I finally feel ready saying goodbye to the film year of 2008. These are my favorites in what was a somewhat lackluster year. But what I like about this eclectic group of fine films is the genuine emotion I felt from a fairly genre specific group. There's a couple of biggie summery blockbusters, a pair of under seen documentaries, a rousing biopic, a sex comedy(actually two) a comeback sports movie, and an Oscar bait drama with a capital D (again two.) What's refreshing about this list is a mostly optimistic feel central in almost all of these films, very fitting in the year of Obama, and hopeful mighty change.
What on the surface is a blandly made made-for-TV doc about a geezer singing group is one of the gleefully made pieces of pop art made in 2008. Earnest yes, but I'll take this in a heartbeat over saccharine overload, cute docs like Mad Hot Ballroom anyday. What's here is an grandly entertaining pean to youth. And the soulful rendition of Coldplay's "Fix You" will leave even the most cold hearted in tears.
9- FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL
In the nicely traditional Apatow-ian spirit comes another impishly hilarious (and slightly brutal) testament to the screwyness of relationships. Jason Segal proudly droups trou for his comedy, and anchors this mellow confectionary that had the best laugh ratio of anything in 2008, and actually out-aced both 2007's Superbad and Knocked Up. Rejoice-- the R-rated sex comedy has been granted at the very least one more year. Also kudos to Mila Kunis for more than aptly offering a leading lady every bit as charming and crude as the men.
8- BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER
Out in theaters for about a second last summer, Bigger, Stronger, Faster is an informative and mediative discussion of steriods. The movie faded before the Beijing Olympics, but is an insightful indictment of an American culture that really doesn't know what it's take on it is. What's refreshing about this documentary is not only the personal aspects (it centers around a group of brothers, all of whom have dabbled in the past, present or future), but that there's no definitive answer to it's question, just more questions. Lots of interesting facts are thrown about (pop culture ones, medical ones, legislative ones), but the debate continues. I hope this finely made film finds it's audience eventually-- it's worth it!
Haven't seen the play, so I can't compare, but one surely can't deny the powerful effects of watching these masterful actors working so feverishly. The story is cloudy, but it's supposed to be-- it's refreshingly complicated, without backing out to some sort of climax that isn't earned. But never mind that, focus on the chamber piece scene between Meryl Streep (as 1960s Catholic school principle) and Viola Davis (as the mother of boy suspected to have been molested) and there's absolutely no doubt that watching to raw power of singularly wonderful actors at the strength of their powers can't move, inspire, or make anything seem possible.
6- VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
After years of idealized Manhattan in unrealisticly neuroticly beautiful ways (and a few not so beautiful, granted), the finest American screenwriter (that would be Woody Allen) has made a point in recent years to branch out-- first to England (the well reguarded Match Point, Scoop and Cassandra's Dream), and now to Spain. The movie feels like a greatly needed summer vacation-- simmering, relaxing, romantic, and blessidly still pretty neurotic (though here in atypical yet familar Woody rhythms), and it all feels pretty good. And true to spirit, it's a lovely romantic comedy without any fairy tale endings, just experiences. Featuring terrific performances from Javier Bardem (who Chigruh would be be such a great leading man), Rebecca Hall, and especially Penelope Cruz, this was the most blissful movie of the year (save for my top pick of course.)
5- THE DARK KNIGHT
What the movie event of the decade is only at number 5-- well sorry, it is. But Christopher Nolan's mammoth achievement should never feel dwarfed. Interestingly while most of the films on this list have an optimistic Barak spirit to them, this one is firmly in Bushian gloom and dread-- but it's all the better for it. It redefines what a superhero flick can be, hell it redefines what a genre picture can be. It can be big, but also smart, saavy, and emotionally resonant. While the Oscar nomination didn't come (and unfortuneatly the Academy may have to bite the dust on less than stellar ratings for that one), there's no denying the power, the awe factor, the mega glory of The Dark Knight. Unquestionably I'll be in tears when Heath Ledger wins the award this year.
4- RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
As a fan of Jonathon Demme circa 1980s as well as a huge fan of Altman's The Wedding, I eagerly awaitted Rachel Getting Married, and I'm more than happy with the experience. This may be the first time I actually feel that handheld digital cameras helped form the story rather than just look dinky and messy. Centering around Anne Hathaway's damaged recovering druggie returning home for her sister's wedding-- nothing here feels false, even though Jenny Lumet's script feels like it may trap itself as a Lifetime movie of the week any minute-- it never does. It feels authentic and as though I was invited to these nupitals. The scene that hooked me in (and probably completely detached it from others) was the long toasting sequence. Everyone speaks and everyone gets a chance to chime in, and inform the story, alter the relationships. It's awkward, it's funny, it's touching, it's difficult...it feels very real. Hathaway is tremedous and fully goes into her characters less than lovable moods, while the ensemble cast is great. Where was the Oscar support for Rosemarie DeWitt, or Bill Irwin (my favorite as the enabling father.) Jonathon Demme's best film since The Silence of the Lambs and his warmed since Married to the Mob.
3- THE WRESTLER
Darren Aronofsky's brilliant ace of a movie is small, but Mickey Rourke is not-- his megawatt movie star charisma is still as bold as ever, even as his face has changed oh so much. There's a sweetness and a melencholy to this redemption sports tale, but also a revelatory kick, in that everything that's old is new again. Who would have expected a midlife flirtation between a past his prime wrestler and a stripper would be the most heartfelt source of romantic longing in movies this past year? (Well second, after my number one picture) Who knew Rourke would stage such a magnificent comeback? Or that Marisa Tomei would sparkle so much? No one knew, but that's the beauty of The Wrestler. Angriest Oscar snub of the year: the rejection of Bruce Springsteen's beautiful theme.
Far from a stale biographical film, this loving and haunting portrait of the first gay man elected in public office is rousing as it is relevant. In chronicling the heartbreaking tale of Harvey Milk, Gus Van Sant has made a passionate ode to a mostly unknown piece of California history, thanks to a fresh and informative script from Dustin Lance Black and a wonderful performance from Sean Penn, in his most thoughtful and warm performance to date. But Milk is also much more, so much more, a battle cry for all voices, and embracement of acceptance in all forms and most importantly a crowdpleasingly hopeful shout for freedom. No other movie felt so needed to be told in 2008 (especially in the days of Prop.8.) Thankfully it was also an artful and moving story with the best ensemble cast of the year. Penn carried it, but James Franco, Josh Brolin, Allison Pill, Joseph Cross and Emile Hirsch ran with it.
and drumroll please...
The most beautifully enchanting apocalyptic robot love story ever made. Andrew Stanton (already a Pixar maestro with Finding Nemo) added to stock of the indominible brand with this classic melding of Spielbergian sentiment in a Kubrickian world. A deep, meditative story (really the first Pixar great I believe better suited for adults) of an earth almost gone and humanity all but a folly, a trash compacting robot proved to the most charming (in all his "little tramp" tendencies) and irresistable of all.