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Pub date December 31, 2008
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review


1 Downloading Nancy (Johan Renck, USA) People were literally running out of the Sundance screening of this brutally honest exploration of a couple’s complacent relationship. Maria Bello and Rufus Sewell bare all, while Christopher Doyle’s camera traps them in the year’s coldest blue harshness.

2 Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen, Spain/USA) After 2007’s Cassandra’s Dream, another tiny gem from the greatest living filmmaker.

3 Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, USA) Quiet and haunting, this follow-up to Reichardt’s wonderful Old Joy (2006) is a perfect antithesis to Sean Penn’s overly romanticized Into the Wild (2007).

4 Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, France) I cried throughout this unique family drama and immediately called my parents as soon as it was over. Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953) is the closest thing I can think of.

5 JCVD. (Mabrouk El Mechri, Belgium/Luxembourg/France) Jean-Claude Van Damme is a genuine genre actor and this deconstructive meta-film lovingly proves it.

6 CJ7 (Stephen Chow, Hong Kong) Overlooked by adults and kids alike, this little Furby comedy is insanity at its most brilliant!

7 Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK) Leigh’s loving tribute to teachers is a dark and lonely place. En-Ra-Ha.

8 Redbelt (David Mamet, USA) Mamet does martial arts: the metaphors are limitless.

9 Funny Games (Michael Haneke (USA/France/UK/Austria/Germany/Italy) Mean, lean and totally gene!

10 Rambo (Sylvester Stallone, USA/Germany) Sly captures American destruction and cynicism in half the time as PT Anderson’s meandering There Will Be Blood (2007).

Favorite actor: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler (Darren Aronfsky, USA) Ignore Aronfsky’s overly sentimental tendencies and Rourke will blow your mind. Then go watch Tsui Hark’s Double Team (1998) for the ultimate ’90s rumble: Rourke vs. Van Damme!

Favorite actress: Emmanuelle Béart, Vinyan (Fabrice Du Welz, France/Belgium/UK) Wealthy white tourists will stop at nothing to colonize every corner of this planet. Watch Béart and husband Rufus Sewell (see Downloading Nancy) go absolutely nuts as they battle each other and creepy jungle kids in this hypnotic hybrid of The African Queen (1951) and Don’t Look Now (1973).

Favorite animated movie: Wall*E (Andrew Stanton, USA) This unofficial remake of Silent Running (1972) should win the Oscar for Best Picture.

Favorite mumblecore film: Baghead (Duplass Brothers, USA) The brothers continue to nail their jokes hilariously and earnestly.

Favorite trailer: The Class (Laurent Cantet, France) Tears well up every time I see the trailer for this Cannes Golden Palm winner (due in early 2009). Can’t wait.


Best pluck: Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK)

Worst pluck: Angelina Jolie, Changeling (Clint Eastwood, USA)

Best train wreck: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, USA)

Worst train wreck: Marianna Palka, Good Dick (Marianna Palka, USA)

Best tween vampiress: Lina Leandersson, Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Norway)

Worst teen vampire groupie: Kristen Stewart, Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke, USA)

Worst mother in an awful movie: Julianne Moore, Savage Grace (Tom Kalin, Spain/USA/France)

Worst mother in a good movie: Debra Winger, Rachel Getting Married

Best outlaw: Anamaria Marinca, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, Romania, 2007)

Worst outlaw: Angelina Jolie, Wanted (Timur Bekmambetov, USA/Germany)

Best Princess Diana impression: Keira Knightly, The Duchess (Saul Dibb, UK/France/Italy)

Better than a Princess Diana impression: Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, USA)


1 My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, Canada)

2 Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)

3 The long-awaited DVD release of Stranded in Canton (William Eggleston, USA, 1974)

4 The Man From London (Béla Tarr, France/Germany/Hungary)

5 Man on Wire (James Marsh, UK/USA)

6 Tell No One (Guillaume Canet, France)

7 The Bank Job (Roger Donaldson, UK)

8 Alexandra (Alexander Sokurov, Russia/France)

9 In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, UK/USA)

10 The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, USA)


1 Towelhead (Alan Ball, USA)

2 The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, USA)

3 Milk (Gus Van Sant, USA)

4 Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, UK/India)

5 Pineapple Express (David Gordon Green, USA)

6 Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog, USA, 2007)

7 Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, USA)

8 Reprise (Joachim Trier, Norway, 2006)

9 Gomorra (Matteo Garrone, Italy)

10 Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen, Spain/USA)


1 The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina)

2 Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina)

3 Lion’s Den (Pablo Trapero, Argentina)

4 Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone, Italy)

5 On the Assassination of the President (Adam Keker, USA)

6 United Red Army (Koji Wakamatsu, Japan, 2007)

7 Fengming: A Chinese Memoir (Wang Bing, China, 2007)

8 Observando el Cielo (Jeanne Liotta, USA, 2007)

9 Brilliant Noise (Semiconductor, USA, 2006)

10 Outer Space (Peter Tscherkassky, Austria, 1999)

Jim Finn’s films include The Juche Idea, La Trinchera Luminosa del Presidente Gonzalo, and Interkosmos.


