Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Richard Suchenski's 2008 Top Ten List

As usual, my rules are simple: any film that had its world premiere in 2008 is eligible. This time around, I’m bending these rules a bit by including two films that are technically 2007 releases (the ones with asterisk next to them). In both cases, the rationale for inclusion is the fact that, except for special screenings, it wasn’t really possible to see either of them anywhere until this year.

Top Ten:
1. Eniaios (Cycles 3-5) – Gregory Markopoulos (Greece)
2. Sarabande and Winter – Nathaniel Dorsky (USA)
3. Le Genou d’Artemide – Jean-Marie Straub (Italy)
4. The Headless Woman – Lucrecia Martel (Argentina)
5. Summer Hours – Olivier Assayas (France)
6. A Christmas Tale – Arnaud Desplechin (France)
7. Tokyo Sonata – Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Japan)
8. RR – James Benning (USA)*
9. 4 Nights with Anna – Jerzy Skolimowski (Poland/France)
10. Chouga – Darezhan Omirbaev (Kazakhstan/France)*

11. Une Catastrophe – Jean-Luc Godard (Switzerland)
12. Birdsong – Albert Serra (Spain)
13. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – David Fincher (USA)
14. Tulpan – Sergei Dvortsevoy (Kazakhstan/Russia/Germany/Poland)
15. Horizontal Boundaries – Pat O’Neill (USA)
16. The Frontier of Dawn – Philippe Garrel (France)
17. Aberration of Starlight – Andrew Noren (USA)
18. 24 City – Jia Zhang-ke (China)
19. Of Time and the City – Terence Davies (UK)
20. Tony Manero – Pablo Larrain (Chile)

Retrospective of the year: James Quandt’s complete retrospective of Nagisa Oshima’s film work offered a perfectly-timed reminder of just how rich that sort of filmmaking can be, and how much we are losing with the passing of the postwar generation. Temenos screenings aside, it was the cinematic highlight of the year. The extensive, traveling Manoel de Oliveira retrospective was almost as impressive and credit should also go out to the Museum of the Moving Image for giving New York audiences a chance to see the films from Ford at Fox as they were meant to be seen.

2008 offered proof yet again that great films continue to be made all over the world, even though many of them will never receive any theatrical distribution in North America. Film culture is increasingly dependent on film festivals, but the complexities and idiosyncrasies of festival programming inevitably leave gaps, which accounts for the fact that I still have not been able to see Still Walking (Hirokazu Kore-eda), 35 Rhums (Claire Denis), and Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso), three films which would probably have made this list. For now, at least, international auteur filmmaking is alive and well and one of the great pleasures of 2008 was seeing a number of extremely talented directors turning out some of their very best films.

That applies equally to avant-garde filmmaking and especially to the two new films by Nathaniel Dorsky. The montage in both Sarabande and Winter is denser and more rhythmically modulated than in his previous works, but it feels freer, more organic and also more mysterious. They are the richest expressions yet of his genuinely polyphonic sensibility, one that is sensitive to the immanent rhythms of people and things - that allows them to attain their own sufficiency - while still shaping them into works that strike a delicate balance between the subjectivity of the filmmaker and the objects being filmed. That Dorsky was able to inject a sense of bodily motion into his new films without suggesting the cinematic rhetoric of his close friend Stan Brakhage is nothing short of remarkable.

For me, though, the decisive event of the year was the first screening of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th cycles of Gregory Markopoulos’ 80-hour masterwork Eniaios at the Temenos (in Lyssaraia, Greece). This second set of screenings was even richer than the first (in 2004), helping to clarify the aesthetic stakes of Markopoulos’ project and also the underlying network of meanings linking one cycle to another. A work of the greatest possible ambition and integrity, Eniaios towers over not just every other film released this year, but this decade.

Richard is a joint PhD candidate in Film Studies and History of Art at Yale University.

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