Top 20 films of the year

therewillbeblood

1. There Will Be Blood – Paul Thomas Anderson
The most complete experience for the imagination last year, this was a Great American Film in the tradition of the Great American Novel, but totally cinematic. Shame on anyone who said this was all about Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance.

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2. Le Voyage de ballon rouge (The Flight of the Red Balloon) – Hou Hsiao–Hsien
A sinfully underrated ode to Paris and childhood, this is exquisitely directed by the great Taiwanese filmmaker and exudes warmth and wisdom.

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3. My Winnipeg – Guy Maddin
An inspired visual poem about Winnipeg and Maddin’s childhood memories of it – a wintry, weird and hilarious gem.

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4. Times and Winds – Reha Erdem
A visually stunning and stylish Turkish movie set in a remote shepherding community, filmed with some of the best Steadicam shots since The Shining.

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5. Juventude em marcha (Colossal Youth) – Pedro Costa
Something new and startling, this slowburner set in a Portuguese housing project makes little attempt to ingratiate itself but remains branded on my brain months after I saw it.

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6. L’Heure d’été (Summer Hours) – Olivier Assayas
A profound and oh-so-French family drama about the emotional weight of belongings, which ends as a hurrah for life going on.

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7. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days – Cristian Mungiu
As good as everyone said it was, this is a gripping real-life thriller masquerading as a Romanian arthouse film.

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8. Hunger – Steve McQueen
The most exciting British debut in a long, long time, Steve McQueen’s feature has you hanging on every shot.

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9. Les Amours d’Astrée et Celadon (The Romance of Astrea and Celadon) – Eric Rohmer
A wonderfully left-field, fresh-as-a-meadow pastoral romance from the octogenarian New Waver.

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10. Still Life – Jia Zhangke
A haunting, naturalistic lament for a community soon to be flooded for the Yangtze Three Rivers Dam project.

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11. Lust, Caution – Ang Lee
An underrated update of Hitchcock’s Notorious, with some of the best production design of the year and some real seat-edge moments.

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12. No Country for Old Men – Joel Coen
A bit bloodthirsty and nihilistic, I didn’t like this as much as some people, but it still ranks highly among the Coens’ work in particular and recent US cinema in general.

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13. The Man from London – Béla Tarr
Another syrup-slow arthouse film that feels stuck in my head (in a good way) forever – this was like watching an old Marcel Carné dockside noir in slow motion.

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14. Du levande (You, the Living) – Roy Andersson
A very bizarre Scandinavian, sketch-based film that plays like Ingmar Bergman directing an episode of Monty Python.

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15. Le Silence de Lorna (The Silence of Lorna) – Jean–Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Off-peak Dardenne brothers everyone agrees, but for my money nearly as gripping as 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days.

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16. Unrelated – Joanna Hogg
Another highly promising British debut: an engrossing, well-written drama about middle-class Brits on holiday in Italy.

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17. Alexandra – Aleksandr Sokurov
Dreamlike evocation of frontline barracks during an endless war, which reminded me of Claire Denis’ Beau Travail in its tender observation of ritualistic army life.

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18. RR – James Benning
A lovely paean to America’s railways and wide open spaces, Benning’s latest puts an accessible face on structural film. Long lines of train carriages disappearing over the horizon neatly mirrored frames of celluloid passing through a projector.

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19. Import Export – Ulrich Seidl
A grim but blackly humorous state-of-Europe treatise, gruelling and funny in equal measure.

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20. Donkey Punch – Oliver Blackburn
A guilty pleasure that goes a bit bonkers in the second half, but this was a compulsively scuzzy youth movie, as stylish as Danny Boyle but considerably nastier.

10 runners–up: Battle for Haditha (Nick Broomfield); Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame (Hana Makhmalbaf); Funny Games U.S. (Michael Haneke); Ghost Town (David Koepp); Gomorra (Matteo Garrone); Happy–Go–Lucky (Mike Leigh); In Search of a Midnight Kiss (Alex Holdridge); Margot at the Wedding (Noah Baumbach); OSS-117: Le Caire nid d’espions (OSS-117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (Michel Hazanavicius); Une vieille maîtresse (The Last Mistress) (Catherine Breillat)

***

Top 20 records of 2008…

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1. Deerhunter – Microcastle/Weird Era Cont (Kranky)
Easily the release I listened to most listened last year, this is more fuzzed-out pop from Bradford Cox that delivers on the promise of 2007’s ‘Cryptograms.’ ‘Little Kids’ and ‘Saved by Old Times’ have been on repeat.

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2. Bruno Pronsato – Why Can’t We Be like Us (Hello? Repeat)
An early favourite in a year that didn’t really deliver the goods for techno. It’s wears the Villalobos influence on its sleeve, stretching tracks out for 10 minutes at a time, but the production is hypnotic.

