AWFJ Members’ 2008 Top Ten Lists

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The top ten lists of individual AWFJ members, including exclusives from Susan Wlozczyna, Maitland McDonagh, Sheigh Crabtree, Jennifer Merin and others:

Susan Wloszczyna – USA Today

  • 1. The Visitor — Who knew the sight of Richard Jenkins in his boxers while pounding on a drum could be such a joy.
  • 2. The Wrestler — Who knew the sight of Mickey Rourke in a hairnet while tossing out deli meats could be such a joy.
  • 3. Frozen River — Subtle, moving and as intense as any macho action machine out there.
  • 4. Let the Right One In — A child-driven vampire chiller with scenes as horrifyingly memorable as anything in Night of the Living Dead.
  • 5. I’ve Loved You So Long — Finally, I get Kristen Scott Thomas.
  • 6. Tell No One — Hitchcockian heartache. A perfect combo.
  • 7. A Christmas Tale — My crush on Mathieu Almaric continues apace.
  • 8. Slumdog Millionaire — Bollywood by Boyle. The best kind of rush.
  • 9. Doubt — Meryl Streep as a nun. Enough said.
  • 10. Man on Wire — Death-defying inspiration.

Amy Taubin – Film Comment

  • 1.Che
  • 2.Benjamin Button
  • 3.Ashes of Time Redux
  • 4.Milk
  • 5.Paranoid Park
  • 6.Ballast
  • 7.Wendy and Lucy
  • 8.Wall-e
  • 9.Happy-Go-Lucky
  • 10.The Last Mistress

Anne Thompson – Variety

1. Wall-E

2. Slumdog Millionaire

3. Milk

4. Everlasting Moments

5. Happy-Go-Lucky

6. A Christmas Tale

7. Man on Wire

8. Waltz with Bashir

9. Wendy and Lucy

10. Appaloosa

Jennifer Merin –

In alphabetical order:

  • The Class
  • The Fall
  • Happy-Go-Lucky
  • Milk
  • Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day
  • The Reader
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • Standard Operating Procedure
  • The Visitor
  • Wendy and Lucy

Sara Voorhees – (in no particular order)

  • Slumdog Millionaire

  • Last Chance Harvey
  • The Visitor
  • Frost/Nixon
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Tell No One
  • Iron Man
  • Wall-E
  • Elegy
  • Milk

Joanna Langfield – The Movie Minute

1, Slumdog Millionaire

2. The Reader

3. Doubt

4. The Wrestler

5. Milk

6. Happy Go Lucky

7. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

8. Wall-E

9. Frost/Nixon

10. I’ve Loved You So Long

MaryAnn Johanson –

1. Wall-E

2. Synecdoche, New York

3. In Bruges

4. Slumdog Millionaire

5. Cloverfield

6. Burn After Reading

7. Rachel Getting Married

8. The Visitor

9. Revolutionary Road

10. The Dark Knight

Michelle Orange – The Village Voice

1. Slumdog Millionaire

2. Milk

3. Wendy and Lucy

4. Waltz With Bashir

5. Wall-E

6. Flight of the Red Balloon

7. Rachel Getting Married

8. Paranoid Park

9. The Last Mistress

10. Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Betsy Pickle – Women On Film

1. The Fall

2. Frozen River

3. Milk

4. I’ve Loved You So Long


6. Happy-Go-Lucky

7. Tropic Thunder

8. The Lucky Ones

9. Rachel Getting Married

10. The Visitor

Jenny Halper – Spare Change News

  • I’ve Loved You So Long
  • Nothing But the Truth
  • Frozen River
  • The Visitor
  • The Secret Life of Bees
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Dark Knight
  • Battle in Seattle
  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
  • Australia

Nell Minow – BeliefNet

1. Frost/Nixon

2. Rachel Getting Married

3. Milk

4. Wall∙E

5. I’ve Loved You So Long

6. The Visitor

7. Be Kind Rewind

8. Doubt

9. Iron Man

10. Son of Rambow

Marjorie Baumgarten – Austin Chronicle

1. Synecdoche, New York

2. Tell No One

3. Milk

4. The Pool

5. Elegy

6. My Winnipeg

7. Gomorrah

8. Gran Torino

9. U2 3D

10. Slumdog Millionaire

Laura Emerick – Chicago Sun-Times

  • Wall-E

  • W.
  • Revolutionary Road
  • Gran Torino
  • My Winnipeg
  • Milk
  • The Wrestler
  • Frozen River
  • Doubt
  • Che

