Outside the Lines – The Top 20 International/Indie Films of 2008

Director: Ari Folman
Film: Waltz with Bashir (Vals Im Bashir)
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Ari Folman, Ori Sivan, Roni Dayg, Ron Ben-Yisahi, Dror Harazi, Zahava Solomon
Website: http://www.sonyclassics.com/waltzwithbashir/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-12-25 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2008-11-21 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/w/waltzwithbashir.jpg

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List number: 20

Waltz with Bashir

Ari Folman

Ari Folman’s singular animated documentary, charting his reawakened memories of the Sabra and Shatila massacres, felt plenty relevant when I first saw the film at a festival screening in early October. But now, in the early days of 2009, Waltz appears eerily prophetic, or at least disturbingly in-step with present-tense developments it could’ve only half-anticipated. It’s far from a perfect film, and I retain reservations concerning Folman’s audacious aesthetic, but it’s unmistakably vital where too many other movies exist as mere diversions. Josh Timmermann

Waltz with Bashir (Vals Im Bashir)

Director: Olivier Assayas
Film: Summer Hours
Subtitle: L’Heure d’été,
Studio: MK2 Productions
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jérémie Renier, Edith Scob, Dominique Reymond
Website: http://www.lheuredete-film.mk2.com/
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-10-01
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/s/summerhoursposter.jpg

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List number: 19

Summer Hours

Olivier Assayas

Death brings out the worst in families, especially when there’s a healthy inheritance to be considered and divvied up. Olivier Assayas’ latest film focuses on the Berthier clan, and an impromptu reunion to hash out and haggle over their late matriarch’s massive estate. Dealing headfirst with questions of respect, tradition, and legacy, the fascinating film also focuses on the heft of history, since some of the legacy centers on a collection of museum pieces by a famous dead uncle. In clipped, civil conversations, the characters reveal motive as the standard separations between remembrance and reality seep in. Unlike his previous efforts, Assayas wows us with his naturalistic, unassuming approach. It makes the interpersonal paradigm shifts all the more mesmerizing. Bill Gibron

Summer Hours

Director: Sergei Bodrov
Film: Mongol
Studio: Picturehouse
Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Sun Hong-Lei, Khulan Chuluun, Odnyam Odsuren
Website: http://www.mongolmovie.net/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-06-06 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/m/mongol_poster.jpg

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List number: 18

Mongol

Sergei Bodrov

Director Sergei Bodrov uses the landscape of Kazakhstan and northwestern China to great effect in Mongol. From high desert steppes to endless prairies to towering pine forests, the gorgeous scenery is a character unto itself in Bodrov’s Genghis Khan origin story. But Mongol has a lot more going for it than just the sumptuous cinematography. Its story twists and turns compellingly, as young Temudjin (Tadanobu Asano) bounces back and forth between leader and slave, always chasing or being chased by his beautiful wife Börte (Khulan Chuluun). Temudjin’s loyalties constantly shift as he grows, and it all culminates in an amazing battle for control of the fledgling Mongol hordes. Through it all, Asano gives an intense, layered performance while the striking Chuluun matches him scene for scene. Chris Conaton

Mongol

Director: Yung Chang
Film: Up the Yangtze
Studio: Eye Steel Film
Cast: Jerry Bo Yu Chen, Campbell Ping He, Cindy Shui Yu
Website: http://uptheyangtze.com/
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2008-04-25
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/u/uptheyangtze.jpg

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List number: 17

Up the Yangtze

Yung Chang

When one hears about the “changing face of China”, thoughts automatically turn to money, power, and the last bastion of Communist oppression. In Yung Chang’s brilliant documentary, we witness the final stages of construction on the Three Gorges Dam and realize that many small villages peppering the bank will soon be swallowed up when the river is finally conquered — and with them, a lot of the country’s tired traditions. On a cruise ship taking a final tour of the area, Chang meets a pair of new employees — capitalist convert Bo Yu Chen and transplanted peasant Shui Yu. Soon the story moves from a travelogue to a telling look at how technology and the influence of the West have worked into the very fabric of China’s old world culture. It’s an amazing, moving discovery. Bill Gibron

