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The Wackness

Director: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby, Famke Janssen, Mary-Kate Olsen, Jane Adams, Method Man

(Sony Classics; US theatrical: 4 Jul 2008 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 29 Aug 2008 (General release); 2008)

Review [22.Jan.2009]
Review [3.Jul.2008]


The Wackness Jonathan Levine

The Wackness is coming-of-age drama by way of stoner film, and if that sounds like it shouldn’t work at all… well, I’m tempted to agree. Instead writer/director Jonathon Levine leaves restraint behind, and the poignancy shines through the messy, weed-addled haze. Josh Peck is oddly endearing as Luke, a depressed teen dealing pot from a Manhattan push cart, whose most meaningful relationship involves a bong-worshiping psychiatrist somehow more confused than he is. The film’s true base, though, is the 1994 NYC that Levine paints: a surreal, purposefully dated fantasy world, dominated by Giuliani regulations, indie hip-hop cassettes, and laughable vocabulary (“man, that’s wa-ack “). Actually, the movie is mad dope. Zach Schonfeld

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Perfect Life

Wammei Shenhuo
Director: Emily Tang
Cast: Yao Qianyu, Cheng Taisheng, Jenny Tse

(US theatrical: 8 Nov 2008; 2009)


Perfect Life Emily Tang

Like Jia Zhang-ke’s seminal Platform at the beginning of this millennium, Perfect Life marks the arrival of a major new force to reckon with in world cinema. Emily Tang shares with Jia (who serves as producer and perhaps mentor here) a knack for seamlessly merging documentary and fictional modes of filmmaking in capturing contemporary Chinese life, but she plumbs this territory with more warmth and humor and narrative fluidity than Jia. Near the end of Tang’s film, we remain unsure of just what sort of movie it is we’re watching—a love story? A crime picture? A dark comedy, maybe? What we can be certain of is that we’ll be seeing more great things from this young filmmaker—hopefully sooner rather than later. Josh Timmermann

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Lost in Beijing

Director: Yu Li
Cast: Tony Leung Ka Fai, Dawei Tong, Bingbing Fan


Review [12.Jun.2008]


Lost In Beijing Yu Li

Despite its shaky camerawork and jagged editing, Lost in Beijing isn’t a gritty drama but a Dickensian tale about unexpected connections between different social classes. And while the film has its flaws (it introduces one of its characters as a rapist and later asks us to see him as a sympathetic family man), it’s a revealing portrait of Beijing’s newly created middle class. The characters celebrate the material pleasures they can now afford, but the movie slowly builds to an understanding of the spiritual cost of the country’s modernization. Banned in China for cutting a little too close to the bone, Lost in Beijing deserves to find a wider audience. Jack Rodgers

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Love My Life

Director: Kôji Kawano
Cast: Rei Yoshii, Asami Imajuku, Naomi Akimoto, Miyoko Asada, Kami Hiraiwa

(Love My Life Partners; US theatrical: 13 Jun 2008; 2009)


Love My Life Kôji Kawano

In the tradition of the Swedish film, Show Me Love and the American films, The Incredibly True Adventures of 2 Girls in Love, All Over Me, and Lost and Delirious, Love My Life is a notable film for 2008 not only because it is a beautiful, compelling film but also because of the dimension it brings to the genre of films about girls’ coming of age. With an “opposites attract” love story, this film explores the challenges of “gay love” as well as those of family, education, and life in general. Adapted from the Japanese magna “Love My Life” by Ebine Yamaji, with a soundtrack by indie-rock group, NOODLES, and starring Japanese supermodel Asami Imajuku, Love My Life is not only a touching film, but also a fusion of Japanese popular culture. Sarah Hentges

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The Class (Entre les murs)

Director: Laurent Cantet
Cast: François Bégaudeau, Rachel Régulier, Franck Keita, Esmeralda Ouertani, Nassim Amrabt

(Sony Pictures Classics; US theatrical: 19 Dec 2008 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 27 Feb 2009 (General release); 2008)

Review [21.Dec.2008]


The Class Laurent Cantet

The mock documentary format has been pushed to the limit as of late, but no version of the cinematic format has been as effective of François Bégaudeau and Laurent Cantet’s look at one teacher in an ethically diverse classroom. While fictional, this fact based look (shot over an entire school year and improvised by star Bégaudeau and the mostly amateur cast) at good intentions and unfulfilled promise breaks the convention of every manufactured motion picture cliché. Unlike the heroic instructors championed in such feel good farces as Stand and Deliver or Freedom Writers, Bégaudeau’s Mr. Farin faces a harsh reality all throughout the film—some students are unreachable, and some aren’t worth helping. Leave it to the French to find the flaw in America’s “No Child Left Behind” fallacy. Bill Gibron

