I invited some of my highly respected colleagues at “The
Phoenix” to send me their ten best lists (and worsts, if so inclined). Here are
a few responses.
1. My Winnipeg Meta-oneiro maestro Guy Maddin’s most personal launch into the
timeless void, and probably his simplest, and perhaps his most moving. A single
city hasn’t received an ambivalent valentine this lovely and inventive since,
well, maybe ever.
2. Ballast Lance Hammer’s Missisippi Delta debut brings the neo-neo-realist
syntax of the Dardennes brothers home to roost, and makes you hold your breath.
Couldn’t be any finer.
3. Wendy & LucyKelly Reichardt’s crowning feature (a homeless girl, a dog, a
small town in Oregon)
is much lean-indie ado about nothing and, of course, nearly everything. Sneaks
up on you like seizure.
4. Silent LightMexican troublemaker Carlos Reygadas dares to reinvent Dreyer,
and Ordet, among Mexican Mennonites. Physically gorgeous, pensively quiet, and,
after a week at MoMA in New York,
coming to an arthouse near you.
5. Still LifeJia Zhangke found the ultimate monolithic, life-changing metaphor
for modern Chinese life in the Three Gorges Dam, and the vast millennia of
history it’s obliterating inch by rising-water inch.
6. Waltz with BashirThe best Israeli film ever made? And a doc that’s also an
animated dream-film? And a direct address of the Sabra and Shatila massacres of
1982? And a cartoon that’s unlike any you’ve ever seen? Incredibly.
7. Flight of the Red BalloonHou Hsaio-hsien goes to Paris,
and brings essential Hou-ness with him. Who could complain?
8. The WrestlerBoth Darren Aronofsky and Mickey Rourke redeem themselves and
save their souls with this bone-chilling slice of life; what they’ll do next is
9. Synecdoche, New YorkMaddening, unenjoyable, doggedly pure-hearted nihilism, tricked
out with Kaufmanic structuralism but so nakedly lonesome it hurts. I swore I’d
never sit through it again, but now, a few months later, I’m thinking I might.
10. My Blueberry NightsWong Kar-wai comes to America, too, and brings his
essential Wongness with him. Where would we be without it? Again, the naysayers
will be silenced and shamed in short order.
Runners-up, in order: Times and Winds, The Duchess of Langeais,
WALL-E, Appaloosa, Che, Alexandra, Pineapple Express, Jellyfish, Milk, The Edge
of Heaven, Boy A, My Father My Lord, Encounters at the End of the World, Snow
Angels, Chop Shop, Stuff and Dough, In Bruges
Haven't seen yet: A Christmas Story
1.Encounters at the End of the World
Werner Herzog makes another existential documentary like "Grizzly
Man" about man and nature, this time in the frozen depths of the Antarctic Ocean.
2. Slumdog Millionaire Danny Boyle tackles India’s
caste system, world wide capitalism, American pop and Bollywood in one seamless
3. Waltz with Bashir
The animated account of an Israeli incursion into Beirut as a cathartic
remembrance by the filmmaker is haunting.
4. The Visitor Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent”) weaves together another
affecting yarn about disparate lives tossed together.
Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo”) gives us robot love and the best family
entertainment of the year.
Great performances in
this portrait of gay political mobilization. Important now more than ever
because of Prop 8.
7. Let the Right One In Forget “Twilight,”
this is the bloodsucking teen drama with teeth.
8. Man on Wire A documentary about
the man who tihghtrop walked between the Twin Towers.
It’s a veritable “How'd he do that?” reel.
9. The Pool A subtle, haunting coming of age saga in India, that
rewards as it builds.
10.The Bank JobThe year's best thriller.
1. In the Name of the King
Pointless Medieval drivel
2. One Missed Call
Just hang up.
3. The Ruins
Killer vines, creepy.
There will never be
5. The Spirit
A sinful rehash of “Sin City.”
