Joseph Bélanger’s Top 10 of 2008

I will always remember 2008 as the year I stopped sleeping. Oddly enough, from day one, I developed some very erratic but very effective insomnia. I am still dealing with it to this day but I can feel it falling away with every passing night. Many people offered advice – warm milk, booze before bed, meditation. My favorite trick though was to lie still and think back on the day that had just ended. I would lie there and stare up at the ceiling and recall all the blessings, no matter how small, that I had been fortunate enough to encounter. And so, as 2008 enters its final hours, I would like to lie back on my pillow and remember 10 of the best film experiences I had this last year. When I’m done, I will say goodnight.

In alphabetical order, here is Black Sheep’s Top 10 of 2008 …

THE DARK KNIGHT
If you’re going to be big, you have to think big from the start. Director Christopher Nolan did just that with his second Batman picture. It is grand to behold and exhilarating to experience. Aside from laying claim to Heath Ledger’s unforgettable last performance, THE DARK KNIGHT can also assert itself as the most accomplished superhero movie of all time.

THE DUCHESS
Saul Dibb’s little seen film may have been dismissed as just another period piece where a woman is sold off by her family for financial gain and stature but I assure you there is so much more to see here. The Duchess of Devonshire endured many a hardship behind her castle walls and Dibb, along with the lovely Keira Knightly, strip the period drama of its binding costume to show the naked person barely breathing underneath.

ENTRE LES MURS (THE CLASS)
Director, Laurent Cantet, along with screenwriter and star, Francois Bégaudeau, invite us to take our seats in this year’s winner of the Palmes d’Or at Cannes. Shot like a documentary, THE CLASS is an important lesson about the state of today’s classroom. Sure, we all know the situation isn’t great but Bégaudeau wants us to feel the reality of what it means to have a seat at the back of the class. Pay attention because the test will follow immediately after.

MAN ON WIRE
In 1974, Philippe Petit crossed New York’s twin towers across a tight rope eight times. Documentary filmmaker, James Marsh, was not there to capture it. And so a new style of documentary is born where all the players from back in the day are on board to tell their stories while actors reenact the events of 34 years ago. Pieced together as though it were a narrative piece, the story itself is a caper that will leave you hanging on the edge of your seat as though it were one of the towers.

MILK
This is Gus Van Sant’s masterpiece. It is a soft and tender piece about bravery and strength that had me enraged one moment, laughing the next and crying practically throughout. Harvey Milk fought for the simply human rights of gay men and women in California as the first openly gay man to be elected to public office and he was killed for this. Telling his story today is heartbreaking as gay men and women are still fighting for these same rights some 30 years later.

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
When I first saw this movie, I left the theatre and felt entirely disoriented. Rachel had just gotten married and I felt as though I were a guest at this event. The weekend was tumultuous but gorgeous and filled with deep love and all the hardship that comes with this kind of intimacy. The entire cast is so genuine that you feel as though they have known each other for as long as they would have had they been real. This is a true testament to Jenny Lumet’s subtle screenplay and Jonathan Demme’s beautifully spontaneous direction.

THE READER
Stephen Daldry is a very sumptuous filmmaker. He tells his stories with conviction and without apology for their nature. THE READER is a complicated, multi-layered work that may have missed its mark in someone else’s hand. Daldry forces us to face this tale of passion, betrayal and healing and asks us to go through our own personal interaction with these emotions. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes are there to hold our hands along the way.

THE VISITOR
Simple, understated and effective are just a few words that can be thrown at Thomas McCarthy’s second film and Richard Jenkins’ breakout performance. This unique story about a widower who walks around his own life as though it weren’t his own unspools in such an unexpected fashion that one feels like visiting again and again.

WALL•E
It only takes about four minutes to fall completely in love with WALL•E. No matter how many times I’ve seen this film (and I assure you, I’ve seen it a few times already), I am always in awe of what Pixar was able to accomplish. Not only did they manage to put out an eco-friendly film that criticizes humanity’s disposable habits and our growing reliance on conglomerate control but they also crafted one of the most endearing love stories in recent history. To create a genuine love between genderless, animated robots is what places Pixar out of this world compared with all their imitators.

THE WRESTLER
Darren Aronofsky should feel very good about this one. THE WRESTLER is not just his best film but it is also the best American film of the year. Like P.T. Anderson did last year with THERE WILL BE BLOOD, Aronofsky has reinvented himself as an American storyteller who understands its people and their convictions. It is a dirty, gritty experience that mirrors the hardships of so many and it never stops fighting.

