2008 Ten Best Movies

Nurgul Yesilcay and Patrycia Ziolkowska: The Edge of Heaven

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.

Indiewire poll addendum


Yesilcay & Ziolkowska: The Edge of Heaven

The Indiwire poll is out, and my ballot is a truly lame offering. My explanation has to do with snowfall on deadline day (Seattle is paralyzed by the lightest dusting, and this was more than that), the bus system, and an early screening of Che, all 24 hours of it, or whatever it is. In the event, I found myself in the back office of the Seven Gables theater, trying to log on to the Indiewire website and remember my list from memory as the movie was about to begin. This is why the ballot published at Indiewire.com has only nine titles in its top ten, and only one performer out of a possible ten. My bad.

The link to the published ballot is here, but the full-length, uncounted version follows.

Ten best:

  1. The Edge of Heaven
  2. The Duchess of Langeais
  3. The Romance of Astrea and Celadon
  4. The Dark Knight
  5. Wendy and Lucy
  6. Married Life
  7. Priceless
  8. In Bruges
  9. Forever
  10. Let the Right One In

Best Lead Performance

  1. Pierce Brosnan, Married Life
  2. Brendan Gleeson, In Bruges
  3. Dore Mann, Frownland
  4. Melisso Leo, Frozen River
  5. Mick Jagger, Shine a Light

Best Supporting Performance

  1. Nugul Yesilcay, The Edge of Heaven
  2. Patrycia Ziolkowska, The Edge of Heaven
  3. Peter Macdissi, Towelhead
  4. Tea Leoni, Ghost Town
  5. James Franco, Pineapple Express

Director is Fatih Akin, Screenplay is Eric Rohmer, and Documentary is Forever, Heddy Honigmann’s beautiful study of Pere Lachaise cemetery and the people around it.

That’s the Indiewire ballot. Now I might tinker with the ordering and possibly see a couple of movies on DVD before doing a list for the Herald, so that’s not the final word from me just yet.