1. The Pool
This tremendously accomplished first feature by American
documentarian, Chris (“American Movie”) Smith, got one week this Fall at the Kendall. Well, grab a DVD of this disarming tale of two
street kids in India
who become obsessed by the empty swimming pool of a rich family. Subtle and
thoughtful, “The Pool” is the anti-“Slumdog
Millionaire,” more “The White Balloon” or Satyajit Ray, steeped in
Indian culture, than hyperkinetic, slumming Danny Boyle.
2. MilkIt hardly ever happens,
that a film this joyous, communal, beautifully realized is also (yawn!)
politically correct. Thanks to filmmaker Gus Van Sant, star Sean Penn, and
2008’s most committed ensemble — Emile Hirsch, James Franco, et. al. — for a
heartfelt celebration of the late Harvey Milk, a true-life superhero.
3. Chris & Don: a Love Story Another fabulous
gay-themed film, 2008’s finest documentary is Guido Santi and Tina Mascara’s emotional tale of the three-decade
relationship of Cabaret scribe, Christopher Isherwood, and artist Don Bachardy,
thirty years younger. The couple lived about LA, and their story is also the
cultural history of gay Hollywood. Look quickly for the most
unexpected home-movie clip: mystery writer Raymond Chandler paddling about in
Isherwood’s swimming pool.
4. Let the Right One In2008’s best foreign film
is this Swedish horror movie about the deep, doomed relationship of a lonely young boy and an equally
melancholy, desperate female vampire. Properly frightening, “Let the Right
Thing” is also tender and genuinely poetic, the most adult horror film in
years. What next from filmmaker, Tomas Alfredson, a discovery?
5. Waltz with Bashir
If only “Wall-E,” superb in its first half hour, hadn’t
turned cute and sentimental! “Waltz with
Bashir” never falters, and this graphic memoir-in-motion is 2008’s most
successful animated work. It’s also a
courageous political film, in which the filmmaker-narrator, Ari Folman, an
ex-soldier, gradually implicates himself in the most horrible deeds, when, in
1982, the Israel military occupied Lebanon.
6. My Father My LordTwo films from Israel in my top ten! Set in a
Hasidic community in Jerusalem,
David Volach’s miniaturist parable of religious Jewish life has Old Testament resonance. A
prideful rabbi and his wife take their beloved only son for a holiday trip to
the Dead Sea, with deadly results. An
intensely spiritual movie, whether you are devoutly secular, or a Moses freak.
Oliver Stone’s best-realized film in twenty years, with Josh
Brolin a revelatory George W., delivering 2008’s finest acting performance. Not a ditsy caricature!
Are you one those who believe the real Bush, Jr., should be condemned to a
lifetime of chowing dogfood in a Guantanamo
cage? I am. So it’s some kind of miracle of Stone storytelling that I was
enraptured by the life story of our loathsome prick President.
8. Trouble the Water Hurricane Katrina has precipitated an inspired sub-genre of
Katrina,” “Axe in the
Attic,” “When the Levees Broke.” Swimming to the top is Tia Lessin and Carl
Deal’s “Trouble the Water,” with its vivid, amazing maelstrom-in-your-face home
movies of the dire floodings, and the heaven-made rap songs of Kimberly Rivers
Roberts, the movie’s never-say-die, African-American protagonist.
9. In Bruges
gangland neo-noir, with an unusual Belgian locale, and a zesty script by
Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, who also, a first-time helmer, provided the
deft direction. The hit-man cast is likewise great, especially big-bodied,
gunsel-with-a-heart-of-gold, Brendan Gleeson, 2008’s Best Supporting Actor.
10. Our Disappeared
2008 was another banner year for excellent Boston documentaries. I can name a half-dozen of them, all intelligent, high-minded
works. Juan Mandelbaum’s “Our
Disappeared” is at the top of the list for its unflinching reopening of Argentina’s dirty war on the left
during the 1970s, when thousands of people were murdered, “disappeared,”
including a charming ex-girlfriend of the filmmaker. The most chilling moment
in a 2008 film: Henry Kissinger, there on the spot in Buenos Aires, blithely endorsing the
killing-fields military government.