The Best and Worst Films of 2009 (and What I Missed in 2008)

For a guy who claims to find the practice of best-of/favorite listmaking a senseless, futile and mind-numbing exercise, I certainly do make a whole lot of ‘em. Look no further than the right column of this blog to take notice of that, and the two articles below this entry, for that matter. However, to reiterate, I do feel that, despite the drawbacks inherent to such lists, mostly the fact that quantifying the quality of one’s intake of movie-watching through lists is not what movies are about, they are still dialogue-starting stimulants, as well as gauges of one’s taste and judgment despite their inherent fallibility. I find that readers appreciate reading them as well. So, here we have it: the obligatory 2009 Best-of lists.

I was not at all proud of my 2008 list (I mean, come on, it has to be a pretty rough year when I name Vicky Cristina Barcelona as my best, even though John Waters did the same). Keep in mind I also missed more 2008 films than I care to mention because I was making and promoting two of my own films at that time. Therefore, I have added an extra section at the bottom (i.e. the “Best of What I Missed in 2008 and Saw in 2009 List”) to make up for that. Unless you are a working full-time critic, it is nearly impossible to see all the notable films of a single year in a compressed amount of time. All in all, however, 2009 was a much better year for cinema than 2008, in my opinion (neither year can hold a candle to the amazing 2007, however).

Also, it is necessary that I affirmatively lay down some ground rules. I got into some trouble last year when a few people pointed out a few films of foreign origin they felt I missed or unjustly ignored, which I had counted as 2007 films. The rule I am setting down is as follows: If the movie has an official 2008 release year and made it to the United States in 2009, I will henceforth count it as a 2009 release. Basically, whatever year the films would be up for American awards consideration is what I am counting. So here we go…


1. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino) Truth be told, I never thought I would see the day when I would name any Tarantino film as the best of the year. However, I could not seem to shake the feeling that the film was somehow important, particularly at this moment in time. Inglourious Basterds is a film that accepts itself as reflection and not as recreation or representation. I am going to begin making my case for this film’s importance by asking a stupefyingly and inanely na├»ve question: How many films have been made about history, or how many have depicted historical events? “Oh, come on!” I know, I know, a stupid question, but just bear with me. Easy answer? Lots and lots and lots. What this film does is build a war movie around other war movies at a time when the traditional film about historical incident has knowingly lost any sense of enterprise and originality, despite a machine in the habit of churning out the old models in snazzy little packages, and despite the dazed and deluded machinists who respond to this loss by just shrugging and saying “C’est la vie” in an ineffectual murmur. As we have entered an increasingly tongue-in-cheek post-post-modern era in which it has become harder to jar audiences loose from viewer complacency, Inglourious Basterds stands alone as a film that tests our sense for what a historical film should be and how it should function (for one, it challenges a viewer’s implicit need for rigid adherence to truth and historical “fact,” cognizant that aspirations to such things are misguided and foolish, regardless of any degree of earnestness and good intention). Some have called this film “revenge pornography” and “grossly irresponsible populist fantasy” without recognizing that these are both used as platforms to address the meanings we glean from the idea of popular memory depicted in a popular medium. It functions on so many levels that, even after a few subsequent additional viewings, I still find it mind-boggling.

