A voice of dissent

Posted by · 3:22 am · December 7th, 2008

Whether it’s on blogs like this one or in loftier film publications, there appears to be a general consensus that 2008 hasn’t been the best year at the movies, particularly in terms of American cinema. Lots of promising projects, ambitious ideas, isolated moments of genius, but very few bull’s-eyes — especially when compared to last year’s bumper crop.

Well, one person disagrees. Roger Ebert, in fact. He believes 2008 has been “a great year for movies, even if many of them didn’t receive wide distribution.” Indeed, he thinks it so great that he can’t limit himself to a standard year-end Top Ten, instead listing his 20 favourites in alphabetical order:

“Ballast,” “The Band’s Visit,” “Che,” “Chop Shop,” “The Dark Knight,” “Doubt,” “The Fall,” “Frost/Nixon,” “Frozen River,” “Happy-Go-Lucky,” “Iron Man,” “Milk,” “Rachel Getting Married,” “The Reader,” “Revolutionary Road,” “Shotgun Stories,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Synecdoche, New York,” “W.” and “WALL-E.”

He rounds out the last with his own “Special Jury Prize” winner, Guy Maddin’s “My Winnipeg,” which I’ve been itching to see for a while. And of equal standing, he says, is his list of the five best documentaries (which actually reads like a plausible Oscar slate): “Encounters at the End of the World,” “I.O.U.S.A.,” “Man on Wire,” “Standard Operating Procedure” and “Trouble the Water.”

Of course, it’s hard to argue with a personal list. Each to their own, and all that. But I must confess to feeling dismayed that only two foreign-language films made Ebert’s cut in a year where, for me, the likes of “Gomorrah” and “The Class” showed more conceptual breadth and storytelling verve than almost anything to emerge from Hollywood (or Indiewood) this year. And with so many included, I find the absence of “Hunger” and “The Wrestler” hard to fathom, particularly when something like “W.” is there.

But hey, it’s not my list. And cheers for including “Synecdoche, New York” and “Happy-Go-Lucky.” Read his whole rationalisation here.

For a more solemn take on the year’s offerings, however, Anthony Lane’s Top Ten for the New Yorker, has several worthy mentions (I’m pleased to see a shout-out to “I’ve Loved You So Long,” for example), but even within his list, he finds most of the entries fall short in some way. Asking the question “how many movies from 2008 will bear revisiting in later years,” he finds the answer is very, very few.

In fact, he describes “WALL-E” as “the only American release of the year that fulfilled its imaginative brief.” While I agree that few films achieved that feat this year, I’m still not sure “WALL-E” was one of them. Unlike Kris, I’m a great admirer of the film, but I felt its hitherto tight thematic focus wavered in the final act. Still, it’ll probably make my own Top Ten — that’s the kind of year it is.

From my end, as the year’s releases shuffle and settle in my mind, I’m becoming more convinced that the year’s most resonant and completely realized American film was a little picture about a girl and her dog.

→ 19 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

19 responses so far

  • 1 12-07-2008 at 4:12 am

    The InSneider said...

    Wow, Lane’s Top 10 has to be a joke. We Own the Night wasn’t even released in ’08. In fact, I’d say 40% of his list is movies from ’07. And Quantum of Solace, Changeling and Iron Man? Yikes! Must’ve been a tough year for that guy if that’s what he came away most impressed with.

  • 2 12-07-2008 at 4:30 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yeah, I was wondering about the “We Own the Night” thing — we got it here in the UK at the end of 2007, so I wasn’t sure if it was one of those that spilled over. He’s obviously misremembering — it’s that bad a year for him, clearly!

    But the likes of “The Orphanage” and “4 Months” only got general releases in 2008, so I think it’s fair for him to include those.

  • 3 12-07-2008 at 6:38 am

    N8 said...

    I have to agree with Lane on WALL-E. It’s a prime example of tight, creative storytelling that says something relevant and packs an emotional punch. It’s still the best American release of the year, for now (there are still a number of highly anticipated films I’ve yet to see)

  • 4 12-07-2008 at 8:28 am

    JRad said...

    Rachel Getting Married was in the Top 20 list, too.

  • 5 12-07-2008 at 8:38 am

    Chad said...

    I’m with Ebert. ’08 kicks ’07’s ass across the room and back.

  • 6 12-07-2008 at 8:45 am

    Casey said...

    i agree with ebert/chad. 07 was overrated. 08 has alot to talk about

  • 7 12-07-2008 at 8:53 am

    Adam Smith said...

