My top ten favorite (and not so favorite) films of 2008
January 12, 2009
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It was hard to think of 10 films I truly loved this year. After all, 2008 was one of the most lackluster years in recent memory. The summer, as always, was mostly bloated popcorn fodder. The fall and winter films couldn’t even pick up the slack as most fell short of their high expectations. Thankfully, 2008 squeezed out 10 films, several of which are true masterpieces, that soared above the rest.
1. Slumdog Millionaire
It was fair enough to say that Danny Boyle would never top his 1996 cult classic ‘Trainspotting.’ Such was the case until he made ‘Slumdog,’ the story of how a teenager from Mumbai, India went from impoverished runt to teenage contestant on the ‘Hindi’ version of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire.’
The end result is the most uplifting film of the year. But it only claims that title after it takes you through the depths of Jamal Malik’s (Dev Patel) life-long struggle to stay alive.
Boyle has never been better. He never shies away from traveling into the darkest territories, making you feel as threatened as Jamal does, which makes the light at the end of the tunnel that much more satisfying and overly uplifting.
2. Rachel Getting Married
Most of the attention garnered for this film has been for Anne Hathaway’s stellar turn as rehab regular Kym. But Jonathan Demme’s all-inclusive look into a weekend wedding gives more cause for notice. Handheld camera work and source music from the wedding band’s sporadic jam sessions makes ‘Rachel’ completely immersive, so much so that you become another guest in the house. Feeling all of the tension, anger, anxiety and occasional moments of joy emitted, Rachel is not just a film you watch, it’s a film you experience.
3. The Dark Knight ‘
It’s Batman in his darkest and most unsettling hour. ‘The Dark Knight’ is a brooding and powerful piece of pop art. The only superhero movie to completely extricate itself from comic book trappings and clich’eacute;s, it provides a social commentary on the state of the modern world — one that is shrouded by a media-obsessed culture, corrupt politicians and terrorism.
Heath Ledger’s death only adds to the eeriness that emits off every shot. His performance as The Joker is the performance of the year.
The wizards behind animation juggernaut Pixar really outdid themselves this time. Not only is ‘Wall-E’ the best in Pixar’s much-celebrated repertoire, but also one of the best science fiction films in years.
With a nod to silent masters like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Wall-E captures us with his eyes and actions. The second half turns from silent love story to sci-fi adventure, paying homage to ‘2001’ with its Hal-like antagonist.
Wall-E may be the crowning achievement of animation. Every shot brings you to the point of visual orgasm.
It took years to get a Harvey Milk biopic on screen. Thankfully, Gus Van Sant’s intimate look at the first openly gay elected official was worth the wait.
Sean Penn gives the best performance of his career as Milk, and Josh Brolin turns in great supporting work as his ally turned assassin Dan White. It is in their scenes together where ‘Milk’ truly takes off. Their battle of ideologies represents the entire thesis of the film and only helps us better understand why Milk fought so hard for what he believed in.
‘Frost/Nixon’ works as well any Ron Howard film can. The auteur has a bad habit of dragging out even his best films to the point where they fall flat on their face because of it. That being said, ‘Frost/Nixon’ works so well before its unnecessary last 15 minutes that you can pardon Opie Taylor this time.
Howard has crafted an intriguing look into one of, if not the most famous interview in history. The films build up to the ‘Rocky’-esqe bout between underdog TV personality David Frost (Michael Sheen) and shamed President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) is worth the wait. The engaging showdown where gloves and punches are replaced by chairs and candor makes ‘Frost/Nixon’ one of the most engaging films of the year. ‘
7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
It’s filmmaking at its finest. David Fincher made the most technically sound film of the year. Jaw dropping visual and special effects highlighted by Button’s (Brad Pitt) aging process proves why Fincher is one of the best all around directors working today.
The aggravating thing about ‘Button’ is that it doesn’t allow you to get emotionally involved, and you can see when Fincher is resisting the temptation to do so. But this aggravation is why Button works so well. His tragedy becomes our tragedy. Button never has a truly meaningful relationship; he can never fully be attached and therefore, neither can we.
8. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Team Apatow reinforces why it’s the best brand of comedy today with ‘Marshall’– A raunchy, dirty, hilarious laugh fest that makes you cry till it hurts. Jason Segal both wrote and starred in ‘Marshall’ making him a candidate to be the next Seth Rogen.
But Segal doesn’t have to carry a film on his own like Rogen sometimes does. A strong supporting cast including a scene, perhaps even movie stealing Brit comedian Russell Brand as man-whore/rock star Aldous Snow makes ‘Marshall’ the funniest film since Apatow love children ’40-Year-Old Virgin’ and ‘Knocked Up.’
9. Doubt’ ‘
‘ ‘ ‘Doubt’ is the all around most well acted film of the year. Every performance — from Phillip Seymour Hoffman (really, can he do no wrong?) as a preacher in heat to the incomparable Meryl Streep (and, no, she can’t do any wrong.) — is pitch perfect.
‘ Although it’s in spots, when ‘Doubt’ works, it works on near-masterpiece level. A quiet Catholic School provides the perfect backdrop for knife-cutting tension to unfold. ‘Doubt’ also shines in its subtlety. At times, it’s what is not being said but merely suggested that makes it an overwhelmingly unsettling drama.
10. The Visitor
It’s a look at the hot button issue of immigration and deportation as seen through the eyes of Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins in a career role).
‘The Visitor’ is a powerful drama on the most human level. It stays with you long after it’s gone and raises questions we should all be answering, questions about the state of the world and the human race’s ever-growing disconnection with one another.
Worst Films of ’08
As mentioned in my top 10 films list, 2008 was quite a disappointing year for cinephiles.’ Below are the films that gave the past 12 months that prestigious title.
Also below are the actors and actresses that along with the top 10 films, helped make ’08 bearable.
1. Star Wars: The Clone Wars
I have only walked out of two movies in my life–the abysmal ‘Battlefield Earth’ and WWE Films so-called movie, ‘The Marine.’
I would have chalked ‘Clone Wars’ under that elite group if I were the one who drove. I guess sitting through an hour and a half of uninspired animation and storytelling is better than a 30-mile walk home.
2. 10,000 B.C.
‘ ‘ ‘ Watching Roland Emmerich’s bloated special effects crap-a-ganza is sort of like being stabbed in the face with dull kitchen knives. The special effects, the supposed highlight of the film, are so egregious that even Ed Wood would disapprove.
‘ 3. Saw V
Don’t ask me why I saw this. I’m still trying to figure it out.
‘ ‘ ‘ It’s an emo version of Romeo and Juliet with an MTV soundtrack. Robert Pattinson turns in one of the worst performances of the year as hopelessly romantic vampire Edward Cullen. ‘Twilight’ is a disgrace to both fantasy film enthusiasts and the vampire movie genre.
Most Disappointing Film of the Year
‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’
‘ ‘ ‘ A note to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg-three is enough!
The Best Performances of the Year (In no necessary order)
*Submissions omitted include Leonardo Dicaprio for ‘Revolutionary Road’ and Mickey Rourke for ‘The Wrestler’. Both films have yet to open here.
Heath Ledger as the Joker- ‘The Dark Knight’
Sean Penn as Harvey Milk- ‘Milk’
Ann Hathaway as Kym in ‘Rachel Getting Married’
Richard Jenkins as Walter Vale- ‘The Visitor” ‘ ‘
Viola Davis as Mrs. Miller- ‘Doubt’
Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius Beauvier- ‘Doubt’
Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Father Flynn and as Caden Cotard in ‘Synecdoche, New York’
James Franco as Saul Silver in ‘Pineapple Express’
Russell Brand as Aldous Snow in ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’
Frank Langella as Richard Nixon in ‘Frost/Nixon’
Josh Brolin as George W. Bush in ‘W.’ and as Dan White in ‘Milk’
Anil Kapoor as Prem Kumar in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’
Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in ‘Iron Man’ and as Kirk Lazarus in ‘Tropic Thunder’
Tom Cruise as Les Grossman in ‘Tropic Thunder’
Penelope Cruz as Maria Elena in ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’