FRAMED
Cinescene writers and friends pick their favorite films of 2008.

Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park was the surprising favorite this year, but the rest of our picks were all over the map. Thanks to all who contributed!
-- the Editor.
Chris Dashiell
Alex Ellerman
Haraldur Jóhannsson
Chris Knipp
Lisa Larkin
Scott McGee
Ed Owens
Les Phillips
Shari L. Rosenblum
Howard Schumann
Shannon Scott


Howard Schumann


1. Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt).

Hoping to find a job in a fishing cannery in Alaska, Wendy (Michelle Williams), a drifter in her twenties, travels to the Pacific Northwest from her home in Muncie, Indiana with her most endearing companion, a golden Labrador Retriever named Lucy. Wendy and Lucy is set near the Oregon/Washington border in a small town that, with its roadside strip malls, gas stations, car repair garages, and convenience stores, is reflective of rural American cities and towns that have lost the character that once made them unique. Like her 2006 film Old Joy, the film combines an intimate personal story with a reflection of the malaise felt in the country today, Wendy’s economic hardship typical of people adrift in a society in which they no longer feel a part.

2. Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant).

Van Sant has fashioned a poetic and heartbreaking film that pulsates with the truth of deeply felt experience. Paranoid Park refers to a skateboarding park in Portland, Oregon used by lonely, disaffected teenagers who congregate there each day to skate or just hang out. The film, however, is not about the skateboarding subculture but about one boy’s interior journey and how he interacts with his inner and outer demons. Alex (Gabe Nevins), a shy, almost passive 16-year-old teenager, has a lot on his plate. Though he has the optimistic cherubic looking face of a young Bob Dylan, on closer look his face conveys a world lacking in emotional security or intellectual curiosity, a life torn by the impending divorce and apparent disinterest of his parents. As if that wasn’t enough, he must also come to grips with his involvement in the bizarre death of a railroad security guard that occurs close to the skateboarding facility where he often visits with his best friend Jared (Jake Miller).

3. Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle).

Slumdog Millionaire is the feel-good story of an orphaned, street-wise young man trying to make it big on India’s version of the TV show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire while hoping that the girl he has loved since childhood is watching. Slumdog reflects the chaos of Mumbai, India where it was filmed. Submerging the viewer in a cacophony of color and sound, the camera swoops and swirls in an often dizzying pace, taking us from the desolation of back alleys and garbage dumps to modern high rises and the fantastic beauty of the Taj Mahal. With headlines telling us daily that the economy is sinking and that climate change threatens our very existence, a film that is a pure celebration of life is welcomed with a grateful heart.

4. The Secret of the Grain (Abdelatif Kechiche).

Winner of best picture, director, screen play and actress at the 2008 Cesar Awards, the only secret in the Tunisian-born French director Kechiche’s The Secret of the Grain is how the director manages to seamlessly weld together such disparate elements as the pleasures of great cooking, the problems faced by immigrants, and the desire to leave a legacy to children into a rich and satisfying experience. The picture is set in the French coastal village of Séte on the Mediterranean. The grain in the title refers to couscous, a diet staple of Tunisian immigrants and a dish that Slimane Beiji (Habib Boufares), a laid-off shipyard worker, hopes to use to fulfill his dream of turning a dilapidated old boat into a fish couscous restaurant. Secret of the Grain is an astonishing tour de force, and the opening of the restaurant combines exuberant delight, sensual pleasure, and a perilous risk that threatens to undo all the hard work and good will.

5. Chop Shop (Ramin Bahrani).

Alejandro (Alejandro Polanco), called Ale for short, works at an auto-body repair shop in what has come to be known as the Iron Triangle, a deteriorating twenty block stretch of auto junk yards and sleazy car repair dealers close to Shea Stadium in Queens, New York. For all its depiction of bleakness, Chop Shop is not a work of social criticism but a poignant character study in which a young boy’s survival is bought at the price of his innocence. The film’s focus is on the charming, street-smart 12-year-old Ale, who lives on the edge without any adult support or supervision other than his boss (Rob Sowulski), the real-life proprietor of the Iron Triangle garage. In Chop Shop, Bahrani has provided a compelling antidote to the underdog success stories churned out by the Hollywood dream factory, and has given us a film of stunning naturalism and respect for its characters.