    OK, I’m out of the loop, what film are you referring to at the end of this article, Guy?

  • 8 12-07-2008 at 8:57 am

    McGuff said...

    I tend to judge years by one simple criteria — how many movies did I purchase that year? Generally, I will only buy a film unless I graded it out at an A- or better, which I tend to find a strict enough criteria.

    In 2007, I bought: Away From Her, There Will Be Blood, Atonement, Juno, Into the Wild, Superbad, 3:10 to Yuma, Gone Baby Gone and will probably still buy Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Nine movies.

    With The Dark Knight coming out on Tuesday, my purchases from 2008 will grow to three: TDK, Wall-E and Tropic Thunder.

    That puts a huge onus on the month of December, where I must see six movies worthy of purchase to match 2007. Dare I say, it’s impossible.

  • 9 12-07-2008 at 8:58 am

    McGuff said...

    I believe it’s Wendy and Lucy, Adam.

  • 10 12-07-2008 at 10:25 am

    G said...

    Well, 08 ain’t over yet. I haven’t seen most of the Oscar hopefuls this year, but I say Dark Knight kicks No Country for Old Men ass for sure. Although I was always a There Will Be Blood guy.

  • 11 12-07-2008 at 10:51 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Bingo, McGuff.

  • 12 12-07-2008 at 11:05 am

    McGuff said...

    So the question then, G, is do you believe Dark Knight was better than There Will Be Blood?

  • 13 12-07-2008 at 12:50 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    The Orphanage is sure to have a place in my top 10.

  • 14 12-07-2008 at 2:10 pm

    Patrick F said...

    It’s been a bad year for “films” but a pretty okay year for “movies”. I thought the glut of summer blockbusters were much better than in past years, but we still haven’t seen an undeniable masterpiece the likes that we saw last year.

  • 15 12-07-2008 at 2:34 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Disagreed, Patrick. “WALL-E” and “Milk” are for me – those masterpieces. “Slumdog” comes close and we still have to see “Benjamin Button,” “Reader,” and “Revolutionary Road.” Any of which (especially “Button”) could be *undeniable masterpieces.*

  • 16 12-07-2008 at 4:19 pm

    Frank Lee said...

    Did both Ebert and Lane leave “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” off their lists? That’s surprising.

    If the number of movies one buys on DVD is an indication of the quality of the year’s cinema, then this wasn’t such a hot year. So far I’ve picked up “Cloverfield” and “Tropic Thunder,” and I’m waiting for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”

  • 17 12-07-2008 at 6:34 pm

    Joel said...

    I think Ebert only liked VCB. He gave it three stars if I remember correctly.

    I am purchasing “The Dark Knight” on Wednesday, and I’ve picked up most of the summer releases and a few early releases. Waiting for “Tropic Thunder”…

  • 18 12-08-2008 at 11:08 am

    Zan said...

    2007 absolutely dominates 2008. There were so many good films last year: No Country for Old Men, There Will be Blood, Zodiac, Assassination of Jesse James, Gone Baby Gone, Before the Devil, Atonement, Diving Bell, Control, The Counterfeiters, Michael Clayton, Ratatouille (so much better than Wall-E), Persepolis, Eastern Promises, 3:10 to Yuma, Into the Wild, Lars and the Real Girl, Breach. That’s a bevy of films that, in my mind, embarrasses 2008, which has had so many disappointments. Body of Lies, W., Burn After Reading, Changeling, Blindness…none lived up to what we thought they’d be.

  • 19 12-09-2008 at 3:24 pm

    Ronn said...

    I’m with Zan 100%. I will repeatedly watch the majority of the films from 07 he listed while 08 doesn’t quite hold up, namely the films he mentioned but even the great ones are not the type I would care to watch multiple times such as Milk. I’m not a huge biopic fan so W. and Milk were fine films but didn’t blow me away like Into the Wild or The Wrestler did. Granted, I have yet to see Revolutionary Road, Gran Torino or Benjamin Button but even so it lloks unlikely to top 07 in my eyes.

    I thought Into the Wild was the best film of last year and it didn’t even get nominated, I fear that same thing again this year for The Wrestler, which I think is absolutely Oscar worthy. I loved it.

    Regarding Ebert leaving out The Wrestler from his T0p 20, on his website he doesn’t have it listed or he hasn’t reviewed it so I wonder if he hasn’t seen it yet. I hope that’s the reason, my god, how can it not be in the top 20?