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Triumph of the Spirit, Human or Mechanical


This has been a weird year for going to the movies in Britain. It seems that films distributed this year are either earth-shattering blockbusters or tiny little films – local films for local people, you might say. The usual Hollywood-focused distribution pattern was present and correct, although French and German do play in London, and Italian cinema seems to be getting stronger by the minute. For new faces, Johanna Wokalek stormed the screen in "The Baader-Meinhof Complex" before holding our gaze in "North Face;" she is definitely a talent to watch. As for British film, regrettably the maxims which make smaller British films normally such a bore and larger ones too Americanized to feel truly homegrown remain true. Fortunately the continued worldwide success of actors such as James McAvoy, Ray Winstone and Kristin Scott Thomas enables the industry to hold onto its vibrancy and importance.

My favorite film of 2008 is an Australian film I saw as part of the Times BFI 52nd London Film Festival – "Three Blind Mice" – but as it doesn't yet have a UK distributor, I can't include it here.

Sarah Manvel's Top Movies of 2008 in alphabetical order

THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY An expertly-made French film (with an American director and English screenwriter) which proves that no story is trapped by its setting and environment unless it chooses to be.

THE EDGE OF HEAVEN A gut-wrenching German-Turkish film which explores the overlaps within cultures, families and specific people's lives, who are not aware of all the ways in which they are connected.

IRON MAN Robert Downey Jr. proved he's one of the best screen actors of our generation by doing the implausible and giving a metal superhero a heart. Director Jon Favreau has moved from shooting movies with his friends to the front of the A-list, and has done so without selling out. Both hugely impressive achievements; if only Gwyneth Paltrow had had more to do than make the coffee.

KILLER OF SHEEP Made in 1977 but shown in cinemas only this year, it's a moving, non-linear exploration of working-class black American life that no longer exists.

LET'S TALK ABOUT THE RAIN/LET IT RAIN Another expertly-done French film about the intersection of power, race, feminism and the camera's gaze, all contained in one week in a family's summer home.

MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA Not a perfect film by any means, but I can't stop thinking about the priest at the massacre, the soldiers crossing the river, or when the captured Nazi cries over the child. Spike Lee has always been hit and miss, but there's no denying the overall emotional power of this film.

NORTH FACE A horror film, in which the horror is the defenselessness of injured people in the face of Mother Nature. Learning it was essentially a true story made it even more upsetting.

PERSEPOLIS A defiant and joyous depiction of life under the shadow of the Iranian Revolution. Its freshness in both style and approach made it incredibly charming.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE For the fight sequence on the scaffolding, Daniel Craig's eyes, and the willingness of such an established presence to take clever chances.

WALL-E Its little robot had a brain, a heart, a home and the nerve. Of all the movies on this list, this is the one that will best stand up to repeated viewing. And the short with the rabbit and the magician which preceded it was the funniest comedy shown this year.


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