Life

Top ten theatrical releases
of 2008

In a year that saw an increase in the number of films being screened at local theaters, there were plenty of choose from in 2008, but only a handful of excellent ones. The Jakarta Post's contributor Iskandar Liem picks ten of the best, in chronological order of release.

Mereka Bilang Saya Monyet! (They Say I'm A Monkey!)

Adjeng is a writer constantly shadowed by childhood demons.

Alternating effortlessly between the past and the present, the film charts her toxic relationship with her movie star has-been mother and the ramifications of juvenile sexual abuse.

Unflinching in its brutal honesty and fluid in its visual allegory, this adaptation of her own book marks controversial author Djenar Maesa Ayu's directorial debut, heralding a rebellious new voice in Indonesian cinema.

El Orfanato (The Orphanage)

Produced by Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth), this Spanish export tells of a woman who moves to an ominous orphanage with her family, only to have her six-year-old son vanish. This tale of her valiant efforts to find him works on two levels: On one hand, it's an effective ghost story that piles on the tension and chills (not to mention a couple of scream-worthy jolts) and on the other, it's a deeply emotional tale of unyielding maternal love that's deceptively simple yet tender. How often does one movie manage to terrify and touch an audience within a two-hour span?

The Fall

It was a given that renowned music video director Tarsem's sophomore feature film effort was going to be visually resplendent, but who knew it would be this tour de force of cinematic storytelling as well? Shot in over 20 countries including Indonesia, the story of a bedridden stunt man telling a fable to a little Romanian girl transcends the reality of the hospital they're in and the imaginary realms of the fable. Made more remarkable is that virtually all of the scenes are played out in improvised dialogue, creating an indelible chemistry among the two leads, one of whom is a six-year-old without prior acting experience.

Atonement

One fateful day in the life of an affluent English family, young Briony Tallis tells a slanderous lie that brings unthinkable repercussions to her older sister Cecilia, their family's gardener Robbie and herself.

Set against World War II and chronicling Briony's lifelong desire for penance, it features notable performances (James MacAvoy's Robbie and an Oscar-nominated debut by Saoirse Ronan as Briony), gorgeous lensing (the much-lauded, five-minute tracking shot of a beachfront battleground comes to mind) and a heartrending revelation in the third act that haunts the audience long after the credits have rolled.

Juno

Not since Woody Allen's best comedies has there been a film that sparkles with so much witty banter with a huge heart at its core.

Rising star Ellen Page shines as Juno MacGuff, a teenager whose "shenanigans" with best friend Bleeker leaves her pregnant, hence deciding to give the baby to an adoptive couple (Jason Bateman and a beautifully understated Jennifer Garner).

Hardly the average teenager, Juno's acerbic conversational skills will put many English-speaking adults to shame, thanks to the Oscar-winning screenwriting debut of ex-stripper Diablo Cody.

Simply put, a feel-good gem of a film.

The Dark Knight

Films based on comic books have come so far.The Dark Knight possesses plenty of depth, often feeling like a classic crime saga with Batman, The Joker and Two Face forming an unholy trinity in an age-old clash between good, evil and everything in between.

Christopher Nolan's second Batman film underscores moral dilemmas in the story, courtesy of a fear-provoking final performance from the late Heath Ledger as the anarchic Joker, wreaking havoc on Batman's conscience.

The Mist

A group of people are trapped in a supermarket as a mysterious mist descends over the small town, bringing with it a myriad of otherworldly creatures. Based on a Stephen King novella, the true horror of this tale isn't in the monsters outside the supermarket, but in the things terrified individuals resort to for survival, as the group is gradually split into two warring factions.

Marcia Gay Harden gives an over-the-top yet spine-chilling performance as an incendiary religious zealot. A shamelessly entertaining Hollywood concoction that jaw-droppingly defies conventions at the 11th hour.

Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Warriors)

This heartfelt adaptation of the first book in a popular literary quadrilogy has held the title of the biggest selling local film ever since its theatrical release three months ago.

Chronicling a group of poor children and their struggle for education in rural Sumatra along with their two dedicated teachers, director Riri Riza takes the viewers on a joyous and heartbreaking journey set against the breathtaking vistas of Belitong Island, culminating in one of the most poignant endings ever committed to Indonesian celluloid.

Truly a film that makes audiences' hearts soar on their way out of the theater.

*Rec*

A Spanish TV crew gets trapped in an apartment building quarantined by the authorities, as it contains a contagious affliction that turns humans into flesh eating zombies.

Told from the perspective of the camera, this Blair Witch Project concept is executed with brute efficacy, gradually amping up the tension until it reaches fever pitch in its final moments. Its practically shot-by-shot U.S. remake Quarantine is currently in cinemas now, but it's still inferior to the petrifying power of the original.

Zwartboek (Black Book)

Finally arriving on local screens after being released two years ago in its home turf, this Dutch World War II thriller revolves around a Jewish woman who joins the resistance to infiltrate the Nazis, only to end up being an enemy to both sides.

Basic Instinct director Paul Verhoeven's forte may not be subtlety, but he tells his wartime epic with such a master stroke -- there's no plot twist in its two-and-a-half hour running time.

Ceaselessly compelling.

Honourable mentions: Edith Piaf biopic La Vie En Rose with Marion Cotillard's career best as the doomed chanteuse, the nihilistic greed and violence of Liam Neeson of No Country For Old Men seeking his kidnapped daughter in the relentless Taken, the tender coming-of-age Danish vampire flick Let The Right One In, local anthologies Love and Perempuan Punya Cerita (Chants of Lotus).

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