Published at: Dec. 28, 2008, 5:32 a.m. CST by headgeek
Hey folks, Harry here... Last year, I didn't do a top ten - that wasn't because there weren't any good movies, but because frankly - everyone beat me to it and honestly I didn't feel I had anything really to add. This year, I'm determined to beat the rest of the staff to the punch. I will have 10 top narrative features from 10 to 1, but first I'll chat about my pick for the best Documentary of the year.
BEST DOCUMENTARY OF THE YEAR:
MAN ON WIRE – Easily the best documentary of the year. The story of an artist that will pursue his art to the edge of death, past the realm of legality and into the land of legend. The story is poetic, breathtaking and chilling. I absolutely loved it.
10. BURN AFTER READING – Too often, the Coen Brother’s comedic endeavors go unheralded by the critical community, who would seemingly prefer it if the Coens stuck to more somber affairs. Don’t get me wrong, I love NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, but it is the Coen’s comedies that make me love them as much as I do. I have watched my BURN AFTER READING Blu-Ray 3 times since receiving it – and I’ve laughed every single time. Frances McDormand has also turned in my favorite actress role of the year – in the English language. Clooney, Malkovich and Pitt rule this film – and again the brothers never cease to make me laugh.
9. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE – I’ve only seen this once and I have the feeling that the more I watch it, the higher it will rise on my list. Danny Boyle is quickly becoming the most esoteric and consistent auteur of our day. He is hitting in different genres nearly every time at bat and making wonderful films. SLUMDOG feels like a post WWII Hollywood movie set in another land in another time period, but it’s a story that makes you hope, makes you cry and makes you cheer. It’s a film that makes your heart soar. A really fantastic film.
8. PINEAPPLE EXPRESS – I have the distinct feeling that I’m the only critic that will put this film in their top ten movies of the year, but frankly – that’s a badge of honor. David Gordon Green has made films before that have appeared on critic’s top spots on their various lists, but here… with PINEAPPLE EXPRESS he dared to make a film wildly out of whack with his directorial oeuvre. His reward is to wallow in critical obscurity for nailing a stoner action comedy that made me laugh so hard my snot turned bloody, that made me smile as tears rolled down my face and that has me looking at its DVD release this first Tuesday of 2009 with furious anticipation. In a just world – James Franco would garner a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, not the win, mind you – that belongs to Heath. This is the very best film to have Seth Rogen in it to date – and I can not wait to own it and watch it repeatedly. This was a superior work!
7. MILK – My second favorite Sean Penn performance behind Spicoli in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. Harvey Milk is a complete and totally realized character and possibly the single best film by Gus Van Sant. I have to admit, I knew who Harvey Milk was, but knew next to no details about his death – so much of this story was brand new to me and in the wake of a certain proposition failing in California, I feel this movie is the exact right film to heal and unite the factions that will overturn a truly despicable piece of legislation. Every performance in the film is rock solid and Gus nailed it all.
6. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON – Simply astonishing visual effects work here. The best old age and young age make-up work done in film. If this work is not rewarded with the best special effects award this year, then an unjustice has been done to the truly amazing work that was done here. Beyond that aspect, is a great film. I’ve seen it twice now theatrically – and it is a film of subtle performances. Brad’s Benjamin is an observer of life, never fully feeling a part of those times. Honestly, my favorite period of the film is when he’s the little old man kid. I’m hypnotized by that performance and look. It is truly amazing. I also love the Tilda Swinton affair sequence… and every moment with Cate… ah hell, I just love the movie. The film is actually superior to its source material and that is something that just doesn’t happen much these days.
5. BROTHERS BLOOM - Here’s a film that doesn’t get released til next May, opposite Pixar’s UP. You will find AICN getting really behind this film, as it is a movie that I absolutely profoundly love. And I believe releasing it against UP is filmic suicide. If you’ve ever seen GAMBIT or TOPKAPI, this is a film of that sort. A caper film. Moreso, imagine if BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’s era Capote wrote a Caper film, then sent that script forward in time, and it was made today, but with a timeless sense of joy. Rachel Weisz’s character is the ideal dream of the woman to fall in love with. She’s simply amazing in this film – as is everything else about it. Some have compared it to Wes Anderson’s work – due to the quirky literate nature of the film, but honestly – with the exception of THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS – I prefer this to everything else that Wes has done. And that’s high praise in my court. This is just a great great film. I hope you give it a chance this May.
