Best Films of 2008

1 01 2009


Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/Netherlands

Silent Light, Best Film of 2008


1. Silent Light Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/Netherlands
2. Hunger Steve McQueen, U.K.
3. Opera Jawa Garin Nugroho, Indonesia
4. Gomorrah Matteo Garrone, Italy
5. Happy Go Lucky Mike Leigh, U.K.
6. Let the Right One In Tomas Alfredson, Sweden
7. Flight of the Red Balloon Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan/France
8. Milk Gus Van Sant, U.S.
9. Vicky Cristina Barcelona Woody Allen, Spain/U.S.
10. Rachel Getting Married Jonathan Demme, U.S.
11. Man on Wire James Marsh, U.K.
12. Chop Shop Ramin Bahrani, U.S.
13. Paranoid Park Gus Van Sant, U.S.
14. Big Man Japan Hitoshi Matsumoto, Japan
15. Wendy and Lucy Kelly Reichardt, U.S.


Best Repertory Films in Portland of 2008

14. Shaolin Vs. Wu Tang Chia Hui Liu, Hong Kong, 1984    Shaolin Vs. Wu Tang

Compared to the canon of first generation Hong Kong action films, this one is somewhat obscure unless you follow the genre with a certain zeal. I never would have know about it otherwise had it not been for the Grindhouse programming at The Hollywood Theatre. Apparently, it is nearly impossible to find a widescreen version of this film on DVD or VHS, so this was a real treat to see on one of the biggest screens in Portland. Its balletic and inventive Kung Fu action was breathtaking and the theatrical opening credits rivaled the imagination of Garin Nugroho, the brilliant Indonesian director of this year’s Opera Jawa. If you are a fan of Kung Fu action, and you get the chance to see it on the big screen, see it.


13. Ice Robert Kramer, U.S., 1970  

Ice “This film coolly extrapolates twenty years into the American future to discover  urban guerillas in the streets and glass-and-marble buildings of New York, at  war against a fascist regime,” writes Amos Vogel, author of Film as a  Subversive Art. “Directed by a leader of the radical-left documentary film group  ‘Newsreel’, it also hints at the human limitations of its heroes and displays an  ideologically interesting ambiguity (if not sadness) toward them; significantly,  all talk about ideas and causes has been superseded by discussions of tactics      and terror, as if the revolution was merely a matter of efficient technology.”

     What made this one of the best screenings of the year was the secretive location of Cinema Project; four rickety flights of stairs overlooking W. Burnside where the audience huddled together next to space heaters making the experience all the more illicit and the film, rarely screened in the U.S. upon its completion, all the more contraband. Additionally, participants in the film attended the screening. Long live the microcinema!!  


12. After Hours Martin Scorsese, U.S., 1985

After Hours

A Scorsese film that is rarely ever screened and has more in common with the absurd tales found in Czech cinema of the Sixties than any of the films in Scorsese’s oevre, After Hours played for one week at The Clinton Street Theater and I saw nearly every screening. My favorite film and the one that fueled my passion for cinema.


11. Streets of Fire Walter Hill, U.S., 1984
(tie) Krull Peter Yates, U.S., 1983 streetsoffirewillem460

These two films played contiguously at The Laurelhurst and though not particularly good films, they shared the same deliciously baffling flaws. Both shared a fairy tale story about saving a damsel in distress and both took place in the future despite their equally shambolic design of what the future will look like; Krull had spaceships but its heroes ran around in chiffon princess dresses and Robin Hood tights and Streets of Fire’s future looked an awful lot like American Graffiti. The latter had the advantage of two great songs composed by Jim Steinman.



10. Mønti Pythøn ik den Høli Gräilen Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones, U.K., 1975

holygrail166mj4 The Holy Grail is standard repertory fare and is frequently programmed,  usually as midnight screenings. But when The Laurelhurst played it, there was  something contagiously exuberant about the screenings, so much so that they  kept the film on for an additional week. There was one screening where a  handful of audience members brought little stuffed animal bunnies covered in  blood! Portland sincerely loves Python and sometimes its the audience that  makes the screening sensational.



9. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter Joseph Zito, U.S. 1984 6

There’s a burbling innocence to what was meant to be the last of the franchise, co-starring Corey Feldman and Crispin Glover (The first of the series co-starred Kevin Bacon). Moreover, the sexual play of the curious teens who later get sliced and diced is genuinely charming and funny as Crispin Glover attempts to dance his way into the heart of the girl of his liking and Lawrence Monoson gets high and giggles as he watches vintage porn from the Silent Era (on film). In fact, the people who survive Jason’s wrath have no sense of humor about themselves whatsoever, turning the morality tale of the horror genre on its head. And to top it all off, this is the film where we finally get to see Jason’s face and if that’s not enough, cute, little 13-year old Corey Feldman shaves his head and kills Jason himself! This is the best of the series and what a privilege to see this on a huge screen at The Broadway Metroplex.


