Film

The New Classics - The 30 Best Films of 2008

Unlike previous years, where classics came crawling out of the celluloid woodwork with regular reckless abandon, 2008 was more calm… and considered. That's not to say that choosing 30 top titles was hard. The difficulty in placing them in some manner of rank order suggests the actual depth of quality involved.

Director: Kevin Smith Film: Zack and Miri Make a Porno Studio: The Weinstein Company Cast: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Katie Morgan, Traci Lords Website: http://www.zackandmiri.com/ MPAA rating: R First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-10-31 (General release) UK Release Date: 2008-11-14 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/z/zachmiripornposter.jpg

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List number: 30

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Kevin Smith

In a year that’s seen such spry and subversive comedies as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express, and Tropic Thunder, Zack and Miri Make a Porno is the best. It represents yet another triumph for Kevin Smith (after the amazing Clerks II) and showcases a growing maturity for a filmmaking once noted for wallowing in the infantile. Sure, scatology abounds, and no one could accuse Smith of taking his subject too seriously. But when it comes time to deliver the goods, to get past the obvious T&A toilet humor and offer up something sweet and sincere, the king of the ViewAskew Universe literally rules. With its combination of heart and hilarity, bawdy blackouts and cleverly drawn characters, Smith starts out strong and ends up delivering something that’s timeless as well as tasteless. Bill Gibron

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Director: Steven Soderbergh Film: Che Studio: Focus Features Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Santiago Cabrera, Demián Bichir, Kahlil Mendez, Rodrigo Santoro, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Marisé Alvarez, Carlos Bardem, Franka Potente, Edgar Ramirez, Elvira Minguez, Benjamin Benitez, Victor Rasuk, Yul Vazquez, Julia Ormond, Lou Diamond Phillips, Joaquim de Almeida Website: http://www.cheelargentino.com/ MPAA rating: R First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-12-12 (Limited release) UK Release Date: 2009-02-20 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/c/cheposter.jpg

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List number: 29

Che

Steven Soderbergh

There's a lot wrong with Steven Soderbergh's two-part epic take on Che Guevara's revolutionary life, but a lot that's right. Conceptually it's many parts naïve hero-worship, turning the bearded one into even more of a superhero guerrilla icon than any number of T-shirts could. But stylistically the films are astringent little masterpieces, mapping the day-to-day campaigns of Che's victory in Cuba (The Argentine) and his martyred failure in Bolivia (Guerrilla) with astounding attention to tactical detail. Not the best date movie(s) but awesomely appropriate for those looking to launch their own guerrilla campaign. Chris Barsanti

Che

Director: Nicholas Stoller Film: Forgetting Sarah Marshall Studio: Universal Pictures Cast: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Bill Hader, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd Website: http://www.forgettingsarahmarshall.com/ MPAA rating: R Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/58/4958/videos/?s=trailers First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-04-18 (General release) UK Release Date: 2008-04-25 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/f/forgetting-sarah-marshall-poster.jpg

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List number: 28

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Nicholas Stoller

I'm not much a fan of the Judd Apatow brand of regressive man-child romantic comedy, and I doubt Forgetting Sarah Marshall will do much to change my mind -- not because it's a failure, but precisely because it's such a exception. The difference lies somewhere in its reflexive delivery -- loose and shambolic, mopey and sporadically hopeful (much like its recently dumped hero, star and writer Jason Segel), the movie feels like what it's meant to be dumped. But most of its success is due to the accretion of little loopy details along the way -- daft secondary characters, throwaway lines, recurring spoofs -- which seem entirely inessential and largely unnecessary, but end up making the film so damn agreeable and successful. I was hooked with the dead-on send up of procedural cop dramas with the show within the film Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime; I was sold by Paul Rudd's scene stealing stoner surfer dude; and my heart was finally won by Segel's triumphant staging of his life's work, a vampire puppet musical, A Taste of Blood. Jake Meaney

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Director: Clint Eastwood Film: Changeling Studio: Universal Pictures Cast: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Amy Ryan, Geoff Pierson, Jeffrey Donovan, Jason Butler Harner, Colm Feore, Michael Kelly MPAA rating: N/A First date: 2008 Distributor: Universal US Release Date: 2008-10-24 Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/c/changeling-poster.jpg

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List number: 27

Changeling

Clint Eastwood

Layered beneath the exquisite period detail and painterly compositions, Changeling is among the most strikingly austere films Clint Eastwood has ever delivered. Through in particular its more singled-minded first half, the film plays rather like Clint’s Passion of Joan of Arc, a stark study in the number of ways Eastwood and DP Tom Stern can shoot and frame an iconic, devastated Angelina Jolie. Later, the frame expands to encompass twin narratives running on largely parallel tracks -- a shift that Eastwood navigates without seeming to break a sweat. As autumnal masterpieces go, this one’s thoroughly essential. Josh Timmerman

Changeling

Director: Tarsem Film: The Fall Studio: Roadside Attractions Cast: Catinca Untaru, Justine Waddell, Lee Pace, Marcus Wesley, Kim Uylenbroek, Robin Smith, Jeetu Verma, Leo Bill Website: http://www.thefallthemovie.com/ MPAA rating: R Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/independent/thefall/ First date: 2006 US Release Date: 2008-05-09 (Limited release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/t/the-fall-poster.jpg

