Cinema Essential Films Lists

The Best Films of 2008

Best films of 2008 mosaic

As in previous years this list of the best films of the year is presented in alphabetical order. (2007 titles which got a UK release during 2008 can be found in last year’s updated list).


che-1Che (Dir. Steven Soderbergh)

This long gestating biopic of Che Guevara from director Steven Soderbergh got a mixed reaction after it premiered at Cannes in May.

Some were put off by the four hour running time and the whole question of whether or not it was actually two films. It would probably be most accurate to describe it as two films merged together as one: The Argentine deals with the Cuban revolution in 1959 whilst Guerrilla explores his final years in Bolivia.

In the UK they will be released as Che: Part One and Che: Part Two, with some special double-bill screenings at certain cinemas. However you see it though, be sure to experience it on a big screen, as this an audacious and thrilling piece of cinema.

In the first part we see¬†the Cuban Revolution inter-cut with Guevara’s 1964 trip to the United Nation and refreshingly¬†Soderbergh eschews the narrative cliches of many historical biopics. Instead of ponderous meditations on his motives or background we are¬†plunged into the raw action of the revolutionary’s life.

Some viewers may find this off putting but as the film progresses the production design, costume, acting and cinematography get ever more hypnotic, drawing us into this world.

Soderbergh has always been a gifted technical filmmaker interested in pushing the boundaries of mainstream cinema and here he has crafted one of his most interesting and accomplished films with the help of a revolutionary digital camera (appropriately called the RED One) that has allowed him to make an epic using guerrilla film-making techniques.

The spiritual core of the film is an outstanding performance from Benicio del Toro, who captures the physical and vocal mannerisms of Che so well that he manages to make you forget about the face that spawned so many t-shirts and posters.

[Che Part One is released in the UK on January 1st and Part Two on February 20th]


Frost Nixon UK posterFrost/Nixon (Dir. Ron Howard)

When I first saw Peter Morgan’s stage play about David Frost’s famous interviews with Richard Nixon in 1977, I remember wondering what a film adaptation might look like.¬†

Although the hiring of Ron Howard to direct might have raised some eyebrows, to his credit he not only kept the two lead actors from the production (Michael Sheen as Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon) but also managed preserve the essential drama at the heart of the story and keep as faithful to it as possible.

For those of you unfamiliar with the background, Peter Morgan (who has become an expert in dramatising modern history scripting¬†The Queen¬†and¬†The Last King of Scotland) created a play which explored the tensions behind Frost pursuing and then conducting Nixon’s first TV interviews since resigning in disgrace over the Watergate scandal.

What makes it so absorbing is the clash of two very different characters who for different reasons had a lot at stake: Frost was desperate to re-establish himself in America, whilst Nixon was keen to rebuild his shattered political reputation.

Technically, both lead performances are superb and after two years on stage together the chemistry between Sheen and Langella is magnetic.

The supporting cast is very solid with Rebecca Hall, Toby Jones, Matthew Macfadyen, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell all making fine contributions in key roles.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the film is how it manages to be both a fascinating slice of history garnished with some fine period design yet also finds a way of commenting on the current concerns about US politics.

It also poses a fascinating question: will President Bush ever come out with the same anguished mea culpa that Nixon delivered in these interviews?

[Frost/Nixon is released in the UK on January 25th]


Gomorrah UKGomorrah (Dir. Matteo Garrone)

One of the darkest and most disturbing films of the year was this searing examination of crime in modern Italy. It didn’t just upend many of the traditional tropes of the Mafia in pop culture – it exploded them.

The narrrative was based on true life stories from¬†Roberto Saviano‘s bestselling book about¬†the Comorrah, a criminal organisation centred around southern Italy (especially¬†Naples¬†and¬†Caserta).

There is a 13-year-old boy (Salvatore Abruzzese) who falls in with a criminal gang; a messenger (Gianfelice Imparato) who pays the families of prisoners; a young graduate (Carmine Paternoster) who gets involved in toxic waste management; a tailor (Salvatore Cantalupo) who wants to break free of local suppliers and two wannabe gangsters (Marco Macor and Ciro Petrone) who find a stash of weapons and want to act like Scarface.

Director Matteo Garrone cast the film impeccably and the ensemble acting was terrific but he also created a hellishly believable modern landscape far removed from that of mob movies like The Godfather, Goodfellas or The Sopranos.

This was a world riddled with poverty, tension and despair where crime infects everyone like a rampant virus. It paints a devastating picture not only of regions in modern Italy, but the tentacles of the Comorrah spread out to the wider world.

The film scooped the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, where it deservedly screened to critical acclaim.

Although at times it was an uncomfortable and brutal film to watch, it remains one of the most powerful and haunting crime films of the last decade.

* Listen to our interview with Matteo Garrone about Gomorrah *

[Gomorrah is available on DVD on February 9th)


Hunger UK posterHunger (Dir. Steve McQueen)

Every year there are a handful of films that know will end up in your ‘best of the year’ list as the credits roll and this¬†stunning drama about¬†the¬†1981 IRA hunger strike¬†was just such a film.

A stark and harrowing look at one of the key episodes of The Troubles was about a group of IRA prisoners in the Maze led by Bobby Sands (a mesmerising performance from Michael Fassbender) went on a protracted hunger strike.

Their aim was to apply pressure against the British government, so that they could be classed as political prisoners and it marked a significant escalation in the conflict.

What the film managed to capture so well was the bitter brutality of life inside the prison Рa world in which inmates refused to wear clothes, smeared excrement over their walls and were savagely beaten.

But at the same time this was no apologist for the IRA and perhaps the most shocking scene in the film explored the constant danger the prison guards lived under, where reprisals could lurk anywhere and at any time.

This is not a film that ‚Äėtakes sides‚Äô, but rather it explores the full human horror of The Troubles through the lens of the hunger strike – the physical brutality and sheer squalor point to the entrenched hatreds that ensnared all of those caught up in it. Echoes of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay are never far away.

The sounds and visuals were breathtaking with McQueen and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt showing a remarkable attention to detail whether it was a snowflake landing on the bloodied fist of a guard or urine gradually seeping out from beneath the cell doors before being gradually swept back in. 

One lengthy sequence involving Fassbender and Liam Cunningham (who played Sands’ priest) was perhaps one of the most riveting and daring pieces of cinema I’ve seen in years.

This was an astonishing directorial debut for Steve McQueen, who has been best known until now as an acclaimed visual artist, but this holds the promise of a hugely successful career in feature films.

* Listen to our interview with Liam Cunningham about Hunger *

[Hunger is out on DVD on February 23rd]


In Bruges UK posterIn Bruges (Dir. Martin McDonagh)

Perhaps the funniest film of the year was the directorial debut of the playwright Martin McDonagh, a brilliantly executed tale of two Irish hit men (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) who have been sent to lie low in the Belgian city of Bruges.

