A Slice of Fried Gold

Best Movies of 2008

Monday, January 12, 2009
It was really hard to finalize my top 10. Strangely enough, even with all of my complaining, it ended up being a pretty awesome year in movies. Typically for these things I preface by saying these are my favorite movies of the year, not best, but I really do feel like these are the best. One note to make is that this list is mostly devoid from comedies, but I do want to stress that I thought this was a great year for comedies: I really, really enjoyed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Tropic Thunder, Pineapple Express, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and even Step Brothers and Definitely, Maybe. If I made a favorite list, the first two at least would likely be on there.

No less, first once, this is the best of 2008 list from yours truly. I highly recommend everything on this list, but it's a definitive and inseparable two way tie at the top.

Also, from time to time I will steal my own old reviews in places where I think I already captured what I said correctly.

1a. Slumdog Millionaire (Directed by Danny Boyle; Written by Simon Beaufoy)

Taken from my review in December...

Once again, a preface is necessary. Typically I swerve wildly into the realm of hyperbole way too easily, and this situation may be no different. Also, to each their own, as your opinion will almost assuredly not jive with mine.

I'm going to call it a tie with Wall E (because I have no guts and it's hard to decide), but Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle's new film, is my favorite movie of the year. Not only that, but it quickly has jumped into the category of "one of my favorite movies of all time." It's that good.

Strangely enough, that makes it two straight years of Danny Boyle directing my favorite movie of the year (with Sunshine taking the nod last year). The man is one of the most prolific directors in the industry, and is perpetually excellent. On his rap sheet you have great films like Trainspotting, Millions, 28 Days Later, and the aforementioned Sunshine.

This is better than all of them.

This film takes on the feel of the fantasy like Millions, studying the life of a young man who goes on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? simply because he thinks the love of his life will be watching. You find out what makes a person like they are, how they learn, and how they grow to be the adult they're supposed be in this film. It's one of the most human and real movies I've ever seen, with parts that are shocking, hilarious, touching, and flat out incredible coming up nearly every minute.

Very few films actually make me want to get up and cheer during the midst of it, and I nearly did multiple times during it. It's a roller coaster of a movie, and every aspect of it is uniformly excellent. I just can't say enough about it. There is no part of the creation of this movie that was not well prepared and put together. It's the perfect fusion of script, acting, direction, cinematography, editing, and music (loaded with lots of M.I.A., how are you going to go wrong with that?).

I won't go into the plot at all, as it's better to be surprised by it (as this movie I somehow knew very little about, at least in the details, before going to see it). However, know this. It's very akin to Wall E in the fact that it's impossible not to like (or love). I have no doubt that this movie is for everyone, and I hope when the time comes it pulls in the nominations it deserves.

1b. Wall-E (Directed by Andrew Stanton; Written by Stanton, Pete Docter, and Jim Reardon)

Even though I love Pixar with immense passion, and many of their movies rank as all time favorites (both Toy Story's, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo), Wall-E managed to pull off the seemingly impossible and surpass all of them in my mind.

This movie managed to do more with silence, small motions, and longing looks than other movies this year did with 30 minutes of film. With apologies to Slumdog, this was the most romantic movie of the year and the most human, even though it was a story about a selfless robot and his pursuit of love. I wholeheartedly believe it deserves a Best Picture nomination.

Regardless of the fact it is an animated feature that some automatically demerit it for (archaic way of thinking if you ask me), this movie features better visuals, sound, and altogether cinematic appeal than almost anything else this year. The filmmaking talent behind it is almost unrivaled, and the idea that it being animated changes any of those previous ideas is ludicrous and backward thinking if you ask me.

I have no problem calling this one of my favorite movies of the year, and I really hope the Academy grows a heart between now and next week.


3. Let the Right One In (Directed by Tomas Alfredson; Written by John Ajvide Lindqvist)

Taken from my review from earlier this month...

When going through a large sum of movies to round up my Best of 2008 list, I really did not expect a miminalist Swedish love story between a Vampire in the form of a 12 year old girl and a bullied prototypical Swedish kid to stand out amongst the rest. Who would really, mostly because one would have to openly wonder whether or not a movie that fit under that description could possibly exist.

Yet it does. And it did.

