January 11, 2009

The Best of 2008

Well, 2008 is history. A lot of crazy shit happened over the course of the year. America finally saw fit to elect a black man to President; the fist bump became a terrorist symbol; gas finally dropped below three bucks, and Batman is officially the richest super hero in world. A lot of great movies came out this year, from a fairy tale about aging backward, to a story of an interview. From animated to live-action; from musical to spoken word, 2008 was a great year for film. If I had to name it, I would say 2008 is The Year of The Comic Book Super Hero. There were just so many fantastic comic book adaptations this year that bestowing any other name on it just feels criminal. So with that in mind, let's get rolling. 

Best of 2008

Top 5 Films.

5. Tropic Thunder: Robert Downey Jr. plays a white guy playing a black guy, and never breaks character. Jack Black undergoes sever bodily harm. And Tom Cruise dances. No other movie made me laugh as hard and as frequently in 2008 as Tropic Thunder. This bold send up to all things Hollywood hits all the right marks and refuses to quit. It's out on DVD now. Check it out.

4. Slumdog Millionaire: Here it is, the premier, feel good movie of the year. It's uplifting story did more then just make you feel good about yourself and the people you know. It made you believe in miracles, true love, redemption, all that good stuff. Sublime performances from Dev Patel and Freida Pinto lay down the foundation for director Danny Boyle to work his magic. This is a great movie. 

Before we continue, I just want to say, the previous two were a bit hard for me to pick. I had to rule out a lot of good movies, like Frost/Nixon, Iron Man, Milk, Were The World Mine, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The next three, however, were easy for me to pick. Just thought you should know. Ok, moving on. 

3. In Bruges: At the time I am writing this, Colin Farrell has just won a Golden Globe for his brilliant performance in this dark and hilarious opus by Martin McDonagh. Well, good. Here's to it getting some Oscar recognition because this fucker deserves it. From the fast paced, Tarantino-esque dialogue, to the bloody finale, to the simple beauty of the most boring town in the world, no other movie captured my attention like In Bruges. The fact that it came out all the way in February is a testament to how good it is. If the next two movies had never been created, this would be my favorite of the year, bar none.

2. WALL-E: Well, what can I say. WALL-E is a great movie. It's animated, sure, and it's meant for kids, but that did not stop this from being the most touching and beautiful animated movies I have ever seen. The love story between WALL-E and EVE is irresistible, if at times unbearably corny. Throw in some of the funniest moments of the year, and one of the quirkiest main characters in recent memory, and you have a surefire classic. Which only leaves...

1. The Dark Knight: Yep, that's right. The big-budget, summer season, financial juggernaut, blockbuster beats out all the art house films and sweeping epics to claim it's rightful place at the top of the pile. There was not one other movie, not one, that made me think, made me laugh, gave me nightmares, and entertained me to the level that Christopher Nolan and Batman did. The thing that holds it down however is Heath Ledger. The Joker will never, ever, be produced in cinema or television ever again, because no one will be able to top what Ledger accomplished. If you have not seen The Dark Knight, climb out from under your rock, go buy it on Blu-ray, and enjoy the fastest, most exciting, two and half hours of your life.  

Top 5 Performances.

5. Tanner Cohen in Were The World Mine: Well, I had to recognize this movie somehow. What better way then to recognize it's star, who does a fantastic job. Cohen is sublime as Timothy, a teenager who has the genius idea to turn his town gay. Since he is fairly unknown, it is easy to accept him as this character, but even he was as big as Tom Cruise, he would still impress. Speaking of which...

4. Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder: This is the role that single handedly redeemed Tom Cruise in the eyes of the public. He plays a foul-mouthed, bald, fat, Jewish, studio head with an affinity for hip-hop dance and for being able to break a rib laughing. It was the funniest performance of the year. 

3. Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: If Forrest Gump was an ordinary man who lived an extraordinary life, then Benjamin Button is an extraordinary man who lives and ordinary life. The restraint and innocence that Pitt displays is nothing short of masterful, especially we had just seen him previously chewing up the scenery in Burn After Reading. He delivers unto us one of those rare performances that will make you laugh and cry at the same time. What can be said, it's amazing.

2. Sean Penn in Milk: Let's be honest. No one was surprised at how amazing Penn's performance as Harvey Milk was. We've come to expect nothing less from him. Even so, this sublime cannot go unrecognized by me. Like Pitt, here is a performance that will you laugh and cry, but the fact that Milk was actually a real person who influenced thousands of people, and whose message is still relevant today, and the fact that Penn didn't exploit it or glorify it elevates it to a level above Pitt's. Only one left a better impression on me. I think you know who it is. 

1. Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight: Where to begin. It's the only performance of the year that gave me nightmares. It's the only performance of the year that made me go back to the theaters, just to see it again. What Ledger did as The Joker in, in one word, otherworldly. He created the quintessential movie villain, the epitome of evil. You will be saddened by watching him in The Dark Knight. He went before his time. At least he managed to bestow unto us the best performance of 2008 before he went.  

Best Director

5: Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon: Ron Howard brings a heightened sense of realism to this thrilling political drama. While drawing fantastic performances out of both Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, he masterfully adapts the smallness of Peter Morgans stage play to the screen. I don't think there was a movie this year quite as interesting with less then ten main characters. It's Howard's finest project to date. 

4. David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: I'll admit, I had my doubts. David Fincher has made his name making mature, uncomfortably, darkly funny, incredibly violent movies, like Se7en or Fight Club. They were all dashed when I finished with Benjamin Button. In his third outing with Brad Pitt, Fincher brings his trademark visual flair to this adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story. It's not quite as good as his other endeavors, but the fact that he made a love story this good on his first try easily nets him the 4th place spot. 

3. Guillermo Del Toro for Hellboy 2: The Golden Army: I know, this was not even close to one of the best movies of the year, but it was easily the best looking of all them, even The Dark Knight. Del Toro is a master of fantasy; his mind can come up with some screwy things. All the things he threw at us in his latest action romp are all so original and creative, from the troll market that looks ripped from the Star Wars cantina to the mechanical army of the villain, that it feels wrong to not notice his talent. 

2. Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight: Yeah, he was gonna be on the list somewhere. Nolan took everything that was great about Batman Begins and turned it into overdrive. The use of IMAX cameras was near perfect; the opening shot in particular will take your breath away. His action scenes are frenetic and brutal. His use of CGI is deft and subtle; he relies more on traditional stunt work. The overarching sense of menace that is felt throughout the entire film is chilling. Nolan could not have done a better job. Now, let's get him back for the third.

1. Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire: Yes, Danny Boyle takes the top prize. While it's nit quite his best movie to date, that's 28 Days Later..., he does a fantastic job handling this lovely story about miracles. The movie looks breathtaking, for one. The cinematography is second to none. Boyle has always been a master at making his characters seem human in ridiculous situations. While Slumdog Millionaire is more plausible then, say, Sunshine, his ability to believe that these characters is something to be envious of. No other director this year pulled that off quite as well as Boyle. It's not surprising, now that I think about it. 

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