Not only does it contain several memorable sequences, but it contained the sort of ballsy, politically incorrect humour absent from a lot of mainstream comedy movies.

It also features some excellent performances, most notably from the two leads. Gleeson is his usual dependable self whilst Farrell shows what a good actor he can be when released from the constraints of big budget Hollywood productions.

Ralph Fiennes also made a startling impression in a menacing supporting role that owes more to his turn in Schindler’s List than some of his more recent performances.

If you are familiar with the sensibility of McDonagh’s plays, such as The Lieutenant of Inishmore, you will find much to feast on here Рit feels like Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter remade by Quentin Tarantino.

Despite a warm critical reaction, it didn’t really get the attention it deserved, which may have been down to bad marketing (the US one sheet poster was horrible and the UK one not much better) or the fact that the title confused people.

One sequence in a hotel room involving drugs, a hooker and a dwarf was one of the funniest things I’ve seen all year and is worth the price of admission. ¬†¬†

[In Bruges is out now on DVD]


I've Loved You So LongI’ve Loved You So Long (Dir. Philippe Claudel)

An intelligent and beautifully crafted portrayal of family love which revolved around two sisters named Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Lea (Elsa Zylberstein), who reconnected with one another after a prolonged absence. 

To say too much about the plot would spoil the cleverly constructed narrative which gradually reveals their past and the reasons as to why they have been separated for so long. 

Writer and director Philippe Claudel was better known as a novelist in his native France and this also shares many of the pleasures of well written fiction: nuanced characters, slow burning emotions and a real sense of the complexities of human relationships. 

This is a film in which a lot of characters spend a lot of time in rooms talking about themselves, but at the same time manages to burrow deeply into the tangled emotions of it’s protagonist. 

Much of the power comes from two marvellous central performances and Scott Thomas proved what a captivating screen presence in what is arguably the performance of her career so far.

Her work on stage Рnotably in Chekhov productions like Three Sisters and The Seagull Рdemonstrated that she had much more range and ability than some of her screen performances suggested, so it was gratifying to see her grapple with such a juicy part and take it to another level. 

Credit must also go to Claudel for the way in which he has captured the small but subtle details that gradually reveal her character: the silence as she sits alone in a cafe, the wetness of her hair or even the way she smokes a cigarette. 

Since screening at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals a few weeks ago, this film has had a good deal of awards buzz and deserves recognition for the sheer excellence of the writing and acting.

[I’ve Loved You So Long is released on DVD on February 9th]


Man on Wire DVD coverMan on Wire (Dir. James Marsh)

British director James Marsh crafted a superb documentary about Frenchman Philippe Petit, who on August 7th 1974 gave an incredible high-wire performance by walking between between the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center eight times in one hour.

The act itself almost defies belief but what the film does brilliantly is capture the tension, beauty and brilliance of Petit’s highly illegal operation. 

Born out of a dream and an idea, Petit and his team of accomplices spent eight months planning the execution of their ‚Äėcoup‚Äô down to the most intricate detail.

Like a team of bank robbers planning their most ambitious heist, the tasks they faced seemed virtually impossible: they would have to bypass the WTC‚Äôs security; smuggle the wire and rigging equipment into the towers; suspend the wire between the towers; secure the wire at the correct tension to withstand the winds and the swaying of the buildings; to rig it secretly by night ‚Äď all without being caught.

The film is also an emotional experience Рalthough it never mentions or shows footage from the 9/11 attacks, the Twin Towers are a haunting presence in the stock photos and footage from the time.   

But the ultimate message of the film is a positive one as it reminds us that the joy and magic Petit created on the Twin Towers is still there, even though the actual building is not. 

* Listen to our interview with Philippe Petit about Man on Wire *

[Man on Wire is out now on DVD] 


Milk posterMilk (Dir. Gus Van Sant)

Sean Penn is often regarded as one of the finest actors of his generation and his portrayal of Harvey Milk in this biopic was one of his very best.

Milk was a gay rights activist who in the 1970s became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

The film opens with opens with archive footage of police raiding gay bars during the 1950s and 1960s, followed by the announcement in November, 1978 that Milk and Mayor George Moscone have been assassinated.

What follows is an inspiring and moving tale of political courage and hope with many fine performances across the board from Emile Hirsch, James Franco and Josh Brolin. 

Directed by Gus Van Sant¬†from a script by¬†Dustin Lance Black, it skilfully juxtaposed the drama of Milk’s political battles against the inner conflicts of his private life.

It was also a nice change to see Penn play a warm and inspirational protagonist, an added dimension to the film which gave it an extra lift.

Watching the film unfold just a couple of weeks after the election of Barack Obama it was hard not to see the parallels: both were political outsiders who thrived on changing the status quo through a combination of hope and grass roots activism.

Sadly, Milk’s legacy was not enough to prevent the passing of Prop 8 – a¬†California ballot proposition¬†that changed the laws of the state to ban same sex marriage.

But this film will almost certainly become a lasting testament to his political and moral courage.   

[Milk is out at UK cinemas on Friday 23rd January]


Slumdog Millionaire US posterSlumdog Millionaire (Dir. Danny Boyle)

In the spring of 2007 director Danny Boyle told me that his next film would be set in Mumbai and was the story of a young man on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

But it was only afterwards that I started to wonder. Would the film be made in English? Would it be a Bollywood film? Comedy? Drama?

It is a testament to the final film that Slumdog Millionaire is so many different things – a vibrant and rich journey through modern India through the lens of a Dickensian tale of love and redemption.

Adapted by Simon Beaufoy from the novel Q and A by Vikas Swarup, it deservedly received a lot of buzz and acclaim at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals.

What’s interesting is that the narrative plays a little like The Usual Suspects, as we learn how the central character Jamal (Dev Patel) came to be on the game show.

It then flashes back to periods of his life growing up as a kid from the slums (or ’slumdog’ as some less than charitable characters in the film put it) and his desire to find the true love of his life (Frieda Pinto).

Boyle and his cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle don’t shy away from the poverty of the slums in the film but also capture the live wire energy of Mumbai with some inventive use of digital cameras and a cracking soundtrack.

Whilst some audiences might be a bit taken aback by some of the darker sequences, they are necesssary counterweights for others aspects of the story to really work.

A huge amount of credit must go to Beaufoy who has constructed a jigsaw puzzle narrative that somehow manages to hold everything together in a way that is exciting, clever and moving.   

Another clever touch is the realistic portrayal of the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire show, complete with the right music and graphics which are expertly woven into the film and play a key part in how the story unfolds.

The cheesy tension of the TV show somehow has a new life here, with added meaning on the tense pauses and multiple choice questions. 

It is currently regarded as the front runner for Best Picture at the Oscars and deservedly so as it mixes serious social commentary with a classical tale of lost love into something truly special. 

[Slumdog Millionaire is out at UK cinemas on Friday 9th January]


Synechdoche New YorkSynecdoche, New York (Dir. Charlie Kaufman)

In the last decade Charlie Kaufman has become one of those rare screenwriters whose work has even overshadowed the directors he has worked with.

