Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A stocking filled with film goodies

Merry Christmas!

You won’t see “Milk” (or cookies) under my tree or “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” on my 2008 “10 Best” list, but it’s not because they’re not worth viewing in a cinematic year that was very long on the mostly OK and short on the absolutely great.

Both are good movies. It’s just that neither moved me the way some others did for various reasons. Despite its wonderful performances, “Milk,” for instance, didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know about the man, and the beautifully crafted “Button” didn’t enthrall me with its one-note story, which one friend already has labeled “Forrest Gramps.”

Other top-notch films, including “Slumdog Millionaire,” are not on the list, either. Danny Boyle’s much loved entry simply fell victim to extremely high expectations, which probably couldn’t ever be met after I heard so much about it from other folks, not to mention a number of my colleagues

Anyway, enough about what is not among my personal best. Here are the films that did make it, in order of preference, for reasons that make sense to no one but me:

In Bruges” – Not only the year’s best and most capably written film (by director Martin McDonagh), but also easily the most underrated. Check out its bloody beauty on DVD and you’ll be dying to catch the first plane to Belgium.

Doubt” -- Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and all the other nuns seem so real that even the Catholic School scents of first and second grades came wafting back to me in extraordinary ways.

The Dark Knight” – Much heralded (and deservedly so) Heath Ledger leads the year’s most impressive cast in director Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, maybe the finest comic book-based film ever made.

"Happy-Go-Lucky” – Even an old grouch like me can appreciate the high spirits of Mike Leigh’s writing and Sally Hawkins’ flawless performance

Frozen River” – From the opposite end of life’s spectrum comes the great and grim Melissa Leo, along with sullen newcomer Misty Upham. Uh, we’ll all be hearing from writer/director Courtney Hunt again, too.

The Wrestler” -- Not only is this a terrific movie, but I’ve watched (fake) TV rasslin’ for about a hundred years. It’s just gotta be here with Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei in tow.

Gran Torino” -- Who are you calling politically incorrect? Me? And very "Harry" himself, Clint Eastwood? Sure, add this one to the list, too.

Nothing But the Truth” – Of course, that’s all you get here about films. So, take it to the bank: Writer/director Rod Lurie is back in “The Contender” mode with a relevant political film that (so far) barely has seen the light of day.

I Served the King of England” -- Quirky, funny, sad and featuring the most gorgeous looking collection of women you’ll ever see on one screen

(tie) “Frost/Nixon” and “W.” – Two not-so-jolly ol’ presidents get worthy analysis from directors Ron Howard and Oliver Stone, respectively, with memorable performances by Frank Langella and Josh Brolin, respectfully.

Actress of the year – Kate Winslet, in two just-misses for this list: “The Reader” and “Revolutionary Road.” Runner-up: Penelope Cruz in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “Elegy.”

Actor of the Year – Richard Jenkins in another near-miss, “The Visitor,” “Burn After Reading,” “Step Brothers,” and “The Tale of Despereaux (voice).” Runner-up: Josh Brolin in “Milk” and “W.”

Five Worst (in order) – “Made of Honor,” “The Happening,” “Mad Money,” “Filth and Wisdom,” “Sex and the City.”

Happy Next Year!

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