Moments Out of Time 2008

Images, lines, gestures, moods from the year’s films

By Richard T. Jameson & Kathleen Murphy

A Christmas Tale: In a house otherwise teeming with family, a black dog appears in the empty sitting room, then lunges out, curling the corner of the rug as it goes….

• In The Edge of Heaven, a brown ribbon of road glowing under the last shrinking patch of blue in a lowering, end-of-day sky…

• On a static-riddled miniature screen, and through the eyes of WALL•E, a scene from the 1969 Hello, Dolly takes on a grandeur it never had….

• Daisy (Cate Blanchett) dancing in silhouette on a backlit pavilion in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, her gorgeous youth and passion as yet too much for the middle-aged man (Brad Pitt) watching her

In Bruges: the twinkle and the glower: first views of the “Belgian s—hole” by, respectively, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell)…

‘In Bruges’

• With voluptuous abandon, The Dark Knight (Christian Bale) plunges off a Tokyo skyscraper into an ebony abyss … what the fall of God’s most beautiful angel must have looked like….

• “It’s very difficult for me to do everything in one shot. I’m 47 years old.”–But he just did it. Jean-Claude Van Damme in JCVD

• In Che, the most romanticized revolutionary ever (Benicio del Toro) staggers up a steep wooded hillside, wheezing with asthma….

Gran Torino: Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), in the act of rejecting more of that “gook food” from these Hmong women, pauses: “Is this that chicken dumpling thing?”…

• Randy the Ram (Mickey Rourke) in The Wrestler, self-styled “old broken-down piece of meat” in a shower cap, selling choice cuts in the deli…

• A scene of pastoral skinny-dipping suddenly turns cold and black with the threat of death, and in Tell No One nothing afterwards is as it seems….

• The way corrupt rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) guns down the sheriff at the beginning of Appaloosa, firing the fatal shot as casually as you’d swat a fly…

• The Joker (Heath Ledger) making a pencil disappear, The Dark Knight

• Wendy (the superb Michelle Williams) gazes helplessly from the backseat a cop car as her tethered golden Lab recedes from view—the first in a cascade of losses in Wendy and Lucy….• Sisters separated for fifteen years, Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Lea (Elsa Zylberstein) kill time when they sit down to play a piano duet: I’ve Loved You So Long

• A trolley, its windows leaking warm gold, curves through the blue twilight of a Bremen street, The Reader (Chris Menges is God … or is it Roger Deakins? In any event, the best-photographed movie of the year)….

Let the Right One In: At snowy evening, a man making its way home passes out of a tunnel, and the dark little creature Eli drops on him as if from above the screen itself….

• Stairway to the center of the Earth—The Fall

• Sharing God’s dispassionate POV in The Edge of Heaven, we look down into a hotel room where a mother (Hanna Schygulla) writhes on the floor, howling in grief….

• Back to the womb/tomb in A Christmas Tale: A sterile plastic hospital curtain separating them, Junon (Catherine Deneuve) teases her long-estranged, ever-loving son Henri (Mathieu Almaric), wondering whether her body will accept or reject his spinal marrow….

• Two Hansels and a Gretel in Revolutionary Road‘s suburban woods; the way April (Kate Winslet) blows off the electroshocked genius’s (Michael Shannon) terrible intellectual loss: “Mathematics are boring, aren’t they?”…• In I’ve Loved You So Long, Juliette missing the suicidal signal in her parole officer’s “There’s nothing here to hold me back” … one soul coming into safe harbor, the other sinking…

Snow Angels: estranged couple (Kate Beckinsale, the uncanny Sam Rockwell) settling into old marital ease as they are about to die…

• In Appaloosa, Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) throwing his arms around Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) to stop him from beating too long on the teamster; the hold restraining, but also soothing and settling…

• Richard Milhous Nixon (Frank Langella) disapproving of Italian shoes to his adversary-to-be David Frost (Michael Sheen): “You don’t think they look effeminate?” … Frost/Nixon

• Chatting up Spain-bound Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch) on the street outside his camera store, Harvey (Sean Penn) just beams at the perfectly adorable boy in oversized horn-rimmed glasses—Milk

Pineapple Express: Saul (James Franco) thanks Dale (Seth Rogen) for reminding him that he has a good job: he does nothing….

• Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and aquatic Abe (Doug Jones) joining in a drunken, lovelorn duet of Barry Manilow’s “Can’t Smile Without You”—Hellboy II: The Golden Army

• In The Promotion, John C. Reilly’s aria of comic desperation in which, as he speaks with some black civic leaders, the phrase “bad apples” takes an irretrievably ruinous turn…

Gran Torino: Walt, getting set to finish things, smoking in his bathtub eyed by his dog Daisy and sighing, “Let a man enjoy himself, will ya gal?”…

• A barroom meditation on how hiding out In Bruges is “all a bit over-elaborate”…

• Benjamin enjoys caviar at midnight in a silent Moscow hotel, growing younger and wiser in the company of an English adventuress (Tilda Swinton)—The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

• A long-awaited embrace in Eric Rohmer’s highly stylized Romance of Astréa and Celadon, when the almost accidental baring of a lovely breast takes your breath away with its erotic charge…

• Basking in the sexual heat of Juan Antonio’s (Javier Bardem) gaze across a restaurant, in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, two American girls (Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson) are seduced by the Spaniard’s frank and highly un-PC invitation to bed….