This is quite a feat given that he has collaborated with Spike Jonze (on Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) and Michel Gondry (Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). 

However, it is fair to say that all those films bear certain recognisable tropes: ingenious narratives, surreal images and a tragi-comic view of human affairs.

It would have also been a reasonable assumption to think his directorial debut would be similar, but¬†Synecdoche, New York¬†(pronounced ‚ÄúSyn-ECK-duh-kee‚ÄĚ) does not just bear token similarities to his previous scripts.¬†

In fact it is so Kaufman-esque that it takes his ideas to another level of strangeness, which is quite something if you bear in mind what has come before.

The story centres around a theatre director named Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who starts to re-evaluate life after his health and marriage start to break down. 

He receives a grant to do something artistically adventurous and decides to stage an enormously ambitious production inside a giant warehouse.

What follows is a strange and often baffling movie, complete with the kind of motifs that are peppered throughout Kaufman’s scripts: someone lives in a house oblivious to the fact that it is permanently on fire; a theatrical venue the size of several aircraft hangars is casually described as a place where Shakespeare is performed; and visitors to an art gallery view microscopic paintings with special goggles. 

But despite the oddities and the Chinese-box narrative, this is a film overflowing with invention and ideas. 

It explores the big issues of life and death but also examines the nature of art and performance Рa lot of the film, once it goes inside the warehouse, is a mind-boggling meditation on our lives as a performance. 

Imagine¬†The Truman Show¬†rewritten by¬†Samuel Beckett¬†and directed by¬†Luis Bu√Īuel¬†and you‚Äôll get some idea of what Kaufman is aiming for here.¬†

I found a lot of the humour very funny, but the comic sensibility behind the jokes is dry and something of an acquired taste.

Much of the film hinges on Seymour Hoffman’s outstanding central performance in which he conveys the vulnerability and determination of a man obsessed with doing something worthwhile before he dies. 

The makeup for the characters supervised by Mike Marino is also first rate, creating a believable ageing process whilst the sets are also excellent, even if some of the CGI isn’t always 100% convincing. 

The supporting cast was also impressive: Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Hope Davis, Tom Noonan and Dianne Weist all contribute fine performances and fit nicely into the overall tone of the piece. 

Although the world Kaufman creates will alienate some viewers, it slowly becomes a haunting meditation on how humans age and die.

As the film moves towards resolution it becomes surprisingly moving with some of the deeper themes slowly, but powerfully, rising to the surface.

This means that although it will have it’s admirers (of which I certainly include myself) it is likely to prove too esoteric for mass consumption as it has a downbeat tone despite the comic touches.

Having seen it only once, this is a film I instantly wanted to revisit, so dense are the layers and concepts contained within it.

On first viewing it became a bit too rich at times for it‚Äôs own good but on reflection I don’t think I’ve seen a more ambitious or challenging film this year.

[Synechdoche, New York is out at UK cinemas on Friday 15th May]


The Class posterThe Class (Dir. Laurent Cantet)

The surprise winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival was this deceptively simple tale of a French teacher (François Bégaudeau) at a state school in Paris.

The actual French title is ‘Entre Les Murs’ – which translates as ‚ÄėBetween the walls‚Äô – which is apt as the film never (apart from one shot at the beginning) strays outside the confines of the school.

Adapted from the 2006 novel of the same name by Bégaudeau, which in turn was based on his own real life experiences teaching in a Paris school, it is a rich and deeply satisfying film.

Not only did it scrupulously avoid the cliches that can plaue films set inside schools, but also managed to offer a plausible snapshot of modern French society by focusing tightly on a class of pupils and their teachers.

Although it is shot in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2:35, the camera hangs tight on each character and never really gives us a look at the French city landscape.

This might sound claustrophobic, but makes the lessons and world inside of the school (the staff room, the corridors, the playground) all come alive in an unexpectedly thrilling way.

Performances Рespecially from Bégaudeau and a very special cast of non-professional teenagers Рwere outstanding but the film also had a tremendous sense of humanity to it without ever slipping into cheap sentiment.

An example of a rare film that touches the heart whilst engaging the brain, The Class is a gem that I would urge anyone to go and see when it gets released in the UK in February.

[The Class is out at UK cinemas on Friday 27th February]


The Dark Knight posterThe Dark Knight (Dir. Christopher Nolan)

The most commercially successful film of the year (globally at least) was also one of the best, as this Batman sequel transcended its comic book origins to become one of the most ambitious blockbusters in years.

When Batman Begins came out in 2005, it was an impressive reinvention of the DC Comics character but I wasn’t as blown away as some were. But props to the suits at Burbank for recruiting a director like Christopher Nolan who had already made his mark with Memento in 2000.

The realistic approach to the Bruce Wayne character and Gotham City worked well and reaped dividends with this sequel, which built on the first film but also made for a richer experience.

Managing to transcend the usual limitations of the comic book genre, its ambitious approach owes more to crime epics like Heat and The Godfather than the usual summer comic book adaptation.

The story, set in a Gotham City soaked in crime, violence and corruption, revolved around three central characters: Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), a billionaire vigilante dishing out justice at night time; Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the District Attorney boldly taking on organised crime; and The Joker (Heath Ledger), a mysterious psychopathic criminal wreaking havoc on the city.

Nolan and co-screenwriter Jonathan Nolan (with story credit by David S Goyer) crafted a spectacularly ambitious summer blockbuster with the different narrative strands developed in engrossing and genuinely surprising ways Рat times it was so layered that key sequences often had parallel consequences.

As for the action, it follows the script in being similarly dense, and some of the big set pieces Рespecially two key sequences Рhave an unpredictable and chaotic quality to them, which is refreshing for this kind of genre.

The performances too were a revelation for a genre movie: Bale continues his solid work from the first film but Ledger and Eckhart brought much more to their roles than some might have expected.

As The Joker, Ledger managed to completely reinvent an iconic character as a wildly unpredictable psychopath who brings Gotham to it’s knees. Although Рdue to his tragically early death Рthere was always going to be added interest in his performance, he really was outstanding in creating a villain who is scary, funny and unpredictable.

Overall the technical contributions were outstanding Рof particular note were Wally Pfister’s cinematography, Nathan Crowley’s production design and Lee Smith’s editing.

Special mention must also go to the diverting score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, which thankfully will be up for Oscar consideration after initially being barred due to a technicality.

Many aspects of the film raised interesting questions and parallels. Can we see Batman Рa sophisticated force for good caught up in a moral dilemma Рas a metaphor for the US military? Could The Joker Рa psychopathic enigma wreaking terror on society Рbe a twisted version of Osama Bin Laden?

The fact that a comic book adaptation subtly provoked these points was daring and clever but also true to the darker comic books¬†–¬†especially¬†The Killing Joke¬†– that influenced on the film.

