The Third Way Film Awards

Our Media Matters reviewers weigh in with their favorite films of last year, knowing that these are not necessarily Oscar contenders—which is in keeping with the purposes of Third Way Café anyway: to offer a little different voice and view.Here, without editing, are our reviewers’ picks, with top film first (unless otherwise noted). The reviewers are listed in order of the week they usually review each month. Altogether 23 different films are listed which makes a fine “recommended” list for your Netflix or other queue! Also, please check out the “Media Poll” and vote for your favorite movie.

“Jerry’s Awards” – Jerry Holsopple

1. The documentary everyone should see – Inheritance.  Imagine if your father was the real man behind the evil Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List. As you learn your personal family history, imagine that you meet with Helen, the Jewish servant in Amon’s house (also portrayed in Schindler’s List). You don’t have to imagine, you can see this heart-wrenching story on DVD. This is reality, not American Idol.

2. The movie that I remember the most scenes in my head – The Secret Life of Bees.    I keep seeing the wall in the backyard with the litany of the pains of the world and wonder how many of us need a place to cry.  The Mary in the living room of course keeps popping into my dreams as well.

3. The movie we really want to know what happened so we can feel justified with our response, not to mention superb acting – Doubt.  Did he do it or not?  Does it matter?  Why don’t we scream at the father beating his son as much as we are afraid of what is happening in the home of the Priest?   I could keep going.

4. The movie I still hope to see award – Slumdog Millionaire.  After reading the reviews and seeing the previews this is a film I definitely want to see soon.

Tom Price

1. Slumdog Millionaire – Director Danny Boyle’s film Millions was my favorite film of 2005. This year he again tops my list with an inspirational and engaging film that takes us through a narrative puzzle when a contestant from the Mumbai slums is arrested on allegations of cheating on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” A brilliant window into India’s entrenched poverty and new economic growth.

2. The Reader – Responsibility and shame are bound up in the actions of two generations when a young German discovers his first romantic relationship was with a Nazi war criminal. Then, he must choose whether he will reveal a secret that could save her.

3. In Bruges – A powerfully witty and poignant dark comedy in which two Irish mobsters are exiled to tourist purgatory in this Belgian city, “the Venice of the North,” after a botched hit job.

4. Gran Torino – Clint Eastwood plays a retired auto worker and Korean War veteran whose bitter life is redeemed in a surprising relationship with a Hmong family in inner-city Detroit.

5. The Dark Knight – Political and social issues confronting our contemporary society burst forth from the pages of comic books in this newest Batman installment that defines self sacrifice as the fine line between being a hero and a vigilante.

Michelle Davis Sinclair

1. Slumdog Millionaire – Pulsing underdog story that opens viewers’ eyes to India in all its history, trouble, and beauty while ultimately, lifting their hearts.

2. The Dark Knight – In IMAX, the cityscapes of Gotham and the pathos in the Joker’s eyes make for a stunning movie experience.

3. Wall-E – A grown-up’s movie that kids will enjoy, Wall-E both warns against consumer excess and highlights the treasure of human relationships.

4. Tropic Thunder – Hilarious, irreverent take on Hollywood and the different breeds of actors who keep it moving.

5. Bolt – This cleverly written, accurately animated coming-of-dog story will appeal to animal lovers of all ages.

Gordon Houser

1. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a Romanian film about a woman who helps her roommate secure an abortion in Ceausescu’s Romania when such procedures were illegal yet common and often fatal. Brilliantly filmed and committed to realism, it avoids abortion as an issue but presents it as one element in the lives of its characters. This is a haunting, multilayered film.

2. The Visitor traces the journey of a lost widower, an economics professor who discovers an immigrant couple living in his New York apartment and lets them stay. He finds new life, joy and love through music and his encounters with his new friends. Well-acted, the film includes surprising turns and poetic scenes.

3. Happy-Go-Lucky presents one of the most endearing and unique characters in cinema. Poppy is an irrepressibly free-spirited schoolteacher who faces every situation with laughter and optimism. While she is tested, her hopefulness endures. She is an unholy Christ figure who confronts our own dour lives.

4. The Edge of Heaven follows the lives of characters in Germany and Turkey who search for one another but fail to connect. We viewers know what they do not yet experience their anguish and the depth of their disconnection.

5. Wall-E is a daring film that embraces contradictions: apocalyptic and sentimental, familiar and groundbreaking. The first half hour is a masterpiece of filmmaking, with no dialogue. And while it delves into didacticism in places, it remains a riveting story.

Vic Thiessen

5. Happy-Go-Lucky – Mike Leigh does it again with this wonderful life-affirming film which provides us with an inspiring role model who makes us ask how our attitudes and actions affect the lives of those around us.
4. Doubt – With brilliant performances, magnificent scenes and the most intelligent thought-provoking screenplay of the year, this film by John Patrick Shanley probes deeply into questions about doubt, progress and human nature.
3. The Visitor – Profoundly moving without being sentimental, this incredibly subtle film by Tom McCarthy is the most humanising film of the year, and it looks gorgeous.
2. The Edge of Heaven – Fatih Akin’s film about people learning to see things differently by encountering those “on the other side” (the original German title) features marvellous natural performances and beautiful cinematography.
1. U23D – This passionate plea for the world’s religions to lead the way in making the world a more just and peaceful place is the most inspiring and hopeful film of the year and, just for good measure, it throws in some of the best rock songs ever written. Arguably the best concert, and concert film, of all time.

