Saturday, January 10, 2009

Best 10 Films of 2008

I caved and decided to make a best of list for 2008. Before anyone bitches, my best of list is based on how much I enjoyed these films and would watch them again, as well as how well they were made and how well they achieved their intended goal. All ten are very deserving of merit, but I had to pick an order, and that was based on personal preference. Here we go, counting down:

10) JCVD (Dir: Mabrouk El Mechri)

Jean-Claude Van Damme parodies himself in this action-comedy that plays out like Being John Malkovich meets Dog Day Afternoon. Van Damme gets mixed up in a bank robbery in his home town, and everyone assumes that the down-on-his-luck actor is the criminal. Hundreds of reporters and fans turn up at the police barricades with love for the actor, while the Belgian police try to negotiate for hostages. Van Damme impresses as a serious actor for probably the first time in his career. He is genuinely good here. The movie is also tense and very funny.

9) Timecrimes (Dir: Nacho Vigalondo)

This Spanish movie has accomplished something that is difficult to do - creating a time travel story that is consistent, plausible, and fairly easy to follow. Hector is an ordinary man who gets sent back in time by one hour. In his attempts to make things right, he sets off a series of unforeseeable events with tragic consequences. The more he tries to fix, the deeper the problem becomes. Writer/director/co-star Vigalondo definitely has a mind for time and space physics, or maybe he just has a lot more common sense than me. His script is brilliantly constructed and never misses a detail. This film is smart, tense, and absolutely fascinating.

8) Slumdog Millionaire (Dir: Danny Boyle)

Jamal was an orphan who grew up in the slums of Mumbai. After a childhood filled with terror and tragedy, he becomes a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in an effort to reunite with a long-lost love. He wins an unprecedented amount of money, which prompts the police to believe he is a cheater and they grill him on how he did it. Jamal tells his interrogators of his childhood and through flashbacks, we see that every question he was asked on the show somehow relates back to Jamal's past. Most of the memories are horrifying, but they gave him the answers he needed to win and therefore find his lost love. Boyle's directing is sometimes over-the-top but the movie is unique, beautifully told, and uplifting despite all the violence within. It is ultimately a film about love and destiny, which I am a sucker for.

Full review:

7) The Wrestler (Dir: Darren Aronofsky)

Randy The Ram (Mickey Rourke) is a washed up professional wrestler who works at a supermarket and does small-time wrestling stints on weekends. Once a huge star, he now lives broke and alone in a trailer park. After a heart attack threatens to end his wrestling gigs, Randy tries to adapt to a life without the job he loves. He chases the affections of a stripper (Marisa Tomei) who won't open her heart to him, and he tries to make amends with the daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) he abandoned. Both actresses are great but Rourke is just phenomenal here. The story is both tragic and uplifting somehow, and it is beautifully told by Aronofsky (as always). I must also mention its theme song by Bruce Springsteen because it is perfectly written for the film and makes me tear up a little everytime I hear it.

Full review:

6) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Dir: David Fincher)

David Fincher is completely incapable of disappointing me. Benjamin Button has a unique story, beautiful cinematography, and a lot of great performances. It is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald and tells the tale of a man who ages backwards. Born a shriveled old man, Benjamin gradually learns to walk without crutches, his eye sight improves, and his hair gets thicker and darker. When he becomes old enough (and young-feeling enough), he ventures out into the world. He spends some time on a tugboat, gets drunk, gets laid, falls in love, loses love, and everything else we experience in life. And he is getting younger all the while. When he returns home, he reunites with a childhood sweetheart and they are now the same age (physically). A beautiful love story ensues. The narrative is very much like Forrest Gump, only with a more fantastical approach (like Big Fish). Be ready for a tear-jerker.

5) Tropic Thunder (Dir: Ben Stiller)

This is probably the biggest odd-duck on my list, but I just love this movie. Not only is it hilarious, but it is a spot-on parody of Hollywood. A group of self-obsessed actors are sent into the dangerous jungles of Vietnam to shoot a film. Action star Tugg Speedman (Stiller) refuses to believe it's all real, while his co-stars attempt to find a helicopter and escape. The Three Amigos-esque plot may sound tired, but Thunder is made great by its hilarious cast (especially Robert Downey Jr. as a method actor who dyes his skin to play a black soldier) and the way it mocks Hollywood players. Everyone in the movie is very funny, including Nick Nolte, Tom Cruise, and Danny McBride. It has classic comedy written all over it.

Full review:

4) Let the Right One In (Dir: Tomas Alfredson)

This little Swedish film packs a big punch. Based on John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel of the same name, the movie is about a bullied young boy, Oskar, whose neighbor Eli turns out to be a vampire. He falls for her despite her quirks, but it becomes hard to ignore all the vicious murders occurring around town. This is an unconventional love story and coming-of-age tale, punctuated by the occasional scene of brutal violence. It is expertly directed and the child actors are talented beyond their years.

Full review:

3) The Signal (Dir: David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry)

This film is told in 3 parts, each directed by a different person. The first and last parts are similar in feel to 28 Days Later - gritty and brutal - while the middle part is twistedly funny. It takes place on New Years Eve in the fictional city of Terminus. A mysterious signal has started broadcasting across television, radios, and cell phones. It causes some people to go crazy and start killing others. There is a love triangle involved - the lead Mya flees to the train station to meet up with her lover Ben; meanwhile, they are both being pursued by Mya's now-insane husband, Lewis. The actors are great and occasionally hilarious (especially in Transmission 2). The story and the directing in all three sections is fresh and unique. Definitely a classic.

2) Iron Man (Dir: Jon Favreau)

Another controversial choice, I'm sure, but I love this movie so, so much. It is practically my #1 choice and I only placed it here because a lot more creative work went into my #1. But don't get me wrong - I adore Iron Man. It is perfect. It is technically my favorite film of 2008 and definitely the film that had the biggest impact on me (take a step in my bedroom and that becomes very obvious). The story is great, the FX are awesome, Robert Downey Jr is a perfect Tony Stark, and the movie is all around kick-ass! I cannot praise it enough. I often argue with people over which is better - Iron Man or The Dark Knight - and while the latter is technically a better film, it does have more flaws than Iron Man AND Iron Man better achieved its personal goal of being damn entertaining and not a "deep" film.

Full review:

1) The Dark Knight (Dir: Christopher Nolan)

As I said, the film is flawed and while it did not achieve its goal as well as Iron Man, The Dark Knight aimed for a higher standard. Despite its small problems, it succeeds as an action-adventure and a dark crime drama. All the actors are great, but of course Heath Ledger breaks barriers with his portrayal of the Joker. That is a performance nobody will ever forget. It was thrilling to finally see a movie capture Joker so accurately. TDK also trumped its predecessor Batman Begins which, despite being a refreshing take on a comic book movie, had many problems. TDK corrected them all. The Nolan geniuses have done it yet again, and I cannot wait to see the third installment. I still remember the chills I got watching this trailer!

Full review:

I have not yet seen Gran Torino, Frost/Nixon, Special, Revolutionary Road, Doubt, or Waltz with Bashir. And no, I did not forget's overrated.

Other 2008 movies worth noting: Cloverfield, Milk, Role Models, Rocknrolla, Wanted