I don't see anywhere near the quantity of movies as my Cinema Blend colleagues. I live in the smallest city of our regular staff, putting me at a bit of a disadvantage. All of those movies that are getting high praise and award nominations that you've barely heard of? Like most of you I haven't seen those yet. Unless it's a wide release, it's unlikely I've had an opportunity to see it. I like to think it centers me a little more toward the average moviegoer… at least that's what I tell myself instead of moving to L.A. or drowning my sorrows in alcohol on a regular basis.
Below is my obligatory list of the movies I liked best in 2008. Keep in mind what I've said above - most of the movies getting high praise haven't been seen yet, so in a few months this list could be completely different. To get my responses to those movies once the general public finally gets to see them, check out our weekly podcast, especially our Oscar coverage in just over a month.
1. The Dark Knight
I've tried to find other movies to take my top spot this year; typically not a difficult proposition. Movies that take the number one spot earlier in the year are rapidly replaced, but The Dark Knight brings the total package. The performances are high quality,
drawing viewers in with compelling characters that don't fall into the traps of previous incarnations of Batman. The story is strong, and stands independently enough that I didn't care at one point it looked like Nolan was going to contradict sixty years worth of the character's history. And the visuals are incredible, both the effects (which yet again prove the benefit of doing more practically and using CG as a clean-up tool) and the basic appearance of the movie. The Dark Knight transcends comic book movies and becomes a solid piece of cinematic artwork, ripe for critical study and analysis. No other movie I saw this year even comes close to that praise. Best Moment: The Joker explains those scars without revealing anything about the character's actual background.
In a year of strong animated filmmaking (see more entries below), Pixar's story of a little robot beats all the others, but only just barely. Even though I really enjoyed Disney and Dreamwork's offerings, Wall-E manages to tell a good story with one of a filmmaker's strongest tools removed from the toolbox - a lack of dialogue. That's easy enough to accomplish with a human actor, but a high demand to make of animators. Pixar manages to make their little robot come alive, constantly curious at his surroundings and in love when he finally finds a companion more compatible than his cockroach friend.
The underlying message of the film is worthy of note, even if it is put out there by one of the world's mega-companies, most likely contributing to the problem shown in the movie despite how much they do to remedy it.
Best Moment: The robot rebellion, to the tune of "Put on your Sunday Clothes."
3. Kung Fu Panda
I didn't expect much from Kung Fu Panda, and almost passed the Jack Black comedy by. I'm glad I didn't, because the animated tale instantly became one of my favorites of the year, and depending when you ask me, it may even be better than WALL-E. There's just something about the eastern philosophies presented here that really works for me - an impressive amount of wisdom many would overlook because of the animated shell (and motley cast of voices) presenting it. The visuals are stunning - far better than anything Dreamworks has produced to date. Add on top of that combat sequences that put most contemporary live-action movies to shame, and you've got a classic that can be enjoyed on several different levels.
Best Moment: The conversation between Masters Shifu and Oogway about fate, destiny, and peaches.
Another animated story in a row, and another easy contender to take the other two movies' place on any given day. Disney shows they still have the magic touch with a movie that tugs at the heartstrings just right. I'm not a dog person, and I almost thought I would be giving up on this movie when it took an early anti-cat stance, but neither Bolt nor Mittens the cat are the real reason to see this movie. If nothing else, check it out for the ironically named hamster companion super- fan who joins Bolt on his cross-country adventure. You know him - the commercials have wisely focused on him for the advertising campaign, and he definitely becomes one of the most memorable characters in recent Disney history and the year by the time the end credits roll.
Best Moment: Just because Bolt isn't really a super-dog doesn't mean he isn't really a hero, saving Penny when it really counts.
