Visions of 2008

So what can be said about 2008 in the arts and entertainment?

Well, the films I enjoyed mostly during 2008 were the following:

P.T. Anderson's There Will Be Blood. Technically a 2007 film, but only released in Portugal on Valentine's Day (now, this is a date movie)! Anyway: One of the Best Movies Ever. I repeat, Ever. Fuck the Coen Brothers, No Country for Old Men is just good enough, this years' How Green Was My Valley, a pale effort in comparison to Citizen Kane. Paul Thomas Anderson's masterpiece kills God, and like the proverbial t-shirt, God may one day kill P.T. Anderson, but There Will Be Blood lives forever. Its final act satisfies the viewer's lust for blood in a way even Stanley Kubrick fell short of.

Alain Resnais' Coeurs / Private Fears in Public Places. Despite the annoying defacement of the original stageplay's title (what the hell is the ideia with Hearts?), Alain Resnais is proof that not all old masters of French cinema descended into hypocrisy and critic-pandering. It's the movie about relationships made with such class, like a carefully handmade watch to Nora Ephron-esque Chinese Casio knock-offs. It has some of the best photography seen this year, and also shows the critics how careful use of CGI (as also seen in James Gray's incredible chase sequence in We Own the Night) can enhance a film rather than End Cinema.

Jonathan Levine's The Wackness. I was expecting a Sundance standard film when I went to watch Jonathan Levine's debut, instead I felt the Giant Hand of the Mighty Spirit of the Universe (or whatever) pointing at me and ennumerating the ways I suck. The right film at the right time, even if it has its weaknesses, so what can I say — even Ben Kingsley performance dialled down his creepiness factor by a few notches.

There's also another film I must mention, even if it'll mean nothing to the non-portuguese readers:

Miguel Gomes' Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto. Up until the day I watched this, I thought of Miguel Gomes as a symbol of what's rotten with portuguese cinema. Although I only knew his short films, they allways struck me as futile, publicly financed exercises in intellectual masturbation of the most serious kind, the kind of shit you just have to endure in film festivals while you wait for the short film you actually want to watch. But Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto is actually good... better than that, excelent. Its director is now a puzzle, this film being in my view the exact opposite of everything Miguel Gomes did before. It's a documentary about a movie being made in the Portuguese interior, and it is at the same time that movie, without conforming to the movie-within-a-movie formula. But what makes it special is that it is very enjoyable and not for one moment does the audience cease to identify with what the film presents — and that's what makes this movie so strange and up to a point an indictment for what's wrong with portuguese filmmaking, coming from the unlikeliest of sources.

Like 2007, I felt 2008 was a weak year for cinema, and probably that's why I only went 48 times to a proper theatre, by far my lowest amount of film-going since... erm... I became a film-going adult. And as usual, I saw half the year's movies from January to March — because that's when all the good For Your Consideration pictures come out in Portugal, and not just the American releases, European movies too. The usual spike in very good late summer releases (Portugal-wise, meaning films that appeared in Cannes or whatever) was once again nowhere to be found (with the exception of Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto and perhaps a movie I unfortunately missed, Abdel Kechiche's The Secret of the Grain).

Anyway, other films I enjoyed to a five star level were Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton and Jiri Menzel's I Served the King of England. Not much, even though I would rank many of the films I watched during the year at four stars, so I still enjoy my time at the theatre a lot more often than not. There were a few stinkers, though: the remake of 3:10 to Yuma was as necessary as a kick in the butt, Indiana Jones IV raped a lot of childhoods, including mine, Juno was a overrated piece of crap, a misleading anti-abortion pamphlet disguised in self-conscious coolness stolen from the likes of Ghost World, Youth Without Youth felt like a bad episode of The Twilight Zone, and Gomorra was yet another overrated — and badly directed — piece of shit, this one raping the one book it was supposed to adapt. Of course, I did refuse to go see things like Speed Racer (seriously, you can't get me to watch a film that looks like an unplayable Megarace — already one of the worst computer games I ever played), or else this list would be a lot bigger.

Television-wise, 2008 was the year of The Wire. I watched every single bit of every one of the sixty episodes, and it must be told that if this was a 60-hour movie, it'd be up there with There Will Be Blood, one of the best movies ever, with a storytelling scope such that regular feature films, at 3 hours or less, can only dream of.

And that's it for now. Check again soon for my thoughts about books and music.