More 2008 Bests and Worsts, Part II

 Some more of my esteemed fellow Phoenix critics have offered their lists...


Ten Best

1. The Wrestler

The Wild Samoans meet the Dardenne Brothers in Darren Aronofsky’s penetrating character study, starring an awesome Mickey Rourke.

2. Tropic Thunder

In a great year for comedy, Ben Stiller’s Hollywood satire was the funniest and most audacious.

3. Appaloosa

Ed Harris directed and played the sheriff in this beautifully woven buddy Western, co-starring Viggo Mortensen as his protective, introspective ally.

4. The Visitor

Tom McCarthy, a sensational screenwriter and director of actors, gave the great Richard Jenkins a well-deserved lead role.

5. Waltz with Bashir

 The creative unfolding of this animated memoir turned one young Israeli soldier’s story into a symbol of the world’s silent complicity in a pivotal 1982 massacre.

6. Trouble the Water

An outspoken New Orleans resident’s home movies of Katrina and its aftermath were shaped into the year’s most powerful American documentary.

7. Iron Man

I used to consider Robert Downey Jr. the most annoying actor out there—until last summer, when he gave weight to this movie’s anti-hero turned superhero, and then fully committed to the fully committed white actor playing a black GI in “Tropic Thunder.”

8. Happy-Go-Lucky

Mike Leigh’s experiment in cheerfulness, with Sally Hawkins as standard-bearer, was an infectious success.

9. Milk

Martyrdom became just one aspect of the life of Harvey Milk in Gus Van Sant’s vivid biopic not only of a man, but also of a time and a place.

10. Stop-Loss

Kimberly Peirce made one of the few good fiction films about the Iraq War, starring a surprisingly convincing Ryan Phillippe.

These movies made me laugh a lot: Pineapple Express, Step Brothers, OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, The Grand, Ghost Town, Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Five Worst

1. The Love Guru

Mike Myers, come back to us, please!

2. The Tracey Fragments

This interminable split-screened navel-gaze directed by the usually sane Bruce McDonald received a belated release after Ellen Page got hot.

3. Valkyrie
Tinker-toy Nazi history (take one American box-office star and attach British character actors), it did no justice to its fascinating subject.

4. Hamlet 2
This farce’s attempts to shock reeked of desperation.

5. The Romance of Astrea and Celadon
Erich Rohmer’s medieval cross-dressing love story was just too damn nutty.

 Chris Wangler

10 Best: 

1. Happy-Go-Lucky
An unusually real snapshot of a thirtysomething teacher and her oddly peopled North London world.

2. The Edge of Heaven
"intertwining narratives" picture about family and revolutionary politics in Germany and Turkey, loaded with precise, small touches. Costa-Gavras would admire it.

3. My Winnipeg
Ever go to Winnipeg? You won't need to after watching this utterly unique "love letter"--part Beckett, part Tim Burton, totally weird.

4. The Class

Almost too true to be fiction, this unexpectedly non-PC masterpiece proves that the only art more thankless than teaching is undermining it in every way.

5. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Day

The ugly complications of abortion in the waning days of Soviet-era Romania, brilliantly written and acted.

6. Wendy and Lucy

Makes other indies seem bloated by removing all the cinematic MSG (rousing music, multiple storylines, montages) that lazy audiences have come to expect.

7. Frozen River

The first important character study about the real victims of the financial meltdown? Maybe.

8. Milk

A expertly written, important film, unfortunately timed for the PC award season sweepstakes.

9. The Wrestler

A down-and-out wrestler in love with a stripper? Marisa Tomei's nipples--again? To prove it's not a collection of cliches, see this film.

10. Cadillac Records

A fun reminder that making it as a bluesman never meant actually getting rich


Top Ten Films of 2008:

(in no particular order)

1. Happy-Go-Lucky

This film's chaotic color palette is an odd choice for Leigh, and appropriate for this light-hearted but dark-souled character study.

2. Khadak

a quietly devastating film set in Mongolia, which blends portraits of two unstable cultures: the pastoral nomads and the decrepit manufacturing towns, both beset by Chinese military thugs.)

3. Doubt

Intimate, intense, Shanley's film debut is all sere colors and Dutch angles; it doesn't feel like watching a movie somehow, but for Streep and Hoffman's star quality performances.)

4. Milk

Riveting, inspiring, and about time, too. Sean Penn has never been better, which is saying a lot.)

5. Iron Man

Downey Jr. nails it, and for once, orgiastic special effects have been used for good instead of evil.)

6. Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

I know the conceit was offensive to some; but I think not many critics gave this a chance. The performances are flawless and the tone surprisingly balanced.)

7. Tropic Thunder

can't decide if the timing was extraordinarily god or bad, but this was sheer comic genius.)

8. Under the Same Moon

Sentimental but suspenseful story of a Mexican=2 0boy who travels alone to visit his mother in California--the young lead has charisma dripping out of every orifice.)

9. The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger's creepy, over-the-top Joker is the stuff post-screening nightmares are made from, and Christian Bale is the most (or perhaps only) interesting Batman casting choice since Michael Keaton.)

10. Frost/Nixon

I want to eat this with a spoon every night for dessert. Frank Langella is enjoying a fine late-career renascence.)

Top Five Worst (and by that I mean Most Disappointing) Films:

1. Nobel Son

2. The X-Files: I Want to Believe

3. Brideshead Revisited

4. Alien vs. Predator: Requiem

5. The Happening

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