2008 saw The Dark Knight crush everything at the box office, with Iron Man picking up what super hero crumbs were left over. WALL-E charmed the pants off of everyone, becoming both a critical darling and a major crowd-pleaser. Standard procedure for Pixar, of course. Teenage girls packed theaters for the first Twilight film, while their mothers came out in droves for Sex and the City and Mamma Mia. Slumdog Millionaire hit the film festivals and began one of the least-threatened journeys to the Best Picture Oscar in recent memory. Mickey Rourke had his career resurrected through The Wrestler, Titanic co-stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet reunited in Revolutionary Road and Harrison Ford donned the iconic hat once more in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. More saddening, 2008 also had the deaths of Heath Ledger, Sydney Pollack, Bernie Mac, Paul Newman, Charlton Heston, trailer voice-over guy Don LaFontaine and others.
This was an important year for me as a movie-watcher, since it was in 2008 that I went from very casually interested to becoming the movie-nut I am today. And what a good year it was for cinema, with plenty of wonderful films arriving from all corners of the world. Culling these films into a mere 10 was not the easiest task.
As usual, this is 2008 strictly as listed on IMDB. And do note it’s a list of my favorite films, and nothing else.
10 – IN BRUGES (Martin McDonagh)
“Of course you can’t see! I just a shot a blank in your fucking eye!”
Who’d have though a film about two assassins on vacation in a quiet Belgian town could be so great? Director/writer Martin McDonagh crafts a tale filled with black humor, sadness, guilt and violence, helmed by two great performances by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. One of the funniest films of the year, only strangely enhanced by the thick melancholic atmosphere.
9 – LAKEVIEW TERRACE (Neil LaBute)
“I am the police! You have to do what I say!”
This choice is sure to raise a few eyebrows, but I really dug this film. It might not have anything revelatory to say about racism (“Did you know that black people can be racist too?”), but it walks the fine line between mumbling and top-of-the-lungs screaming regardless. It also works really well as pure entertainment. There’s lots of fun to be had watching Samuel L. Jackson‘s bigot LAPD cop character troll his new neighbors, an interracial couple played by Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington. Many disagree with me and say this movie is nothing special. I found it surprisingly great.
8 – ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL (Sacha Gervasi)
“Everything on the tour went drastically wrong, but at least there was a tour for it to go wrong on.”
When classic mockumentary This is Spinal Tap arrived, many rock stars said they didn’t understand that it was supposed to be a comedy, since so much of the absurd situations reminded them of what they had gone through themselves. I reckon the members of Anvil would have similar sentiments, because this film at times seems like Spinal Tap for real. A both funny and inspiring documentary on two childhood friends who refuse to let go of their dream of being rock stars.
7 – LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (LÅT DEN RÄTTE KOMMA IN, Thomas Alfredsson)
“What happens if I don’t? What happens if you walk in anyway? Is there something in the way?”
I know it shouldn’t matter, but It always pleases me when a film from my country captures the minds of people in other parts of the world. Thomas Alfredsson‘s take on the vampire genre is a great one, cleverly blending familiar tropes with a touching story about the torment of childhood loneliness. Lina Leandersson is teriffic as the vampire Eli, both frightening and intriguing in equal measures.
6 – REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (Sam Mendes)
“No, Frank. This is what’s unrealistic. It’s unrealistic for a man with a fine mind to go on working year after year at a job he can’t stand, coming home to a place he can’t stand, to a wife who’s equally unable to stand the same things.”
Sam Mendes revisits the theme of being trapped in suburbia that he burst onto the scene with in his debut American Beauty, but here it’s set in the 60s with the comedy stripped out. As the Wheeler family (Winslet and DiCaprio) decides to move to Europe to escape their unfulfilling lives, they’re faced with doubts, fears and the reactions of their friends. A powerful film in many ways, very well-crafted and well-acted. Based on an even better Richard Yates novel, which I compared to the film in this blog post.
5 – FROST/NIXON (Ron Howard)
“You’re a talk show host. I spent yesterday watching you interview the Bee Gees.”
Based on a play based on real events, Frost/Nixon offers a highly dramatized look at the series of interviews taking place between David Frost (Michael Sheen) and Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) after the latter had received his pardon for Watergate. It’s built up as the last chance for the American people to receive the apology they never got from the ex-president, and while that might be overstating the truth quite a bit, it certainly makes for an exciting movie. The battle of words between interviewer and interviewee is fun and engaging, largely due to the two leads. Sheen offers a charming portrayal of Frost, but it’s Langella who gets the flashier role and he rightfully steals the show. There’s real chemistry between the two, and they’re backed up by a solid bunch of supporting actors, including Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon and Sam Rockwell. Frost/Nixon might not be what you’d call extraordinary filmmaking, but it is teriffically entertaining.
4 – MAN ON WIRE (James Marsh)
“If I die, what a beautiful death!”
This is a documentary that occasionally dons the shroud of a heist film. The subject is high-wire artist Philippe Petit, who ever since childhood dreamed of walking on a tight-rope between the two towers of the World Trade Center. Nobody would allow it though, so a great deal of planning takes place in order for him and his collaborators to sneak into the towers, set up the rope and actually performing the task. It’s a thrilling project that makes for a very pleasing watching experience. A lot of it is due to Petit himself, a fascinating person whose optimism and joy always shines through.
3 – DOUBT (John Patrick Shanley)
“You have no right to act on your own! You have taken vows, obedience being one! You answer to us! You have no right to step outside the church!”
Gotta love power-acting. Here we have actors who are clearly enjoying portraying their characters. Philip Seymour Hoffman is the sympathetic priest who we want to like, even when doubt sets in. Meryl Streep is the strict and unyielding head nun who suspects him to be a child predator. Caught between the two is younger nun Amy Adams, fraught with worry about who to trust and why. And in a brief but unforgettable performance, Viola Davis steals a crucial scene from right under Streep’s nose. Doubt has a captivating plot and some lovely fun writing, but it’s the actors that make the film special.
2 – RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (Jonathan Demme)
“I am Shiva the destroyer, your harbinger of doom this evening.”
I love many things about this film, and the title is definitely one of them. Yes, this is a movie about Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) marrying her Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe). But she’s not the main character, because there’s no way her syster Kym (Anne Hathaway) could be in a film without taking that spot. On temporary leave from rehab, Kym has the constant need to be the center of attention, no matter whose toes she has to step on. But the wedding is still happening, and the film never lets us forget it. In fact, as great as Hathaway is here, what makes the film stand out is the overall sense of just spending a weekend at this house, with these families, at this wedding. Jonathan Demme is not afraid to focus on people other than Kym extensively (you can just feel her seething with anger over this just off the screen). There’s plenty of family drama to be had of course, and some of it quite brutal, but I still don’t hesitate for a minute to call Rachel Getting Married one of the warmest films in the last few years. Such is the strong sense of welcoming this film provides.
1 – THE DARK KNIGHT (Christopher Nolan)
“You wanted me. Here I am.”
Not the most radical choice for the #1 spot, but who cares. The Dark Knight lived up to all my expectations and then some. An awesome action film that fixes some of the issues I had with its predecessor Batman Begins (too shaky-camera’d action scenes, a somewhat colorless antagonist, Katie Holmes etc.) and takes the story into new and fascinating directions. Christopher Nolan is the man.