Friday, February 13, 2009

Top Ten of 2008

It is that time once again ladies, gentlemen, and any extraterrestrial readers out there (don't want to offend, just in case we are in fact being visited by beings from another planet) for the Top Ten Movies of the Year!  The Oscars are just over a week away, and I'll be talking more about them in the coming week (culminating in my always popular Thoughts As I Had Them While Watching The Oscars post), but first it is time to list the best films of the year.

Before we get started, if you're interested here is my Top Ten from 2007 and my Top Ten from 2006.

And now, the honorable mentions....

THE WRESTLER directed by Darren Aronofsky

First, let me say that I thought this was a fantastic film in terms of acting, direction, cinematography, music, and I like the idea of the story, it just didn't grab my attention the way that I hoped that it would.  The directors three previous films (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and The Fountain) are among some of my favorite films, but I didn't feel like this one matched those movies.  However, I am glad that it is getting the attention that those films did not, as he does deserve the attention.  There is no doubt that the scenes in the ring were fantastic, utterly realistic and quite visceral, but overall the movie just didn't do it for me.  I just couldn't get as emotionally invested in the characters as I would need to be to really love the movie.

CRAWFORD directed by David Modigliani

As someone who lives very close to this small town with a big name resident, this documentary interested me the second that I heard about it.  I was extremely excited to finally get to see it via Netflix as it didn't play in a theater anywhere near me.  (Luckily thanks to the awesomeness that is XBOX Live, any movie that Netflix has available for Instant Viewing, such as this one, one can view on your television with the 360!)  As I watched it I was completely drawn in to the story of the town, the changes that it went through, and the effects that history in the making has had on it's inhabitants.  It is a fantastic film as well as an interesting view of some of the events that have occurred in the last eight years under our last president.  (And by the way, this is not the last time that a mention of said former president will make this list!)

KUNG FU PANDA directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson

Unlike last year, this year I loved all three of the films nominated for Best Animated Feature.  Bolt would have no question been an honorable mention if Disney hadn't shoe-horned in the Hannah Montana songs completely upsetting the flow of the film.  Kung Fu Panda, however, suffered from no such mismanagement.  Jack Black even managed to disappear completely into the character (which would probably be impossible in any live action film, and don't get me wrong, I like Jack Black, it's just that the person is bigger then any character he tries to play).  It is a fun movie, the story is outstanding, as is the animation.  And the big training scene involving a dumpling is probably the best kung fu action since Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon.  And besides, my niece Kiran absolutely loves the crap out of this movie, and isn't that what it's all about?

Well, last season I talked about the resurgence of the horror movie, but for the most part this year horror movies were back to torture porn (with one notable exception in the Top Ten), so what was the break out genre of this year?

Okay, I'm sure that you already know the answer to that question.  It is actually pretty obvious if you only give it a couple of seconds of thought.

Yes, the break out genre of 2008 was no question Comic Book Movies.

HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY directed by Guillermo Del Toro

When I did my Top Ten Comic Book Movies of All Time post, the top three were all released this year including this one.  Here is what I said about Hellboy II in that post... "Hellboy returned to the big screen with a lot more Del Toro imagination behind him in this amazing, inventive, and utterly gorgeous sequel.  Where the first Hellboy was very much a literal translation of Mignola's creation to the big screen, this film took Mignola's characters, themes, and world and merged them with the themes and worlds that exist only in Del Toro's magnificent brain (which lucky for us translates very well to the movies).  With the magical imagination that helped make Pan's Labyrinth such a surprising hit, Hellboy II was considerably deeper and more thoughtful and incredibly more visual then it's outstanding predecessor.  Again I hope that the fact that Del Toro will be behind the lens for The Hobbit will cause more people to seek out Hellboy and this amazing sequel."  I see no reason to change any of it.

And now, just missing out on the TOP TEN...

