(Andrew Stanton, U.S.)
237 points/35 mentions
Determined little whatsit saves Earth and rocks the vote. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
(Hou Hsiao-hsien, France)
163 points/26 mentions
Great Chinese filmmaker remakes a 50-year-old French kiddie classic. Paris has never seemed more gloriously strange—nor has puppeteer Juliette Binoche.
(Mike Leigh, UK)
159 points/26 mentions
Insanely cheerful little earful teaches kindergarten kids (and the rest of us) how to work and play with others in normally dour British filmmaker’s greatest crowd-pleaser.
4. Still Life
(Jia Zhangke, China)
147 points/23 mentions
Part archaeological dig, part science fiction, this is a documentary with actors—and Jia’s latest report on China burying its past and entering the future.
(Arnaud Desplechin, France)
146 points/24 mentions
Dysfunctional French family clusters around matriarch Catherine Deneuve. She’s gravely ill and in need of a compatible transplant— the real infusion is the film’s superabundance of cinematic brio.
(Ari Folman, Israel)
140 points/22 mentions
War is treated (and “treated”) twice removed in Folman’s animated documentary of the nightmares, memories, and fantasies suffered by Israeli soldiers a quarter century after invading Lebanon.
(Gus Van Sant, U.S.)
123 points/21 mentions
Van Sant goes straight . . . for the heartstrings, that is, in this wildly affirmative biopic of the San Francisco activist Harvey Milk, played with a controlled enthusiasm by Sean Penn.
(Kelly Reichardt, U.S.)
122 points/25 mentions
Boxcars, hobos, no money for gas—the Great Depression happening today: Stranded somewhere in Oregon, Michelle Williams is so lonesome she cannot cry.
(Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)
113 points/20 mentions
Bullied 12-year-old boy falls in puppy love with the androgynous 200-year-old child vampire next door, in this gritty, wintry, bloody adaptation of Sweden’s equivalent of the Twilight novels.
(Charlie Kaufman, U.S.)
106 points/18 mentions
First-time director wrestles with the convoluted script he wrote for himself—it’s self-reflexive to the max and beyond, with Philip Seymour Hoffman as Kaufman’s alter ego.
2007 There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson)
2006 Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville)
2005 A History of Violence (David Cronenberg)
2004 Before Sunset (Richard Linklater)
2003 Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola)
2002 Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes)
2001 Mulholland Drive (David Lynch)
2000 Beau Travail (Claire Denis)
1999 Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonz)
Sean Penn, Milk (86 votes): Reining in his mannerisms, Hollywood’s moodiest male star triumphantly vanished into the role of community organizer–political martyr Harvey Milk—and could well emerge brandishing an Oscar.
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler (74 votes): Gotta be the comeback performance of the decade—aging bad boy as an aging, almost lovable, broken-down professional wrestler.
Benicio Del Toro, Che (25 votes): A sometime showboat demonstrates his own brand of revolutionary discipline, playing the icon of icons as a dedicated professional.
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky (83 votes): Erupting out of the Mike Leigh ensemble, Hawkins riffs an indelible character into existence—a London kindergarten teacher, at once grating and irresistible in her boundless good nature.
Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy (60 votes): Williams performs a virtual solo as a young woman who loses everything when she loses her dog. No one this year held a close-up better.
Juliette Binoche, The Flight of the Red Balloon (55 votes): Encouraged by director Hou Hsiao-hsien to invent her own character, Binoche broke new ground playing a professional puppeteer as eccentric as the movie in which she found herself.
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight (75 points): A no-brainer. Even had the release of Christopher Nolan’s Batman sequel not been preceded by Ledger’s untimely death, his turn as the anarchic Joker in Louise Brooks eyeshadow would have immortalized him among a generation of moviegoers and aspirant Method actors.
Eddie Marsan, Happy-Go-Lucky (43 points): As the dyspeptic yang to Sally Hawkins’s ebullient yin, this pug-faced Mike Leigh regular proved a formidable test case for the limits of positive thinking and gave a bad name to driving instructors everywhere.
Josh Brolin, Milk (30 points): After playing Dubya for Oliver Stone, Brolin stepped down the political hierarchy to render an even more chilling impersonation of San Francisco supervisor and avid Twinkie consumer Dan White.
Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (42 points): Woody Allen’s sun-drenched Spanish ménage à quatre is chugging along pleasantly enough, and then Cruz enters the frame as Javier Bardem’s homicidal ex—and sets the whole thing ablaze like a raging comic fireball.
Viola Davis, Doubt (35 points): As the pragmatic mother of an allegedly molested boy at a Catholic high school, Davis has just one major scene, but it is the kind that stops an audience dead in its tracks and colors the absolutist logic of John Patrick Shanley’s modern morality play with much-needed splotches of gray.
Rosemary DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married (30 points): Although Anne Hathaway has commanded the lion’s share of press, it’s DeWitt’s less showboating performance as the titular betrothed that provides a welcome oasis of calm at the center of Jonathan Demme’s big, fat U.N. wedding party.
Man on Wire (16 points): A nonfiction film with the heart of a Hollywood caper, James Marsh’s wildly entertaining docudrama revisited French provocateur Philippe Petit’s 1974 tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center and turned it into an eccentric valentine to imagination, risk taking, and creative self-expression.
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.