Before we begin, a caveat: you may not have heard of some of these movies. I know Maui doesn’t always get every movie, particularly the “artsy” ones. But instead of shrugging off my oddball choices, I ask that you give these a look on DVD. You may find, as I did, what a great discovery they are. I believe the best thing a film critic can do is to persuade audiences to see something they normally wouldn’t and to help them discover something truly great.
1. Be Kind Rewind – Yes, there were bigger, more impressively made films this year. Yet this little-seen comic fable was the movie that, for the entire year, I’d mention first when asked what my favorite was. From Michel Gondry, director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this odd, brilliant fantasy portrays two misfits (the bizarrely perfect comic pairing of Jack Black and Mos Def) who run an on-its-last-leg video store and go to wild lengths to keep it open. A heartfelt, funny and touching tribute to the strength of a community and the shared love of movies. As a former employee of Videoland and TV in Pukalani, I can vouch that the movie is spot on as an ode to the homegrown video store. It’s also the year’s sweetest, most casually brilliant film.
2. Let the Right One In – This Swedish vampire movie never played outside art house theaters and had an ad campaign that made it look like a typical horror film. The reality is that this disturbing, original and tremendously moving film is going to pick up a huge following on DVD. It depicts a unique relationship between a bullied young boy and a girl who has been 12 “for a long time.”
3. The Fall – Director Tarsem’s first movie, The Cell, had great visuals but a lousy story; this time, the story matches the imagery. Imagine a melding of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The English Patient and The Never-Ending Story. It shows you things you’ve never seen before.
4. Iron Man – The perfect comic book movie with solid performances, jaw dropping set pieces and special effects as good as you’d hope. But the focus on character, story and a unique sense of humor are what made this special. Jon Favreau’s smart, sensational thrill ride was the best summer movie of 2008.
5. Synecdoche, New York – The most challenging movie of the year, Charlie Kauffman’s latest risk-taker stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a playwright who recreates an entire block of New York in a massive warehouse as a life-defining experiment. Playfully funny, weird, shocking and worth seeing more than once, this is an amazing cinematic puzzle. The title, by the way, is pronounced “sih-neck-doh-key”.
6. Vicky Christina Barcelona – There are only three aphrodisiacs that genuinely work: chocolate, Barry White records and this movie. Woody Allen’s best comedy in years is compulsively watchable, gorgeous to look at and really, really sexy.
7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Full of great scenes that play like mini-masterpieces, David Fincher’s latest is a change of tone for him and a treat for audiences. Cate Blanchett’s performance and the haunting depiction of Button’s “younger” years are perfection.
8. Valkyrie – Grabs you from the first frame. Bryan Singer’s most riveting film since The Usual Suspects is smart, engaging and the year’s most exciting thriller. A solid ensemble cast and a spot on production recreate a horrific time and tell a remarkable story.
9. Wall-E – “Waaallllly.” “Eeeeeevah!” Enough said.
10. Encounters at the End of the World – Werner Herzog’s wonderful documentary about life in Antarctica offers amazing sights and a revealing, fascinating look at life in “the ice.” Will give you a renewed love for sunny Maui. MTW