all your top ten lists are belong to dex: dex's top ten films of 2008
2008 at the movies: we just couldn't hit the brakes fast enough.
"Paucity" was the word at the top of the marquee in 2008: aside from the occasional strong performance in the occasional halfway decent movie, the run of daring narrative films at theatres (bracketed by a slew of must-see docs) slowed noticeably in this last year, and only documentarians (Herzog, Gibney, Morris) stayed hot. With the rare exception (Romero, Kaufman) and the barrage of comic book flicks, the genre picture was mostly MIA, too. Was it the economy? The lingering effects of the writer's strike? Or an all-around fatigue of Bush Time - "no one left to lie to," as it were?
But enough of all that. On to the list, such as it is. Remember that lists are only as good as the listmaker, and there's a lot I still haven't seen.
9) Milk. It's a biopic, and it does all things biopics do (The protagonist discovers him/herself! But there are challenges! But then they're overcome! But then there's the price of success! And then there's something even more horrible! But history will vindicate him/her!), but the cast is so invested in this film (the scenes between Sean Penn and Josh Brolin are textured and masterfully understated, and the chemsitry between James Franco and Penn feels quite genuine), director Gus Van Sant mostly avoids the cliches this subgenre often lends itself to, and Duncan Lance Black's script keeps things focused on the nuts and bolts of grassroots organizing and the gay rights movement of the 1970s instead of speechifying and schmaltz. The results are often outstanding.
8) Reprise. Woody Allen as a Norwegian punk rocker.
6) Standard Operating Procedure.
5) Diary of the Dead.
In spite of a stumbling start, George Romero's latest zombie pic swiftly evolves into a highly personal, profoundly political, and thrilling film right up to its last breath-taking moment. His best since his Dawn of the Dead, and maybe the best horror movie of Bush Time.
4) Sparrow. When is a musical not a musical? And would it be any good? Answer - when it's Johnny To's Sparrow, and yes. Very.
2) Taxi to the Dark Side. Alex Gibney's systems view of the Bush Administration's illegal and immoral program of rendition and torture, the lynchpin of the seven and a half year frontal assault the Bush cabal made on the right to exist as a free and independent human being. Taxi does all of the things we wanted Errol Morris to do with Standard Operating Procedure (the latter, in fact, would be best viewed on a double-bill with Gibney's doc). If there's ever a truth commission - or, heaven forbid, actual prosecution - over the criminal brutality George W. Bush and Dick Cheney wrought in their all-too-long eight years, Taxi to the Dark Side must be part of the indictment.
1) Encounters at the End of the World. The End of All Things have once again preoccupied filmmakers high and low, here and abroad. Few of them, however, engage the prospect we're shuffling towards a final exit of our own design head-on, and this is what makes the super-prolific, super-brilliant Werner Herzog's latest movie so special: he humbly, humanly, but unblinkingly considers as much of this idea and the full range of emotions it stirs up as one person can.
Honorable mentions: The Dark Knight (wildly entertaining and ably acted - Heath Ledger's performance is indeed a bolt from the blue - though the much-heralded realism evaporates on the second or third viewing. Michael Keaton's still my Batman.); Let the Right One In (despite my problems with what I think is the major theme of the film, it's exceptionally well-made, and the best vampire film in over twenty years); Iron Man (where Dark Knight left its sense of humor); Poultrygeist (They Live and Michael Pollan get reeeally fucked up and have a threesome with Lloyd Kaufman); Ashes of Time Redux (still fresh and wonderful after all these years); Girl Cut in Two (dense as hell, though the fabulous Ludivine Sagnier keeps you riveted); and anything that Natalie Portman made. Even if it sucked.
So that's it, Boothers - my take on the year in cinema, two thousand and eight. At least we got a Mena Suvari nude scene out of it.