Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Movies in 2008

Here we find ourselves at the conclusion of another year that I feel ill-equipped to summarize as far as movies go. I saw stuff, and I enjoyed stuff, though not nearly as much as I'd hoped (on both counts) at the beginning of '08. Nevertheless, I didn't want list-making season to pass without a chance to comment on a few things.

My favorite movie of the year, without a doubt, was Rachel Getting Married. No question. It's stuck with me the longest, and the most vividly, and it's the film I'm most keen on revisiting. I can understand why it annoyed other people, but the melodrama touched me deeply, as did the joy, the humor, the music, the beauty, and finally, the love. Decidedly the right movie at the right time for me.

Contrary to what knocked me out most about Snow Angels when I first saw it, the image from the film that's haunted me for months now is that final shot of Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale together in the woods. The creepy-crawly combination of rage, delusion, a diseased kind of love/familiarity, and suffocating self-hatred is absolutely devastating.

I know I'm not alone in thinking so, but several months after its release, the very fact of Wall-E's existence still seems like something of a minor miracle.

I went on my customary year-end movie binge this past weekend since I have several days off work and not much else going on right now. I may or may not get around to writing about the lion's share here later, esp. the ones that I could do some serious carping about, but the two that hit me hardest (at least initially--who's to say how long they'll linger?) were Happy-Go-Lucky and The Wrestler. The thing that seems most awesome about Happy-Go-Lucky is the fact that it's just such an improbable subject for a movie that nevertheless feels as taut and irreducible as the most ingeniously plotted caper film. A girl with an eternally sunny disposition gets her bike stolen and so decides to take driving lessons? That's it? That's the movie? And yet of course it's so much more--about what it is to be a true teacher, about how our subjective view of the world is indistinguishable from our experience of the world and colors our interactions with other people, about family of birth and family of choice, about being open to the strangeness of the Other and the greater ramifications of your relative willingness or unwillingness to be so. Beautiful stuff. And The Wrestler, unless I'm way off the mark, seems like the perfect companion piece to There Will Be Blood with which to bookend 2008, another anguished meditation on American bullshittery, pride, failure, and redemption. The use of the term of endearment "brother" throughout endlessly delighted me, and the fact that Marisa Tomei's character makes a Passion of the Christ reference was so inspired it nearly left me breathless with both laughter and brain-tickling wonder. You can read a billion other reviews that'll tell you all about how good Mickey Rourke is--and they're probably all right. One of those performance-of-a-lifetime kinda deals; we're talking some Norma Desmond shit up in here.

As long as we're making lists, I might as well make final mention of a few other things that have been important to me this year.

Books: the Scott Pilgrim series (initial impressions here), Suketu Mehta's Maximum City (my review here), May Sarton's Journal of a Solitude, and Dainin Katagiri's Each Moment Is the Universe.

Concerts: Radiohead at Lollapalooza, and, as mentioned in my year-end musical summary, Caribou at the Empty Bottle and the Tomorrow Never Knows festival at Schuba's. Also, on quite the other end of the spectrum, Scott Weiland headlining Q101's big Twisted Christmas finale show at the House of Blues, for being one of the most impressively awful shows I've ever seen.

Food: I had amazing dinners at the Green Zebra here in Chicago this spring and Grezzo in Boston over Labor Day weekend. Also, I didn't eat solid food from mid-June to mid-July while I was on a 30-day "juice feast." One of the most difficult and most rewarding things I've ever done, and I'm pretty sure it's the primary reason why my doctor was finally able to take me off my high blood pressure medication.

People: I went to a bunch of weddings. I went on a bunch of dates. I became casually friendly with a handful of genuine rock stars. I read a bunch of smart stuff on the internet written by both friends and complete strangers, much of it via weird and difficult-to-explain (to the uninitiated, at least) new media like Tumblr and Twitter. I voted for some skinny biracial dude from Chicago who's gearing up to become the leader of the free world on January 20.

All in all, it was a singularly weird year. But a memorable and important one. Have fun tonight, kittens, and I'll see you back 'round these parts in 2009.


Matthew Perpetua said...

Gahhhh! Please, I beg of you -- tell us all about that Weiland show! I want details! Gory, gory details!

allison said...

Oh man, it was incredible. I mean, schadenfreude's an ugly emotion in general, but...I had such a blast! He came on stage about 45 minutes late and at least looked cool (three-piece suit, fedora, sunglasses, lit cigarette in hand--the works). But, it was hard for me to tell if he was actively fucked up on something or if he's just done so much damage to himself after so many years of drug abuse that he behaves like that all the time now. His banter was mumbled and totally incoherent (at one point, after a pregnant pause of about a minute and a half, he described his current writing technique not as composing songs, but as creating..."excursions to Marrrrrrs"), he's singing like Liza Minnelli these days (the vibrato, my god, the vibrato!), he's moving like an animatronic version of himself circa the mid-90s, and the new songs. are. terrible. Lifeless, uninspired, and interminable. (The few STP tunes they played held up remarkably well, given the givens.) During the final song, he climbed up on a stack of speakers and started swinging from the decorative banners hanging from the back of the stage, and when he was done, he threw the microphone onto the ground, then jumped down and picked it back up, and muttered something along the lines of "I've been doing this for twenty years, and don't you EVER misrepresent what I'm about" and stormed off stage. But then he comes back out for an encore--which, I assure you, the majority of the crowd wasn't clamoring for--and starts chatting about Midwestern football, like he'd forgotten that he was trying to pull off some badass tantrum about five minutes earlier. His wild behavior would have been enough, of course, but the thing that really made the show memorable was the fact that the audience just had NO idea how to react to it all. I couldn't tell if people were there for nostalgia, if this is what's left of his legitimate fan base in Chicago, if they were just rubberneckers who stayed to watch the trainwreck after the Eagles of Death Metal set, or if, as I posted to my Twitter, shows at the House of Blues are actually designed for people who hate music. In general, people started streaming out of the venue after a handful of songs, so the band was playing to maybe a 45% full house by the end of the night. But one dude shouted out about a quarter of the way into the set "YOU USED TO BE A ROCK STAR!!" like, with genuine anger. It was wild. And I'm sooo glad I went!