4. WALL*E - The best romance of 2008. The best science fiction film in years. And a truly great movie. Pixar is simply breaking all sorts of rules with their films, something that I guarantee will be continued with UP – whose first 45 minutes are actually even more powerful than the first 45 of WALL*E. What makes their films so good? First, while they are inherently family films, they never ever pander – they’re not lowest common denominator. They aim at their smartest audience member – keep them entertained and thinking – and layer and layer till every member of the audience has something to love. It’s character and story – built so strongly that they can’t find any cracks. Here we have a story about the end of mankind and the hope for a new beginning. Though frankly, even at the end of the film, I don’t know if we can hold much hope, but perhaps… perhaps there’s a chance. But what a great story!
3. THE WRESTLER – In film history – athletic brawlers have often been great fodder for the best in film. Most of you probably think of the original ROCKY film. But for me, I think of Wallace Beery’s THE CHAMP, Kirk Douglas’ CHAMPION or Paul Newman’s SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME. Here we have another to add to those 4 performances and films. This time dealing with modern Professional Wrestling – a sport that one giggles at, when people call it a sport. Instead, I’d say it is less a sport, as much as an athletic acting experience. To those that have followed the all too true stories of many of those in professional wrestling… like the Von Erich family – we’ve been waiting for a truly great Pro-Wrestling movie, and Darren Aronofsky has delivered and Mickey Rourke has given us his greatest performance to date, something that feels so amazing, so thrilling and absolutely raw. Mickey’s performance happens to be within the story of a wrestler, but it could be a story of anyone past their prime trying to do something that their bodies can no longer do. Marisa Tomei’s performance as an aging stripper is the best performance in the supporting actress category of the year. She’s amazing here. What a great movie.
2. THE DARK KNIGHT – It’s my pick for best English languange film of the year. I love this movie. I love that we have a film that crosses the best of crime films – and married it to the Comic Book sensibilities of BATMAN. That every single aspect of this film is great. Every member of the cast. Every technical aspect. All of it is done to the absolute top of its form. And Heath’s JOKER and Aaron’s TWO-FACE… just fantastic. This is the performance I’ve been dreaming of since 1989’s BATMAN, I have hated Nicholson’s JOKER for nearly 20 years – but everytime I tried to explain why, I would just end up ranting. Thanks to Heath, I can just point at his pitch perfect performance and say, “See, that’s how it was meant to be done.” That isn’t to say this was the only way to play the Joker – but arguably, it is a performance that will never be topped. For me, it all comes down to that moment between Batman and The Joker in the interrogation room… a scene that destroys all previous ludicrously convenient scenes for the direct purpose of having arch-nemesis confront one another in a movie. But that moment when Batman is set to tear the Joker a new asshole and Heath tells him he has nothing he can take from him, and is laughing hysterically as he’s being beaten. At that moment, we’re seeing the Joker ripped straight out of the psyche of every writer and artist that has ever imagined these characters. And it is the best that I’ve ever seen. So good that people that have looked down on comics and those that have read them looked at it and were blown away. If, by some act of God, a Batman movie wins Best Picture… I’ll cry giggling like some perverse imp having his salad tossed by Natalie Portman. Please let me giggle cry!
1. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN - The Swedish masterpiece. When I saw this at FANTASTIC FEST this year, I was floored. I’ve seen it twice and holy shit. Tomas Alfredson, the director of this vampire masterpiece is simply amazing. Made for a microscopic portion of the budget of THE DARK KNIGHT, destined to reside in obscurity due to being Swedish… we have perhaps the best Vampire film ever made. A film starring two 12 year old kids in the most adult and brilliant story of the year. It has the best actress performance of the year, Lina Leandersson, but will go unrecognized as such. I pray that it will at least garner a Best Foreign Film nomination, but its distribution company doesn’t have the sort of money it takes to attract enough Academy Members’ attention – but make no bones about it. I’ve seen the competition and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is the tops. It has won 11 Best Film awards at film festivals and Critic associations around the world – of all kinds. And it won the top spot in my heart as well.