Up the Yangtze

Director: Carlos Reygadas
Film: Silent Light
Subtitle: Stellet licht
Studio: Mantarraya Producciones
Cast: Cornelio Wall, Maria Pankratz, Miriam Toewsr, Peter Wall, Jacobo Klassen, Elizabeth Fehr
Website: http://www.stelletlicht.com/
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2008-12-05
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/s/silentlightposter.jpg

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List number: 16

Silent Light

Carlos Reygadas

It’s not hard to see why Carlos Reygadas’ third feature has been such a magnet for extravagant, near-universal critical praise since its Cannes debut. Not only is it a powerful, exquisitely realized drama, it’s also chock-full of purposeful allusions to some of cinema’s most significant (and critically worshipped) figures. Dreyer’s magnificent Ordet is the most direct and obvious point of reference, but there’s also healthy doses of Bergman’s spiritual turmoil, Tarkovsky’s glacial pacing, Ozu’s intuitive handling of family dynamics, Malick’s ethereal eye toward nature, and — as a sort of Breaking the Waves in reverse — Von Trier’s stone-faced, uneasy combination of religion with sex (specifically adultery) in the mix here. Silent Light is composed largely as a series of visual, thematic, and semiotic rhymes — including the spectacular opening shot of a sunrise and its natural opposite as the denouement — suggesting a deliberate order to the universe that its Mennonite characters would most certainly affirm. Reygadas, like most of the Great Names mentioned earlier, doesn’t seem quite so sure. His faith is in cinema, which is exactly where it should be. Josh Timmermann

Silent Light

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Film: Wendy and Lucy
Studio: Oscilloscope Laboratories
Cast: Michelle Williams, Walter Dalton, Will Patton, John Robinson, Will Oldham, Larry Fessenden
Website: http://www.wendyandlucy.com/index.html
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.wendyandlucy.com/n_trailer.html
First date: 2008
Distributor: Oscilloscope
US Release Date: 2008-12-10 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2009-02-06 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/w/wendyandlucyposter.jpg

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List number: 15

Wendy and Lucy

Kelly Reichardt

A cool green breeze of a film, Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy drops a downbeat Michelle Williams into a small town as a near-penniless drifter who can’t get her car started, and watches her slowly come apart when she loses her dog. The camera is emotive and pitiless, giving little hint as to what she’s running from, but making it clear that she’s on her last legs. Like Reichardt’s first film, Old Joy, this is classic indie Americana, blue-collar and practical but still shot through with a keen spirituality, and utterly shorn of mumblecore affectations or even a hint of condescension. Chris Barsanti

Wendy and Lucy

Director: Arnold Desplechin
Film: A Christmas Tale
Studio: IFC Films
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Melvil Poupaud, Anne Consigny, Chiara Mastroianni, Laurent Capelluto
Website: http://www.bacfilms.com/site/conte/
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://www.ifcfilms.com/viewFilm.htm?filmId=996
First date: 2008
Length: 150
US Release Date: 2008-11-14 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/c/christmastaleposter.jpg

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List number: 14

A Christmas Tale

Arnaud Desplechin

As if the holidays weren’t psychologically damaging enough — celebrated French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin has decided to take on the formulaic dysfunctional family festivities from a perspective that mixes magic with misery. Featuring a stellar cast of celebrated countrymen — Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Chiara Mastroianni — and focusing on the always unspoken secrets of a clan on the verge of their 19th nervous breakdown, this is a dramedy that uses such contentious ideas as a puppet show to discuss a tragic backstory and a less than linear narrative to get his deeper emotional points across. Both praised and criticized, there is no denying the inherent motion picture enchantment in what Desplechin creates here. Bill Gibron

A Christmas Tale

Director: Azazel Jacobs
Film: Momma’s Man
Studio: Artists Public Domain
Cast: Matt Boren, Ken Jacobs, Richard Edson, Piero Arcilesi
Website: http://www.kino.com/mommasman/index.html
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2009
US Release Date: 2008-01-18
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/m/mommasmanposter.jpg

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List number: 13

Momma’s Man

Azazel Jacobs

What a strange little film Azazel Jacobs has made — a charming yet unsettling glimpse into the life of Mikey, husband and father, who returns to his parents’ Manhattan loft for business and can’t bring himself to leave. The warmth with which Jacobs approaches the character’s regression toward a sort of mental childhood is striking, and yet without a touch of sentimentality. Instead, no-budget realism abounds: Jacobs casts his own parents, in whose cluttered, Bohemian-style loft the film takes place. Momma’s Man feels more like life than cinema: there is no climax, there is no heavy-handed judgment; there is only a refreshingly nuanced sketch of a character and his quiet internal crisis. Zach Schonfeld

