Fifty-four films into 2008 for me personally, there have been some surprises. While the list of not-so-great films grows longer ("Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, "Wanted", "Diary of the Dead", "Drillbit Taylor", "Be Kind Rewind" rounding out the very bottom) I have seen 6 really good films. Whether these chosen ones survive the onslaught of the Fall season remains to be seen, but something tells me they probably will. With a mixture of auteur sensibility, these half dozen films represent originality, strong acting, compelling narratives and good old fashioned entertainment done with pizazz.
In alphabetical order:
The Bank Job
Roger Donaldson's thrilling genre piece showcases a mannered attention to detail (1970's London), a well constructed heist, and just enough tension to make "The Bank Job" great retro-fun. The cast is also smartly assembled and there's nary a gun fired until the very finale. Up until that point, the film keeps the dialogue firing on all cylinders and relying on good old fashioned suspense and character evolution to make you care about what's happening.
Olivier Assayas' international thriller keeps Asia Argento sharply in the sights of every scene as she dodges killers and manipulative ex-boyfriends at every turn. Filmed in Assayas' characteristic style of handheld cinematography and nervy jump cuts, he continues to take the thriller/espionage picture and smash it into a thousand pieces. The reasons for virtually every bad guy in this film are left on the editing room floor, and we're given a woman on the run against... something. Hints of corporate skulduggery, drug dealings and murder are left unfounded. "Boarding Gate" is the ultimate abstract thriller- with Assayas' "demonlover" a close second.
Finally, a French horror film in a long line of them that scores. Directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, imagine a film that suspends the dingy nightmarish blood spewing of "Taxi Driver" in its closing moments and you have a small idea how unsettling "Inside" is for most of its 100 minute running time. Except this time, the target of the maniacal killer is a pregnant woman home alone on Christmas Eve. This film will shock, upset, and make you cringe with its relentlessness. But besides that, it looks terrific and Maurey and Bustillo certainly understand how to frame a film for ultimate effect.
My Blueberry Nights
This is basically a road movie as only Wong Kar Wai could make... full of speed up landscapes, fluorescent subway trains and life observed from the outside looking in through glass windows. Like German filmmaker Wim Wenders, Wong Kar Wai's 'outsider' views about America don't always translate, but the time warp that envelops "My Blueberry Nights" is transfixing. From New York to the open vistas of Las Vegas, Nora Jones gets to be the anchor for a series of loners and addicts as she travels across country. David Straithern, as an alcoholic going through a divorce to Rachel Weisz, deserves a supporting actor nomination for his work. This is one beautiful film, both in emotions and look.
Lou Ye's sprawling yet intimate look at 4 college students from the 60's to the 80's tracks along with the rest of his career in which he spans the years for emotional complexity and cultural significance. A knockout of a film.
It's so nice to see great supporting actor Jenkins wrestle with a starring role. After turning in strong performances in a host of films like "North Country" (in which he deserved a supporting actor nom that year) and "The Man Who Wasn't There", he does it again here but on the LEAD actor scale, embodying Walter with nuance and a less-is-more attitude that cuts right through the screen. I wasn't a fan of McCarthy's previous film, "The Station Agent", which felt quirky and forced, but with "The Visitor", he's created a film full of life, redemption and subtle human interaction.