2008’s Best & Worst, By Jean-François Tremblay

TOP 10

1. Slumdog Millionaire: that rare film that soars into the sublime. One of the most captivating, enthralling and exhilarating film ever. It’s that good, and then some.

2. Il y a longtemps que je t’aime: it takes a while for the main character to earn your sympathies, but when it does the film shatters you to the core. The song playing during the end credits is hauntingly beautiful. It’s not often I’m shaken at the end of a film, but I was really touched by both the sorrow and the ray of light in this powerful movie.

3. Marley & Me: understandably marketed as a zany comedy with one adorable, unruly puppy, this is so much more. It’s a deeply moving, beautiful film about love, family, the things we hold dear and the special place pets can have in people’s lives.

4. Definitely, Maybe: a glistening example of what a romantic film can be, this one is no doubt among the best in recent years. Isla Fisher is delightful, exuding heartfelt emotion at every turn. Ryan Reynolds is superb, while Elizabeth Banks and Abigail Breslin also shine in this thoughtful, hugely charming movie by Adam Brooks.

5. Iron Man: fabulous superhero entertainment, witty and humorous. Robert Downey Jr. is perfectly cast and the relationship with secretary Pepper Potts, played by an especially lovely Gwyneth Paltrow, is just fantastic.

6. The Dark Knight: a standout effort with a lot of arresting moments, many provided by the remarkable, sadly departed Heath Ledger in a story that probes deep into the notion of a hero being tormented by his calling. The triangle between Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes is very complex – and what a quietly devastating moment it is when Alfred burns that letter from Rachel to Bruce.

7. Nothing like the Holidays: the funny stuff is carefully balanced with serious matters is this warm and observant holiday-themed picture. We feel the strong bonds within the family and there are several excellent performances, notably from Freddy Rodriguez, Melonie Diaz and Debra Messing.

8. In Bruges: there’s something hypnotic about this continually surprising, very dark but very original movie. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson create memorable characters, and the gorgeous location of the story adds a surreal quality to the atmosphere.

9. Forgetting Sarah Marshall: I couldn’t sum it up any better than the Ottawa Citizen’s Jay Stone: “sweetly rambling”, which is a pretty nice compliment. The lovely Mila Kunis is adorable in this finely crafted romantic comedy.

10. Hancock: this was an exceptional year for superheroes. While a notch below the two above, this film is a funny and thrilling example of the genre. It doesn’t hurt to have the strikingly beautiful Charlize Theron in it. Some people found her back-story and the twist ridiculous – for my part, even though I unwillingly knew about it before going to the theatre, I loved it and I found it well-done and a lot of fun to watch.

Honourable mentions

One Missed Call, The Eye, Charlie Bartlett, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, You don’t mess with the Zohan, The Deal and Quarantine

Worst 5

The Strangers (0 stars), My Best Friend’s Girl (0 stars), Nobel Son (0 stars), The Happening (1 star) and Max Payne (1 star) .

2008: Viva la revolución!

As a movie geek first and film critic second, there are many trends amongst critics circles that bother me. Namely, the Bleakness Factor, the Tyranny of the Theme, the Hierarchy of Genres, Anti-Hollywoodism and the Auteur Theory, to a degree…

…because in that last regard, I’m actually quite the auteur queen, except that “my” auteurs are not necessarily the Cannes Film Festival crowd, but guys like Danny Boyle and Darren Aronofsky. And even then, I’m able to admit that my favorites can sometimes stumble, as illustrated by the fact that neither Kevin Smith or M. Night Shyamalan’s sub-par latest flicks show up in my Top Ten.

Moving on to why I can’t stand how so many critics hate on Hollywood, you just have to look at a summer like 2008’s, where we got to enjoy such masterworks of blockbuster filmmaking as “WALL•E”, to name but one. A pure Hollywood, mainstream production, but pure genius nonetheless.

Which leads us to genre snobbery – why do so many people believe that only period dramas, biopics and literary adaptations deserve accolades? One of the best pictures of the last year, by any standard, was a superhero flick, of all things!

Going back to the illusion that some movies are more thematically “important” than others, I just don’t think you have to tackle genocide, rape, abortion, regicide or deadly diseases to achieve cinematic greatness. Potheads fighting for their lives can do just that, too!

Finally, in a more general sense, I’m utterly annoyed by how for so many critics, bitter and unhappy people that they seemingly are, a movie that’s bleak and most concerned with the many ways in which mankind is doomed will always be more praise-worthy than a film that has the audacity to be about freedom, beauty, truth and love.