6. Boy A (John Crowley).

Boy A is a powerfully gripping film about what happens when we fail to forgive ourselves for wrongdoing and give society the opening to move in and assuage our guilt. As Jack (Eric) Burridge, a man recently released from prison at the age of twenty four for a murder he helped commit when he was ten years old, Andrew Garfield (Lions for Lambs) turns in a superb acting performance, one that, in an ideal world, would be a shoo-in for a Best Actor Oscar nomination. Garfield is outstanding in allowing his vulnerability to show and his changing moods to reveal the tightrope on which he is walking. Boy A is a compassionate and disturbing film that affected me deeply. Though it has moments of pathos, it is not without grace. We cling tenaciously to those moments of transcendence, sensing that they might be fleeting, but knowing that they will never be forgotten.

7. The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin).

Forgiveness, redemption, repentance, and connection form interweaving themes of Fatih Akin’s complex and multi-layered film The Edge of Heaven. Titled On the Other Side in German, the film is primarily character-driven but is shaped by political, cultural, and family conflict that illuminate the struggle between first and second-generation Turks and Germans and their loneliness in exile. Though The Edge of Heaven is a realistic drama, shifts in the timeline and dreamlike visions introduce surreal touches that serve to enhance its intensity. With this film, 34-year-old Akin has vaulted into the elite group of international directors whose work has a universal appeal. The Edge of Heaven will have you applauding not only for an emotional power reminiscent of Kieslowski, but for its message of forgiveness and empathy, offered without pandering or sentimentality.

8. XXY (Lucía Puenzo).

Adapted from a short story by Sergio Bizzio, XXY, a film by Argentine director Lucía Puenzo, is the story of a fifteen year old girl born with genitalia characteristic of both male and female. Puenzo, daughter of Luis Puenzo who directed The Official Story, avoids sensationalism while crafting a deeply touching and poignant coming of age story about the pain of growing up without truly knowing who you are. Winner of the Critics Award at the Cannes Film Festival, XXY features an extraordinary performance by Inés Efron who manages to build empathy for her character while turning it into a universal statement about all adolescents’ search for acceptance.

9. Man on Wire (James Marsh).

On the overcast morning of August 7, 1974, New York City pedestrians stopped in their tracks to see what looked like an apparition, a man literally walking in the sky. It was not a ghost, but Philippe Petit, a former circus performer turned tightrope artist who magically traversed the 200 feet between the newly constructed Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on a wire cable, a quarter of a mile above the street. Not only did he walk across the wire eight times in forty-five minutes, but he lay down in the middle, unbelievably looked to the ground, and did a mocking dance to entertain the police waiting on either end. That achievement has been recreated in James Marsh’s documentary Man on Wire, a compelling film that uses interviews, photos, archive footage, and black and white re-enactments to capture the event. Though we know that Petit survives, the thrill of seeing the feat accomplished is breathtaking.

10. Doubt (John Patrick Shanley).

Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) is a strict taskmaster at a private school in the Bronx. The priest is Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who is the closest thing to a progressive at the school. Suspicious of Father Flynn, Sister Aloysius assigns Sister James (Amy Adams) to keep an eye peeled for anything unusual in his conduct and her fears seem to be justified when Sister James reports that Father Flynn had a private meeting in the rectory with the school’s only African-American student, who was upset after the meeting. Based on Shanley’s personal experiences at Catholic School, Doubt explores the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church as well as conservative versus progressive religious values and how far one can rely on suspicion in the absence of proof. The film avoids easy answers and challenges us to view inflammatory issues from a broader perspective, embracing the essential mystery of human behavior.

11. Milk (Gus Van Sant).

Ignoring the experimental dream-like cinema that marked Elephant, Last Days, and Paranoid Park, director Gus Van Sant uses conventional biopic techniques to depict the life of Harvey Milk, the San Francisco entrepreneur who became the first openly gay man elected to public office. While Milk is a message movie that unabashedly promotes a point of view, it transcends didacticism to become a human statement about the struggle of all people to achieve dignity, acceptance, and basic human rights, and its depiction of the torchlight parade of 30,000 people to San Francisco City Hall on the night of Milk's assassination is a magic moment. The film begins and ends with Milk expressing his love for another human being, making a statement that the success of the gay rights movement will be ensured only when people are seen as human before they are seen as gay or straight.

