PRINT December 2008


Karen Cooper


1* The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin) The brilliant German-Turkish director considers the surprising, even dangerous ways strangers may be drawn into intimate relationships and family members rendered unfathomable to one another. Starring Fassbinder muse Hanna Schygulla.

2 The Human Condition (Masaki Kobayashi) A black-and-white ’scope trilogy of epic proportions, originally released in Japan between 1959 and 1961, was given second life in the United States this past summer. A heartbreaking indictment of Japanese military brutality by a director who served six years in the Imperial Army.

3 Hunger (Steve McQueen) Minimal dialogue used to maximal effect. Maze Prison, Northern Ireland, 1981: IRA prisoners demand recognition as politicals. Their ostensible opponent, Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, is trumped (dramatically, at least) by a face-off between an implacable Bobby Sands and a sympathetic but equally intransigent priest.

4 John and Karen (Matthew Walker) A passive-aggressive polar bear apologizes to a testy penguin in this terse and witty three-and-a-half-minute animated interspecies romance.

5 Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine (Marion Cajori and Amei Wallach) The art-world doyenne, elegantly captured ruminating on the childhood traumas that have fueled her work for nearly a century.

6 Mad Men (Matthew Weiner, series producer and creator, AMC) The second season of the TV show only gets better. For evocative art direction and costuming, and hilariously un-PC behavior, Mad Men beats all. John Slattery as Roger Sterling oozes reptilian charm, and Jon Hamm as antihero Don Draper is a brilliant empty suit. Inspired by Richard Yates’s 1961 novel Revolutionary Road (the Hollywood adaptation of which premieres this Christmas).

7 Quarry (Richard P. Rogers) Working-class bodies glisten in the sun, swimming in an abandoned Massachusetts quarry, as they riff on their hardscrabble existence. The rock ’n’ roll sound track of this 1970 short (revived at this year’s New York Film Festival) packs a wallop, underscoring a hard-edged tension between violence and eroticism. Probably the sexiest and most oblique antiwar (as in Vietnam) film ever made.

8 Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas) Not-so-young Mennonites in love. Even the ultrareligious are unfaithful to their spouses. Glowing cinematography, understated acting by non-pros, and a sensibility that is both tender and hard-nosed.

9 Tulpan (Sergey Dvortsevoy) Set on the steppes of Kazakhstan, a drama of courtship, loneliness, and longing. Exotic location, universal appeal.

10 Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman) An animated documentary about Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in the mid-1980s and the Christian Phalangist massacre that followed. A limited palette effectively visualizes the recollections of the veterans—and of a psychotherapist who continues to administer to their cavernous psychic wounds—decades after the fact.

* in alphabetical order

Karen Cooper is the director of Film Forum in New York.