When someone in a movie steps on the same spot that another character has earlier walked, their journeys separated by minutes of screen time but possibly weeks or years in story time, the moment can be earth-shaking, if the event is framed in a suggestive manner. There’s evidently something about Germanic directors makes them inclined to create parallels such as this, and Fatih Akin is in that tradition, as he richly demonstrates in The Edge of Heaven. It’s a movie that takes you on a trip, in a way that puts most other crisscrossing-narrative films to shame.
A sense of time passing is prominent in some of the other best movies of this year: Jacques Rivette’s awesome Duchess of Langeais (a Balzac story once intended for Greta Garbo’s comeback picture), and Eric Rohmer’s swan song, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon. Not a strong year for American films, as my list is dominated by Euros, with the tiny Wendy and Lucy and the large Dark Knight showing well. The ten best movies of 2008:
1. The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin)
2. The Duchess of Langeais (Jacques Rivette)
3. The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (Eric Rohmer)
4. Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt)
5. Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
6. Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas)
7. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan)
8. In Bruges (Martin McDonagh)
9. Ballast (Lance Hammer)
10. A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin)
My list has changed since I pondered it in the waning days of 2008, partly because my local movie release schedule brought some ’08 titles to screens in 2009. I’m still slightly soft on A Christmas Tale, but I edge it above Ira Sachs’s Married Life and Steve McQueen’s Hunger and Thomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, films with a decent claim to the list. Wall-E just misses – for me it’s just a tad over-praised in the Pixar canon – and so does Burn After Reading – for me just a bit under-praised in the Coen brothers’ canon. And while Happy-Go-Lucky isn’t at the top of Mike Leigh’s best, it has some remarkable things in it, including a seamless portrait of female friendship and the rare idea that optimism can be an expression of honesty, not falseness.
I liked Clint Eastwood’s continued revision of his iconic image, Gran Torino, and the year offered pleasing comedies: David Koepp’s really fine Ghost Town, David Gordon Green’s Pineapple Express, and Peter Sollett’s Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Romances, after a fashion, that offered much included Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Adam Brooks’s Definitely, Maybe.
Acclaimed things I don’t warm up to include Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Synecdoche, New York, although the latter is the one I’d watch again. The year’s guiltiest pleasure was surely Mamma Mia!, the extremely silly (and weirdly green-screened) ABBA musical, which achieved moments of utter daffy pleasure.
This list and my 2007 list are all screwed up as far as release dates are concerned; someday I will sort that out. But the movies at the top of the list were part of the moviegoing life I had during calendar year 2008, and that’s how it plays out right now.