Best Memories of 2008
This is a funny, captivating documentary chronicling a tightrope walker's history, preparation, and effort to walk on high wire between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
On August 7, 1974, some New Yorkers were treated to a memorable spectacle at Twin Towers. Behind it all was the daring exploits of a Frenchman Philippe Petit.
Acting on an idea he'd been pondering, drafting, and practising for months, showcasing his unbelievable feat of perseverance and foot-first skill that had enthused him for years on end since he was a teenager, Philippe Petit depicts his formidable undertaking to the world. He undertook arguably one of the most periculous endeavour in human history, and it was publicized by TV and newspapers. With this risky venture, Philippe Petit inspired wonder shared by very few peers.
At the heart of Philippe Petit's high-wire walking performance was the idea that the seemingly insurmountable obstacle can be overcome by effort and enthusiasm. In one morning of awe-inspiring and emotional splendor, he educated, edified and entertained us all. If you have a dream, go make it come true while you are still young, time and tide wait for no man. That's what this film tells us.
Inspired by a true story, The Chaser (2008) revolves around serial disapperances of call girls and an ex-cop's desperate search to save his employee's life. In his pursuit he's obstructed by his former police colleagues at almost every turn, even when the killer is held in detention and confesses his guilt.
The Chaser (2008), as in Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder (2003), pours scorn on the authorities' incapability and clumsiness, reveals social discontent about the officials, while the identity of the killer remains a mystery in the latter, it is identified early on in this film, and then focuses on how inept the investigators are and how preposterously the Korean society operates. In The Chaser (2008), most of the suspense comes from the foot chase, close fighting, and the killer will be released if the fumbling police are not able to provide evidence within a day.
With the dauntless filmmaker keen to paint a grim picture in which law enforcement is shown in an unfavourable light - the shirking police force are always in search of a way to shift blame, and with the added social commentary, this film goes beyond the majority of serial killer films. And the most unbelievable of all, this is the director Na Hong-jin's debut.
I am always in awe of some directors' talents, such as Clint Eastwood, the older he gets, the more prolific and inspiring he becomes, and some newcomers like Cristian Nemescu, Fatih Akin, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and Na Hong-jin, with their first attempts at filmmaking, many experienced directors pale into insignificance.
It's western Connecticut in the mid-1950s booming postwar period, a couple attempt to move to Paris to begin their lives anew and leave their hopeless emptiness behind. But with the advent of a career opportunity that the male lead cannot afford to miss, the couple's relationship begins to turn sour and lack of communication eventually leads to family tragedy. The storyline sounds stale and conventional, it works as an astonishingly touching, absorbingly thought-provoking adult drama nevertheless.
The film is a glaringly vivid voyage of distress, observing the broadening line between the couple whose growing mutual resentment and hatred are impediment to gradually altering their corroding relationship in the name of matrimony.
Leonardo DiCaprio's acting in this film is at his career peak, bestowing a desperate quality with minimal moves, interiorizing the sorrow and fury with prominent facial torsions, but unfortunately overshadowed this year by Mickey Rourke's Oscar-worthy performance in The Wrestler (2008) - one that most probably will be recognised by the Academy.
Kate Winslet's performance here is much better than that in The Reader (2008), more natural and less contrived, though the latter got lots of her nude scenes, yet Kate Winslet got nominated for best actress for The Reader (2008) rather than this film on Oscar nominations. Go figure.
Frost/Nixon (2008) tells a very personal story wrapped within a larger political context. Adapted from the Peter Morgan's Tony-nominated stage drama that portrays David Frost's 1977 series of TV interviews with former President Richard Nixon, the film harkens back to the 1970s and the Watergate scandal that resulted in the indictment of several of Nixon's closest advisors, and ultimately his resignation on August 9, 1974. Much unlike typical political interviews, the struggle pitted an checkbook journalism against White House dirty tricks squad. Frost's interview also has to be seen against the backdrop of controversial pardon issued by President Gerald Ford for any federal crimes Nixon may have committed while in office, who regarded the interview both as an opportunity to make a fortune and a prospect of an improvement of his sullied reputation with a talk show host he believed adequate to only asking easy questions.
However, Nixon's underestimate of his opponent paved the way for his final admission and remorse. Mass media was what indicted him and destroyed his hope of presidency both in Watergate scandal and this interview. Although Frank Langella doesn't bear physical or vocal resemblance to Nixon, he incarnates Nixon through sheer force of brilliant performance.
As in The Crime of Father Amaro (2002) and Deliver Us from Evil (2006), this film tells a story of a Father's sexual misconduct. All these films take on the issues of religion, morality and authority. Some priests' misbehaviour arouses some audiences' skepticism on the existence of God, crisis of faith (doubt), as this film put it, can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. There are moments of doubt and disbelief, times when religious doctrine fails to provide a rationale or explanation. Yet all these films don't say priests are unethical but discover that priests are human and some humans are unethical. It should be noted that many ordained religious practitioners are good men. They are good-hearted, altruistic individuals living pious lives in service of their calling. For every dishonourable priest, there are many more men whose concern for others is non-ravening. As in Deliver Us from Evil (2006), an activist for those victims was another righteous Father, who excoriates the Church's response to the scandal, and in this film, Father Brendan Flynn's suspicious behaviour is investigated and reprobated by Sister Aloysius Beauvier.
I had a dicussion about the film Deliver Us from Evil (2006) with an evangelist during the Franklin Graham Festival at Hong Kong Stadium in December 2007. I asked why God didn't prevent some priests' culpability, he replied that God gives you the freedom to choose between right and wrong. If you're determined to misbehave, why blame God for the responsibility of your wrongdoings afterwards. It's you who made the decision. God doesn't tell you to misdemean. One day, those wicked priests have to bear the full responsibility for their conduct in front of God.
