That’s right folks, 2009’s first ‘five things’ post actually includes ten whole things. Double the normal dosage!
The ten things just so happen to be my favorite ten movies of 2008. To make the selection process easier for myself, I’m only including movies that actually came out (or, came out here in Seattle) during the 2008 calendar year, rather than including any movie I happened to see for the first time last year. That being the case, films that would have made the list, like There Will Be Blood, stay off the list because here in Seattle it was out in December of 2007).
I also feel the need to point out that it is entirely possible my list will change as time passes and it becomes clear which movies stick with me and which were merely enjoyable for a single viewing.
So, here they are, in no particular order:
Personally, I don’t think there are better storytellers in the business than Pixar. They continually offer films that entertain, amaze and inspire me. It would be easy for their technological innovations to interfere with their storytelling, but instead their talent within the medium they utilize always feels like but one facet of consistently heartfelt stories that consistently tug at the wonder in me.
That being said, Wall-E is Pixar at the top of their game. I loved it. Twice.
2. Slumdog Millionaire
If it weren’t for the fact that I don’t like the finality of putting my favorite things in order, this film might have been my favorite of the year. I’m withholding on making that claim too strongly because I saw it too late in the year and the emotion probably still hasn’t worn off yet (which is also probably true of Benjamin Button, but more on him lately).
One critic that was featured prominently in the film’s tv spots described the film as a “hymn to life.” I couldn’t agree more.
Can love really bend even destiny toward its purposes? Can all things, even the most heinous and inequitable, really work together for the good? There is something remarkably poignant about asking these questions within the suffering and ineluctability of the slums of India.
This film was wonderfully crafted. The acting, the directing, the fantastic casting; each part of the film was brilliant. I loved it from the troubling opening moments right to the ode to Bollywood in the credits.
3. Iron Man
Iron Man, while in my top ten this year, also happens to be my wife Emily’s favorite film of the year. This is saying a lot since she didn’t even want to see the movie beforehand and we saw it at 11:00pm opening night. Emily normally falls asleep during movies when we start them too late, even movies she later loves. Emily left Iron Man filled with adrenaline and probably would have been ready to start it again if it had been possible.
I won’t argue with her, Marvel Studios’ first self-made film was a roaring success in more ways than one.
A great cast, Jon “Favs” Favreau making us proud, exciting action, wonderful effects, an enjoyable story, and the resurrection of Robert Downey Jr. I mean, come on, what more could you want?
Bring on 2010! Bring on Iron Man 2!
4. The Visitor
I believe this movie had been premiered in various places previous to 2008, but it wasn’t actually fully released until April of 2008, so it counts.
I’ve written about The Visitor before in a previous five things post, and like I wrote then:
“The Visitor is a lovely film. It does a great job, among other things, holding on to both tragedy and hope, which is beautiful because in life, one is never absent of the other. The film had the unforced subtlety and nuance of life, and before I knew it I fell in love with the characters and found myself wanting the story to continue on after it ended (much like writer/director Thomas McCarthy’s other film The Station Agent).
I came away from the film with the reminder that, at the risk of sounding cheesy, we are the music in each others lives. While allowing others into our lives may open us up to the pain of loss and heartache, we aren’t really living if our days aren’t filled with the rhythm of community and family.”
5. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Another film that would have made it impossible for me to pick my flat out favorite film of the year, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was wonderful. Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the story which is brilliantly told in the film reached a place internally for me that only works of great beauty can seem to touch.
Benjamin Button engages the glory and the tragedy of life and death, of love, and of the frailty of being human. It reminds the viewer that, as the tagline says, ‘Life isn’t measure in minutes, but in moments.” I sat through the nearly three hours of the film without ever once considering checking my watch. It even went unscathed by the drunk couple that had to be forcibly removed because they kept making loud noises and throwing popcorn at nearby moviegoers. It is a wonderful addition to my top ten list.
6. The Fall
This was another film that had been released at festivals and such as early as 2006, but was only finally released to the general public here in 2008, and thus, it makes the list.
