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The Notebook's First Annual Writers' Poll: Dave McDougall

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 explaination, rant, annotation, or anything else that occurs to them about their film viewing in 2008.
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I've been scanning film critics' year-end lists for a bit now, and most seem to agree that 2008 was a mediocre year for movies. Which strikes me as utterly ridiculous - this seems one of the strongest years I can remember. I fell in some kind of love with 9, or 12, or 15 new films in 2008. In a few years, when these films have been revisited and lived with, I'm convinced that people will see this year as one full of magic. I count at least 8 near-masterpieces from 2008, and more than likely 9. At least 3 more achieve near-greatness. One of the things I look forward to most in 2009 is chance to revisit many of the films I first met in 2008. Here, with provisional rankings, are my top 10 films from 2008:

1. Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, 2008)
2. En la cuidad de Sylvia (In the City of Sylvia, José Luis Guerin, 2007)
3. Ne Touchez pas la hache (Don't Touch the Axe, Jacques Rivette, 2007)
4. Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
5. Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind (John Gianvito, 2007)
6. J'entends plus la guitare (I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar, Philippe Garrel, 1991)
7. Le Scaphandre et le papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Julian Schnabel, 2007)
8. 三峡好人 (Sānxiá hǎorén) (Still Life, Jia Zhang-Ke, 2006)
9. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)
10. Cristóvão Colombo - O Enigma (Chrisopher Columbus, The Enigma, Manoel de Oliveira, 2007)


Ten films about love:
Aquinas considers love as wanting good for another being for the sake of that other being. But love can be longing. Love can push and pull and burn and finally extinguish itself for lack of oxygen. Love can be a tender, shared lonliness. Love can be hope for the future. Or watching your love object destroy herself. Or love is seeing the beautiful things for the first time - things seen but loved only in retrospect. Love is refusing to be pulled apart by the world. Love is saving each other for the sake of the future. Love is the pull of the past and a long-shared journey, embarked on together.

Ten films about the world:
The world grinds you down when you're in need of another chance. The world is full of people each beautiful in their own way. The world doesn't compromise with fate. The world tortures you - and sometimes needs to be tortured back. The world is full of wrongs and also battles for right. The world creates doubts but doesn't stop for us to sort them out. The world is so full of beautiful moments that we sometimes forget to see them. The world changes and things are lost. The world needs our faith to be restored to life. The world is a place for quests.

Ten films about death (and life):
Loss is permanent more often than it should be. We lose things and can't get them back. At the moment of irrevocable loss, our wounds turn to scars. But our scars can help others and ourselves to heal. Our heroes die but their struggle continues. Time moves forward and we leave our past behind. Our time is too short. And it may be too late to salvage it. But we can try. Together, and full of hope.

A year of hidden depths, whose truth* has yet to be fully uncovered.

* Truth, Being, Reality - in Sanskrit, these are all represented by a single word: Sat.

Hong Sang-soo's Woman on the Beach stands as my strong #11 on this list. Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York was certainly the most ambitious English-language film of the year even if it left me feeling a little colder than it should have. It's lovely, but too intellectual; I hope as Kaufman directs future films that he learns to connect his meta-filmic existential crises more directly with the sense of loss at their core. It's still wonderful enough to stand at a strong #12. I would love to have included Michael Kirk's 2008 epic 2-part Frontline series Bush's War [www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/bushswar/], which stands as one of the great historical documents of our times. I wasn't as impressed with James Benning's RR as some, but it does have a richness that would likely reward future viewings, and certainly deserves a spot in any discussion of cinema in 2008.  I regret that some films remain unseen contenders for this list (The Wrestler, A Christmas Tale, The Flight of the Red Balloon, The Last Mistress, Paranoid Park, Waltz With Bashir, Ballast, Reprise, The Secret of the Grain, Che, The Class, among others). In a year where I missed so many possibly-great films, I'm heartened that enough magic stood out to put a film like Still Life - which I thought in January couldn't possibly be equalled in the 11 ensuing months of cinema - as only my 8th favorite of 2008. The film of year, though, remains Nathaniel Dorsky's Sarabande, a film that understands the nature of beauty, images, and cinema like few films before it, a film about which I can barely offer words.

The ten best films I saw this year that are ineligible for above poll, in rough order of preference, were:

Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)
Portrait d'une jeune fille de la fin des années 60 à Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1994)
Je vous salue Sarajevo (Jean-Luc Godard, 1993)
City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931)
Le Fond de l'Air est Rouge (Chris Marker, 1977/1993)
Céline et Julie vont en bateau (Jacques Rivette, 1974)
Andrei Rubylev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1969)
Sarabande (Nathaniel Dorsky, 2008)
La reprise du travail aux usines Wonder (Jacques Willemont, 1968)
Cocksucker Blues (Robert Frank, 1972)

I wish you all a lovely 2009, in the cinema and out.
and that was before I caught up with CHE, which totally knocked my socks off!
Ah, too little too late. You’d really bump the Oliveira for that dry behemoth?
though it pains me to say, I would. sincerest apologies, Manoel, Sabine, Leonor.
A good comparison, I think: two movies about recovering living history from the ossified myths it’s turned into; that attempt to capture the passing of times; that track youthful hope to old, idiotic perseverance; that watch people staging history from afar. One’s great; “dry behemoth” does justice to Che that Che doesn’t do to itself. Thanks for that one, Danny.
Thanks David, I actually was thinking about that comparison, though not so well thought out, when I wrote that. And how much I prefer Oliveira’s (cinematic) approach to history and idealism. Might be why I didn’t like Preminger’s EXODUS, though I probably owe that a re-visiting.
Guess I’ll hafta see for myself which camp I fall into when I finally watch Che tomorrow. From what I’ve read…I think I’ll join Dave’s camp. And then we’ll have a street brawl.
2 things: 1. I won’t let you define this as Oliveira vs Soderbergh. It’s gotta be Che vs. anti-Che. 2. COUNT ME IN.

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