It's name is Let the Right One In, and it's a remarkable movie that has a guaranteed spot in my favorite five movies of the year. Everything about it, from the two brilliant lead performances by the two child actors (Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar and the "wears sadness better than most Oscar winning actresses" vampire Eli as performed by Lina Leandersson) to the haunting music, from the subtle script to the brilliant direction (Tomas Alfredson...remember that name when he makes your next favorite American movie - he can set a scene like nobody's business), is phenomenal.

It's definitely not for everyone. Not into foreign film? Probably not for you. Not into movies with slow but thoughtful pacing? Avoid like the plague. But if you're an adventurous movie goer and want to see something truly excellent, check this out.

You'll be happy that you did.

4. In Bruges (Written and directed by Martin McDonagh)

In an incredibly surprising year that was highlighted by movies whose main characters were Indian youths from Mumbai, an incredibly loving and brave robot, and a Swedish vampire and her put upon best friend, this movie was possibly the most surprising of all.

Even though I saw the previews and immediately thought it looked awesome, I really expected some sort of zany crime comedy from them. What I got was one of the most affecting crime movies in recent memory, showing us what happens when everything goes wrong in a young criminals career. Plus, it provides us with hysterical humor, whip fast dialogue, and three brilliant lead performances.

While Brendan Gleason and Ralph Fiennes have earned their kudos over the years and were expectedly wonderful in this movie (Fiennes rageaholic boss character was particularly fun), it was Colin Farrell who really took this movie to the next level. He needed to be sympathetic while being a bastard, able to switch from a devestatingly tragic scene to one where he judo chops a midget, and give the most balanced performance of his career to make it work.

He did more than that, and that's why this is one of the best movies I saw this year.

5. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Directed by David Fincher; Written by Eric Roth)

After the middling word about this movie, I was unsure. Sure it had a pedigree that was to die for. David Fincher, a brilliant director. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, incredible leads. Eric Roth, Academy Award winning screenwriter. What could go wrong?

Very little, when it got down to it. This movie was 2 hours and 47 minutes long, but it never dragged, it never sagged, and it always keep you involved with the story of this most unique character. Roth really hit another home run with this script, finally reaching the highs of Forrest Gump once again after years of mediocrity, and Fincher abandoned his visual panache for a more prestigious look, although he still occasionally threw in some trademark edge.

Of course, the movie was carried by performances, with Pitt and Blanchett being predictably superb. Blanchett, in my mind, was ravishing in this movie, looking better than she ever had and really establishing herself as a believable figure that was irresistable for her truly one-of-a-kind beau.

However, one note I do want to make is while these performances were good, it was the supporting performances that really made this movie what it was. Here's a shout out to Taraji P. Henson, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Jason Flemyng, Julia Ormond, Jared Harris, and Tilda Swinton for really making this great film a little bit greater.

6. The Dark Knight (Directed by Christopher Nolan; Written by Nolan and Jonathan Nolan)

This is not the best movie ever made. I want that to be known.

But it is a great one that is a gritty crime drama and the best comic book movie ever made, all wrapped up into one.

I'm not going to waste time going into this. You all know the count on this one. Ledger gave one of the legendary film performances in this. Nolan directed with a steady and precise hand. The story was grounded in realism, which is the element that most comic movie directors forget.

Yada yada yada. We've all seen it. We all love it.

7. Man On Wire (Directed by James Marsh)

From my review back in October...

You may have heard of this movie. It's a little documentary called Man on Wire and it is about a tightrope walker named Philippe Petit and his friends on an adventure to walk across a wire suspended between the Twin Towers. Hannah and I went and saw it tonight at Bear Tooth, and it flat out blew me away. Definitely one of the best movies I've seen this year, and probably the best documentary I've ever seen (although I do not consider myself a documentary connoisseur).

The whole film is an emotional powerhouse, providing the viewer with alternating moments of great levity and true sorrow. The story of one man's quest to live his dream and how it affects those around him, about the drive it takes to really accomplish what you want to do in life. It is absolutely incredible and inspirational, but the parts that really struck home were the ones that expressed what a person has to give up to get what they want. Of course, in the end I don't believe Petit would trade what he did for anything, as he was filled to the brim with joy over what he had accomplished.

All of the people within the film are brilliant, so full of life and so haunted by the one act they all shared. Haunted by the fear, by the joy, by the success, by everything it presented to them. This is the type of movie that makes you want to reconsider delaying your own dreams, and one that throws caution into your mind as you attempt to fulfill them. One way or another, it is more full of life than nearly any other movie you'll see.

