Cinefile: Ten best of 2008

When it comes to compiling a year-end "10 Best List," I always face a dilemma.

Waltz with Bashir good 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Waltz with Bashir good 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When it comes to compiling a year-end "10 Best List," I always face a dilemma. The movies that dominate such lists by critics' in the US and other countries have often not yet opened in Israel. Case in point: the movies that won most critics' awards and have received the lion's share of Golden Globe nominations - Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, Doubt, Revolutionary Road, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Gran Torino and Frost/Nixon - have yet to arrive (though most are coming soon). Another aspect to this problem is that on visits to the US, I'll see movies there prior to their releases here. So, for example, for me No Country for Old Men was a 2007 movie, while, for most Israelis, it was a 2008 release. A third issue is that at film festivals, I see many movies that are either never released in Israel or have a very limited release. Finally, I decided on the simplest solution: to select the 10 best films I've seen this year - wherever, whenever. They are: 1. Waltz with Bashir 2. Shine A Light 3. Tropic Thunder 4. Vicky Cristina Barcelona 5. Lorna's Silence 6. Wall-E 7. Un Secret 8. Redbelt 9. The Counterfeiters 10. Two documentaries are tied: Encounters at the End of the World and Killing Kasztner (pictured below). Ari Folman's animated documentary Waltz with Bashir is much more than a curiosity or a war film. Rather it is a moving record of how memory can torment. It's the film of the year, and not only in Israel. It dominated the movie landscape with its originality and intensity. Shine A Light, Martin Scorsese's loving concert film of the Rolling Stones in New York, is the only film on this list I was moved to see twice. I loved it each time. It's best seen on the big screen, but it's still good on the small one. If you get it on DVD, you can always rename it Jaggercise, then dance along with Mick, using it as an exercise video. Tropic Thunder is a ridiculously entertaining, crude, rude and very funny satire on Hollywood, made sublime by Robert Downey Jr.'s turn as a pretentious Australian actor who plays a black American soldier. This was Downey's year, with his performance in the super-hero movie, Iron Man, heralding his return to bankable-star status after he struggled with drug addiction for years. It's possible to imagine any number of actors in Iron Man, but only Downey Jr. could do what he does in Tropic Thunder. Another comedy, this one much kinder and gentler, made the list: the animated Pixar movie Wall-E, about a robot on a garbage-filled planet. I'm as surprised as anybody that the Woody Allen film Vicky Cristina Barcelona found its way to the list. But this often artificial film was still charming and sexy, especially when Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz were on screen. Lorna's Silence, which was at the Haifa Film Festival, is a typically demanding and uncompromising film by the Dardenne brothers. It's about a struggling Albanian worker in Brussels, who loses nearly everything when she steps outside of the system she's part of and makes a merciful gesture. In a year that featured many mediocre-to-bad dramas about the Holocaust, two good ones stood out: Un Secret, which tells how a family's past shapes it forever, and The Counterfeiters, which managed to unearth a fascinating, untold story about the era. Playwright-turned screenwriter-turned director David Mamet's films are always fascinating, even when they're so complicated. It's hard to figure out what is going on in them and his martial-arts drama Redbelt is no exception. Two documentaries tied for the final spot. Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World, a quirky vision of Antarctica and the people who choose to live there and Gaylen Ross' Killing Kasztner, a fascinating look at a mostly forgotten page of Israeli history. All of these films will turn up now and again at the country's cinematheques and many are also available on DVD. So enjoy!