Some claim it is mired in a devil-may-care sense of social responsibility, but Tarantino is perhaps the first to recognize, at least within the confines of the Hollywood machine, that the only way to be truly socially responsible at this stage in American movie history is to test our perceptions of what it really means to make so-called “socially responsible works”. He does that by pushing these unspoken standards, and that in and of itself is extraordinary. However obvious the following statement is, people still go to a theater and have no trouble accepting “true stories” as truth and cannot see that the real truth has been filtered through a medium that worships technique, mechanism, maneuver, aesthetic elbow grease, and takes liberties to do so. Inglourious Basterds has enough technique, mechanism, maneuver, aesthetic elbow grease and taken liberties to jam into three movies, and the fact that it possesses all that speaks to its intention, i.e. the intention I mention above. To reitereate, Inglourious Basterds is a film that accepts itself as reflection and not as recreation or representation. The film is extraordinary and is, in my opinion, thus far Tarantino’s masterpiece, which is funny considering that the final line of dialogue in the film is “I think this could be my masterpiece”. For every bit of "bang-bang," there is just as much (if not more) "talk-talk," and his nonstop referencing of pop-culture for once works like clockwork in this movie, and it doesn't strain the film's progression at any point. In fact, this element is integral to it. All this, of course, comes from someone who has never been a fan, and someone who has even been a flagrant, vocal disliker of Tarantino’s much-praised work. This one is different and it is certainly his most mature film. Never have a seen such a specimen: a “historical” film pointedly about historical films, and at the same time I was enormously and gratefully entertained without the need to be “in on the joke(s)” overshadowing my being unconditionally absorbed (even though as a cinephile I most certainly was in on the jokes). Also, every single performance is par excellence, particularly Christoph Waltz as the sly, conspicuously poised, multi-lingual German commandant. If this performance doesn’t earn Waltz an Oscar, I’ll eat my head with my hat on it. And I have never enjoyed the stone-jawed Brad Pitt more, even counting his hilarious comic turn in last year’s Burn After Reading.

And who puts veteran Rod Taylor in a scene together with Mike Myers? Even the most surly critic of the film has to acknowledge this as astonishing. This gutsy, thinking-out-of-the-box type of “stunt” is part and parcel of an artistic voice that I am finding, in some ways, more and more irresistible.

2. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke) Haneke’s latest is a masterpiece by any measure of the word. Visually, narratively and otherwise, I just cannot say enough about it. Before I went to see it at Film Forum this past week, I saw it described as "a ghost story without a ghost". This is very apt. Haneke's output in the past ten years has always been, by and large, quite substantial. From The Piano Teacher to Cache to this film, which I think might very well be his masterpiece, he has stood as one of the most solid and consistently successful directors working in the international cinema scene. The only thing that prevented this from occupying the number one spot currently occupied by the Tarantino's film is what I perceive as Inglourious Basterds doing double duty as both popular entertainment and timeless commentary on the nature of a genre that has spawned thousands upon thousands of films that have, heretofore, failed to truly recognize what that film recognizes. In terms of achievements in cinema aesthetics the year, however, I hand the mega-gold prize to The White Ribbon. It confidently captures and evokes the spirit of Bergman without imitation and being affectedly Bermanesque, thus managing to be a creature all its own, entirely fresh and visionary. The black-and-white photography is gorgeous, the performances (particularly those of the children) are simultaneously restrained and direct, and as a result, tremendously touching. This one is as good as they come.

3. A Serious Man (The Coen Brothers) For awhile, I thought this would be the number one film of the year on the list. Much of this is due to personal proclivity because the movie’s focus and its subject hit very close to my heart and head. However, the film met with curious reactions from the ethno-religious group it depicted. I would hear many-a conflicting report about it being passed from ear to ear when I would attend synagogue on shabbos from week to week. I saw it the first week it played at a multiplex on 86th Street and I immediately fell in love with it. When you discuss the voluminous content of the film with someone, one thing that is extraordinary is that the conversation is never quick nor can it be rushed. Identity, the nature of faith and belief, the uncertainty principle, what it means to ascribe meaning to things we cannot explain, the collapse of the Midwestern suburban American family, unwitting victims, what it means to be a "serious man," a father, a good man, a Jew. One can have a lengthy conversation about the shtetl prologue of the film alone. This is perhaps my personal favorite of the Coen Brothers' output this decade. It seems the closest work to people as well as filmmakers. And, despite a circulating and epidemic opinion, the film is really no way anti-Semitic. I remember reading a hysterical (and nonsensical) account in The Village Voice by a writer who claimed that it was the work of vehemently self-hating Jews. That would be as short-sighted and facile as calling Do the Right Thing racist, or calling Meet John Doe communist.

