Thursday, January 15, 2009

Jeremy's Top 10 Films of 2008

1. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
With an unflinching eye on the truth, Cristian Mungiu's "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" unforgettably depicts the story of an illegal abortion in 1980s Romania. With steadfast reservedness, Mungiu examines a society in which the disadvantaged and unfortunate are either ignored or exploited. Without contrivance, the film takes a gripping journey to the dark side.

Under the scrutiny of long, merciless takes, the film's performances are true accomplishments. Anamaria Marinca's protagonist exceeds the bonds of friendship with bravery but increasingly weariness. And Vlad Ivanov perfectly captures evil as an abortionist with deliberate and manipulative bargaining skills.

2. Happy-Go-Lucky
Mike Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky" studies the challenges, joys and perils of maintaining a positive attitude. Sally Hawkins stars as the personable Poppy, who insists on being friendly and outgoing to people, even if they'd rather be left alone. Leigh's screenplay is smart and observant, hopeful and honest, and his direction is down-to-earth and engaging. The scenes between Hawkins and Eddie Marsan as Poppy's driving instructor exemplify the film's straddling of humor and poignance, danger and bravery and danger.

3. Wendy and Lucy
A lovingly acted, quiet tragedy that unfolds without a false note, "Wendy and Lucy" offers a crushing look into the life of an unemployed drifter and her dog after their journey stalls in a small town in Oregon. "Old Joy" director Kelly Reichardt deftly portrays Wendy's (Michelle Williams) humanity, and that of those around her. No character acts for the convenience of the plot—everyone is a real person and they all have their reasons.

4. The Wrestler
Much of the praise for Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler" has centered around Mickey Rourke's transformative performance, but the film deserves accolades on all accounts. Aronofsky crafts a delicate character portrait of a fragile man who never quite figured out how to give and receive love. A professional wrestler now a couple decades past his prime, he still longs for the gratification that he could only get in the ring. Maryse Alberti's up-close 16-mm photography and Aronofsy's endlessly creative direction propel the film—along with Rourke and cast-mates Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood—to greatness.

5. Paranoid Park
Gus Van Sant made two excellent film's this year, and his poetic meditation on youth and tragedy was even better than his Hollywood biopic. "Paranoid Park" journeys through a maze of unsteady memories, spiraling closer and closer to a place that its young protagonist (Gabe Nevins) doesn't want to go. In a flury of skateboarding, sex and personal connections, the truth slowly unveils itself. Van Sant displays his great control of cinematic form, gloriously melding his images with a variety of musical genres from Elliot Smith to opera to invoke a troubled, introverted psyche.

6. Pineapple Express
A buddy action movie about two guys who aren't equipped to be action stars or buddies, "Pineapple Express" is the most sublime of all pot comedies. David Gordon Green took a dramatic turn from his poetic meditations on southern life and proved his passion and understanding of the action genre. The film is entertaining both as an action film and as an hysterical deconstruction of the genre. And I haven't even mentioned James Franco and Seth Rogan. Too bad playing stoned doesn't have the same Oscar clout as playing a mentally disabled person.

7. Wall-E
The opening 30 minutes of "Wall-E" feature some of the most transfixing cinematic storytelling of the year. With almost no dialogue, they depict the film's plucky title robot as it travels through a deserted metropolis of waste that was earth, finding meaning in the trash that the planet's former inhabitants left behind. It's simple and hypnotic. With nods to science-fiction past and plenty of his own creativity, Andrew Stanton constructed a bleak vision of a future Earth overrun with garbage and evacuated by humans who would rather sit around and watch TV than solve their own problems. The robots whom they expect to serve them for them reveal some of the best character design and animation I've ever seen.

8. Man on Wire
James Marsh's documentary on Philippe Petit' rogue attempt to string and walk a tightrope between the two World Trade Center towers is at once a heist movie, a tale of friendship and an inspirational testament to the importance of following your dreams. With a mix of intimate recollections and carefree recreations, Marsh captures the glory of youth and the joy of mad dreams.

9. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
"Vicky Cristina Barcelona" takes in the beauty of Spain while studying the different forms in which love can emerge. Writer/director Woody Allen finds himself in excellent form as he follows the intertwined stories of two friends (Rebecca Hall and Scarlet Johnansson) who spend a revealing summer in Spain. The quality of the writing and acting really shines in the scenes between Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, who play on-and-off lovers and artists. Note the ways they shift between English and Spanish, and how it relates to their comfort zones.

10. Rachel Getting Married
Like most everything in life, familial love is rarely as ideal or as easy as we'd like it to be. The simple act of enjoying a celebration together can be a great struggle, and Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married" pulls together all the nagging regrets and hang-ups as well as any film of its kind. This wedding party is so compelling partly because of the performances (including Anne Hathaway as the emotionally destructive sister), and partly because Demme's handheld-style exudes authenticity. The family's house constantly feels alive—like a living, breathing, organic component of the movie. You get the feeling that the handheld camera could do a 180-degree turn, head up or down the stairs or go outside and find other characters busily preparing for the big event.

Tied for 11th:
The Dark Knight
In Bruges
Still Life
Snow Angels

Honorable Mention
My Brother is an Only Child
Boy A
Encounters at the End of the World
The Fall
Funny Games
Ghost Town
Let the Right One In
My Winnipeg
Role Models
Standard Operating Procedure


Anonymous said...

Good list. I still need to see quite a few of these, but I would just like to applaud you on avoiding all the overrated crap that is inexplicably getting all the awards this year.

Stewf said...

no Frost/Nixon?