Screens Top 10s

The Chronicle's film critics talk about their favorite movies of the year

Marjorie Baumgarten

1. Synecdoche, New York Nothing this year so perfectly melded the elements of direction, script, performance, and visuals to create a totally immersive universe that beseeches my return again and again.

2. Tell No One This psychological thriller from France captivated me thoroughly from beginning to end, with nary a stumble or false alarm. C'est formidable.


3. Milk This triumph of storytelling for Gus Van Sant and performance for Sean Penn is buttressed by a wonderful ensemble and period authenticity. Got Milk? Yes, my cup runneth over.

4. The Pool Hardly seen and hardly distributed (so far), this India-set narrative by Chris Smith, better known as a documentary maker, is a surprising, enlightening, bare-bones revelation.

5. Elegy Philip Roth finally gets the film interpretation his work deserves with this feminist/humanist take on life, love, and death.

6. My Winnipeg So believable it could be a documentary, so surreal it must be imaginary, so authentic it can only be the singular insight of visionary filmmaker Guy Maddin.

7. Gomorrah There are so many strands in this stunning-looking Italian crime thriller that it initially threatens to verge into chaos but instead coalesces into a magnificent symphony.

<b><i>Gran Torino</i></b>
Gran Torino

8. Gran Torino Clint Eastwood has made a perfect career-capper, reformulating the various essences of his work for a contemporary world and directing himself without a hint of self-indulgence.

9. U2 3D For once, 3-D is used not for wowwy effects and startling nature photography but in a way that complements and enhances the performance.

10. Slumdog Millionaire Danny Boyle again proves his mastery of the art of storytelling, thrusting us into the vibrancy and squalor of Mumbai slum kids as skillfully as he did with junkies and zombies.


Rachel Getting Married, Revolutionary Road, Frozen River, The Duchess of Langeais, Towelhead


The Dark Knight, The Wrestler, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

<b><i>Cadillac Records</i></b>
Cadillac Records


The Pool, U2 3D, Cadillac Records


Sean Penn (Milk), Dennis Hopper (Elegy), Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino)

<b><i>Rachel Getting Married</i></b>
Rachel Getting Married


Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married), Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married), Kristin Scott Thomas (I've Loved You So Long)

<b><i>My Winnipeg</i></b>
My Winnipeg


Gus Van Sant (Milk, Paranoid Park), Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), Guy Maddin (My Winnipeg)


Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman), Milk (Dustin Lance Black), Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond)

<b><i>Let the Right One In</i></b>
Let the Right One In


Let the Right One In (John Ajvide Lindqvist), Elegy (Nicholas Meyer), The Pool (Chris Smith)


Repo! The Genetic Opera. Blood saga? Goth opera? Over-the-top theatrics with the bar set at zero? Sarah Brightman and Paris Hilton? Quick: Order me up some of the film's numbing drug, Zydrate.


Not One but Two Memorable Times at Bat in 2008: Streep, Van Sant, Brolin, Franco, Winslet, Eastwood, Banks, Cruz, Downey, Kingsley ... and Ledger, sadly, only one.

Kimberley Jones


1. Synecdoche, New York I don't know what it all means, but I know what it means to me.

2. A Christmas Tale Turns out Christmas dinner is just as fraught in French. Wickedly funny, emotionally wrecking, and – zut alors! – the best gosh-durn ensemble acting of the year.

3. Elegy It takes a Spanish-Canadian woman to finally, exquisitely translate to screen Philip Roth's particular brand of aging American lothario. Brava.

4. Happy-Go-Lucky Within five minutes, you want to drown the giggling girl at its center. Give it five more, and you'll fall for that most uncommon of characters – a head-on-her-shoulders, sunshine kind of optimist.

5. Rachel Getting Married Demme, an actors' director par excellence, stripped down and gave us a low-down dirty but ever-loving lens on a broken family's stutter-steps toward reconciliation.

6. Let the Right One In Swedish tykes in something like love – with decapitation, to boot. A slow burn set to icy cool and a bonkers-kinda beautiful.

<b><i>Tell No One</i></b>
Tell No One

7. Tell No One For all its twistiness, this breakneck French adaptation of an American thriller novel was the most uncomplicatedly satisfying genre film of the year.

8. Son of Rambow A sweet, plucky tale about two boys finding a family with a camera and with each other. Still haven't wiped the stupid grin off my face.

9. In Search of a Midnight Kiss A new generation's Say Anything, sans the happy ending. Unless you count the last-reel Scorpions sing-along. And I kinda do.


10. WALL-E If they'd just skipped the silly parts with the Pixar-ated humans, it would have been top to bottom sublime.


Shotgun Stories, The Class, In Bruges, Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, Reprise


The Dark Knight, Gran Torino, Slumdog Millionaire


Hancock, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Ghost Town


Mathieu Amalric (A Christmas Tale, Quantum of Solace), Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road, Shotgun Stories), Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)


Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky), Penélope Cruz (Elegy, Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Catinca Untaru (The Fall)


Arnaud Desplechin (A Christmas Tale), Isabel Coixet (Elegy), Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche, New York)


Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman), Rachel Getting Married (Jenny Lumet), In Bruges (Martin McDonagh)

<b><i>Revolutionary Road</i></b>
Revolutionary Road


Revolutionary Road (Justin Haythe), Elegy (Nicholas Meyer), Snow Angels (David Gordon Green)

<b><i>Speed Racer</i></b>
Speed Racer


Speed Racer. If this is the future of film, then you'll find me burrowed in a bunker somewhere knee-deep in Hawks, Wilder, Hitchcock, and Welles.


