by Nicolas Rapold
At the risk of being unfashionable and refraining from political-economic bulletins or critical do-overs, we at The L humbly submit 2008 as a year of great beauty in cinema. While the intensity and bloodlusty popularity of The Dark Knight warrant morbid attention, this was also a year of serene, intimate time-slipping (Hou Hsiao Hsien’s Flight of the Red Balloon), breathtaking panoramas of destruction and dispersal (Jia Zhangke’s Still Life, a delayed release), and astonishing iterative compositions (James Benning’s RR, an American classic on many levels). The stirring moments could be found in strange places: brashly engaging revolution (Che, Part One) and its mesmerizingly drawn-out twilight (Part Two), an inward portrait of a bereft woman and her dog (Wendy and Lucy and Michelle Williams), Scandinavian-engineered vampire tween friendship (Let the Right One In), rapture in archaic dialect (Silent Light), and terrible storms tracked with novelistic nuance (The Last Mistress).
But, yes: the genre of indie film received its periodic rejiggering of authenticity rhetoric, shifting focus from mumblecore to neo-neorealism, with one example being the carefully engineered Ballast (and a counteralternative coming from a Frenchman—not Laurence Cantet’s The Class but Jacques Nolot’s Before I Forget). A franchise recalling the avid turnover of silent serials arose (Twilight) and like Mamma Mia! made a lot of money off a strange niche audience only recently identified and classified after extensive scientific research. Iron Man offered Hollywood another model of offhand blockbuster charisma, and Slumdog Millionaire the nearly audible head-scratching of what a knock-off attempting to repeat its success would even look like. Meanwhile, an embattled blockbuster-scale mentality seized Synecdoche, New York and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Animation as form or function saw sweeping old-time grandeur (in the rubble heaps of Wall-E), hybrid wormholing into scarred consciences (Waltz with Bashir), and the glorious folly of live-action imitation (Speed Racer). Lastly, as the decade of a documentary boom wound down, Man on Wire and Trouble the Water found ardent support, Wiseman’s heartening government-in-action portrait State Legislature saw the light of a theater, The Unforeseen found an aesthetic for the mapping of progress, and more people lined up for Alex Gibney’s Hunter S. Thompson hagiography Gonzo than his Taxi to the Dark Side.