Top twelve non-Oscar nominated movies of 2008

Becquer Medak-Seguin

Lists seem to dominate the landscape of cinematic criticism: top 10 lists, Academy Award nominees, or even the so-called “worst films of all-time.”   While I question the validity of their digits (i.e. the #1 absolute best film of all-time, etc.), lists are a useful starting point for differentiating between the good and the bad, the superlative and the terrible, the worthwhile and the waste-of-time.  

With this in mind, I thought I would continue the tradition of lists, save the numbers, and uncover some of the best films of 2008 (in no particular order) that somehow did not raise the Academy’s eyebrows.

– “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (Romania): A gripping account of the last days of Communist Romania, this film is not merely a commentary on the annals of history, but a distressing diagnosis of authoritarianism and the human spirit.

– “Let the Right One In” (Sweden): This carefully-crafted pubescent human-vampire love story reveals more about the sacred emotion than any other genre can.

– “Che” (USA-France-Spain): This 4-hour biopic about the two most important events in revolutionary Ernesto Guevara’s life is as epic a movie as “War and Peace” is a novel, yet, like Tolstoy, director Steven Soderbergh and lead Benicio del Toro somehow make it work wonderfully, piecing together all the aspects of man’s life like a 5,000 puzzle-piece set.

– “Gomorrah” (Italy): This modern-day “Godfather” coming from Naples, the heart of Italian organized crime, demands your attention in order to follow several different plots en route to a grand and unexpected finale.

– “Paranoid Park” (France-USA): Cinematically much better than his other, more critically-acclaimed film this year (“Milk”), director Gus Van Sant’s non-linear work of genius takes place close to home (Portland, Or.) and is an intellectual mystery that reveals an indispensable clue in every scene.

– “Wendy and Lucy” (USA): A simple story about the human condition whose only ingredient is reality, this film is a timely account of the struggle by those who peer into the black economic chasm of our time not unlike those who did the same back in the 1930s.

– “A Christmas Tale” (France): Both a trek to unite an utterly dysfunctional family and a trek to cure the matriarch via a bone marrow transplant, this Catherine Deneuve-headlining film is devastatingly real and held together by the unlikely jolly, anti-patriarchal father.

– “I’ve Loved You So Long” (France): Murder and memory engulf this French film in a way that is hauntingly real as a former mother tries to come to terms with both her spiritual and moral state of being.

– “Synecdoche, New York” (USA): This is a film for all of those who have ever felt as if they live in a world full of people who are smarter, prettier and more desirable than themselves.   In other words, this is a melancholic coming-of-age story of an aged man (Philip Seymour Hoffman) that will warm your heart.

– “The Edge of Heaven” (Germany-Turkey-Italy): As open-ended as cinema can get, this film is presented through multiple plots (many cruel, one optimistic), but more important than these plots are the strong characters that glue the movie together.

– “The Flight of the Red Balloon” (France): Obviously inspired by the 1956 classic, this film takes the elements of its predecessor a step further, producing an exquisite story that muses over the nature of family bonds and the effects of the past on the present.

– “Alexandra” (Russia-France): This film reaches as far away from your typical Hollywood narrative as possible through the eyes of a grandmother who visits her grandson at the Chechen Front.   Unlike any other war film, this one is a purposefully simple (at the surface) and devastatingly complex look at love’s capacity to defeat time.