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by Andy Lauer
December 17, 2008 5:46 AM
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indieWIRE CRITICS' POLL '08 | Matthew Wilder

This is the latest ballot in indieWIRE's 2008 Critics Poll, continuing the tradition of a national survey of critics by calling attention to the year's best -- and, in many cases, most overlooked -- films, providing a meaningful counterpoint to much of the year-end hoopla. Note that some lists are unranked at the discretion of the critic. For all categories except Best Undistributed Film, eligible feature films had first-run theatrical engagements in the U.S. during 2008. Films without a U.S. distributor, screened anywhere (festival circuit, one-off screenings, etc.), are eligible in the Best Undistributed Film category. The full list of critics poll ballots is available here at indieWIRE and tabulated results are being published by indieWIRE later this month.

Matthew Wilder
collider.com

Best Film
1 - Silent Light
2 - Waltz with Bashir
3 - Paranoid Park
4 - The Romance of Astree and Celadon
5 - My Blueberry Nights
6 - A Girl Cut in Two
7 - Hunger
8 - Changeling
9 - Cadillac Records
10 - Gomorra

Best Performance
1 - Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
2 - Asia Argento, The Last Mistress
3 - Ralph Fiennes, The Duchess
4 - Ryan Philippe, Stop-Loss
5 - Gabe Nevins, Paranoid Park

Best Supporting Performance
1 - J.K. Simmons, Burn After Reading
2 - Lauren McKinney, Paranoid Park
3 - Eamonn Walker, Cadillac Records
4 - Brad Pitt, Burn After Reading
5 - Steve Martin, Baby Mama

Best Director
Carlos Reygadas, Silent Light

Best Screenplay
Steve McQueen and Enda Walsh, Hunger

Best First Feature
Hunger

Best Documentary
Shine a Light

Best Undistributed Film
1 - Two-Legged Horse
2 - Summer Hours
3 - The Headless Woman
4 - Adam Resurrected
Note: NOT RANKED

Comments
Much of the strongest filmmaking I saw in 2008 was a triumph of style over substance. It felt as if the id was rebelling against the dominance of political (or, at least, political-allegorical) films in recent years. Movies like Speed Racer, My Blueberry Nights and Paranoid Park were cracklike hits of "pure" cinema, insisting on not representing anything other than what they were--dreamlike rushes of ripe sensation sideswiped by primal emotion. It's odd, and sad, that the two strongest movies I've seen in the last few years (excepting There Will Be Blood from this) were essentially never shown in the United States: the South Korean Secret Sunshine and the Mexican Silent Light. How is this possible? Can't some New Media genius who beams movies onto your wristwatch and your iPhone remedy this? The most heart-wrenchingly abandoned of masterpieces is Eric Rohmer's Romance of Astree and Celadon. I saw it at the Anthology Film Archives in New York with a tiny group of rain-soaked old people clutching Dunkin Donuts bags who seemed not to know what they were watching, except that it was far from the rain. The master of "what we talk about when we talk about love" creates his Twelfth Night in a mythic glade of shepherds and virgins and all anyone wants to talk about is ScarJo and Bardem wandering around tourist sites in Barcelona? They picked the wrong heartsick old dude to lionize. The Dark Knight will be remembered as the essential movie of our era, not, as some have speculated, because it constitutes a metaphor for this period, but because it processes our public experience in the most poetic possible way--as a dream where This very much does *not* represent That. Heath Ledger's Joker is not Osama Bin Laden and Bruce Wayne is not George Bush--any more than Angelina Jolie's scared Changeling mom is Cindy Sheehan. Instead, the Joker is indelible for us in that he represents both our sinned-against and sinning sides, our sore-winner self-pity and our genuine injury--as well as a spreeing, self-destructive aspect that baffles us even in ourselves. That the intensity of the character's connection to real life appears to have driven the real-life actor to madness only intensifies the movie's mythic properties. In regard to Claude Chabrol's top-to-bottom exquisite A Girl Cut in Two: are people so used to highly manicured technique that they are actually too cool for an absolutely perfect film? It has become a cliche that Iraq War movies are painfully over-earnest, dismal, and above all uncommercial. Kimberly Peirce's Stop-Loss may not have made a lot of money, but this bravura mix of Visconti and Bruce Springsteen blew away the notion of the dismal, dribbly, well-meaning antiwar indie. Volcanically passionate, and joltingly acted by a cast of green youths, Stop-Loss defined Peirce as one of the very strongest young American directors. My hat goes off to those obsessive-compulsive actors who can hoover up literally each and every possible laugh that's gettable in a scene; and if you want to see what great acting is, watch Ralph Fiennes wring uncomfortable chortles out of his pause-too-long deadpan in The Duchess, or J.K. Simmons staring uncomprehending in Burn After Reading, to see what it's all about.

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