The message of this film can be extended from faith in God to faith in life, faith in love, faith in career. Under desperate circumstance, uncertainty is likely to set in. The only thing we could do is learn from the past, make sensible choices, keep going on the right path.
Based on Roberto Saviano's bestseller about Italy's notorious Neapolitan syndicate Camorra, Gommorah is a movie so unlike the usual Hollywood crime film which glamorizes the mob in a phony way, that its genuineness makes the typical Hollywood ones pale by comparison. This film interweaves five different stories related to mob activities to demonstrate how deep the vicious roots reach in reality, and how hard and ineffectual it appears to seek to uproot this mob-rule threat from its firmly controlled regions. It was shot in the same locale as where the story took place, exhibiting the Camorra criminal families' impact in social, political and economic aspects.
It’s a splendidly told disclosure of how the modern Italian mob functions, from the long-existing street bullying to international business intimidation.
The author of the best-seller which inspired this film was threatened by the Mafia of Naples, because he had the bravery and the rashness to spill a large number of beans about the Camorra, the Mafia of Naples, the author now has to be protected by a bodyguard. All these add to the film's atrocious sense.
Before Israel carried out an air attack in Gaza and sent tanks into the Strip in late December last year, a film called Waltz with Bashir (2008) was made about the Sabra and Shatila massacre in September, 1982. The peacebreakers and victims are the same in both incidents, Lebanese Phalangist militiamen entered and massacred two Palestinian refugee camps with the permission of Israeli Defense Forces. and Israel's recent relentless air attacks on a besieged Gaza caused over 1,000 deaths and some 4,000 injuries of innocent Palestinians, mostly women and children.
In an animated style similar to Waking Life (2001), writer-director Ari Folman investigates the massacre of Palestinian refugees that has been haunting his generation for more than two decades. Folman's film mulls over this disturbing material, digging slowly but deep – and even the Kafkaesque tone that runs throughout those fragmented memories can't gear you up for the striking aftermath. Ari Folman cuts in between those fragmented memories in such a manner that it takes a while to figure out what's happened and how it all connects, here is a filmmaker challenging the audience's history knowledge, demanding fullest attention. Waltz with Bashir (2008) comes across as a hearty and profoundly sore struggle that exempts neither its maker nor his nation from the guilt. Even though the film's animated style, as the director claimed, functions on the border between reality and the subconscious, what happened in the film was not a dream, and that was the most frightening thing of all.
There's little doubt this is an ambitious effort, the film takes the audience on a tour of the 20th century, with a love story so unique that the lovers age in the opposite direction.
Of all the directors you would expect to make an era-spanning romance epic like this film, you would not think of David Fincher as the first choice. David Fincher's films are symbolized by murder, suspense, brutality, nastiness, and psycho thriller as seen in Se7en (1995), The Game (1997), Fight Club (1999), Panic Room (2002), Zodiac (2007). And yet, David Fincher's astonishing deployment of phenomenal amount of techonological details to replicate New Orleans over the span of the 20th century, and his adeptness to elicit wondrous performances from his actors made this another masterpiece of another heartrending romance. One of David Fincher's magical strength as a director is his ability to make the movie as engrossing as possible througout the film. The film is nearly 3 hours in length, but it never makes you feel ponderous and tedious.
Darren Aronofsky, an auteur of making visually thrilling and intellectually challenging films, brings another astounding feature, but with less equivocalness as previous film like The Fountain (2006), instead with more violence and poignance.
The Wrestler (2008) explores not just the traditional elegiac of fading from prime prominence, but the equally soul-rattling ache of father-daughter relationship.
The characters are so deeply drawn and remarkably illuminated, the audience are connectted with the characters' pain. It's an audacious and essential film, gorgeously presented and, grimly entertaining too.
As in Requiem for a Dream (2000), Darren Aronofsky uses certain sound effects to simulate a certain emotion, such as the actor walked in a store to work, but accompanied by shrill, excited cheering of wrestling fans to represent the character's past glory and today's ordinariness.
The performance by Mickey Rourke in this film is simply superb, Mickey Rourke has never been better, his dumfounding wrestling presentation and electrifying acting developes the wrestler into an incredibly complicated, conflicted individual who emites equal parts enchantment and immorality, magnetism and brutality. Mickey Rourke's interpretation of Randy 'The Ram' Robinson stands for the class of male acting in 2008. Chances are we'll see him being awarded as best actor at the upcoming Oscar ceremony.
Twelve years after the sublimely excellent Trainspotting (1996), Danny Boyle's works in between were inspiring but uneven, and now with the deeply affecting Slumdog Millionaire (2008), the director is back to his career peak, and this film may be his most popular work ever.
This film is the director's most accessible work to date since the narrative works on multiple levels, it can be viewed as a suspenseful adventure, a touching romance, or as a peek at human misery in Indian society despite its fast-growing economy.
Danny Boyle blends this evidently Oliver-esque tale with picturesque sets, quick cuts, amazing kaleidoscopic shots, canted camera angles, and always-in-motion camerawork. In the hands of a less talented director, this skillfully crafted feature may appear kitschy and meretricious, but with the cinematic sleight of hand of Danny Boyle, this seamlessly assembled work looks stylistically overwhelming while remains narratively solid and grippingly breathtaking.
The movie has grievous and tragic moments but it is jubilant in the end and incorporates all the elements general audience desires. Danny Boyle ends the movie with the protagonist reuniting with his childhood sweetheart and then an effervescent dance number, ensuring the audience leaves the theater with an elated viewing pleasure.