Film

The New Classics - The 30 Best Films of 2008

Director: Matt Reeves Film: Cloverfield Studio: Paramount Cast: Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller Website: http://www.cloverfieldmovie.com/ MPAA rating: PG-13 Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/53/5153/videos/?s=trailers First date: 2008 Distributor: Paramount US Release Date: 2008-01-18 (General release) UK Release Date: 2008-02-01 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/c/cloverfield-poster.jpg

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List number: 20

Cloverfield

Matt Reeves

Cloverfield was quickly and unfairly maligned by the lightweights (just kidding) who suffered from motion sickness due to the film's shaky camerawork. It was also dinged for everything from its ramshackle plotline to the believability of the monster. Truth is, both the camera style and the plot should have been givens going in to anyone who had prior knowledge of the premise. Cloverfield sets out to turn the classic giant monster movie on its ear by focusing on a group of everyday civilians caught up in the carnage between monster and military. The terror the characters experience is made palpable by the handheld camera point of view. Drew Goddard's smart and witty script hits all the right notes without bothering to dwell on contextually inconsequential details like where the creature came from or if it was ultimately defeated. A reinvention, even a successful one, rarely wins over everyone the first time out. But Cloverfield is a great thrill ride of a movie that also has both style and intelligence. Chris Conaton

Cloverfield

Display Artist: Tia Lessin, Carl Deal Director: Tia Lessin Director: Carl Deal Film: Trouble the Water Studio: Zeitgeist Films Cast: Kimberly Roberts, Scott Roberts, Brian Nobles, Jerome Baham, Kendall "Wink" Rivers, Larry Simms Website: http://troublethewaterfilm.com/ MPAA rating: N/A Trailer: http://troublethewaterfilm.com/troublethewater/about_the_film/trailer First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-08-22 (Limited release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/t/trouble-the-water-poster.jpg

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List number: 19

Trouble the Water

Carl Deal & Tia Lessin

It's the footage that's the hook. Trouble the Water takes some amazing material shot by New Orleans resident Kimberly Roberts Rivers during the Hell on Earth that was Hurricane Katrina, and juxtaposes it with documentary footage of her and her husband Scott trying to rebuild their lives. But it's the horrendous treatment of these refugees by their own government, an uncaring cabal of politicos and bureaucrats incapable of seeing beyond the red tape that really affects. In a year of factual triumphs, where one man was commemorated for literally walking between the Twin Towers of American capitalism, this is the truer example of abject human courage. Bill Gibron

Trouble the Water

Display Artist: Joel and Ethan Coen Director: Joel Director: Ethan Coen Film: Burn After Reading Studio: Focus Features Cast: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich, Richard Jenkins, David Rasche, J.K. Simmons Website: http://www.burnafterreading.com--live.com/#/home MPAA rating: R First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-09-12 (General release) UK Release Date: 2008-10-17 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/b/burnafterreadingposter.jpg

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List number: 18

Burn After Reading

Joel & Ethan Coen

Fresh off a Best Picture win for their darkest, most brooding work in years and how do the Coens respond? Another sharp left: Burn After Reading is a raving screwball comedy with a plot like a Rube Goldberg device. It’s a deeply hilarious film -- especially Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand as bumbling, clueless fitness instructors who happen upon a disc of “secret CIA shit” -- but as the credits roll, I find myself wondering if the biggest joke is on us. The film zigzags absurdly toward... well, two CIA agents struggling to make sense out of senselessness, like a gentle mocking of every film major who’s ever philosophized over hidden meanings in, say, Barton Fink. Self-parody has never felt so right. Zach Schonfeld

Burn After Reading

Director: Gus Van Sant Film: Paranoid Park Studio: IFC First Take Cast: Gabe Nevins, Daniel Liu, Taylor Momsen, Jake Miller, Lauren McKinney Website: http://www.paranoidpark.co.uk/ MPAA rating: R Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/independent/paranoidpark/ First date: 2007 Distributor: Ifc US Release Date: 2008-03-07 (Limited release) UK Release Date: 2007-12-26 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/p/paranoid-park-poster.jpg

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List number: 17

Paranoid Park

Gus Van Sant

Gus Van Sant circles in and around the tragic occurrence in Paranoid Park, but it doesn’t necessarily drive, or finally define, his film. Nor do the would-be teen romances, familial problems, or police inquiries that also contribute to the general storyline. Adapted from a young adult novel, this is that rare innocence-lost yarn that expends real time and thought considering the ephemeral quality of youth. Yet Van Sant doesn’t just ponder this as a vague concept; he expresses it, really gets inside it, through a combination of film and digital photography (no form is better suited to exploring the ephemeral), crafting a picture that feels a lot like riding a skateboard down the sidewalk on a crisp, overcast Fall day. Josh Timmerman

Paranoid Park

Director: David Gordon Green Film: Snow Angels Studio: Warner Independent Pictures Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Griffin Dunne, Michael Angarano, Jeanetta Arnette Website: http://wip.warnerbros.com/snowangels/ MPAA rating: R Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/39/5039/videos/?s=trailers First date: 2007 US Release Date: 2008-03-07 (Limited release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/s/snow-angels-poster.jpg

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List number: 16

Snow Angels

David Gordon Green

It was a year of relocation for David Gordon Green: on the path from the dreamy, post-industrial South of his first three films to the Apatow country of Pineapple Express, he took a brief, beautiful detour into wintry rural Pennsylvania for Snow Angels. But as with the Apatow production, Green keeps his sensibilities intact while serving the story, here an adaptation of a novel that provides just enough narrative momentum to sustain Green's lovely rhythms. Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell play estranged high-school sweethearts struggling to keep their adult lives together, while Michael Angarano and Olivia Thirlby are sweet teenagers in the beginning of young love -- either a hopeful counterpoint or haunting echo, or maybe both. Jesse Hassenger