Momma’s Man

Director: John Crowley
Film: Boy A
Studio: Weinstein Company
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Peter Mullan, Katie Lyons, Shaun Evans
Website: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Boy-A/34236064528
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/video/V08FpkYe4aZ6ci
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2008-07-23 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/b/boy-a-poster.jpg

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List number: 12

Boy A

John Crowley

A young boy takes part in a vicious crime. In the sensational trial he is named only as “Boy A” by the slavering tabloid media. Years later, the boy (the superlative Andrew Garfield) leaves prison a skittish young man with a new identity, a job, and a father-like parole officer (Peter Mullan, also fantastic) to ease him into adulthood. John Crowley’s little-seen but humane and utterly indelible drama follows what happens when Boy A’s fractured psyche tries to adapt to a world that’s moved on without him. Chris Barsanti

Boy A

Director: Fatih Akin
Film: Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite)
Cast: Nurgul Yesilcay, Baki Davrak, Tuncel Kurtiz, Hanna Schygulla, Patrycia Ziolkowska
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 2007
Distributor: Strand
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/e/edgeofheaven.jpg

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List number: 11

The Edge of Heaven

Fatih Akin

Fatih Akin’s previous film, 2004’s excellent Head-On, was a story of two people drawn together, and apart, by something like fate. His latest multi-cultural mosaic triples the number of key players and unequivocally axes the “something like”. When, at times, The Edge of Heaven veers dangerously into Iñárritu territory, with its intricately calculated intersecting plot threads, it’s redeemed by the real gravitas that Akin and his stellar cast lend the material. While the director meditates on both his German citizenship and his Turkish heritage, the ghost of Rainer Werner Fassbinder is purposefully omnipresent, right down to the inclusion of Fassbinder regular Hanna Schygulla as a grieving mother attempting to atone for lost time. Josh Timmermann

Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite)

10 – 1

Director: Jonathan Levine
Film: The Wackness
Studio: Sony Classics
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby, Famke Janssen, Mary-Kate Olsen, Jane Adams, Method Man
Website: http://www.sonyclassics.com/thewackness/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-07-04 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2008-08-29 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/w/wacknessposter.jpg

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List number: 10

The Wackness

Jonathan Levine

The Wackness is coming-of-age drama by way of stoner film, and if that sounds like it shouldn’t work at all… well, I’m tempted to agree. Instead writer/director Jonathon Levine leaves restraint behind, and the poignancy shines through the messy, weed-addled haze. Josh Peck is oddly endearing as Luke, a depressed teen dealing pot from a Manhattan push cart, whose most meaningful relationship involves a bong-worshiping psychiatrist somehow more confused than he is. The film’s true base, though, is the 1994 NYC that Levine paints: a surreal, purposefully dated fantasy world, dominated by Giuliani regulations, indie hip-hop cassettes, and laughable vocabulary (“man, that’s wa-ack “). Actually, the movie is mad dope. Zach Schonfeld

The Wackness

Director: Emily Tang
Film: Perfect Life
Subtitle: Wammei Shenhuo
Cast: Yao Qianyu, Cheng Taisheng, Jenny Tse
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2009
US Release Date: 2008-11-08
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/p/perfectlife.jpg

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List number: 9

Perfect Life

Emily Tang

Like Jia Zhang-ke’s seminal Platform at the beginning of this millennium, Perfect Life marks the arrival of a major new force to reckon with in world cinema. Emily Tang shares with Jia (who serves as producer and perhaps mentor here) a knack for seamlessly merging documentary and fictional modes of filmmaking in capturing contemporary Chinese life, but she plumbs this territory with more warmth and humor and narrative fluidity than Jia. Near the end of Tang’s film, we remain unsure of just what sort of movie it is we’re watching — a love story? A crime picture? A dark comedy, maybe? What we can be certain of is that we’ll be seeing more great things from this young filmmaker — hopefully sooner rather than later. Josh Timmermann

