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The Best of 2008 — The Honorable Mentions

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1) Redbelt

2) Elegy

3) In Bruges

4) Wendy and Lucy

Honorable Mention: 'Redbelt'

Redbelt | by playwright-director David Mamet is a dynamic character study of those with integrity and without it in the world of talent. Mamet who is famous for his rhythmic dialogue and in-your-face performances from his actors creates one of his most philosophically absorbing films since Heist (2001) where this time he analyzes the disciplines of a martial arts instructor. Chiwetel Ejiofor portrays jujitsu master, Mike Terry, with startling power and charisma. He has a lot of lessons to give, but everyone may not be listening. Among his students is a restless Emily Mortimer playing a terrified lawyer who gradually learns to trust Terry, a vulnerable Tim Allen playing an abused movie star, and Max Martini playing a concerned cop with a lot of weight on his shoulders. Terry even has an innovative idea for teaching his studies, but a number of events lead his ideas and concepts into the hands of greedy producers, shady fight promoters, and even slippery magicians. For a man who is not willing to fight for money, Terry will have to find some reason within himself to fight for his ideas and to regain his honor in the midst of suspicious mishaps. Robert Elswit's beautiful, glossy cinematography aids Mamet's intense tale of deception and deceit. Mamet alumni Ricky Jay co-stars along with Joe Mantegna and a great Alice Braga from 2002's City of God.

Honorable Mention: 'Elegy'

Elegy | A romantic comedy and drama, most notable for its incredibly intelligent screenplay adaptation by Nicholas Meyer (the talented writer of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and director of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country), should be watched for its striking visual design created by its female director, Isabel Coixet. Ben Kingsley gives one of his best performances and stars in one of his best films since Sexy Beast (2000) playing a university professor who may look like he knows what he is doing on the outside, but is very unsure of really anything (in spite of his great intelligence and apparent wisdom) on the inside. Kingsley's character of David Kepesh in his later years feels it is a forgone conclusion that long lasting relationships don't work and that nothing will change his hypothesis. That is, till he meets enchanting student Consuela Castillo, played by Penelope Cruz in one of her best performances I've seen. The film is primarily about the difference between lust and love. Kepesh thinks he can quench his thirst for lust until realizing that he can not stop feeling a certain way around Consuela, and when she is not there, he feels an opposite feeling. Still think emotions can be intellectually filed away? Dennis Hopper makes an interesting appearance as a muse-like advisor who, though over-the-top at times (which may be the point since you start to doubt what Kepesh is actually seeing and what's his imagination), like the film makes you think.

Honorable Mention: 'In Bruges'

In Bruges | is one of those films that comes along every once in a while and delights us with its complete whimsicality and silliness while still maintaining a really classy form of artistry. Films that come to mind like 1964's Dr. Strangelove, 1977's Annie Hall, and 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit all have this type of FOCUSED randomness that In Bruges seems to replicate. These films all have rather bleak themes while still playing a lot with the audience and seem to have characters that possibly realize they have an audience or higher power watching them. A ridiculously hyper Colin Farrell and an inconceivably complacent Brendan Gleeson play two assassins running from a hit gone wrong who are then ordered to stay in Bruges, Belgium by their tightly wound-up boss played feverishly by Ralph Fiennes. While there though, boredom and other more pressing issues start to get to Farrell's mind causing well-placed distractions and eventual chaos to ensue. The setting is filled with constant visual allegories to Hieronymous Bosch's paintings and several metaphors to Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy (specifically his writings on Purgatory). Dante did not intend for Divine Comedy to be necessarily funny, but in director Martin McDonagh's feature film debut the context can be. Along the way, Farrell bumps into the beautiful who has a couple surprises of her own as well as Jordan Prentice who seems to play a grand role in all its oddities; some obvious, some not. Set to a mostly sedate, then at times, shocking score, the film is great fun.

Honorable Mention: 'Wendy and Lucy'

Wendy and Lucy | There hasn't been a film in the last 10 years or so that probably feels as authentically 'old school' in its filmmaking style as this one. When I say that, I'm referring to a time when modern computer technology didn't seem to play a huge part in the filmmaking style, its storyline, or its technical achievements. This very low-budget, independent film, starring a fabulously simple Michelle Williams of Brokeback Mountain (2005) fame and a memorable little appearance by Will Patton of Dillinger (1991) fame, recalls the days of filmmaking from the late 1960's to early 1980's. That is a long period of time, but I believe my statement makes sense when one experiences the film. The music sounds like a cross between Simon & Garfunkel and early John Carpenter synthesized scores. The lighting is very limited and is obviously made up of whatever lights were nearby during the night; say for probably an occasional stage light. Lastly, the film follows the journeys of a young woman who is simply wandering through town, and life, with very few personal items. Even though films about drifters of said period like Easy Rider (1968), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), Breezy (1973), and even The Fog (1980) are little more elaborate than Wendy and Lucy, the film still significantly makes you think a far simpler time. Plus, the film's overall plot requires a simple perception of life to understand the basic, but heavy grievances of its female lead. It may be slow for some people, but Williams' performance is of the classic kind. She never lets anything interfere with survival.