NEW YORK - “Waltz With Bashir,” an Israeli’s memoir of his nation’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and “Happy-Go-Lucky,” a British feature about a cockeyed optimist, were named top movies of 2008 by the National Society of Film Critics (NSFC) Saturday. At the group’s 43rd annual meeting at Sardi’s in New York, the critics preferred films of international rather than domestic provenance.
Ari Folman’s “Bashir,” an animated film conjuring the filmmaker’s tormented memories of his role as an Israeli soldier in Lebanon, was named best picture. Mike Leigh’s “Happy” took honors for its director and his screenplay, likewise for that ray of sunshine, actress Sally Hawkins, and supporting actor Eddie Marsan.
For his charismatic embodiment of activist and politician Harvey Milk, the NSFC named Sean Penn best actor in “Milk.” The critics cited Hanna Schygulla as best supporting actress for her commanding role in Fatih Akin’s “The Edge of Heaven” as the German mother of a daughter romantically entangled with a Turkish national.
“Slumdog Millionaire,” Danny Boyle’s Dickensian story of a Mumbai street kid who becomes a contender on a TV game show, was cited for Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography.
“Man on Wire,” James Marsh’s breathtaking account of aerialist Philippe Petit’s 1974 wire walk between the World Trade Center towers, was cited as best nonfiction film of 2008. And “Razzle Dazzle,” the latest film from veteran vanguardist Ken Jacobs, took the prize for experimental film.
The NSFC’s 63 members represent newspapers from Los Angeles to New York. Many of yesterday’s winners were also cited by the New York Film Critics Circle, which also honored Hawkins, Penn, Leigh and “Man on Wire” but voted “Milk” film of the year. Penn and Hawkins were also favorites of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, which named “Slumdog Millionaire” its picture of the year.
Critics’ laurels are often bellwethers for Oscar nominations. In the case of “Happy-Go-Lucky” and “Man on Wire,” which enjoyed limited national runs in 2008, these honors may help get winners into wider release.
Carrie Rickey is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.