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2008 U.S. Film Releases

The Kevin Bowen Choices


The Top Ten


man on wire1) Man on Wire - In four years of reviewing film, I have twice awarded the number one slot on my yearly top ten list to a documentary. I've been known to say that if I had to show aliens one film as a slice of humanity, I might choose Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man. Now I think that's a touch cynical; I would give them a two-fer with Man on Wire. I want them to see the best of us, as well.


The film captures all the details and the breathtaking accomplishment of Philippe Petit, a French daredevil, who illegally sneaked up the World Trade Center towers in 1974 and crossed the space between on a steel wire. The word artist is overused. And yet it's hard to say this stunt doesn't qualify. And director James Marsh brings it to full artistic fruition with energetic cinema.


For certain, Man on Wire is the year's best documentary. It's also the year's best heist film (my apologies to the very satisfying The Bank Job); the best human spirit story; the best New Wave film; and it uses Petit's eerie resemblance to Malcolm McDowell to recall an era when he was a primal, youthful force of nature. The film is a celebration of youth, an encomium for innocence, a song of memory and loss, and an ode to humanity.


Rachel Getting Married 2) Rachel Getting Married - "It's about sisterhood." Surely, this isn't true. You know it. Rachel knows it. Kym must know it, too, even as it passes from her ever-moving mouth. And yet when the former family superstar turned career drug rehabber tries to swipe the maid of honor role at her studious sister's wedding, it might surprise you that Rachel gives in.


You won't understand it. Nor will I. Nor most of all will Emma, the deposed maid. And yet that is the beauty of Rachel Getting Married - the Buchman family relations field a current of the unexplained, the weight of an indefinable, unseen history beyond the page or the print. When I seek to praise Rachel Getting Married, I note that I can think seriously and easily about these lives, the pasts and the futures that technically do not exist.


History tells Rachel that Kym's coup comes from her neverending selfishness and need for attention. Yet it will slip past her, and perhaps you, that it stems from something more and deeper than vanity. For deep in her heart, Kym feels the desire to love and be loved, and the fear of being cast out, for a sin for which she cannot ever fully atone.


This is a film that makes it easy to hand out the praise. To an electric Anne Hathaway and the perfect bookend in Rosemarie DeWitt. To Jonathan Demme and Declan Quinn, for giving cinematic zest to a story that could have settled for a normal outing; to Bill Irwin for his belief that hot dogs can save the world; to Debra Winger for being there. And to Jenny Lumet, for giving us a script of three complete women with distinct voices and desires. If she were a former stripper who wrote in blogspeak, we would be hearing more about the emergence of an exciting new screenwriter.


4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days 3) 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days - This year, I found myself with nine films for 10 spots. So in choosing the tenth from a list of slightly problematic possibilities, I decided to go with a film with a pinky toe (a one week run) in 2007. If you're going to break the rules, you might as well break the rules for the best film.


And among those contenders, 4 Months is clearly that. Reduced too often to the phrase "the Romanian abortion movie," director Christian Mungiu's Cannes winner is a jolt of unyielding realism crafted as a horror story. Every run-in for the terrifically earthy Anamaria Marinca smolders with understated tension, as she helps her roommate seek the services of a shady abortionist in Communist-era Romania. You expect the secret police at any second. And rarely have nighttime walks seemed like such life-and-death propositions.


The Dark Knight 4) The Dark Knight - Who said, "I've had, hell, a lot of serious challenges. What matters to me is I didn't compromise my soul to be a popular guy."


So no, it's not Batman. At least not technically. The quote comes from President George W. Bush. That the statement recalls the final choice that Batman makes - to accept vilification by society in order to save it - is a credit to the film's creators - the writer-director team of Christopher and Jonathan Nolan. Whether or not the film is a paean to the Bush presidency or a scathing critique remains an open question.


The Dark Knight is not only this year's box office champ. It's the best film of its genre. It's a meditation on heroism, the heroes we want versus the heroes we need. It's an examination of vigilantism. And it's one of the few Hollywood films this year of real scale and ambition.


Through the pretense of its comic book masquerade, The Dark Knight asks the most important question of our time - how far can a civilized society go in fighting the most destructive threats and still consider itself civilized? A Dirty Harry for our times, and I mean that in the most complimentary way.


the wrestler5) The Wrestler - It would be enough for The Wrestler to be an interesting character study about a down-and-out professional wrestler scratching out a meager post-fame existence. Yet Darren Aronofsky makes Randy "The Ram" Robinson a martyr for the modern world. All that and Quiet Riot, too.







the class6) Entre Les Murs (The Class) - Never would I think that going back to school would be as riveting as in this year's Cannes Palme d'Or winner. French director Laurent Cantet squeezes human drama from every sliver of school life, from routine staff discussions to raw-nerve teacher-student confrontations. Written and acted by Francois Beaugadeau, a longtime Parisian teacher, this near-documentary speaks clearly and closely to the truth.