Although Ledger is almost a forgone conclusion for Best Supporting Actor – for both valid and sentimental reasons – the film itself might find more nominations in the major categories, which when you think about it speaks volumes to its quality.

[The Dark Knight is out now on DVD] 


The Visitor posterThe Visitor (Dir. Thomas McCarthy)

Tom McCarthy made one of the best films of 2003 with The Station Agent and his second film was just as good.

The story involved a college professor (Richard Jenkins) who finds a young immigrant couple living in his New York apartment and then follows the characters as they connect with one another in unexpected ways.

Like his previous work, it is thoughtful, beautifully observed and features rounded characters who feel like people you might actually meet in real life.

Jenkins is a character actor you might recognise Рhe’s probably best known for his fine work as Nathaniel Fisher in Six Feet Under or as the FBI agent in Flirting with Disaster.

Here he is finally given a lead role that allows him demonstrate his considerable acting skills and there is fine support too from Haaz Sleiman, Danai Jekesai Gurira and Hiam Abbass.

But what really made this stand out is the way it managed to tackle some really big themes with intelligence and grace: immigration, loss and love are just a few of the issues dealt with here but the approach was never stodgy or patronising.

Instead, it managed to take us deep into the hearts and minds of people caught up in the chilly climate of a post-9/11 world.

A rare film that manages to engage both the heart and brain, but does so with the subtle skill of a gifted director.

* Listen to our interviews with Richard Jenkins and Tom McCarthy about The Visitor * 

[The Visitor is released on DVD in the UK on February 9th]


The WrestlerThe Wrestler (Dir. Darren Aronofsky)

When I first heard about Mickey Rourke playing a has-been wrestler in a film directed by Darren Aronofsky I was intrigued. 

Would it be similar to the director’s previous films like¬†ŌĬ†and¬†Requiem for a Dream? And what would Mickey Rourke be like in his first proper leading role for many years?

For Aronofksy it is a major – but welcome – departure in that it eschews many of the stylistic devices of his earlier work in favour of a raw, stripped down approach.

For Rourke it is nothing less than a triumphant comeback: a dream role that proves not only what a fine screen actor he can be, but also atones for the chaos of his professional career over the last 20 years.

The film itself is the story of a big time wrestler from the 1980s called¬†Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, who has fallen on hard times and¬†wrestles on the weekends in independent and semi-pro matches for extra money.

Health problems force him to re-evaluate his life which includes working in a deli, a possible relationship with a stripper (Marisa Tomei) and an attempted reconciliation with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood).

The parallels between Rourke’s own career and that of his character are there for anyone to see but there is more to the film than just brave casting: it paints a moving yet unsentimental view of outsiders struggling to make it in modern America.

The world of semi-pro wrestling is also brought to life with remarkable authenticity. Although the theatricality and hype of the WWF dominates the public perception of wrestlers, the realism on display in this story creates a much more authentic and poignant world.

A lot of the film’s charm rests on Rourke and Tomei, who play two contrasting characters who actually have much in common: both are performers who use their bodies and have problems reconciling their double lives.¬†

Rourke is already being talked of as one of the frontrunners for the Best Actor Oscar and there is no doubt that he deserves recognition for what is one of the most memorable screen performances of the year.  

[The Wrestler is out at UK cinemas on Friday 16th January]


WALL-E posterWALL-E (Dir. Andrew Stanton)

Pixar continued their incredible run of form this year with yet another landmark animated film.

Set in a dystopian future circa 2815, it was about a waste disposal robot named WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) who meets another robot named EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) and gets involved in an unlikely romance, as well as the future of the human race.

Directed by Andrew Stanton, it is probably the most visually impressive work Pixar have yet committed to film (and that is saying a lot) but it also resonated as a surprisingly moving love story.

Robots haven’t been this endearing since Silent Running and the two central characters are joy to watch Рthe boxy old school charm of WALL-E contrasting beautifully with the cool, sleek beauty of EVE.

Although I would never thought I would ever compare a Pixar movie to There Will Be Blood Рboth have startling opening sequences with little or no dialogue.

One of the clever aspects of the film is the casting of sound designer Ben Burtt as the central character Рfor those unfamilar with his work he was the pioneering sound editor on the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films.

Along with the animators, Burtt has helped create a character who is extremely expressive without using conventional language.

The same is true for EVE, so it is even more impressive that the filmmakers have managed to craft a compelling relationship between them.

The landcaspes were equally impressive, full of rich detail and nods to other sci-fi films.

* Listen to our interview with Angus MacLane, the directing animator of WALL-E *

[WALL-E is out now on DVD]


Waltz With Bashir posterWaltz With Bashir (Dir. Ari Folman)

One of the most daring and original films was this astonoshing animated film about the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre and the memory of the Israeli soldiers involved in the invasion of Lebanon at the time. 

Directed by Ari Folman, it examines his own experiences on that mission and the struggle to remember what happened when he interviews various army colleagues from the time.

The strange title is taken from a scene with one of Folman‚Äôs interviewees, who remembers taking a machine gun and dancing an ‚Äėinsane waltz‚Äô amid enemy fire, with posters of¬†Bashir Gemayel¬†lining the walls behind him. (Gemayel¬†was the Lebanese president who whose¬†assassination¬†helped trigger the massacre.)

Animation isn’t normally associated with historical and political films, but here it worked brilliantly creating some haunting and indelible images.¬†

A hugely ambitious project, it took four years to complete and is and international co-production between Israel, Germany and France.

Another aspect which makes this story so intrguing is that the Israeli troops were not guilty of the massacre itself but of standing by and letting Lebanese miltia murder Palestinian refugees. 

It is the memory of, or rather the inability to remember, this event that lies at the core of the story. Has Folman unconsciously blocked out the memory? Does guilt cloud any rational perspective? 

The raw power of the source material is enhanced by some extraordinary imagery, with a remarkable and inventive use of colour for certain sections, especially those involving the sea.

Added to this is Folman’s narration which has an almost hypnotic effect when set alongside the visuals, almost as if the audience is experiencing a dream whilst watching the film itself. 

Back in May it premiered to huge acclaim at Cannes and was one of the front runners to win the Palme d’Or. The film also won 6 Israeli Film Academy awards (including Best Picture) and looks likely to be a strong contender for the Best Foreign Film at the Oscars.

Much of that praise is richly deserved because this is an arresting and highly original film that deserves special credit for taking a highly politicised and contentious event and yet somehow makes a wider point about the futility of war.

The recent events in the Gaza strip only reinforce what a timely film this is but the central message about the horrors and futility of war has a relevance not just confined to the cauldron of the Middle East.