When I wrote about the film in a ‘five things’ post earlier this year, I wrote: “The Fall was a beautiful film in every way. I loved its interaction with the meaning and power of storytelling, it’s engagement with the mystery of shared imagination, it’s pondering of the redemptive power of innocence, and, well, just about everything. A wonderful film full of tragedy and hope.”
That still seems like a pretty accurate way to talk about my experience of the film, although I would add that it is probably important to point out how visually and musically fantastic the film was as well. I need to watch this one again soon.
7. The Dark Knight
Ah yes, The Dark Knight. It’s hard for a movie this anticipated to live up to the hype, much less exceed expectations, but this film succeeded. Sure, there were some weaknesses, like the ridiculous mistake of Harvey Dent’s ultimate fate for one, and that whole ‘two boats loaded with explosives’ thing for another. Yet, even the whole boat thing only fell flat with me because of how strong the film had been up to that point. I think I was really just disappointed because it took what had been a brilliant rumination on chaos and order and instead turned into a neatly packaged moral lesson.
Up to that point I think the character of the Joker left the moralist in us uneasily asking “The Joker’s totally wrong about how the world works, isn’t he?” So it felt cheap to then say, of course he is wrong, and to prove it, here is a ridiculously implausible and contrived situation. But, again, that would’ve probably gone unnoticed for a viewing or two in any other comic book film, it only stood out in The Dark Knight because of the strength of the rest of the storytelling.
As a whole the film was great, another moody and gripping send up of, well, The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan has been able to offer us everything Batman can potentially be as a character.
Also, I disagree with the many who have said that Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker was strong. It wasn’t strong, it was downright perfect. Just one ever so small (utterly tiny) part of the tragedy of Ledger’s death was that we never get to see where this brilliant actor continued to take this character in the future.
This year, I realized just how rare great comedies are. So often they’re spotty or stupid, or else the great comedies of each year stand alone. There was a long dry spell where there was just nothing that could consistently make me laugh in one scene without causing my to roll my eyes in the next. Lately, great comedies have been reemerging, and this year was no exception. There were several films released which made me laugh heartily and consistently throughout the film. So, while I may regret them being included in my favorites list for 2008 when I look back next year, I’ve come to appreciate the art of helping someone have a great time for two hours during a film, and for a lifetime of quoting lines after the film. Thus, I decided to honor the genre by giving the remainder of the list to some of my favorite comedies of the year.
8. Pineapple Express
Two-thirds rollicking stoner comedy (the first of the sub-genre I’ve ever liked), one-third ridiculous but well-executed orgy of violence, Pineapple Express was hugely entertaining. Highlighted by the impressive and hilarious performance by James Franco as a lovably inept pot dealer who, among other things, was convinced you could be tracked through the woods by a barracuda.
9. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Judd Apatow has practically created a new genre of comedy by somehow combining the foul-mouthed, sophmoric humor of reality with genuine insight into life and relationships. The comedy of these films is helped in large part by strong, hilarious casts who can all hold their own making up memorably funny lines from scene to scene, the line-o-rama as the group likes to call it.
Now, it seems to be Apatow’s M.O. to start producing projects written by consistent collaborators with him, such as Seth Rogen in the previously mentioned Pineapple Express, and here in the Jason Segel scripted Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Emily made sure I included this one, because of how consistently I apparently laughed out loud the first time we saw it.
10. Tropic Thunder
This movie makes it on the list for plenty of reasons, the enjoyment I draw from seeing the continued emergence of Jay Baruchel’s career and the surpising performance by Tom Cruise among them. Yet, my favorite part of this movie is the hilarious performance of Robert Downey Jr. Coupled with Iron Man, it was the knockout blow in the one-two punch that made damn sure his career had been revived. For those who haven’t seen the film yet, the trailer’s didn’t do Downey’s performance justice. It was definitely the best performance of a white American playing a white Austrailian playing a black American guy in history.