Each of the Notebook's writers were given the opportunity to submit two lists of their ten favorite films of 2008. One is restricted to films receiving at least a week's theatrical run in the U.S., a limitation regretfully imposed only so that we may arrive at a final tally of the Notebook's overall favorites released this year. The second list is optional, and opens up the field to anything seen in 2008, new or old, festival or regular release. Each writer is also given space for words of explaination, rant, annotation, or anything else that occurs to them about their film viewing in 2008.
Thank God for rules, and strict adherence to them. Wihout them, I wouldn't have been able to include at least three films on my 2008 top ten, and given what a largely uninspiring year 2008, my list would have been drier without them. My rule was that the film had to have a theatrical run of more than a day somewhere in the United States in order to qualify. This kept two films that many people put on their 2007 lists off of mine...and enabled me to include one film that didn't get too far from New York, but did at least play the required time there.
1) Ne Touchez pas la hache [U.S. release title: The Duchess of Langaise] (Rivette): Wit, irony (actual irony, not the weak tea of snark that so often passes for it these days), romantic obsession, tragedy—all at a level of intelligence and refinement rare in any art form today, not just film. And, in the just-film department: mise-en-scene like nobody's business. And gravely beautiful performances.
2) Une Vielle Maitresse [U.S. release title: The Last Mistress] (Breillat): Wit, irony, romantic obsession, mise-en-scene, enthusiastic blood-drinking.
3) Razzle Dazzle/The Lost World (Jacobs): When he says "world," he's not kidding—Jacobs' dissection and examination of a minute's worth of hundrer-and-five-year-old Edison footage is both a backward-looking and prophetic work of wizardry.
4) Romance of Astree and Celadon (Rohmer): Rohmer's final film has a simplicity that convinced its unwise detractors that it was merely simple. It is, rather, enchanting, droll, utterly sincere. A late masterwork perhaps on a par with Dreyer's Gertrud.
5) Synecdoche, New York (Kaufman): As multi-layered in its way as the Desplechin film below, Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut is a mordantly funny howl that deplores solipsism while trying and failing to find truly viable alternatives to it.
6) A Christmas Tale (Desplechin): Exhilarating complexity. The work of a filmmaker in love with the freedom he allows himself.
7) Flight of fhe Red Balloon (Hsiao-hsien): More simplicity. I never thought I'd see a variant on, or homage to, the legendary children's film that wasn't cloying. This isn't cloying—it's smart, soulful, beautiful.
8) Gran Torino (Eastwood): More simplicity.
9) The Wrestler (Aronofsky): Deceptive simplicity.
10) Che (Soderbergh): Epic moviemaking without bloat. The excitement is in the precision.