There were a lot of movies worth watching in 2008. So many, in fact, that it was hard to pare them down to just 10 for this list. But pare I must. Some of the films from this year were just too good to be left off a top 10 list – they either set new records, started a new franchise or simply stood alone as quality movies matched by few.
By Nathan Bloch
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Wanted was pretty much the slickest, fastest, most violent-for-its-own-sake movie to come out this year. It didn’t hurt that Angelina Jolie frolicked about the screen seductively for most of the movie – when she wasn’t shooting stuff straight to hell. This movie was hard not to love, even if you didn’t want to.
9. Tropic Thunder
Tropic Thunder was Ben Stiller’s baby, considering the fact that he directed, starred in and co-wrote the thing. It was also a very, very funny movie that fulfilled just about everyone’s expectations. Only Stiller can offend and entertain seamlessly at the same time. Robert Downey, Jr.’s hilarious antics and a memorable cameo by Tom Cruise helped make this movie the last big bang of the summer.
8. Slumdog Millionaire
Danny Boyle’s latest film, after the relatively disappointing Sunshine, has made a big splash with a little budget and an unknown cast – all set in India. He’s basically taken many elements that don’t much appeal to American audiences and shaped them into a very entertaining and moving film. Slumdog Millionaire is being touted as an Oscar contender, which is nice to see considering more mundane potential contenders such as Revolutionary Road and Doubt.
7. Burn After Reading
The Coen brothers are movie-making machines. They will not rest until they have made more movies than any pair of brothers combined. After No Country For Old Men cleaned up at last year’s Oscars, they came back with a zany, violent, dark comedy about idiots and the ways in which their miserable lives can sometimes intersect. And how the CIA really doesn’t ever know what’s going on. The Coens are on fire.
6. The Visitor
Despite the fact that this film didn’t do huge box office, and the fact that many people still haven’t seen it, The Visitor, starring Six Feet Under’s excellent Richard Jenkins (who was also in this year’s hilarious Step Brothers) was a diamond in the rough. A touching story about loneliness, friendship and the U.S. government’s racial profiling and intolerant immigration laws, it leaves you feeling helpless and angry – but it also leaves you feeling very grateful you came across this small film.
5. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
You gotta hand it to them, Judd Apatow’s gang is extremely prolific. And sometimes their movies are as good as the hype surrounding them. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is hilarious pretty much from opening to ending credits. No form of humor is too low for this movie – but it somehow manages to come off as sincere. That, and it has puppets in it. Which makes it a damn near perfect comedy.
4. Gran Torino
Clint Eastwood is probably the busiest director alive at age 78. He has two movies out this year: the Oscar contender Changeling and the just released Gran Torino. Gran Torino is a simple, small movie about the melting pot that is America, and the men who helped make it what it is.
It doesn’t shy away from the uglier sides of America: the racism, the violence, the poverty. In fact, it actively explores these elements, and as a result Eastwood has a film that’s full of humor, pathos and realism – aided in part by several non-actors. Changeling might get him a Best Picture or Director Oscar, but Gran Torino could get Eastwood a Best Actor Oscar.
Eastwood should give some of his colleagues a class on how to maintain a successful directing career past the age of 50. He’s got more vigor and relevance pushing 80 than most directors do at 40.
A lot of people out there think that WALL-E should get the Best Picture Oscar this year. And maybe it should. Sure, there are no actual actors in the movie, but WALL-E feels more human than most of the formulaic junk coming out of Hollywood these days. It also manages to make an important statement without clobbering us over the head with it, which is no mean feat. You know you have an amazing film on your hands when kids and adults both love it, for reasons the same and different.
2. Iron Man
A lot of people second-guessed director Jon Favreau’s choice for the role of Tony Stark in Iron Man, Robert Downey, Jr. But they both proved all the doubters wrong, and Downey got his career back. In fact, he’s arguably the hottest actor working in Hollywood today; the man has to carry a heavy stick with him in public to fend off all the roles he’s getting offered.
But Downey wasn’t the only good thing about Iron Man: everything was good about this movie. The effects, the writing, the directing, the supporting roles – Jeff Bridges hasn’t been this good in a movie since The Big Lebowski. We can only hope that the sequel will be as good.
1. The Dark Knight
Was there ever any question The Dark Knight would take the number one spot? Well, there shouldn’t have been. If there were any justice in the world, Dark Knight would take Best Picture at the Oscars this year. Instead, we must content ourselves with hopes of Best Original Score and Best Supporting Actor – Heath Ledger as the Joker.
So much of the buzz about this movie surrounded Heath Ledger, and rightly so, but The Dark Knight’s excellence includes and transcends any one part in the film. Gary Oldman was once again perfect as Jim Gordon, Aaron Eckhart was great as Harvey Dent, and Christian Bale was morose as ever as Bruce Wayne.
Ultimately it was director Christopher Nolan's vision that made Dark Knight the realistic, edgy apotheosis of comic book movies that it was. The fact that he will be helming the third film is reason to be hopeful for the final installation of the Batman trilogy.