Friday, January 02, 2009

The Top Dozen Films of the Year

Year in Review Part 5 of 5

And we've finally come to it...

Generally the making of a top ten list is cause for Sophie's Choice style agony but drafting 2008's list was unusually pleasant. Which is to say that the best films this year weren't as aggressively audacious or as eager to thrown down artistic and technical gauntlets as There Will Be Blood and No Country were last year (with the possible exception of Steve McQueen's prison drama Hunger which opted not to open in New York, thus making it ineligible for my list). Perhaps filmmakers were ahead of the curve and foresaw the wave of cautious optimism that was about to start rolling around the world. Consider the turn about from the following filmmakers who are no strangers to dour moods: Mike Leigh opted for cheer and generosity of spirit, Woody Allen made his sunniest film (quite literally) in years, and Gus Van Sant understood that "you gotta give them hope".

Honorable Mentions / Runners Up

Moodily stalking this year's top ten films, is a lonely Swedish girl who reluctantly goes by the name of "Eli". She's 12 years old. She's been 12 years old for a very very long time. She's both the love interest and the monster in the haunting horror flick Let the Right One In. Director Tomas Alfredson obviously has filmmaking in his blood (his dad, brother and girlfriend are also in the business) and his breakout hit pulses with memorable creepy imagery and smart directorial choices, especially in its first half...

READ THE REST
for thoughts on Burn After Reading, A Christmas Tale, The Class, Happy-Go-Lucky, In Bruges, Let the Right One In, Milk, Rachel Getting Married, Reprise, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Wrestler and an adorable Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth Class (also known as WALL•E)

65 comments:

Rick said...

With the exception of Burn After Reading, I love your list so far...

I also love your header with my two all time favorite actresses side by side... Natalie Wood and Meryl Streep.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen "Rachel Getting Married" and "The Class" yet but I really like your list.
Mine: 1. "The Wrestler", 2. "WALL-E", 3. "Milk", 4. "Wendy and Lucy", 5. "Happy-Go-Lucky", 6. "The Dark Knight", 7. "In Bruges", 8. "Kung Fu Panda", 9. "Burn After Reading", 10. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

Brodie said...

omgomgomgomg it's begun!!!! but nat, you haven't seen The Black Balloon yet! It's the best film of the year! (granted, I've seen very little lol)

and am I right in guessing Hawkins will take out Best Actress in the FiLM BiTCH awards? nno! don't tell me!

kent said...

Excellent write ups. You surprised me with your rankings in a very good way.

I like how your top five films are personal favorites, rather than media influenced popularity choices.

I'm really surprised MILK did not make your top five. With that, I must rent REPRISE and do my best to see THE CLASS.

I CANNOT WAIT TO READ YOUR BEST ACTRESS NOMINEES AND RUNNER-UPS!

J.L said...

Well interesting list, fun that it isn't only mainstream movies in the list. Also liked that "Let the Right One In" came as runner ups, it feels good that my homecountry Sweden had a great movie year, with this and "Everlasting Moments".

My Top 10
1. Australia 2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 3. Wall-E 4. The Wrestler 5. Vicky Cristina Barcelona 6. Milk 7. The Edge Of Love 8. The Duchess 9. Revolutionary Road 10. Slumdog Millionaire

RJ said...

God I <3 Reprise. Still my #1, actually.

pappu said...

Did you ever watch 'Jelly'? It was a good film. Not technically accomplished, so may be not de facto Top 10 material. I have to say that 'Rachel Getting Married' and 'The Wrestler' will be in my Top 10 this year. I still have to watch the December glut, so can't comment.

Anyway, it must be good to be Nat Rogers. You have talent.

Please give us more of 'em thorough-analysis pieces, like you did with Streep's Yolanda.

NATHANIEL R said...

J.L. AUSTRALIA as #1? I'm so curious as to what you saw in it cuz god knows I wanted to embrace it.

pappu thank you. i do hope to do more review pieces like the Streep one but the problem is always time and money (the less i have to hunt for paying gigs the more time i have to write. it's a cycle that i haven't figured out how to do ride properly yet)

rick another Natalie Wood fan in da house. woot. she just does not get enough love

adam k. said...