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN directed by Tomas Alfredson

This is a film that isn't getting near the attention that it deserves, which I actually find a little surprising.  It is a film out of Norway that is about a child vampire and the young boy who falls in love with her.  With all of the attention that Twilight is getting, this is a film that is much more romantic in a sick sort of way and far, far more interesting.  Of course, while Twilight is marketed and meant for teenage girls, this film is for everyone else.  It is haunting and real in a way that most vampire movies have no hopes of being able to accomplish.  If it is playing anywhere near you, do yourself a favor and check it out.  And while it might seem like it would be a horror movie, it isn't really.  Sure there are a few scary type moments but much of the violence takes place off camera or quite a distance away and it certainly isn't about going for the scares.  I wouldn't even classify this as a horror film, it is much more then that.

All right, let's get to it, counting down (as always), here we go...

10. FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL directed by Nicholas Stoller

In a year of good comedies (Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder, Step Brothers) the best in my opinion was also the first.  The characters are so well drawn as to seem like people you really know, and the story is deep enough (rare for a romantic comedy) that not only can you see the situation from both sides, but you genuinely think it might turn out differently then you expect.  And, it's hilarious.  Always a plus.  There are great performances all around, including a star making turn by Russell Brand as Aldous Snow.  I particularly love all of the supporting characters from around the hotel where the action takes place, I wish that every hotel I stayed at was staffed with these people.

9. MAN ON WIRE directed by James Marsh

I didn't know anything about this prior to seeing the movie, but in 1974 Philippe Petite, a tight rope walker and street performer from France, broke into the World Trade Center and strung a wire across them and walked in between them.  This is the fantastic story of why and how he pulled off what many refer to as "the artistic crime of the century".  The movie makes no mention of what ultimately happened to the towers, but it's never far from your mind as you watch the film, especially considering how easily Philippe and his team get into the towers, but overall I'm glad the film doesn't make an out loud acknowledgment of the fate awaiting the towers, because this way it is a much more fitting tribute to the famous buildings.

8. THE STRANGERS directed by Bryan Bertino

While last year had more traditional horror films then we'd seen recently, movies that used suspense to scare instead of pools of blood, none of them pulled it off exactly the way they used to.  This film, however, did.  In what is unquestionably the best horror film in at least 30 years, my old school friend Bertino (we went to Elementary, Middle, and High School together) does a tremendous job of scaring the crap out of you, which is the whole point.  Despite this being his first feature film to direct, he does a great job both with the action and with the actors.  Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler are both fantastic and the actors who play the masked invaders are chilling in their portrayal.  I love that there isn't any real reason why the attackers are there, killers with out conscience are far scarier then killers who have some apparent motive (hint, hint, makers of that terrible series Saw, and please don't waste our theater space with any more of them).

7. IRON MAN directed by Jon Favreau

Number two on my top ten comic book movie list, this film was outstanding in so many ways, far better then I was expecting it to be.  I'm worried about the future of the series as it is being rushed and I don't like all the stories about actors getting screwed around, but the first in the series will always be a classic.  Some say origin stories are the easiest to tell, but it still has to be done right, and it is even more important with a character that isn't as familiar to everyone.  Favreau got it exactly right in this film.  And the subtle updates to the character to make him fit so perfectly in this time and place were also a tribute to the filmmakers.  And, of course, there is the genius bit of casting putting Robert Downey Jr. in the suit.  He did an outstanding job and if the series does continue up from its high starting point, he'll be a large reason why.

6. BURN AFTER READING directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

A film that either people seem to love or people seem to hate, the latest from the Coen Brothers is about as far as one can get from their Oscar winning film No Country For Old Men, but it is very reminiscent of another Coen Brothers movie that when it came out was either loved or hated by the movie going public, The Big Lebowski.  In many ways, there are a lot of correlations between the two films.  They are statements about the time periods in which they take place.  In many ways, I consider this the after-Bush Big Lebowski.  Whereas Big Lebowski was a satire on the mystery noir, this is a satire on the spy film, complete with a Tony Scott like opening shot.  Both films feature the characteristic Coen type characters (read people who are nowhere near as smart as they think they are) and a ridiculous story that only works because of our characters.  While I don't think this film is as good as Lebowski (but then, what comedy is?), I do believe that as time goes on more and more people will fall into the love it category just like they did for the Dude.

