10. Speed Racer
A visual mindfreak of a film, the Wachowski brothers feel completely uninhibited and capture a perfect aesthetic of childhood imagination amped up on pure adrenaline. All one must do to truly enjoy this film is to buy into the theme of family that is presented here, and I bought into it completely. Though it may lag a bit with the Royalton segment, the absolutely mad pace and visual wonder on display all but redeem it.
I can't believe this film is here on my list, but I must admit to it being one of the most enjoyable films I've seen in a long time. The slim film gives us only enough exposition and plot to create an inciting incident, which incites . . . mayhem, simply put. For the rest of the 90 minute running time the film is simply the latest marketing video for Squibs-R-Us. Either that or the latest issue of "Headless Burmese Monthly." It is pure enjoyment.
An incredibly well-crafted piece of theatre disguised as cinema, John Patrick Shanley's ambiguous did-he/didn't-he tale of a Catholic priest is a showcase of acting at its finest. The movie may falter (pointless dutch angles are jarring) but the quality of the performances make it one of the most excellent films in quite some time. Every single performance is sharp and crackling with passion and dedication, and the courage of the story and its dedication to ambivalence make this one of my favorite cinematic experiences of the year.
7. Iron Man
Iron Man is on my list instead of The Dark Knight for one simple reason: enjoyability. Iron Man was infinitely more enjoyable than its dark and gritty colleague, and that is largely due to two men: Jon Favreau and his light touch and serious dedication to the characters as director, and even more to Robert Downey, Jr. for his wonderful embodiment of Tony Stark. Downey owned this film and helped transcend from its pulpy roots to a funny and intelligent film. Great, committed performances from the rest of the cast round out this wonderful film.
I was very much moved by Milk - more than any other film this year. It is a touching and timely film by Gus Van Sant, elevated by wonderful performances by James Franco, Emil Hirsch, Josh Brolin and especially Sean Penn. The film truly finds its footing about halfway through as Milk and his associates battle against the discriminatory Proposition 6. Once it finds itself it propels forward becoming an elegant and fearless story, as moving as Harvey Milk himself.
5. Vicky Christina Barcelona
I'm surprised this film has received such little recognition. Usually a surprising and beautiful little movie filled with rich characters and complex performances is lauded at year's end, but this, sadly, seems to have been forgotten. Woody Allen's best movie of the past years, this examination of modern sexuality and its consequences is filled with wryly funny dialogue and wonderful acting from Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Patricia Clarkson. This movie restored my faith in cinema
after a brief struggle (true story).
4. Burn After Reading
2008 was good for comedy. Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder, Step-Brothers and Hamlet 2 were all hilarious, but the Coens' very dark and bitter screwball comedy is by far the funniest. Each and every performance is bursting with life and energy, but special notice must be given to Brad Pitt for his portrayal of Chad Feldheimer - a man who merits every inch of the name Chad. The taught script by the Coen brothers is never merciful, but always hilarious. Twisting and turning over itself, the plot is a perfect deconstruction of film, always using the medium to twist and manipulate our expectations. Burn After Reading only solidifies the fact that the Coen Brothers understand clearly the art of cinema and how to use it.
3. Let the Right One In
Let the Right One In is a beautiful love story and a deeply touching coming-of-age story. It is a wonderful story of isolation and eventually acceptance as young Oskar meets and falls in love with Eli, the pretty vampire next door. The deliberate and drawn-out pacing perfectly accents the moments of horror, making them all the more shocking and terrifying, and the build-up to the climax makes it one of the most satisfying moments of film this year. The cinematography of the stark, Swedish landscape is as beautiful and haunting as the story.
2. Synecdoche, New York
I can't begin to describe this film in an adequate fashion. The scope and ambition of this film is unparalleled this year. Synecdoche, New York is about . . . well . . . everything. It is about life. It is about creation and its inherent selfishness. It is about communication and miscommunication. It's about obsession. Isolation. Sex. Longing. Narcissism. Love. Pain. It is simply about life and its intricacies. But it is in no way simple. The film is ambitious and takes thousands of little risks. Some work, some don't. But those that work pay off in such a spectacular way that the movie stays with you. It is a rare film that dares to take so many risks with its storytelling, and to see one take them so audaciously and fearlessly is to be commended. Marveled, even. The acting is uniformly excellent, and it also boasts a wonderful new score by my favorite film composer Jon Brion. This film moved me as equally as Milk, but in a completely different fashion.
1. Slumdog Millionaire
Danny Boyle is versatility incarnate. His films range from the horrifying to the wildly imaginative to the poignant and touching. His latest film, Slumdog Millionaire is a touching shot of joyful adrenaline into the year in film. His underdog tale of poverty in India is a beautiful and moving film, but also exciting and full of life. His images of impoverished India are haunting and truthful, but not devoid of hope or happiness. His troupe of Indian actors all perform spectacularly, and he manages to coax wonderful and deep performances from his child actors. His color palette is splendid, and the vibrant images on display energize and awaken the mind. But with all the visual frenzy and drama, he does not lose grip on the heart of it all, and he creates a touching and beautiful film. I loved this movie. I left the theatre feeling exhilarated and alive, excited and blissful. It's a powerful movie to make you feel that way, and Slumdog Millionaire is indeed powerful.
Honorable Mentions: Funny Games, The Dark Knight, The Visitor, Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder
Have Not Seen, But Want To: Frost/Nixon, The Wrestler, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Wackness, Man on Wire, Revolutionary Road, Wall-E, Rachel Getting Married, In Bruges, The Fall, Waltz With Bashir