12. Roman de Gare (Claude Lelouch).

A young woman, Huguette (Audrey Dana), is dumped at a gas station by her fiancé on the way to her parent’s farm in the French Alps. Stalked by an intriguing older man, Pierre Laclos (Dominique Pinon), who is also a magician, she accepts a ride with him to the South of France. Roman de Gare translates as "airport novel," a book you might read on a trip and then toss when you arrive at your destination, but the film is more than just lighthearted fluff. It is a smart and very enjoyable suspense caper that is about pretenses and appearances and who we really are behind our masks. Lelouch has fashioned a tale of intrigue and deceit with a vibrant energy that bubbles along with the style of a plot-driven Hitchcockian film of the sixties.

13. Tricks (Andrzej Jakimowski).
[unreleased]

Stefek is a bright and very observant six-year-old boy who lives with his teenage sister Elka (Ewelina Walendziak) and their mother (Ilona Fornalczyk) in a Polish village outside of Warsaw. Stefan has never seen his father (Tomasz Sapryk) who abandoned the family before he was born, but from a defaced picture in his wallet he thinks he recognizes him as a man boarding the train each morning. Tricks is one of those rare films that you wish would never end. Winner of the Europa Cinemas Film Festival, it is a delightful blend of sensitivity, intelligence, humor, and magical realism that transforms the simple truths of childhood into cinematic poetry.

14. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh).

30-year-old Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is an optimistic primary school teacher who wants everyone to be happy and is relentless in pursuing her goal, even to the point of being downright annoying. As we get to know Poppy, however, we discover that beneath her bubbly enthusiasm, there is a three-dimensional woman with a heart who understands how people tick. Happy-Go-Lucky is more of a slice-of-life character study than a film with a coherent narrative, yet it is a rich and rewarding experience that sparkles with genuine emotion and intelligence. Sally Hawkins makes you believe not only in her own goodness, but in the idea that we can truly relate to each other in a way that makes us more deeply connected. When asked about her reaching out to others, Poppy simply replies “That’s what mates do.” Life can be so simple.

15. Charly (Isild Le Besco).
[unreleased]

In twenty five-year-old director Isild Le Besco’s Charly, a loquacious streetwalker helps Nicholas (Kolia Litscher), a fourteen-year-old runaway, get his life together by pushing him to complete routine household tasks. Charly is a tender, totally honest, and completely believable look at two people who need each other but are unable to communicate. Shot in a format that does not even fill up a normal movie screen, let alone widescreen, the actors are mostly silent and the camera does not move very much, yet the film is never static or dull. Julie-Marie Parmentier’s performance as Charly makes the film come alive, especially in the sequence when the two read aloud from a Wedekind play and act out crying and beating each other, perhaps the nearest thing to intimacy that each is capable of.

16. Momma’s Man (Azazel Jacobs).
17. The Last Mistress (Catherine Breillat).
18. The Duchess of Langeais (Jacques Rivette).
19. Sugar (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck).
20. Pete Seeger: The Power of Song (Jim Brown).

Most Disappointing Films of 2008:
Definitely, Maybe
There Will Be Blood
Encounters at the End of the World
Revolutionary Road
The Reader

Chris Knipp

Though year's-end arrivals like Frost/Nixon, Doubt, Rachel Getting Married, Happy-Go-Lucky and the Cinderella surprise Slumdog Millionaire are impressive award contenders, nothing hit me in late 2008 as No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood did the year before, or had that unmistakable stamp of Great Movie on them. So I'd like to step away from the game of lining up the year's "best" for a moment and first highlight some films I especially care about.

Technically US releases for the most part, these were hard to see outside the festival circuit or NYC. Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light, about adultery in a Mennonite community, is haunting and magical; it confirms that this still relatively little-known Mexican is one of the most distinctive and gifted directors working in the world today. Steve McQueen's Hunger astonished me; I'd never heard of this young Black UK artist. His first film about the Irish nationalist Bobby Sands's struggle to the death is as artistically elegant as it is emotionally strong--a stunning debut. Lance Hammer's Ballast was made with local first-time actors in the Mississippi Delta. It's the American indie debut of 2008 with the most integrity and authenticity.