Oh dear! Milk didn't make the top five! I thought that might happen. But I love that best picture is two foreign films, one animated, one underappareciated girly indie, and one (also underappreciated) simply, well told yarn. Very curious to see what gets the bronze medal (I assume I know where the gold and silver are going). I'm pulling for WALL•E... even though I haven't yet seen the others.

And may I say just for the record what a pleasure these are to discover, read and obsess over every year. I've been realizing lately that many people's coverage of the oscar race, along with their personal awards, is just plain boring, and so predictable. But yours is always infused with impeccable taste, a healthy dose of snark, good writing, graphic design savvy, and due reverence (and sometimes tough love) for the medium.

It really feels like an annual spiritual tradition. Can't ever get enough film bitch awards.

adam k. said...

Hmm, looks like Burn After Reading vaulted ahead of several of those B+ films to get the #12 spot. Change of heart upon second viewing?

adam k. said...

Or should I say, change of grade?

Pivo said...

I miss "The flight of the red ballon" in your Top 10; it's my #1. At least I hope to see La Binoche in your Actress line-up. A career's best work.

J.L said...

To Nathaniel:
I thought "Australia" was like the movies from the 30s,40s and 50s, movies we usually not is seeing nowadays. Nicole & Hugh had great chemistry, and the story was wellwriten + It was a visual eye candy.

NATHANIEL R said...

BAR -- definitely stronger on second viewing ;) in truth it was a little ahead of me the first time.

pivo --i haven't worked out best actress yet... and i'm hoping to see one more performance before finalizing my god but that category is always a beast for me.

Casey Fiore said...

Nathaniel can you agree with me that the masses are off base in calling this a week year?

I see in your grade scale review section that you have more A's and High B's than last year, a supposedly great one

Jose said...
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Jose said...

Great top 10. I've yet to see "The Class", but I agree fully with the rest, it was refreshing to see no mention of "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Dark Knight" anywhere near your favorites of the year.
Somehow their overrated-ness seems to me more obvious and annoying than whatever people speak of "WALL-E" which still feels to me like the best film released last year (followed closely by "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "Hunger").

mrripley said...

i really hope sally gets the nom over jolie or leo,i do think rev road is kate w's 2 nd best ever although i have not seen the reader.

mrripley said...

nats best actress list a guess

hathaway
hawkins
winslet - the reader
hall
williams

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm surprised Milk did not make into your top 5.

I'm so glad Wall-E did, a film I adore, and The Wrestler, another Aronofsky film getting into your best 5.

I know how you can have more time to marvel us:

People, let's give Mr. Nathaniel Rogers some money. If we all give a little, he will have enough to keep on his great work.

Marcelo - Brazil.

Arkaan said...

Nine out of ten, and I correctly assumed that Milk would be on the bubble. My oscar predictions won't be nearly this good. Let me go read you know.

... okay, I'm back...

I'm a little surprised that Vicky Cristina Barcelona made your list (especially since Match Point, a diamond cut stunner didn't in '05). I've only seen it the once, and I liked Bardem, Cruz and Hall to varying degrees, but the film as a whole didn't linger.

Anyways, good read so far and I look forward to the rest.

RahulB said...

Wall-E, Rachel Getting Married, and to a lesser extent, The Wrestler are my top 3 of the year.

I still haven't seen Revolutionary Road, but I just don't think reuniting the Titanic co-stars can unseat that wonderful little robot or my favorite little substance abuser (ha).

Ratatouille and Wall-E is like the 2000's version of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.

Iggy said...

I agree with you in what you say about Woody Allen and VCB. I just wish, conversely, Almdóvar could do better with male parts. I love to see some love for BAR, too, one of my favourites of the year.

Even though I liked In Bruges and it grows with time, I could barely stand Farrell's (many) mannerisms when I saw it. I guess my problem with it it's that it wasn't so long since I had seen Cassandra's Dream and the character is somehow a slight variation. And while in Cassandra's Dream he was playing against an absent McGregor (we love you Ewan, please make something interesting!), here the rest of the cast is far more superior.

