Yes, I’m quite aware that we’re well into ’09, and pretty soon, another list will magically appear outlining this year’s best. Since my previous list of the same title can be considered almost laughable, I’ve decided another would be more than appropriate in an effort to put on display my reformed sense of taste. So, without further adieu, I present to you my top 10 films of ’08!
Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): Ballast, Burn After Reading, The Dark Knight, Definitely, Maybe, Ghost Town, Gomorrah, Synecdoche, New York, Two Lovers, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Wendy and Lucy
I am not a connoisseur of foreign cinema, and it’s because of this fact that merely seeing Revanche on this list at all is quite the surprise. Focusing on a presumably inept thief’s thirst for revenge following the accidental death of his girlfriend, Götz Spielmann’s beautifully shot crime drama is, simply put, riveting. Deliberate pacing and a poignant emotional underbelly ensure a likable sense of unpredictability, with fantastic performances and an exceptionally gratifying resolution to round out the bunch and establish Revanche as an accessible, terrific piece of modern filmmaking.
When I first laid eyes on Happy-Go-Lucky, I couldn’t decide between admiring Poppy’s overly (overly) sunny disposition or stabbing myself in the ears. Having decided my sense of hearing was infinitely more important, I managed to tough it out and found myself pleasantly surprised at how truly magnificent the film really is. From dynamite efforts abound to a refreshingly original central premise and female protagonist, Mike Leigh certainly hits all the right notes with this one.
Nothing has become as stale and frustratingly overused as the vampire subgenre. Sure, Twilight‘s mostly to blame, but such an abortion-esque series of books and films shouldn’t unjustly render everything in the same vein as something less than it is. Let the Right One In, thankfully, puts an exquisite twist on traditional vampire lore by introducing a heavily tweaked coming-of-age element into an already fascinating script, of which functions wonderfully and teems with an odd yet very intelligible sense of authenticity. Throughout its duration Oskar and Eli’s story remains captivating in spite of the language barrier and showcases a pair of mildly impressive performances from our two never before seen leads.
A devastating account of how unspeakable tragedy takes an unfathomably detrimental toll on life in Small Town, USA, David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels isn’t the easiest to watch, but a wonder to behold. Bouncing between the perspectives of young Arthur and his former babysitter Annie as events unfold following the latter’s plight, the film appealingly refrains from sugarcoating any details so as to maintain an altogether authentic if not relentlessly downtrodden atmosphere.
Pixar has always held a special place in my heart. The studio’s miraculous ability to combine mind-boggling animation, lovable characters and equal parts kid-friendly fun and social commentary is unparalleled, and WALL-E is quite easily their best venture to date. Set far into a rather bleak future, Andrew Stanton’s brainchild is both a subtle wake-up call to the world and an endlessly charming animated feature that touches upon several oft-pondered topics while remaining entertaining enough to avoid being heavy-handed in any sense.
Combining a staggeringly beautiful setting with one of the most engrossing and brilliantly funny scripts of the past decade is no easy feat, yet McDonagh hits all the right notes in coupling two very different individuals hiding out in Bruges, Belgium following a botched hit attempt. Not once faltering in its effort to constantly entertain, and never coming off as crass or unrefined, In Bruges is a simply fantastic film of great poise.
Considering we’ve been constantly adrift in a figurative sea of achingly miserable romantic comedies for years, I tend to look past a film’s unrefined exterior for a solid film underneath all the nonsense. Forgetting Sarah Marshall may very well be the epitome of the American comedy in this regard, never once devolving into uninspired and glaringly unfunny muck. In crafting an able-bodied and infinitely rewatchable film worthy of any and all praise, Jason Segel and director Nicholas Stoller deftly blend raunch and the essentials of any functional contemporary romance in such a way that finding anything unfavorable to say about it becomes damn near impossible. Splice in a cast of colorful, offbeat characters and you have yourself a fully functional, well-rounded and just plain hysterical piece of cinema that makes the most out of the simplest of premises.
The significance of Harvey Milk in relation to the ever-present issue of gay rights is nothing short of monumental. Having been familiar with the individual, but not the lengths to which he went in an ongoing effort to give those like him a sense of much-needed security among the general public, I was blown away by Gus Van Sant’s acclaimed biopic in ways I never expected to be. Milk, as a whole, packs the requisite emotional wallop and remains mostly inspirational and infinitely entertaining thanks to a marvelous central performance, sensitive direction and an unrivaled drive to pay tribute to one of the most important figures of the gay rights movement.
A film about professional wrestling? Not quite. Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler marks a triumphant and welcome return to form for one Mickey Rourke, as his portrayal of fading superstar Randy “The Ram” remains this cinematic gem’s captivating centerpiece. Chronicling the life and times of “The Ram” soon reveals that he’s long since lost touch with everything outside of his demanding profession, letting both his dwindling health and relationship with his estranged daughter take a backseat to the one thing he’s unquestionably good at. Appropriately minimalistic, emotionally devastating and insightful everywhere it counts, Aronofsky’s directorial expertise and Rourke’s flawless portrayal of a fading, tormented athlete effortlessly establish The Wrestler as nothing short of a triumph.
Sure, the idea of transforming a short story into a three-hour epic is a little… off. Even if the essence and general ideas presented within the literature translate well enough to the big screen, therein lies the problem of keeping viewers’ interests piqued as the life of such a character is chronicled almost endlessly. Director David Fincher, thankfully, seemed more than up for the task as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button very easily managed to sneak past countless contenders to the top of this very list. Visually stunning and enchanting almost to a fault, the film in question carries itself straight through to its almost melancholic yet hopeful and gratifying conclusion with great ease. Whether you like it or not, there’s no denying Benjamin Button‘s charm, which is precisely why this and the efforts of the cast helped solidify this masterful epic’s honor as my favorite film of 2008.