Other personal "prejudices" make me single out Gus Van Sant, Tarsem (Singh), and some new French films. Van Sant's Milk is another gay mainstream movie milestone, like Brokeback Mountain, and that's important to me as a gay person. Let's also remember that Van Sant's 2007 Paranoid Park, another of this most high-profile American gay directors' artistic visual poems about death and boyhood, and the most accessible of the stylized quartet that includes Gerry, Elephant, and Last Days, also technically had its US theatrical release this year. Tarsem (Singh)'s generally overlooked The Fall, a multiple-location, exquisitely-costumed dream vision, is a rare feast of visual exotica that puts middlebrow high-tech slogs like Benjamin Button to shame.

France still produces great movies, and I admit I'm very partial to them: The Class, A Christmas Tale, Summer Hours (not a US release), and The Secret of the Grain are all fine, and movingly full of a sense of family, culture, and society. But it's Christophe Honoré's Love Songs, a film about young people in love and in mourning in the Bastille quarter of Paris, that went beyond admiration and became a real personal fetish of mine. Mark Olsen wrote in Film Comment that "Christophe Honoré's films aren't just films you like; you develop little crushes on them." That's true for me, at least this time. A very post-Jacques Demy French film musical, it really is something a lot of Americans don't seem to "get." At the Lincoln Center screening, a number of press people shook their heads and said it was terrible. Fortunately all of these recommendations of mine can be enjoyed on DVD away from critics and head-shakers. And when the Oscars are over, we'll see what matters most.

Some other notes: Documentaries continue to be in far richer supply than in the past. So many are worth a look, it's impossible to list them all. Taxi to the Dark Side is the one essential one. The horrors perpetrated by the old regime aren't going to go away just because of a charismatic new leader: let Alex Gibney's film be a reminder of the grim legacy. In contrast, quite apolitical and even indifferent to matters of legality, Man on Wire is a movie whose exhilarating finale moved me more than any other "real" footage this year.

Below are my formal lists, but I have not tried to give out prizes. You may be sure that they all contain the highest accomplishments in all fields, including acting. A few memorable performances came in films that aren't so special, notably Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, Clint Eastwood in his own Gran Torino, and of course, the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

 

 


Silent Light

 

 


Hunger

 

 


Milk

 

 


The Fall

 

 


Love Songs

 

 


Taxi to the Dark Side

 

 


Heath Ledger



Ballast

 




Alexandra




The Flight of the Red Balloon




Patti Smith: Dream of Life

 

 



Trouble the Water

English and American Directors:
Ballast (Lance Hammer)
The Fall (Tarsem Singh)
Frost/Nixon (Ron Howard)
Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh)
Hunger (Steve McQueen)
Milk (Gus Van Sant)
Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant)
Rachel Getting Married
(Jonathan Demme)
Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle)
WALL·E (Andrew Stanton)

Best Foreign:
Alexandra (Alexandr Sokurov)
A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin)
The Class (Laurent Cantet)
The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin)
The Flight of the Red Balloon
(Hou Hsiau-hsien)
Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson)
Love Songs (Christophe Honoré)
The Secret of the Grain
(Abdelatif Kechiche)
Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas)
Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas)

Best Documentaries:

American Teen (Nanette Burstein)
The Betrayal: Narakhoon (Ellen Kuras)
Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story
(Stefan Forbes)
Constantine's Sword (Oren Jacoby)
Man on Wire (James Marsh)
Patti Smith: Dream of Life
(Steven Sebring)
Stranded: I Come from a Plane That Crashed in the Mountains
(Gonzalo Arijon)
Surfwise (Doug Pray)
Taxi to the Dark Side (Alex Gibney)
Trouble the Water
(Carl Deal & Tia Lessin)

Most Overrated:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
Frozen River


Les Phillips

A seven best list (in no particular order):

The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky).
An intimate, lovingly naturalistic account of human despair, with a wonderful star performance. I can't go on, I'll go on.

Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant).
Last Days and Elephant were beautiful but formless. There's a story here, with more than blankness to relate to. Spare, honest, and also shapely.

Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes).
Terrific acting, acting that's bigger than the story, but true to it.

Funny Games (Michael Haneke).
"Ciao bella."

Tell No One (Guillaume Canet).
An energetic, inventive suspense story, full of twists and technical virtuosity; it feels like you get two or three films for your money.

Synecdoche, New York
(Charlie Kaufman).

This may go down as one of the great messes in cinema history. Charlie Kaufman's reach exceeds his grasp. But what a big, beautiful vision.

Rachel Getting Married
(Jonathan Demme).