Snow Angels

Director: Ron Howard Film: Frost/Nixon Studio: Universal Pictures Cast: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, Rebecca Hall Website: http://www.frostnixon.net/ MPAA rating: R First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-12-05 (Limited release) UK Release Date: 2009-01-23 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/f/frost-nixon-official-poster.jpg

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List number: 15

Frost/Nixon

Ron Howard

Frank Langella's Richard Nixon is a variation on the same tragic figure we know from Oliver Stone's 1995 biopic -- bitter, conniving, hunched, desperate to secure his legacy, railing privately against the privilege and charisma of his foes. The difference here? Context. "I am not a crook," the Checkers speech, the 1960 debates -- these classic Tricky moments are so engrained in our cultural consciousness as to render the Frost interviews a mere footnote, a sort of postscript to Watergate. Yet Ron Howard, talented storyteller that he is, chose wisely to cast Langella and Sheen (both veterans from the play); and through this fictionalized rendering the interviews become a career-defining catharsis for the two -- a powerful showdown between two men, their dignity, and a TV camera. Stunning. Zach Schonfeld

Frost/Nixon

Director: Courtney Hunt Film: Frozen River Studio: Sony Pictures Classics Cast: Melissa Leo, Misty Upham, Charlie McDermott, Mark Boone Junior, James Reilly Website: http://www.sonyclassics.com/frozenriver/ MPAA rating: R Trailer: http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1809959635/trailer First date: 2008 Distributor: Sony US Release Date: 2008-08-01 (Limited release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/f/frozen-river-poster1.jpg

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List number: 14

Frozen River

Courtney Hunt

Writer-Director Courtney Hunt, in exploring a fascinating, frigid little corner of the country, manages to tackle so many hot-button topics over Frozen River’s brisk running time that one would think she would be bound to stumble on one of her finer points somewhere. Race relations, prejudice, trust between women, aging, and single motherhood in a time of national financial crisis are a few of the ideas Hunt completely fleshes out with the help of her two leading ladies: the magnificent Melissa Leo as fraught smuggler Ray Eddy and Misty Upham. The newcomer turns in a luminous debut performance as Lila, perhaps the most un-clichéd, best-written Native American female character in American cinema history (yes, she and the role are that good!). With an intellectual, pummeling veracity, Hunt executes a film that is sparse, powerful and assured. Finally, we have a feminist movie, made by a woman, starring women that is about real women’s issues. Yet, because of this, and because of Hollywood’s idiotic bias against films by female directors, Hunt is not getting the kind of awards circuit praise she and her first film truly deserve. Matt Mazur

Frozen River

Director: Jon Favreau Film: Iron Man Studio: Paramount Pictures Studio: Marvel Studios Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Leslie Bibb Website: http://ironmanmovie.marvel.com/ MPAA rating: PG-13 Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount/ironman/ First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-05-02 (General release) UK Release Date: 2008-05-02 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/i/iron-man-poster1.jpg

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List number: 13

Iron Man

Jon Favreau

Many have claimed that Iron Man outperforms its genre. The fact of the matter, though, is that films like Spiderman and Batman Begins set a pretty high standard for superhero movies in the 21st century. The plot and subject matter of Iron Man are complex and politically relevant, and these are admirable qualities, to be sure, but Jon Favreau’s superhero movie is not the first to display them. So what really sets Iron Man apart? Robert Downey Jr.’s performance. Nobody has ever played a cooler superhero, and, above all else, cool is what a superhero needs to be. David Camak Pratt

Iron Man

Director: Jonathan Demme Film: Rachel Getting Married Studio: Sony Cast: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Debra Winger, Bill Irwin, Mather Zickel, Anna Deavere Smith, Tunde Adebimpe MPAA rating: R First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-10-03 (Limited release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/r/rachel-getting-married.jpg

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List number: 12

Rachel Getting Married

Jonathan Demme

Opting neither for the easy cynicism of Baumbach nor for cheap Hallmark sap, Rachel Getting Married side-steps categorization and becomes the truest look at family dynamics of recent memory. It's a joyful party just like the best weddings, but it's filled out by some of the bleakest familial drama imaginable. The marriage of material is perfectly judged by director Jonathan Demme who adeptly guides us (literally sometimes, via his handheld style) through a brilliantly realized sea of bitterness, tears, music, laughter and, most importantly, love. Because, to quote one of the film's many toasts: "Without love... just destroy it all." Aaron Marsh

Rachel Getting Married

Director: Oliver Stone Film: W. Studio: Lionsgate Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, James Cromwell, Ellen Burstyn, Ioan Gruffudd, Richard Dreyfuss, Thandie Newton, Scott Glenn, Jeffrey Wright, Jason Ritter, Toby Jones Website: http://www.wthefilm.com/ MPAA rating: R First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-10-17 (Limited release) UK Release Date: 2008-11-07 (Limited release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/w/w_ver3.jpg

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List number: 11

W.

Oliver Stone

George W. Bush may not be the worst President in the history of the U.S., though he seems to be willing to fight for said slot, and outside of his cavalcade of crazed advisors, one senses he may be a decent enough man. Yet there is something inherently unbalanced about the man, from many of his policy decisions to the unsound company he keeps. This is the angle taken by Oliver Stone in his sensational example of present political theater, W. Witty and wicked, it makes you feel sorry for the sullen Momma's boy who only wanted his connected DC daddy's approval. Sadly, the country paid the price for such interpersonal ambitions. Bill Gibron

W.



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