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List number: 26

The Fall

Tarsem Singh

There’s a good reason why The Fall looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before (and likely will never see again): director Tarsem Singh catalogued exotic locations all over the world and then spent four years shooting pieces of the film in 18 different countries while working on international commercials. The result is a mad riot of color and spectacle, and a movie that -- like Blade Runner or Metropolis or Brazil -- is able to conjure an entire world that’s as convincing as our own. But The Fall isn’t just a jumble of gorgeous imagery. Beneath its surreal surface lies a touching story about friendship between misfits and the power of imagination to overcome despair. See it now, so you can say you were a fan before it became a cult classic. Jack Rodgers

The Fall

Director: Ben Stiller Film: Tropic Thunder Studio: Paramount Pictures Cast: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey, Jr., Steve Coogan, Brandon T. Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Nick Nolte Website: http://www.tropicthunder.com/ MPAA rating: R First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-08-13 (General release) UK Release Date: 2008-09-19 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/t/tropic-thunder-poster.jpg

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List number: 25

Tropic Thunder

Ben Stiller

Yes, Tropic Thunder is very funny with Jack Black spazzing across the screen and Robert Downey Jr. impersonating a black man. However, the humor of the film is eclipsed by its smart ridicule of the Hollywood system and its meditations on generic convention. Amidst a great deal of formidable hamming on the part of the cast, Thunder cuts through questions of cliché, profit-driven filmmaking, and viewership. Its grand move, though, is to not just make a film that parodies a genre -- Blazing Saddle’s is a great film, but a poor western -- but a film that embraces the genre and excels within it. Erik Hinton

Tropic Thunder

Director: David Gordon Green Film: Pineapple Express Studio: Columbia Pictures Cast: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Amber Heard, Rosie Perez, Gary Cole, Craig Robinson, Kevin Corrigan, Bill Hader Website: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/pineappleexpress/ MPAA rating: R First date: 2008 Distributor: Sony US Release Date: 2008-08-06 (General release) UK Release Date: 2008-09-12 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/p/pineapple_express.jpg

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List number: 24

Pineapple Express

David Gordon Green

In the year's most audacious one-two punch, David Gordon Green follows the heartbreaking Snow Angels with an oddly appropriate mélange of stoner comedy and cheesy eighties action picture, with a process server (Seth Rogen) and his addled dealer (James Franco) on the run from low-rent sleazebags. The surprise of the film is not, as some have implied, Franco's comic dexterity (he and Rogen had plenty of practice with that on Freaks and Geeks, and it pays off here) but the way that Green weaves in moments of lyrical everytown decrepitude. Jesse Hassenger

Pineapple Express

Display Artist: Andy and Larry Wachowski Director: Andy Director: Larry Wachowski Film: Speed Racer Studio: Warner Brothers Cast: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox, Roger Allam, Paulie Litt, Benno Fürmann, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rain, Scott Porter, Richard Roundtree, Kick Gurry Website: http://speedracerthemovie.warnerbros.com/ MPAA rating: PG First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-05-09 (General release) UK Release Date: 2008-05-09 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/s/speedracerposter.jpg

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List number: 23

Speed Racer

Larry & Andy Wachowski

Andy and Larry Wachowski's iteration of the popular manga and anime series synthesizes the spirit of its source materials with a revolutionary visual world and unexpected narrative complexity. Inaugurating the Sony F23 camera to explore an unprecedented color palette and constant sharp focus, this vision of the Racer family's adventures is also deeply concerned with the moral universe of its characters. Past, present and future collide around hyperkinetic race sequences and a plot that pits corporate greed against family solidarity. The result is a maturation tale that evokes the theme of the original psychedelic road movie: there's no place like home. Thomas Britt

Speed Racer

Director: Woody Allen Film: Vicky Cristina Barcelona Studio: The Weinstein Company Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Hall, Joan Pera MPAA rating: PG-13 First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-08-15 (Limited release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/v/vicky_cristina_barcelona_p.jpg

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List number: 22

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Woody Allen

"We are meant for each other and not meant for each other. It's a contradiction," notes Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) halfway through Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and it's the best synopsis you'll find. As always, describing a Woody Allen film by focusing on plot is inherently futile; it's the characters, stupid! And how rich, funny, moving, and deeply torn these characters are: Scarlet Johansson and Rebecca Hall, namely, as two opposite personalities whose summer trip to Barcelona turns into a bizarrely tangled love triangle. The true star, though, is Allen. What other director defines a genre (romantic comedy), and 30 years later ignores his own rules to craft a minor masterpiece? Zach Schonfeld

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Director: Michel Gondry Film: Be Kind Rewind Studio: New Line Cinema Cast: Mos Def, Jack Black, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow, Melonie Diaz, Chandler Parker, Irv Gooch, Arjay Smith Website: http://www.bekindmovie.com/ MPAA rating: PG-13 Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/35/4935/videos/?s=trailers First date: 2008 Distributor: New Line US Release Date: 2008-02-22 (General release) UK Release Date: 2008-02-22 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/b/be-kind-rewind-poster.jpg

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List number: 21

Be Kind Rewind

Michel Gondry

Many films have been made about filmmaking, but few are able to explain to us why we care about filmmaking in the first place. Be Kind Rewind reminds its viewers that movies lie to us, and they are compromised by corporate power structures. But the film also reminds us that we put up with it all because, no matter what the warning at the beginning of the tape may say, movies are ultimately ours to keep, and to change, as part of our lived experience. With Be Kind Rewind, Michel Gondry continues to deliver childlike wonder to adult audiences. David Camak Pratt

Be Kind Rewind

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Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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