• Penélope Cruz as Goya’s Naked Maja—Elegy

• Bella (Kristin Stewart) smelling her armpits in chemistry class after Edward (Robert Pattinson) practically holds his nose every time she’s near—Twilight

• Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) and Tobey Maguire (Tobey Maguire) fingering each other’s rosaries in the forbidden-love preview pre–Tropic Thunder

• Emma Thompson demonstrating stiff upper lip, Last Chance Harvey

Burn After Reading: Chad Feldheimer’s last grin (Brad Pitt sublime)…

• “Hey, didn’t I see you on ‘Cops’?”—an unanswered question in Rachel Getting Married

• A perfectly chilling turn of phrase in Changeling: a serial killer of kids pulls up in an alley beside his latest prey to reassure the child, “Been lookin’ for you like crazy”…

• “I was a guard!”—the courtroom profession that instantly defines the literal and moral limits of Hanna Schmitz’s (Kate Winslet) imagination, and perhaps a nation’s, in The Reader

• A white poodle trots into a snowy forest of white-barked birches, to surprise a Renfield at work, draining blood from a living boy hung upside down from a branch … Let the Right One In

• Recurring nightmare in Waltz with Bashir: heads, then naked bodies, rising out of a predawn sea…

The Edge of Heaven: generations wiped by the incidental flow of traffic…

• As a hospital explodes in the background, a nurse sporting an obscene mask of white, black and red greasepaint totters in the street, gazing into the camera as though daring us not to get off on the way The Joker plays … The Dark Knight

• How, in Pineapple Express, Saul came to be driving the stolen police car with his foot stuck through the slushy-smeared windshield: “Kick out the window—isn’t that what they do?”…

Slumdog Millionaire: A kid covered in excrement gets an autograph from his favorite movie star, who has just descended from the heavens in a helicopter….

• In a dark subway, the first time we hear the flap of great wings—Max Payne

• A hummingbird at sea, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Happening: Mark Wahlberg delivering a monologue to a houseplant, just in case…

In Bruges: Ray exchanges a look of cosmic fraternity with a mangy, near-dead dog….

Frost/Nixon: On way out of an interview session, Nixon pauses to examine a small dog: “Is this what you call a dachshund?”…

• Clinging to the hull of the spacecraft carrying him who-knows-where, WALL•E taps on the window and points back at the receding Earth….

Appaloosa: From just outside the hotel entrance, Hitch spies Bragg fondling the nape of Allison French’s neck—the woman (Renée Zellweger) Hitch’s best friend loves….

The Edge of Heaven: a boat seen passing in the distant harbor, its horn sounding as Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska) finds the stashed gun on the roof…

Body of Lies: the guy who’s been framed as the new terrorist in town looking horrified into the video camera, as if straight at the real terrorist leader who will want him liquidated—and who sits watching on a monitor in the next room…

• In Tell No One, the husband (François Cluzet) types an URL on his computer and watches via a transit videocam as his supposedly dead wife (Marie-Josée Croze) rises up out of a Métro station and returns his gaze….

• Latika (Freida Pinto), in Slumdog Millionaire, seen distorted through opaque glass as Jamal (Dev Patel) reencounters her for the first time in years, at the local ganglord’s mansion…

• In Revolutionary Road, April stands in milky light with her back to us, gazing out her picture window as blood pools at her feet. Hats off to Douglas Sirk….

• Beneath swimming elephants, The Fall

• Drowned bodies from the sunken transport, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

• The shock cut from animation to actuality at the end of Waltz with Bashir

Appaloosa: Ultimate commentary on a Western gunfight: “That was over quick.” “Everybody could shoot.” Both men bleeding at the time…

• Well why didn’t ya say so!—”alcoves” vs. “nooks and crannies”: In Bruges

JCVD: the movie fan among the hostage-takers ripping on John Woo…

• “That was drivel—dribble!” Truer words were never spoken, in Burn After Reading….

Tropic Thunder‘s Kirk Lazarus/Robert Downey Jr.: “I don’t drop character till I done the DVD commentary.” (Nor did he!)…

• In Elegy, Dennis Hopper feeding breakfast egg to Ben Kingsley: “Here it comes, the train into the station, choog ka-choog ka-choog!”…

• A surge of floodwater lifts a discarded clock that ran backwards, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button….

• In A Christmas Tale, a trollish old man taking out the garbage watches his mad son climb down the side of the house … a fairy-tale prince escaping a sorceress’s castle….

• Ken sneaking fond, fatherly glances at Ray as the lad spiffs himself up for his big date—In Bruges…• An alabaster egg wrapped in Christmas lights: Eva and WALL•E gazing on the glory of a pollution-enhanced sunset…• Wendy and Lucy“: The somehow consoling and auspicious high road on the hill behind Wendy as she advances toward reunion with her dog—and a tender decision…

• The way Eastwood’s rough, whispery voice just peters out on the final melancholy line—”beats a lonely rhythm all night long”—turning Gran Torino‘s title song into elegy…

• “This is what she wanted, and this is what I want now”—Susanne (Hanna Schygulla) speaking to Ayten (Nurgül Yesilçay) through their mutual reflections on the visitors’-room window, The Edge of Heaven