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)
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
9. The Mourning
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
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.
“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.