In 2008 I’ve seen forty-three films in theaters, twenty-five rentals, and some fifty others either on satellite or on instant watching internet sites. Give or take, that’s about a hundred twenty films.
I give films a grade out of twenty as I dutifully list in my yearbook title, director, year, main cast. My first criterion for a good film is that it hold my attention throughout. If my mind strays, even for a minute, that automatically brings down the grade. Sentimentality or the icky factor is also a big no-no. Yes-yes would be originality, good acting, and intelligent camera work, not too overwrought.
Looking at the list for 2008, I see that four films received a grade of 20.
Starting with the more recent, The Wrestler, no question about it, with a stupendous performance by Mickey Rourke as the aging wrestler whose body gives out. Milk, with another high-wire act by Sean Penn would be second.
I cringed at a couple of Robin Williamsy moments until the actual protagonists were shown briefly before credit rolls and I saw the wide smile and crinkly eyes of the real gay activist. Happy-Go-Lucky, the sweet Mike Leigh film with its bright colors and Sally Hawkins cast as the eternal optimist warmed my heart as no Hollywood feel-good movies can.
Fourth of my top ten, the French Parlez-moi de la pluie, by the infallible Agnès Jaoui/Jean-Pierre Bacri pair who give us the story of a washed-out director trying to make a documentary about a woman running for office.
My two grade 18s would be Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman’s astounding animated feature about the 1982 massacres in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian camps, and Gran Torino for the growling, scowling Clint Eastwood and his evolving relation with Asian neighbors. Two grade 16s awarded to Seraphine, the story of a mildly mentally deficient servant who becomes a famed naïve painter in 1930s France, and Fatih Akin’s Edge of Heaven for his delving into the uneasy situation of Turkish immigrants in Germany.
The winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, The Class, gets only 14 as I detected, maybe unfairly, a manipulation that made me uncomfortable. Another 14 goes to Gomorra and the terrifying painting of a doomed Naples, murderous gangs, corruption, and sky-high mountains of garbage.
Altogether, a decent year.