5. Definitely, Maybe
Ryan Reynolds proved he has more than shameless mugging in his repertoire in this story that is equal parts daddy-daughter and romantic comedy (thankfully not a combination of the two). Having to pick between Rachel Weisz, Elizabeth Banks, and Isla Fisher is any guy's dream come true, but Reynolds manages to convey heartache, heartbreak, and the loneliness of being a single father while keeping a strong relationship with his on-screen daughter and making the audience laugh - not an easy task to accomplish. I rarely ask for sequels, but I wouldn't mind seeing another movie revisiting these people a few more years down the road - that's how involved the movie got me with its characters.
Best Moment: The search for the right copy of Jayne Eyre, and how it continues even after April is out of Will's life.
A lot of people didn't care much for this allegory from Fernando Meirelles, but I thought the story was quite compelling. When a form of blindness becomes an epidemic, how does society respond? The result is something akin to the Holocaust, with the ill left to fend for themselves in a rapidly devolving society. Meirelles keeps the story visually compelling by tricking the audience with fuzzy cinematography, jump cuts, and long fades that do their best to include viewers in the confusion of the land of the blind.
Best Moment: The rape sequence isn't exactly a "best moment" for good reasons, but it's damn compelling and memorable long after, particularly from a sound standpoint.
7. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
I've wanted to see Jason Segel in a leading role since his flirtatious stint in Knocked Up. Here we not only get him front and center, but behind the scenes as the scriptwriter as well. Segel proves he is comfortable with breakups, romances, and his own body as he bares all (literally and figuratively) in his story of a heartbroken guy who can't seem to get over, or away from, the former girl of his dreams.
Usually this kind of story is reserved for the female audience, but Segel manages to bring it to the guy's side of things without making us feel uncomfortable about our emotions… just about how much of Segel we see during the movie.
Best Moment: Peter plays "Dracula's Lament"
in a Hawaiian drinking-hole.
8. Zack & Miri Make a Porno
Kevin Smith's latest does what all of the filmmaker's pictures do
best: combining a sweet, heartfelt emotional story with lots of raunch comedy. The story hasn't been sweeter since Chasing Amy, but the raunch factor has never been higher then here. Visually, this is probably the weakest entry in my top-10 (though Smith's movies are improving), but the story is really interesting and performed by an incredibly diverse cast, all of whom enhance Smith's trademark dialogue with their performances. There's little here to be offended or titillated over, but it is hilariously entertaining through and through.
Best Moment: The anal-sex pull out. Thank Kevin Smith for going to bat to keep that shot in.
9. Sex and the City
Yes, I admit it, after months of grumbling over the concept, I finally
saw Sex and the City and I liked it. It proves exactly what I
said above about breakups typically being the realm of the chick-
flick, but does it well enough that a guy - and a guy who didn't watch
a single episode of the original series - could enjoy and relate to.
Nobody's perfect in Carrie's world, and neither am I for dogging on
this movie for so long without giving it a fair chance.
Best Moment: Carrie's rationale behind why
Charlotte should start running even though she's pregnant.
10. Tropic Thunder
As a basic comedy, Tropic Thunder is mildly above most of Ben
Stiller's work, to the point that the actor/director/writer is
probably the weakest element of his own movie. By picking most of the
other cast members, however, Stiller brings an element of genius to
his picture, which becomes a beautiful send up of so many of the
problems of Hollywood. At the top of the list, of course, is Robert
Downey Jr.'s transformative performance, on par with Heath Ledger's in
The Dark Knight. If Downey's performance doesn't stick with you
long after the credits roll, however, Tom Cruise's will, and will even
give you a reason to stick around as the credits roll. I still
haven't gotten that dance out of my head.
Best Moment: The "full-retard" speech,
offensive or not.
Great Movies That Didn't Make The Cut:The Forbidden Kingdom,
Son of Rambow, Hamlet 2, W., Iron Man,
Just In Case You Were Wondering:Star Wars: Clone Wars was the
worst movie of 2008 - stinky Hutt babies, stupid new padawans, and a
storyline that keeps Jar Jar Binks from being the worst thing in the
Star Wars universe.
For more of Cinema Blend's BEST OF 2008 click HERE.