Best films of 2008

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Time Out’s film critics remember 2008’s silver screen highs, lows and welcome reissues

Dave Calhoun, Film editor

FILMS OF THE YEAR

‘There Will Be Blood’Daniel Day-Lewis led the charge into 2008 with his mesmerising portrayal of Upton Sinclair’s oil man, Daniel Plainview. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson leant poetry and mystery to this birth-of-a-modern-nation epic and kept us guessing on many fronts, not least what the hell passed between the epilogue and the bulk of the movie.‘Happy-Go-Lucky’ Mike Leigh’s latest was litmus-test cinema to determine whether or not you had a beating heart… And in retrospect Leigh’s story of an upbeat young Londoner (Sally Hawkins) was what we needed in these times: a simple, funny, touching study of what it means to be happy and get along with our fellow man. ‘Of Time and the City’ There were tears at the Cannes screening of Terence Davies’s first foray into the realm of the docu-essay. The form may be new, but the interest was familiar: Davies’s Liverpool childhood, adopted here to project ideas of where we’ve travelled in the past 50 years and what we’ve left behind.

BEST FILM WITHOUT DISTRIBUTION

‘Z32’Venice showed Avi Mograbi’s ‘Z32’, an invigorating mess of a doc about a young Israeli soldier reminiscing over his involvement in the planned killing of Palestinian soldiers. Mograbi mixes odd special effects with his own songs about the difficulty of locating truth.

WORST FILM OF THE YEAR

‘The Other Boleyn Girl’Peter Morgan’s adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s novel hovered limply between solemnity and soap opera.

REISSUE OF THE YEAR

‘The Bill Douglas Trilogy’/‘The Terence Davies Trilogy’ on DVDThe BFI released these two, superb post-hoc trilogies by two British filmmakers who transformed their childhoods into the highest art.

Wally Hammond, Deputy film editor

FILMS OF THE YEAR

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‘There Will Be Blood’
Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterful movie saw him apply an epic scope and dark psychological poetry to ‘mythic’ American cinema.

‘Wall.E’
Pixar-Disney’s semi-‘silent’ eco-parable was the greatest of this year’s animations, flawed only by too much space time on the cruise ship.

‘The Romance of Astrea and Celadon’
In a great year for geriatric cinema – including works by nonagenarian Manoel de Oliveira – this romantic (possible) swansong from French master Eric Rohmer was the most ardent, youthful and optimistic.

BEST FILM WITHOUT DISTRIBUTION

‘Under the Tree’Indonesian director Garin Nugroho’s latest, Bali-set ‘musical’ would make a great, if unlikely, candidate for singalong cinema.

WORST FILM OF THE YEAR

‘Cassandra’s Dream’Woody Allen’s attempt to ape Mike Leigh with this cock-er-nee crime caper was a total embarrassment.

REISSUE OF THE YEAR

‘The 39 Steps’ in cinemas‘Wedlock is padlock’ said Dr Johnson. Hitch took him literally, joining Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll at the wrist for this most pleasurable, tightly written and economically directed of his British-era ‘entertainments’.

Derek Adams, Film critic


FILMS OF THE YEAR

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‘No Country for Old Men’
The Coens' modern Americana thriller proves that straight-up mainstream entertainment can easily co-exist with smart filmmaking. Javier Bardem’s cattle-gun killer is the year’s most malevolent psycho and the widescreen cinematography is sublime.

‘There Will Be Blood’
Paul Thomas Anderson’s oil epic is remarkable, not least for the performances of Day-Lewis and Dano.

‘In Bruges’
The year’s most deliciously un-PC movie is also one of the funniest. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson’s hitmen have a rollicking time bouncing off one another like magnets at opposite poles.

WORST FILM OF THE YEAR

‘Disaster Movie’An awful film of such vapid inanity it makes my blood boil thinking about it.

BEST FILM WITHOUT DISTRIBUTION

‘Max Minsky and Me’This German teen romance is forthright in its depiction of teen life.

REISSUE OF THE YEAR

‘The Complete Coen Collection’ on DVDBlu-ray releases of the original ‘Planet of the Apes’ and ‘French Connection’ were welcome additions to the HD canon, but my money’s on this full-monty DVD collection of classic Coens.

