Looking back on 1968, writer Mark Kurlansky sounds more than just a little forlorn, calling it “the year that rocked the world” in his book by the same name. He is not alone in this sentiment; an entire class at the College devoted themselves to the matter last semester. In his Dec. 8 Confusion Corner column, Dan Piepenbring, characterized our generation as one inept at engaging “the worldwide malaise of 2007.”
p. Piepenbring is right. Enormous world events have occurred in the past year, and 2008 looks to be equally eventful. But frankly, I don’t care. While 2007 might have lacked a spirit of rebellion, it certainly excelled in one endeavor: making movies. Never before have so many engaging and entertaining films been made. Though 2007 wasn’t concidered a year for political revolution, it was certainly was a revolutionary year for film.
p. Perhaps it is appropriate that my two favorite movies of last year take place in a fantasy world. The first film is “Ratatouille,” the eighth release from the Pixar animation studio. What impressed me most about the film was the pacing. It’s a lot like Pixar’s previous film, “The Incredibles,” in that once “Ratatouille” gets going, the film continues at a sprinter’s pace. This is the tendency in animation, a medium with historically young audiences and limited lengths.
p. While earlier animated films, such as “Aladdin” or “Snow White,” may have simply pandered to younger audiences, “Ratatouille” is not so limited. Instead, the film struggles with issues like belonging and purpose in a way that would make any philosophy professor proud. The film’s length also makes it stand out from previous animated features; unlike the generally lengthier Pixar films: “Ratatouille” clocks in at a short 111 minutes. The film is also well-written, artfully animated, warmly acted and beautifully designed.
p. I will not claim that “Ratatouille” is unique in pushing animation into the realm of action film; directors like Walt Disney and Hayao Miyazaki started this movement. However, I will argue that the film does a nice job of creating a movie accessible to children and adults while remaining genuinely entertaining. This is no small feat.
p. My other favorite film of this past year, entitled “Away from Her,” takes place in the wintry wonderland known as Canada. In this freshman effort from Canadian director Sarah Polley, a husband struggles with the decision to institutionalize his wife while she fights her own battle with Alzheimer’s. Aside from the beautiful cinematography and the riveting preformances, the films barely impressed me at most. Polley examines the nature of love as it disintegrates along with her memory.
p. Polley, who adapted the screenplay from a short story entitled “The Bear Came over the Mountain,” does a nice job of organizing the film’s around scenes by emotional similarity, rather than chronologically. The organization of the film mimics the confusion that accompanies Alzheimer’s, while working to create a distinct viewing experience. Though the ending is heartbreaking, I left with a strange, warm feeling. What I thought was heartburn turned out to be happiness at the film’s acceptance of change, a revolutionary conceit.
p. Both films pushed the envelope of cinema, and many other films last year followed suit. The Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men” expertly recreated its period landscape. “Sweeney Todd” did a nice job of making gore funny. While this year was not devoid of bad cinema, for every dud there was at least one “3:10 to Yuma” or “Charlie Wilson’s War.”
p. Admittedly, 1968 was not a poor year for film either. Audiences of 1968 were treated to numerous now-classics, including “The Lion in Winter.” Though such films were revolutionary for their time, today’s cinema does not back down from pushing any proverbial envelopes. While “The Lion in Winter” did a nice job of presenting an aging couple, never did it examine aging as a concept, whereas “Away from Her” confronted the pains of aging as they wreck a shared life. Though both are powerful, the honesty of Polley’s film resonates with today’s audience.
p. I like quoting Dan Piepenbring, partly because I like quoting my own newspaper, but also because he writes well. In his column on 1968, Piepenbring wrote, “We of the so-called Q generation have a basic inability to empathize with humans other than ourselves.” Empathy must be learned, and where better for our generation to learn this skill than in the movies? I’m not saying that good cinema will end war or cure AIDS, but anything is worth a shot.
p. __James Damon is a Confusion Corner columnist. He wrote this column as a love letter to Dan Piepenbring.__