090. Babel (Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 2006): Babel is a film about communication. Now, that may seem rather obvious considering the title is a reference to the biblical Tower of Babel, where God punished the builders of the tower by confusing their languages, so no one could communicate with anyone, but I've seen many references to this being a lesser Crash which, to me, completely misses the mark. There are four spoken languages, sign language, but, in the end none of it is sufficient. Only the viewer, with the aid of subtitles, has the opportunity to understand everyone. Most stunning, to me is the Japanese segment with Rinko Kikuchi delivering a splendid performance as the deaf-mute Chieko. It's the least obvious and explained segment, but takes on the most issues with Chieko's coming of age in a society that tends over-sexualize young women getting equal time with her suspicions of her father. The closing shot with Ryuichi Sakamoto's 'Bibo no aozora' playing with the shot of Chieko and her father on the balcony is too stunning for words.
089. Encounters at the End of the World (Directed by Werner Herzog, 2008): What separates Werner Herzog's stunning documentary from your standard nature doc, is Herzog's complete refusal to romanticize the images he shoots. He gives equal screen-time to the people who populate and work in the Antarctic, as the animals who dwell there. The beauty is in the psyches of these individuals: the immigrant from behind the Iron Curtain who keeps a bag packed so he's ready to escape at any instant and tears up at the thought of what he's witnessed; the woman who has travelled all over the world in various forms like a pipe in the back of a truck who can turn herself into her very own carry-on luggage; or the two scientists who celebrate their successes with a late-night jam session atop the roof of their headquarters. That's not to say he doesn't show poignant images of the animals. The undersea cinematography of the various beautiful and grotesque creatures beneath the sea is sensational, and there might not be a more haunting shot of any film from 2008 as when Herzog films a penguin getting disoriented and running away from its colony, likely on the path to certain death. A great film.