Rob said...

I SWEAR I'm not being facetious or bitchy, but rather, genuinely curious: Can you PLEASE explain how "The Wrestler" is a political parable? I kind of stared at my computer screen blankly for a good five minutes trying to muster the explanation, and nothing came.

Help?

NATHANIEL R said...

well...

[spoilers] he's a beat up charming old guy (and they like to put the american flag behind him in shots). and he's clinging desperately to former glories rather than finding any new direction to his life (one trick poney) and he's just going to keep up these reunion fights --beating up on a middle eastern guy which might just be the death of him.

or am I stretching?

It just seemed very much there on a second viewing.

Chris said...

So happy to see Vicky Christina in the top 10 (probably the most pleaset suprise of the year in my opinion)

So dissappointed to see Milk out of the top 5 (probably my favroite film of the year)

So wish I lived in New York so I could see The Class, otherwise out of the top 5 I am putting my full support behind Rachel Getting Married for the gold.

Rob said...

Haha, cute analogy, but I think it's a huuuuuuuge stretch. After all, a number of major differences:

Ram has alienated everyone in his life and feels affection only from his adoring crowds.

Ram feels a genuine passion and love for what he does as well as serving "his people."

Ram resigns to his fate, or rather, speeds it up, doing himself in because he has nothing left; he doesn't flail about, throwing everything at his opponent, losing every attribute that once made him desirable to his throng.



I see what you mean, but you can't really thing any of what you saw in it was Arronofsky's intention, do you?

diego said...

I had the chance to see Nat's ballot for Best Actress and it looks like this :

Anne Hathaway - Rachel getting marr
Famke Janssen - Turn the river
Sally Hawkins - Happy-go-lucky
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Kristin Scott-Thomas - Il y a long

Finalist : Julianne Moore - Savage Grace

Semi-Finalists :
Kate Winslet - The Reader & RevRoad
Rebecca Hall - Vicky Cristina Barc

Nono said...

Nathaniel, I never thought of "The Wrestler" in that political sense even though it was hitting me in the face. If anyone has ever watched wrestling you will see that is extremely xenophobic. They tend to favor the all-american wrestlers (Hulk Hogan) and they have had middle-eastern villains (or as used in the film heels) in the past. My grandpa is a huge wwf fan.

Anonymous said...

FAMKE JANSSEN!!!!!

Christine said...

No Herzog? I'm crushed.

gabrieloak said...
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gabrieloak said...

I respect your taste but I'm upset that Milk didn't make your top 5.

I also hated Burn After Reading and Wall-E doesn't make my top 12.

Glenn said...

Diego, this isn't AwardsDaily. You can't claim you've seen a secret memo. Especially since just earlier in this entry Nat had said he hadn't even finalised Best Actress. very odd.

Nice list, Nat. Wish I could say I had seen more. I've seen all the ones that have been released, but The Wrestler, The Class, A Christmas Tale, Milk and Rachel Getting Married haven't gotten released yet (most are in the next month, so yay for that - hopefuly by the end of the FB Awards I will have seen most of the major contenders for once).

Ryan said...

Wow… a few surprises here. But first, excellent write-up!!! I always look forward to reading them and glad to hear your considering more reviews. I’m most pleased to see THE WRESTLER netted a Best Picture nod as well as IN BRUGES managed a spot on your Top 10 (Farrell fuckin rocked!) MILK’s exclusion from your Top 5 was a bit surprising but at the same time...

...I so hear you with the (mainstream) biopic domination of awards. It got me thinking of the last time I felt a biopic truly deserved to be among the top 3 or so films of the year. I can only think of a few in recent years: “The People vs. Larry Flynt”, “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Erin Brockovich”. All biopics that seemed to transcend their “genre” and prove to be truly magnificent works of art— thanks to their directors who truly understood how to visually render the soul of the individuals depicted. Consider the final scene of “Flynt”; (visually) summing up/ re-stating the film’s key ideas as Forman’s camera roams freely through Flynt’s elegant mansion with Althea’s ghost haunting every room— bringing us up to the lonely smut-peddler in bed, awaiting the Supreme Court decision, and watching home movies of Althea on three (shrewdly placed) TV screens. It’s this kind of magic I long for in biopics and so rarely find. While Sant’s film might have just, JUST fallen short of achieving this, MILK is still a beautiful triumph that Oscar damn well better recognize.