4. 36 Views from the Pic San Loup (Around a Small Mountain) (Jacques Rivette) I, for one, hope that Time Out magazine’s claim about the possibility of this being Jacques Rivette’s final film is just rumor. Maybe they do have a case, however, because this is the notoriously lengthy director’s shortest film to date at 84 minutes. Was a regular three-hour outing too much for the reportedly ailing 81-year-old French master? That is immaterial and maybe an ill-founded basis for my believing the rumor because these 84 minutes are certainly among some of the best in his distinguished career. The themes are familiar (i.e. illusion, the struggles of artists, the nature of theater, the mysteries of interpersonal relationships) but, as always, he continues to stretch these themes, economize them and render them in ways that are new and exciting. The story revolves around an Italian drifter who decides to tail a circus company passing through a string of small villages in the northern France. An awkward romance develops between him and a female member of the company (Rivette alumnus Jane Birkin), but struggles to understand why she remains so distant towards him. The film's jarring finale is pure Rivette. That is not to say that the rest of the film isn't. In fact, the classic Rivette themes are more present than ever. If it is my favorite filmmaker's farewell film, it's a good one (and a fitting one, if I may say) to go out on. You could almost make the claim that the film is very consciously a farewell. I could go on and on about this, but you would have to see the film and then get a sense of Rivette's public image.

5. The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch) This one isn’t going to make many peoples’ best-of-2009 list. I know that many filmgoers found it a troubling, enigmatic and self-indulgent exercise in smarmy arthouse alienation tactics. Jarmusch has reached a point in his career, however, where he feels absolutely comfortable in continuing to deliver openly and welcomely idiosyncratic films that remain integral to the style he pioneered back in the 80's with the groundbreaking Stranger Than Paradise and Down by Law, still keeping it fresh as opposed to tired and knee-jerk. I originally saw this in a theater on the Soho area where you would expect that Jarmusch's films would draw the biggest crowds. When I went there, however, it clearly wasn't. I have since purchased the film on video and have seen it again since. It is rare that an American film has a sensibility that feels as European as this. Shot and set throughout Spain, The Limits of Control in the spirit of existential theater and literature features characters lacking names (they are instead called things like Lone Man, Creole, French, Blonde, etc.), and only two of whom are played by "Jarmusch Repertory Company" members, namely Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton. It is the kind of story concept a filmmaker like Antonioni would have loved. In spite of its perhaps justified lack of popularity, I still think it has a voice that most other films this year lacked...and I, for one, think it is an exceptional film.

6. Tetro (Francis Ford Coppola) I was truly surprised to see how soon everyone forgot about this one in their year-end round-ups. "O, so soon we forget!" Coppola’s digital follow-up to his 2006 digitally-shot critical and financial failure Youth Without Youth faired amazingly well in critical circles this past spring, countering his previous film's failure. Featuring the notoriously irascible Vincent Gallo in the lead, the film is one that reminds us that Francis Ford Coppola can still make substantive contributions to film art as it stands today. I personally think it is very fitting that Coppola has returned to this comparably smaller and more personal production model. Youth Without Youth and Tetro are the types of the films that his company American Zoetrope was originally built to produce and distribute. He is doing exciting things now with the digital form that American Zoetrope aspired to do back at its first inception, but never really succeeded in doing (short of Lucas' THX 1138). It is exciting that he seems to be finally realizing his long-held, deep-seated ambition to helm these more personal works, and this one is the first recent effort to truly succeed in really every department. I also identify with the film's story for personal reasons, and that only heightened my appreciation of it.

7. Enter the Void (Gaspar Noe) This, along with Von Trier’s Anti-Christ, was the most scandalous film of this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It has not been released stateside yet, but I was able to see it through let's just say "other means". Noe is the director who gave us the equally controversial Irreversible (2002) and he was heard to have called Enter the Void a "psychedelic melodrama" in that the film is just as much of a sensory experience as it is a story (although there is most certainly a story). I have chosen it for this list because this is a film that defies convention in nearly every conceivable way. Its ventures into unpleasantry are occasionally hard to sit through but, throughout it all, you get the sense of a director testing the constraints, the boundaries and the limits of the form and the medium itself without over-indulging himself too heavily. This is something for which I immediately look when I am analyzing degrees to which films are cutting edge these days, as it is obviously becoming more challenging to challenge a form that is constantly being challenged in new ways every day, especially as digital media become more accessible. Enter the Void makes bold strides in forging new paths for telling stories, even if the journey isn't always a pleasant one. This should be a film that lives on, not just for its provocative, sure-to-be-censored content, but for its guts.

8. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow) This one would seem to be this year's prime Oscar bait. Even as a summer release with little fanfare, it drew a great deal of attention at a very early stage in the awards race, but that is neither here nor there really. The United States has not given us a truly compelling or gripping war film in quite some time. Bigelow's The Hurt Locker functions as many things. It goes without saying that the film is a gripping commentary on America's involvement in the current Iraq War, telling a story of which one could easily allegorize: the story of a bomb defuser part of a bomb-squad operating like frantic surgeons in a city where everyone could go up in smoke at a single frozen moment. Yeah yeah, right. Allegories are passe these days. What Bigelow does well is dip the movie in large vats of adrenaline, directing it so effectively that you will swear suspense has rarely, if ever, been this agonizingly suspenseful. This is one of those movies where I felt myself almost tremoring as I was leaving the theater. What the film allowed us to recognize is the U.S. film market's burgeoning aversion to uber-topicality. Think Vietnam movies, for instance. Besides John Wayne's inept The Green Berets (1968), Hollywood steadfastly refused to bankroll war-genre films about the war in southeast Asia until well after the fact. The Hurt Locker would seems to exist thoroughly as the first successful non-documentary film about American military involvement in Iraq, and it does not make it a fleeting, wasted or self-important experience. To use Full Metal Jacket terminology, with this movie "Hollywood's grown a pair," thanks ironically to the help of a trail-blazing female director.

9. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Terry Gilliam) Poor Terry Gilliam. Lady Luck just doesn't like hanging out in his corner for some reason. It seems that every film he makes is fraught with production trouble. What happened during this production is old news (if you don't know, somebody actor, someone you should probably know really) and how Gilliam proceeded to complete the film shows that, despite the hardships that seem to effortlessly trot his way, the man has some get-up-and-go that hasn't gotten up and left (even when maybe it easily would have). This year, he delivers another piece-de-resistance in the fantasy genre. From the man who brought us The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Time Bandits comes a film that sports that signature style and depicts the fantastical in similar ways, but one which continues to trudge the path in furthering where the previous films left off, specifically in the visuals department. Gilliam has not lost one iota of his command of delivering some spectacular visuals (we all know that this has always been his strong-suit). Following his dreary Tideland, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a most welcome bit of redemption, as he makes us aware that he continues carrying his own torch...and, boy oh boy, does it blaze!

10. Born in 68 (Olivier Ducastel) This film met with virtually no fanfare when it arrived in the States. It played at a few domestic festivals, won a couple awards and then saw a no-frills video release. As one who has studied and continues to study May 1968 in films as well as history books and literature, this epic drama, while failing to capture the time and its aftermath as artfully as Philippe Garrel's Regular Lovers (2005) did, still packed a punch of great emotional and intellectual resonance. The story is epically ambitious. We follow various couples during the May 68. The film covers the span of twenty plus years, examining the aftermath of that time of demonstrations, street guerrilla warfare and youthful idealism, staying with the characters well after the fact to observe the impact that the era has had on their children, all the way up until the early 90's when it appears that two of these children born in 68 are HIV-positive. The film is a very curious epic that was originally conceived as a French miniseries, then eventually released as an actual film. It stands as a lucid historical examination on the dovetailing of history, the evolution of civil unrest and the path towards transcendence from oppression.

