Neglected films of 2008

Posted on December 27, 2008 at 8:00 am

Before the year is out I’d like to mention some independent films that did not get much attention in 2008 but are worth a look. These are not easy to summarize because they don’t follow the usual formulas. Some of their messiness comes from a more authentic and complicated sense of the world, some comes from having a tiny budget and some comes from being new at the process of telling stories with film. But they include some of my favorite moments on screen this year.

Kabluey is the story of a hapless loser (writer/director Scott Prendergast) sent to help his over-stressed sister-in-law while his brother is stationed in Iraq. He gets a job of soul-crushing absurd pointlessness, standing on an all-but-deserted road in a suffocating costume, the logo of a failing business, handing out fliers that no one wants. The costume gets some unexpected reactions from the people he meets and he begins to think differently about the effect he has on people. This is not one of those heart-warming cuddle-fests but it has moments of piercing sweetness and unexpected hilarity.

Grace Is Gone John Cusack usually plays a hyper-verbal, high-strung character. But here, as a former soldier whose wife is killed in Iraq, he is someone who is so internal he cannot find the words to tell their two daughters what happened. He impulsively takes them on a road trip to a theme park. The two young actresses Shélan O’Keefe and Gracie Bednarczyk, give beautifully sensitive performances and there is an evocative score written by Clint Eastwood.

“Lifelines” One of the most exquisite images on screen this year was the lovely face of the brilliantly talented Jane Adams, who plays Nancy, the mother of a profoundly dysfunctional family in this film from first-time writer-director Rob Margolies (and originally titled “Wherever You Are”). Nancy and Ira (Josh Pais) bring their three angry and bitter children to a therapist (the always-marvelous Joe Morton) for a big announcement. In private meetings with each of the children, there are revelations that in another film might seem showy or melodramatic but a sure hand from Margolies and some exceptional acting from talented performers keep us involved and caring. The final twist is a bit too much but it is the mistake of a talented beginner and I very much look forward to seeing what Margolies does next.

And thanks to Dustin Putman for introducing me to “Kabluey” and “Lifelines.”

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