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indieWIRE CRITICS’ POLL ’08 | Donna Bowman

indieWIRE CRITICS' POLL '08 | Donna Bowman

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.

Donna Bowman
A.V. Club

Best Film
1 – The Dark Knight
2 – WALL-E
3 – 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
4 – Synecdoche, New York
5 – The Wrestler
6 – My Winnipeg
7 – Transsiberian
8 – Standard Operating Procedure
9 – The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
10 – Woman On The Beach

Best Performance
1 – Chiwetel Ejiofor, Redbelt
2 – Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy
3 – Emily Mortimer, Transsiberian
4 – Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
5 – Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Best Supporting Performance
1 – Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
2 – Brad Pitt, Burn After Reading
3 – Lina Leandersson, Let The Right One In
4 – Tilda Swinton, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
5 – Eddie Marsan, Happy-Go-Lucky

Best Director
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight

Best Screenplay
Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon, WALL-E

Best First Feature
Synecdoche, New York

Best Documentary
Standard Operating Procedure

What a strange year. David Fincher makes the least Fincheresque movie that could be conceived. Darin Aronofsky makes the least Aronofskyesque movie that could be conceived. And over all the ruin of the American dreamscape hovers a robot struggling with his “directive,” as if to represent all of us looking for some supreme being to bestow purpose upon us yet again. WALL-E and Nolan’s Dark Knight should get together and have a cocktail sometime, so profoundly similar is their torment over the loss of meaning in a Godless universe. Errol Morris aims his camera at the deadened eyes of Lynndie England and asks whether the photographs of prisoner abuse and the mutilated word “torture” can ever come together in a literal description anymore, much less whether it’s possible to hold anyone responsible for an event so diffuse in occurrence yet so focused in documentation. Guy Maddin can’t decide whether he prefers his diorama reconstruction of Winnipeg to his actual past there, unable to separate art from life. At the extremes of the theme of representation lies Synecdoche, New York, a film that despairs of presenting truth through art but comes to the existential conclusion that we have no choice, creating to an absent audience until the day we die. It’s odd that so many movies decided to take us into fantasyland this year — Slumdog Millionaire with its love-conquers-all happy ending machine, Benjamin Button with its fabulist whimsy, Australia with its oh-so-awkward attempt to memorialize a generation of Aborigines while at the same time painting Australian history in the broad strokes of farce. These weren’t movies for adults, for all their pleasures (Nicole Kidman singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” chief among them). They smoothed over their problems instead of making us think about them. Surely, just as we are emerging from darkness into hope, grappling with the enormous task of fixing the last decade’s destruction, we need movies that take reality a bit more seriously.

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