Dueling Grunters: As two avengers in overpraised films, Clint Eastwood and Christian Bale seemed to take a guttural growl from McGruff the Crime Dog. Grrr.

Josh Rosenblatt

<b><i>A Christmas Tale</i></b>
A Christmas Tale

1. A Christmas Tale Arnaud Desplechin's brilliant family epic is as uncontainable and messy as life itself.

2. Gomorrah Adapted from Roberto Saviano's book, this trip through the hell that is the modern-day Neapolitan Mafia splits the difference between The Wire and City of God.

3. Wendy and Lucy The simple story of a woman looking for her lost dog becomes a heartbreaking meditation on life at the losing end of American capitalism.

<b><i>Wendy and Lucy</i></b>
Wendy and Lucy

4. The Counterfeiters Nazis forcing a master Jewish criminal to counterfeit British pounds in a last-ditch effort to win World War II? What more could you ask for from a movie?

5. I've Loved You So Long Kristin Scott Thomas gives one of the year's best performances as a former convict condemned to the prison of her own memory.

6. Synecdoche, New York Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut is fascinating, maddening, confusing, depressing, and inspiring all at the same time.

7. Man on Wire James Marsh's highly original documentary about Philippe Petit, the man who walked between the twin towers in 1974, is as full of bluster as its subject.

8. Che A self-important yet fascinating historical epic that's both bloated and microscopic, as interested in the day-to-day mechanics of violent revolution as its ultimate meaning.

<b><i>The Wrestler</i></b>
The Wrestler

9. The Wrestler Mickey Rourke saves himself from obscurity with his layered portrayal of a professional wrestler doomed to it.

10. Trouble the Water Bush and Brownie should have to watch this first-person documentary filmed from inside Hurricane Katrina twice a day, everyday, for the rest of their lives.


Tell No One, In Search of a Midnight Kiss, Slumdog Millionaire, Hancock


Happy-Go-Lucky, Gran Torino, Iron Man


Hancock, The Counterfeiters, I've Loved You So Long

<b><i>Dark Knight</i></b>
Dark Knight


Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight), Mathieu Amalric (A Christmas Tale), Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder)


Kristin Scott Thomas (I've Loved You So Long), Michelle Williams (Wendy and Lucy), Penélope Cruz (Elegy)


Arnaud Desplechin (A Christmas Tale), Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah), Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy)


Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman), A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin and Emmanuel Bourdieu)



Elegy (Nicholas Meyer), Gomorrah (Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Gianni Di Gregorio, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso, and Roberto Saviano)


The Reader. Hollywood's endless fascination with the Holocaust as easily digestible, artfully photographed life-lesson reaches a new low with this adaptation of the Oprah's Book Club bestseller.


Most Predictable Disappointment: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. George Lucas continues his quest to turn his past work, and all my childhood heroes, into garbage.

Marc Savlov

<b><i>Slumdog Millionaire</i></b>
Slumdog Millionaire

1. Slumdog Millionaire Choose life. Choose love. Fuck terror. Mumbai and Danny Boyle, triumphant together.

2. Let the Right One In Ecstatic and disturbing in equal measure, like a single drop of crimson on the lips of your love. Death is lonely.

3. The Wrestler Mickey Rourke bares more body and soul than Kid Galahad and Gorgeous George combined, while Udo Dirkschneider howls on the soundtrack. "Balls to the Wall," indeed.

4. My Winnipeg Black and white and weird all over, Guy Maddin's heartfelt homage to his sleepy, snowbound hometown makes your own dreams seem dull by comparison.


5. Gomorrah Simply the most devastating Italian post-neorealist crime story ever made. See Naples, and die.

6. Man on Wire Philippe Petit wire-walks between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in this mesmerizing, exhilarating, and very much haunted documentary.

7. Waltz With Bashir An animated recounting of the Israeli-Lebanese war of 1982, and more specifically of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, this is not a love song.

<b><i>Funny Games</i></b>
Funny Games

8. Blindness At times as disturbing to watch as anything outside of Gaspar Noé's Irréversible but a powerful and ultimately hopeful metaphor for human shortsightedness, nonetheless.

9. Son of Rambow Hammer & Tongs: Skills on toast. Sweet beyond measure, wise beyond words.

10. Funny Games The medium is malevolent: Germany's Michael Haneke remakes his own meta-manifesto on media mayhem for us cyber-saturated Yanks. We die.


Synecdoche, New York; A Christmas Tale; The Signal; JCVD; Happy-Go-Lucky



Che, Kung Fu Panda, The Dark Knight


Encounters at the End of the World, Paranoid Park, The Bank Job


Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD), Eugene Hütz (Filth and Wisdom), Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)


Lina Leandersson (Let the Right One In), Julianne Moore (Blindness), Asia Argento (The Last Mistress)


Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In), Danny Boyle with Loveleen Tandan (Slumdog Millionaire), Fernando Meirelles (Blindness)



Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman), The Fall (Dan Gilroy, Nico Soultanakis, and Tarsem Singh), A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin and Emmanuel Bourdieu)


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Eric Roth), Revolutionary Road (Justin Haythe), Blindness (Don McKellar)


The Happening. M. Night Shyamalan's numb comeback was neither as exciting as The Wind in the Willows nor as terrifying as Leaves of Grass. Seriously, dude. WTF?


Best Nine Hours in Alamo Ritz History: The Spaced Brit-com marathon, featuring a lively Edgar Wright, a trashed Simon Pegg, and ... Jaffa Cakes!

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