Then again, I’m not all about being a contrarian geek. After all, an Auteur’s Important, Bleak Epic in Spanish does sit at #1 on my list of the…

TOP TEN MOVIES OF THE YEAR

1. Steven Soderbergh’s Che

2. Baz Luhrmann’s Australia

3. David Gordon Green’s Pineapple Express

4. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight

5. Andrew Stanton’s WALL•E

6. Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire

7. Antonio Campos’ Afterschool

8. Carlos Reygadas’ Stellet Licht

9. Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler

10. Vincent Morisset’s Miroir Noir

NEXT PAGE: Every 2008 film I’ve seen, ranked and graded.
THEN: Jean-François Tremblay’s Best & Worst of 2008
PLUS: Joseph Bélanger’s 2008 Top 10
AND: Ralph Arida’s Best & Worst of 2008

Joe’s 2007 Top 10

The Top 10 films of 2007, according to Joseph Bélanger
(in alphabetical order)

ATONEMENT

This isn’t your usual period drama. Director Joe Wright did the genre justice last time out by getting it all in line with PRIDE AND PREJUDICE but this time out, he infuses the genre with passion and modern sensibility. The result is gripping and heartbreaking.

THE DARJEELING LIMITED

Wes Anderson’s latest quirkfest was blasted for being too simple but when the picture is this colorful and this telling, who needs complication? It’s a shame Anderson’s audience is so specific because too many people missed out on this beautiful brotherly bonding.

I’M NOT THERE

Poetry inspired by a great poet. Todd Haynes’ imagination is boundless and luckily for us, he does nothing to constrict his potential. This Bob Dylan biopic is challenging, engrossing, full of fantastic performances and so fresh that all future biopics now have a new standard to achieve.

JUNO

At first, this teen pregnancy comedy is too cool for its own good. Only that’s the beauty of it all. Like the teenage girl the story follows, JUNO only lets down its guard once given the chance to get comfortable with itself and with us watching. It is hilarious and heartfelt without being the least bit sappy.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

This is the easiest title to include on the list. The Coen Brothers have never made it look easier. This film is smart, calculated, quiet and frighteningly tense. It is on one level a drastic departure from their signature style while still entirely loyal on another level. It is fascinating and flawless.

ONCE

John Carney’s little Irish musical shouldn’t even be called that. What it actually is, is a movie about two musicians falling in love. Their harmonies sing of their compatibility while their dialogue denotes every reason they cannot be together. It is realism and romance rolled into one soothing melody.

PERSEPOLIS

Most animated features are mindful to tread the thin line of appeal between child and adult. Marjane Sartrapi’s account of her coming-of-age in Iran and Austria makes no such effort. It is distinctly adult and absolutely enthralling. Her plight is not lightened by the style but rather heightened.

RATATOUILLE

One would think that this is exactly the kind of animated feature I just described – trying to please as many as possible but what it really is, is a movie about a rat. Director Brad Bird is not concerned about appeal but rather a story that stirs and delights and imagery that pushes animation further with every frame. If rats were this cute and culinarily-inclined, they would be in every kitchen.


LE SCAPHANDRE ET LE PAPILLON

This French film is not for the faint of heart. However, those brave enough to see it will get an experience unlike any they’ve ever had at the movies. Julian Schnabel’s delicate telling of Jean-Domique Bauby’s real life experience with locked-in syndrome is claustrophobic and nauseating but yet somehow also inspiring and liberating.

ZODIAC

This was the first film I reviewed in 2007 and it announced a great year to follow. It may be a little long but David Fincher’s dark, rich account of the puzzling mystery to uncover the identity of the zodiac killer is at times brutal, at other times snarky and at all times deeply absorbing. Fincher gets us lost and makes us like it.

***

Here’s to 2007 … Thanks for all the great times in the dark. Bring on 2008!

2007: There Will Be Blood

The Top Ten Films of the Year

1. Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood

2. Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf

3. Simon Staho’s Daisy Diamond

4. Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof

5. Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There.

6. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3

7. Craig Brewer’s Black Snake Moan

8. Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz

9. Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited

10. David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises

***

The Kenneth Anger Award for Achievement in Short Subject Filmmaking:
Don Hertzfeldt’s everything will be ok

The John Matrix Award for Achievement in Non-Stop Action:
Paul Greengrass’ The Bourne Ultimatum

The Robert Altman Award for Best Ensemble:
Emile Hirsch, Jena Malone, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Brian Dierker, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart, Hal Holbrook and Bart the Bear in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild

The Albert and David Maysles Award for Achievement in Documentary Filmmaking:
Asger Leth’s Ghosts of Cité Soleil

The Kevin Smith Award for Achievement in Foul-Mouthed Hilarity:
Greg Mottola’s Superbad

The Cronus-Zeus Award for Most Disturbing Father-Son Relationship:
Albert Finney and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

The Might Have Made the Top Ten If They’d Cast, Say, Caroline Dhavernas Instead Of Keira Knightley Award:
(ex aequo) Joe Wright’s Atonement and François Girard’s Silk

The Chuck Jones Award for Achievement in Animation:
Brad Bird’s Ratatouille

Best Actress: Ellen Page (“Juno”, “The Tracey Fragments”)
Girlfriend’s always been great in everything (Kitty Pryde!), but 2007 was truly a star-making year for her. Her performance in “Juno”, especially, is comic genius, Page’s wisecracking knocked up teenager is like both Gilmore Girls rolled into one! The movie’s wonderful, too, Wes Anderson-light by the way of “Ghost World” or “Election”.

Best Actor: Josh Brolin (“American Gangster”, “No Country for Old Men”, “Planet Terror”)
Another actor who’s done good work before, but who truly came into his own this year. Just think, in “American Gangster” he co-stars with acting heavyweights Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe and he manages to steal every scene from them!

best albums
1 Sunset Rubdown’s Random Spirit Lovers
2 Rufus Wainwright’s Release the Stars (and Rufus Does Judy!)
3 The Hot Springs’ Volcano
4 Le Husky’s Chanson moderne pour cyniques romantiques
5 Gatineau’s LLL Stéréo (and L’IntégraLLL)

Best live show:
The Polyphonic SpreeThe Fragile Army (July 3rd @ Spectrum de Montréal)
Like The Arcade Fire and Sufjan Stevens’ band -together!-, with a lead singer who perfectly embodies Jeff Bebe’s M.O: “I connect. I get people off. I look for the one guy who isn’t getting off, and I MAKE him get off!”

The Gift that Keeps on Giving:
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova and Once
Fell in love with the movie when it came out in May, listened to the soundtrack (and to companion piece of sorts “The Swell Season”) throughout the year, then on November 22nd, I got to see Hansard and Irglova perform songs from “Once” and more, live at the National. Good times all around.

NEXT PAGE: Every 2007 film I’ve seen, ranked and graded.
THEN: Joseph Bélanger’s 2007 Top 10
PLUS: Jean-François Tremblay’s Best & Worst of 2007
AND: Franck Tabouring’s 2007 Top 10

The best & worst movies of 2006 By Jean-François Tremblay

Top 10

1. Rocky Balboa: what a splendid farewell to the ultra-resilient fighter from South Philly. Sylvester Stallone has gone the distance one final and majestic time with the American icon he introduced in 1976. Outstandingly engaging and well written (the dialogue is heartfelt, spirited and resonant), Rocky Balboa is much more than a boxing movie: it’s a stirring film about the passage of time, the deeply felt need to address the fire still burning within and also the nursing of old wounds. Always dignified and often very moving, the film beautifully caps the cinematic odyssey of a truly classic American character.

2. Flicka: a family film of rare quality, beautifully depicting the wide open spaces of the American West within a touching story about a girl and her horse. Every character is well defined and portrayed in this glowing example of family entertainment that lovingly puts forward the virtues of freedom and following your heart.

3. Hostel: a masterful horror film, with a heavy subtext that was overlooked by many of its detractors. There are many shots and scenes of tremendous impact, like the extended sequence where Paxton passes out at the club or the standoff between Paxton and Natalya at the abandoned factory. Eli Roth’s latest initially seems to be an extreme version of the Hell that awaits the sinner, but it’s also a haunting look at far-from-home anxiety and a ruthless indictment of American bullying, arrogance and imperialism. Roth uses xenophobia, desperate poverty in certain countries and the creepiest possible extent of human exploitation to create a powerful horror masterpiece.

4. Hollywoodland: a superior script, in-depth character studies and amazing performances from Ben Affleck and Adrien Brody, among others, carry this meticulously paced, always captivating film about the life and death of George Reeves.

