Stage and Cinema writers
2008 U.S. Film Releases
The Kevin Bowen Choices
1) 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
5) 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.
6) 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.
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.
8) 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.
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.
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,
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 Job
Larky, tough-guy fun.
In many ways, this was Sam Rockwell’s
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.
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.
Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Moving while watching. But doesn’t wear
Encounters At The End Of The World
Lovely Werner Herzog documentary detailing
life in Antarctica. Beautiful underwater sequences.
One of the few films this year that felt
A serious Apatow misstep. Possibly written on
toilet paper on the John.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
The Apatow formula descends into stalker
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
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
Ed Zwick’s biopic of the Bielski Brothers,
Ukrainian Jews who fought the Nazis, and a story of tough brotherhood between Daniel Craig and
Miracle At St. Anna
Spike Lee’s war film has some great parts,
but not a great whole.
Might have been a great film in
Body Of Lies
Ridley Scott-Leo DiCaprio Middle Easterner
was mildly entertaining.
Is this the last sand pic? No, but it feels
Like many comedies this
Like many comedies this year,
Like many comedies this year,
Like many comedies this year,
Like many comedies this year,
Well, I didn't hate
M. Night: Bad film, great scenes.
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.
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 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.
Do many 22-year-olds carry a film as well as
Keira Knightley? Otherwise this is a forgettable clichéd English period piece.
Funny, moving, with a great performance from
Brendan Gleeson, but all I remember are the midget jokes.
The Other Boleyn Girl
A ridiculous amount of horse riding. That’s
what I remember in this costume drama of Henry VIII’s reign.
Indiana 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
One explosive Robert Downey, Jr. performance
and 120 minutes of what otherwise would be absolute boredom.
Downey’s great, but the film is overrated.
The Band’s Visit
Touching Israeli film.
This surrealist Israeli film probably should
have been in my top ten.
The 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 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?
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.
My Blueberry Nights
Liked it more before I saw Ashes of Time Redux.
Ashes 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.
I hardly remember this … Abigail Breslin,
Kung Fu Panda
The 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 Africa
Quantum Of Solace
Well, I liked it. But a friend of mine
couldn’t talk me into seeing it twice.
Burn After Reading
Strong cast, strong writing. Underrated
Good Will Ferrell films never seem as good in
Eh Will Ferrell films never seems so eh in
Man, does this light Audrey Tautou vehicle
seem awfully good in retrospect.
Tell 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 Rodanthe
Diane Lane remains the best thing about a Diane Lane film.
Well directed by George Clooney, but not
Wait, I’m confused.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
A film that has improved in my
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
A film with a bad case of indie
Angelina Jolie cries her way to an Oscar
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 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
Hayden Christiansen finds he has the power to
jump from one place to another. Unfortunately he comes back.
One 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.
What Happens In Vegas
Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz, at their
Over Her Dead Body
So ridiculous that it’s almost endearing. But
2008 lists of other writers and readers