Sunday, January 04, 2009

My top 10 - or maybe 12 - movies of 2008

For most people in the world there certainly have to be more important things to spend your Sunday afternoon thinking about, but it took me quite a while to get this list down to only 10 flicks.

Oddly enough, since this list will be presented simply in alphabetical order, the first one you'll find is actually the last one to make the cut, just edging out Oliver Stone's "W." and Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" for the final spot.

And, even though "Ratatouille" was my single favorite movie of 2007 (though "Into the Wild" has pretty much moved into a tie with it), the simply charming "Wall-E" didn't quite manage to find a home here.

So, without further ado, here goes, and please feel free to share your favorites or let me know of any you think I've just snubbed.

"Cadillac Records"
Writer/director Darnell Martin's take on the history of Chess Records plays more than a little loosely with the facts, but in a way that strays in refreshing ways from the conventional music biopic. And it certainly doesn't hurt that this woefully under appreciated little flick contains my favorite ensemble cast of the year, led by Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, a surprisingly strong Beyonce as Etta James and a thoroughly fun Mos Def as Chuck Berry. See it if you somehow still can.

"The Dark Knight"
With crazy rumors flying around about what might happen with the next chapter of director Christopher Nolan's take on the Batman saga (Eddie Murphy as the riddler? Really!?!?), it's easy to overlook just how much he accomplished with this one. Though "Iron Man" was also a brainy and fun superhero flick, Nolan just made the story of "The Dark Knight" his own, with more than a little help from the much-missed Heath Ledger.

"The Fall"
I think I may be the only person in the world who would put this on the list of 2008's best movies, but I love it and have no intention of backing down. I went into Tarsem's oddly engaging flick expecting a visual stunner but also found a tender story starring Lee Pace of "Pushing Daisies" as an injured stunt man who befriends a young girl played by the charming Catinca Untaru. I loved this movie the first time I saw it in Atlanta, and do so even more now.

"Let the Right One In"
All I knew about this flick as I was examining the lineup for the 2008 Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival, which I was fortunate enough to attend with my parents, was that it was a Swedish vampire flick (not, as I somehow first thought, a Mexican one), but that was enough to get me hooked. What I found was a genuine horror movie that also mixes in a fantastic coming-of-age tale about a social outcast who finds out his new neighbor and friend just happens to be a vampire. "Cloverfield" director Matt Reeves is making noise about transporting this European charmer to Colorado for everyone who can't be bothered to read subtitles, but I heartily recommend checking it out in its original form instead of waiting.

All politics aside, if you can really say that, Gus Van Sant has made what I think will turn out to be my favorite flick of the entire year with this biopic of the slain San Francisco pol Harvey Milk. What makes it work so well is that, even as it presents a true American tragedy, it never dwells on that but instead shows the resolve and joy that made Milk (played by Sean Penn) try so many times to break through barriers. I was surprised - but never bored - by just how much it got into San Francisco politics of the time, and next to "Cadillac Records" it features the second best ensemble cast of the year with supporting players Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch and "Freak" James Franco.

"Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist"
Peter Sollett, who clearly knows the city of New York as well as Woody Allen used to, turns what could have been (and in many ways is) just a silly teen tale into a thoroughly fun portrait of the bridge-and-tunnel set that invades Manhattan every weekend. He's certainly helped by charming leads Kat Dennings and Michael "George Michael" Cera, and has managed to craft here my single favorite comedy of the year.

"Slumdog Millionaire"
Even though Danny Boyle's last flick, "Sunshine," was one I had very little time for at all, I knew he would strike gold with this tale of a Mumbai "slumdog" who competes on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" in hopes of winning the affection of his true love. That just sounds hokeyer each time I type it, but even though the game show framing gets a little old by the end, Boyle's affection for India shines through in every scene, many of which will become permanently burned onto your brain.

