Awards for 2008
Movie of the Year
Into the Wild
INTO THE WILD is a vast journey across America - and deep inside oneself. Writer/director Sean Penn's sensitive adaptation and expansive direction brilliantly captures the exuberance and idealism of youth - and the danger of pushing love away. The story lives in the eyes of Emile Hirsch, the warm smile of Catherine Keener, and the luminous spirit of Hal Holbrook. INTO THE WILD celebrates the dreamer in all of us - and the danger of dreaming alone.
There Will Be Blood
THERE WILL BE BLOOD is bravura filmmaking by one of American film's modern masters. Paul Thomas Anderson's epic poem of savagery, optimism and obsession is a true meditation on America. The film drills down into the dark heart of capitalism, where domination, not gain, is the ultimate goal. In a career defined by transcendent performances, Daniel Day-Lewis creates a character so rich and so towering, that "Daniel Plainview" will haunt the history of film for generations to come.
KNOCKED UP delivers the funniest, freshest comedy of the year. Writer/director Judd Apatow stretches the boundaries of romantic comedies by introducing one of American film's most unlikely pairings, and then brilliantly crafts a story where moment by moment, laugh by laugh - the couple embrace each other - and the audience - in a world of humor and heart. The film marks a star turn for Katherine Heigl, who lights up the screen with every smile.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD is a film that races with the pulse of a young filmmaker, but is constructed with the depth and maturity of an American master at the top of his game. Sidney Lumet's dark and intricate tale takes place in a world you will not want to enter, but the powerful screenplay by Kelly Masterson grabs you and won't let go. The film is a grand opera of immorality and is staged exquisitely by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei and Albert Finney, whose performances fuse to form a diamond that sparkles with the dazzlement of dysfunction.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY is a soaring cinematic achievement, one where the transportive nature of film takes us inside the mind of a paralyzed protagonist. Director Julian Schnabel astounds in his fusion of poetry, humor and profound humanity to examine the struggle from inside the mind as the character reaches for the impossible. Janusz Kaminski's brilliant cinematography illuminates the film's commanding point of view, visually enveloping the audience in the deeply emotional, but remarkably unsentimental screenplay by Ronald Harwood. Adapted from an extraordinary true story, the film challenges us to look into a mirror, appreciate the fragility of our own lives and marvel at the power of the mind.
No Country for Old Men
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN breathes new life - and death - into the classic American western. Joel and Ethan Coen construct the film like a steel trap, one that springs and snaps with a ferocity seldom seen in the movies. The film features a killer combination of acting talent - Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem, who creates and then unleashes one of the great screen villains of our time. Driven by heart-stopping tension and pacing, the Coen Brothers' masterful juxtaposition of savagery and innocence is a powerful tale of morality in a bleak world where a life can end with the flip of a coin.
RATATOUILLE is a soaring, sumptuous feast for all who love the movies. Writer/director Brad Bird continues to define himself as one of the great filmmakers of our generation, this time with the inspiring tale of a rat who aspires to be a chef. This animated gem creates environments that are so fully realized, so rich with detail, that both young and old alike will feel as though their passports have been stamped and their palates sated. At the film's significant heart, is the relationship of artist and critic - and to celebrate their union here, AFI raises a glass of a fine French cabernet to RATATOUILLE.
MICHAEL CLAYTON is pulse-quickening entertainment for both the heart and mind. Driven by a screenplay that ranks among the finest in American film, Tony Gilroy's film astounds at every turn - each word, each scene resonating beyond their literal meanings. George Clooney shines as one of the great actors of his generation, adding a dimension to his movie star persona that harkens back to the classic roles of Humphrey Bogart - still and silent, dark and deep. Extraordinary supporting roles by Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton add humor and horror to the riddles posed throughout the plot, and when the answers begin to arrive, no one is safe at the film's surprising and spectacularly satisfying end.
Deep inside JUNO is the tiny but true heartbeat of American film. Director Jason Reitman has an extraordinary control of tone, shifting sympathies and a clear respect for the fully realized characters created by screenwriter Diablo Cody. The result is a surprise in almost every scene as cliches are upended and life is celebrated at every turn. Ellen Page delivers the breakthrough performance of the year - one that embodies the comedy inherent in being a misfit and the strength that comes when facing life's biggest challenges.
THE SAVAGES paints an intimate portrait of America's emotional future. Writer/director Tamara Jenkins' richly detailed character study beautifully captures the complexity of a sibling relationship and the struggle to deal with an aging parent. Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman - two of our finest actors - portray people at an awkward moment in their lives who step backward into their heart and heroism. Intelligent and entertaining, funny and yet rigorously unsentimental, THE SAVAGES places our destiny firmly in the hands of talented artists, and, ultimately, proves the power of film in bringing us all together to celebrate life.
