Two times ten
We're making our lists and checking them twice.
It’s all over but the shouting. The year has provided a lot of much-hyped disappointments, and you’ll notice the absence of certain much-mentioned films from both our lists (Benjamin Button, Doubt, Revolutionary Road, et al.). But top tens aren’t about what we were supposed to like. So here without further ado, our lists.
Ben Kenigsberg, Film writer:
1. Che Steven Soderbergh’s brilliant anti-biopic deliberately holds Che Guevara at an iconic remove; no film this year was so determined to test the boundaries of what film could depict. In compulsively, sometimes surreally focusing on the minutiae of jungle warfare, it creates a world to get lost in—to contemplate and debate. The movie opens in Chicago in two parts on January 16.
2. Paranoid Park Shot for shot, the year’s most perfectly judged film, delineating the dilemma of its tortured adolescent protagonist (newcomer Gabe Nevins) through precision editing and a flawless, mainly nonprofessional cast. Gus Van Sant had a banner year between this and Milk, which might have made this list on another day.
3. Hunger Easily the year’s best debut, portraying the buildup to Bobby Sands’s 1981 hunger strike as a sensationally visualized hell of rebellions and reprisals. No, I’m not in the tank for IFC Films, which released all three of my top picks. (I’d praised two before they were bought.) Opens in March.
4. WALL•E It’s about time Disney made a postapocalyptic, anticorporate, environmentalist family film.
5. The Wrestler Proof that evoking your milieu with insane confidence can take you a long way. Mickey Rourke helps.
6. Flight of the Red Balloon Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien shows once again that no working director is so attuned to the possibilities of light and framing. IFC again—is anyone else buying interesting festival fare?
7. Changeling Okay, the acting is erratic. But isn’t this the kind of movie that people usually overpraise Clint Eastwood for making—classical, slyly self-critical, morally ambiguous? A procedural in which the truth keeps shifting and evidence is routinely ignored, it begs to be read as allegory.
8. Burn After Reading This seemed like a disappointment in Toronto, but like other Coen brothers films, it only gets funnier with repeat viewings. As Brad Pitt’s bouffanted doofus says, “Appearances can be…deceptive.”
9. A Christmas Tale Arnaud Desplechin’s novelistic family reunion movie finally channels his crazy narrative gambits into a stable structure. Goddamn you, IFC, for making me look like a shill.
10. Synecdoche, New York Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut registers like a pair of live wires attached to the brain.
Hank Sartin, Film editor:
1. Milk At first I was thrown by the conventionality of Gus Van Sant’s biopic, but it grew on me. The straightforward approach lets Harvey Milk’s amazing strength of character and Sean Penn’s stellar performance take center stage.
2. Hunger Filmmaker Steve McQueen tells the story of Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands in three “acts” that move through near silence to an incredible dialogue scene and then back to a hushed observational approach. Devastating.
3. Che The idea of a four-hour account of Che Guevara’s military campaigns—without any of the usual biopic back story—sounds daunting, but in Steven Soderbergh’s hands it’s riveting.
4. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father Yes, as some charge, this documentary about the aftermath of a murder is manipulative, but so is all film. Is that so wrong? Kurt Kuenne’s careful management of pacing packs an emotional wallop.
5. Happy-Go-Lucky Mike Leigh takes a break from his usual grim characters and focuses on someone who always sees the sunny side. Is she crazy? Infuriating? Some sort of wise fool? We’re left to consider whether we’re even supposed to like the main character.
6. WALL•E Yes, the part in space can’t possibly live up to the wonderful first half-hour, but it’s still a great movie that manages to get across a message without jamming it down our throats.
7. The Order of Myths This doc about Mobile, Alabama’s separate black and white mardi gras celebrations gives a rich and nuanced take on a tough topic, and it’s a healthy corrective for all the talk about our “postracial” America.
8. The Dark Knight Seriously, it’s not provincial Chicago bias at work: Christopher Nolan has big things on his mind, and despite our quibbles about Christian Bale’s throaty vocal choice, this is an awesome achievement.
9. Let the Right One In For pure chilly pleasure, this creepy Swedish vampire flick can’t be beat. Every crunch of snow, every frosty midnight landscape throbs with potential menace.
10. The Witnesses The moral murkiness of André Téchiné’s AIDS drama put some people off; characters do good things for bad reasons. But that moral messiness is what I loved. It’s raw and honest and says a lot about how it felt to live through the 1980s.
For more of the best of 2008, visit timeoutchicago.com/2008lists.