By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
Waltz With Bashir (11 points): Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman's broodingly original, deeply personal phantasmagoria centered around the 1982 invasion of Lebanon was a documentary that seemed only possible, not to mention bearable, as an animated feature.
Trouble the Water (8 points): Offering a personal counterpoint to Spike Lee's all-encompassing When the Levees Broke, Carl Deal and Tia Lessin's portrait of one New Orleans couple's efforts to survive Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath was the year's most potent war movie.
Best First Feature
Ballast (20 points): Lance Hammer's soulful study of a single mother and her teenage son eking out a poverty-line existence in the Mississippi Delta, Ballast was the rare film about the black American experience whose characters possessed a quiet, unassailable dignity from the start—one not revealed (or, worse, bestowed upon them) by the filmmaker.
Frozen River (8 points): This year's other Sundance-awarded drama about America's working poor, Courtney Hunt's old-school indie essayed a lived-in decrepitude and working-class gristle that proved a perfect fit for the hardscrabble character actress Melissa Leo in her first major leading role.
Hunger (7 points): Acclaimed gallery artist Steve McQueen's stunning depiction of the 1981 hunger strike staged by IRA member Bobby Sands in a Northern Ireland prison used minimal words and an abundance of stark, intensely lyrical imagery to assess the ethics of martyrdom and the political value of the human body.
The Love Guru (5 points): In the same year that Slumdog Millionaire became a word-of-mouth smash, onetime box-office champ Mike Myers went slumming in brownface as the eponymous cupid of this little-seen (but much-loathed) "comedy."
Towelhead (3 points): A last-minute title change (it was previously known as Nothing Is Private) didn't do any favors for Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball's directorial debut, which also served as the final release for Warner Independent Pictures—yes, the same company that produced, then passed on distributing, Slumdog Millionaire.
Burn After Reading/Changeling/Doubt/Gran Torino/Rachel Getting Married/Step Brothers/Synecdoche, New York (2 points): Proof that one man's classic is another's hunk of junk, all seven films (including two by Clint Eastwood) tied for third place here were also named by voters in our "best film" category.
Best Undistributed Film
The Headless Woman (15 points): After Che, the love-it-or-hate-it attraction of last year's Cannes Film Festival was director Lucrecia Martel's intentionally disorienting immersion into the unstable universe of a bourgeois Argentine woman reeling from a bump on the noggin. As usual, away from the Cannes hothouse, the film's supporters quickly outnumbered its detractors.
Tony Manero (11 points): You can tell by the way he uses his walk that the monomaniacal protagonist of director Pablo Larraín's unnerving sophomore feature really, really wants to win a John Travolta lookalike contest on a TV variety show in the waning years of Pinochet's Chile.
Four Nights With Anna (10 points): Polish auteur Jerzy Skolimowski's return to feature filmmaking—and to form—after a self-imposed 15-year hiatus is a typically idiosyncratic, darkly funny tale of obsession in which a lonely morgue worker can only express his love for a beautiful nurse through subtle acts of home invasion (and home improvement).Rules of the Game: We asked each participating critic to cite 10 films, three lead performances, best first feature, and worst film. Ranked ballots were weighted as follows: For film: 1 (10 points), 2 (9), 3 (8), 4 (7), 5 (6), 6 (5), 7 (4), 8 (3), 9 (2), 10 (1). For performance: 1 (3), 2 (2), 3 (1). Unranked films were awarded 5 points each, unranked performances 2 points. Outside of the undistributed category, we asked voters to focus on films that opened for U.S. theatrical engagements in 2008.
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