Okay, I know, it’s already March. But I felt at some point it was necessary to talk about my top ten movies of 2008, and last week’s Oscars made this slightly more relevant. And what a year it was. There was no “There Will Be Blood” or “Knocked Up” but there were many great ones. Films began to do one thing they haven’t done in a while: give hope. And in this world, we could really use some more hope. Here it is, the top ten films of 2008:
1. Slumdog Millionaire- This was quite a fantastic year for movies, but after much thought I realized the award goes to “Slumdog Millionaire.” This tale of a boy from a Mumbai slum who went on an incredible life journey to become a contestant for “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” is virtually flawless in every way. It contains a great portion of laughs, cries, and thrills that all coincide to create a perfect whole. Plus, the film’s great editing and beautiful cinematography make it stunning to look at. Even though the audience might know Jamal’s fate from the very beginning, “Slumdog Millionaire” proves that a film is more about the journey, than it is about the conclusion.
2. In Bruges- For those of you looking for this decade’s “Pulp Fiction,” look no further. “In Bruges” is a brilliant dramedy about an odd couple of gangsters hiding out in the medieval city of Bruges as they ponder the ancient architecture around them and reevaluate the meaning of their lives. It’s deep, troubling, and hilarious. Oh, and Colin Farrell also punches a Canadian woman in the face and then head-butts a midget. What more could you ask for in a movie?
3. Milk- A biopic at its very best. “Milk” portrays the life of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician in America who led the way in the civil rights movement for gays. Sean Penn portrays Harvey Milk with accuracy and fierce, unrelenting anger. He is Harvey Milk, and he’s here to recruit you. Mainly, Milk is just another one of Van Sant’s lost, misfit souls. But he is one who wants to make the world a little better. This world could use more people like Harvey Milk. And “Milk” flawlessly shows us why.
4. Tropic Thunder- This is how satire is made. Ben Stiller’s movie about the making of a movie was the definition of reflexivity and shattered all mirrors. It so flawlessly satires the many creative wrongs of modern Hollywood such as cliche war films, fart comedies, and unnecessary sequels. Yes, “Scorcher” might as well have been “Terminator: Salvation” and “Fatties: Fart II” might as well have been called “Madea Goes to Jail” and you never would’ve known the difference.
5. Religulous- The second movie this decade using guerilla documentary filmmaking (after “Borat”) succeeds at it admirably. “Real Time” host and brilliant standup comic Bill Maher travels the world and interviews people involved in several religions to prove his thesis that religion is a corrupt force of greed and evil. And he more than proves it. Maher lets the humor of the interviews speak for themselves, but he also adds in his unique comic voice as a voice of reason amongst the madness. “Religulous” doesn’t just prove the wrongdoings of religion, it also proves that the role of the stand-up comic isn’t just to make us laugh, but to make us think. With “Religulous,” Maher proves himself as the thinker’s stand-up comic on the same level of George Carlin.
6. Gran Torino- Clint Eastwood will be turning 79 in May. That’s old, but he shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. In “Gran Torino,” Eastwood directs himself as a modern day cowboy stuck in the crumbling, gang-infested neighborhoods of Motown. Like his out-of-place, aging gun slinger, in “Unforgiven,” he plays an aging Korean War Veteran and extreme racist living in a different world. He spurts out some racist terms you’d never thought existed. Yet he does it so real, and never really condemns or approves of his racism. At the age of 79, the man formely known as The Man with No Name has made a name for himself as one of the greatest filmmakers Hollywood has ever had.
7. Forgetting Sarah Marshall- One of the most underrated films of the year. This rom-com about finding, forgiving, and forgetting was probably the funniest, truest comedy of the year. Credit it all to star/writer Jason Segal, who had the audacity to bare his soul (and his naked body) to the camera. Segal also follows the model of his alma-matter, “Freaks and Geeks,” and creates a comedy that shows you don’t have to be mean to be funny. No, it’s very possible in life that no one’s the true bad guy and you just didn’t deserve that girl. Or, she didn’t deserve you.
8. Frost/Nixon- Why didn’t Nixon burn the tapes? Because then this excellent movie would never have been made. “Frost/Nixon” re-creates the famous David Frost/Richard Nixon interviews verbatim while showing what happens behind the scenes. And Frank Langella commands the film as Nixon to the point where he becomes Nixon and turns him from “Tricky Dick” into a human being. And despite Nixon’s corruption, after seeing this movie, I was fully convinced that I’d much rather live under a Nixon presidency than I would under a Bush presidency.
9. Wall-E- If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I could probably write a whole book about the first half hour of “Wall-E.” The first half-hour is like a visual poem of a post-apocalyptic world, something you’d expect to see in a Stanley Kubrick movie, not a kid’s film. The next hour of the film is a satire on big American consumerist culture. In the center, is a very human love story between two robots. With “Wall-E,” Pixar has proved itself the best creator of children’s films since Walt Disney himself.
10. Vicky Cristina Barcelona- Like Eastwood, Woody Allen has still got it. “Barcelona” tells the story of two different American women: one who wants a more free and risky life while the other just wants to settle down. While in Barcelona, they both have an affair with the same man, and their lives are turned upside down forever. Allen’s screenplay crackles with humor, suspense, passion, and only the wisdom the sage old man like him could bring to a story about confused love affairs. And Penelope Cruz earned her Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
Other Great Movies: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, W., Pineapple Express, Frozen River