Posted by mike in Film at 1:31 am on January 20, 2009

I have a personal rule: I don’t read reviews of a movie until I’ve written my own review of it. I try to do this to help keep myself unbiased and more able to form my opinions on my own, although of course it’s not foolproof; word tends to get out on a movie pretty quickly, and I don’t rate enough to see wide releases before the rest of the country does (although living near a major city does afford me the opportunity to see more films in limited release than most people). Along the lines of that rule, I wanted to do my own personal “awards” for the year prior to the announcement of the Academy Award nominations in a couple of days. Unfortunately I’m kind of a slacker and there are a few movies I’ve seen that I have yet to formally review: The Wrestler (***), Valkyrie (**), and Gran Torino (**.5). There are also several films that I haven’t had a chance to see and very well may not catch until they’re on video. Since it’s pretty hard to stay up with everything unless you’re a professional (which I clearly am not), and in the interest of full up-front disclosure, I’m going to include the most notable of those as my first list:

So with those couple of caveats out of the way, the following are my “best of” lists for 2008, with brief comments for each pick. They’re necessarily a combination of my personal opinions and my attempts to be objective. Each film is linked to my review (except for the case of the three mentioned above, for obvious reasons. Editor’s note: These links have since been added).

  • Top 10 (plus 1) Movies of 2008
    1. Slumdog Millionaire (****)
      This is my favorite movie of the year, and it’s also clearly going to be the favorite for the Oscar. I hope to write more about it soon, to give it more of the attention it deserves.
    2. Australia (****)
      I maintain that if you don’t like this film, you don’t like what makes movies movies.
    3. Choke (****)
      Very overlooked, but great performances in a surprisingly touching story, masked by a bitter sense of humor.
    4. In Bruges (***.5)
      The most intriguing new name to come about this year in writer/director Martin McDonagh.
    5. Iron Man (***.5)
      Despite not getting as much acclaim as The Dark Knight, this one is the perfect superhero movie.
    6. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (****)
      Woody Allen at his best, and his best is as good as anybody’s.
    7. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (***.5)
      The best comedy of the year, and the most surprisingly personal film too.
    8. Synecdoche, New York (****)
      The best film-as-pure-art to come about in several years, a deeper look into the always-enrapturing mind of Charlie Kaufman.
    9. The Dark Knight (**.5)
      Despite taking itself a bit too seriously, a remarkable endeavor that succeeded more than it failed.
    10. Tie:
      • Milk (****)
        Well-executed, superbly acted, and relevant, a mostly feel-good story, despite being a tragedy.
      • Frost/Nixon (***.5)
        Somewhat surprisingly, this one came from behind to serve as the best pure-acting movie of the year.
  • Best Actors
    • Leading:
      1. Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
        The most sympathetic, multi-dimensional portrayal of an historical figure I’ve seen in a long time.
      2. Sean Penn, Milk
        The fullest personification of a character this year.
      3. Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
        A great “comeback” role that gives Rourke a chance to thoroughly shine.
      4. Sam Rockwell, Choke
        I just might be Sam Rockwell’s biggest fan—he always seems to get less credit than I think he deserves.
      5. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Synecdoche, New York
        A haunting portrayal of a man losing touch with reality even as he creates his own. Hoffman ages before our eyes.
    • Supporting:
      1. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
        The best thing about the most over-hyped movie of the year, Ledger’s performance completely lived up to the billing.
      2. Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
        An amazing performance by an amazing actor, in the most unlikely of movies.
      3. George Clooney, Burn After Reading
        The best at delivering snappy comedic dialogue (see also Leatherheads).
      4. Brandon Walters, Australia
        This young newcomer is the secret ingredient in Baz Luhrmann’s epic tribute to his homeland.
      5. Jeff Bridges, Iron Man
        A surprisingly good villainous performance from the still-evolving Bridges.
  • Best Actresses
    • Leading:
      1. Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
        Though she’s overshadowed by Mickey Rourke, Tomei continues to amaze.
      2. Kelly Macdonald, Choke
        A performance that I think might’ve been too infused with subtlety, judging by how universally it was overlooked.
      3. Meryl Streep, Doubt
        One of the best actresses of her generation gets a chance to take over an entire movie, and doesn’t fail.
      4. Rosario Dawson, Seven Pounds
        Her genuinely emotional performance is all the more impressive for the disingenuous film it appears in.
      5. Freida Pinto, Slumdog Millionaire
        This film doesn’t work without her… and as I’ve mentioned, the film works completely.
    • Supporting:
      1. Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
        A classic Allen role taken to new heights by a hilariously spot-on performance.
      2. Mila Kunis, Forgetting Sarah Marshall
