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Top 20 Films of 2008: Spots 1 to 20

I’m not sure what to make of this – but this year Top 20 batch of film’s have death as a focal point in the plot or use bereavement thematically: death of a dream, death of a soul, death out of defiance and death of a culture, society and way of life. I don’t really have a fascination with death, but I’ve noticed that my own mortality and the eventual passing of my loved ones seem to have embedded itself in some aspects of my daily routine.

 Top 20 ioncinema.com

1. The Secret of the Grain
2. Hunger
3. Silent Light
4. Still Life
5. Ballast
6. Gomorrah
7. The Class
8. Synecdoche, New York
9. Chop Shop
10. Up the Yangtze
11. Paranoid Park
12. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
13. Waltz with Bashir
14. Doubt
15. The Wrestler
16. Milk
17. Savage Grace
18. Snow Angels
19. Encounters at the End of the World
20. Shotgun Stories

I’m not sure what to make of this – but this year Top 20 batch of film’s have death as a focal point in the plot or use bereavement thematically: death of a dream, death of a soul, death out of defiance and death of a culture, society and way of life. I don’t really have a fascination with death, but I’ve noticed that my own mortality and the eventual passing of my loved ones seem to have embedded itself in some aspects of my daily routine.

Death is predominant discourse and acts as a tragic aftermath and end for films like Shotgun Stories, Snow Angels, Savage Grace, Paranoid Park, Milk, Silent Light, Waltz with Bashir and especially in Gomorrah, while it is matter of fact like in Ballast, Synecdoche, New York, Hunger, The Secret of the Grain, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Wrestler. While in doc films such as Encounters at the End of the World, Up the Yangtze and Still Life it is used as a grandeur theme.

In my number 11 slot I placed the slightly better of two pictures from Gus Van Sant – the more experimental film in Paranoid Park impressed me because of the protagonist’s fractured timeline account and the camerawork. The first studio film in best list of 2008 is a testament to the great body of work from David Fincher (Zodiac placed “higher” on my list last year). At number 12, Button gets perfect scores for its technical work as well as for its remarkable fantasy-like journey. If I had a top 25, we’d probably see the highly touted Pixar film included in my list, but the year’s best animated featured is Ari Folman’s animated documentary film.

The 14th position is held by Doubt – a delicious film because of the film’s acting best told when two at odd characters are pitted against one another. The Wrestler is a welcomed return to form for Darren Aronofsky, who took on a handheld camera and low budget position to bring out the best from Mickey. At the 16 spot we find the other of Van Sant’s work – Sean Penn and Josh Brolin are simply great, and in the 17 spot we find this oddball number that I had seen in 2007. Julianne Moore shines in Tom Kalin’s long awaiuted sophomore feature film. I didn’t care much for Pineapple Express, but Snow Angels is David Gordon Green’s best work since his debut George Washington and features an unconventional human trainwreck of a storyline. Werner Herzog’s latest documentary film is another doc film I think highly off because of the author’s kookiness – think the pristiness of a National Geographic pic commented by a true authentic caricature. Finally, I saved the final spot for Jeff NicholsShotgun Stories – a meditative and cautionary tale where actor Michael Shannon shines.

Among the best undistributed films of the year:these four from Cannes are definitely worth a mention: Pablo Larrain’s Tony Manero, Antonio CamposAfterschool (I sincerely hope it finds some kind of distribution) an extremely difficult film to watch in Kornel Mundruczo‘s Delta and a non-fiction film with flourishes of narrative elements in Blind Love.

Among the top tier of film that I saw this year, but have distribution deals in place only for 2009 include Cannes films like Il Divo and Three Monkeys, Fernando Eimbcke’s Lake Tahoe and critically acclaimed Venice/TIFF title Goodbye Solo.

What I’ve usually noticed with all these top ten lists is how critics don’t cite the films that they have actually seen within the given year — despite valiant attempts to view all films, I managed to miss out on high profile films like imports from HHH (Flight of the Red Balloon – IndieWire’s top film in their critics’ poll) and Scandinavian films Reprise and Let the Right One In (a favorite foreign flick among my associations). Having missed out on Sundance last year didn’t help either – I missed the Roman Polanski doc, Trouble the Water, Stranded and The Betrayal, while press screening invites for big budget productions Revolutionary Road and Frost/Nixon never materialized. Here the rest of what might have been considered the best and acts as a checklist of films to see: 24 Hour City, The Fall, Boy A, Somers Town, In the City of Sylvia, Avant que J’oublie, Woman On The Beach, Ashes of Time Redux, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, The Exiles, Sita Sings The Blues, Night and Day and finally, 35 Shots of Rum.

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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