Jonathan Demme found a fine idiom for a fine script. I forgave the ending.

 



The Wrestler




Revolutionary Road



Tell No One

 


Rachel Getting Married

Ed Owens

If anything defined 2008 for me, it was disappointment. Too often I found myself on the losing side of popular movies that garnered much critical acclaim. There were exceptions to be sure (just check out the list below), but over and over again I left wondering just what all the fuss was about (Doubt features some great performances, sure, but it's also one of the most heavy-handed films in recent memory; Slumdog Millionaire is good, but the framing device grows rather tiresome and the last 20 minutes is the very definition of forced and contrived). Maybe that's why my list stops just short of 10. Here, in alphabetical order, are not my favorites (in fact, I'm still not sure I like one of them in particular), but the films that occupied my thoughts the most or stayed with me the longest after they were over.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu).
A study in self-assured pacing and direction from Mungiu that is compelling even in the absence of action. Fantastic performances make nimble work of some difficult material.

Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry).
Yes, Gondry's farcical fable (or is it a fabulous farce?) is a flawed mess of jaw-dropping proportions, but it's also one of the few movies that I was truly caught off-guard and charmed by.

A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin).
A film that manages to be simultaneously profound and superficial, impenetrable and accessible, entertaining and irritating, Desplechin's frustratingly fascinating portrait of familial dysfunction sticks with you long after its lengthy running time has expired.

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan).
Nolan's follow-up to the stellar reboot that was Batman Begins is an unflinching look into the psychology of hero and villain wrapped in a dense story that follows its characters literally to hell...though not necessarily back. Heath Ledger's performance is phenomenal and the film overall is superbly directed if a tad overambitious.

Encounters at the End of the World
(Werner Herzog).

Herzog's travelogue-like documentary explores Antarctica (specifically the headquarters of the National Science Foundation) in a jaw-dropping dreamscape that is both beautiful in its artistry and baffling (occasionally) in its eccentricity.

Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh).
Sally Hawkins is delightful as the interminably jubilant Poppy surrounded by broken people in Leigh's charming and thought-provoking film.

Man on Wire (James Marsh).
This fascinating documentary about Phillipe Petit's tightrope walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center is both a thrilling analysis of the act itself (dissected by Petit and some of his co-conspirators) and a consciously dream-like (and haunting) meditation on aspirations and dreams in general.

WALL·E (Andrew Stanton).
Pixar's pitch-perfect film about a love-struck robot is more than just a cautionary tale against the excesses of runaway consumerism; at heart, it's a paean to the movies themselves, showcasing a passion for cinema and the cinematic that all but demands multiple viewings.

The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky).
Mickey Rourke's performance is absolutely fearless and, in my opinion, without rival even in a year of great performances, one that director Aronofsky makes the most of with long takes and a restrained style (not his trademark) that turns this portrait of a broken man into something hauntingly and achingly beautiful.

Shari L. Rosenblum

This year, I think, more than ever, I was looking for a little humanism in my films. Here's where I found it:

P.S. I Love You (Richard LaGravenese).
A trifle, perhaps, from a book I could barely make it through for the saccharine, the film lifted me and brought me to tears, made short work of my contempt for clichés, and diminished my distaste for Hilary Swank, whose rough edges are the ideal corrective for LaGravanese's melodramatic excesses. Forget its 39 rating on Metacritic, forget that even critics who warmed to it treated it with disdain, every woman, at least, should put it on the shelf for late night viewing and catharsis. Destined to be a delayed classic of the Overboard / Must Love Dogs genre, the film centers around a faith in love, a very nice assortment of very (very) nice-to-look-at men (including some of my personal favorites: Oz's Ryan O'Reily, Buffy's Spike, Grey's Denny, and King Leonidas himself), lasting friendships, mother-daughter bonding, finding oneself and moving forward.

Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman).
An animated (explicitly not rotoscoped) documentary from Israel about war and memory, Waltz with Bashir (the moral premises of which I share, the political premises of which I do not) captured me in its opening moments and shook me to the core. Introspective and incendiary, its self-criticism is far less interesting than its investigatory tack, and reveals even in ways it does not intend the way experience shapes remembrance. The film goes wrong in the final moments, both for its own logic and for my tastes, but the skill of what comes before is utterly breathtaking.

Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh).
Subtle may not be the best way to describe Leigh's most recent film, which sort of dawdles around London with its heroine, a kindergarten teacher whose upbeat rhythms and easy smile seem at first naive, and then border almost on the twee...until we get to look more closely at just how hard it is...not to be happy, but to care and still stay happy. Unrushed in its unfolding, the film is focused more on its center than on its ending, which feels exactly right. Deceptively light, profoundly touching, and utterly humane.

The Band's Visit (Eran Kolirin).
A small Egyptian band winds up in a small Israeli desert village, miles from the Tel Aviv suburb for which it was headed, and dry, ironic, understatement ensues. The overt politics are very overt (the name of the town to which they were going translates into "Gate of Hope;" the town at which they mistakenly arrive is "House of Hope") -- the less-so gurgle from beneath the surface obtrusively -- and yet, and yet...there is something so unself-consciously earnest in the telling, with moments of unmitigated sweetness, that it refreshes even with the familiar: eager idealism punctuated with wry observation.

Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant).
Another exploration of adolescents in mortal crisis from Van Sant. For all of the potential clichés it travels through, the film seems to land on none. It feels fresh and honest and heartbreaking and it captures the voice (and voicelessness) of adolescence with eerie perfection. Van Sant's camera's caress of the young man is less predatory here than I've found it in some of his other works...it brought me into the embrace, rather than exclude me from it. It made me want to hug the boy, to lead him to the human connections he needed...to shake the people around him. The police watch, the parents drift in and back, the girls dance through overly conscious and seeking to interpret, and in the background haunting, moving music. Truly beautiful, truly sad, and truly heartfelt for all its stylistic quirks.


Scott McGee

2008 was remarkable...for the number of films I didn't see. Below are some notes on ones I actually saw, for one reason or other.

Quantum of Solace (Mark Forster).
A solid follow-up to Casino Royale, with some sly filmic allusion (the main villain's goal to steal water carries shades of Chinatown...is it just me or does Mathieu Amalric favor Roman Polanski?). I am baffled by the mixed reaction to the film. It continues to keep me guessing just what Bond is going to do next; I hadn't cared for at least 20 years.

Burn After Reading (Joel & Ethan Coen)
Also baffled by the mixed reaction. I looked at it as the kind of screwball comedy that Stanley Kubrick would've made.

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan).
One of the two best films I've seen this year, and one of the few blockbusters Hollywood has made recently that not only means something, but actually matters. If the Academy truly wants to continue recognizing excellence, then this should've snagged a Best Picture nomination, "comic book" genre be damned. (Historical note: another comic bookish movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, was nominated for Best Pic in '81.)

Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood).
Another chapter in Clint Eastwood's demonstration that he's just now making some of his best work. It's also another critical response to his own tough-guy past. Eastwood is nothing if not honest about himself. The song that plays over the end credits is quite good; too bad the Academy's new rules prohibit it from being nominated...

WALL·E (Andrew Stanton).
The other best film I saw in '08. It, too, should've been considered for Best Picture. It is sublime. Oscar has further proved its obsolescence.

Cloverfield (Matt Reeves).
The shaky cam was not only tolerable, it actually served the story, instead of being simply a means to an end. Nice tension building. And it was a gutsy way to end the film. I kinda hope that they don't make a sequel.

Tropic Thunder: I was late to this (I hate being late), so my overall reaction to it may have been discolored by that. It was good, but not great. Also, Ben Stiller bugs me. But Robert Downey, Jr. is an inspired lunatic. So happy that guy has returned from his personal abyss.

Mamma Mia!: Haven't seen the stage musical, but I felt the film version lacked. I don't think a straight adaptation from stage to film is entirely successful when pretty much all points of exposition are sung. It's not necessary. The film is watchable only because of Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried, and the location photography. Note to Pierce Brosnan: don't sing. Ever. (I do enjoy Abba's music though, immensely.)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: I had a dream back when I was a kid where Indiana Jones never woke up from that waking-zombie trance that he was subjected to in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Now under control of the agents of Evil, he was co-opted to be a puppet for other nefarious forces like Nazis and telemarketers. Little did I know that one of those agents would turn out to be George Lucas himself.


Alex Ellerman

1. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
(Nicholas Stoller).

This is the film I keep returning to in my mental "greatest hits" archive. Funny, sweet, and all-around wonderful, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the 2008 film I'll be happy to see again and again.