        The break-out female role of the year, she nearly steals the show from its star and writer.
      3. Samantha Morton, Synecdoche, New York
        An amazingly versatile turn from an actress who doesn’t seem to get the credit she deserves.
      4. Frances McDormand, Burn After Reading
        The always-good actress shows she can do comedy, too.
      5. Madeline Carroll, Swing Vote
        This child actor manages to carry the movie at times, and plays off of Kevin Costner like an old veteran.
  • Best Directors:
    1. Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
      The most unique undertaking of the year is pulled off to near perfection. Boyle knows every note to hit, and rarely misses.
    2. Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
      An impressively ambitious undertaking, not to mention his forward-looking vision.
    3. Baz Luhrmann, Australia
      Giving Nolan a run for his money in the ambition department, Luhrmann impresses with his scope and sense of wonder.
    4. Martin McDonagh, In Bruges
      A fresh new take on an old style of movie.
    5. Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
      The most mature directorial outing of the year.
  • Best Screenplays:
    1. Woody Allen, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
      Situations that only Woody could contrive, with dialogue that only he could write to match.
    2. Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York
      As bold an endeavor as has been attempted by a theatrical release.
    3. Martin McDonagh, In Bruges
      A great black comedy with its own voice.
    4. Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
      An elevation of the superhero genre by all accounts, it’s not so full of itself that it loses sight of its purpose.
    5. Michel Gondry, Be Kind Rewind
      A truly unique filmmaker continues to go in unexpected directions.
  • Best Animated Features:
    1. WALL-E
      Half of a timelessly great movie.
    2. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
      Okay, so I rarely see animated features, but this one made me feel like that’s what it was at times with its over-reliance on CGI.
  • Best Documentaries:
    1. Largo
      A terrific first outing from a young filmmaker, I fear that my desire to appear unbiased might have even led me to undervalue it. Definitely worth another look… which, luckily, I’ll get at Noise Pop in a few weeks.
    2. Religulous
      If only those who could most benefit from Bill Maher’s arguments would actually hear them out.
  • 5 Movies I Seemed to Like Way More Than Most People:
    1. The Happening (me: ***, Metacritic: 34, 19% fresh)
      I can’t help but think that there’s an anti-Shyamalan sentiment that outreaches the film itself.
    2. Choke (me: ****, Metacritic: 47, 55% fresh)
      Sexual addiction and chronic masturbation aren’t for everybody, I suppose.
    3. Australia (me: ****, Metacritic: 53, 54% fresh)
      As Ebert recently wrote, there’s more at work in disliking this movie than the movie itself. It’s a great disservice to the institution of film that this one didn’t draw more of an audience… we might not see many more like it, and that’d be a shame.
    4. Sex and the City (me: ***.5, Metacritic: 53, 50% fresh)
      I think there’s just too much of a pre-existing bias from people who’ve never seen the show and would never be willing to give either it or the film a shot.
    5. Hancock (me: ***, Metacritic: 49, 39% fresh)
      It was overshadowed by several much better superhero movies this year, but it was an unorthodox take that managed to bring something different to the table.
  • 5 Movies I Seemed to Like Way Less Than Most People:
    1. WALL-E (me: **.5, Metacritic: 93, 96% fresh)
      I thought the first half of this movie was as good as anything I’ve seen, period. If only the second half were a bit more than a modern rehash of The Brave Little Toaster.
    2. The Dark Knight (me: **.5, Metacritic: 82, 94% fresh)
      I’d appreciate this film more if it wouldn’t try to preach to me so much, and out of context at that.
    3. Pineapple Express (me: *.5, Metacritic: 64, 68% fresh)
      This was just largely a disappointment to me… and I remain shocked that anybody would name it their favorite film of the year.
    4. The House Bunny (me: *, Metacritic: 55, 40% fresh)
      Maybe I read into the anti-feminism a bit too much. Or maybe those who enjoyed this movie overlooked it, although I don’t know what they were doing to distract them. Certainly not laughing.
    5. Step Brothers (me: *, Metacritic: 51, 55% fresh)
      An SNL sketch that never was, this is a single-joke vehicle that I can’t imagine any audience not tiring of almost immediately.

While I don’t think that 2008 was quite as strong at the top as 2007 was, I do think the quality we saw was a bit more spread out, giving a wider variety of enjoyable movies overall.

Comments (14)

14 Responses to “Movie Lists, 2008”:

  • I always love these posts. My Netflix queue just grew again.

  • Perhaps I’ll see what I can do to make them more frequently. :)

  • Comment by Mark J. at 8:26 am on January 22, 2009

    So the list is out and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is at the top. Do you think it’s unfair to allow a movie that was released so close to the nominations to be considered? We always tend to be dazzled by new and shiny things and think they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread until something newer and shinier comes along. Is TCCBB really that much better than other movies which didn’t make the list? Or is it just fresher in the minds of the critics?

