Films of the year: crackers and turkeys

 

Michael Dwyer and Donald Carke round up their best and worst films of 2008

MICHAEL DWYER

WHO WOULD have thought that a Coen brothers movie ( No Country for Old Men) would win the Oscar for best picture, that Ben Affleck would turn director with one of the year's riveting films ( Gone Baby Gone) and that Helen Hunt would direct one of the worst ( Then She Found Me), that Al Pacino would be reduced to slumming it in Righteous Killand 88 Minutes, or that skinny James McAvoy would play an action hero (in Wanted)?

It came as was no surprise that Daniel Day-Lewis gave the performance of the year in There Will Be Blood, or that Kristin Scott Thomas was the year's outstanding actress in I've Loved You So Long. The most versatile actor had to be Jérémie Renier in Summer Hours, Private Property, The Silence of Lornaand In Bruges.

Irish actor of the year was Michael Fassbender ( Hunger) and Eileen Walsh ( Eden) was the best Irish actress. The Irish director of the year was Lance Daly ( Kisses), and Juanita Wilson directed the finest Irish short film, The Door.

In a satisfying though hardly vintage year, the near misses for my top 10 favourites included The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Lars and the Real Girl, The Visitor, In Bruges, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Burn After Reading, Sweeney Todd, Mamma Mia!, My Brother is an Only Childand Juno. And there were such fine documentaries as Man on Wire, Of Time and the City, CSNY Déjà Vuand My Winnipeg.

For me, the most overrated movies were Ghost Town, Leatherheads, Mongol, The Wave, Still Lifeand The Banishment. And there were severe disappointments from directors Brian De Palma ( Redacted), Mike Newell ( Love in the Time of Cholera), Wong Kar-wai ( My Blueberry Nights), Fernando Meirelles ( Blindness), Walter Salles ( Linha de Passe), Noah Baumbach ( Margot at the Wedding) and David Mamet ( Redbelt).

Much happier memories were made covering the very lively Oscar week in Los Angeles in February, conducting a wide-ranging public interview with Robert Redford at Trinity College Dublin in the summer, and the feast that was the Toronto festival in September, when I saw quite a few contenders for the top 10 Irish cinema releases of 2009.

10 BEST

1. THERE WILL BE BLOOD

2. CHANGELING

3. HUNGER

4. GONE BABY GONE

5. THE DARK KNIGHT

6. THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY

7. GOMORRAH

8. 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS & 2 DAYS

9. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

10. PERSEPOLIS and WALL-E

10 WORST

1. THE LOVE GURU

2. THE HAPPENING

3. 10,000 BC

4. UNTRACEABLE

5. MEET THE SPARTANS

6. THEN SHE FOUND ME

7. DOOMSDAY

8. THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM

9. HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS & ALIENATE PEOPLE

10. 88 MINUTES

DONALD CLARKE

10 BEST

1.THERE WILL BE BLOOD

Everything about Paul Thomas Anderson's epic teeters on the edge of the ridiculous - Day-Lewis's enormous performance, Jonny Greenwood's expressionistic score, the melodramatic finale - but that proximity to disaster only makes the film seem more thrilling.

2.HUNGER.

Leave aside (if such a thing is possible) the politics and Steve McQueen's examination of Bobby Sands's final days still deserves note as one of those rare films that bores itself directly into the subconscious. Utterly original.

3.WALL-E

One of the great silent films. One of the great science-fiction films. One of the great romances. Oh, and one of the great animated films to boot. Pixar somehow finds new heights to scale.

4.YOU, THE LIVING

Like Hunger, Roy Andersson's surreal, deliciously mordant Swedish comedy suggests that there might still be unexplored possibilities for cinema.

5.NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Few film-makers since Ingmar Bergman have dared to end a picture with this degree of mournful staring into middle distance. Mind you, the Coens' contemporary classic also features gunfights and one of cinema's greatest villains. So that's all right then.

6.4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS Cristian Mungiu's hypnotically grim slice of sadistic realism helped alert the world's critics to the cinematic renaissance brewing in Romania.

7.MAN ON WIRE

It would take a buffoon to make a dull documentary out of Philipe Petit's 1974 wire-walk between the World Trade Center. As it happens, James Marsh turns out a small masterpiece.

8.OF TIME AND THE CITY

Is Terence Davies's 72-minute reminiscence of Liverpool really a proper feature film? Who cares? The English master's seductive tone-poem rewrites rules we never knew existed.

9.THE ORPHANAGE

Juan Antonio Bayona's ghost story demonstrates that you can follow genre conventions and still deliver surprises. A worthy companion for spooky-child classics such as The Innocents and The Shining.

10.SHOTGUN STORIES

Terrifically atmospheric slice of latter-day Faulkneria that announces Jeff Nichols as a director to watch and confirms Michael Shannon as an actor of jaw-dropping charisma.

FIVE WORST

1.SEX AND THE CITY

Okay, there may technically speaking have been more terrible films released this year. But this witless, materialistic, reactionary garbage really makes the blood boil.

2.PUFFBALL

The great Nicolas Roeg returns and we really wished he hadn't. A grim fiasco.

3.88 MINUTES

It just might be Al Pacino's worst ever film. No really.

4.THE ACCIDENTAL HUSBAND

It's an Uma Thurman romantic comedy. Do you need to hear more?

5.ARCTIC TALE

A wildlife documentary that is so direly sentimental it almost causes you to welcome global warming.