Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Top 10 Films 2008

I didn't go to the cinema as much in 2008 which, in part, is because I no longer have my beloved QFT (Queen's Film Theatre in Belfast) to go to. Christchurch lacked a decent independant cinema release although the theatre itself was both beautiful and allowed patrons to watch a film with a beer or glass of wine which is great. I'm sure Sydney has several but I've been too busy with other day-to-day matters to have the time. So, it's a minor miracle that I've seen ten worthy contenders of high calibre and varying genres for best film in 2008.

I have not listed preference for these films but I do recommend them all so without further ado, I present my top 10 films of 2008.

The Dark Knight

Batman raises the stakes in his war on crime. With the help of Lieutenant Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, Batman sets out to dismantle the remaining criminal organizations that plague the city streets. The partnership proves to be effective, but they soon find themselves prey to a reign of chaos unleashed by a rising criminal mastermind known to the terrified citizens of Gotham as The Joker.


Family man Wade Porter (Stephen Dorff) lives with girlfriend Laura and son Michael. They have recently raised a loan to expand his company and they are due to get married. However their future becomes a nightmare when Wade unintentionally kills a burglar that had broken into their house. He is sent to trial and accepts a deal proposed by the prosecutor, being sentenced to three years in prison. During the transportation, Wade is framed and sent to the maximum security wing under the command of the corrupt Lieutenant Jackson. His cell-mate John Smith (Val Kilmer) that was sentenced to life revenging the death of his family befriends Wade and gives helpful advices and hope to Wade to return to his family.

El Orfanato [The Orphanage]

Laura (Belén Rueda) and her husband (Fernando Cayo) purchase her beloved childhood orphanage with dreams of restoring and reopening the long abandoned facility as a home for disabled children. Once there, Laura discovers that the new environment awakens her son's imagination, but the ongoing fantasy games he plays with an invisible friend quickly turn into something more disturbing.
After her son disappears, Laura becomes obsessed with locating him- dead or alive. She looks to a group of parapsychologists for help in unraveling the mystery.

The Diving Bell & The Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a film based on the memoir of the same name by Jean-Dominique Bauby. The film depicts Bauby's life after suffering a massive stroke at the age of 42, which left him with a condition known as locked-in syndrome. The condition paralyzed him, with the exception of his left eyelid, so that he could only communicate by blinking.


Josie is a lonely bachelor who mans the local garage in a tiny rural Irish community. His world extends no further than the garage, the pub and his unimposing rooms. A figure of fun to most of the village and certainly not the brightest spark, Josie is a simple soul with an innocence that will be his undoing.
The beauty of this lovely, sad little film is the wealth of detail in every scene - nuances in Pat Shortt's physically eloquent performance as Josie; expressive subtleties in Mark O'Halloran's rich dialogue. And then there's Leonard Abrahamson's visual articulacy - by simply placing two characters in the frame a certain way he can wring a host of other meanings from a seemingly banal exchange.

Gone Baby Gone

Dorchester, one of the toughest neighborhoods in all of Boston, is no place for the weak or innocent. Its a territory defined by hard heads and even harder luck, its streets littered with broken families, hearts, dreams. When one of its own, a 4-year-old girl, goes missing, private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro don't want the case. But after pleas from the child's aunt, they open an investigation that will ultimately risk everything -- their relationship, their sanity, and even their lives -- to find a little girl-lost.

In Bruges

After a difficult job by hit men Ray and Ken, the pair have been ordered by their London boss Harry to go and cool their heels in the storybook city of Bruge for a couple of weeks. The two hit men fill their days living the lives of tourists. Ray, still haunted by the bloodshed in London, hates the place, while Ken, even as he keeps a fatherly eye on Ray's often profanely funny exploits, finds his mind and soul being expanded by the beauty and serenity of the city.
But soon they find themselves in weird encounters with locals, tourists, violent medieval art, a dwarf American actor shooting a European art film, Dutch prostitutes, and a potential romance for Ray in the form of Chloë, who may have some dark secrets of her own. And when the call from Harry does finally come, Ken and Ray's vacation becomes a life-and-death struggle of darkly comic proportions and surprisingly emotional consequences.

In the Valley of Elah

In Monroe, Tennessee, Hank Deerfield, an aging warrior, gets a call that his son, just back from 18 months' fighting in Iraq, is missing from his base. Hank drives to Fort Rudd, New Mexico, to search. Within a day, the charred and dismembered body of his son is found on the outskirts of town. Deerfield pushes himself into the investigation, marked by jurisdictional antagonism between the Army and local police. Working mostly with a new detective, Emily Sanders, Hank seems to close in on what happened. Major smuggling? A drug deal gone awry? Credit card slips, some photographs, and video clips from Iraq may hold the key. If Hank gets to the truth, what will it tell him?

Jar City

Jar City is a uniquely Icelandic work – as dark and brooding as the long winter nights and infused with a sardonic northern humour.
A murder investigation takes place on an island, where veryone knows about the crime, and a fair proportion of the locals could be considered suspects. Detective Erlendur also has to contend with the local criminal element flaunting their knowledge of his own unravelling family life – his daughter is a pregnant, heroin-addicted former prostitute.
Seemingly disparate story lines gradually weave together with a slow, deliberate precision with a terrific piece of direction.

Joy Division

The story of Manchester’s most influential musical sons gets a thorough, if slightly mythologising, documentary treatment from Grant Gee. The tale that unfolds is, we’re told, not just the story of a pop group but also the story of a city. A star emerges, hollow-eyed and mesmerising. Ian Curtis effectively upstages Manchester; in his damaged soul is a reflection of his blighted home town. Curtis’s alien fragility is emphasised by the blokishness of the interviews with his fellow band members, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris, who say they didn’t realise the extent of Curtis’s depression, which led to his suicide by hanging in 1980.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Peace On Earth?

I was watching a satirical news programme earlier in the week when they were takling about a particular story and the host mentioned that New Zealand was the second most peaceful nation on earth. He didn't know what the first was, neither did I and I was intrigued if it was actually something that can be gauged.

It turns out that there is. It's called the Global Peace Index and uses a ranking system based on indicators and drivers. Alhough the host was incorrect in assumption that New Zealand is the second most peaceful country (it's fourth), I was more interested in how world countries measure up.

Taking the top three spots were Iceland, Denmark and Norway respectively and I was not at all surprised at this although it did leave me pondering why Sweden wasn't in the top 5 too as Scandinavian countries have a reputation for peaceful existence.

Another pleasant surprise was Ireland's place at number 6. My mind was reminded of the recent killing of rugby captain Shane Geoghegan in Limerick and the criminal feuding that exists between families in 'Stab-city'. One suspects that if Limerick didn't exist, Ireland might just usurp Japan in the number 5 spot.

Naturally my interest soon flitted to other countries such as the United Kingdom for comparison and I was relatively shocked to see it was sitting on a rather poor 49th place. I believe the reason being is that, glancing at the rankings, there is distrust in other citizens and external conflicts currently being fought, amongst others, that have dragged it down.

As we all know, one of these current conflicts is Iraq and I had to scroll all the way to the bottom to find this country. You don't have to analise the figures too much to work out that they are all ranked as being quite the opposite of peaceful. High numbers of terrorist attacks, ongoing fighting and violent crimes. It's not exactly on anyones holiday destination wishlist.

Whilst probably not an exact science, it's certainly well-thought out and a good rule of thumb that is more interesting in terms of statistics.

How does your country rank?

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