David Jenkins, Film critic


FILMS OF THE YEAR

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‘Flight of the Red Balloon’
It got trashed by the UK press, but no film tackled the nature of artistic representation and the struggles of inner-city living with the delicacy, depth and persuasiveness of Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s sublime and simple Paris-set drama with Juliette Binoche in one of her most charismatic roles.

‘My Winnipeg’
That wonderful Canadian fabulist, Guy Maddin, offered up this hilarious ‘docu-fantasia’ about his upbringing in snowbound Manitoba.

‘Be Kind Rewind’
Michel Gondry’s loopy comedy dared to embrace the democratic future of cinema via YouTube, camcorders and dodgy effects.

WORST FILM OF THE YEAR

‘The Hottie and the Nottie’ or ‘The Love Guru’ So bad, I’d like to see them again, which is more than can be said for Harmony Korine’s ‘Mister Lonely’, ‘Cassandra’s Dream’ and ‘Quantum of Solace’: the most disappointing films.

BEST FILM WITHOUT DISTRIBUTION

‘The Headless Woman’Lucrecia Martel’s mesmerising movie puzzle-box mixes Haneke, Buñuel and ‘BlowUp’ to disturbing and thought-provoking effect.

REISSUE OF THE YEAR

‘Killer of Sheep’ (Charles Burnett, 1977) in cinemas and on DVDBurnett’s film came dangerously close to perfection, while the DVD release of the year was Jacques Demy’s musical, ‘Les Demoiselles de Rochefort’.

Tom Huddleston, Film critic


FILMS OF THE YEAR

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‘Memories of Matsuko’
A dizzying explosion of bubblegum pop, bonecrunching violence and swooning melodrama underscored with a heartfelt plea for empathy and understanding in an unforgiving world. All of life is here.

‘Mister Lonely’
Cynics sneered at Korine’s heartfelt, hilarious and devastating portrait of life on the outer fringes. More fool them.

‘Wall.E’
Pixar made their boldest, most significant statement to date with this joyous deep-space romance.

BEST FILM WITHOUT DISTRIBUTION

‘The Birthday’Happily, most of this year’s festival favourites – ‘Anvil’, ‘Wendy and Lucy’, ‘Afterschool’ – have picked up UK deals. But why has no one jumped on hyperactive horror comedy, Corey Feldman vehicle, ‘The Birthday’?

WORST FILM OF THE YEAR

‘Cashback’It may seem cruel to kick a first-timer, but Sean Ellis’s ‘Cashback’ was a truly irksome slice of pseudo-arty claptrap.

REISSUE OF THE YEAR

‘The Walter Hill Collection’/‘The John Carpenter Collection’ on DVDWelcome box-set retrospectives for a pair of era-defining ’70s/’80s masters, Optimum’s ‘The Walter Hill Collection’ and ‘The John Carpenter Collection’ proved the lasting significance of two filmmakers too often dismissed as generic journeymen. Now, how about ‘The Larry Cohen Collection’?

Geoff Andrew, Contributing editor

FILMS OF THE YEAR

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‘Of Time and the City’/‘My Winnipeg’
Two very different cinematic poems from Terence Davies and Guy Maddin, each of which take idiosyncratic trips down urban memory lanes.

‘You, the Living’
From Sweden’s Roy Andersson the darkest, funniest comedy of the year? The most eccentric, for sure.

‘Changeling’
The quiet maestro, Clint Eastwood, just keeps on producing radical/classical gems. Next…!

BEST FILM WITHOUT DISTRIBUTION

‘La Forteresse’ Fernard Melgar’s excellent documentary chronicling the experiences of staff and inmates at a Swiss centre for asylum seekers. Topical, compassionate and subtle.

WORST FILM OF THE YEAR

‘North Face’Ludicrously implausible dross from German director Philipp Stölzl that purportedly tells the true story of a fatal mountaineering feat.

REISSUE OF THE YEAR

‘Some Came Running’, in cinemasVincente Minnelli’s 1958 film sees Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine in a shamefully underrated Hollywood melodrama: stylish, subversive and wondrously moving.


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