10. Milk. I had low expectations for Gus Van Sant's biopic of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected public official in America. The film surprised me. It's not only about Milk--in a stellar performance from Sean Penn--but is a riveting telling of the gay rights movement from the epicenter--the Castro neighborhood in San Francisico in the 1970s. Van Sant has made his best film in years and years.
9. Vicky Christina Barcelona. If Van Sant has made his best film in a long time--so has Woody Allen. I was not a big fan of the recent English set dramas but Vicky Christina Barcelona is a witty return to Allen's strengths with characters who are smart, neurotic, confused and complicated. Sounds like a Woody Allen story right? The Barcelona setting, with my recent trip in June still fresh in my memory, doesn't hurt it either.
8. Happy-Go-Lucky. English director Mike Leigh's latest is the kind of film you like a lot or not at all. I polled nine people who saw it--five were for it, four against it. I'm obviously in the "for it" category. There's a lot happening here. Sally Hawkins plays a sort of innocent, live life in the moment art teacher who starts to realize the life around her isn't as sunny as she'd hoped. Quirky, funny and with darkness lurking in the corners.
7. Slumdog Millionaire. Danny Boyle's ecstatic drama/romance/coming of age thriller--yeah, those are lots of genres piled into that sentence--is an electric, inventive joyride set in India. Edge of your seat time as a poor kid goes on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and knows the answers--which might be harmful to his health. Via flashbacks we see how he knows. Absolutely wonderful and Boyle's best, most complete film (not counting Trainspotting as I've never seen it).
6. Reprise. Norwegian film that is an honest jewel set amongst a group of male friends in Oslo. Reprise is direct, sly, romantic and bursting at the seams with ideas and intelligence. The film is energetic when it wants but is not afraid to slow down and dwell in deeper thought. Check the July 2008 archives for a full review.