Saint Dymphna

3. Gang Gang Dance – Saint Dymphna (The Social Registry)
I heard this one late in the year, but it slid close to the top of the list. A major improvement on the erratic ‘God’s Money’, this jumbles 80s pop, freak folk and dubstep into an almighty brew.

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4. Nico Muhly – Mothertongue (Bedroom Community)
A hugely ambitious, neo-minimalist treat, this is let down by some overwrought moments. But the four-part title track rivals Different Trains.

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5. Jacaszek – Treny (Miasmah)
A serenely beautiful, glitched out classical release from Poland that reminds me of Murcof’s first record – but probably surpasses it.

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6. Lawrence English – Kiri No Oto (Touch)
Dense drone that emits a nautical pea-souper into any room it’s played in – this was a perfect, powerful accompaniment for reading ‘Moby-Dick’.

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7. Born Ruffians – Red, Yellow & Blue (Warp)
A very late listen, this is a tremendously fun release from a Canadian band that’s part Animal Collective, part Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and a little bit Violent Femmes.

portishead

8. Portishead – Third (Mercury)
A bit of a heavy listen as a whole, which veers between sounding a little bit 90s and then aggressively futurist. But this is a comeback and a half, with ‘The Rip’ and ‘Machine Gun’ among the songs of the year.

Atlas Sound

9. Atlas Sound – Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel (Kranky)
Bedroom laptop music at its most immersive, this dreamy wash of sound is Bradford Cox’s inspired side-project to Deerhunter.

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10. DJ/rupture – Uproot (The Agriculture)
Preferable to the amazing if slightly overbearing Minesweeper Suite, DJ/rupture proves an ear for delicacy here – though there’s still a speaker workout herein.

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11. The Ruby Suns – Sea Lion (Memphis Industries)
A really fun indie album, with this year’s all-pervasive African influence – this had a dreamy, more chaotic aspect which I preferred to Vampire Weekend.

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12. Fuck Buttons – Street Horrrsing (ATP Recordings)
Balancing noise and prettiness, Fuck Buttons – a rare British band that’s pushing boundaries – sounded like a bestial rave in a jungle.

Antidotes

13. Foals – Antidotes (Transgressive)
Took a while to get past the shoutiness here, but the intricate mathy guitar workouts  and a terrific set at Field Day soon won me over.

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14. Fennesz – Black Sea (Touch)
More of the same from Fennesz, perhaps, but more than a couple of tracks on this were transcendent – notably ‘Glide’ and ‘Saffron Revolution.’

The Versailles Sessions

15. Murcof – The Versailles Sessions (Leaf)
A change of pace for Mexican electronica artist Murcof, The Versailles Sessions takes Louis XIV period instruments and tests what they would sound like playing in a black hole.

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16. Paavoharju – Laulu Laakson Kukista (Fonal)
A charming, strange, moss-encrusted Finnish release that keeps taking off-kilter directions; another record that suggests weird parties going on in forests.

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17. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (XL Recordings)
Huge fun live and on disc, this much-vaunted band reclothed Paul Simon’s African excursions in preppy, Ivy League attire.

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18. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (Bella Union)
A trifle overrated and musty sounding to these ears, though some of the songs on this and the EP are undeniably special.

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19. Move D and Benjamin Brunn – Songs from the Beehive (Smallville)
Another one that took a while to get, as its minimalist repetition was almost too eventless, but then I started hearing it as an ambient release and it took on new, celestial life.

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20. Gavin Bryars/Philip Jeck/Alter Ego – The Sinking of the Titanic (Touch)
A better recording of Bryars’ classic piece than the Point Records one, I love the hauntological layers that Jeck brings to these deep, sinking-ship waves of mournful sound.

10 runners–up: Broken Social Scene presents Brendan Canning – Something for All of Us (Arts & Crafts); Department of Eagles – In Ear Park (4AD); Dodos – Visiter (French Kiss); Dosh – Wolves and Wishes (Anticon); Eero Johannes – Eero Johannes (Planet Mu); Elephant 9 – Dodovoodoo (Rune Grammofon); Fallen Arches – Sunken Foal (Planet Mu); Girl Talk – Feed the Animals (Illegal Art); Grouper – Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill (Type); James Blackshaw – Litany of Echoes (Tompkins Square)

***

And a lone book…
The Rest Is Noise
The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross (Fourth Estate)
Every book I read in 2008 was long published, except for Alex Ross’ impassioned and magnificent history of 20th century classical music, from Strauss and Mahler to Reich and Adams. This was life-changing in the genuine sense that it encouraged a months-long plunge into modern classical during which I hardly listened to anything else. Writing accessibly, and with intelligence and almost boundless enthusiasm, Ross is the best possible ambassador for the strange sounds of the classical avant-garde.

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