Best in Film — 2008 Edition

Best Pickup Artist
Javier Bardem, as a painter in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, approaching Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) in a restaurant, commenting on Cristina’s eye colour, then inviting both of them to fly with him for the weekend to the picturesque town or Orviedo, where the three of them can drink wine, eat fine food and sleep together. Nice to know Woody still has a fantasy life.

The two most gorgeous movies on the same thing
The massive environmental and social upheaval of Three Gorges Dam in China was the subject of both a Canadian documentary, Up the Yangtze, and a Chinese feature drama, Still Life. These were among the best films of the year, and would have made my Top 10 list if it were a Top Dozen. Both films captured the quiet horror of slowly rising water levels with the kind of devastating beauty that makes Edward Burtynsky’s photographs so compelling. Up the Yangtze has an extraordinary sequence of an old man strapping a huge old wooden cabinet onto his back and, with Sisyphean effort, clambering up to higher ground—looking for footholds in massive tiles that have been set like scales into the steep riverbank above his home.

Best argument for the Oscars introducing a category for DVD commentary
Robert Downey Jr. deserves some sort of special award for his outrageous commentary on the DVD of Tropic Thunder. True to his character in the movie—an Australian method actor playing an African-American soldier in blackface—Downey remains in character throughout the hilarious chat with director Ben Stiller and co-star Jack Black. Love the way he talks about “T.C.” (Tom Cruise) with barely veiled condescension.

Best Emerging Threat to James Cameron from Kazakhstan
Forget the comic book chaos of Dark Knight. Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, who hails from Kazakhstan, pulled off the year’s most spectacular action scenes in Wanted. The movie was so cheesy that the filmmaking never really got the respect it deserved. But given the choice, I’d much rather waste a couple of hours with Angelina Jolie’s dominatrix in Bekmambetov’s Wanted than watch her weep with indignation out in Clint Eastwood’s Changeling.

Best opening and epilogue in a romantic comedy (spoiler alert!)
Forgetting Sarah Marshall was, for my money, the year’s funniest romantic comedy. It starts out with a wonderfully cheap gross-out gag, as its doughy hero, played by Jason Segel, shows his flaccid penis in three successive shots—standing there naked as his girlfriend announces that she’s breaking up with him (a scene apparently based on Segal’s own experience). The film’s epilogue is as sophisticated as the opening is crude. Segel’s character secretly longs to quit his hack composer job and finish his preposterous dream project—a Dracula rock opera with puppets. Once again, this is a slice of real life—Segel just happened to have composed such a thing. And at the end of this riotous beach-resort farce, Segal finally gets to put on his little show, sending the comedy into the Spinal Tap stratosphere of sweet, sophisticated self-parody.

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