Screen scene

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Compared to 2007, fewer films knocked me out this year, but winnowing down a top-10 list for 2008 once again took days, if not weeks. What ultimately brought selections to the top was a shared trait: using smart thinking to hit on a gut level.

Everything in the top 10 was a 2008 release, and I've also included a couple of films that deserve special mention despite being caught in the limbo of awards-season rollouts, as well as movies you should avoid if you haven't been infected already.

For picks Nos. 11 to 20, plus a round-up of best-of-'08 selections from local film professionals and other favorites, click to the Bad and the Beautiful blog at

1. "WALL-E"

If only parent company Disney had gotten the message of Pixar's latest masterpiece. Then WALL-E merchandise might not be filling clearance shelves at the Disney Store, and eventually coming to a landfill near you.

2. "Man on Wire"

Even though the general outcome's clear at the beginning, James Marsh's thrilling doc about wire-walker Philippe Petit is one fascinating discovery after another.

3. "Synecdoche, New York"

For his directing debut, Charlie Kaufman might not have intentionally aimed for the most ambitious movie of 2008, but that's what he came up with. You couldn't find a more fascinating puzzle than his dizzying, beautifully cast rumination on life, art and everything.

4. "The Dark Knight"

Christopher Nolan presented a world parallel to our own, which destroyed the hero it needed and demonized the hero it deserved, and everyone bought into it. For good and bad, it's the perfect superhero movie for our time.

5. "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days"

Romanian Cristian Mungiu's no-frills, 1980s-era drama follows two young women seeking an illegal abortion, and delivers all the nail-biting suspense you could expect from what amounts to a game of Russian roulette.

6. "Happy-Go-Lucky"

Mike Leigh and his actors work something of a magic trick, conjuring a memorable, incredibly pleasurable character from a next-to-nothing plot and a fair amount of interpersonal discomfort.

7. "Slumdog Millionaire"

A disparate blend of story elements is brewed by master stylist Danny Boyle into something beautiful, touching and intoxicating.

8. "Chop Shop"

It's a simple tale of a Queens boy trying to make a living for himself and his older sister, and director Ramin Bahrani tells it simply, but it hits home powerfully thanks to the filmmaker's clear-eyed attention to detail and character.

9. "Milk"

Jumping out of self-imposed indie exile with a slight tweak to the stale biopic format, Gus Van Sant is back with a film as moving and inspirational as its subject.

10. "Frozen River"

Here's hoping enough people saw Courtney Hunt's riveting story of two women forced by desperation into human trafficking to get star Melissa Leo an Oscar nomination.

Best '07 Leftover: "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"

Released here in January, Julian Schnabel's stunning portrait of stroke-afflicted Jean-Dominique Bauby covers the full emotional spectrum without wearing you down.

Best Film You Haven't Seen Yet: "Wendy and Lucy"

Michelle Williams loses herself believably in Kelly Reichardt's neorealist view of a young woman traveling with her dog and running into trouble she didn't budget for. It opens here Feb. 20.

Best Film You Never Saw: "Reprise"

It hit New York in May with positive reviews and was screened for local critics in June, but Joachim Trier's stylish, energized contrast between two young writers and their respective first novels never opened in Columbus. It's now on DVD and highly recommended.

Worst Films of The Year

"The Love Guru"

I guess it says something about the strength of Mike Myers' latest comedy that, six months after seeing it, the thought of it still makes me nauseous.

"Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed"

The filmmakers couldn't have picked a better subtitle.