2. Hellboy II: the Golden Army
(Guillermo del Toro).

No one does "dazzling flights of the imagination" like Del Toro, and Hellboy II's amazing visuals and marvelous leaps of imagination stand as fine additions to the man's catalog. If for no other reason, see this film to see a man whose head is a castle. It's magnificent.

3. Kung Fu Panda
(John Stevenson & Mark Osborne).

The most beautiful film of the year, Kung Fu Panda is filled with images so gorgeous they've adorned my desktop for months. I can't wait to see this one again on Blu-Ray.

4. Leatherheads (George Clooney).
What a pleasure to enjoy two hours of snappy dialogue delivered by sharp, charismatic performers. This movie came out of nowhere to take my by very pleasant surprise.

5. Speed Racer (Andy & Larry Wachowski).
Come to think of it, I think I did see the Star Child appear during that final race.

6. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan).
Everything people have been saying about Ledger's performance is true. His Joker is haunting and queasily funny and absolutely unforgettable.

7. In Bruges (Martin McDonagh).
A dark, sad comedy about honor and loss and redemption and responsibility. I finally get the hype about Colin Farrell.

8. Cloverfield (Matt Reeves).
Ok, so it made two of the guys I went with throw up. Or maybe that was just the pre-film tequila shots. Whatever the reason, Cloverfield made that which is old new again, and did so making it very scary, the way it was when it was old.

9. Iron Man (Jon Favreau).
In the words of Jim Beaver, I'd watch Robert Downey, Jr. sand his baseboards. He's got his charisma dialed up to 11 in this one, and Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow dial it right up with him. What a fun
time at the movies.

10. You Don't Mess with the Zohan
(Dennis Dugan).

I laughed all the way through this silly, over the top comedy. I expected it rough and raucous, but was pleasantly surprised by silky smooth.

 

 



Forgetting Sarah Marshall

 

 



Hellboy II: the Golden Army

 

 


Kung Fu Panda

 

 


In Bruges

 

 

 


Iron Man

Lisa Larkin

From my meager viewing last year:

Wanted: from Russian director Timor Bekmambetov
(Night Watch, Day Watch), a wildly over-the-top comic book action movie. I enjoyed the hell out of it, even though the plot is patently absurd.

Let the Right
One In
(Tomas Alfredson).
One of the better films I saw last year, though rather overrated by the critics. The two children, especially the girl, were superb.

Hamlet 2 (Andrew Fleming).
Saw it at Comic-Con with an enthusiastic crowd, so I may have been more kindly disposed than if I'd paid to see it. I found it fun.

I would like to put in a word for two internet movies that I enjoyed quite a bit, both featuring Neil Patrick
Harris.
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: Joss Whedon's
writers' strike webmovie is fabulous, and I can't wait to pick up the DVD, which features Commentary! The musical.
Prop 8: the Musical: It's quite short, but nicely done, with a cast of dozens. Well, one dozen maybe, including Allison Janney, John C. Reilly, Andy Richter, Margaret Cho, Rashida Jones and Jack Black as Jesus.

Shannon Scott

The Visitor
(Thomas McCarthy).
I got to see this as the closing movie for the Atlanta Film Festival.
Atonement (Joe Wright).
Because I waited and saw it on the big screen at Atlanta's Fabulous Fox Theatre.
P.S. I Love You (Richard LaGravenese).
It did not get great reviews/ratings, but I found it quite charming and thoughtful.
Doubt (John Patrick Shanley).
The performances were outstanding.
Mama Mia! (Phyllida Lloyd) and
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
(Sanaa Hamri).
For scenery, music and fun.

Haraldur Jóhannsson

In alphabatical order:
The Bothersome Man (Jens Lien).
Cloverfield (Matt Reeves).
Frost/Nixon (Ron Howard).
Let The Right One In (Tomas Alfredson).
The Mist (Frank Darabont).
The Kite Runner (Marc Forster).
Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes).
Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle).
Tell No One (Guillaume Canet).
Tropic Thunder (Ben Stiller).
plus:
Mamma Mia! (Phyllida Lloyd)
I couldn't decide which movie to bump off for Mamma Mia, so I decided to make it an addition. I know a lot of folks hated this movie, and I totally understand all of those who did,
but ABBA and Scandinavian pop is so rooted in my culture that I would be lying if I said that I hadn't fallen for the film.

The very worst:
The Love Guru


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