Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Vic's Top Ten Films of 2008

It was another good year for films, though not outstanding. In particular, it was a good year for animated films. There are two animated films in my top ten of 2008 and they don’t even include WALL-E (sorry Walter and Gareth). WALL-E is a great film and I thoroughly enjoyed it – it’s probably my eleventh favourite film of the year – but it was just a little too lightweight (and had just a little too much Disney redemptive violence) to make my top ten. If I hadn’t been forced to include two 2007 films which were released in the UK in 2008, then maybe WALL-E would be number nine. Of course, there are major 2008 films (e.g. Frost/Nixon and Revolutionary Road) which still haven’t been released in the UK, so this is a problem that comes up every year.

I do want to mention one other film that should be in my top ten films of 2008. I left it off of my list because it was never officially released in the UK (or even in the U.S.). It’s a French-Canadian film, originally released in 2007, called Days of Darkness (Canada’s English title). This is the latest film by Denys Arcand, my favourite Canadian director, who has made classics like Jesus of Montreal and The Barbarian Invasions. I loved this film (it was the “wow” film of the year for me), which takes place in Montreal in some very near future. It’s hilarious, thought-provoking and perceptive, with a great lead performance by Jean-Marc Leblanc. What a shame that so few have had the opportunity to see it (though I already own the DVD, so the opportunity is out there).

Most of my top ten films have been reviewed on this blog, with my full-length review of my favourite film of 2008 just below the list.

Anyway, here are my top ten films of 2008, counting down:

10. My Winnipeg
This only made my top ten because I grew up in Winnipeg at exactly the same time that Guy Maddin grew up in Winnipeg, so the film connected at a deep level, even though it wasn’t generally my kind of film. It is, however, a gorgeous, surreal, insightful and funny docu-fantasia that I am eager to watch again.

9. Persepolis
With the attempted demonization of Iran in 2008, what could be timelier than a film which humanises Iranians and tells us about the country they live in. Based on her graphic novels, this black and white animated film from Marjane Satrapi is a moving and beautifully-told story of a fascinating young life.

8. In the Valley of Elah
My favourite thriller of the year, this is a subtle, quiet and intelligent film with an outstanding performance by Tommy Lee Jones and superb understated performances by Charlize Theron and Susan Sarandon.

7. Happy-Go-Lucky
Mike Leigh does it again with this wonderful life-affirming film which provides us with an inspiring role model who makes us ask how our attitudes and actions affect the lives of those around us.

6. Milk
Fuelled by Sean Penn’s terrific performance as Harvey Milk, a gay activist in 1970s San Francisco, Milk is an incredibly well-made and inspiring political drama based on real-life events.

5. Waltz With Bashir
Another timely, brilliant animated film based on real-life events, Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir is about an Israeli soldier in the Lebanon War of 1983 and combines deep psychological insights with a strong anti-war message. This horrific but humanising story is gorgeous to watch.

4. Doubt
With brilliant performances, magnificent scenes and the most intelligent thought-provoking screenplay of the year, this film by John Patrick Shanley probes deeply into questions about doubt, progress and human nature.

3. The Visitor
Profoundly moving without being sentimental, this incredibly subtle film by Tom McCarthy is the most humanising film of the year, and it looks gorgeous.

2. The Edge of Heaven
Fatih Akin’s film about people learning to see things differently by encountering those “on the other side” (the original German title) features marvellous natural performances and beautiful cinematography.

1. U23D
This passionate plea for the world’s religions to lead the way in making the world a more just and peaceful place is the most inspiring and hopeful film of the year and, just for good measure, it throws in some of the best rock songs ever written. Arguably the best concert, and concert film, of all time.

U23D Review
Back in the mid-eighties, someone told me about a unique Christian rock band from Dublin with a passion for peace and justice. This sounded distinctly promising to me and from my first exposure to the albums War and The Unforgettable Fire (followed by the magnificent The Joshua Tree), I have been a huge fan of U2.

Arguably the greatest rock band of all time, U2 has maintained its passion for peace and justice and some of its Christian roots and is sharing these with a new generation of fans. This is clearly evidenced in U23D, a filmed version of U2’s 2006 Latin American concert tour released earlier this year.

U23D is, as its title states, a 3D film, requiring 3D glasses and a digital cinema, and, from a technological standpoint, the film is brilliant. The filmmakers have done a marvellous job of editing the concert footage into what seems like just one concert and of making each member of the band (Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.) stand out in his own special way. More importantly, you are frequently placed in the audience in such a way that you feel you are there, in Buenos Aires, bouncing up and down in the midst of the undulating crowd. This would be a great film experience even if you were not watching one of the best concerts ever given, but you are doing exactly that.

The concert opens with “Vertigo”, a song about temptation and about God (“I can feel your love … teaching me how to kneel”), and closes with “Yahweh”, a prayer for each of us and for the cities we live in. Between these recent songs, which show the ongoing influence of U2’s Christian/spiritual roots, we have a collection of U2’s very best songs conveying a passionate plea to the world’s religions, the world’s nations, and the world’s people to work together for peace and social justice - to make the world a better place.

My favourite parts of the film are the close-ups of the youngish crowd, in stadiums in Mexico City, Santiago, Sao Paolo, and Buenos Aires, passionately singing along. You can see in their faces, in the tears streaming from their eyes, that they not only adore U2, they also have broken hearts which desperately long for the peace and justice which U2 is crying for. This is all the more poignant when one considers how these Latin American countries have suffered in the past forty years, with countless millions driven into poverty by what Naomi Klein, in her new bestseller, The Shock Doctrine, calls corporatism, a form of capitalism very popular today that always results in the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Personally, I can imagine few more inspiring and hopeful things in the world than seeing young people literally crying for a better world and being encouraged to expose and challenge the Domination System which is standing in the way.

With a global reach which includes at least a billion people, U2 has the taken up the challenge of inspiring generations to struggle for a better world where human life is properly valued. U23D is a marvellous, moving and life-affirming film.

1 comment:

  1. Good list, Vic. Other than those that are on my list, I haven't seen any of them (except My Winnipeg of which my reactions were similar to yours). So I will do my best in the next while.