What a roller coaster ride this year turned out to be. While many of the critically lauded films fell short of impressing me, I found solace *wink* in areas I least expected. While '08 can never boast in being an all-time best in regards to overall film quality, I found a few films at the top that I would rank amongst the best this decade has to offer. Here are the 10 I appreciated most:
Chronicling the latter years of political activist Harvey Milk, Gus Van Sant presents a stark reminder of the atrocities people can be led to when driven by hate and intolerance. It is a socially relevant, compelling near-masterpiece as far as biopics go. It's primary flaw - a criminally underdeveloped antagonist, which lessens the film's overall impact, but not nearly enough to not warrant a spot on this list.
An appealing twist on a genre flick, Blindness captures the claustrophobia, uncertainty and survival instincts of the best "quarantine"-centered films. What sets it apart is that there are no monsters, just people reduced to uncivilized creatures by fear and the unknown. It is technically sound, and well-acted, and probably the most unfairly criticized film of the year. Many found it self-important and improbable. I found it mesmerizing.
Critics' darling and awards season sweeper, Slumdog Millionaire does not disappoint. It is a classic love story portrayed in a most original way. Few films this year have been more memorably directed, edited and shot. This will probably walk away with the biggest prize at tomorrow night's Oscars and, of the nominees, I have no objections.
Score another one for Darren Aronofsky, who manages to silence critics by proving he can "play it straight." The Wrestler can be compared to a requiem, and is a slow, tragically beautiful depiction of a broken man's attempt to recapture faded glory. Mickey Rourke delivers a performance that will be remembered for years to come.
Even with it's lackluster reviews, I found QoS to be almost surreal in it's serenity, beauty and melancholy. Daniel Craig once again proves that he is the quintessential Bond, and Olga Kurylenko is one of the most beautiful Bond girls ever. In my opinion, the pinnacle of the year's achievements in both editing and cinematography.
As far as stage play adaptations go, this is one of the best I've seen in a long time. It's presentation is virtually flawless, and led by the ever reliable Meryl Streep, it is complete with four standout performances. Despite many people claiming that it's convictions are far too easy to determine, I'm one of the few that believes it is all open to interpretation.
One of the most "real" and authentically portrayed films of the year. When you watch Chop Shop, you aren't watching actors, but a true-to-life depiction of the ins and outs of a chop shop through the eyes of a boy on the cusp of adolescence. All year there hasn't been a performance that is able to match the raw naturalness of Alejandro Polanco. He never seems to be aware that a camera is even present, and this masterclass of "exhibitionist acting" as I call it is what makes the film work.
Hands down, this year's funniest film, that features not one, but two of the best original songs I've seen in film all year. This film's "rewatchability" factor is sky high, as I've seen and enjoyed it at least 8 times already. Complemented by a standout, reappearing cameo by Paul Rudd, this memorable ensemble nails every delivery, and will likely leave even the most reserved in stitches.
Quite possibly the cutest film I've ever seen. I enjoyed it so much, I battled long and hard mentally when deciding my #1 film of the year. With the use of minimal dialogue and some impressive as ever sound mixing, WALL·E's hard work and dedication, which showcases so much endearing personality that you forget he's a robot, will melt even the coldest of hearts.
As harrowing, engaging and affecting as any documentary (or film) I've ever seen. What starts out as a project to acquaint a baby boy to his fatally murdered father, ends up a story that reaches to the depths of the soul. Directed, narrated and scored by Kurt Kuenne, I can't remember ever being this moved by a piece of non-fiction since Hoop Dreams. The crowning jewel of the year's achievements.
The stock Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Definitely, Maybe, Keith, Let the Right One In, Rachel Getting Married
Terence Davies is a master at capturing moments in time. Distant Voices, Still Lives proves this as well as any of his films could. In a mere 80 minutes, he manages to fashion an engaging, entertaining, somber, almost voyeuristic look into the lives of a mid-20th century English family. Not only is the story evocative, it is downright affecting.
The use of song in this film is really unlike anything I've seen before. The music is seamlessly intertwined with the story and is never jarring, which can not be said about many musically generated motion pictures.
The film is divided into two segments; the first, Distant Voices, is a look into the lives of the five member family as the three children grow up in a household with a verbally and physically abusive father and a caring and hard-working mother. The story is seen through the memories of individual members of the household, as they reminisce about their lives in the wake of their father's passing. The different perspectives give us a thorough and unbiased picture of some of the events that shaped their lives.
Still Lives focuses on the lives the children lead after getting married. What makes this story effective is not that it is important; but that we are watching the lives of ordinary, "normal" people unfold set in an era far gone. It is a striking portrayal of just how fleeting and insignificant our lives really are. We are important to our significant others, yet so irrelevant in history.
The non-linear approach taken by a number of directors in portraying their story can sometimes be confusing, but here it is seamless. It is beyond me how so much story and character development could be woven into two 40 minute stories. Watching this film is like peering through a time capsule into the lives of forgotten people.
The performances here are all naturally crafted; there is no weak link to be found. My favourite of the bunch is Debi Jones, whose turn as family friend Micky was all sorts cheeky and delightful. The camerawork and editing are a work of art. The real standout, unsurprisingly, is Terence Davies, whose signature direction is at its bleeding best. Here he crafts a film that is melancholy without being overbearing, engaging without being important.
Few directors are able to move an audience without resorting to heavy manipulation the way he does, and few directors command my respect more deservedly.
Progress, progress, progress! Seriously, God bless David Trottier. If any of you ever seriously think about writing, go out and buy The Screenwriter's Bible post-haste. I'm trying to follow everything to a T, and shake off my shortcut tendencies to ensure I give this my best effort.
I've become really attached to the story, it's characters and situations. I even have in mind who I would like for the two leads. The scary part is the actual writing of the thing. I have pages upon pages of prep work, and a 30-page first draft, now I'm gearing down to stepping out the scenes and onto writing a complete first draft. I still need to do a bit more research of the location and era, but as early as Monday, I will begin to write. I can hardly wait.
So, to give you a bit more info on what the story is actually about... it's a drama, mainly set in early 90s Pittsburgh, and is bookended in Philadelphia 1964 and Pittsburgh 200_. I will refrain from posting any plot description until I register my script with the WGA. You know, for safety reasons.
The idea has truly grown and been re-shaped since I first thought of it last year. Some of you who heard about the story when I first talked about it, may not even recognise some of it if I was to show you what it's become. The gist of it is still the same, but some of the details have developed into something more.
I've narrowed down my list of screenplay competition prospects from five to three. So my focus is now on: Nicholl, PAGE and Scriptapalooza. The deadline for two of them is April 15th and for the other is May 1st. With the material and prep work I have, I plan to do some revision on my completed first draft, right up to submission. Of course, the work won't stop there, as I plan to revise until perfect, and then start working on a marketing plan.
The story I have is nothing short of affecting. I just have to gather all my scruples together and write a fantastic script!