IT ALWAYS COMES down to this: Movies you must experience versus movies that threaten to diminish you. That’s the point of making a Better-Than List rather than pretending that the typical over-hyped product constitutes a consensus of worthwhile movies. Most of these high-profile films insult one’s intelligence, while the year’s best movies vanish from the marketplace for lack of critical support. This tragedy is exemplified by the scary acclaim for the year’s worst: The atrocious Slumdog Millionaire and Pixar’s hideous Wall-E, the buzz-kill movie of all time. Trust no critic who endorses them.
Happy Go Lucky BETTER THAN 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days Mike Leigh devises a thoroughly humane heroine (Sally Hawkins) whose anti-capitalist faith (deeper than bourgeois “feminism”) upbraids the pity-party of two abortionhorny Romanian co-eds.
The Witnesses, Jump the Broom BETTER THAN Milk Andre Téchiné’s AIDS history joined Ian-Patrik Polk’s gay-marriage rom-com to show how sexual politics enhance our lives. These films rendered silly the hindsight celebration of an ambitious pol—and the Prop. 8 protests that misread Gus Van Sant’s opportunism.
Rachel Getting Married BETTER THAN Frozen River Jonathan Demme rehearses multi-culti heaven rather than condescend to hard-luck working-class women.
Transporter 3 BETTER THAN The Dark Knight Olivier Megaton, Jason Statham and Luc Besson reinvent the action movie as kinetic art, but impressionable teenagers mistook Chris Nolan’s nihilistic graphic novel for kool fun.
CJ7 BETTER THAN Wall-E Stephen Chow endowed a poor kid’s action figure with numinous potential (a tribute to the still-extraordinary E.T.), while Pixar twisted its standard formula into ugly, end-ofhistory cynicism.
Shotgun Stories BETTER THAN The Wrestler Jeff Nichols’ moving Red State family feud tragedy was ignored by Blue State critics who prefer white-trash WWF stereotypes to encourage their sense of class superiority.
My Blueberry Nights BETTER THAN The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Wong Kar Wai’s visionary romanticism explores existential loneliness, but David Fincher merely remade Titanic as Forrest Gump—an endless, two-hankie Kubrick movie for fanboys.
RocknRolla BETTER THAN Slumdog Millionaire Guy Ritchie comes into his manhood with this rich, Dickensian gangster comedy, while Danny Boyle gives colonialist Britain the last laugh in his epic Indian game-show travesty—a defilement of what Dickens revealed about character and society, humor and pathos.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull BETTER THAN Iron Man Steven Spielberg’s par excellence genre expertise wrung fresh amazement out of the Indy Jones franchise; it exposed Iron Man’s dung-like banality.
Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot BETTER THAN Man on Wire Adam Yauch brings fresh imagination to this Rucker Park bball documentary, extolling youth, class and American splendor; the other commemorates an egotistical stunt.
Twilight BETTER THAN Let the Right One In Catherine Hardwicke finds her métier in an outsiders’ romance disguised as a vampire movie; she turns Stephenie Meyer’s book series into a Brontë-esque vision, especially compared to the dismal Scandinavian J-horror rip-off.
Cadillac Records BETTER THAN Synecdoche, New York Darnell Martin treats Black American history as R&B and her sizzling cast (Jeffrey Wright, Beyoncé, Eamonn Walker, Columbus Short, Mos Def, Cedric the Entertainer) salutes pop music legends. Charlie Kaufman’s Actors Studio cast merely imitated Fellini’s 8 1/2 like amateurs.
Chaos Theory BETTER THAN Flight of the Red Balloon Marcos Siega, screenwriter Daniel Taplitz and Ryan Reynolds found beauty in American sex farce, but Hou Hsiao Hsien shortchanged Gallic romanticism into high-brow desolation.
My Winnipeg BETTER THAN Paranoid Park Guy Maddin reinvented his sexual autobiography as a funny, touching sociological history, outclassing Gus Van Sant’s morbid celebration of Northwestern pedophilia.
The Romance of Astrea and Celadon BETTER THAN A Christmas Tale Eric Rohmer, a forgotten master, revives classical lit for an exquisite satire of modern sexual mores (where did he find such beautiful human icons?). But it was Desplechin’s sac c har i ne French-family sob story that got the national release.
Battle for Haditha BETTER THAN Frost/Nixon Nick Broomfield’s inspired treatment of the Iraq War shamed Ron Howard’s revenge-drama, the latest yawn of liberal self selfrighteousness.