* Listen to our interview with Ari Folman about Waltz with Bashir *

[Waltz with Bashir is out on DVD in the UK on March 30th]



[Rec] (Dir.  Jaume Balagueró)

Appaloosa (Dir. Ed Harris)

Battle For Haditha (Dir. Nick Broomfield)

Blindness (Dir. Fernando Meirelles)

Burn After Reading (Dir. The Coen Brothers)

Changeling (Dir. Clint Eastwood)

Flight Of The Red Balloon (Dir. Hsiao-hsien Hou)

Funny Games US (Dir. Michael Haneke)

Gran Torino (Dir. Clint Eastwood)

Happy-Go-Lucky (Dir. Mike Leigh)

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (Dir. Guillermo Del Toro)

Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Dir.¬†Peter Sollett)

Religulous (Dir. Larry Charles)

Revolutionary Road (Dir. Sam Mendes)

Sugar (Dir. Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Dir. David Fincher)

The Reader (Dir. Stephen Daldry)

W. (Dir. Oliver Stone)

N.B. Have a look at my list of the best films from 2007 which has now been updated to include those that got a UK release in 2008. (They were Gone Baby Gone, Persepolis, The Orphanage, In Search Of A Midnight Kiss, Joy Division, My Winnipeg, Savage Grace, Shotgun Stories, Son Of Rambow, The Band’s Visit and The Mist).

What about you? Leave your favourites from this year in the comments below.

> Find out more about the films of 2008 at Wikipedia
> Check out more end of year lists at Metacritic
> Have a look at the Movie City News end of year critics chart
> Check out our best DVDs of 2008

Essential Films Interesting

The Daily Video: Nosferatu (1922) – Free Movie Downloads

Above you can watch the full version of the classic 1922 German Expressionist film Nosferatu.

Directed by F. W. Murnau, it stars Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok and is now in the public domain.

> You can also watch or download it at Public Domain Flicks
> Find out more about Nosferatu at Wikipedia

DVD & Blu-ray Essential Films

DVD Pick: There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood was one of the finest films of last year – a bold and mesmerising drama charting the rise of an oil man in the early years of the 20th century.

Daniel Day Lewis won the Best Actor Oscar for his stunning central performance – the driven and obsessive Daniel Plainview, who starts off as a silver miner before slowly establishing himself as a hugely successful oil prospector.

For writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson it was yet another marvellous addition to his already dazzling filmography (which now includes Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love).

But this was an unusual departure for him – unlike his last three films it is away from his usual San Fernando Valley setting, eschews most of his favourite actors (such as John C Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore) and has a haunting, other-worldly feel to it.

A lot of this mood is created by Jonny Greenwood‘s unusual and innovative score, which was shamefully disqualified for Oscar recognition.

The film also saw Anderson re-team with cinematographer Robert Elswit, who won the Oscar for his remarkable visuals in a particularly strong year.

Technically, the film is quite astonishing with Jack Fisk‘s meticulous production design, David Crank‘s art direction and Dylan Tichenor‘s clever editing all of the highest order.

Revisiting the film again on DVD is interesting, as the bold narrative jolts and intensity subside to deeper feelings about the themes of the film.

Although viewers may have theories on the film tied in with America’s current adventures in the Middle East, Anderson doesn’t deal in clumsy metaphors but instead creates a compelling take on America’s obsession with oil, money and business.

Given how outstanding the actual film is, it is a little disappointing that this 2-disc special edition is lacking a little in features.

For the third time running, Anderson has chosen not to record a commentary. Perhaps he feels it should ‘speak for itself’, but given the excellence of his commentary on the marvellous R1 Boogie Nights DVD his audio absence is still sorely missed.

That said, what is here is still very good. The feature takes up the first disc and the transfer of the film is superb – the colours, lighting and sound are all wonderfully reproduced.

But the extras on the second disc – whilst interesting – are a little sparse given the importance of this film.

They include:

  • The Story Of Petroleum: This vintage featurette (1923-7) from The National Archives was created by the U.S. Bureau of Mines in collaboration with the Sinclair Oil Company as a promotional film. It runs for almost just over 25 minutes and provides some fascinating historical and social context. It shows how early oil pioneers looked for and extracted oil from the ground, as well as providing many useful nuggets of information. A nice touch is that Jonny Greenwood’s score is layered over what is an old silent film, making a stronger connection with Anderson’s feature.
  • ’15 minutes’ slideshow: This is a highly effective 15 minute montage of shots from the film inter-cut with archive images the filmmakers used for their research. It is striking to see how influential these photographs were on the finished visuals – some are almost reproduced shot-for-shot. Again, Jonny Greenwood’s score provides a beautiful counterpoint to the visual mix.
  • Deleted Scenes: The first of the deleted scenes is called ‘Fishing’ and at just over 6 minutes long feels like something Anderson cut out late in the edit process. It show’s how Plainview’s men are badly delayed after their rope breaks and use a process called ‘fishing’ to recover their tools at the bottom of the oil well. There is also a notable exchange with Eli’s father that touches upon the central themes of faith and fathers. The second is a called ‘Haircut/Interrupted Hymn’ which is a strange mix of scenes from the film involving Plainview and H.W.
  • Dailies Gone Wild (Outtake): Taken from the sequence of Plainview and H.W. in the restaurant, it seems to shed a bit of light on Daniel Day Lewis’ acting methods and culminates in one of the lighter moments he had on set with his young co-star.
  • Trailer: The mysterious first teaser trailer was unusual in that PTA cut it and uploaded it on to YouTube without telling the studio, which freaked them out – until they saw all the positive comments left by users of the site (alas Paramount have since pulled it from YouTube). The fuller theatrical trailer reveals more about the plot and does a good job of compressing some of the juicier elements of the film.

Strangely, Buena Vista Home Entertainment (the UK distributor) have gone for a rather odd packaging which consists of folded card.

There Will Be Blood - DVD cover

Although the design is nice, the way the discs slide out like an envelope doesn’t seem too practical in the long term.

Despite that, maybe we can hope for a beefed up special edition somewhere down the line. Until then, this remains an essential purchase for any true film lover.

To conclude, here is PTA discussing the film last September when it had a surprise world premiere at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas:

There Will Be Blood is out now on DVD from Buena Vista Home Entertainment

> Buy There Will Be Blood on DVD at Amazon UK
> Official site
> There Will Be Blood at the IMDb
> Check out reviews at Metacritic
> There Will Be Milkshakes – popular viral video and a discussion board
> New York Times interview with Daniel Day Lewis about the film
> AV Club interview with Paul Thomas Anderson about There Will Be Blood
> Extensive article in American Cinematographer magazine on Elswit’s work in There Will Be Blood
> PTA and Day Lewis have a lengthy discussion with Charlie Rose about the film
> An interview with Robert Elswit and production designer Jack Fisk about There Will Be Blood

DVD & Blu-ray Essential Films Film of the Week Interviews

Interview: Stuart Cooper on Overlord

Overlord on DVDIn 1975 director Stuart Cooper made Overlord – a drama about a soldier in the run up to the D-Day landings.

What makes the film unique is that it was filmed with the help of the Imperial War Museum and uses documentary footage from their vast archive, set against the central narrative.

