Monday, October 20, 2008

Year's Best in Movies, 2008 edition.

In the spirit of my initial misunderstanding of the whole Best American Poetry (Year), concept--which is, the book is published in a certain year, but the poetry was published the previous year, whereas I was always so pissed because they were picking the best poetry when the year wasn't even over yet! What the hell!--I offer you this year's "Best of" film list, even though there are plenty more good films--I'm sure there are!--yet to come before 2008 breathes its last.

This exercise always leads to contemplation: will Kevin Spacey ever make another good movie? Why did the CoenBros. (tm) let me down? Will the mania for superheroes ever stop? How come so many comedies look so crappy? Conversely, how come movies that are truly beautiful are often simultaneously a little empty-headed?

I will leave you to contemplate these big questions, while I propose the following:

Movie that makes one question whether singing in the movies is a good idea, but which nonethless holds one rapt: Romance & Cigarettes. Hilarious, inappropriate, overblown. There were some great things in this, but the best by far was Kate Winslet, so amazing, gorgeous, outrageous, sexy and thrillingly human. She is a great, great actress, whatever you might think of this experiment. The rapprochement between James Gandolfini and Susan Sarandon in the last third of the film is also very moving. Not perfect by any means, but I was not sorry to have seen it.

Best romantic comedy (in a very small field, admittedly): Definitely, Maybe. Ryan Reynolds is tall and--shockingly--subtle in the role, but the stars are the women, who are all good, and Rachel Weisz and Isla Fisher are very good. But poor Abigail Breslin! Will the child be allowed to take a vacation? Ever?

Award for magnificent acting: The Savages. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney, Philip Bosco. All transplendent.

Best movie that proposes the joys of homemade art: Two way tie between Be Kind, Rewind and Honeydripper.

Best music movie: The Band's Visit. See also Honeydripper.

Best dance movie--and this one is one of the best of all time: Step Up 2: The Streets. The standard is, of course that proposed by lis: a movie that is "awesome and plotless . . . who needs plot when you can move like that?"

Movies made watchable by Robert Downey Jr.: Charlie Bartlett and Iron Man. Neither of these movies was splendid, but excellent character acting (in CB) and a star turn (in IM) made me feel like I hadn't wasted my time. And my life. Bonus: Iron Man's inclusion of Jeff Bridges.

Excellent idiosyncratic little film: Married Life. I saw none of the Bonds that starred him, but I am loving Pierce Brosnan these days, and he is, again, awesome in this.

Best war movie: Stop Loss. I love how Kimberly Peirce makes you feel the solidity and tenderness of the young men's fleshly existence, because it makes their deaths--both physical and spiritual--the more weighty and unbearable.

Funniest movie featuring a puppet show: Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Funny, sweet, raunchy, good. When Jason Segel does songs from his puppet musical of Dracula at a roadhouse bar in Hawaii (I know, it sounds ridiculous), it's kind of perfection.

Best film featuring a literary critic analyzing Tennyson: Smart People.There was a scene in which the professor and his students were talking about a Tennyson poem ("The Lotos-Eaters") that gave me heart--drama could be made out of this! My studies were not in vain, possibly.

Best graphic/animated film: Two way tie between Persepolis and WALL-E.

Excellent small film: The Visitor. Features a beautiful performance by Richard Jenkins, of Six Feet Under fame. The real, and haunting, surprise, was the actress Hiam Abbass (who was also in Paradise Now), a beautiful and quiet actress.

Good martial arts for non-martial arts fanatics: The Forbidden Kingdom. I have a lot of catching up to do, Jackie Chan and Jet Li-wise. But I really, really enjoyed this movie.

Beautiful, beautiful movie that is maybe a little empty-headed: My Blueberry Nights. But there were some really good parts in this movie, although strangely, I can only barely remember what they were . . .

Another lovely movie that proposes the joys of homemade art: Son of Rambow.

Most ravishing movie: The Fall.

Dang good all around movie: The Dark Knight.

Movie improved by the presence of Jason Bateman: Hancock. I pretty much enjoyed this whole movie, but thank whomever for Arrested Development, because that show begat all the Jason Bateman roles improving movies everywhere.

Best movie featuring "Paper Planes" in the trailer: Pineapple Express. Otherwise, too violent for a comedy.

Best movie featuring ravishing Spaniards: Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Runner-up: Elegy.

Best movie featuring Kristen Scott Thomas in a French-speaking role: Tell No One.

Best Documentary: Two-way tie between Encounters at the End of the World and Man on Wire.

Darn good tense thriller: Frozen River

Even better tense thriller: Transsiberian. Bonus: Featuring excellent performance by Ben Kingsley (runner-up in the "Featuring excellent performance by Ben Kingsley" category: Elegy.)

Best movie featuring the infinitely sweet Michael Cera: Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist. I read one critic who said that his line readings are a national treasure. This is true.

Best odd and unsettling project for a film to undertake: W.

And the best film I have seen this year: The Edge of Heaven. It has a structure kind of like Babel's, but more modest, and with a consistently more humane scope. If you didn't see this movie, queue it up. It is completely worth your time.


  1. A few comments. Meaning two.

    1) I strongly disagree about Definitely Maybe. The whole time, I was thinking, "Will this movie maybe be over now? Definitely Not".

    2) I must see this other documentary because I saw Man on Wire and fell in love with it. If the other one ties for the best, I will love it, no doubt.

  2. Your movie edition? It is genius.

  3. Perhaps this did not come out in 2008, but that's when I watched it: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly wins best movie overall for me.

    The Dark Knight? Seriously? Heath Ledger was alright, but his talents were wasted on that pretentious film. Too long. Too boring.

  4. I must say that I am thrilled to have set the standard for the dance movie. Thrilled. Will another dance movie ever please me as much as Step Up 2: the Streets? Probably not.

    I also must say that if you are liking Pierce Brosnan these days you must not have seen Mamma Mia where he attempted to sing, which was abominable, and I'm not even sure it worked within the campiness which is Abba and Mamma Mia.

    Love the list, as always.

  5. I agree, about every movie I've seen!! Which isn't a lot.
    Especially: Definitely, Maybe & Step Up: 2.
    I haven't seen...any? others? But I agree with you about Iron Man, made great by RD and JB.

  6. To be tacked and added to my brain ala Counterintuitive. Why should I have to select movies by myself (especially since I didn't even know they still made movies), when I have the Hightouch.
    Thank you!

  7. Man, I've seen, like 3 of these. That's really sad. You'd think I'd been hiding away with the new girlfriend binging on Nip/Tuck.

    Oh, wait.

    But Wall-E: Best Romantic Movie Featuring Robots. Ever.



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