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.