By twhalliii | THE BACK ROW MANIFESTO by Tom Hall December 18, 2008 at 2:52AM
Earlier this month, I was honored to receive an e-mail from indieWIRE Editor-In Chief Eugene Hernandez, inviting me to cast an official ballot in the 2008 indieWIRE Critics Poll. I hadn't really begun thinking about "the year that was" yet; Maybe I'm just waiting for the Obama inauguration and a sense of real closure, but I will remember 2008 as one of the most important, wonderful years of my personal life (first year of marriage, my son's birth), one of the most trying on a professional level (management changes at work, the horrifying economic deline, the tectonic shifts in the film industry, etc.), and one of the most nerve-wracking political seasons in my lifetime, which is really more a gauge of my own identity; Where do I fit in this society? All of these issues are woven together for me in my memory of the year, of how I watched movies and struggled to keep my mind on the screen.
As far as film is concerned, there were only three things that kept me going and highly motivated in 2008; My friends and colleagues in the film world, who truly define the word "community", the chance to write about my passion for the movies on this blog (the contents of which have waxed and waned in rhythm with my own thoughts of throwing in the towel and my desperation to fight for what I care about), and a few of the movies themselves, which have given me hours worth of escape, pleasure and the chance to find my feelings in a way that only the movies can.
The ballot I cast in the IndieWIRE Critics Poll is really just a personal snapshot of a much longer relationship with many of these films; It is not a look at my year at the movies (I will post that soon), which would have to include films that were not yet released theatrically (many of which remain the best of what I saw this year) and would not include some of the films on this list, which I saw in previous years but were only released in this country in 2008. I also found myself, for whatever reason, using the single slot for Best Documentary Film to voice my appreciation for Man On Wire instead of including it in my Top 10 and opening up the list to non-fiction films. In retrospect, I don't know why I was guilty of mindless segregation like that and I can only say that I hope my participation on the selection committee for The Gotham Awards Documentary prize and the upcoming 2009 Cinema Eye Honors will provide a chance for redemption.
The other issue I have with myself is that this list is so back-loaded with films I saw later in the year, which is proof of my own bias for movies toward which I feel less emotional distance. But in the heat of casting a ballot, I had to go with my heart and choose the films that were resonating for me when I complied my ballot. Obviously, the sway of an autumnal release is not a fiction, at least not for me, at least not this year. That said, many of these films were seen over a year ago and it was a treat to find them on the list of films released in 2008, a reminder of their power over me. In the end, I am happy enough with this ballot, but I will be offering my Top 10 Cinematic Moments of 2008 over the course of the holidays. While it won't serve as a corrective for this ballot, it will better reflect my own year at the movies and provide a chance to remember the experience of going to the movies in a year when everything seemed to be shifting underneath my feet.
The Edge Of Heaven by Fatih Akin
A Christmas Tale by Arnaud Desplechin
Frownland by Ronald Bronstein
The Wrestler by Darren Aronofsky
Silent Light by Carlos Reygadas
XXY by Lucia Puenzo
Ballast by Lance Hammer
Wendy and Lucy by Kelly Reichardt
Reprise by Joachim Trier
Before I Forget by Jacques Nolot
Sean Penn, Milk
Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy
Mathieu Amalric, A Christmas Tale
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Rebecca Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Best Supporting Performance
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Tarra Riggs, Ballast
James Franco, Milk
Catherine Deneuve, A Christmas Tale
Arnaud Desplechin, A Christmas Tale (*gasp*! *shock*! Who knew?!?)
Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York
Best First Feature
Ronald Bronstein, Frownland (no,really,it'sgreat,youhavetoseeit, I wouldn'tusuallyjustasksomeonetogoseeafilmbutinthiscase,inthisspecificcase, IthinkitisimportanttosaythatIlovedthismovieandIwouldn'tjustIwouldn'tjustIwouldn'tjusttellyouaboutitifIdidn'tthinkitwasagreatfilm,
Man on Wire by James Marsh
Best Undistributed Film
Three Blind Mice by Matthew Newton (criminally under-discussed, I think)
Of All the Things by Jody Lambert (criminally undistributed).
(Also, having participated in an awards list for Hammer To Nail, I would have had a ton of overlap with my undistributed picks, but I didn't want to repeat myself... That list is here and is excellent.)
Thanks again to Eugene, Brian, James and Peter and the whole indieWIRE gang for including me in this process and for hsoting this blog for what is now my fourth year (jesus). It's an honor to be included and I'll continue to try not to let you down.