one of the most interesting directors working today, too, in my opinion. I saw a few of his films of which I thought The World (2004) was the best. He is a Chinese filmmaker who makes films about the world of China from the level of the average person or a small-town outsiders, the individual amidst the immensity of the country, the world and its power. He’s very interesting.
But one of my other major tropes in film viewing has been the most amazing and wonderful for me, which has been silent film. And while there is much silent film that I enjoy on my own, attending the Silent Film Festival, held every summer here in San Francisco, my greatest joy has been watching silents with my kids and their neighbors, all seven years old or younger, sitting on the couch, reading the intertitles, describing some story points and anachronisms that would confuse them. And their out and out joy and pleasure at these films, surpassed only by my own.
The best of the bunch have been the Buster Keaton films, Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) & The General (1927), both which are wonderfully amazing films, probably some of the best films ever made, in my opinion. Steamboat Bill, Jr. is a laugh-riot. The kids were dying laughing. And while we watched a Charles Chaplin film, they preferred Keaton. But we also watched The Thief of Bagdad (1924), director Raoul Walsh’s amazing fantasy epic, which Samantha described as “awesome”. And I personally enjoyed D.W. Griffith’s Sally of the Sawdust (1925), which I watched on my own because I wasn’t sure if it would hold their interest or not. I think they might have liked it fine. I was surprised how much I liked it, not one of Griffith’s more renowned works, but I thought it was a heck of a good time.
Well, that is it for 2008. I guess I’ll see you next year with more.
Favorite Films that I Saw Theatrically in 2008
The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) dir. Lotte Reiniger
Pineapple Express (2008) dir. David Gordon Green
The Dark Knight (2008) dir. Christopher Nolan
Still Life (2006) dir. Zhang Ke Jia
Iron Man (2008) dir. Jon Favreau
Sherlock, Jr. (1924) dir. Buster Keaton
Paranoid Park (2007) dir. Gus Van Sant
Let’s Get Lost (1988) dir. Bruce Weber
There Will Be Blood (2007) dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Favorite Films that I Saw on DVD in 2008
Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) dir. Charles Reisner, Buster Keaton
The General (1927) dir. Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton
The Thief of Bagdad (1924) dir. Raoul Walsh
Sally of the Sawdust (1925) dir. D.W. Griffith
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) dir. Tay Garnett
Throne of Blood (1957) dir. Akira Kurosawa
Faust (1926) dir. F.W. Murnau
The Tingler (1959) dir. William Castle
The World (2004) dir. Zhang Ke Jia
Head-On (2004) dir. Fatih Akin
The Edge of Heaven (2007) dir. Fatih Akin
Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006) dir. Goran Dukic
No End in Sight (2007) dir. Charles Ferguson
Pink Flamingos (1972) dir. John Waters
Kill! (1968) dir. Kihachi Okamoto
The Sword of Doom (1966) dir. Kihachi Okamoto