Karen Martin – Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

1. Revolutionary Road

2. Wall-E

3. The Visitor

4. Let The Right One In

5. Tell No One

6. Man On Wire

7. Iron Man

8. Slumdog Millionaire

9. The Reader

10. In Bruges

Maitland McDonagh –

1. Let the Right One In

2. Jar City

3. The Fall

4. Beauty in Trouble

5. The Wrestler

6. Slumdog Millionaire

7. Surfwise

8. Milk

9. George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead

10. American Zombie

Erin Trahan – The Independent

  • The Visitor
  • Frozen River
  • Man on Wire
  • Mister Lonely
  • Let the Right One In
  • Pray the Devil Back to Hell
  • Wall-E
  • Ballast
  • Secrecy
  • Milk

Susan Granger – SSG Syndicate

  • Australia
  • The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
  • The Dark Knight
  • Doubt
  • Frost/Nixon
  • Gran Torino
  • Milk
  • The Reader
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • WALL-E

Sheigh Crabtree – Women On Film

  • Milk
  • The Class
  • Frozen River
  • Man On a Wire
  • The Curious Case on Benjamin Button
  • Dark Knight
  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Wrestler
  • Frost/Nixon

B. Ruby Rich – The Guardian

Six Best Dramaric Films:

  • Ballast
  • Frost/Nixon
  • Let The Right One In
  • Milk
  • Waltz with Bashir
  • Wendy and Lucy

Six Best Documentaries:

  • Derek
  • Pray the Devil Back to Hell
  • Standard Operating Procedure
  • Stranded
  • Trouble the Water

Lexi Feinberg – Big Picture Big Sound

1. The Dark Knight

2. The Wrestler

3. Happy-Go-Lucky

4. Frost/Nixon

5. Dear Zachary

6. Wall-E

7. Vicky Cristina Barcelona

8. The Reader

9. Gran Torino

10. Revolutionary Road

Carol Cling – Las Vegas Review Journal

1. “WALL-E” — Another instant classic from Pixar’s Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo”), a wonderful — and full-of-wonder — animated tale about a lonely trash-bot who discovers what really happened to all those vanished Earthlings. Satirical yet heartfelt, “WALL-E” quotes influences from Charlie Chaplin to “Star Wars,” yet never feels derivative, thanks to its soaring imagination — and high-flying heart.

2. “VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA” — Woody Allen’s deceptively blithe, ultimately bittersweet meditation on love, art and the way we live now explores the collision between two American students (Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall) and two fiery Spanish artists (Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz, the latest member of Woody’s Oscar-worthy pantheon). Another witty reminder — as if we needed one — of Allen’s national-treasure status.

3. “HAPPY-GO-LUCKY” — Mike Leigh’s rueful, resonant human comedy, about an irrepressible London teacher (the wonderful Sally Hawkins) who responds to every challenge — a stolen bike, a troubled student, a dour driving instructor — with an unquenchable optimism as irritating as it is inspiring.

4. “FROZEN RIVER” — One of those rare movies that feels like a slice of painfully real life, Courtney Hunt’s stirring debut charts the unlikely alliance between two desperate women (Melissa Leo, Misty Upham), finding homespun poetry in their hardscrabble determination.

5. “SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” — Ever-eclectic Danny Boyle brings his trademark mix of humor, heart and horror to a Bollywood fairy tale about a lowly Mumbai gofer who hopes to find his lost love — by appearing on a TV game show.

6. “MAN ON WIRE” — Literally the most taut-wire movie of the year, this documentary about French performance artist Phillipe Petit’s daring — and illegal — 1974 wire-walk between the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center plays like a gripping heist movie — with a transcendent climax. (And an inescapably melancholy undercurrent in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001.)

