Sean's 2008 Couchies - The Movies
To be certain, there's some quality film I'm sure I missed this year. The Visiter is being shipped from Netflix this morning, Let in the Right One In and The Wrestler only just arrived over the past couple weeks, and well, I'm not going to dwell on excuses (Wendy and Lucy still hasn't shown up around these parts!). There just comes a time when the Couchies must be given out and I've got my pick so let's do this.
I've come the conclusion that I do indeed think this year was a bit lackluster. If it weren't for the Boston Independent Film Festival, I would say it was downright no-luster. Or maybe I've become a bit jaded. I mean, a film that virtually everyone is raving about, Slumdog Millionaire, doesn't interest me in the least. And I have nothing against Danny Boyle, but if some convoluted rags to riches tale is what passes for the apex of excitement in what is supposed to be the prime-time film season than it must be a sign that all the real surprises are waiting for next year. Which is good, because next year I'm planning on attending the Toronto Film Festival, so I'm hoping for a killer line-up.
That's not to say there weren't some winners. Some fun was had tweaking genre conventions this summer. The Dark Night, Wall-E, Pineapple Express and Burn After Reading turned out to be great, dark, subversive entertainment that were highlights in a year otherwise filled with predictable fare. The Dark Night proved once and for all that source material that comes from your local comic book shop can be just as, if not more, relevant than any other source with Wall-E proving the same for cartoons. Pineapple Express proved that a movie about a couple stoners doesn't have to be dumb but it can be funny and brutally violent in equal measures. And Burn After Reading proved that while the Coen Bros may be the premiere film noir directors of our time, they are still first and foremost happily bug fuck crazy. I suppose you could argue that no one expected Indiana Jones to have to escape from an underground alien spaceship, but no one expected Speilberg to shoot a globe-trotting movie entirely in his backyard either. But let's get to the real magic...
Harmony Korine could have filmed his beautifully disturbed Mister Lonely just about anywhere and still have generated the uniquely touching impact his film has -- I do think he's that good. But by going to the cliffs of Scotland, the movie touches the ether and achieves that surreal dream-like quality all the better. A singular film experience which I'm sure was inflated by the packed house and following Q&A at the BIFF but nonetheless soars (like a nun falling from a twin engine plane piloted by Werner Herzog) above most other films this year in terms of pure cinema. While the story may be something in need of repairs, Mister Lonely features images and moments that have stuck with me through the year like no other film.
Milk is an excellent story, and I doubt anyone could have told it better than Gus Van Sant did with Sean Penn. While it might sadden some fans to see Van Sant take a break form his more avant-garde recent track record, I think it's a story that benefits from the more conventional approach that he took. Van Sant has been making "based on a true story" films since Drugstore Cowboy in the 80's and his recent trio of Gerry, Elephant and Last Days were all elegant interpretations of true stories and benefited from the approach he took. Milk, with a larger, less inward leaning story, also benefits from the fairly more conventional approach he took. It's an Important Movie and I can't fault a filmmaker with wanting to make an Important Movie highly accessible. At the same time, there's a great amount of singularly Van Sant mise-en-scene and an attention to the grey areas of Harvey Milk that a lot of other directors would have tried to clear up. While we spend all of our time with Harvey, except when he's dictating to his tape recorder, we are viewing him through other people's eyes which makes it perhaps the most honest biopic possible since that's all the filmmakers had to go on -- other people's accounts. We don't try to clear up his contradictions or mull over his bad decisions or try to paint him in some inscrutable, larger than life, glowing light. Milk is a great achievement so filled with pitch perfect acting that it lands high on the list of the best movies of the year.
But the Couchie goes to:
The top honor goes to My Effortless Brilliance. A movie that in many ways lives up to its name. The improvised dailog and the deliberate pace so perfectly lull you in to this uncomfortable weekend in the woods between estranged friends that you're completely taken off guard and can't help but feel the honsety of what's in front of you. Many people, especially men, can relate to Dylan and Eric who want to heal old wounds, but don't know how; who want to appologize but would rather just put it behind them than actually say the words. It's a story so simple yet devestatingly profound. Yet, the movie is completely lacking in pretension and so amiable in it's search for this tiny nugget of truth that I was completely won over and very rarely feel such a close assotiation with a film as I did with My Effortless Brilliance. There isn't a false note, a bad line of dialog or a meaningless moment in this film -- it's the perfect film of the year. Lynn Shelton, the director and co-writer who really deserves as many kudos as she can get for co-ordinating this film with such a male-centric story with the required gentle touch and results that appear so, yes, effortless. Though I'm sure effortless is the last thing the long process of completing a no-budget labor of love film could be called.
Sean Nelson as Eric, trying to re-connect with the friend who dumped him and Basil Harris as Dylan, the friend who still thinks Eric is an asshole but is willing to see where the weekend goes are extraordinarily refreshing actors. Both are brilliantly deadpan in the funniest moments and have great chemistry together. It doesn't take more than a few moments of Dylan and Eric sitting across from one another to fully believe in their relationship. And there's is a relationship so perfect in it's dysfunction, so relatable and geniuine that somehow it's rarely the sole purpose of a film and yet their story beautifully fulfills that role in My Effortless Brilliance. What more does a film need than the importance of two friends coming to terms with one another?
I love this film and The Independent Spirit Awards are dead-on for giving Lynn Shelton a special award for the film. I can only hope it provides her with more distribution money in the future so that more than just a couple cities get to check out her next film.