Dec 31, 2008

At year's end: A look back@2008, part 2

By Lena Dunham

Writing A Year End Roundup is a daunting task*. It’s like reorganizing your closet—how do you know what criteria to use? Should you do it by garment, color, season? Rather than simply listing my favorite films, I have decided to try something a bit more abstract. What follows is a collection of cinematic impressions from 2008, grouped thematically.

If you want to see how this sort of thing is really done, check out Michael Tully’s epic and very satisfying behemoth over at Hammer To Nail.

Past-Their-Prime Bad Boys Reemerge

Battered and broken, Mickey Rourke reemerged with a self-aware performance that did not involve sexually degrading Kim Basinger, Daryl Hannah, or any other blonde who has since gotten too much plastic surgery (but not as much as Rourke, who resembles no one more than The Mask’s Rocky Dennis and no one less than his former self.)

Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Van Damme performed similarly brilliant career CPR by agreeing to star in JCVD, a film loosely based on his spiritual death at the hands of his own megastardom. Too bad that movie was shot in bad sepia tones, a style my friend Ti likes to call “diarrhea-cam.” Ew.

Quotable Bromance Movies That Aren’t By Apatow

David Wain’s version of a big-budget bro comedy Role Models was a refreshing alternative to Judd Apatow’s oddly conservative cinematic agenda. Paul Rudd, who can do no wrong, is joined by a shockingly funny Seann William Scott. The film is bolstered by brilliant cameos from Jane Lynch and a slew of Wain regulars. Certain jokes fall flat, specifically the storyline about live action role play, but Role Models still emerged as the year’s most quotable movie (“Suck it, Reindeer Games!”)

The Foot-Fist Way was made in 2006 but released in 2008. It stars Danny McBride as a tyrannical Tai Kwon Do instructor with a slutty wife and an ability to generate perfect sound bites. Like Role Models, it’s an uneven film that will keep you laughing for days after viewing.

High Brow Web Video

Joss Whedon took the writer’s strike in stride by creating Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog, a musical webseries starring Neil Patrick Harris as an emo supervillain with a penchant for singing about his feelings. It was a Whedon fan’s wet dream, but even a hater (as I once was) can appreciate the show’s humor, which is at once subtle and audacious. Dr. Horrible also confirms what I had previously only suspected: Neil Patrick Harris is indeed the greatest actor of his generation.

Meanwhile, McSweeney’s Wholphin made artful short films (like the Benh Zeitlin’s Glory At Sea and Lisa Chang’s The Big Empty) available via the Youtube screening room, so there was really no excuse to watch “kicked in the nuts” for the 45th time.

Lyrical New York Stories in 16mm

Momma’s Man and The Pleasure of Being Robbed, two 16mm fairytales that revealed the downtown New York of my childhood, a world of whipping winds and grimy whimsy. Seeing my neighborhood committed to celluloid was incredibly comforting and totally inspiring.

These films share more than just a location—they are intensely personal stories about lonely souls lingering on the edge of adulthood.

Girl Power

Whether you loved Juno or hated it (I, for one, resented its very existence, despite winning actresses and notable quotables) you have to stand in awe of the up-by-her-brastraps Cinderella story of its scribe, Diablo Cody. This sassy one-time stripper parlayed a blogging habit into an Oscar, a regular column for Entertainment Weekly, and an upcoming TV show, starring Toni Collete and produced by Spielberg.

Michelle Williams may look like a porcelain doll, but in 2008 she proved herself to be one tough cookie. In January she was thrust into tabloid hell. Instead of going into hiding, she delivered pitch-perfect performances in I’m Not There, Synechdoche New York and, most notable, Wendy and Lucy. Her choice of material is flawless and she isn’t afraid to disappear into a role and get her hands dirty. I always loved her on Dawson’s Creek, but I never imagined…

Yeast, the punky digital feature by Mary Bronstein, is the real Mean Girls.

And speaking of girls, two as-yet-unreleased films by young women were completed in 2008 and are evidence that ’09 is something to get excited about. City on a Hill by Amy Seimetz and You Won’t Miss Me by Ry Russo-Young prove that DIY film isn’t a total boy’s club. These are compelling, creative stories: both films weave multiple formats/realities/storylines to create kaleidoscopic portraits of tormented characters.