7. “THE VISITOR” — Lost souls find each other in Thomas McCarthy’s poignant character study, as a widowed, withdrawn economics professor (ace character actor Richard Jenkins, in a lead-role triumph) discovers life-altering common ground where he least expects it.

8. “LET THE RIGHT ONE IN” — The anti-“Twilight,” this elegantly eerie Swedish import — about a 12-year-old outcast who finds a friend in his new vampire neighbor — warms your heart even as it chills your blood.

9. “FROST/NIXON” — The great 1977 debate between disgraced ex-President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella, reprising his Tony-winning stage performance) and British TV personality David Frost (“The Queen’s” Michael Sheen) may not be historically accurate, but it’s undeniably compelling, as director Ron Howard maintains the dramatic core of Peter Morgan’s play while expanding its cinematic vision.

10. “INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” — Every critic gets one quirky, self-indulgent pick, so here’s mine. Ridiculous, yes, but ridiculously entertaining, Indy’s return proved the most whip-cracking fun I had at the movies all year.

Moira Macdonald – Seattle Times

  • “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Nearly three hours long, and it goes by in a heartbeat. David Fincher’s sepia-toned tale of a man (a wondrous Brad Pitt) who’s born old and grows young is utterly magical and filled with unexpected wisdom about life, death and the marks we leave on the world.
  • “The Dark Knight.” Who will forget that image of a brooding Batman, standing on a ledge over an impossibly dark Gotham City? Christopher Nolan’s thrilling superhero saga featured Heath Ledger’s brilliant final role, as a man who “just wants to watch the world burn.”
  • “Frozen River.” No movie stars, no big-budget effects, just a story of two forgotten women willing to take enormous risks to improve their lot in life. Melissa Leo, whose performance is touching and never sentimental, gives a star turn here under Courtney Hunt’s direction, in a film that’s an inspiring demonstration of the power of an independent filmmaker’s vision.
  • “Man on Wire.” Absolutely unforgettable. Philippe Petit, a Puck of the tightrope, dances on a wire strung between the two World Trade Towers in 1977; James Marsh’s marvelously suspenseful yet playful documentary lets us go there with him.
  • “Milk.” Sean Penn transforms himself before our eyes into Harvey Milk, a gay politician in 1970s San Francisco — and finds the man’s gentle soul. Gus Van Sant’s warmhearted film immerses us in a unique time and place, eloquently reminding us of a memorable man, a terrible crime and a fight not yet won.
  • “Priceless.” I thought my list would be devoid of comedy this year — and then I remembered this delicious French bonbon, which made me absurdly happy. Audrey Tautou plays a golddigger on the French Riviera; Gad Elmaleh her at first unwitting partner in crime. Pure rom-com silliness, and beaucoup fun.
  • “Revolutionary Road.” This one hasn’t opened in Seattle theaters quite yet, but I couldn’t leave off this devastating showcase for Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, whose performances as a despairing suburban couple in the ’50s are astonishing. Director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe do vivid justice to Richard Yates’ novel.
  • “Shine a Light.” The jittery, slinky wonder that is Mick Jagger is captured for the ages in Martin Scorsese’s mesmerizing concert film, in which the forever-young Rolling Stones play a concert in New York’s Beacon Theater. Pure energy, caught on celluloid.
  • “Tell No One.” Tell someone: A moody thriller with a touch of bittersweet romance, this French murder mystery (a turn behind the camera for talented actor Guillaume Canet) is a wonderfully tangled web of suspense, punctuated with a thrilling chase and sprinkled liberally with some terrific roles for female actors (including Kristin Scott Thomas).
  • “WALL*E.” Another gem from Pixar, this is an almost wordless tale of a robot finding love in a desolate landscape of empty skyscrapers. It’s an enchanting mixture of sci-fi adventure, wistful romance and a dash of “Hello, Dolly!” “It only takes a moment … ”
  • Christy Lemire – Associated Press

    1. “The Wrestler” — It couldn’t have had a more cliched premise: A washed-up athlete struggles against the odds for one last chance at greatness. But Darren Aronofsky reinvents this well-worn genre, and in the process, allows Mickey Rourke to reinvent himself with disarming charisma and unexpected vulnerability. He gives the performance of his long and infamous career in a stripped-down film that’s brutally honest yet funny, touching and even sweet.