Let the Right One In 7) Let the Right One In - Is Tomas Alfredsson's snowbound vampire flick a horror film or a dark comedy? Well, I laughed, anyway. Thank goodness for vampires who do suck. Blood, that is.








speed racer8) Speed Racer - I'd love to be able to tell you that the candy-colored Speed Racer is a devastating intellectual landmark about the relationship among men, machines, and monkeys. But it isn't. It's simply a flashy, exuberant cornucopia of the visceral joys of watching a movie. But if you need some artsy meat to let you sing its praises at a dinner party, I've got this for you: it radicalizes visual space and liberates the viewer from the camera to a degree rarely seen in a popular film. That should make the forks return to the fondue.




In Search of a Midnight Kiss 9) In Search of a Midnight Kiss - In a rebound year for indie filmmaking, this is the moment I'm supposed to salute a minimalist micro-movie like Wendy and Lucy or Chop Shop. Nah. I'm going with Alex Holdridge's splashy little New Year's Eve Internet dating romance. Why this one? Because it embodies the best values of indie filmmaking - spunk and drive and creativity and energy.







Snow Angels 10) - It's been a big year for David Gordon Green. The box office success of his Judd Apatow collaboration Pineapple Express means the longtime indie auteur can now pick up the check at dinner. Meanwhile, his domestic indie examining the thrills and torments of love was a (dis)comforting winter blast in early spring. Sam Rockwell is King of the Indies for a reason, and people forget that Kate Beckinsale arrived as an indie critics darling.








If you’ve got the money, honey



The chief criticism of this slick card-counting casino has been that it takes a true story of Asian MIT geeks who found a way to beat Vegas and makes it a Caucasian fantasy with a slick, sexy cast. To which I reply, “And ….. ?” 






the bank jobThe Bank Job

Larky, tough-guy fun.














In many ways, this was Sam Rockwell’s year.









Rahmin Bahrani’s story of orphans scratching out a living at an outlaw body shop will stand as a model to the minimalist micro-movies that are on the way from indie world.







Adam ResurrectedAdam Resurrected

Great performances sometimes get unfairly buried. So it is with Jeff Goldblum, playing  an institutionalized Holocaust survivor in an Israeli mental hospital. Hopefully, this is the engine for a worthy impending comeback.


The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

Moving while watching. But doesn’t wear well.







Looking good


Encounters At The End Of The WorldEncounters At The End Of The World

Lovely Werner Herzog documentary detailing life in Antarctica.  Beautiful underwater sequences.








The FallThe Fall

One of the few films this year that felt visually inventive.













Apatow fest


Drillbit TaylorDrillbit Taylor

A serious Apatow misstep. Possibly written on toilet paper on the John.








Forgetting Sarah MarshallForgetting Sarah Marshall

The Apatow formula descends into stalker fantasy.








Pineapple ExpressPineapple Express

A well-known critic was complaining about “fanboys” who thought The Dark Knight deserved an Oscar nod. Then he placed this film in his number one spot. Go figure.











Don’t know much about history



A decent film that shouldn’t be within a Marine One flight of an Oscar.  Thank the Lord we have Ron Howard around to enrich our lives.








Ed Zwick’s biopic of the Bielski Brothers, Ukrainian Jews who fought the Nazis,  and a story of tough brotherhood between Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber.







Miracle At St. AnnaMiracle At St. Anna

Spike Lee’s war film has some great parts, but not a great whole.









Revolutionary RoadRevolutionary Road

Might have been a great film in 1965.













Body Of LiesBody Of Lies

Ridley Scott-Leo DiCaprio Middle Easterner was mildly entertaining.









Is this the last sand pic? No, but it feels like it.










Like many comedies this year, half-funny


Get SmartGet Smart

Like many comedies this year, half-funny.







Baby MamaBaby Mama

Like many comedies this year, half-funny.








Ghost TownGhost Town

Like many comedies this year, half-funny.








Hamlet 2Hamlet 2

Like many comedies this year, half-funny.












Well, I didn't hate it


The HappeningThe Happening

M. Night: Bad film, great scenes.









fool's goldFool’s Gold

I didn’t hate this Kate Hudson/Matthew McConaughey vehicle quite as much as others. But I didn’t buy the headphones when it played on my cross-country flight, either.









Limey Blimey



Many loved this film, with director Mike Leigh dropping the misery routine and making a film about a happy character. But it feels ultimately like a miserabilist making a movie about a happy character.







How To Lose Friends And Alienate PeopleHow To Lose Friends And Alienate People

A mild hit in England, a bomb here. No film better showed the gap that now exists between American and English stardom. Simon Pegg needs a hit on this side of the pond.