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The Flight of the Red Balloon

Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge
Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Hippolyte Girardot

(Margo Films; US theatrical: 7 Oct 2007 (Limited release); 2007)


Flight of the Red Balloon Hsiao-hsien Hou

How ostensibly “light” can a film be while subtly mulling over history,  the idea of parenthood, points of cultural disconnect in the post-national world, and the medium of cinema in the digital age (including its director’s own distinctive approach to said evolving medium)? That’s what Hou Hsiao-hsien is evidently intent on finding out. If you’d contend that he already satisfactorily addressed the above query a few years ago, when he traveled to Tokyo to make Café Lumiere, well, you might not be wrong. But who turns down a trip to Paris? Or, for that matter, who declines a look at the City of Lights through the lens of Hou, arguably the active filmmaker most interested in light—in every sense of the word? Which is to say, why quibble? Josh Timmermann

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4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

Director: Cristian Mungiu
Cast: Adi Carauleanu, Luminiţa Gheorghiu, Vlad Ivanov, Anamaria Marinca, Alexandru Potocean, Laura Vasiliu

(BAC Films; Very limited release: 29 Sep 2007; 2007)

Review [13.Jul.2008]
Review [5.Feb.2008]


4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days Cristian Mungiu

An astringent nightmare, Cristian Mungiu’s film about a woman trying to have an illegal and dangerous late-term abortion in 1980s Romania somehow manages to be both unflinchingly precise and yet thoroughly empathetic from start to finish. Told from the perspective of Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) the best friend who risks everything, the film is a bottled-up exercise in moral accounting, as Otilia calculates exactly how much she will endure to help her friend see this through. Chris Barsanti

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My Winnipeg

Director: Guy Maddin
Cast: Darcy Fehr, Ann Savage, Amy Stewart, Louis Negin, Brendan Cade, Wesley Cade

(IFC Films; US theatrical: 13 Jun 2008 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 4 Jul 2008 (Limited release); 2007)

Review [13.Jun.2008]


My Winnipeg Guy Maddin

For filmmaker Guy Maddin, memory is subjective. It’s not always about fact; it’s about how our recollections define and reshape our current reality. With films like Brand Upon the Brain! and Cowards Bend the Knee, the crazed Canadian genius has turned his personal family history into a collection of silent movie references, Saturday matinee serial icons, and outrageous “psychological” precision. This look at his childhood in his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba is rich in ribald symbolism, allegorical artifice, and a heaping helping of his patented aesthetic surrealism. And yet thanks to the powerful performances by those he cast as his “family” (including a magnificent turn by the late great Ann Savage) we see the truth inside all the trickery. Bill Gibron

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In Bruges

Director: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, Jérémie Renier, Zeljko Ivanek, Eric Godon

(Focus Features; US theatrical: 8 Feb 2008 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 4 Apr 2008 (General release); 2008)

Review [8.Feb.2008]


In Bruges Martin McDonagh

Two hitmen wrestle with questions of morality, redemption, and honor among criminals. Their hotheaded crime boss seethes with rage. Lives collide in swift flashes of coincidence and violence, buoyed by a shockingly smart screenplay drenched in irony. Sounds like a certain 1994 Tarantino masterpiece, right? Wrong. Pulp Fiction is stylish and flashy, a jumble of pop culture references and instant quotability. In Bruges, however, is meditative yet sharp, dark humor (Martin McDonagh’s clever script betrays his playwright origins) punctuated with deep guilt. The final puzzle piece? Setting: the medieval beauty of Bruges, Belgium becomes a character of its own, like “being in a fairy tale”—a “fairy tale” with an awfully funny grip on karma… Zach Schonfeld

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Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in)

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar

(Magnolia Pictures; US theatrical: 24 Oct 2008 (Limited release); 2008)

Review [27.Oct.2008]


Let the Right One In Tomas Alfredson

Let the Right One In is an odd combination of coming-of-age story and low-key horror movie. Director Tomas Alfredson keeps his focus squarely on Oskar, the skinny 12-year-old who is constantly bullied at school and mostly ignored by his divorced mother. When Eli, a vampire girl who appears to be about Oskar’s age, moves into his apartment complex, the two strike up a tentative friendship. Despite Eli’s initial warning to Oskar that “I can’t be your friend”, the bond between the two continues to grow. Alfredson uses Eli’s vampiric nature to punctuate the film with brief bursts of blood and intentionally awkward action, but keeps most of her power under wraps until the final act. By setting the film in the stark, utilitarian suburbs of early ‘80s Sweden, Alfredson provides an excellent contrast to the lyrical, dreamy feel of Oskar and Eli’s relationship. This unique film was unfortunately buried under the tween-girl onslaught of Twilight, but it is not to be missed. Chris Conaton

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