    2. “Frost/Nixon” — The best movie Ron Howard’s ever made is also, on its surface, the simplest. By focusing on the 1977 television showdown between British TV personality David Frost and former President Nixon, Howard creates steadily percolating tension, and he draws powerfully fleshed-out performances from Michael Sheen and Frank Langella.

    3. “Man on Wire” — James Marsh’s documentary about Philippe Petit, the diminutive French daredevil who walked a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers in 1974, plays more like an intricately timed heist flick. You know from the start that Petit makes it — he’s alive and all too happy to talk about himself — but you’ll still hold your breath as he and his partners in crime relive the feat.

    4. “Waltz With Bashir” — Israeli writer-director Ari Folman breaks all the rules with his animated documentary, which is exhilarating in its creativity. You’ve never seen anything like it: Folman reconstructs the hazy memories of his time as a young soldier at war in 1980s Lebanon by visiting friends and then animating their talks. The result looks like a graphic novel brought brilliantly to life.

    5. “WALL-E” — Speaking of animation, Pixar maintains its impeccable track records with this irresistible, visually marvelous tale of the last robot on Earth. Although the little guy and his lady love, Eve, exchange maybe three words total, director Andrew Stanton is resourceful enough to find infinite ways for them to express themselves.

    6. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” — A grand, old fashioned epic that takes mind-boggling advantage of the most modern filmmaking technology. Director David Fincher, always a virtuoso stylist, has outdone himself here. You’ll be in awe of the wildly ambitious yet intricately detailed way he tells the story of a man who ages in reverse. Brad Pitt melds his leading-man and character-actor abilities in an inspiring heartbreaking performance.

    7. “Frozen River” — The story of two desperate women who smuggle immigrants across the Canadian border is so quiet and precise and self-assured, you’d never know it’s writer-director Courtney Hunt’s feature debut. Here, she’s come up with that rare thing: a film that feels completely original.

    8. “Milk” — Gus Van Sant boldly returns to mainstream filmmaking with a story that, on its surface, could have been shamelessly mawkish. Instead, he presents the last eight years in the life of Harvey Milk, the slain San Francisco politician and gay rights activist, with a mix of vivid details and nuanced heart. He’s also drawn from Sean Penn one of his most glorious performances ever.

    9. “Paranoid Park” — More from Van Sant, this time the latest in a series of dreamy, languid meditations on life, death and the quiet angst of disconnected youth. The story of a skateboarder who’s involved in the accidental killing of a security guard comes at you as a mesmerizing pastiche of images, with fluid, hypnotic cinematography from Christopher Doyle. It’ll sneak up on you and stick with you.

    10. “Iron Man” — A rare blockbuster with both brains and emotion, this truly is the summer’s best superhero movie (sorry, Batman). Robert Downey Jr.’s intelligence, quick wit and striking presence bring real heft to what could have been a mindless popcorn picture. In making the biggest film of his life, director Jon Favreau deftly juggles all the complicated, expensive toys.

    Thelma Adams – Us Magazine

    1. Milk – Sean Penn turns in the year’s best ­performance as assassinated gay politician Harvey Milk in Gus Van Sant’s carefully crafted biopic. Get Milk!

    2. Slumdog Millionaire – The Dickensian tale of an Indian orphan who becomes a game-show contestant is both thrilling and humane.

    3. Tropic Thunder – Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr. star in a no-holds-barred satire about the movie industry. Nonstop laughs — plus Tom Cruise as a tubby film honcho.

    4. Happy-Go-Lucky – A deceptively simple comedy about a London teacher (Sally Hawkins) becomes an inspiring lesson of hope.

    5. Frozen River – The indie hit about two single moms trafficking in human trade is a taut,

    tough-minded Thelma & Louise.

    6. Rachel Getting Married – Anne Hathaway leaves her sweetie-pie image behind her with this role as a chick just out of rehab who goes home for her sister’s Connecticut wedding.

