It’s that time of the year when film critics choose their ten best. Here are a few of their lists. Click on them to see the full content.
Breaking the top 10 tradition, Roger Ebert has chosen 20 for 2008, because in his opinion, there are just too many good films this year.
A. O. Scott of the New York Times tends to agree, but still managed to pick his top 10 among the 650 films he has seen this year… incredible.
His colleague Manohla Dargis has also done the year-end cut from the hundreds she has seen. Here’s her take on the ten best. And while you’re there, click on the podcast where she and Scott discuss this year’s movies.
And finally, a Canadian perspective, represented by Johanna Schneller of the Globe and Mail. I like how she puts it: the 10 films “that I feel richer for having seen.”
What draws me to these lists is not so much about which movies get picked as the 10 best, but WHY they are selected, and HOW critics come around to that final decision after, I must suppose is a long, struggling process. Imagine having had to pick 10 out of 650!
Comparing these lists, there are of course titles that are common among them, but not too many. A few getting up on three of these lists but not all, like Rachel Getting Married, Milk, and Wendy and Lucy. Only one film gets the nod from all of them and that’s Happy-Go-Lucky. But for the rest, it seems like each critic has his or her own personal criteria when it comes to choosing what makes a good movie. And I’m glad to see it this way.
Of course, there are theories, on film, aesthetics, and criticism, and then there are acting methods and execution criteria in camera works, lighting, sound, cinematography, editing, screenplay… it all boils down to one whole package, the final production. And then there is also the receptive end of the movie, the viewer, and in this case, the critic, each bringing his or her own experience, sense of self, personal values and point of view. And I’m relieved to see each critic pick what he or she feels is most affective and meaningful to him or her as an individual.
I’ve particularly enjoyed reading A. O. Scott’s year-end article in the New York Times entitled “In The Face of Loss, Celebrating Ties that Bind“. Although not intended to answer the question: “What makes a good movie?” Scott has inadvertently expressed his criteria. When discussing a few movies that he thinks are well done, namely Doubt, The Reader, Revolutionary Road, and Frost/Nixon, he comments that they :
are impeccably acted, exquisitely production-designed excursions into the recent past. And each one is a hermetically sealed melodrama of received thinking, feverishly advancing a set of themes that are the very opposite of provocative.
So, one criterion is originality, and not cliché treatment of subject or idea.
In the midst of our unsettling and troubled time, films could be manifestations of a collective predicament, and expressions of our hidden longings. I’ve particularly appreciated Scott’s comment at the end of his article:
And while I am suspicious of easy affirmation or forced happy endings, I am nonetheless grateful for movies that, in spite of everything, investigate the possibility of hope.
Another criterion: good films are flowing conduit of hope. I cannot agree with him more. If you listen to the podcast on his webpage, you will hear him reiterate this point.
And on this note I end my post of 2008. To all my readers, visitors, and fellow bloggers, may 2009 be a year of hopes abound and dreams fulfilled!
Happy New Year to All!