Down to the big three. But first, as usual, something else that happened this year that is worthy of a Best Of mention was a little phenomenon from the Whedon camp on teh interwebz. The Best Internet Thing That Didn't Happen on Spill Is...
This bizarro super villain romantic musical comedy stars Neil Patrick Harris as the dastardly and love struck Dr. Horrible, Nathan Fillion as the jock-asswipe superhero Captain Hammer, and Felicia Day as the red-headed (Cyrus's kryptonite, dontcha know) unrequited love interest for the wannabe-evil Doctor. It was released in three episodes adding up to a total of 43 minutes of a really funny musical comedy for geeks, albeit one with ONE HELL of a downer for an ending. I can only hope that some of the rumors I've been hearing about a part four being made are true.
The initially online only videos were an enormous success both online and with the subsequent DVD and soundtrack release. This project was so cool (and still available for free viewing online) that for the DVD they recorded all the commentary as an entire new musical score! I so totally have to get my hands on that.
Hopefully, this, as well as the videos on sites like Funny or Die, will lead to us seeing more experimental creator-controlled content on the internet popping up from bigger stars. It'll be interesting to see who out there has been holding back what they can really do. My bet is on Scarlett Johansson who will make ten ga-jillion dollars for whatever charity she's currently pimping for, by posting a pay-video of her boobs. Just watch. Somebody's gonna do it and I'll bet it's her. Or hope it's her. Whatever.
But now, the event you're actually here for, as opposed to hearing me suck Joss Whedon's dong for the umpteenth time, it's NUMBER THREE FOR 2008:
None of you saw that one coming I'll bet. This was a late viewing for me this year and I probably wouldn't have even gotten to the DVD they sent me for review yet if it wasn't for Leon's insistence that it was one of the best he'd seen this year. It's those 'difficult viewing' movies with a squirm factor that we mutually love. But I don't want to compare "Towelhead" to you with films like "Happiness" or "Hard Candy". It's the most honest look at the difficulties of being a post-pubescent/pre-adult young girl ever committed to film. AND it handles racism to boot. One thing that director Alan Ball, the writer of "Six Feet Under" and "American Beauty", has in spades here is giant brass balls. Maybe he should change his name to Alan Brass Balls.
Jasira (Summer Bishil) is a young Arab American girl who is sent to live with her dick of a father (Peter Macdissi) after her mother (Maria Bello) catches her stepfather shaving her pubes. It's Jasira's fault, according to her mother, for always "sticking her boobs out" at him. Right from the start, it's clear that you've got to take a deep breath and get ready for some complicated emotional stuff. Jasira's dad wants her to remain a little girl, as so many fathers wish their daughters would. He's harsh to the point of absurdity about it by the American standards that she's used to. She doesn't know how to deal with the awkward transfer to becoming a woman without any guidance, and with someone impeding it at every turn, going so far as to forbid her from using tampons instead of pads (for reasons entirely unclear to me). But nature will be nature and she can't help but start to feel attracted to both a classmate and a pervy, bigoted army reservist (Aaron Eckhart). Even with the eventual emotional support of liberal neighbors (Toni Collette and Matt Letscher) it's clear that there isn't going to be a simple solution.
Where "Towelhead" really succeeds is in the amazing adapted script, also by Ball, which is a masterpiece in subtlety. So much is said about the characters in the simplest ways that it's often easy to miss a moment that changes the entire impact of a scene. Needless to say, multiple viewings certainly would not go unrewarded.
It's of no great surprise that Ball's writing is absolutely perfect but the question is, how does he he handle his debut as a film director? He does just what a good director should: he gives his actors exactly the right cues to play even the subtlest points of the script and doesn't do more visually with the film than is really necessary. In the end, "Towelhead" is a bottle story, practically set within a cul-de-sac and the camera generally stays tight with the characters as is appropriate. It's all so INTENSELY personal. While there are a few familiar Ball 'flights of fancy', he doesn't overuse them at all.
Jasira is being pushed by some into becoming an adult too fast, being pulled back from the brink with anger by her own father, and her own body is telling her something else entirely. Eckhart's charcter calls her a "slut" for wanting to date a boy in her class and the boy himself calls her a "sand nigger" the first time he meets her. Everywhere she goes, people throw around sexual and racial epithets that quantify and qualify her in ways that she can't understand. She's not anything but a girl who is growing up and everything that comes with that. It's not easy to see this discussed with such frankness but it is important. "Towelhead" should be essential viewing for every girl going into that time of her life. Unfortunately, since it actually pulls no punches and tells the truth about human sexuality, it won't be.
Since this is also a notice for the DVD release, available now, you can buy Towelhead at the link.