As I’m usually absorbed in restoration and production, my film viewing is erratic, and I’m hopelessly unable to keep up with all the films I’d like to see. Thus this list is not so much a critical 10 "best" list as it is a list of new works which, having somehow cut through the clutter and pulled me to the theater, struck me as excellent — each one in a unique way. I’ve allowed it to include "film events" of 2008, enabling notable restorations and experimental works to stand alongside conventional releases.

In alphabetical order:

Absurdistan (Veit Heimer, Germany/Azerbaijan)

Four Nights with Anna (Jerzy Skolimowki, Poland/France)

Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK)

Man on Wire (James Marsh, UK/USA)

Once Upon a Time in the West restoration (Sergio Leone, Italy/US, 1968)

The Orphanage (Juan Antonio Bayona, Mexico/Spain, 2007)

Quiet Chaos (Antonio Luigi Grimaldi, Italy/UK)

Song of Sparrows (Majid Majidi, Iran)

Think of Me First as a Person restoration (George Ingmire, USA, 1975)

Untitled film projector performance (Sandra Gibson, Luis Recoder, and Olivia Block, USA)

Ross Lipman’s recent film restorations include Killer of Sheep, The Exiles, and Kenneth Anger’s Magick Lantern Cycle.


1 Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/Netherlands/Germany, 2007)

2 Body ÷ Mind + 7 = Spirit (Shana Moulton, USA, 2007)

3 Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK)

4 Origin of the Species, (Ben Rivers, UK)

5 La France, (Serge Bozon, France, 2007)

6 False Aging (Lewis Klahr, USA)

7 Paranoid Park and Milk (Gus Van Sant, USA, 2007 and 2008)

8 Lost, season four (Jack Bender and others, USA)

9 Singing Biscotts (Luther Price, USA)

10 The Fall (Tarsem Singh, India/UK/USA)

Michael Robinson’s films include Light Is Waiting and The General Returns From One Place to Another.


1 Milk (Gus Van Sant, USA)

For the fake political ephemera; the meticulous reconstruction of Harvey’s camera shop; DP Harris Savides’ recurring visions of San Francisco; and Sean Penn’s queer, Jew-y affectation.

2 RR (James Benning, USA, 2007)

A hypnotic structural film about railroads and the romantic landscapes they traverse, devoid of signs from contemporary life.

3 The Order of Myths (Margaret Brown, USA)

A lovingly crafted documentary about Mardi Gras traditions and race in Mobile, Alabama.

4 Happy Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK)

For Sally Hawkins’ stellar performance as a recklessly childlike schoolteacher, who transforms into a fearless adult.

5 Maggie in Wonderland (Mark Hammarberg, Ester Martin Bergsmark, and Beatrice Maggie Andersson, Sweden)

Swedish documentary about an African immigrant, Maggie, which mixes her poignant video diary with savvy reenactments. A fertile cross between Lukas Moodysson and Spencer Nakasako.

6 Tearoom (William E. Jones, USA, 1962/2007)

An evocative resurrection of archival police footage from the 1960s of public sex crackdowns in the Midwest.

7 Derek (Isaac Julien, UK)

Tilda Swinton’s absorbing monologue about queer-punk filmmaker Derek Jarman thrusts his radical work into the present.

8 Reprise (Joachim Trier, Norway, 2006)

A bombastic film about the literary ambitions of a group of post-punk boys in Oslo.

9 Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, USA)

The sobering alternative to the pre-recession revelry of Sex and the City: The Movie.

10 A Mother’s Promise: Barack Obama Bio Film (David Guggenheim, USA)

Romantic Barack-oganda screened during the DNC.

Matt Wolf is the director of Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell.


1 Still Walking (Hirokazu Kore’eda, Japan)


2 Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, USA)

One of the most unbridled films ever funded by Hollywood coffers. Thank you, Sidney Kimmel.

3 Useless (Jia Zhangke, China, 2007)

Yerba Buena Center. You know, they show films there. And usually, they’re pretty fuckin’ crucial.

4 Flight of The Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien, France, 2007)

A dream.

5 Phone Banking for Obama @ Four Barrel Coffee

Not cinema, but visual storytelling nonetheless: when Jeremy Tooker brought ironing boards and voter rolls into his glittering café for a few exemplary weeks, we glimpsed a version of San Francisco where shiny new things brought us together rather than separated us.

6 The Website Is Down: Sales Guy vs. Web Dude (Josh Weinberg, USA)

My favorite short of the year. Truly independent "cinema."

7 Waltz With Bashir (Ari Folman, Gemany/France/Israel/USA)

Animation is the ideal medium for the recollection of memories. This film proves it.

8 Che (Steven Soderbergh, Spain/France/USA)

Someday, we’ll look upon Soderbergh’s effort for the sum of its parts: RED.

9 Craig Baldwin interview with SF360 Movie Scene

The most exciting four minutes of local film-speak in all of ’08.

10 There Will Be Bud (P.O.T. Anderson, USA)

Old-school spoofing done right.

Barry Jenkins is the director of Medicine for Melancholy.

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