MOVIE REVIEWS- 2008 in review: Digging for diamonds

Steve Warren's smiling face

Special to THE HOOK

As I write this, I'm suffering from extreme epic fatigue. Each year, the major studios and independent distributors cram as much product as they can into "Award Season," which coincides with a year-end box office bonanza for a few commercial releases.

For critics, this means being force-fed two or three heavily hyped films a day, some of which we might have appreciated more in leaner times. A diamond shines brighter in a pile of dung than it does in a pile of diamonds.

Perhaps some critics and award voters actually have such short memories that the last ten movies they see become their top ten. For me, Milk and The Reader managed to stand out from the clutter, but I would have been more impressed with Frost/Nixon in May, The Wrestler in July, and Revolutionary Road in September. (Australia and Valkyrie would have been disappointments in any month.)

Each year, a few decent films fall by the wayside because their distributors roll the dice at awards time in hopes of getting enough nominations and Ten Best listings to raise their profile. When that doesn't happen, the films, which might have had a decent run against less "prestige" competition, go directly to video. Even nominations don't always help when everything else in the marketplace has them too.

This seemed like a pretty decent year as it went along, with just enough good to near-great films each month to keep me from sending that letter of resignation I always keep handy; but when it came time to compile the year-end list, I was surprised at how little enthusiasm I had for most of my favorites. Perhaps if there'd been time to watch some of them again– but the year-end logjam doesn't let us see everything once, let alone twice, plus there's the fatigue factor.

Although reviewing is a subjective art form, there's always a certain amount of objectivity involved too. That's supposed to go by the wayside for this column, which is just about what gave me the most pleasure, dammit! But sometimes I listen to the other voices in my head.

I had no trouble ranking Iron Man ahead of The Dark Knight, which faltered significantly in its last half-hour, but without time to re-watch Leatherheads– for which I was almost alone in my admiration– I let the prevailing wisdom push it from my Top Ten to Second Ten. I still clung to a few others that aren't on everybody's lists, letting my taste for dark comedy place Burn after Reading and In Bruges near the top of my list.

My choices for Best Actress and Best Director have to be modified for at least one of the critics' groups I belong to, because we can vote for only one person for one film in each slot, and it was their double whammies that propelled Kate Winslet and Clint Eastwood to the top (although Winslet's a close second for The Reader anyway).

Some of these titles will be unfamiliar to you because they haven't opened here yet, others because they came and went quickly or bypassed us entirely. All are worth seeking out.

Top Ten:

1. Milk

2. The Reader

3. Burn after Reading

4. In Bruges

5. American Teen

6. Slumdog Millionaire

7. Vicki Cristina Barcelona

8. Iron Man

9. Revolutionary Road

10. The Wackness

Honorable Mention (listed alphabetically):

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

The Edge of Heaven


Gran Torino


Son of Rambow

Tropic Thunder


Best Foreign-Language Film: The Edge of Heaven

Runners-up: Jellyfish, Priceless

Best Documentary Feature: American Teen

Runners-up: Body of War, Up the Yangtze

Best Animated Film: WALL•E

Runners-up: Kung Fu Panda, Bolt

Best Cult Film: Repo! The Genetic Opera

Runners-up: The Signal, Zombie Strippers

Best Director: Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino & Changeling

Runners-up: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire; Sam Mendes, Revolutionary Road

Best Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader & Revolutionary Road

Runners-up: Meryl Streep, Doubt; Melissa Leo, Frozen River

Best Actor: Sean Penn, Milk 

Runners-up: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler; Richard Jenkins, The Visitor

Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicki Cristina Barcelona 

Runners-up: Viola Davis, Doubt; Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight 

Runners-up: Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder; Josh Brolin, Milk

Best Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black, Milk

Runners-up: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, Burn after Reading; Woody Allen, Vicki Cristina Barcelona

Best Adapted Screenplay: David Hare, The Reader

Runners-up: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire; Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon

Breakout Actor, Senior Division: Richard Jenkins, The Visitor and Burn after Reading

Breakout Actress, Senior Division: Melissa Leo, Frozen River

Breakout Actor, Junior Division: Brandon Walters, Australia

Runners-up: David Kross, The Reader; Andrew Garfield, Boy A

Breakout Actress, Junior Division: Summer Bishil, Towelhead

Runner-up: India Ennenga, The Women

Rediscovery: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler 

Runner-up: Barry Manilow on soundtracks of Hellboy II: The Golden Army and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, and a song in Rachel Getting Married

Name-checked: Bob Fosse in High School Musical 3: Senior Year and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

Runner-up: Dermot Mulroney in Burn after Reading and The Other End of the Line

Onward and Upward: Shia LaBeouf, Eagle Eye and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Backward Step: Michael Cera, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

ROFLMAO: Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Hamlet 2, Tropic Thunder

Pleasant Surprises: Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, Sex Drive, Get Smart, Twilight

Unpleasant Surprises: Mamma Mia!, Speed Racer, Hancock, Miracle at St. Anna

Remake This!: The Women, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Prom Night

Worst. Bond. Ever.: Quantum of Solace

Best Soundtrack from a Bad Movie: My Blueberry Nights

Best Cinematography in a Bad Movie: The Fall

The Day I Least Want to Relive: August 18, when screenings of Hounddog and Towelhead taught me more about adolescent female sexuality than I ever wanted to know

And the next time you envy the great job I have, remember I had to sit through the following:

Bottom Ten:

1. The Love Guru

2. Max Payne

3. Cover

4. Disaster Movie

5. Fool's Gold

6. Bottle Shock

7. Meet Dave

8. The Ruins

9. Meet the Spartans

10. Hell Ride

Dishonorable Mention (listed alphabetically):

Babylon A.D.

Bangkok Dangerous

88 Minutes


Four Christmases

The Last Mistress

Made of Honor

My Blueberry Nights

Synecdoche, New York

The X-Files: I Want to Believe