Perfect Life

Director: Yu Li
Film: Lost in Beijing
Cast: Tony Leung Ka Fai, Dawei Tong, Bingbing Fan
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 2007
Distributor: New Yorker
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/l/lostinbeijing.jpg

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List number: 8

Lost In Beijing

Yu Li

Despite its shaky camerawork and jagged editing, Lost in Beijing isn’t a gritty drama but a Dickensian tale about unexpected connections between different social classes. And while the film has its flaws (it introduces one of its characters as a rapist and later asks us to see him as a sympathetic family man), it’s a revealing portrait of Beijing’s newly created middle class. The characters celebrate the material pleasures they can now afford, but the movie slowly builds to an understanding of the spiritual cost of the country’s modernization. Banned in China for cutting a little too close to the bone, Lost in Beijing deserves to find a wider audience. Jack Rodgers

Lost in Beijing

Display Artist: Kôji Kawano
Director: K
Director: #244;ji Kawano
Film: Love My Life
Studio: Love My Life Partners
Cast: Rei Yoshii, Asami Imajuku, Naomi Akimoto, Miyoko Asada, Kami Hiraiwa
Website: http://www.lovemylife.jp/
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2009
US Release Date: 2008-06-13
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/l/lovemylifeposter.jpg

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List number: 7

Love My Life

Kôji Kawano

In the tradition of the Swedish film, Show Me Love and the American films, The Incredibly True Adventures of 2 Girls in Love, All Over Me, and Lost and Delirious, Love My Life is a notable film for 2008 not only because it is a beautiful, compelling film but also because of the dimension it brings to the genre of films about girls’ coming of age. With an “opposites attract” love story, this film explores the challenges of “gay love” as well as those of family, education, and life in general. Adapted from the Japanese magna “Love My Life” by Ebine Yamaji, with a soundtrack by indie-rock group, NOODLES, and starring Japanese supermodel Asami Imajuku, Love My Life is not only a touching film, but also a fusion of Japanese popular culture. Sarah Hentges

Love My Life

Director: Laurent Cantet
Film: The Class (Entre les murs)
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: François Bégaudeau, Rachel Régulier, Franck Keita, Esmeralda Ouertani, Nassim Amrabt
Website: http://www.sonyclassics.com/theclass/
MPAA rating: PG-13
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/video/V08K7elrsAMNOQ
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-12-19 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2009-02-27 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/t/theclassposter.jpg

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List number: 6

The Class

Laurent Cantet

The mock documentary format has been pushed to the limit as of late, but no version of the cinematic format has been as effective of François Bégaudeau and Laurent Cantet’s look at one teacher in an ethically diverse classroom. While fictional, this fact based look (shot over an entire school year and improvised by star Bégaudeau and the mostly amateur cast) at good intentions and unfulfilled promise breaks the convention of every manufactured motion picture cliché. Unlike the heroic instructors championed in such feel good farces as Stand and Deliver or Freedom Writers, Bégaudeau’s Mr. Farin faces a harsh reality all throughout the film — some students are unreachable, and some aren’t worth helping. Leave it to the French to find the flaw in America’s “No Child Left Behind” fallacy. Bill Gibron

The Class (Entre les murs)

Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Film: The Flight of the Red Balloon
Subtitle: Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge
Studio: Margo Films
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Hippolyte Girardot
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-10-07 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/f/flightoftheredballoon.jpg

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List number: 5

Flight of the Red Balloon

Hsiao-hsien Hou

How ostensibly “light” can a film be while subtly mulling over history, the idea of parenthood, points of cultural disconnect in the post-national world, and the medium of cinema in the digital age (including its director’s own distinctive approach to said evolving medium)? That’s what Hou Hsiao-hsien is evidently intent on finding out. If you’d contend that he already satisfactorily addressed the above query a few years ago, when he traveled to Tokyo to make Café Lumiere, well, you might not be wrong. But who turns down a trip to Paris? Or, for that matter, who declines a look at the City of Lights through the lens of Hou, arguably the active filmmaker most interested in light — in every sense of the word? Which is to say, why quibble? Josh Timmermann

