Monday, January 12, 2009

Top 20 Movies of 2008

After a salvo in December, I have managed to catch up with what 2008 had to offer - both the Award-worthy fodder and soon-to-be-forgotten "gems" (88 Minutes, anyone?). I have yet still to see Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, Clint's Gran Torino, and the Woodster's Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Obviously there is no guarantee that these movies wold break into the list, but the hype and acclaim surrounding them dictates so.

So, here are my Top 20 Films of 2008:

1- I've Loved You So Long [Il y a longtemps que je t'aime] (Philippe Claudel; France / Germany): Kristin Scott Thomas gives one of the performances of the year (we have been very spoiled with good acting this year). It is a film with a lighter heart than seems on the surface and there is a sense of doom that still hovers over every scene. A minimalist film in terms of production (DV camera shots of unglamorous locations), but scores big on emotional intensity.

2- Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh; UK): Sally Hawkins' Polly is an infectious character and worthy of any award that is bestowed on her this year. Despite being completely devoid of irony, Leigh delivers one of his most daring pictures that demands its audience to completely immerse itself in his brilliant creation. It is also one of the funniest movies of the year.

3- Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle; UK / USA): It has become a regular event for Danny Boyle to make every genre his own. However, nothing has prepared us for this. Although it is not strictly Bollywood, it has an air of exotic that lifts it from its otherwise schmaltzy premise. As uplifting as a film can be, this is directing of the top notch.

4- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher; USA): You can practically write for pages about the similarities and parallels between this and Forest Gump (1994), which was also written by Eric Roth, but  ...Benjamin Button is still a magnificent creation on its own. In Fincher's hand the F.Scott Fitzgerald-penned story is elevated to another level of sublimity in its state-of-the-art special effects and brilliant cinematography. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett both give equally astounding performances.

5- Doubt (John Patrick Shanley; USA): This is a talking piece and its stage roots are ever so evident. It boasts probably the best cast of the year in Meryl Streep (as always, amazing), Philip Seymour Hoffman (again, as always ...), Amy Adams (a real revelation here), and Viola Davis (a tiny role in a key scene). The success of Doubt lies in its ambiguity: regardless of the outcome or the truth, the film succeeds in showing  baseless conviction vs. apparent guilt / innocence.

6- In Bruges (Martin McDonaugh; UK / USA): A refreshingly non-PC comedy that has a melancholy that parallels its absurdity quite well. The script also blends the surreal with the real in a way that never becomes jarring or out-of-place. Colin Farrell finally shows his potential and finds, with Brendan Gleeson, a perfect sparring partner. Ralph Fiennes provides that little dose of divine into the proceedings.

7- Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes; USA / UK): Back after 12 years, Leo and Kate this time convince us of their romance. It would have been the flawless masterpiece of 2008 if it hadn't been for its unflinching lack of hope. It is a demanding view that is ultimately rewarding in a cinematic sense, but it is too dark and desperate. Perhaps that is why it is such a great piece of work.

8- Burn After Reading (Joel & Ethan Coen; USA): The Coens' return to their slapstick days hasn't been as glorious as last year's perfect No Country for Old Men, but it is as close to their hilarious best this side of the millenium. The cast, as always is the case for the inimitable siblings, is pitch-perfect - from John Malkovich's axe-wielding ousted CIA agent, to George Clooney's sleazy nympho lobbyist, to Frances McDormand's pathetic and desperate woman-in-middle-age-crisis, to Brad Pitt's hapless personal trainer. and it's funny too.

9- Otis (Tony Krantz; USA): This straight-to-DVD video-nasty is high up on this list because of its irreverent humour and creative gore. Once the tone is registered by the viewer, it is a laugh-out-loud thrill ride that has more scares than your average blood'n'gore flick and more funny gags than a million genre spoofs. High-art, it ain't. But high-fun it certainly is.

10- The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan; USA): This will always be remembered as Heath Ledger's last completed film. Credit where credit's due: Ledger gives a fantastic performance, deserving accolades despite his untimely death. However, the film is equally stunning in other aspects too. Bale finally fits into his suit and Aaron Eckhart's Two-face is the most complete character of the revamp. Nolan's stunning visuals make this - unarguably - the greatest comic-book adaptation ever.

11- Milk (Gus Van Sant; USA)
12- WALL-E (Andrew Stanton; USA)
13- Iron Man (Jon Favreau; USA)
14- Funny Games (Michael Haneke; USA / France / UK / Austria / Germany / Italy)
15- Zack and Miri Make a Porno (Kevin Smith; USA)
16- Frost / Nixon (Ron Howard; USA / UK / France)
17- The Reader (Stephen Daldry; USA / Germany)
18- Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg; USA)
19- Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Guillermo del Toro; USA / Germany)
20- Valkyrie (Bryan Singer; USA / Germany)

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