Every year there are films that somehow miss the moviegoer’s mark, receiving less exposure than a Cathy Bates sex tape. While there is good reason for us to avoid a sensual second helping of Misery with Bates, these films deserve better than to be relegated to second-hand status. The equivalent of the wallflower you knew in high school that blossomed into a college beauty, here are eleven films that flew under the radar in 2008.
It was surprising how little fanfare Transsiberian received after the buzz of Brad Anderson’s previous film, The Machinist. Maybe that’s because it doesn’t feature a deathly thin Christian Bale, but this train-ride thriller does bring the goods in suspense and paranoia. It also displays the talent of Ben Kingsley, Woody Harrelson (who has had some nice roles lately in films like No Country for Old Men) and Emily Mortimer, an actress that always finds a way to stand out in the films she chooses.
An upbeat story about a 30-year-old school teacher might not sound appealing, but go see this film and I promise you won’t be disappointed. Sally Hawkins delivers a breakout performance, living life to the fullest without coming across as annoying. In a world that is currently beat down by pessimism, Hawkins’ portrayal of Polly will make you smile in spite of yourself, and Happy-Go-Lucky has the optimism equivalency of Amelie in 2001.
Son of Rambow
A testament to the beauty in the ambition of amateur filmmaking, Son of Rambow drew critical acclaim. It never drew people to the theaters, however, and so it is worthy of making this list. Will Poulter and Bill Milner’s young on-screen friendship is only rivaled by Azharruddin Mohammed Ismail and Ayush Mahesh Khedekar in Slumdog Millionaire. Plus, the film finds a way to blast the negative aspects of religion while propping up First Blood for the bad ass film it is.
I’m a sucker for films that find fresh ways to tell stories, and The Signal falls into that category. The Signal is is a horror film written and directed in three different parts by David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry, offering a psychological study on society’s downfall in its dependence on technology. You won’t get to see the film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Cell for a while, and in all honesty you may be disappointed when you do. See The Signal instead.
Man on Wire
No, this wasn’t the alternate title for the interrogation scene in Slumdog Millionaire. This documentary tells the unbelievable story of Philippe Petit, who worked for seven years on a project that would shake the world, a high-wire walk 1,350 feet in the air between the Twin Towers in New York. James Marsh finds a way to turn this true story into one of the best heist stories in recent memory. Man on Wire reminds us both of the powerful symbol the Twin Towers once had, and the even more powerful statement a human being can make in individual artistic expression.
In Search of a Midnight Kiss
Appropriately placed on the list as we head towards New Year’s Day, Alex Holdridge wrote and directed this modern day romance that exposes the desperation and hope of a single late-20s male. Holdridge’s black and white cinematography helps hide the scratches many indie films are full of, and the film finds a way to offer insight into relationships today without dripping with Hollywood sap. Score one for the American independent filmmaker, as well as Austin, Texas native Holdridge.
If you’re like me, when you saw the trailer for In Bruges your initial reaction was, “Damn it. Not that blasted Colin Farrell again.” Lucky for me I decided to give the film and Farrell a shot, even though my Alexander-sense was tingling. What I received for my bold move was one the best films of 2008. The superb work of Brendan Gleeson is always a given, but Farrell breaks your heart as a remorseful hit man. But for some reason I didn’t hear anybody I knew talking about the fantastic directorial feature debut of Martin McDonagh. Now’s your chance. Get off your butt and go rent it.
I’ve Loved You So Long
This family drama may have done well in France, but I’ve yet to see indication that it is going to get the credit it deserves in the good old U.S. of A. Kristin Scott Thomas, who by now should be universally applauded as one of the finest actresses of her generation, gives an honest offering as Juliette Fontaine, a former prisoner thrown out into a world that has moved on without her, at the same time struggling to forgive herself for her past in order to live again.
My pick for the best horror film of 2008, this ghost story will leave you clenching your fists in anxiety. Anybody who remembers the scene with the nanny in the street knows exactly what I am talking about.There aren’t a ton of films where I find myself holding my breath during the viewing, but The Orphanage fits the bill. Juan Antonio Bayona’s directing and the vulnerability of Belen Rueda’s acting draws you in until the bittersweet end, and let’s be honest, kids wearing flour sack masks are just creepy.
When I saw The Cell in 2000, I was blown away by the colorful imagery, and I’m not talking about the sight of Jennifer Lopez in her panties. It wasn’t a flawless film by any means, but director Tarsem Singh’s colorful landscape helped an otherwise lacking film stand out. Singh returns to the world of fantasy and creates one of the most beautiful and surreal films of 2008. The chemistry between Lee Pace and newcomer Catinca Untaru is worth mentioning, and The Fall is a film worth watching multiple times, if only for respect of Singh’s ambitious film regimen. The Fall was filmed in 18 different countries. Maybe it should have been titled The Bitch of a Film to Make.
Yeah, this film got exposure at the Sundance Film Festival, but how was this not the Napoleon Dynamite of 2008? Steve Coogan and Catherine Keener chew up every scene they’re in, but even the Sexy Jesus Brigade at Comic-Con 2008 couldn’t get people pumped about this film. Maybe it was the conservative nature of Americans, who found a play featuring a “cool Jesus” to be a bit too much. Or maybe American moviegoers generally have shit for taste, as evidenced by the fact they went to see Passion of the Christ in 2004, or Hancock this year, and not this film. Memo to religious America: take the cross out of your ass and lighten up.
Honorable Mention: The Wackness
What films do you feel flew under the radar for 2008?