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The year in movies: Top 10 (x 2)

Anne Hathaway in "Rachel Getting Married."
Sony Pictures Classics
Anne Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married.”

After two decades of making Year’s Best Films lists whose runners-up strike me soon enough as being more memorable than the Top 10, I decided to meet my film critic flip-flopping head-on at the end of ’08 and simply lead with numbers 11 through 20.

No, I didn’t really do that. But I could have.

What I’m trying to say is that, movie-wise, it was, again, a very good year, one whose cinematic bounties stretched well past the arbitrary 10 and even past 20.

So in a year of at least one decisive victory, your contrarian critic offers two nearly interchangeable lists for your perusal: a Top 10 and Another 10. Today, this, below, is my preferred order of preference; tomorrow, who knows?

Thus, advice-seeking film-lovers might do well to see all 20. To that end, directions (i.e., Netflix, patience, and hope, give or take a local video store or movie theater) are included.

Top 10:

1. “Rachel Getting Married.”
Music-lover Jonathan Demme’s shakycam melodrama plays like an impassioned cover version of a classic tune: “How I Survived My Dysfunctional Family Reunion.” In that screening room in the sky, the late Demme-lover Pauline Kael — who exactly 20 years ago sang the director’s praises onstage at the Walker — is humming along. (Now playing at area theaters.)

2. “Still Life.”
Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke continues his astonishing run with this, another sharp and poignant look at his changing nation. (Rentable on DVD.)

<strong>Melonie Diaz, Jack Black, and Mos Def in "Be Kind Rewind."</strong>
New Line Cinema
Melonie Diaz, Jack Black, and Mos Def in “Be Kind Rewind.”

3. “Be Kind Rewind.”
Did you ever drive past a struggling indie video store — or movie theater — and wonder, What would it take to bring this community service back to life? Michel Gondry’s lovably goofy fantasy may be implausible in the real world (or not). But Mom and Pop can still dream, right? (Rentable on DVD and Blu-Ray.)

JimMyron Ross and Micheal J. Smith Sr. in "Ballast."
Alluvial Film Company
JimMyron Ross and Micheal J. Smith Sr. in “Ballast.”

4. “Ballast.”
Down in the Delta, a family in crisis pulls itself up by the proverbial bootstraps in Lance Hammer’s unforgettable drama. (Walker Art Center screened it once in October; no DVD release as yet, but Hammer is still taking his show on the road and could perhaps be coaxed back for an encore.)

Clint Eastwood in "Gran Torino."
Warner Bros.
Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino.”

5. “Gran Torino.”
Clint Eastwood wraps up a half-century of mythically American might-makes-right. What to say but “Whoa”? (Opens January 9 at area theaters.)

6. “Trouble the Water.”
The year’s best documentary gives us a heroine who’s stronger than any fiction’s: Kimberly Rivers Roberts, who survives Hurricane Katrina to take center stage in the movies’ political theater. (A near-certain Oscar nomination should succeed in bringing it back to area theaters.)

Josh Brolin in "W."
Josh Brolin in “W.”

7. “W.”
Courtesy of Oliver Stone, the year’s most misunderstood movie — ripe for reappraisal on DVD — helped close a long chapter simply by coming out while its subject was still in office. Rarely does “The End” pack as much punch as it does here. (DVD out Feb. 10.)

Asia Argento in "The Last Mistress."
IFC Films
Asia Argento in “The Last Mistress.”

8. “The Last Mistress.”
Wild thing Asia Argento dons a corset for director Catherine Breillat’s costume melodrama; one woman stretches the fabric, the other a genre. (Played at the Mpls./St. Paul International Film Festival, appears periodically on IFC’s video-on-demand channel, and still awaits a local run.)

9. “The Unforeseen.”
An environmental and philosophical State of the Union address from Austin, Texas, Laura Dunn’s gorgeously shot, thoroughly haunting documentary provides not inconvenient truths so much as big questions. (Rentable on DVD.)

Juliette Binoche in "Mary."
De Nigris/Central Films
Juliette Binoche in “Mary.”

10. “Mary.”
What does the titular virgin (Juliette Binoche) have to do with an exploitation filmmaker (Matthew Modine)? Just ask Abel Ferrara, whose latest underrated Passion Play looks to B-movie disciples like some kind of gospel. (Import DVD available from Amazon and other online retailers.)

Another 10 (alphabetically): “Ché; “Happy-Go-Lucky”; “Flight of the Red Balloon”; “Momma’s Man”; “Operation Filmmaker”; “Redbelt”; “State Legislature”; “Synecdoche, New York”; “Wall-E”; and “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.”

Rob Nelson, a member of the National Society of Film Critics, writes about movies for MinnPost.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Whitney Weir on 01/19/2009 - 10:40 pm.

    1. I really like the “Another Top 10” .

    2. I totally bought in to “The Wrestler” and I thought it was a great movie and I thought Mickey Rourke was amazing and I see it’s not on your lists…

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