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The Last of the Best and Worst Lists of 2008

 

Best Movies of 2008 -- A. S. Hamrah

1. Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien)

2. Cassandra’s Dream (Woody Allen)

3. A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin)

4. Stuck (Stuart Gordon)

5. A Girl Cut in Two (Claude Chabrol)

6. Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood)

7. Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt)

8. Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-soo)

9. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh)

10. Battle for Haditha (Nick Broomfield)

Also good: Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry), The Duchess of Langeais (Jacques Rivette), Electroma (Daft Punk), Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog), Full Battle Rattle (Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss), Operation Filmmaker (Nina Davenport), Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas), Still Life (Jia Zhang-ke), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen), The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky)

Sorry I missed: Alexandra, Blind Mountain, The Class, Elegy, Frownland, Frozen River, Gomorrah, I Served the King of England, The Pleasure of Being Robbed, The Pool and Gomorrah.

Best Actor: Elliot Ruiz, Battle for Haditha

Best Actress: Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy

Best Supporting Actor: Tom Wilkinson, Cassandra’s Dream

Best Supporting Actress: Caroline Sihol, A Girl Cut in Two

 

Brett Michel

In an era when 3D is being touted as the Next Big Thing (good luck with that, Mr. Katzenberg), I’m tempted to say that animation is really the form that’s driving the film medium forward, as evidenced by cash register receipts and the top two choices from my list of the best that 2008 had to offer. However, look deeper, and you’ll notice 7 of my top 10 were produced abroad, far from the economic concerns of a Hollywood industry built around getting asses in seats and hitting #1 during the almighty weekend box office derby, where the idea that audiences actually like your movie becomes largely irrelevant. Most of these films failed to register a blip on moviegoers’ radars, while a couple will be receiving slightly wider exposure in 2009 (if not large ticket sales) after one-off screenings this past year. (Thank you, Harvard Film Archive!)

10 Best of 2008

1. Wall-E

 

One film that did connect with audiences was Pixar’s latest masterpiece. Some dismissed the Andrew (“Finding Nemo”) Stanton-directed movie’s second half as a letdown, but I found the cautionary message of a society driven to near extinction by rabid consumerism and outright laziness in a not-too-unimaginable future (look no further than the rise of the Facebook culture) a prescient piece of social commentary slyly wrapped in the gorgeous guise of a family film.

2. Waltz with Bashir

 A revealing look at the transitory, evolving nature of memory filtered through an unflinching look at war, the reconciliation of the two piecing together some form of understanding in director Ari Folman’s animated memoir.

3. The Edge of Heaven

 While Fatih Akin’s latest doesn’t quite scale the heights of his previous feature, “Head-On,” it’s overlapping tales of circumstance is miles above similarly ambitious movies that would only come off as contrived.

4. Flight of the Red Balloon

Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s entrancing ode to Albert Lamorisse’s childhood classic is an unhurried masterpiece of observation, featuring Juliette Binoche in one of the finest acting performances of her career.

5. Ballast

Lance Hammer resisted the urge to sell his self-produced film of life, desperation and quiet redemption set in the Mississippi Delta and decided to self-distribute, traveling the country with it; his personal commitment can be felt throughout every gorgeous frame of this deeply moving family drama.

6. Silent Light

“Entertainment Weekly” recently ran a myopic critique of Carlos Reygadas’ follow-up to Battle in Heaven, claiming he ripped off the ending of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “Ordet;” homage has rarely been incorporated into a dazzling work of originality. Look for a wider release this year.

7. Still Life

Jia Zhang Ke has been heralded as one of China’s pre-eminent “Sixth Generation” directors, and yet his work remains largely unseen in the U.S.; “The World” had a week-long run in 2005, while his latest – and one of his best – saw only a handful of engagements at the Museum of Fine Arts. If you’re lucky, it might turn up for another free VES Screening on a Tuesday or Wednesday in the spring.

8. In the City of Sylvia

Jose Luis Guerin’s trance-like, nearly wordless mini-masterpiece of a man who travels to an unnamed European city in hopes of reuniting with a beautiful woman he met fleetingly six years earlier. Spellbinding.

9. The Mourning Forest

As a follower of Japanese cinema, I found Naomi Kawase to be a new name, as well as a bit of an anomaly. Japan’s directors, even more than in the U.S., tend to belong to an all-boys tradition. How exciting, then, to find such an assured piece of filmmaking from the 39-year old Kawase, who won the 2007 Grand Prix at Cannes with her intimate story of a caregiver at a countryside retirement community and the catharsis she shares with one of her patients when they become lost in the woods.

10. Be Kind Rewind

 Few saw Michel Gondry’s shambling, amiable charmer when it opened last February; critically, it was widely dismissed. Sold as a high-concept comedy on the back of star Jack Black, it’s actually a low-fi celebration of community and the transformative power of laughter and reinvention in the face of destructive gentrification through that favorite old movie standby: putting on a show. Pure cinema.

…And 10 More Worth Noting

Listed alphabetically:

Chop Shop, The Dark Knight, Encounters at the End of the World, Let the Right One In, My Winnipeg, Paranoid Park, Pineapple Express, Reprise, Wendy and Lucy and The Wrestler

5 Worst of 2008

 

1. The Happening

 What REALLY happened? M. Night Shyamalan finally saw his once-promising career blow away with the laugh-inducing winds of his environmental horror disaster.

2. Towelhead

“American Beauty” scribe Alan Ball’s directorial bow is guilty of Importance, and is all the more grotesque for it.

3. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

 Just as bad as Herman Rosenblat’s cancelled Holocaust “memoir,” “Angel at the Fence,” Mark Herman’s equally exploitive film unfortunately received a release.

4. The Love Guru

Mike Myers returned to live-action film after a five-year absence; here’s hoping it’s at least another five-years ‘til he returns.

5. Speed Racer

Curious what a seizure might feel like? Try watching the Wachowski Brothers’ misguided bomb. Better yet, don’t.

 

 

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