    7. Burn After Reading – The Coen Brothers’ crazy comedy features Brad Pitt and George Clooney at their most antic.

    8. A Christmas Tale – Catherine Deneuve asks family members for a marrow transplant in this funny, bitter, insightful French flick.

    9. The Duchess – Keira Knightley soars as an 18th century U.K. fashion plate wed to the wrong man in this lush melodrama.

    10. Revolutionary Road – Titanic’s Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio reunite to play a battling

    suburban couple in the mid-1950s. Their verbal fights knocked the wind out of Us.

    Special Mentions: Role Models, W, I’ve Loved You So Long, Religulous, Nothing But the Truth, Gran Torino, Frost/Nixon

    Katherine Monk – CanWest

    1. WALL-E: Andrew Stanton‘s story of the last robot left on Earth not only proved digital animation had come of age, it proved animators had plumbed the actual meaning of the tools at their fingertips and used them to emphasize theme. Never before has the essence of the human experience been articulated so fully, and so convincingly, at the hands of a non-human. In all senses of the word, WALL-E is a masterpiece.

    2. Rachel Getting Married: Jonathan Demme was once the master of the well-made film, but in this digitally shot wedding movie starring Anne Hathaway as a combustible former junkie returning home, Demme strips away the Hollywood polish and discovers the power of raw fragmentation, as well as the audience‘s ability to follow along without being spoon fed exposition.

    3. Milk: Packed with some of the best performances of the year, Gus Van Sant‘s historical biopic about slain city supervisor Harvey Milk is a moving testament to individual action and a timely reminder the battle for civil rights is not over.

    4. The Visitor: Richard Jenkins stars as a broken old professor who lives in emotional lock-down until he meets two illegal aliens and lets them into his life. When one is arrested as a suspected terrorist, the comedy turns dark, but director Tom McCarthy keeps a light at the end of the tunnel.

    5. In Bruges: On the surface, it‘s just another buddy gangster movie, but this Martin McDonagh thriller set in the surreal berg called Bruges found metaphysical dimensions and wicked satire in the idea of a hit man feeling guilty about wiping out another hit man.

    6. Man on Wire: Given all the movies we‘ve seen about 9/11, this James Marsh film about Philippe Petit’s legendary crossing of the Twin Towers says more about what we lost that fateful September day than any formal dissection of events ever could. The movie captures something magical, and wonderfully innocent, about who we were then — and leaves us with a deep sense of loss as well as joy.

    7. Wendy and Lucy: The Pacific Northwest becomes one of the characters in this minimal cast, to great effect, in this film from Kelly Reichardt that stars Michelle Williams as a woman seeking work — and her dog. Much like Courtney Hunt’s laudable Frozen River, Wendy and Lucy offers up believable characters suffering quiet tragedies under the radar.

    8. The Reader: Kate Winslet pulls off a performance of Meryl Streep dimensions as a former German prison guard wrestling with some guilt issues after the war. Winslet‘s fearlessness in such an ambiguous role is mesmerizing, and makes this highly personal story of awakening a must-see.

    9. I‘ve Loved You So Long: Kristin Scott Thomas is the acting equivalent of a ticking time bomb in this quietly potent film from French director Phillipe Claudel. If you thought acting meant big scenes and big emotion, watch the ripples shimmer beneath Scott‘s tranquil surface, then reach for the tissues.

    10. Vicky Cristina Barcelona: Ironic that in a year of profound, metaphysical and near-minimalist work, Woody Allen should make a top-ten appearance with a farce-tinted comedy. This little sparkling gem was a joy from start to finish and left out the run of clichés frequented by Danny Boyle in Slumdog Millionaire.

