Thanks to glimmer for reminding me (twice) about this year’s annual critics poll conducted by The Village Voice among “(mainly) alt-press critics.” In an attempt to psychoanalyze the year in movies, J. Holberman says “critics turn into optimists”:
Unlike last year, when Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood materialized in late December to snatch the prize from the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men and David Fincher’s Zodiac, there was no groupthink stampede. Critics had months in which to cogitate over the eventual poll winner. Pass the popcorn, not the ammunition: While last year’s top films were characterized by murderous violence, WALL-E radiated hope. The new optimism was also manifest in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, which, boasting a relentlessly upbeat performance by Sally Hawkins, finished a close third in the poll just behind Hou Hsiao-hsien’s relatively cheerful The Flight of the Red Balloon, as well as Gus Van Sant’s ultra-inspirational political biopic, Milk (#7).
yay, new optimism! Good news for Slumdog Millionaire, right? Wrong. Good news for Wendy & Lucy. oh, alt-press critics, must you be so emo?
Determined little whatsit saves Earth and rocks the vote. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
2. The Flight of the Red Balloon
Great Chinese filmmaker remakes a 50-year-old French kiddie classic. Paris has never seemed more gloriously strange‚Äînor has puppeteer Juliette Binoche.
4. Still Life
5. A Christmas Tale
6. Waltz With Bashir
Van Sant goes straight . . . for the heartstrings, that is, in this wildly affirmative biopic of the San Francisco activist Harvey Milk, played with a controlled enthusiasm by Sean Penn.
8. Wendy and Lucy
9. Let the Right One In
Bullied 12-year-old boy falls in puppy love with the androgynous 200-year-old child vampire next door, in this gritty, wintry, bloody adaptation of Sweden’s equivalent of the Twilight novels.
10. Synecdoche, New York
Acting, documentary, and other choices, after the cut.
- Sean Penn, Milk (86 votes): Reining in his mannerisms, Hollywood’s moodiest male star triumphantly vanished into the role of community organizer‚Äìpolitical martyr Harvey Milk‚Äîand could well emerge brandishing an Oscar.
- Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler (74 votes)
- Benicio Del Toro, Che (25 votes)
- Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky (83 votes)
- Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy (60 votes): Williams performs a virtual solo as a young woman who loses everything when she loses her dog. No one this year held a close-up better.
- Juliette Binoche, The Flight of the Red Balloon (55 votes)
- Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight (75 points): A no-brainer. Even had the release of Christopher Nolan’s Batman sequel not been preceded by Ledger’s untimely death, his turn as the anarchic Joker in Louise Brooks eyeshadow would have immortalized him among a generation of moviegoers and aspirant Method actors.
- Eddie Marsan, Happy-Go-Lucky (43 points)
- Josh Brolin, Milk (30 points)
- Pen√©lope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (42 points)
- Viola Davis, Doubt (35 points)
- Rosemary DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married (30 points): Although Anne Hathaway has commanded the lion’s share of press, it’s DeWitt’s less showboating performance as the titular betrothed that provides a welcome oasis of calm at the center of Jonathan Demme’s big, fat U.N. wedding party.
- Man on Wire (16 points): A nonfiction film with the heart of a Hollywood caper, James Marsh’s wildly entertaining docudrama revisited French provocateur Philippe Petit’s 1974 tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center and turned it into an eccentric valentine to imagination, risk taking, and creative self-expression.
- Waltz With Bashir (11 points)
- Trouble the Water (8 points)
Best First Feature
- Ballast (20 points)
- Frozen River (8 points): This year’s other Sundance-awarded drama about America’s working poor, Courtney Hunt’s old-school indie essayed a lived-in decrepitude and working-class gristle that proved a perfect fit for the hardscrabble character actress Melissa Leo in her first major leading role.
- Hunger (7 points)
- The Love Guru (5 points)
- Towelhead (3 points)
- Burn After Reading/Changeling/Doubt/Gran Torino/Rachel Getting Married/Step Brothers/Synecdoche, New York (2 points): Proof that one man’s classic is another’s hunk of junk, all seven films (including two by Clint Eastwood) tied for third place here were also named by voters in our “best film” category.
Best Undistributed Film
- The Headless Woman (15 points): After Che, the love-it-or-hate-it attraction of last year’s Cannes Film Festival was director Lucrecia Martel’s intentionally disorienting immersion into the unstable universe of a bourgeois Argentine woman reeling from a bump on the noggin. As usual, away from the Cannes hothouse, the film’s supporters quickly outnumbered its detractors.
- Tony Manero (11 points)
- Four Nights With Anna (10 points)