By Erin Donovan
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day - This frothy romantic comedy celebrates the unlikely friendship between a young actress (Amy Adams) with an (ahem!) active social life and a failed governess (Frances McDormand) turned personal secretary so broke she wrestles hobos for soup. Also features a jaw-dropping singing performance from Adams.
Girls Rock! - Following the story of a rock'n'roll summer camp for girls, co-directors Arne Johnson and Shane King gain insight to a disparate group of outsider girls as they return home with renewed self confidence.
Smiley Face - Gregg Araki takes a holiday from making films that cause permanent psychological scars to give the people a stoner comedy heroine in the brilliant Anna Faris. This weed caper starts with a cupcake binge takes us down a rabbit hole that includes Karl Marx, Roscoe Lee Browne as the voice of God, an A Flock of Seagulls-heavy soundtrack, a Carrot Top cameo and perhaps most baffling of all: The Office's John Krasinski as a sexless nerd.
American Teen - Nanette Burstein's (The Kid Stays in the Picture, On the Ropes) documentary following five high school students in a small town gravitated towards making pained outsider Hannah its hero (and she does achieve the greatest trajectory of the bunch). But it's the popular, mean girl Megan with her personal sense of tragedy that bubbles to the surface, via backstabbing and vandalism, that stays with the viewer.
Happy Go Lucky
Angel - Two films about women who stay optimistic despite their grim encounters and circumstances. Think Sex and the City filtered through Mike Leigh's (Naked, Secrets and Lies) bleak worldview for Happy Go Lucky, his protagonist Poppy (a memorable Sally Hawkins), a grade school teacher in a working class district of London, deals with emotionally imbalanced men and abused children with grace and aplomb, then parties with her friends. Francois Ozon's Angel (not yet released theatrically here) is like a grown up re-telling of Matilda (by way of Youth Without Youth). Based on the novel by Elizabeth Taylor (not that Elizabeth Taylor), it is the story of Angel Deverell, a bratty young woman who hates reading ("I quite like Shakespeare.. except for when he tries to be funny") but dreams of getting out of the family grocery business by writing lurid romance novels that make her an overnight sensation.
Sex and the City
I Could Never Be Your Woman - Let it be known that 2008 was the year middle-age women scared the daylights out of studio execs by revealing that.. they exist! And sometimes go to movies! And in the case of Michelle Pfeiffer and I Could Never Be Your Woman, when movies starring bankable actresses they love get the shaft and get sent straight to DVD to the absurd corporate bureaucracies they like, get annoyed. And then really embarrassing stories get published in Entertainment Weekly about epic studio/producer incompetence. Just saying.
Ladies and Gentlemen the Fabulous Stains - 1981's cult classic about a punk rock girl band (featuring a young Diane Lane and Laura Dern) who become unlikely media darlings because of their defiant attitudes and skunk-like hairstyles. The film finally got a proper DVD release this year from Rhino.
While She Was Out - Director Susan Montford takes Kim Basinger's (who also served as the film's Executive Producer) recent tabloid fodder divorce, and runs it through a meat grinder in this gruesome film that hopefully spawns a new subgenre of suburban-sploitation.
Changeling - This occasionally histrionic film would seem excessive and cruel if it weren't based on real events. A single mother in 1920s Los Angeles is railroaded by a corrupt police department after her child is kidnapped. Changeling would play as a great narrative companion to last year's stellar documentary Girl 27.
Vicky Christina Barcelona - Nobody is more surprised than me that a film featuring a middle age artist (Javier Bardem standing in for the film's director Woody Allen this time) who gets to have two different three ways with women far younger than him would ultimately be a female version of Truffaut's Jules and Jim. Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall play American best friends who learn about life and love while on summer vacation in Spain.
Honorable Mentions: Caramel, Living Goddess, Frozen River, Jellyfish, Brick Lane, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, The Duchess, 881.
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