Films | Pete Timmermann

film-walle.jpg1. WALL-E

2008 was a frustrating year for movies. The deck was stacked against it from the start on account of having to follow 2007, the best single year for movies in quite some time, but what really hurt it for me was that there were quite a few good movies, but hardly any great movies.

That said, it’s hard to fault a year where both Pixar and Guy Maddin, whom I’ve been stuck up the ass of for well over a decade, put out their best work to date. Aside from that, two films on my top ten grossed over $200 million in the U.S. box office, which serves as further proof of my theory from last year that either audiences are getting smarter, studios aren’t underestimating the intelligence of audiences as much as they used to, or both.

Note that my list does contain 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days but does not include The Class. Starting around the 2002/2003 release of City of God, studios have gotten in the habit of releasing their Best Foreign Language Film bait in a manner which makes it very hard to decide if it belongs to one year or another (i.e., they’ll release said film in one U.S. market for one week late in one calendar year and then pull it, returning it to theatres for their normal runs some time early-ish the next calendar year). While I try to follow the guidelines that the national dailies do for their year-end top-ten lists, even many of those are in disagreement on which of these films belong to which year. It has gotten to the point where great films are being punished due to petty confusion about when they were released, which is stupid and against the premise behind writing these lists in the first place. Therefore, please accept my apologies if you count 4 Months as a 2007 film and The Class as a 2008 film. (Both Hunger [which is not actually a foreign language film] and Gomorrah fit into this stupid limbo category as well; I opted to leave them off of this year’s list, but they might turn up on next year’s depending on their release pattern and how much competition they have in 2009.)

The best films of 2008, in order of preference:

1. WALL-E

The first time I saw WALL-E I loved it. This is to be expected, as I have not disliked a Pixar movie yet. What was weird was that I thought it was Pixar’s best work. It couldn’t be, could it? So, I went and saw it again a few days later, and still thought so. And when it came out on DVD I watched it again, and still thought so. How Pixar continues to top itself is absolutely beyond me to the point that I don’t believe it when they do it, despite the fact that I should be used to it by now.

2. My Winnipeg

IFC is doing their best to make sure that no one sees this movie, I swear. They snuck it into St. Louis theaters (well, theater, rather; it only showed at Frontenac, and only for one week) with almost no notice, and didn’t hold any press screenings or send out any screeners. It is currently only available in America on DVD to rent, and only from Blockbuster, whom I despise. But you can’t hide it from me! I love Guy Maddin, and My Winnipeg is his best, most creative (that’s saying something when talking about Maddin), most accessible film yet. Might I recommend you pick up the Region 1 DVD from amazon.ca, which looks to be a better option than waiting for IFC to realize what they have and get it out there.

3. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

Dear Zachary is a tough one: I can’t say that I’m terribly impressed by the filmmaking, nor do I expect its director, Kurt Kuenne, to make another film of similar quality again. It loses much of its power on the second viewing, and some have argued that it veers toward being exploitative of its subjects, which is a hard argument to entirely disagree with. That said, I haven’t seen a film since maybe Lilya 4-Ever that got to me like this one did—not only did it make me cry (which is rare, but does happen from time to time), but I spent a good chunk of the movie being afraid that I might barf in the theater. Seriously. And besides, its underlying message(s) are important, arguably exploitative of its subjects or not. You can catch up with this one on MSNBC, if you missed its screening at SLIFF or run in other cities.

4. 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days

Unfortunately, this is another movie that IFC is trying to hide; aside from the aforementioned snafu regarding its release, it was originally only made available for sale on DVD as an exclusive to Borders. IFC, I love you: You buy the rights to and sometimes produce great films, but quit making it so hard to see your great movies! Everyone that saw this movie loved it. You’d think that would be incentive enough for them to push its release a little harder.

5. Forgetting Sarah Marshall

I feel kind of weird about having this movie in my top ten, let alone my top five. It is deeply flawed, with whole scenes/characters/jokes/etc. begging to be cut. That said, I kind of love it; it’s definitely the put-it-on-when-you’re-too-tired-to-watch-anything-else movie of the year. Jason Segel has been a longtime favorite of mine, but I never knew he could write like this. And in all honesty, both of my two favorite scenes from any film in 2008 are contained in this movie: the two Dracula musical scenes. Pure comedic genius.

6. Snow Angels

David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels contains everything that I’ve come to love in him as a filmmaker: beautiful imagery, melancholy tone, realistic depiction of young love. It’s a shame that Green’s other 2008 film, Pineapple Express, was much more seen and praised, as it is wholly undeserving. Same goes for Angels‘ lead actor Sam Rockwell’s other 2008 film, Choke.

7. Billy the Kid

A documentary of the sort that everyone seems to miss, what with the advent of Michael Moore and the like: a nonjudgmental portrait of a regular person that somehow manages to find some basic human truths. It’s hard not to squirm watching young, awkward Billy go about his business, and you want to laugh at him until you realize that you were, and maybe still are, just like him.

8. The Dark Knight

See everything else written about this film. I wholeheartedly agree.

9. Wendy & Lucy

I’m so glad that between 2006’s Old Joy and now this that Kelly Reichardt is starting to get noticed in America. We could use more films like hers: blissfully short, contemplative, pleasant, nuanced, devastating, hypnotizing. What’s more is that Reichardt has an uncanny ability to make people appear to be behaving crappily, even when they aren’t. It takes a lot to get someone who doesn’t much like dogs (me) to care about a girl who loses her dog — I’d be hard-pressed to come up with any other filmmaker aside from Reichardt who could do it.

10. The Wrestler

I don’t full-stop love this film like how many critics seem to; I hate the force-fed Best Original Song grab just before the end credits, and I feel like it occasionally loses its way. That said, two of the best performances of the year are in this film, from an amazingly cute Mickey Rourke and an amazingly naked Marisa Tomei, and it also contains the year’s third-best scene, the one with the staple gun. And it lands its ending, which I was pretty convinced it wouldn’t while watching the film for the first time.

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