Films of the Year: The runners-up

2008 Cinema Review: Joint Eleventh Place

Looking back on the year’s movies, I’m struck by how many of my favorites featured the theme of family and community – perhaps this reflects only my current personal concerns, or maybe there’s a bigger invisible hand at work. For what it’s worth, here’s my list of six movies that I really loved, but which don’t quite make it onto the top ten of 2008. That best-of list will follow soon.*

‘Quantum of Solace’, a James Bond film notable for featuring the rare instance in which he learns the futility of revenge, and advocates against a multi-national corporation in favor of the right of poor people to have clean drinking water. I know most critics were ambivalent about this movie, but trust me – it’s tightly edited, well-written, and plays more like an advert for a militarized peace and justice movement than the war on terror.

‘Surfwise’ – a rollicking documentary about a family so committed to living free that they unplugged themselves from the social grid and spent their lives in a motor home by a series of beaches. The patriarch is as gregarious as he is dictatorial, and the moral and psychological questions raised by his communitarian experiment deserve attention at any time, but perhaps especially in economic crisis.

‘Synecdoche, New York’, a mind-blowing dog-chasing-its-tail of a film; an aesthetically extraordinary, both troubling and hilarious story about art and its creation, about family and its dysfunction, and humanity and its relationship with itself – a film that gets bigger the more I think about it.

‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ – Another under-appreciated film; but look closely and you’ll see Steven Spielberg fusing wide-eyed wonderment with his darker side – this is a wildly entertaining movie about bruised people becoming a family, it has one of the wisest last lines spoken by a major character in any film, and in the nuclear test zone sequence features the most dramatic image Spielberg has ever created: the atomic bomb as the starting pistol for the second half of the twentieth century.

Australia – In which Baz Lurhmann proves that he doesn’t care what other people think – he just wants to make movies on his terms. And what a movie he’s made: the creation myth of a huge country, seeking to atone for the shallow representation of Aboriginal people, and suggesting that only when you see the world through the eyes of a child can you be truly human.

‘Son of Rambow’ – A delightful little movie which manages to be both a knowing representation of childhood, a critique of religious fundamentalism, and a love letter to cinema itself.

* One of the most disappointing aspects of film distribution is how difficult it’s becoming to get to see movies that lack a huge budget. So, in the interests of being comprehensive, I’ve listed below films that I imagine might have made this list or the one to follow, but that I haven’t seen, either because they haven’t yet been released or screened for critics, or they just haven’t made it to my part of the country.

A Christmas Tale
The Reader
Revolutionary Road
I’ve Loved you so Long
The Wrestler
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Slumdog Millionaire