Matthew Kauffman Smith

Disclaimer: Due to my schedule, I catch most movies on DVD, so I’m pretty confident I haven’t seen the best movies of 2008 yet. But these are the top 5 movies of 2008 that are already out on DVD, with one exception.

5. The Dark Knight – The Dark Knight didn’t follow the usual hero formula of infallible good guy overcomes evil. Instead, Christian Bale’s portrayal of Batman reveals a conflicted and flawed hero that is for more interesting than previous offerings of Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney. Heath Ledger’s Joker is far more nuanced and human than Jack Nicholson’s cartoon-ish role in the late 80s and would have been applauded even if Ledger hadn’t had died this year.

4. Young @ Heart – Documentary filmmaker Stephen Walker’s up-close look of a choir of 70- and 80-somethings that perform contemporary rock songs wins the heart-tugger of the year award. Sometimes Walker gets too cute, evidenced by some music videos of the group that occasionally seem to poke fun at the elderly in a “look, aren’t they precious?” way. But when Walker just sticks with the story, we get real emotion. The scene where one choir member sings a Coldplay song as a tribute to his recently deceased choir buddy is the most authentically beautiful scene I witnessed this year.

3. Wall-E – Without the Pixar name attached to Wall-E, think about this pitch to executives: “Um, yeah, we want to make a movie with no real dialogue for the first 45 minutes featuring two robots who are more compassionate than humans and we want the underlying message to be that human over-consumerism is destroying the earth.” Thanks to Pixar’s box office clout, the animation giant got away with it and still brought Disney a box office winner. The real winner is moviegoers: with smart blockbusters like Wall-E and The Dark Knight nabbing huge wads of cash, Hollywood is getting the message that “smart up” is the new “dumb down.”

2. Milk – The exception to this DVD list. Director Gus Van Sant presents the life of Harvey Milk as a story of the triumph of community instead of a biopic of a politician and the result is a compelling story of an underdog who rose to power. And after thinking for 30 minutes, I can’t come up with any working actor today who is better than Sean Penn.

1. Man On Wire – In August of 1974, Philippe Petit recruited a ragamuffin crew to help him achieve his ultimate feat: a tightrope walk between the newly constructed World Trade Center towers. This documentary follows the romance between Philippe and his passion of tightrope walking, as well as a romance with his girlfriend and his uncanny ability to convince people that he will not fail. What really makes the story extraordinary is the fact that this story will never be repeated – and not solely because the towers were destroyed. With beefed-up security these days, Petit’s team would have never succeeded. Plus, in today’s media age, Fox would try to hire Philippe to do a hyped-up, David Blaine-esque TV special on Fox instead of what the original showed: an authentic cooperation from a community of free spirits.

Kevin Hamilton

(Fudged a little – with twin infants I rarely made it out to the theater in 2008, so I missed most of the films I wanted to see. In no order.)

Let the Right One In – This Swedish vampire film had me thinking for days about how and why we perceive some relationships as predatory or unequal, and others as reciprocal. It’s a quietly violent and grim film that’s not for everyone. So many of today’s action films make vengeance an unquestioned narrative engine –  this contemporary fairy tale reveals how the desire for vengeance quietly romances, and eventually enslaves.

Times and Winds – This 2006 film from Turkey just found its way to arthouse theaters and DVD rental in 2008. Set among the rhythms of everyday life in a small Turkish village, it’s a revelation about how the moral education of children is shaped by the spaces and seasons through which they move. Slow, contemplative, and rich for all the senses.

U23D. – I missed plenty of movies this year that I wanted to see more, but this U2 concert flick sure stuck with me. In addition to bringing some life to an act I’d lost interest in of late, U23D provided a provocative glimpse into how the suburban cineplex might evolve as an event location. The use of 3D-vision in this film was more than a gimmick – it provided a new depth-of-field experience that revealed how different the camera and the eye can be.

Missile. – Documentarian Frederick Wiseman released this 1986 documentary on DVD via his website this year. Originally broadcast on PBS, it’s a shockingly transparent view into the training process for young operators of the Air Force’s ICBM missile arsenal. We witness those who truly had their fingers on the button through the Cold War, breezing through the moral questions of nuclear deterrence to simply accept their jobs. They stand in for many.

Killer of Sheep. – Another very old film, released on DVD in late 2007, and down my Netflix chute in early 2008. One of the best films I’ve seen in ages. Each edit is inextricably bound to the social ties, loose and strong, among a contingent and poor urban community in the Watts area of Los Angeles. Like so many others this year, I watched this 1970’s film and wondered why I had never heard of it.