Reelin' in the Years Best
2008: A Top 20 Films Countdown
OK, for what's it worth, here are my picks for the best movies I saw in 2008. Many of the documentaries listed here were seen at the Maryland Film Festival.
1. Slumdog Millionaire
(UK, dir. Danny Boyle)
2. Gran Torino
(USA, dir. Clint Eastwood)
3. The Wrestler
(USA, dir. Darren Aronofsky)
4. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
(USA, dir. Woody Allen)
(USA, dir. Gus van Sant)
6. The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite)
(Germany-Turkey-Italy, dir. Fatih Akin)
7. Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in)
(Sweden, dir. Tomas Afredson)
(USA, dir. Clint Eastwood)
9. I've Loved You So Long
(Il y a longtemps que je t'aime)
(France, dir. Philippe Claudel)
10. The Band's Visit (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret)
(Israel-France-USA, dir. Eran Kolirin)
11. Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne)
(France, 2006 but released here 2008, dir. Guillaume Canet)
12. Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
(USA, dir. Alex Gibney) - best ever doc on the Doc by Oscar-winner Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys In the Room, Taxi To the Dark Side)
13. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
(USA, dir. Marina Zenovich) - a film so powerful, it got a California judge to consider dismissing the case if Polanski returns to LA for a ruling!
(USA, dir. Andrew Stanton) - you gotta love a film that depicts Americans as fat-faced chair-bound slugs subsisting on carbs and big screen TV entertainment. And I do.
(USA, dir. David Zellner)
In the same year that critics went ga-ga over a film about a down-and-out slacker gal losing her dog (Wendy and Lucy), Austin's Zellner Brothers released this funny indie classic about a down-and-out dipshit losing his cat. And no one outside the festival circuit noticed. Where's the justice?
(USA, Patrick Creadon)- Wordplay's Patrick Creadon directs this doc boasting local connections (it's based on the book Empire of Debt by William Bonner of Mt. Vernon's Agora Publishing) that depressed me beyond tears. Given our current economic crisis, I'd say it was rather prescient.
17. We Are Wizards
(USA, dir. Josh Koury) - this year's requisite "geek doc" looks lovingly (not snarkily) at the Harry Potter fan community, specifically Harry Potter tribute bands like Harry & The Potters.
18. Waiting for Hockney
(USA, dir. Julie Checkoway) - doc about local MICA grad Billy Pappas who spends 10 years drawing a picture of Marilyn Monroe in the hopes that it will validate his career and gain David Hockney's approval is fascinating not for what it says about art or how much of a dick Hockney is, but what is says about Baltimore's tight-knit working class Greek families. Billy's mom Cookie is the real star of this doc that could have been called My Big Fat Greek Canvas.
19. The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)
(USA, dir. Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath) - this doc about a family forced to emigrate from Laos after the chaos of the secret air war waged by the U.S. during the Vietnam War opened up a world I never knew before: that of Laotians and, here in America, Laotian street gangs. I later saw Gran Torino, which also confronted the issue of Southeast Asians displaced by the Vietnam War and the unfortunate appeal of gang culture to alienated Asian youths here.
20. Roman de Gare
(France, 2007 but released here 2008, dir. Claude Lelouch) - a stylish return to form for the French master featuring both beauty (hottie newcomer Audrey Dana) and the beast (Dominique Pinon, the ugly dude from Diva).
Yes, that's right: two of the films on my list were directed by Clint Eastwood (my new favorite Yank director) and two of the French films feature Kristen Scott Thomas (I've Loved You So Long, Tell No One) - who, like Charlotte Rampling, is another Brit actress who's gone for an extended career swim across the Channel - but who's counting? (Obviously not me, as I just now realized I left out Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, which turned me on to the delightfully charismatic Sally Hawkins; all apologies!)