This is a great film, and one that should be seen by everyone. It's for all of the dreamers out there, whether your dreams have been fulfilled or not.

8. The Visitor (Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy)

This is the most underrated movie of the year. It's an incredibly affecting movie that was very small and very ignored, but is getting some late breaking buzz to get character actor Richard Jenkins a deserved nomination. It follows a very lonely man (portrayed by Jenkins) whose wife has died and is now trying to find solace in music. Except he lacks all discernable talent in his wife's instrument of choice and clearly feels as if he is a failure, thoughts which he seemingly brow beats himself over.

It all changes when he goes to New York City for a conference and finds a couple from Syria and Senegal living in his home, and ultimately befriends them.

This movie brings together thoughts of relationships, of fairness of laws, of understanding your government, of loneliness, and of doing what is right simply because it is the right thing to do. The cast in this is uniformly excellent, but I wanted to give a shout out to the underrated Haaz Sleiman. As a coworker told me recently, he didn't believe this movie would work unless Sleiman made his Syrian character likeable. He did, and the whole movie works because of it.

Incredible film that needs as much love as it can get, which so far has not been much at all.

9. Frost/Nixon (Directed by Ron Howard; Written by Peter Morgan)

Taken from my December review...

Now, tonight we have Frost/Nixon, a film (you could almost describe it as a study/dramatic retelling that is incredibly play like, which is unsurprising given it's origin as a play) that delves into the unlikely interview that took place between British talk show host David Frost and the as of then recently resigned President Richard Nixon. While the structure itself seems as if it would lay credence to the film being technically sharp with a bore at its core (my bad for rhyming), I'm happy to say that I was riveted the whole way through.

There are a number of reasons why, but you have to start with Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as Frost. I have to admit, after watching Sheen portray Frost, I immediately want to search out other roles he's done. He's remarkably charming, incredibly smooth, and a damn fine actor. The fact that Langella is getting all of the accolades is a shame.

Except it isn't, because his performance really is a tour de force. He manages to make his Nixon believable, forgiveable, despicable, and pitiable all at once. The man he portrays is like a wounded tiger, casually unfurling in a lurch, prepared to jump all over the clearly overmatched Frost at one point, then pulling back and seeming to be wounded and really just looking for some help. His character is an absolute enigma, sort of like the actual Nixon.

Ron Howard really proves himself as an actors' director in this, getting bravura performances from the primary duo, and supurb performances as well from Kevin Bacon and the holy trinity of Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt (hysterical as always), and Matthew MacFadyen as Frost's investigative team. His direction is assured, well structured, and reliant upon the gripping script that Peter Morgan culled from his critically ravished play. As it should have been.

This is an incredibly accomplished work from a wonderful team, and it deserves all of the accolades it has earned to date.

10. Gran Torino (Directed by Clint Eastwood; Written by Nick Schenk)

When getting down to the last two spots, it came between the Wrestler and Gran Torino. Both were buoyed by wonderful lead performances. Both had incredible directors. Both had great, but barely there scores.

They had a lot of overlap, in short.

However, when it came down to it, I loved Eastwood's Walt character. He was the ultimate crotchety old man, seemingly an extension of Eastwood himself in an attempt to share all of the racist jokes he's gathered throughout the years, yet deep down a man with a sense of honor, a sense of morale, and a great heart.

When I thought about it, I had to go with Torino, a great film by one of the all-time Hollywood legends.

11. The Wrestler (Directed by Darren Aronofsky; Written by Robert Siegel)

In the opposite of Eastwood's Walt character, we had Randy "the Ram" Robinson as portrayed by Mickey Rourke. I will admit it: this is the best performance this year. Rourke absolutely nails every scene and perpetually breaks your heart like he does to his daughter and everyone around him throughout the movie.

Aronofsky manages to balance a very minimalist style with the brilliant performance Rourke unleashes to make a great film, however, unlike in Gran Torino, I found myself ultimately disliking "The Ram." This sounds unfair of me to rate like this, but in terms of tiebreakers, them's the breaks kid. With all else being equal, the tiebreaker here is which character could I ultimately relate more with, and in that case Torino wins. This really was excellent however.


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