Starring Brian Stirner, Davyd Harries, Nicholas Ball and Julie Neesam it is now being re-released on DVD after showing to great acclaim at the Telluride Film Festvial in 2006 and a short run at the ICA in London last month.

It was then that I spoke with Stuart Cooper about the film and you can listen to the interview here:

To download this as a podcast via iTunes just click the image below:

Overlord is out now on DVD from Metrodome

> Download this interview as an MP3 file
> Buy Overlord on DVD from Amazon UK
> An article by Stuart Cooper in The Guardian about the re-release of Overlord
> Roger Ebert reviews the film in 2006
> Various reviews of Overlord at Metacritic

Essential Films Lists

The Best Films of 2007

As with previous years this is a list of my favourite films of 2007 listed in alphabetical order.

A while ago I gave up trying to rank the best films into an descending list from 10-1 after the realisation that it was just too arbitrary and that this isn’t a maths experiment, it is just a list of films I thought were great.

So here are what I considered the best of 2007:

4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (Dir. Cristian Mungiu)
This Romanian drama about an abortion set in 1987 scooped the Palme D’Or at Cannes and it was a surprising but worthy winner.

Although the subject matter might put some viewers off it is a truly remarkable film from director Cristian Mungiu that deserves a wider audience than just the art house circuit.

The brilliance of the film is that it takes what appears to be a simple situation (the difficulty of abortion in a Communist Romania) and manages to wring out the intense human emotions and drama that lie below.

From the young woman who is pregnant, her loyal friend who helps her and the abortionist who performs the operation, all are complicit in a highly dangerous situation.

What elevates it above many contemporary dramas is the excellent lead performances from Anna-Maria Marinca and Laura Vasiliu, the terrific cinematography by Oleg Mutu and the clever use of long takes that draws us deeper into the characters lives.

Although it is only his second film, director Mungiu has scored a major achievement.

Away From HerAway From Her (Dir. Sarah Polley)
This is another film that may put some people off if you read a short synopsis Рit is a film about an elderly married couple dealing with the onset of Alzheimer’s.

But in the hands of first time director Sarah Polley, it became a deeply affecting film about the complex struggles of getting old.

It owes a lot of its power to the two stellar performances from Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent, who managed to convey a great depth of emotion.

Added to that, it was a rare pleasure to see older characters portrayed without any of the clichés rife that riddle so many mainstream films.

Polley – who also wrote the screenplay based on an Alice Munro short story – skilfully manages to avoid the cheap sentimentality that can plague stories like this and her low key approach was as refreshing, combining intelligence and emotion in equal measure.

The score by Jonathan Goldsmith also added another rich layer to the film.

Before The Devil Knows You’re DeadBefore the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Dir. Sidney Lumet)
Veteran director Sidney Lumet managed to roll back the years with this dark crime drama set in New York.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was superb as an overextended broker, who lures his younger brother (Ethan Hawke) into a small robbery that spins wildly out of control.

The strength of the film was down in no small part to the excellent cast (which also featured Marisa Tomei and Albert Finney.

Kelly Masterton’s script was clever in how it managed to show the devastating ripple effect of a crime gone wrong and the non-linear narrative heightened the tensions and emotions at the heart of the story.

Whilst it wasn’t quite as good as some of Lumet’s best work the tension superbly tweaked throughout the film.

Notable on a technical level for being shot on hi-def digital cameras, it was also a powerful morality tale that showed the squalid futility that lurks beneath many crimes.

ControlControl (Dir. Anton Corbijn)
Films about bands can fall prey to the ghost of Spinal Tap but this study of Ian Curtis and Joy Division was a brilliantly original take on the band.

Anton Corbijn’s background as a photographer showed as shot the film stark but dazzling black and white.

He also used his experiences from working with the band to make the film more nuanced and emotionally involving than an outsider might have done.

The performances from Samantha Morton, Toby Kebbell, Joe Anderson, Craig Parkinson and Ben Naylor were uniformly excellent with Sam Riley outstanding in the difficult role of Ian Curtis.

The use of music, especially the non-Joy Division tracks from the likes of Kraftwerk and David Bowie was also highly effective.

The use of locations such as Macclesfield was also captivating and Corbijn somehow transformed the bleak setting and tragic story into a musical biopic of rare beauty.


Gone Baby Gone posterGone Baby Gone (Dir. Ben Affleck) 
The directorial debut of Ben Affleck was a highly accomplished adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel about the investigation into the disappearance of a young girl in Boston.

The film’s UK release was postponed due to the (entirely coincidental) similarities with the Madeleine McCann case and despite critical acclaim and some award nominations it probably didn’t get the recognition or box office it deserved.

Affleck demonstrated considerable skill as director but also as a screenwriter, with the intelligent script he co-wrote Aaron Stockard. He also cast a slew of fine actors (Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Amy Madigan) in key supporting roles but was brave enough to entrust the two key roles to younger actors with their careers now firmly on the rise.

Amy Ryan deservedly received an Oscar nomination as the mother of the missing girl, whilst Casey Affleck is highly assured in the lead role as the investigator hired to assist the police in the case.

The technical contributions are all excellent with the cinematography of John Toll and music by Harry Gregson-Williams being particular stand outs.  

Perhaps what is most impressive about the film is the way Affleck has refused to romanticise his hometown Рhe doesn’t flinch from showing the dark complexities of a modern American city, a place where morals and motivations can get easily blurred. 

Im Not ThereI’m Not There (Dir. Todd Haynes)
Writer-director Todd Haynes had a highly original and daring approach to the life and music of Bob Dylan.

Instead of hiring an actor to play the rock legend, he got six actors (Marcus Carl Franklin, Ben Whishaw, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, and Cate Blanchett) to all play different ‘versions’ that represent different parts of his life and career.

Although such a concept could have been a mess, it actually proved to be a highly effective way of exploring the enigma of the singer-songwriter.

Not only was it filled with musical and film references for Dylan aficionados but it was also edited and paced with incredible verve and panache.

Although it runs over two hours, most of that flies by as the film criss crosses through the various Dylans with gleeful abandon. Perhaps most impressively, Haynes somehow got Dylan to agree to licence his music.

A true original, it was a fitting antidote to the safe sterility of the the studio sequels which came out this year.

Into the WildInto the Wild (Dir. Sean Penn)
Sean Penn has long been one of the most gifted actors of his generation but his considerable skills as a director were on display with this adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s 1996 book.

It was about the cross country adventures of Christopher McCandless, a young man who wandered the US in the early 90s in search of greater meaning to his life despite coming from a privileged, if troubled, background.

What really set this film apart was its stunning use of the American landscape, be it the fields of Dakota, to the deserts of Arizona or the wilds of Alaska.

All were beautifully shot by cinematographer Eric Gautier and formed an essential part of both the plot and atmosphere of the film.

Emile Hirsh was very impressive in the lead role and there were some excellent supporting performances too from the likes of Catherine Keener and Hal Holbrook.

