I’ve Loved You So Long: This is the best film of the year and has the best performance (Kristin Scott Thomas). A sad woman is released from prison. She moves in with her sister, and her back story unfolds in multiple totally unanticipated surprises. A transformative film about loss and redemption.
Rachel Getting Married: There is not a single false moment in this portrait of a family torn asunder by loss, with family members using every coping mechanism from avoidance to addiction. The family reconverges for an eccentric wedding, with moments that are hilarious, searing and invariably real.
Reprise: This Norwegian story of two young aspiring authors comments on creativity, love and sanity – all at a breakneck pace liberally seasoned with humor.
Tell No One: This French thriller was also on last year’s list because I saw it on an airplane in 2006. It was more widely released in the US in 2008 and is available on DVD this month. This is a Hitchcock-quality suspense thriller and romance with several shocking plot twists. There is a chase scene across a Parisian highway and flea market that is more gripping than the implausible chase scenes in most current action movies.
The Visitor: The great character actor Richard Jenkins has the role of his career – a man who deals with loss by isolating himself; he becomes intrigued with an illegal Middle Eastern immigrant, then develops a bond and then reclaims passion into his life.
Gran Torino: Clint’s the man. Eastwood creates a character trying to resist contemporary culture and modern American diversity but who is drawn reluctantly into the lives of his Hmong neighbors.
Slumdog Millionaire: OK, it won the Oscar for a reason: an epic romance wrapped up in the most vivid depiction of the modern Indian urban underclass. Did I say vivid?
In Bruges: Is this the funniest hit man movie ever? Or is it the darkest, most violent crime comedy ever? You decide. Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell play hitmen stuck lying low in the Belgian quaintopolis. Ralph Fiennes gets to discard his usual anguished moping and just be really, really bad.
Standard Operating Procedure: It is never a surprise when Errol Morris directs the year’s best documentary. Don’t be put off by the subject: the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Morris just linvites the participants (guards and prisoners) to look into the camera and explain themselves, and makes it more gripping than any action film.
Young @ Heart: Let’s face it, having octogenarians belting out punk anthems is funny. But octogenarians face their own mortality more directly than the rest of us, and this film captures this quite compellingly. Poignant without being sentimental. Funny without being exploitative.
Transsiberian: American adventure tourists get more adventure than they can handle on the Transsiberian railroad when they become entangled with drug smugglers, Russian mobsters and corrupt cops. Woody Harrelson gets to act (yes, really act) with Ben Kingsley and Emily Mortimer.