On that note, can’t wait to see what film takes YOUR 2008 Best Picture crown.

So much time said...

Did you see the Funny Games remake, I've been curious all year to hear your take on it. I've also been excited for The Lucky Ones and wondered if you were planning on catching it.

Oh, and FYC:
Best Actress in a leading role, Julianne Moore-Blindness

and I know it won't be a popular opinion but I thought Heigl handled 27 Dresses so well. I still have a lot to see but she is at least temporarily on my ballot. Granted the whole film wasn't great but I love it when performers excel in semi-maligned genres and remind everyone that it can be done right.

NATHANIEL R said...

rob --alienating allies and playing only to your base? How does that not support my theory? ;)

glenn sorry that you have to wait so long. I spent well over half my life in smaller markets and it's such a bear. nyc was like a godsend to me.

gabrieloak if it makes any difference if I had an oscar ballot i would totally put MILK on it (i don't actually think REPRISE is eligible since i think you have to open within a year of your oscar submission to be eligible in any other categories if you miss the oscar foreign list which it did in 2006. but maybe i'm wrong. their foreign rules are so confusing)

NATHANIEL R said...

somuchtime i did not see funnygames --mostly because I wanted to see the original first and then because I just didn't feel like i could take it the more I heard about it (me wimp)

p.s. i also thought Heigl was way better than her material in 27 DRESSES

ryan glad you liked. it turned out to be a good year and MILK is totally best picture worthy (i don't want to give the impression that it's not). The last time a probable oscar nominee didn't make my top five that i ABSOLUTELY was thrilled to see oscar nominated was GOSFORD PARK. which was also in the #6 position. doesn't mean i didn't love...

Arkaan said...

Nathaniel, the rule for non-American films is that they simply must play during the following calendar year to be eligible. Tell No One is ineligible because it played in 2006 in France and Belgium, for example, and Reprise is ineligible because it played in Norway in 2006.

J.D. said...

Aw, I'm a little sad Milk didn't get into your top five, Nat. But I'm sorta obsessed with it, so, lol.

I'm mostly impressed that I've seen nine of your top twelve! I didn't expect that. :)

Also, I desperately hope Trier is nominated for Director?

NATHANIEL R said...

ARKAAN --thanks. so yes. if i had the same rules (i don't. i allow two years for release after original release in home country) than reprise would be out and MILK would be in. so yes, it's on my imaginary oscar ballot ;)

J.D. which 3 are you mising?

J.D. said...

The Class, The Wrestler and Let the Right One In. None of them have opened here yet, natch.

I am sooo happy I was able to see A Christmas Tale on IFC on Demand. That was awesome.

bettestreep2008 said...

Nathaniel - love your work.

Am surprised by your thoughts on the campiest feel good movie of the year - "Mamma Mia".

Sure Pierce's singing was goddawful - but there was so much fun in the whole film - and of course Meryl was divine as usual.

Haven't seen "doubt" but fingers crossed Meryl receives her overdue 3rd Oscar!

Kurtis O said...

How lovely that "Reprise" and "RGM" cracked your top 5. And that "In Bruges" made your top 10. Your list is demonstrative of why I frequent your site.

adam k. said...

You have to remember that for Nat, any best pic oscar contender being as high as #6 on his list means he's basically rooting for it. Stuff like The Class and Reprise and (to a lesser extent) even Rachel and The Wrestler are getting nowhere near the best picture oscar. Milk is by far the highest ranked of any likely oscar nominees. (that's assuming WALL•E is left out).

I remember a situation similar to this when Nat had DiCaprio in The Departed in 6th and was pissed that he wasn't nominated for that. Even though he wasn't on his ballot. Since Nat nominates people like James McAvoy, Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman, who were not even on oscar's radar.