The DuchessThe Duchess

Do many 22-year-olds carry a film as well as Keira Knightley? Otherwise this is a forgettable clichéd English period piece.








In BrugesIn Bruges

Funny, moving, with a great performance from Brendan Gleeson, but all I remember are the midget jokes.








The Other Boleyn GirlThe Other Boleyn Girl

A ridiculous amount of horse riding. That’s what I remember in this costume drama of Henry VIII’s reign.











Childhood killer


IndianaJones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal SkullIndiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

This time Indiana Jones defeats the swordsman with a cane. There went my childhood.












“Robert Downey is that film.”


Iron ManIron Man

One explosive Robert Downey, Jr. performance and 120 minutes of what otherwise would be absolute boredom.








Tropic ThunderTropic Thunder

Downey’s great, but the film is overrated.














The Band’s VisitThe Band’s Visit

Touching Israeli film.









This surrealist Israeli film probably should have been in my top ten.












The middle


The X-Files: I Want To BelieveThe X-Files: I Want To Believe

The Hardest movie to judge this year. A beloved television show. A dynamite lead performance from Gillian Anderson. A genre film of genuine ideas. Reminds me a touch of Antonioni and Bergman. Lousy dialogue. Awful plot. There’s a lot to like. But the show could do the same things so much better.






Rock and Rollers never die.















Last Chance HarveyLast Chance Harvey

What a false film. But Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson impress.









Meryl Streep is great. Philip Seymour Hoffman is not his usual self. How did Amy Adams get an Oscar nod?













Van Sant


Paranoid ParkParanoid Park

Gus Van Sant’s other film this year ends his trilogy with Elephant and Last Days.









Well-directed and acted biopic, but still only a biopic.












Wong Kar-Wai


My Blueberry NightsMy Blueberry Nights

Liked it more before I saw Ashes of Time Redux.








Ashes Of Time ReduxAshes Of Time Redux

I was favorably disposed to My Blueberry Nights, until I saw this. Wong Kar-Wai, arguably the world’s greatest director, refurbishes his 1990 samurai ode to time, love and loss.












Kid’s corner


Nim’s IslandNim’s Island

I hardly remember this … Abigail Breslin, no?








Kung Fu PandaKung Fu Panda









The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince CaspianThe Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian

A weak sequel to the first film. All that I remember about it was the level of violence.








Madagascar: Escape 2 AfricaMadagascar: Escape 2 Africa













Spy Game


Quantum Of SolaceQuantum Of Solace

Well, I liked it. But a friend of mine couldn’t talk me into seeing it twice.








Burn After ReadingBurn After Reading

Strong cast, strong writing. Underrated film.











Ferrell break



Good Will Ferrell films never seem as good in retrospect.







Step BrothersStep Brothers

Eh Will Ferrell films never seems so eh in retrospect












Ah, love



Man, does this light Audrey Tautou vehicle seem awfully good in retrospect.








Tell No OneTell No One

Very solid French thriller that was the indie hit of the summer.









A swoony tween tale I really want to like, but can’t quite bring myself to like.








Nights In RodantheNights In Rodanthe

Diane Lane remains the best thing about a Diane Lane film.








Well directed by George Clooney, but not well-acted.












Eat your peas


Synecdoche, New York

Wait, I’m confused.









Vicky Cristina BarcelonaVicky Cristina Barcelona

A film that has improved in my estimation.








Definitely, MaybeDefinitely, Maybe

Ryan Reynolds and Abigail Breslin play “Who’s my Mommy?” Funny.









We all must love Wall-E. Whip-snap! We all must love Wall-E. Whip-snap …








The VisitorThe Visitor

A film with a bad case of indie disease.








Smart PeopleSmart People










Angelina Jolie cries her way to an Oscar nomination.










Grumpy Old Men


Righteous KillRighteous Kill

Jon Avnet and Al Pacino at least made something watchable, unlike the notorious 88 Minutes.










This year's unusually long list of bad films



Nick And Norah’s Infinite PlaylistNick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist

The fact that this crap has a tomatometer approaching The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a testament to critical brainlessness.








Hayden Christiansen finds he has the power to jump from one place to another. Unfortunately he comes back.








One Missed CallOne Missed Call

Don’t pick up the phone!









Diane Lane supposedly left show biz over bad roles. Example A.









JJ Abrams’ hand-held disaster movie, with a dinosaur-like creature terrorizing Ben Lyons’ friends in Manhattan.









Nihilistic crap.









What Happens In VegasWhat Happens In Vegas

Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz, at their absolute worst.








Swing VoteSwing Vote









Over Her Dead BodyOver Her Dead Body

Oh, wow.








10,000 BC10,000 B.C.

So ridiculous that it’s almost endearing. But it isn’t.












see the 2008 lists of other writers and readers




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