    Mary Pols – Women On Film10. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: A man is born old and ages in reverse, and our fear of his gradual vanishing into infancy offers solace that mortality as we know it is actually quite reasonable. Director David Fincher’s film is big, romantic, charming and a lot of fun, even if it doesn’t quite live up to its own mad ambitions. The truth is, I didn’t care that much about Benjamin himself, in large part because Brad Pitt’s performance as the staunchly bland Ben brought back repressed memories of “Meet Joe Black.” And also because I think anyone who is born old and grows progressively younger as the decades roll by should express some curiosity as to the why’s and how’s of his circumstances, and the absence of such self-reflection makes me wonder in fact if I should care. Yet, here this nearly three-hour movie is, creeping onto my list, edging out the sleeker, frisky, completely enjoyable “Frost/Nixon.” Why? It’s partly a function of Fincher’s mastery of mood and how good he is at conjuring up a sense of his characters as players within a larger world. At the end of the film, as Benjamin’s true love Daisy (Cate Blanchett) is leaving life, in the midst of Hurricane Katrina, the rain pounds against a hospital window, and we feel the pressure of all those lives out there, beyond it, about to be destroyed. But the real reason “Benjamin” made my list is that I want to watch it again, and soon.

    9. Pineapple Express. A drug dealer (James Franco) and his number one client (Seth Rogen) stumble into serious danger, thanks to a highly recognizable strain of the kindest bud. The movie is first and foremost a hilarious comedy, but it’s also a commentary on the culture of the casual drug user – not exactly a comeuppance, but more like a gentle reminder of what illegality actually entails. My one complaint was that in its last 20 minutes or so the movie dissolved into an orgy of violence I found just plain old dull. But Pineapple makes my list primarily because Franco’s nuanced performance is truly one of the year’s best. He’ll be completely overlooked come Oscar time, but his Saul Silver will live on, sharing space in that stoner gallery of greatness with Jeff Lebowski and Jeff Spicoli.

    8. A Christmas Tale: Usually stories of dysfunctional families trapped together in the holiday season are the stuff that dumb American movies are made of (okay, I haven’t seen “Four Christmases, but I’m guessing). But this film from French director Arnaud Desplechin, which topped the excellent MSN.movies Top Ten list compiled from 10 of their movie writers, is on a whole other playing field. It’s fanciful in the style of “Amelie,” but any threat that it will turn saccharine is offset by the kind of vindictive, brutal fighting that happens in real families. Catherine Deneuve plays the ailing matriarch of a French family. She needs a bone marrow match from one of her offspring, but dealing with them to actually get the marrow may be beyond her; she’d rather smoke and toss off casual insults, particularly at her middle child (the divinely awful Mathieu Amalric). Even with all this bile, the film is far from hateful. If this movie were a television series, I’d watch it every week, with the same kind of slavish attention I devoted to the Fishers and the Sopranos.

    7. Milk: Living in the Bay Area as long as I have, I thought I was already fairly well educated on the life and times of San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, who was assassinated barely a year into his first term in office. But Sean Penn and director Gus Van Sant persuaded me that this big screen movie was necessary, not just as a history lesson, but because it could do what no documentary or book had quite pulled off: bring the man’s sweetness to light. Penn’s Milk is no saint or martyr. He falls for men no mother would want to see coming home with her boy (see Diego Luna). His interest in politics seems like an extended lark, until Anita Bryant and her vile anti-gay campaign comes along and gives him real purpose. His scenes with Dan White (Josh Brolin, knocking it out of the park, again) are filled with quiet tension, there’s revulsion there, yes, but also pity and an awareness that all politics is compromise, which includes dealing with people you never would have voted for yourself. What we’re left with is a real feeling for the man as he lived, and a renewed sense of the tragedy of his death. As for Penn, I never would have thought he could have pulled off gentle without dipping into the maudlin (“I am Sam,” ugh) but the bastard just seems to get better with time.

    6. Wendy and Lucy: I have never encountered a less assuming movie than writer/director Kelly Reichardt’s slim story of the travails of Wendy (Michelle Williams) and her dog Lucy. But the 80 minutes I spent in their company have ended up being some of the most important moments in my cinematic year; I cannot stop thinking about this film. The nearly-broke duo is roadtripping to Alaska, where Wendy hopes to get work and presumably, Lucy hopes to continue to worship Wendy while getting a more generous portion of kibble per day. An assortment of problems in a depressed and depressing Oregon town – car trouble, an encounter with the police, a terrible separation from each other – interfere with Wendy’s game plan, and we watch her go from being scared but plucky into a state of functioning misery that will be all too recognizable to everyone but the luckiest members of the audience. Williams gives an astonishingly intriguing performance; we’re never sure whether she’s about to plunge into despair or hold it together, only that we can’t take our eyes off her bleak little face.