Funny People (Judd Apatow), Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze), The Beaches of Agnes (Agnes Varda), The Maid (Sebastian Silva), Hunger (Steve McQueen)



1. New York, I Love You (Various) I was invited to a preview screening of this film many months before its actual release. I have a soft spot for omnibus movies and had enjoyed Paris je t’aime, so the bar had been set high. Instead, I was treated to one kitschy, irritating short after another. This is all without mentioning…a-hem…Brett Ratner’s installment. Pound for pound, short for short, this is a whopping disappointment beyond any scope of belief. It is frustrating partly because it seems as though every filmmaker felt drawn to the “young-and-hip-strangers-meet-funny-banter-follows” formula. And if it wasn’t that, we were treated to (if I may quote Wayne from Wayne’s World) “alienating and pristine” episodes like Shekhar Kapur's (penned by Anthony Minghella, to whom the film is dedicated) featuring Julie Christie and Shia LaBeouf…or Shunji Awai's episode, which features a cloyingly "cute" Christina Ricci and Orlando Bloom. After the preview screening, I was handed a survey, on which the question “What was your favorite episode?” was posed. Reading down the list, I started to laugh heartily and shake my head in disillusionment, because I’ll be damned if I could even remember most of them, even five minutes after the final fade-out, and I have an extremely good memory. When the welcome presence of Eli Wallach cannot redeem a single thing about the film, you know you’re in trouble. I think I’ll skip the upcoming Shanghai omnibus, thank you very much. That’s okay because I’m not a big China fan anyway. I'll live if I miss it.

2. The Lovely Bones (Peter Jackson) One could argue that the critics were just waiting to jump on this adaptation of Alice Sebold's pop-literature neo-gothic novel. After all, I remember hearing a story about how Pauline Kael warned Spielberg that he was riding for a fall following two major successes, and that she would be unsparing of cruelty in her review of his next film. She was (but then again, so was everyone, because we are talking about 1941). I did agree with something I read, however, which said that Jackson did not direct the film the way it needed to be directed: quietly, delicately. Any sense of nuance and subtlety is absent, perhaps because Jackson has been painting in outlandishly broad strokes for so long, in works like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong. However, I cannot fault Saoirse Ronan in the lead role, even if I tried.

3. Irene in Time (Henry Jaglom) I am going out on a limb here because I know most of the people involved in the making of this film. For one, its director was interviewed for this website a few months back. I also had the unique opportunity of sitting in on some of the editing of the film, and I had seen three rough cuts of it at various points of its post-production before attending its premiere at the DGA Theater in Los Angeles this past June. I feel, however, despite any allegiances or biases, that it is still my duty to be honest and upfront about reviewing this year’s successes and disappointments and, to me, Irene in Time stands as one of the year’s major disappointments. Jaglom’s film is ostensibly an examination of the complex relationships between fathers and daughters, which is actually a novel concept. The means by which that concept is explored, however, is what is ultimately suspect and faulty. What we are treated to is a parade of shallow and/or vehemently irritating characters prone to lounging poolside and spending many a workless day kvetching, moping and chatterboxing about their “daddies” at endless impromptu roundtable discussions. Shallowness really pervades this film. Why do I really care about this particular rich woman character whose only problem is that she cannot find an ideal boyfriend/husband to replace her father? What does that mean to me? Okay, sure, I'm a man. That said, I doubt that, excepting a few moments in the film, even women would connect to it in the way Jaglom wants them to. The real crime is that little effort is made to make one care. The character is just not compelling and is, instead, inordinately taxing of one's patience. The pseudo-documentary/fiction hybrid form which once seemed, at the very least, fresh and emotionally raw and compelling in films like Eating and Someone to Love feels forced, seemingly over-solicited, strained from every angle in this film. When people even take to talking about their fathers to strangers at parties, you know the director needs to cool it and take a few steps back with his theme for it to be rendered to its fullest potential.