Michael ClaytonMichael Clayton (Dir. Tony Gilroy)
This smart and intelligent legal drama was a throwback to the tradition of 70s thrillers like The Parallax View and Klute.

George Clooney starred as a fixer in a New York law firm who has to deal with one of the senior partners (Tom Wilkinson) who has cracked under the strain of a multi-billion dollar settlement involving a large corporation.

Writer-director Tony Gilroy manages to skilfully juggle a lot of different elements here: it was smart, absorbing and thanks to Robert Elswit’s cinematography effectively evokes the paranoia and darkness that lurks beneath the world of corporate America.

George Clooney deserves a lot of credit for using his star power to help make films like this.

Although he earns big bucks with the Ocean’s franchise he has used that clout to make films like Good Night and Good Luck, Syriana, The Good German and now this.

It was also notable for a raft of superb performances from Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton and Sydney Pollack.

Credit must also go to James Newton Howard for his unusual but highly effective score.

No Country for Old MenNo Country for Old Men (Dir. Joel Coen)
This is the critical darling of the year and it is worthy of all the plaudits. Not only is it one of the best films of the decade, it is perhaps the Coen Brothers finest hour.

Adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel about a Texan antelope hunter who stumbles across a suitcase of drug money, it was a riveting and brilliantly observed tale of crime full of drama and a sense of unease about the world.

It contains some of the year’s finest performances with Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones and Kelly McDonald doing fantastic work, but is only fair to single out Javier Bardem for special praise.

As the ruthless hitman Shigur, he gives one of the creepiest performances in recent memory and has already sealed his place in the pantheon of great screen villains.

Roger Deakins’ cinematography captured the landscape of West Texas and Mexico with a wondefully poetic eye.

A truly magnificent film.

OnceOnce (Dir. John Carney)
This surprise sleeper hit wore its low-budget on its sleeve and showed that a simple love story and acoustic guitars can go a long way in a box office landscape dominated by CGI and big stars.

Director John Carney cast two musicians (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) in the lead roles and both gave beautifully unaffected performances as mismatched soul mates united by their love of music.

Refreshingly for a film set in Dublin, it reflected the modern face of the city rather than the twee version that too often crops up in Hollywood films.

But at it’s heart the charms of Once were very simple.

Imagine Brief Encounter mixed with The Commitments along with some terrific songs woven into the film (notably ‘Falling Slowly’) and you’ll get some idea of why this delighted so many viewers.


PersepolisPersepolis (Dir. Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud)
Writer and director Marjane Satrapi (along with co-director Vincent Paronnaud) adapted her own graphic novel about growing up during the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

Using a striking animated style, it explores her journey living in a theocratic society until she emigrates at the age of 21.

The voice actors in the original French version included Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux and Simon Abkarian and the English version saw Mastroianni and Deneuve reprise their roles alongside Sean Penn, Iggy Pop and Gena Rowlands.

Although the mix of animatio, history and politics might seem at first glance an uneasy one, it is handled with a great deal of intelligence, heart and humour.

A moving and insightful film, it deservedly won the Jury Prize at Cannes last year and was nominated for Best Animated Film at the Oscars.


RatatouilleRatatouille (Dir. Brad Bird)
The animated movie of the year was another classic from Pixar.

The story of a rat who becomes the unlikely hero of Paris restaurant owed much to Cyrano de Bergerac but it was notable for matching some witty writing with some marvellous animation.

Brad Bird was in charge of The Incredibles, which Pixar’s first film to feature lead characters in human form.

Here his team of animators managed to blend a rats and chefs together with a wonderful eye for the details of a kitchen.

But aside from the gorgeous visuals, the script managed to balance a sophisticated wit with some genuinely touching emotions.

The voice work all-round was good with Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Janeane Garofalo and Lou Romano but Peter O’Toole stood out in a supporting role as a stern food critic who the restaurant are desperate to impress.

Watch out too for the excellent short about alien abduction that accompanied the film called ‘Taken’.

SuperbadSuperbad (Dir. Greg Mottola)
Judd Apatow has risen to the top rank of Hollywood comedy in the last couple of years with a hand in hits like The 40 Year Old Virgin, Talledega Nights and Knocked Up.

But for me this film, which he produced and was co-written by his acting protégé Seth Rogen, is the pick of the bunch.

In terms of pure laughs, it remains the funniest film I saw this year.

It was the tale of three geeky teenagers (Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse) over the course of one night as they struggle to buy booze on the way to the party.

The three leads fitted their roles perfectly and were given some brilliant dialogue and situations (one my favourites involved one of them being forced to sing at a party).

For years people have over praised comedies like American Pie and There’s Something About Mary, but this left them trailing in its wake.

Taxi to the Dark SideTaxi to the Dark Side (Dir. Alex Gibney)
This documentary explores the story of an innocent Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar who was beaten to death by American soldiers in 2002 while being held at Bagram Air Base. 

Director Alex Gibney had previously explored subjects such as Henry Kissinger and Enron with a probing eye and here he rigourously examined¬†America’s policy on torture¬†and¬†interrogation¬†during the current war on terror.

It examines in clinical detail the events surrounding Dilawar’s death, featuring interviews with the troops who caused it and contributions from many figures involved in the story.

The film is meticulous in examining the evidence and explores how the court-martialed soldiers involved were acting upon ambiguous policies that tacitly encouraged torture. It also makes the connection between the detention tactics used at Bagram and those at Abu Ghraib.

Gibney interviewed a highly impressive array of contributors including: Carlotta Gall and Tim Golden (the New York Times journalists who helped uncover the story); Alberto J Mora (retired General Counsel of the U.S. Navy); Lawrence Wilkerson (former chief of staff to Colin Powell); Jack Cloonan (former FBI special agent) and Clive Stafford Smith (a lawyer who respresents detainees at Guantanamo Bay).

Back in February it deservedly won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature and is one of the most important films to be released in the last five years, painting a devastating picture of the moral cesspit into which the Bush adminstration has sunk in prosecuting their foreign policy.

The Bourne UltimatumThe Bourne Ultimatum (Dir. Paul Greengrass)
There is no doubt about the best mainstream film of the year and it was the third part of the Bourne series.

This film series is rare in that the first one (The Bourne Identity in 2002) started off with a lot of production problems and became a hit against the odds.

When Paul Greengrass took the reins in 2004 with The Bourne Supremacy he injected an urgency and political dimension to the franchise that was refreshing as it was riveting.

With this one, he made all the other summer ‘three-quels’ (such as Pirates 3 and Spider-Man 3) seem dull by comparison.

The location shoots in London and Morocco were dazzling and Matt Damon, Joan Allen and David Strathairn all showed that decent acting can fit quite nicely into a big budget film.

We should be thankful that a thriller as intelligent and quietly subversive as this could become such a huge hit funded by a major studio.

The Diving Bell and the ButterflyThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Dir. Julian Schnabel)
Few films this year were as moving and well crafted as this adaptation of Jean Michel Bauby’s memoir about his life as a paraplegic.