Anyway, I'm just sayin'.

But I too was a bit sad that Milk is not a Film Bitch nominee for Best Picture.

James Hansen said...

Its best to rank foreign films the year they are released in the USA/the city you write for; otherwise, it would be a very rare occurrence for one to even be eligible. That's why 4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days (and others) have appeared on lists for 07 and 08. All depends on where and when the critic sees it. No need to disqualify films because of where you come from.

Dave said...

Love the list, as always. Especially pleased to see Reprise so high, and A Christmas Tale making it (and glad you can't really remember the plot either!). The cast was fantastic all the way through (hopefully some mentions for them in the awards?).

But Wall-E: I get the cuteness, but "smart"? I understand the laziness/weight/environmental thing needs to be said but the second half felt like being beaten over the head. "You. Will. All. Become. Fat. If. You. Don't. Recycle." (Generalize, me? Never.) And the romance was, well, quite creepy. (They're robots! And she looks like his ipod!)

Same situation as Glenn, different country: most of these pop up in the next month or so. I hope be caught up with everything most by Oscar night, though.

Douglas Racso said...

im so much more excited by film bitch rather than the oscars, honestly. love your work!

JA said...

Nat, I loved that you called that out, re: The Wrestler's political metaphor, because my boyfriend saw it too when we watched it and was quite enthused with the idea (it didn't occur to me until he pointed it out).

NATHANIEL R said...

james i agree on the foreign film front but I keep it to a two year lease ;) because I feel if a movie is released much later than that it's more like a retrospective honor... movies that arrive with a huge history of critical consensus don't really have to play the same game as new releases.

I thought it was so lame that Killer of Sheep (1977) and Army of Shadows (1969) for example were on so many "best of the year" lists in recent years when they aren't contemporary at all.

JA good so i'm not crazy. TAKE THAT ROB (kidding)

gabrieloak said...

It's really a shame The Class was released so late in the year. I think it would be on a lot of 10 best lists.

NATHANIEL R said...

yeah, apparently they learned nothing from 4 MONTHS... which also spread its support out over two years and ended up only half as enthused over as it could have been

Casey Fiore said...

Nat the FB awards are always a great read. you should definitely consider putting together a FB awards collection for the decade for the end of ext year

NATHANIEL R said...

casey --it's a plan. a 10 year anniversary book!

Casey Fiore said...

like an actual book book? like in print?...

i'd buy it

adam k. said...

I'd buy it too.

adam k. said...

Well, it depends on the price. But I probably would.

Anonymous said...

im really hoping Famke Janssen for Turn the River

Jesus Alonso said...

Milk doesn't even make my top 15 with all the "heavy weights" still to be seen, Nat. Seriously, how can someone be gay and proud and overlook how this movie is so watered down, sugar-covered, product designed to not scare your average joe nor the Awards voters and look "respectable"? Where's the coke, the poppers, the bathhouse sex, the group sex and everything that radically defined the gay scene of the Milk age? As a friend of mine who lived those years in NY at that time, I can't help both laughing and shrugging to such a biopic. Almost as shrugh-inducing as "Finding Forrester" and miles away from "Elephant". I found "Milk" irritatingly ass-kissing, awards-begging, and bland (the metaphore of the wheelchair... please!).

NATHANIEL R said...

wait are you saying i aint gay and proud. let's take it outside Jesus!

just kidding.

seriously though. gay films can't win. If they don't show penetration people think they're watered down. if they do, people think they're trying to shove it down people's throats (also penetration!)

bad joke sorry.

I fail to see how a movie which OPENS with the main character bedding a guy he cruises in the subway is being "coy" about the fact that it's taking place within a cruisey promiscuous gay age.

there's plenty of references to their sex lives in this movie (as well as actual kissing and sex scenes) but the movie is not about sex but about the political journey of this community.

Casey Fiore said...