  • Comment by Mark J. at 8:28 am on January 22, 2009

    As an aside, I’ll gag if Pitt and Jolie both win. We’ll NEVER hear the end of that.

  • It’s a pretty annoying aspect of the whole thing, really. This is the reason why it’s so hard to see all of the Oscar favorites ahead of time—they all wait to be released until the very end of the year, so that they’re still fresh in voters’ minds. Not to mention that a lot of the smaller films will only show in a couple of cities, just to qualify for Oscar nomination, and save a wider release for after they’re given the free marketing pass.

    As for TCCBB, I just haven’t been able to drag myself to the theater to sit through it. Everything I’ve heard about it is that it’s essentially a rehash of Forrest Gump, and at close to 3 hours it’s even harder to get excited about. Of course, that said, it also looks like it really is a technical (and technological) masterpiece, so it’s probably worth seeing for that reason alone.

  • So I take it the Kevin James movie “Mall Cop” isn’t going to make the cut, eh? I can’t believe he’s hijacking his old CBS pooping grounds and promoting that movie there. “You’ve been off television for 2 years, Kevin!!” Seriously, “The King of Queens” made me cry inside.

  • Well, it’s a 2009 release, so it wasn’t eligible. Might be an early favorite for some Razzie awards next year though (although Ebert gave it 3 stars…).

  • 3 stars?? Is the old man losing it?? You want to know what’s really tragic? Me and Kevin James share a birthday and an unhealthy obsession with White Castle.

  • Comment by Megan at 8:38 pm on January 22, 2009

    frank langella should win the oscar… he probably won’t, but he is better than any of those suckas:)

  • Comment by Megan at 8:45 pm on January 22, 2009

    megan’s pics…not who i necessarily think will win, but who should win

    best actor: frank langella
    best supporting actor: robert downey jr
    best actress: meryl streep, i guess…whatever i don’t really care about this category this year
    best supporting actress: penelope cruz, she was sooo good; that part was made for her
    best picture: milk i know it won’t win, but this movie inspired me, which is what movies should be doing

  • What the hell, “Mall Cop” is #1 AGAIN and it’s grossed almost $65 million! Have these people have no shame?? What is this world coming to?? I’d like to know what the all-time standard for most-lame #1 box office draw (Titanic?). Of is it just any ‘ol piece of crap with a PG rating and the most theatres will do it? And what are your thoughts and opinions to parents bringing small children to R-rated movies, and bootlegging? And what is your all-time favorite movie?

  • Let’s see if I can hit all of those questions quickly…

    Mall Cop is, if nothing else, an example of marketing people knowing what they’re doing. Look at the current releases—nothing of note has come out in the past couple of weeks, as is the case every year at this time. I don’t think Titanic has anything to fear, though. As far as lamest huge box-office performers, I’d probably have to say the Lord of the Rings movies.

    Parents, I feel, can expose their children to whatever they deem is appropriate—provided it doesn’t impede the movie-going experience of the other people in the theater. I think the MPAA ratings system is largely bullshit anyway. I’m not a big fan of bootlegging, but I think that studios need to recognize that the lengths people go to to steal movies (or any media, for that matter) should be taken as an indicator of their market, and do something to address it productively (see the recent Monty Python example). Personally I am too much of a quality snob to watch movies or TV shows that come from bittorrent or the like.

    My all-time favorite movie is Vertigo.

  • The reason why I brought up the parents / kids thing, is because I recently read multiple blog entries of people who went to the movies & saw some parents brought their very young kids to an R-rated movie, the kids were screaming, or bored with the movie and started talking with each other, and in one situation, the dad almost got into a fist fight right there in the theatre due to the people shouting at him. I just don’t see the point in bringing little kids to R-rated movies, more of they’re not really going to like it (if I was 4 and I saw the Joker, I’d be screaming my ass off) and it comes off more as “too cheap to get a baby sitter” than anything.

    Wow, I never even heard of “Vertigo”. Ironically, the only bootlegged movie I ever saw was at a friend’s apt of the ’01 LOTR movie. I grew very bored watching it. I also remember eating a really good roast beef sandwich w/ au jus from Bloomington-Normal at the time. I expected you to be a quality snob, given the great lengths you go for your entertainment system & I wouldn’t expect you to download something someone shot on their phone ;)

  • That’s exactly the type of situation I had in mind when I said “provided it doesn’t impede the movie-going experience of the other people in the theater,” and of course that’s always the major sticking point. I’ve never been shy about shushing people in theaters, sometimes quite vocally if necessary. You might feel like an asshole for telling them to shut up, but they’re the real asshole for making the noise in the first place.