2008 BEST 10 FILMS

Edan Corkill

Kenichi Eguchi

Teruki Uehara

Best 10 Films Released in Japan in 2008
Edan Corkill
  1. Aleksandra / Aleksandr Sokurov
  2. Magic Hour / Koki Mitani
  3. Dark Knight / Christopher Nolan
  4. Tropic Thunder / Ben Stiller
  5. Charlie Wilson's War / Mike Nichols
  6. Vantage Point / Pete Travis
  7. American Gangster / Ridley Scott
  8. Sleuth / Kenneth Branagh
  9. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford / Andrew Dominik
  10. Hancock / Peter Berg
I don't think the crop of films released in 2008 in Japan was particularly good. I was disappointed with the films that were prominent in the 2008 Oscars, such as "No Country for Old Men." I couldn't help comparing it with Fargo, and I didn't think Tommy Lee Jones' policeman was nearly as engaging as Frances McDormand's in the earlier film. The music in "There Will be Blood" was astounding, but the rest wasn't. The industrialist-versus-evangelist dynamic was certainly worthy fodder for a film, but the script didn't nearly capture it convincingly, and the bloody finale seemed labored to me.

Two of the films I enjoyed the most in 2008 - Koki Mitani's The Magic Hour and Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder - were very similar. Both were about people in dangerous situations made bold by the mistaken belief that they are acting in a film. Mitani's was two hours of exquisitely constructed entertainment. It had not a superfluous moment - all the gags and pathos were strictly marshaled in furtherance of the story. I think he's Japan's best-kept secret since Yasujiro Ozu. One day he and his stunning oeuvre will be "discovered" overseas.

My number one, Aleksandra, was such a different kind of film to everything else I saw during the year that it seems unfair to include it in the same ranking. It and The Magic Hour may well be the only films on the list that I will bother to watch again. See my review of Aleksnadra for more on that one.

The other films in my top ten are there because they had elements, or moments, of originality that I enjoyed. I saw Dark Knight on a plane and, even in that distracting environment, found myself genuinely scared by the Joker and his apparently unlimited capacity for unleashing Armageddon on Gotham City. Mike Nichols' Charlie Wilson's War was novel for showing the usual spy/war game from a politician's perspective. Pete Travis' Vantage Point was extraordinary for its pace - like sitting through an hour and a half of MTV. But what I liked most about it was that it was just an hour and a half, and the story revolved around a single assassination and a single chase sequence. So many filmmakers these days seem to think they have to include three or four stop-start chase sequences. If I wanted to ride on a roller coaster I'd go to an amusement park, not a cinema.

Kenneth Branagh's Sleuth was as fiendishly clever as you would expect when the screenplay is by the late Harold Pinter. It was a joy to see the young pretender Jude Law and old-timer Michael Caine getting their teeth into a good script, and each other. I liked that it too was just one and a half hours.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is in the list for its director, Andrew Dominic's admirable, though ultimately failed, attempt to capture the mood of Terrence Malick's masterpiece, The Thin Red Line. Hands swept over fields of corn or wheat or whatever it was, mumbled conversations pieced together, and an oddly detached voiceover were the pointers, but the conflict between James (Brad Pitt) and Ford (Casey Affleck) was not nearly engaging enough to hold it for three hours and ten minutes.

Peter Berg's Hancock was better than Iron Man, but both made welcome attempts to redefine the superhero genre, and both benefited from engaging leads. Will Smith's turn as Hancock gave him more to work with than Robert Downey Jr.'s as Iron Man. Smith nailed the loser bit, nailed the hero bit, nailed the heart-broken lover bit and, most importantly, nailed all the transitions in between.
10 Films Released in 2008
Kenichi Eguchi
Milk / Gus Van Sant
Colossal Youth / Pedro Costa
Eastern Promises / David Cronenberg
Breath / Ki-duk Kim
Juno / Jason Reitman
Brødre / Susanne Bier
Tôkyô sonata / Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Mister Lonely / Harmony Korine
Elegy / Isabel Coixet
No Country For Old Man / Coen Brothers
Best 10 Films Released in Japan in 2008
Teruki Uehara
1.  Colossal Youth / Pedro Costa
2.  No Country For Old Man / Coen Brothers
3.  The Darjeeling Limited / Wes Anderson
4.  Eastern Promises / David Cronenberg
5.  There Will Be Blood / Paul Thomas Anderson
6.  Aleksandra / Aleksandr Sokurov
7.  Exiled / Johnnie To
8.  Love Songs / Christophe Honoré
9.  Anges Exterminateurs, Les / Jean-Claude Brisseau
10.  The Happening / M. Night Shyamalan