5. The Descent: a brutally efficient horror movie. Six women on a caving trip have to fight terrifying humanoid predators deep within an uncharted system, with disastrous results. Neil Marshall’s bleak but inspired film makes us feel the despair-and fighting spirit- of the characters with non-stop intensity right up to the shocking finale, whichever one you prefer.

6. Down in the Valley: this is a mesmerizing film that constantly keeps you on the edge with its underlying sense of looming danger. David Jacobson’s contemporary western has a fine balance of visual poetry, deadly violence, emotional turmoil and understated nostalgia.

7. The Painted Veil: a very elegant love story set in 1920s China, the film carefully develops and reveals the emotional complexity of its characters, resulting in a timeless romantic tale full of tenderness and humanity. With magnificent scenery and wonderful performances from Naomi Watts and Ed Norton.

8. Ils: a nerve-wracking experience that at times awakens the same kind of paralyzing fear as the Blair Witch Project, with a brilliantly misleading touch of the haunted house subgenre and a chilling revelation based on true events.

9. Bobby: a poignant film that pays great respect to the values of fairness and equality espoused by Robert Kennedy. Emilio Estevez paints a heartfelt, if achingly idealistic, portrait of a time and place in American history, with well-chosen newsreel footage and stirring Kennedy speeches contributing greatly to the film’s impact.

10. United 93: Paul Greengrass forgoes sensationalism to create a profoundly respectful memorial to the victims of the flight, and by extension to all the victims of 9/11. Even though we know the outcome, the film is incredibly tense, powerful and heartbreaking as we realize we’re watching the final moments of these people’s lives.

Honourable mentions

Running Scared, The Departed, Silent Hill, 16 Blocks, Cars and Night at the Museum.

Worst 5

1. The Benchwarmers Hollywood turns out a lot of depressingly stupid discount bin filler, but this was truly awful.
2. La vie secrète des gens heureux: starts off very interesting but turns out to be depressing, cynical, bitter and extremely shallow.
3 (tie). Saw III and Black Christmas: two of the absolute worst horror films I’ve ever seen. Saw III is a disgusting, tasteless and grotesque film, while Black Christmas is a major misfire on basically every level.
4. Turistas: There’s nothing scary, suspenseful or surprising about this inept and tedious horror thriller, as pale a comparison as there can be to Hostel.
5. Ultraviolet: an emotionally impenetrable mess, with vacuous dialogue, lifeless action scenes and a thoroughly disjointed plot.

Alexandre Caron’s Best of 2006

Top 10 Cinéma 2006

1) Red Road
2) United 93
3) Babel
4) Volver
5) The Departed
6) Borat
7) The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
8) Congorama
9) Marie-Antoinette
10) The Science of Sleep

Top CD Franco 2006

1) Pierre Lapointe – La forêt des mal-aimés
2) Damien Robitaille – L’homme qui me ressemble
3) Dumas – Fixer le temps
4) Fredric Gary Comeau – Ève Rêve
5) Jean Leclerc – Mexico

Mention: Renaud – Rouge Sang

Top CD Anglo 2006

1) Tom Waits – Orphans
2) Bob Dylan – Modern Times
3) Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
4) Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
5) Cat Power – The Greatest

Mention: Prince – 3121, it’s just too funky

Kevin L.’s Top Ten

If any one artist truly defined this movie year for me, it’s Hugh Jackman. He once again kicked ass as Wolverine in the third X-flick, proved to be perfectly charming in Woody Allen’s Scoop, held his own against Christian Bale in “The Prestige” and, last but not least, starred in the film that tops my…

TOP TEN


Unofficial 11th pick (added 01/15/07): Pan’s Labyrinth
Had I been able to see it in 2006, Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece would have placed right next to “The Fountain”. Alas, it’s technically a 2007 release in Montreal. Never mind, the important thing is that you’ll soon be able to experience it as well – you won’t regret it.

BEST DOCUMENTARY
The Devil and Daniel Johnston

BEST ACTOR
Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

BEST ENSEMBLE
United 93

BEST MUSIC
Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny

GUILTY PLEASURE
The Marine

BEST ALBUMS

1. Pierre Lapointe – La forêt des mal-aimés
2. pony up! – Make Love to the Judges With Your Eyes
3. The Dears – Gang of Losers
4. Sunset Rubdown – Shut Up I Am Dreaming
5. Xavier Caféïne – Gisèle

THEN: Alexandre Caron’s Best Films and CDs
ALSO: Jean Carlo Lavoie’s Top Ten
AND: Jean-François Tremblay’s Best & Worst of 2006