The actors seem game, but the director seems less concerned with reality, emotional or otherwise — this film resembles no reality that I or anyone in my wide circle of friends knows — than making some kind of point that, despite the specificity of his focus, is still inconclusive and muddled. Its inconclusiveness is just the cherry on the cake really. Tanna Frederick has a terrific screen presence, a scrupulous and awesome ability to step into any emotion and a truly amazing instrument, but in this film she lacks a director who can mold that natural passion and performance intuition into something focused, articulate and truly impactful. Instead, her director allows an unwieldly performance that goes all over the place, testing the audience’s tolerance of Jaglom's and Frederick's self-indulgence in gapingly bold strokes. Also, motivations given to other actors seem to be frustratingly and overtly one-note (e.g. “Act this way,” “Act that way”). Other supporting players, like Karen Black and David Proval, feel underutilized and also misdirected, and screen-time that should have been more theirs is given to actors like newcomer Lanre Indewu who, to be frank, really grated on me. Jaglom has a singular voice that is unique in cinema, but this is far and away his worst film. Although this undisputed “chick flick” adds up to very little (New York Times critic Jeannette Catsoulis, in a review that basically panned the film, called it a "letter bomb to men"), it still stands out among other films, however, due to the virtues of that singular directorial voice. By the way, Jaglom makes the claim that he appreciates both the good and bad reviews he receives, so in theory he should love this write-up. No one could have made this film except for Jaglom…and that might be enough. But, to be totally honest, this film isn’t even close to being good...not at all. Andrea Marcovicci’s excellent performance, though, is one of the film’s saving graces. But again, underutilized.

4. The Girlfriend Experience (Steven Soderbergh) This is one of those films that is not easy to talk about, and that fact, despite my disappointment in it, is one of the film’s virtues. Nonetheless, I feel that this film’s biggest offense is that, in less time than anyone is willing to truly acknowledge, this film will acquire the “quaint time capsule” moniker and, to supplement the limiting nature of its topicality, it seems much too pleased with itself to really appeal loud and clear to much of anyone. It will not live on because it was made expressly for the time it was made in. Soderbergh’s thesis on the economic crisis may very well be articulate and sophisticated, but he has failed to make a film without an expiration date. The Girlfriend Experience will turn into a "curio" in less time than I think anyone is giving it credit for. Time capsules can be fascinating, but I think films should stand on their own and implicitly comment on the state of things, lest they become too topical and lose their impact watching them in retrospect. As Milos Forman said at a Q&A at Film Forum recently, “All you have to do is really mean what you say and feel it way down deep and, no matter what the film is about, it will immediately become political."

Soderbergh is a hero of mine because of his prodigious nature, the frequency with which he makes stuff and his methods of making it. And he hasn’t sold himself out to either "side" (i.e. the mainstream vs. arthouse markets, which has been a slippery slope for every other filmmaker to juggle, even those who consciously strive to balance both methods and audiences). He’s the guy who says, “I’m going to make this little movie in between these two big ones.” I exploded with delight when I discovered just recently that he had directed another “small indie” totally on the fly and on the spur of the moment whilst directing the play Tot Mom on stage overseas (using the same cast of the play for the film). He has a passion for filmmaking and for the form that is unparalleled and especially rare among well-known working filmmakers today. While porn-star-gone-legit Sasha Gray needed to portray her call-girl character with the air of entitlement and cold privilege that envelops her performance, she is a downright lousy actress and it was difficult to stomach her performance most of the time. The actors playing her clients were also much too self-conscious and felt like amateurs. In essence, it is not just the lead actress but the whole film (and its director) that seem to have a feeling of irritating entitlement and self-importance, which I cannot wrap my head around. The recession is prime target for a filmic treatment (I would stop short of thinking that Wall Street 2 will have something important to say), but this one fell way short of the mark for me.

5. Whatever Works (Woody Allen) Woody has certainly made worse in this decade. Remember Melinda and Melinda (which occupies the top spot in my “Worst of Woody Allen” list) and Scoop? However, I expected more from a collaboration between him and Larry David, even beyond what seemed to be predicted as a raucous schlemeil-athon. Although a good many of the jokes fell flat and the characters were one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, I cannot call this a total disappointment. Woody’s worsts, to me, fullfill my entertainment needs more than others’ best. However, I was neither able to be seriously analytical nor was I able to laugh freely without feeling duty-bound. And I find myself constantly amused by Woody’s curiously guarded and conservative depiction of gay and lesbian characters. You feel he wants to break out and do it right, but he still remains cautious and perhaps prudish, which itself is something rather funny to think about. He remains one of America’s premier film artists and he has taken great strides towards growth in this past decade, opening himself up to experimentation.


