Sunday, January 4, 2009

My Top Ten Movies for 2008

I've seen 151 titles now in theaters and on DVD with copyright 2008. I'm sure my top ten will shift around and change over the next few weeks. I still haven't seen Oscar bait movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Slumdog Millionaire, Doubt, The Wrestler, Revolutionary Road, Rachel Getting Married, Gran Torino, etc., but of what I've seen, these were the best.

Honorable Mentions:

Comedy - They didn't make my top ten, but I laughed a lot during FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, GET SMART, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, and TROPIC THUNDER, all for different reasons.

Animation - BOLT & KUNG FU PANDA are tied for me for second best animated movie of the year. If you have kids, rent them both and watch it with them. HORTON HEARS A WHO and THE TALE OF DESPERAUX were also good.

Documentaries - MAN ON WIRE was true to an artist's vision, about a little Frenchman who did something no one had ever done or ever will again. WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN? was like The War on Terror for Dummies, entertaining in its own right thanks to Super-Size Me's Morgan Spurlock as our host through the third world.

I also liked Baby Mama, The Band's Visit, Burn After Reading, Encounters at the End of the World, Hancock, Snow Angels, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Transsiberian, Valkyrie, The Visitor, and Wanted.

Eleventh Place: APPALOOSA - This movie would have made my top ten if it weren't for Renee Zellweger. But Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen form the best cowboy partnership since, well, Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner in Open Range, and Harris's direction makes this Western relevant for today's times.

And now...

... My Top Ten Movies for 2008.

10. CHANGELING - Clint Eastwood directed this period piece with the same care he gives everything else, and he's a must-see artist. This true story takes some disturbing turns, starring Angelina Jolie as a woman whose son is kidnapped, and when the police return the wrong boy to her, they have her committed rather than trying to find her real son.

9. THE COUNTERFEITERS - It won Best Foreign Film in 2007, but it didn't actually hit US theaters until 2008. And it's a really good movie. I'm not sure why well-made Holocaust movies never get old. This one explores a little weasel who gets caught by the Germans, but they keep him alive to use his counterfeiting skills to flood the markets of their enemies with fake money, thus to hurt their economies and weaken them in the war. We see every emotion on his sweaty face as he struggles with where his line might be between staying alive and helping an evil regime win the war.

8. IN BRUGES - Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson shine in this buddy crime-comedy as two hitman hiding out in Bruges, mocking tourists and waiting for their fate, and Ralph Fiennes gives a scary-funny performance as their unhappy boss who eventually shows up.

7. MILK - Sean Penn gives what may be his best performance of his already prolific career as the first openly gay man elected to major public office, and the flourishes Gus Van Sant adds may be his most focussed directing job yet.

6. AMERICAN TEEN - I can't think of a better teen movie from the past few years. This documentary follows four teens from different walks of life in the same school, where we see their hopes and dreams and pressures and pitfalls, and I was rooting for each one to just come out of graduation a good person.

5. IRON MAN - He's always been one of the lesser Marvel heroes to me. He's there, sure, but he's behind the likes of Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men, Daredevil, and Thor. So nice to see him made relevant and contemporary. Robert Downey Jr. makes a wonderful comeback as ethically-challenged Tony Stark, who has a change of heart (heh) when he gets an eye-witness account of what his weapons have done to the world.

4. BIGGER STRONGER FASTER - The best documentary I saw last year. Chris Bell makes a movie about his own family, as his two brothers are on steroids, and he expands it to what steroids really mean to America. He explores the hypocrisy and grandstanding of different leaders and asks a lot of thought-provoking questions about winning at all costs. On a side note, Chris's older brother Mike died just a few weeks ago, adding some pathos to his sad subplot of a muscle-clad wannabe struggling in obscurity.

3. THE BANK JOB - The most genuinely exciting heist movie in years. Jason Statham leads a gang of regular guys in 1971 to a bank robbery that winds up being more dangerous than they'd anticipated. That it's based on a true story gives it a real kick.

2. WALL-E - A lyrical, contemplative tale about true love amongst artificial intelligence, as well as a satire of our consuming society, this movie scores best by creating a junky little robot with a heart. The subtle physical humor is great, and it's just another example of how story is everything and how Pixar can do no wrong.

1. THE DARK KNIGHT - I saw it in theaters and again on DVD. This movie deserved to come thisclose to beating Titanic for all-time box-office grosser. It took the story of Batman vs. Joker and raised it to the level of crime drama reminiscent of Heat or The Untouchables, and the trajectory of Harvey Dent was darn near Greek tragedy. It had parallels to the war on terror with no easy questions or answers. And while the cast was uniformly good, Heath Ledger stood above them all, in the performance of his career. It's not just sad that we won't see Joker in Batman 3; it's sad that save for his footage in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, we won't see Heath surprise us again in anything else ever.

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