5. W. directed by Oliver Stone

I have to say, this was not even close to the film that I was expecting.  Like a lot of people I have been very disappointed with the direction that this country has headed in over the last eight years and a lot of my blame for that has been directed towards the 43rd President of the United States.  And I know that Oliver Stone has been even more outspoken against Bush then I have, so I was expecting something different.  Because this film is not harsh or hateful towards George Bush.  In fact, it takes a very unbiased look at the man and his circumstances and in the end managed to make me feel sorry for him as opposed to hating him.  Pretty powerful filmmaking really and worth seeing no matter how you feel about George W. Bush.
4. THE DARK KNIGHT directed by Christopher Nolan

There isn't that much more I can say about this film that hasn't been said already by many people, including myself when I named it the best comic book movie of all time.  This is a film that deserved consideration for Best Picture (especially considering the fact that a couple of the actual nominees this year weren't very good, more on that in my Oscar Post next week) and despite that it will win multiple Oscars (it is up for 8) I feel like it has definitely been cheated.  Rarely is a film so good that it completely transcends the genre that it's in, but this film is in that elite company.  And last year when talking about the number 3 movie I wrote that Javier Bardem was the scariest villain in the history of film topping even Hannibal Lector and that is why he deserved the Oscar.  Well, forget about the fact that Heath Ledger died, I would be making the same argument if he were still alive, because his portrayal of the Joker made me wonder why I ever thought Lector or Chigurh was frightening.

3. WALL-E directed by Andrew Stanton

A movie that I absolutely loved as you can tell from my review, and another film cheated because of it's genre.  There is no question in my mind that this movie deserved a best picture nod, but considering that it has it's own category (Best Animated Feature) the Oscars feel that it isn't necessary to acknowledge it where it belongs to be acknowledged.  The problem is, the best animated feature doesn't always win the Best Animated Feature Oscar.  This is a spot where upsets happen far too often.  And if you view the Best Animated Feature as a synonym for Kid's Movie, well then Kung Fu Panda will win, not WALL-E because Kung Fu Panda is a far better movie for kids.  WALL-E on the other hand isn't really a "Kid's Movie".  It is far more then that, and probably has a lot more in common with a classic such as 2001 then a kid's movie like Happy Feet.  If it were up to me, both TDK and WALL-E would have gotten Best Picture Nominations.

2. MILK directed by Gus Van Sant

What an amazing movie this was, and the timing literally couldn't have been better as it's release coincided with the heartbreaking results of Prop 8 in California along with many similar propositions throughout the United States.  Another movie, like Man On Wire, that had historical importance of which I was largely unaware.  This film is so brilliantly acted by the likes of Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, James Franco, and Josh Brolin that everyone completely sinks into their characters.  (On a side note, in my mind Josh Brolin is one of the best actors of this generation as he completely disappears into all of the very different characters he's played over the last year, the disturbed Dan White here, Llewelyn Moss in No Country For Old Men, and the best portrayal of George W. Bush anywhere, not even close to just being a caricature).  As good as Sean Penn is and has been, I think this might be his best acting job ever.  A very powerful and important film.

1. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON directed by David Fincher

For the second straight year a David Fincher movie tops my Top Ten and this time with a movie very unlike anything that he has done before.  For a slightly more detailed look at my thoughts about this movie you can look at my review, but I wanted to add that one of the reasons I find this film so fascinating is that is so easily could have been bogged down by excess sentimentality (probably the reason why some people don't like Forrest Gump), but it wasn't at all.  There is no cheat to this movie, the heartstrings aren't pulled by tricks simply to pull the heartstrings.  Fincher has just the right amount of detachment to deliver the movie in a completely original way unlike the other favorite to win Best Picture which uses every trick imaginable hoping to force sentimentality on you (more on that in my Oscar Post next week as well).  I sincerely hope that the Oscars do the right thing and reward this magical movie.

Until Next Time, like I said, I will have my Oscar Preview Post up soon and then my highly anticipated Fourth Annual "My Thoughts As I Had Them During The Oscars" Post after the Oscars, until then, what was your favorite movie of the year?

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