His privileged life as the editor of French Elle magazine came to a halt after a devastating stroke, after which he could only move his left eye.

The film documents his struggle in hospital as he gradually learns how to communicate by blinking his left eye to speech therapists.

Director Julian Schnabel brought a sense of beauty and wonder to the subject and coaxed some tremendous performances from his cast, with Mathieu Amalric superb in the lead role and Max Von Sydow on fine form as his father.

The way in which things are shot from the central character’s point of view was ingenious and highly effective in conveying his condition.

In a year of dark films, this was notable in that it found hope, humour and humanity amidst the terrible condition of its main character.

There Will Be BloodThere Will Be Blood (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
With films such as Boogie Nights and Magnolia, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson put himself on the map as a filmmaker of dazzling skills and high ambitions.

To his credit he has now made a film notably different from his previous work in both subject and tone.

This is an intimate frontier epic that explores the oil boom in California in the early 1900s and the twin forces that shaped modern America: business and religion.

Daniel Day Lewis plays an early oil prospector who becomes locked in a battle with an evangelical preacher (Paul Dano) over a number of years.

The film is stunning to look at and has a terrific unsettling score from Jonny Greenwood, but the real strength lies in the captivating way the narrative develops to its conclusion.

Day Lewis is sensational in the lead role – a hellish cross between Charles Foster Kane and Gordon Gecko, in what is almost certainly the best performance of his career.

A sublime examination of the dark heart of America.

This is EnglandThis is England (Dir. Shane Meadows)
It is a depressing fact of life that every year the British film industry will produce publicly funded rubbish (like Sex Lives of the Potato Men) or just outright crap (like Outlaw).

But sometimes there are exceptions, especially if they are made by Shane Meadows, who has carved an impressive niche for himself over the last ten years.

This drama about a young boy growing up in the early 80s and joining a skinhead gang was perhaps his best film to date.

Featuring a lead performance of considerable depth and maturity by young Thomas Turgoose and a terrific supporting turn from Stephen Graham this was a film of many shades: funny, disturbing, nostalgic and moving.

Unlike a lot of his British peers Meadows seems to have an instinctive knack with actors that gives his films a special quality.

Long may that continue.

ZodiacZodiac (Dir. David Fincher)
Major studios are often berated for churning out soulless dreck and whilst that’s often true, they do also make some great films from time to time.

The problem is that sometimes no audiences end up going to see them. Zodiac is just such a film – when people look back in years to come I think this will be seen as something of a classic.

Based on the case files of the unsolved Zodiac killing that plagued California in the 60s and 70s this was a thriller cut from the finest cloth.

Director David Fincher demonstrated his marvellous visual skills whilst conveying many complex layers of information wrapped up in a beguiling procedural drama.

The acting from Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhall and Robert Downey Jnr as three different characters haunted by the case deserved more recognition than it got.

Plus, the production design and the brilliant HD camerawork by Harry Savides merit the highest praise.

For me this was Seven crossed with All the Presidents Men made by one of modern cinema’s most talented directors.


A Mighty Heart (Dir. Michael Winterbottom)
American Gangster (Dir. Ridley Scott)
Atonement (Dir. Joe Wright)
Breach (Dir. Billy Ray)
Eastern Promises (Dir. David Cronenberg)
In Search Of A Midnight Kiss (Dir. Alex Holdridge)
Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten (Dir. Julien Temple)
Joy Division (Dir. Grant Gee)
Juno (Dir. Jason Reitman)
Knocked Up (Dir. Judd Apatow)
Lust, Caution (Dir. Ang Lee)
My Winnipeg (Dir. Guy Maddin)
Rescue Dawn (Dir. Werner Herzog)
Savage Grace (Dir. Tom Kalin)
Shotgun Stories (Dir. Jeff Nichols)
Silent Light (Dir. Carlos Reygadas)
Son Of Rambow (Dir. Garth Jennings)
Sunshine (Dir. Danny Boyle)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Dir. Andrew Dominik)
The Band’s Visit (Dir. Eran Kolirin)
The Counterfeiters (Dir. Stefan Ruzowitzky)
The Darjeeling Limited (Dir. Wes Anderson)
The Orphanage (Dir. Juan Antonio Bayona)
The Mist (Dir. Frank Darabont)
The Namesake (Dir. Mira Nair)
The Savages (Dir. Tamara Jenkins)
The Science of Sleep (Dir. Michel Gondry)

What about you? Leave your favourites from 2007 in the comments below.

UPDATE 28/12/08: This post was updated with 2007 films that I saw in 2008. They were Gone Baby Gone, Persepolis, The Orphanage,¬†In Search Of A Midnight Kiss,¬†Joy Division,¬†My Winnipeg, Savage Grace,¬†Shotgun Stories,¬†Son Of Rambow,¬†The Band’s Visit and The Mist.

> Check out more End of Year lists at Metacritic
> Have a look at the Movie City News end of year critics chart

Essential Films TV

Magnolia on TV tonight

This is a little late notice but if you are in the UK, one of the best films of the 1990s is on TV tonight.

Paul Thomas Anderson‘s sprawling LA epic Magnolia is on BBC2 at 23.25, so if you can, check it out.

If you haven’t seen it, here is the trailer:


> If you missed it you can buy Magnolia on DVD at Amazon UK
> Find out more about the film at the IMDb

Essential Films Lists

Good Movies You’ve Never Seen have come up with a list of the 25 best movies “you’ve never seen“.

Well, I have seen them but there are some gems on it I would definitely recommend:

Heavenly Creatures (1994): An early example of Peter Jackson‘s skill as a director as well as Kate Winslet‘s ability as an actress.

End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones (2003): A terrific documentary about the US punk band.

Breakdown (1998): Very under-rated thriller starring Kurt Russell and directed by Jonathan Mostow (who would go on to direct U-571 and Terminator 3).

Grace of My Heart (1996): A beautiful love letter to the singer songwriters of the 60s starring Illeana Douglas as a Carole King-like singer.

The Hidden (1987): Trashy but smarter than average sci-fi thriller about an alien that takes over humans, leaving a trail of havoc in its wake.

Igby Goes Down (2002): A nicely observed comedy drama starring Kieran Culkin as a disaffected young man as a modern day Holden Caulfield.

And my favourite:

Chopper (2000): Eric Bana gave one of the best performances of the last decade with his mesmerising portrayal of Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read – an Australian criminal who became an unlikely media celebrity.

[Link via Digg]

> Check out A Decade Of Underrated Movies at the AV Club
> 100 Under-rated Movies as Digital Dream Door

Awards Season Essential Films

Why Children of Men should be nominated for Best Picture

This YouTube video singing the praises of Children of Men is a grass roots viral that neatly emphasises why the film is wholly deserving of a Best Picture nomination.


> My original review of Children of Men
> Reviews of Children of Men at Metacritic