The Flight of the Red Balloon

Director: Cristian Mungiu
Film: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Studio: BAC Films
Cast: Adi Carauleanu, Luminiţa Gheorghiu, Vlad Ivanov, Anamaria Marinca, Alexandru Potocean, Laura Vasiliu
Website: http://www.4months3weeksand2days.com/blog/index.php
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://www.alltrailers.net/4-luni-3-saptamani-si-2-zile.html
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-09-29 (Very limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/4/4months3weeks2days_poster.jpg

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List number: 4

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days

Cristian Mungiu

An astringent nightmare, Cristian Mungiu’s film about a woman trying to have an illegal and dangerous late-term abortion in 1980s Romania somehow manages to be both unflinchingly precise and yet thoroughly empathetic from start to finish. Told from the perspective of Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) the best friend who risks everything, the film is a bottled-up exercise in moral accounting, as Otilia calculates exactly how much she will endure to help her friend see this through. Chris Barsanti

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

Director: Guy Maddin
Film: My Winnipeg
Studio: IFC Films
Cast: Darcy Fehr, Ann Savage, Amy Stewart, Louis Negin, Brendan Cade, Wesley Cade
Website: http://www.ifcfilms.com/viewFilm.htm?filmId=617
MPAA rating: PG-13
Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/independent/mywinnipeg/trailer/
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2008-06-13 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2008-07-04 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/m/my_winnipeg-poster.jpg

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List number: 3

My Winnipeg

Guy Maddin

For filmmaker Guy Maddin, memory is subjective. It’s not always about fact; it’s about how our recollections define and reshape our current reality. With films like Brand Upon the Brain! and Cowards Bend the Knee, the crazed Canadian genius has turned his personal family history into a collection of silent movie references, Saturday matinee serial icons, and outrageous “psychological” precision. This look at his childhood in his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba is rich in ribald symbolism, allegorical artifice, and a heaping helping of his patented aesthetic surrealism. And yet thanks to the powerful performances by those he cast as his “family” (including a magnificent turn by the late great Ann Savage) we see the truth inside all the trickery. Bill Gibron

My Winnipeg

Director: Martin McDonagh
Film: In Bruges
Studio: Focus Features
Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, Jérémie Renier, Zeljko Ivanek, Eric Godon
Website: http://www.filminfocus.com/focus-movies/in-bruges/movie-splash.php
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/56/4756/videos/?s=trailers
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-02-08 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2008-04-04 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/i/in-bruges-poster.jpg

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List number: 2

In Bruges

Martin McDonagh

Two hitmen wrestle with questions of morality, redemption, and honor among criminals. Their hotheaded crime boss seethes with rage. Lives collide in swift flashes of coincidence and violence, buoyed by a shockingly smart screenplay drenched in irony. Sounds like a certain 1994 Tarantino masterpiece, right? Wrong. Pulp Fiction is stylish and flashy, a jumble of pop culture references and instant quotability. In Bruges, however, is meditative yet sharp, dark humor (Martin McDonagh’s clever script betrays his playwright origins) punctuated with deep guilt. The final puzzle piece? Setting: the medieval beauty of Bruges, Belgium becomes a character of its own, like “being in a fairy tale” — a “fairy tale” with an awfully funny grip on karma… Zach Schonfeld

In Bruges

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Film: Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in)
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Cast: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar
Website: http://www.lettherightoneinmovie.com/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/FIyc5BAyXiFJCy/videos
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-10-24 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/l/let-the-right-one-p.jpg

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List number: 1

Let the Right One In

Tomas Alfredson

Let the Right One In is an odd combination of coming-of-age story and low-key horror movie. Director Tomas Alfredson keeps his focus squarely on Oskar, the skinny 12-year-old who is constantly bullied at school and mostly ignored by his divorced mother. When Eli, a vampire girl who appears to be about Oskar’s age, moves into his apartment complex, the two strike up a tentative friendship. Despite Eli’s initial warning to Oskar that “I can’t be your friend”, the bond between the two continues to grow. Alfredson uses Eli’s vampiric nature to punctuate the film with brief bursts of blood and intentionally awkward action, but keeps most of her power under wraps until the final act. By setting the film in the stark, utilitarian suburbs of early ’80s Sweden, Alfredson provides an excellent contrast to the lyrical, dreamy feel of Oskar and Eli’s relationship. This unique film was unfortunately buried under the tween-girl onslaught of Twilight, but it is not to be missed. Chris Conaton

Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in)

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