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The Notebook's First Annual Writers' Poll: Dan Sallitt

Each of the Notebook's writers were given the opportunity to submit two lists of their ten favorite films of 2008.  One is restricted to films receiving at least a week's theatrical run in the U.S., a limitation regretfully imposed only so that we may arrive at a final tally of the Notebook's overall favorites released this year.  The second list is optional, and opens up the field to anything seen in 2008, new or old, festival or regular release.  Each writer is also given space for words of explanation, rant, annotation, or anything else that occurs to them about their film viewing in 2008.
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My favorite 2008 New York one-week theatrical premieres:
1. The Tracey Fragments (Bruce McDonald, Canada)
2. Ballast (Lance Hammer, USA)
3. Still Life (Jia Zhang-Ke, China)
4. Une vieille maîtresse (Catherine Breillat, France)
5. Nights and Weekends (Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig, USA)
6. Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)
7. Avant que j'oublie (Jacques Nolot, France)
8. The Wackness (Jonathan Levine, USA)
9. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico)
10. Poor Boy's Game (Clement Virgo, Canada)
The theatrical revival that most impressed me this year: The Exiles (Kent MacKenzie, USA, 1961).
Lists of one-week theatrical premieres are so staggered in time that it's hard to use them as the basis for comments on the current state of cinema. But it looks to me as if world filmmaking is continuing its long display of strength across a variety of film cultures. Even the American art cinema is showing signs of taking root, and we are seeing the occasional American entertainment film that is successfully inflected by art-film qualities. Let's hope that the worldwide economic crisis doesn't deal too harshly with whoever has been brave or foolish enough to finance the international art adventures of the last decade or two.
Despite the intentionally vague boundaries of the mumblecore concept, I take it for the first real American film movement in forever. Obviously the mumblecore films are wildly different in both style and quality, but they contain a core of value that filmmakers can build on: the appropriation of technology and popular culture to create new signifiers of realism; the deployment of aimless-youth iconography to modify narrative expectations. Sundance, Toronto, et al. pretty much whiffed on mumblecore, but we can't reasonably expect big institutions to demonstrate flexibility. And I put two Sundance premieres on the above list, so I'm in no position to proclaim a changing of the guard.
I regret that The Wackness was too much of a coming-of-age film to acquire critical momentum, and that Joe Swanberg, like Larry Clark, is stigmatized for seeming a little too interested in sex. But, on the whole, the films on my list have received favorable attention and stimulated interesting discussion. I've definitely lived through worse times for film culture.
I missed Toronto and most of the New York Film Festival this year, and so my list of 2008 international premieres is even more inchoate than usual at year's end.  Even under the best circumstances, I need an additional twelve months to bring such lists to a stable point.  Here's what I have now, with the proviso that it's silly to publish without having seen the new Dardenne Bros., or Jia, or McDonald, or Escalante, or Mundruczó, or Rian Johnson, or Hashiguchi, or German Jr., or Samira Makhmalbaf, or Garrone, or Naranjo....
1. Night and Day (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)
2. Ballast (Lance Hammer, USA)
3. Nights and Weekends (Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig, USA)
4. Boogie (Radu Muntean, Romania)
5. Je veux voir (Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Lebanon)
6. The Wackness (Jonathan Levine, USA)
7. Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina)
8. Leatherheads (George Clooney, USA)
9. Entre les murs (Laurent Cantet, France)
10. The New Yorkist (Dana O'Keefe, USA)
And, just for fun, here are ten wonderful pre-2008 films that I saw for the first time this year, in chronological order: Policeman (Tomu Uchida, Japan, 1933); A Hole of My Own Making (Tomu Uchida, Japan, 1955); La Fille aux yeux d’or (Jean-Gabriel Albicocco, France, 1961); À cause, à cause d'une femme (Michel Deville, France, 1963); Du côté d'Orouët (Jacques Rozier, France, 1973); Illumination (Krzysztof Zanussi, Poland, 1973); Portrait d'une jeune fille de la fin des années 60 à Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, France, 1994); Tout est pardonné (Mia Hansen-Løve, France, 2007); Darling (Johan Kling, Sweden, 2007); Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, USA, 2007).
Dan, with all due respect, Joe Swanberg is not “stigmatized” for “seeming a little too interested in sex.” Joe Swanberg is criticized, not entirely groundlessly, for being a filmmaker whose interest in pretty much anything ends at the tip of his penis. There IS a difference.
Assuming that were true (and I really don’t buy it – he has a complex and sympathetic interest in women), there are less interesting things to fixate on, no?
Well, there’s a reason I put so many hedges in the comment. I think “Night and Day” and, to an extent, “Hannah,” derive the complex and sympathetic interest you cite from the contributions of Gerwig. I think Swanberg’s an interesting filmmaker with some worthwhile ideas, but the more I see of his work the more I’m convinced that he lacks both the sensibility and the detachment to be a really durable artist.

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