Jesus I don't really think the movie was watered down at all. first of all Milk does mention bathhouses and drugs at times, but the fact of the matter is that the point of the movie was to show, as Nat said, the strides these men made in a time where they weren't accepted. the bathhouses etc were completely irrelevant. the movie is more so about the movement than the culture

Jesus Alonso said...

look, Nat, my point is... if Gus van Sant is using an almost documentary approach to the subject but shows an idealization, we get something that feels unreal. Everything is "good will" (wink) and no shadows on Milk. He cruises a man in the beginning, so what? He makes him his partner. That's something swallowable for your average joe. There's a middle point between Milk and Cruising. The mention of bathhouses is barely in the movie, and that's an example... almost everything that could lead to any trouble of controversy has been blurred, disguised or almost deleted. I still give "Milk" a C+, a *** 1/2 stars rating. It's not a bad movie at all, it's a nice introduction to a personality that is extremely important in our fight for our civil rights, but its depth, frankly, it's nothing. It is extremely superficial, naive, puerile at key moments - the wheelchair, that's a low class trick, a badly drawn one. Gus van Sant has sold us smoke on this one, and it's frankly irritating that a master capable of "Elephant", "Drugstore Cowboy" and "My Private Idaho" simply won't have the guts to make "Milk" memorable, either a realistic look at the lights and shadows of gay life itself or an epic scale movie in the range of other biopics like "Gandhi", "Amadeus" which certainly it could have been, too. I think this is another case of group thinking, like it happened last year with "There Will Be Blood" - or the combo of three names that are too cool to be dissed (Lewis overacting, Anderson out of control, Johnny - Radiohead - Greenwood with "one of the best film scores ever" - my God, was it overrated?), or the love for films like "Crash" or "A Beautiful Mind"... superficial movies that aided with great marketing, made people think they were actually better than they really were. My fave example is "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" - which I call "Taoism for dummies", sorry, can't resist - and that briefly after was put to shame in every single level - asthetic, themes, depth, acting, writing, etc - by Zhang Yimou's Hero.

Of course I must be in the minority, but it's unavoidable that every damn year we have this marketing geniuses getting an undeserving movie nom'd. Thank God, signs are this time they might fail in the end, and that truly original and superior movies - as "The Dark Knight", which has way more themes going on than "Milk" by the way, and better exposed and handled - will make the cut.

Or maybe it's just wishful thinking. Don't know, I just wait to judge for myself the movies, and not let myself be guided that much from what I read in media... Summarizing, I think "Milk" is bland and shallow when it needed to be sharp and deep. It's no use when the "sex" in the movie is as "inocent" as the one we see in it. Disneyfied sex, I would say... you're a fan of Almodóvar, and you know sex doesn't have to be distracting, in the end... I mean, just look at previous van Sant movies and you will understand what I say.

NATHANIEL R said...

I applaud anyone that vigilantly tries to decide for themselves rather than let the media guide them to "best" but this is the first time I've ever heard someone complain the MILK's marketing was brilliant and did the work for it.

the way i see it, it's marketing / campaign / promotion has been nothing other than average with the possible exception of the trailer which was a unusually strong commercial. The Film (and yes SUBJECT MATTER) is the reason people are excited.

it's totally weird to see THE DARK KNIGHT named in that same discussion making that point because more than any film in my memory (i'm talking ANY film for at least a decade) the marketing played a crucial role in how it was received. I've never seen a marketing campaign more sustained and brilliant than The Dark Knight's and though i liked hte movie I'm not sure I've seen a movie as instantly overvalued for at least 10 years either.

how could the two occurences not go hand in hand.

also i'm afraid we're just coming at this from opposite angles. I think CROUCHING TIGER is a stronger film than HERO (which does look sensational... though i do think their aesthetic goals are much different and ought not to be considered a direct showdown)

bubba said...

FYI: eli is a boy, not a girl. It is played by a girl actress, but in the novel and the movie, the character is intended to be a castrated boy.

NATHANIEL R said...

bubba... interesting. i wonder why they cast it to read "girl"?

i did notice the genital scar (in that disturbing flash cut) but i'd assumed it meant something else ... abuse or self mutilation or torture or something...