8. The Super Inframan Shan Hua, Hong Kong, 1975


A Hong Kong tokusatsu-style superhero movie produced by The Shaw Brothers. Though the film was a rip-off of Japan’s Ultraman and even starred Bruce Le (the B-movie Bruce Lee), it was the first superhero movie made in China. Monsters are sent from the center of the Earth by Demon Princess Elzebub to take over the world but her plan is foiled when The Science Headquarters transforms an SH officer into the solar powered Inframan. Some of the rubber suited monsters are Fire Dragon, Spider Monster, Plant Monster, Drill Arm and Witch Eye who has an eye on her palms that shoots green beams of light. Inframan’s powers include Thunder Fists! Super psychedelic light show montages that were hypnotic and seizure inducing made this screening unforgettable.


7.  Jazz On A Summer’s Day Bert Stern, U.S., 1960

Photographer Bert Stern richly colored film focuses as much on the audience as it does the performers making this a very human and jubilant film. Performances by Thelonious Monk, Anita O’Day, Dinah Washington,Big Maybelle, Chuck Berry, Louis Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson. The screening was extended for an additional week and played in the main cinema at The Hollywood Theatre. Anyone who attended knew they had seen one of the main cinema events in Portland.


6. The Grindhouse Trailer Spectacular Various

Playing to a packed audience, The Hollywood Theatre played two hours of some of the greatest trailers ever made from the genre like Crippled Masters, Torso, Squirm and the killer house cat movie starring Peter Cushing and Ray Milland, The Uncanny. Most of these trailers are not available on any format other than 35mm film, so these screenings are special and enormously engaging. It’s screenings like this one which prove that cinema can blow the roof off of rock concerts.


5. The Party Blake Edwards, U.S. 1968


Blake Edwards is one of the greatest American directors of physical comedy and he choreographs his scenes for a very widescreen, often letting a scene playfully without a change of angle. The  print screened at The Laurelhurst was  practically pristine and presented in all  it’s CinemaScope glory. Hilarious, colorful, subversive and downright giddy.


4. Performance Nicholas Roeg, U.K., 1970   504954927_63b6b6d77f_o

Roeg’s innovative pop cinema debut starring Mick Jagger and James Fox played on two screens simultaneously at PSU’s 5th Avenue Cinema unintentionally mirroring the film’s theme of duplicity. The distributor could not get a 35mm print and so the theater manager offered the audience a choice to watch a 16mm print with sub par audio or a DVD video projection. Most of the audience chose the film print. What a coup!


3. Taking Off  Milos Forman, U.S., 1971

10kehr6001 Written by Forman, playwright John Guare and screenwriter for Jacques Tati  and Luis Buñuel, Jean-Claude Carrière, this film starred Buck Henry, John  Cassavetes’ veteran Lynn Carlin, Vincent Schiavelli (who played Mr. Vargas  in Fast Times At Ridgemont High) and cameos by Ike & Tina Turner and Carly  Simon, this was the first American film made by Czech director, Milos  Forman. This played at the Northwest Film Center’s Forman Retrospective  and was a new print with colors that exploded off the screen. Totally hilarious  as it thumbed its nose at the xenophobic bourgeoise who didn’t understand the new generation of youngsters. A true delight and a very rare screening indeed.


2. 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle Jean-Luc Godard, 1967


This film is not available on DVD and only available occasionally at specialty video stores on VHS. The Hollywood Theatre audaciously screened this during the same week as The Portland International Film Festival AND the first Supertrash, but it knew what it had; one of the all time masterpieces created by a giant of the Nouvelle Vague. Presented in a newly restored Eastmancolor anamorphic print on the main screen at The Hollywood, this film features one of the most iconic moments in Godard’s films of the Milky Way galaxy spiraling in a coffee cup. A special screening and one of the most affecting of the year.


1. Mad Love Karl Freund, U.S., 1935   lorre_madlove

In Paris, the great surgeon Dr. Gogol (played by Peter Lorre) falls madly in love with stage actress Yvonne Orlac, and his ardor disturbs her quite a bit when he discovers to his horror that she is married to concert pianist Stephen Orlac. Shortly thereafter, Stephen’s hands are badly crushed in a train accident- beyond the power of standard medicine. Knowing that his hands are his life, Yvonne overcomes her fear and goes to Dr. Gogol, to beg him to help. Gogol decides to surgically graft the hands of executed murderer Rollo onto Stephen Orlac, the surgery is successful but has terrible side-effects. Original, obscure, phantasmagorical, flamboyant and totally eerie, this was Lorre’s film debut and cinematographer Freund’s last attempt at directing and it was this Supertrash screening which demonstrated just how innovative Portland’s repertory programming can be.


Honorable Mention goes to The Derek Jarman Retrospective at The NW Film Center, Charles Laughton’s Night Of the Hunter at The Laurelhurst, The Exiles at Cinema 21 and Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake is Missing at The 5th Ave. Cinema.


– tenzis, pdxfilm




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