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indieWIRE CRITICS’ POLL ’08 | Aaron Dobbs

indieWIRE CRITICS' POLL '08 | Aaron Dobbs

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.

Aaron Dobbs
Out of Focus

Best Film
1 – Synecdoche, New York
2 – A Christmas Tale
3 – Wendy & Lucy
4 – Hunger
5 – WALL*E
6 – My Father, My Lord
7 – In the City of Sylvia
8 – The Secret of the Grain
9 – Waltz With Bashir
10 – Happy-Go-Lucky

Best Performance
1 – Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
2 – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Synecdoche, New York
3 – Sean Penn, Milk
4 – Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
5 – Michelle Williams, Wendy & Lucy

Best Supporting Performance
1 – Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
2 – Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married
3 – Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
4 – Eddie Marsan, Happy-Go-Lucky
5 – Samantha Morton, Mister Lonely & Synecdoche, New York

Best Director
Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York

Best Screenplay
Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York

Best First Feature
Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York

Best Documentary
Waltz With Bashir

Best Undistributed Film
1 – Somers Town
2 – Lorna’s Silence
3 – Machan
4 – Night and Day
5 – I’m Gonna Explode
6 – Once Upon a Time in Rio
7 – The Vanished Empire
8 – Everybody Dies, But Me
9 – Under Our Skin

I’m tired of “XXXX year wasn’t a great one for movies.” It’s the same sentence year-in and year-out, and yet the fact remains that while the overall greatest percentage of films may be mediocre rather than masterpieces, I still find myself struggling every December to decide what titles will not make my year-end list. 2008 has been no different. While I have certainly gone Synecodcrazy, finding in Charlie Kaufman’s work not just the hands-down picture of the year, but probably the latest addition to my list of all-time favorite films, the rest of my list, especially filling out the last few slots, was much more difficult to determine. I really loved, Let the Right One In, Man On Wire, Rachel Getting Married, Silent Light, Slumdog Millionaire and The Wrestler. I had a profound appreciation for Ben X, Che and Eden, and while I don’t think it nearly matches up to its predecessor, The Dark Knight would easily make a Top 25 or 30 list. A whole slew of documentaries sat on my bubble as well, including Beyond Belief, Bigger, Stronger, Faster, Encounters at the End of the World, Standard Operating Procedure, Theater of War and Unsettled. Kaufman’s work overshadowed everything else for me, but it would not have been hard to give the directing nod to Steve McQueen (Hunger) or Arnaud Desplechin (A Christmas Tale) not to mention Andrew Stanton (WALL-E). Both Hunger and the brilliant My Father, My Lord easily deserve Best First Feature nods. And I’m not even going to mention all the films I saw in 2008 that will be distributed in 2009. So I have no complaints about 2008 as a poor year for cinema. Sure, the vast majority of what we’ve all seen at best is tedious and at worst migraine-inducing, but like every year, if these and other top films that I unfortunately have yet to see or I simply haven’t mentioned are needles in the haystack of domestic releases, at least they’re big, sharp, pointy knitting ones, and there are plenty of them.

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