2008 Top Ten: Alberto Zambenedetti
Alberto Zambenedetti is a Ph.D. Candidate in Italian Studies at NYU
And here it is, the top-ten everybody was eagerly waiting for. I compiled it following no other criteria than my personal taste and the fact that I have seen these movies in a theater in the course of the solar year 2008. And that they were not past or re-releases. Enjoy!
1. Gomorra / Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone, 2008)
To put it bluntly, Garrone’s adaptation of Roberto Saviano’s best-selling eponymous novel on the workings of organized crime in Italy’s Campania region is by far the best picture of 2008. The director had already displayed enormous talent and potential with a handful of interesting films over the course of the past ten years, but this time around he achieves true greatness. The multiple, intertwined plots depicting the relationship between low-life losers, small-time crooks and powerful villains are masterfully narrated with gripping hand-held, over-the-shoulder camerawork. An instant classic in Italy, for its perfect balance of style and content Gomorra is a virtually flawless masterpiece.
2. My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2007)
Incredibly witty and charming, My Winnipeg is the most personal (of course) and relatable of Maddin’s pictures. A journey at the heart and the hidden recesses of his frigid hometown, the film traces the never obvious threads of childhood memories and urban landscape, as if running a finger on a map made of buildings and the feelings attached to them. Delightfully funny and twisted, stylistically inventive and engrossing, My Winnipeg is my favorite of Maddin’s movies.
3. Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry, 2008)
After the charming but meandering The Science of Sleep, Gondry returns with a heartwarming homage to the craft of filmmaking that continues his exploration of low-tech visuals and dreamscapes, be that with eyes open or closed. Despite the paper-thin plot, or perhaps thanks to it, the duo Jack Black / Mos Def deliver some of the funniest and cleverest gags of 2008 while “sweding” classic movies and contemporary blockbusters. Gondry’s artful direction and idiosyncratic aesthetics, the endearing subject matter, and the comic qualities of the cast make for an intelligent and original crowd-pleaser.
4. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, 2008)
Disfunctionaliy meets multiculturalism in this potentially sappy family drama, but Demme manages to avoid the pitfalls of stereotyping by delivering a very light-handed and engaging film. A cast in a state of grace supports his directorial musings over Jenny Lumet’s heartfelt script, anchoring his nimble camera (enamored with the color and music of a multiethnic wedding celebration) to multiple identity crises and breakdowns.
5. Iron Man (Jon Favreau, 2008)
This unapologetically over-the-top and artfully multi-layered blockbuster has something for everyone, including superhero skeptics and comic-book snobs. The storytelling is airtight, the jokes are funny, and the visual effects are convincing enough to make me look forward to the sequels. Favreau flirts ironically with all the clichés, he lets Robert Downey Jr.’s silver tongue dance gracefully over the most ridiculous lines, and ultimately delivers an early summer delight that can be enjoyed by viewers of all ages.
6. JCVD (Mabrouk El Mechri, 2008)
Aging, washed out and broke, the Belgian action hero makes a compelling comeback playing nothing less than his sorry self. Far from being an act of hopeless self-promotion, JCVD is a highly entertaining and reflexive tribute to the many who have been eaten by the machine, narrated through the politically incorrect gaze of beur cinéma. Interestingly devoid of martial art and combat scenes, the film takes an introspective turn in the midst of the action, with a protagonist quite literally lifted out of the narrative to deliver an eight-minute long monologue that is worth the price of the ticket itself. The best comeback of the year.
7. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
Nolan directs another installment of his über-dark take on the Batman, and audiences respond enthusiastically. The hype is such that it is almost impossible o watch the film without having inflated expectations, especially with regards to prematurely departed Heath Ledger’s performance. Nevertheless, despite the somewhat odd pacing and perhaps thanks to the unconventional narrative solutions, the film is exciting, engaging, and very entertaining. Let alone the fantastic visual effects, the brilliant acting, and the ageless appeal of the characters.
8. The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008)
Golden Lion in Venice, The Wrestler is the second best film of the year featuring an aging, washed out movie-star after JCVD. A long-time Mickey Rourke fan, I never doubted his acting abilities, and I had trained myself to be content with his great cameos and brief appearances in the past ten years. And as much as I enjoyed reading about him in the tabloids, I have eagerly waited for his star to regain some luster. The film fits him like a glove, but so did Domino (Tony Scott, 2005) and Sin City (Miller, Rodriguez & Tarantino, 2005), pictures in which he unapologetically stole the scene from the respective leads. I see The Wrestler more as a coronation of a very uneven, yet fascinating career of a brilliant actor rather than a flimsy comeback.
9. Låt den rätte komma in / Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
Before I saw this movie, I thought I had seen every possible variation on the theme. I was wrong. This Scandinavian tale of a frail 12-year old who falls for an eternally pubescent vampire is as charming as it is terrifying. Well digging into the psychological complexities of such a peculiar intrigue, Alfredson weaves into the narrative a series of very interesting visual and aural correlatives between the landscape and the emotional nuances of his characters, achieving greatness in a handful of truly moving and/or disturbing scenes. A small gem.
10. R-Rated Comedies (Various, 2008)
Despite my European origins, which qualify me immediately as indignant before any reference to the baser needs of our flesh, I must confess that I enjoy fart-jokes as much as the next guy, so I was pretty pleased with 2008’s truckload of R-Rated comedies. It was yet another great year for American humor and for bodily excretions. From Step Brothers to Zack and Miri Make a Porno, from Role Models to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I am not ashamed to write that I laughed hard, really hard, almost to the point of annoying the person in the seat next to mine. In other words, assimilation has taken its toll on my manners. Thank you, America.