TV Program of the Year
Friday Night Lights
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS scored another winning season in 2007. Hard-hitting and heartfelt, the show brings audiences together at the big game to explore issues of family, friends and faith. Each week is a celebration of small-town Texas truth, a paean to the hopes and dreams of a community that reaches for more. And each episode is a verse in an epic poem about America, its citizens driven to tackle their differences aglow in the lights of a national pastime.
30 ROCK towered above America's television comedies in 2007. A spiritual descendent of classics like THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and MURPHY BROWN, the show establishes Tina Fey as one of the true talents of her generation - an artist who not only embodies a rare quality of wit and wisdom, but also exudes an unguarded awareness of the culture around her. Alec Baldwin's spectacularly pompous presence is a welcome wonder in every scene, and together, with the quirkiest ensemble on television, 30 ROCK proves there is life in laughter - at a time when we need it most.
DEXTER places its hands firmly on the throat of expectation and - minute by minute - tightens its grip until audiences begin to question their idea of morality. Michael C. Hall's masterfully nuanced performance as Dexter breathes humanity into a monster - a killer who murders those he believes have gotten away with murder. The world through Dexter's dark, droll and wickedly funny gaze, in many ways, defines today's era of television - stories that are wildly ambitious, intricately told, and deeply, emotionally engaging.
Everybody Hates Chris
EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS came of age in 2007. Born from the life experiences of Chris Rock, who narrates the program with equal parts sweetness and sass, the show provides a very real look at growing up in America - a challenge that demands a discussion of race and class often absent from television today. EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS provides this forum for all generations and does it with great humor and humanity - both embodied by Tyler James Williams, a young man who stands tall among the talents of television.
LONGFORD poses a question - "Does everyone have something good or redeeming inside them?" - and then searches for the answer in a light projected by the finest in television long-form. Impeccably scripted and directed, this telling of a true tale will echo across the ages in the performances of Jim Broadbent and Samantha Morton, who create characters of such detail that one man's search for redemption in the darkest of souls threatens tragedy for all who crusade for an ideal.
MAD MEN packs the punch of a three-martini lunch. This hypnotic time capsule brilliantly captures 1960s Madison Avenue, along with all the discomfort that hides in the dark corners of nostalgia. The show's extraordinary writing, characterizations and art direction neatly package a time filtered through the haze of cigarettes and sexism, but the message is for today - that those who sell a way of life are often mad for a world that is not their own.
PUSHING DAISIES is a whimsical, magical fairy tale that blossoms in the lavish beams of talent that emanate from Barry Sonnenfeld and his talented creative ensemble. Rooted in unrequited love and death, the show bounds with endless invention, a stunning visual palette, and a team of actors who revel in the surprises that come to life in each episode. PUSHING DAISIES is both sensual and smart - and proves that hope springs eternal for American television.
THE SOPRANOS delivered the goods in its final season and, in doing so, cemented its place in the pantheon of American television. David Chase's masterwork spanned eight years and raised the bar with each and every episode, inspiring not only audiences, but also a generation of artists who are creating more complex, morally ambiguous dramas. James Gandolfini and Edie Falco defied expectations with each new storyline and took their bows this year with a continuing passion for their characters that is an achievement unto itself. Though the last season was filled with great expectations, nothing prepared the world for the soaring moment of artistic inspiration that turned the lights out on television's great American epic.
Tell Me You Love Me
TELL ME YOU LOVE ME pulls back the covers on "happily ever after" and offers an unblinking look at life's most intimate moments. Both sexually explicit and emotionally resonant, the series raises questions we often don't want answered in our own lives, and searches for the answers with a courageous visual style that sets it apart - a camera lingers, with no romantic fade-out. The show is groundbreaking for taking adult content out of the sleazy back alley of late-night cable TV and placing it squarely in the respectable neighborhood of prime-time programming - providing a rare and welcome home for our shared humanity to a topic of true conversation.
UGLY BETTY hit its stride this season, gliding confidently down the runway and smashing stereotypes about race and ethnicity with every turn. America Ferrera shines as TV's sweetheart, embodying the timeless triumph of geek over chic, a message and meaning more welcome than ever. Campy, catty and adorably over the top, the show's creative ensemble flings power and prejudice aside like yesterday's fashion to celebrate UGLY BETTY as the most beautiful of all.