Anti-Christ (Lars Von Trier)
Much too much has already been written about this film, which is certainly the most controversial offering of the year, and the grand majority of what has been written is not flattering. Even the word “unflattering” is a euphemism, so I am not going to join my fellow movie scribblers in debunking it at length because that would be just yet another highly unoriginal case of been-there-done-that. I wish I could say that the film’s bad press is just critical short-sightedness, but I most certainly cannot. The film, although a few of its elements are of intrigue (although they are never properly fleshed out or even understood by the artist conceiving it), is almost irredeemable. The main problem with it is perhaps the most simple, fundamental issue and the one that is actually directly under my nose as a viewer: Why was the thing even made? Even Lars Von Trier doesn’t seem to know why. If it simply, and only, functions as an outlet, a vent, for its director’s deep suicidal depression and his misogyny…well, that is no reason for the existence of anything, lest it be made for the artist and the artist alone with no intention of it being seen by anyone else. Von Trier’s well-known reputation as a shameless self-promoter, press-hound and provocateur is at hand here. What I can affirmatively tell you is that unmotivated sexual violence is insufferable and nearly impossible to sit through.


Note: I have composed a new Best of 2008 list in light of new films seen. The ones that were on the list last year have been re-ordered to accommodate the new 2008 titles I recently saw. The titles on last year's list appear in bold.

1. Waltz With Bashir (Ari Forman)
2. My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin)
3. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen)
3. Man on Wire (James Marsh)
4. Frozen River (Courtney Hunt)
5. Medicine for Melancholy (Barry Jenkins)
6. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson)
7. Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone)
8. Milk (Gus Van Sant)
9. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman)
10. Che (Steven Soderbergh)

RUNNERS-UP: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu), The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky), The Wackness (Jonathan Levine), Tropic Thunder (Ben Stiller), Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle)


And Everything is Going Fine
(Steven Soderbergh): There are personal reasons I feel so eager to see this, Steven Soderbergh's long awaited documentary about Spalding Gray. I made a documentary essay film a couple years back called Yarns to Be Spun on the Way to the Happy Home that examined the life and career of Spalding Gray in a way that was very personal to me. I am curious to see how a filmmaker like Soderbergh frames the man's story.

Tree of Life (Terence Malick): Honestly, what movie nerd isn't looking forward to this one? I would venture to say that even Malick the Opus Filmmaker's detractors look forward to his upcoming new work.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Woody Allen): I always anticipate the next Woody. It's like a default button. Like the old tune goes, "I'm with ya rain or shine." And, as usual, he has assembled a truly interesting cast (Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Antonio Banderes, Josh Brolin, Lucy Punch).

Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese): After seeing a rather underwhelming trailer, I am a little less anxious to see this than I was. But I still want to see it. Trailers can be deceiving in the extreme.

(Noah Baumbach): I'm curious to see where Baumbach goes after his fascinating film Margot at the Wedding which showed me he was growing, maturing and evolving as a filmmaker.

Queen of the Lot (Henry Jaglom): I may have given Henry Jaglom a bad review for Irene in Time this year, but I am looking forward to this sequel to his 2006 film Hollywood Dreams which, even though I also had a great deal of problems with, I still enjoyed (at least more than Irene in Time).

The Social Network (David Fincher): David Fincher is making a Facebook movie? What the Sam Hill? It just goes to show you that wonders never cease!


  1. On The Girlfriend Experience:

    Every line/situation made sure the viewer knew that this film takes place in recession era USA. At times it seemed so purposely placed and tiring that I wanted to scream, "III KNNNNOOOOOOOWWWWW!" It was way too located in the NOW.

    I have no problem with touching upon current events in dramatic pieces, but it should be done lightly.

  2. Of course Rivette makes the list, but what about Bellamy, or Making Plans for Lena?

    While it's nice to see what you've seen this year, I'd rather hear about films from the past that you watched this year. Or foreign works, which is why I've mentioned Chabrol or Honore

  3. There is another article a couple entries below this one where I talk about films from the past I saw from this past year. And I don't know what to think about Chabrol after his last couple, particularly A Girl Cut in Two, which I thought was particularly poor.