"Tell No One"
As happens to me with many mind-bending thrillers, I was sure after watching this French flick based on a Harlan Coben novel once that it just didn't add up. Boy, was I wrong. This one should be out on video soon, and if you like a really taut thriller with natural action scenes and a "reveal" that I guarantee will simply stun you, definitely check out Guillaume Canet's flick. The Macon Film Guild, by the way, will be showing this one soon at the Douglass Theatre downtown, so if you happen to live in my little burgh please turn out for it.

"The Visitor"
As good as Sean Penn was as Harvey Milk, these last two contain my two favorite male acting performances of the year. (My vote for woman of the year, which will be on the list coming out tomorrow, is Sally Hawkins in Mike Leigh's "Happy Go Lucky," another great flick that just missed making this list. In "The Visitor," Thomas McCarthy (director of "The Station Agent") finds a perfect foil in "Six Feet Under" veteran Richard Jenkins, who plays a college professor who finds an immigrant couple living in the New York apartment he owns but hasn't visited for many years. It can be more than a little heavy-handed, but along with Patricia Riggen's "La Misma Luna" it tackles the issue of immigration in the United States while at the same time simply telling a very engaging story.

"The Wrestler"
How in the world they didn't open a movie this good about professional wrestling throughout the South in its first wave is beyond me, but it will be thankfully playing everywhere very soon. Darren Aronofsky's clever movie starts with the conventions of your typical sports underdog flick but turns them into something unique thanks to Mickey Rourke's amazing turn as the titular grappler, simply the best performance I've seen on the big screen all year.

So, there you have it. And here, by the way, are a few of the other flicks I really liked this year that didn't quite make the cut: Cloverfield, In Bruges, Be Kind Rewind, The Bank Job, Iron Man, Son of Rambow, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Kung Fu Panda, Wall-E, Man on Wire, Tropic Thunder, Trouble the Water, A Secret, Burn After Reading, Tyler Perry's The Family that Preys, Ghost Town, The Express, Happy Go Lucky, Waltz with Bashir, Gran Torino, Doubt, W., Synecdoche, NY, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Soul Men and Australia.

Once again, please feel free to share your favorites, and have a perfectly passable Monday. And if you want to, also please come back tomorrow for my women of the year and Wednesday for 2008's best leading men.


Vance said...

I'm still doing massive catch-up at the cinemas but so far my list is looking like this (in order from 1 to 10): Boy A, Slumdog Millionaire, Blindness, The Dark Knight, WALL*E, Milk, Iron Man, In Bruges, Definitely, Maybe, The Visitor

Reel Fanatic said...

In Bruges is one that almost made my cut, Vance ... It is indeed just wicked fun right up until the blackest of possible endings

Chalupa said...

That's a good list you have here. I still need to see a few. At the moment Iron Man, Burn After Reading, In Bruges and Be Kind Rewind are in the running for me.

jeremy said...

Everyone I've told to watch The Fall has enjoyed it. Glad to see its on someone's list. I tell people its like Pan's Labyrinth mixed with The English Patient.

V-Knowledge said...

Solid list, RF. I am a little disappointed that "Wall-E" didn't make the cut, but seeing "The Visitor" & "Let the Right One In" makes up for it. I'm intrigued about "The Fall", and it certainly looks like a visual stunner.

"Tell No One" is one I haven't heard of, but sounds like a real find.

I'm currently putting together my Best of '08 list, and I'm just looking out for any last anticipated releases before I post it.

Reel Fanatic said...

I can buy that comparison, Jeremy ... I was charmed by Tarsem's movie very quickly, and just kept getting drawn in deeper and deeper as it just got odder and odder

Chalupa said...

It reminded me a lot of Wizard of Oz. A strange story, very dream-like, that contains the real people around them. I loved the colors and the contrast. Beautiful to look at.

Sachin said...

I am still waiting to see The Wrestler as it not opened in theaters in my city but from your list I loved Tell No One & The Fall quite a bit and admired Milk, The Visitor and Slumdog.. as well. Let the Right One In was quite the watch and I can't understand why they have to remake it in Hollywood because the movie's best moments are ones where no dialogue is needed.

Oh if it means anything, I also had The Fall in my best of 2008 films list :)