    5. Let the Right One In: I’m torn on how to describe this movie. Is it “Welcome to the Dollhouse” with vampires? Or is it Buffy in Sweden with a different stance on the ethics of blood sucking? I’m going with Northern Lights Buffy. Imagine her as 12, forlorn, quite bad-tempered and living in a blocky Swedish apartment complex that seems locked in perpetual winter. Also, instead of being a Vampire Slayer, she’s a vampire. Then picture Zander crossed with Angel – are you with me? I know that’s a weird combo, yet accurate I believe – but also 12 and not just a chronic victim of school bullying, but really pissed about it, as if at any moment he might go postal on his classmates. Or mother. (At night, he fondles knives and practices stabbing on trees.) That’s the gist of this strangely beautiful and wistful Swedish horror film. There is no sex or even much in the way of longing but there is love and companionship between vampire Eli (Lina Leandersson) and her friend Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), and I believe it can and should endure. Take that “Twilight.”

    3 and 4 (tie) Rachel Getting Married and I’ve Loved You So Long: Two films about women committing atrocities, both involving killing small children, in the case of Rachel (Anne Hathaway), her little brother, in the case of Juliette (Kristen Scott Thomas) her own son. Rachel is out on leave from the insane asylum; Juliette has just been released from prison. Neither is exactly welcomed at home. Both women are presented as pariahs at the outset, although somewhat mysteriously; we know something of what they’ve done, but not why or how. So why would you want to endure either of these similar plots? For starters, great acting from the stars and their supporting casts (Debra Winger blows through “Rachel” with an Artic chill, Elsa Zylberstein is great as Juliette’s loving but very nervous younger sister and Bill Irwin is all anxious love and walking pain in “Rachel,” even though that dishwasher loading scene gave me a swift pain). But really these are films about the limitations of punishment, both societal and self-inflicted. Both Hathaway and Scott Thomas have to persuade us that these women have worth and have a right to continue with their lives. There are no happy endings, only cautious beginnings of life after tragedy. (PS, I just looked at my friend Dave McCoy’s list (scroll down) and realized that he also paired these two as a tie. I’m in good company.)

    2. The Wrestler: Is it possible that all the awful things Mickey Rourke has done or has had done to his face in the last decade were in preparation for the role of a lifetime? No, but there’s certainly never been a happier marriage of external horror – the formerly beautiful Rourke is a disaster of the modern-age’s highest order, whether it be from surgery, hard living, boxing or a mix of all three – and internal preparation for a role. “The Ram” should have quit wrestling at least a decade before, but he has nothing else to do, no source of validation or joy, except visiting a cute stripper (Marisa Tomei) whose interest in him is tepid at best. I’d actually tolerate watching televised golf more than enduring a wrestling match, which is to say, they’re both torture for me. But the movie is, in the end, about a man, his lost dreams and the dreams he didn’t even know he could have. If that sounds like the cinematic version of a Springsteen song, well, it kind of is. After the weird diversion of “The Fountain,” Aronofsky has made a film that might stand up to his own great “Requiem for a Dream.” I don’t know if Rourke has much of a future – he looks distractingly like that whack job who has been trying to become a human lioness – but it is so nice to know he has a real present.

    1. Wall-E: A tireless robot busily cleaning up a hopelessly polluted planet is distracted from his duties by a far sleeker machine. Inspired by a scene from “Hello Dolly,” Wall-E pursues his iLove, Eva, across the universe and while doing so, manages to impart a lesson about responsibility to bloated, stupefied mankind. Just because it is animated and sweet and comes from Pixar doesn’t mean it is just for kids. “Wall-E” is stuffed with humor, moments of true beauty and perfectly pitched political and social commentary. Far more heart-centric than “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but in its way, just as haunting. There’s not much more to say, this is as close to a perfect film as 2008 produced. I can’t wait for my son to unwrap his copy so that I can see it again.

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