The Year in Superlatives
Best Script: Reprise
Who knew the next-best Charlie Kaufman would actually be two guys from Norway? Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt’s screenplay for Reprise begins with a pair of dizzying flash-forwards, then zigs and zags with the brash, spiraling energy of the two young writers it follows. As a whole, the script is a show-off showcase of postmodern tricks, mirroring its literary protagonists, but each individual line rings true.
Best Cinematography, Score, and Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
Slumdog’s cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle, worked with one-twelfth the budget of The Dark Knight and still managed to capture the frantic, violent, hurly-burly pulse and rhythm of Mumbai, while embracing the digital, polyglot future. Superstar Indian composer A. R. Rahman provided the propulsive backbeat, mixing his own symphonic sound with the pounding global pop of collaborators like M.I.A. And editor Chris Dickens stitched it all together, producing director Danny Boyle’s shamelessly flashy and gimmicky, sometimes contrived, impossibly romantic, and utterly irresistible vision.
Best Movie You Didn’t See: Ghost Town
Precisely the sort of smart, emotional, well-acted comedy for grown-ups that we’ve been begging Hollywood for. Needless to say, it finished eighth at the box office its opening weekend.
Best Performance By an Actor: Kate Winslet
Early in her career, Winslet gave the impression of being a frail, neurasthenic thing. No more. In her husband Sam Mendes’s film of Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road, she portrays a suburban mother desperately afraid of losing her openness, her self, and the performance is by turns frighteningly vulnerable and rock-hard: She rages against the dying of her inner light. Her battles with her husband (Leonardo DiCaprio) are so intense, so visceral, that you know there can be no survivors. That she turned around and delivered an entirely different heart-rending performance in The Reader (above) makes her this year’s most astounding chameleon.
Best Hope for the Muppets: Jason Segel
His puppet musical of Dracula in Forgetting Sarah Marshall was extravagant, funny, and a slightly more coherent work of art than the movie in which it appeared (written by and starring Segel). Since Disney has handed him the keys to the next Muppets film, we feel, for the first time, reassured about the future of Miss Piggy et al.
Best Use of a New York City Location: Chop Shop
On a square-foot basis, more legendary movies have been made in New York than any other city, so it often feels like every square inch has been filmed. But Ramin Bahrani’s Chop Shop was totally new—a kinetic, breathing portrait of the honking mayhem of Willets Point, Queens, on the eve of nearby Shea Stadium’s replacement.
Best Blessedly Apatow-Free Comedy: The Foot Fist Way
This year’s barrage of overly hyped bro comedies from Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen reminded us that the best laugh is the one you don’t see coming—a quality nailed in Jody Hill’s redneck Tae Kwon Do flick. Presiding over a strip-mall dojo, Danny McBride’s Ricky Gervais–meets–Barney Fife lug-head was an underdog knockout.
Best Mess: Synecdoche, New York
First-time director Charlie Kaufman’s execution was deeply screwed up, but there’s something about the whole that feels authentic. Add to that a trio of kick-ass female performances (Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, and Catherine Keener) and you have one memorably disturbed film.
Best Montage: The Brothers Bloom
Roughly three minutes of the goofily endearing Rachel Weisz break dancing, D.J. ing, painting, skateboarding, and juggling chainsaws (among many other things) in Rian Johnson’s comedy caper.
Best Moment You Knew Was Coming: Philippe Petit Walking the Wire Between the Twin Towers in Man On Wire