So here it is. I realize it's quite late, but movies don't really come to Baton Rouge with the speed and quantity I'd like. So this is as good as I could do. A couple of disclaimers:
A) I didn't see near all the films that came out this year. I really didn't see any of the foreign films, and only saw one documentary. So this list can't possibly be comprehensive. It might be if I were writing this years down the line, but I prefer to get it out in a relatively timely fashion. (If you can call two months after timely. Hey, it's a few days after the Oscars. Has to count for something (?)).
B) As with every other top ten list, the order is pretty arbitrary, with a couple of exceptions, but not worth noting. Suffice to say, the films are on the list because they deserve to be there.
And so without much further ado:
The Top Ten Movies of 2008
1. The Dark Knight
You can say I'm biased to put it at number one. Suit yourself. But I think you'd be hard pressed to find a movie that more for a genre this year. Or a movie that excited more people. There are so many stellar achievements in this film on several levels, this movie deserves its placement. You can read my review if you want to hear more praise.
2. The Wrestler
Haven't posted my review of this yet, but its spot here should let you know how much I liked it. Linear, simple, character-driven dramas were a bit of a rarity this year, and to have this one come from a director like Aronofsky is a surprise indeed. Much has been said of the performances, particularly Rourke's, and it's all true. While it may not have had the flash or pizzazz of the best picture nominees, it quietly established its supremacy over all of them.
You only have to look at the other animated films this year to realize how special this movie was. Look a few years into the past and it will stand out even more. Pixar has made a name for itself in the past with engaging stories and technical achievement, and has recently added to that a cinematic sensibility that draws on the best styles throughout film history, with Wall-E drawing on some of the best, including Chaplin.
4. Synecdoche, NY
Like several other Charlie Kaufman films, this one has been polarizing, to say the least. I'm thinking that time will smile upon his first directorial effort, and it will be looked back on as a work of thematic depth, visual brilliance, and an audacity matched by few filmmakers out there.
5. Gran Torino
Posted a review of this a few weeks back, but a second viewing has cemented my opinions. This will be one of those sadly undervalued films that people will rediscover when examining the work of Eastwood, and while it may not rank as one of his masterpieces, it contains one of his best performances.
6. Man on Wire
As far as documentaries go, this may not have the scope or ambition of others, but that's a good thing. Rather, it's an intimate study of one man's dream and the rather insane lengths he went to in achieving it. One of its marvels is its ability to communicate the kind of devotion and love that others had for Philippe, devotion he might have taken for granted but desperately needed.
7. Rachel Getting Married
Probably one of the only films that employs the handheld camera technique and makes it truly work. The reality of the characters and the setting permeates every frame, and makes it one of the most engaging films of last year. And Anne Hathaway shows us that she has a bright future ahead of her.
Based on one of the best American plays of recent years, Shanley's film version showcases a solid cast manuevering through an emotional and ethical mindfield. Rather than trying to overly embellish the play, it employs an admirable focus that may in fact answer the question that the play set out to obscure. But still, at the end, it's up for you to decide.
9. In Bruges
Martin McDonagh's feature debut is probably the most curious and interesting comedy of the year. It defies easy categorization, as expressed in my blurb about it a couple of weeks ago. It has some of his trademarks of random violence and simpletons dealing with moral conundrums, but it allowed him the chance to visually interpret it exactly as he wanted.
10. The Visitor
Like Milk, takes a political issue and discusses it rationally and empathetically without beating the audience over the head. In fact, it's hardly a political film at all, and so it's rare that the message ends up being one of the most memorable parts. That and the brilliant performance by Richard Jenkins.
11. Vicki Cristina Barcelona
13. Revolutionary Road
14. Pineapple Express
15. Ghost Town
16. Iron Man
17. Burn After Reading
18. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
19. Be Kind Rewind
20. Frozen River
Here's to the end of the 2008 movie season. I'm glad it's over. Compared to 2007, this past year was a let-down, but still yielded some gems. Here's hoping that next year Hollywood will take the inspiration and success from films like The Dark Knight and truly up its game.