December 19, 2008 / 11:15 AM / in 9 years

Critics weigh in on year's best films

<p>Director Danny Boyle (R) speaks beside actor Dev Patel during the " Slumdog Millionaire" news conference at the 33rd Toronto International Film Festival September 8, 2008. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese</p>

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - In an average Hollywood year, the critics are the precursors of the awards groups, the men and women whose consensus first signals which movies are going to win the big prizes.

But not this year. Rarely have the critics been so far apart in their preferences. Rarely have their selections been so across-the-board, as five leading practitioners of the art made clear when asked about their favorite movies of 2008.

KENNETH TURAN, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Picture: “Slumdog Millionaire”

Director: Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”

Actor: Frank Langella, “Frost/Nixon”

Actress: Kate Winslet, “Revolutionary Road”

Supporting actor: Ralph Fiennes, “The Duchess”

Supporting actress: Viola Davis, “Doubt”

Original screenplay: Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon, “WALL-E”

Adapted screenplay: Peter Morgan, “Frost/Nixon”

”I‘m continually gratified that good films come out of the studio system, despite all the problems, despite the focus on the youngest possible demographic. And I‘m grateful for small favors like ‘Frost/Nixon.’ It’s intelligent, it’s well made, it’s got something to think about -- all the things that get harder and harder to find in studio films.

“For critics, the tendency that’s been the most disturbing is the weakening of the specialty divisions and the disappearance of the $20 million-$30 million films that are too small for the major studios and too large for the self-financed independents -- but that’s where a lot of the films in the Oscar competition have come from.”

PETER RAINER, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

Picture: “I Served the King of England”

Director: Jiri Menzel, “I Served the King of England”

Actor: Ivan Barnev, “I Served the King of England”

Actress: Sally Hawkins, “Happy-Go-Lucky”

Supporting actor: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”

Supporting actress: Debra Winger, “Rachel Getting Married”

Original screenplay: Mike Leigh, “Happy-Go-Lucky”

Adapted screenplay: Jiri Menzel, “I Served the King of England”

”It’s been a pretty lousy year, but I liked (the Czech film) ‘I Served the King of England’ quite a bit. It was a marvelous movie because it deals with tragedy in an entirely offbeat and lyrical way. That’s something (Charlie) Chaplin knew better than any other filmmaker, and Menzel has clearly been inspired by him. I don’t think we’re used to such seriousness being put on the screen with such light-fingered lyricism.

“From the standpoint of Hollywood, there were very few movies that attempted to do anything interesting -- forget groundbreaking. Mostly we were watching retreads of retreads. ‘Dark Knight’ is a powerful film; it has too much plot, but it’s a rare example of how a big franchise picture can have a core of originality.”

DAVID ANSEN, NEWSWEEK

Picture: “Encounters at the End of the World”

Director: Tomas Alfredson, “Let the Right One In”

Actor: Sean Penn, “Milk”

Actress: Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”

Supporting actor: Ralph Fiennes, “The Duchess”

Supporting actress: Hanna Schygulla, “The Edge of Heaven”

Original screenplay: Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais, “The Bank Job”

Adapted screenplay: Peter Morgan, “Frost/Nixon”

”The movie that transported me the most was ‘Encounters at the End of the World.’ (Director) Werner Herzog has discovered these dreamers who work at a station in Antarctica, and (tells their story with) incredibly haunting above- and below-ground landscapes.

“Also worth checking out is ‘Let the Right One In,’ the story of a 12-year-old boy who falls in love with a vampire girl who has been 12 for a very long time. It’s both an incredible coming-of-age story and a love story, and a movie where from the first image you know someone is in total control.”

LEONARD MALTIN, SECRET‘S OUT

Picture: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

Director: Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”

Actor: Frank Langella, “Frost/Nixon”

Actress: Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”

Supporting actor: Haaz Sleiman, “The Visitor”

Supporting actress: Viola Davis, “Doubt”

Original screenplay: Thomas McCarthy, “The Visitor”

Adapted screenplay: Peter Morgan, “Frost/Nixon”

”I‘m spreading it around this year because I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket.

”‘Benjamin Button’ cast a spell over me as few other films have. It was one of the rare long movies I’ve seen that didn’t seem long. And of course it creates its own world, its own environment. It’s visually striking, masterfully crafted -- but all the craft wouldn’t mean anything if you weren’t engaged in the story and the characters.

”‘Frost/Nixon’ takes us behind the scenes and imagines a reality we weren’t privy to -- and makes it credible. Peter Morgan has a gift for turning supposition and research into vibrant drama.

“And ‘Slumdog’ makes me want to use a word that’s become jargon of late: It’s an immersive experience. You feel as if you’re pulled into the picture and are experiencing everything that’s happened vicariously, along with the main character. Everything is masterfully orchestrated.”

BOB STRAUSS, LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS

Picture: “The Dark Knight”

Director: Christopher Nolan, “The Dark Knight”

Actor: Frank Langella, “Frost/Nixon”

Actress: Sally Hawkins, “Happy-Go-Lucky”

Supporting actor: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”

Supporting actress: Elsa Zylberstein, “I’ve Loved You So Long”

Original screenplay: Steve McQueen & Enda Walsh, “Hunger”

Adapted screenplay: Peter Morgan, “Frost/Nixon”

”‘Dark Knight’ is the best comic book movie ever made. Then there’s the sheer power of pop narrative, married to all kinds of contemporary social concerns -- such as economic (matters), fears of terrorism, anarchy, sheer social collapse -- and lots of what is the holy grail of screenwriting: characters determining actions.

“Peter Morgan figured out exactly how to turn stage dialogue into believable and natural-sounding film dialogue without compromising a smidgen of the intelligence and historical information that his play imparted. At first, Langella didn’t seem like Nixon at all -- he didn’t look like him or sound like him; but gradually, as he built up the man’s contradictions and depths of resentment and need, I felt I understood Nixon the man better than any film portrayal has allowed me to.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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