Written PostTop 10 Movies of 2008! — Part One!

Top 10 Movies of 2008! — Part One!

In case you haven’t figured this out already, I LOVE movies.

And in 2009, as usual, I saw a LOT of movies.  Today and tomorrow I’d like to celebrate what I feel were the best of the best of the new films released between January 1st and December 31st, 2008.

Before we dive in, though, I want to acknowledge that, even though I saw an enormous number of new films during 2008, there were also quite a few that, despite my interest, I never got around to see.  These include: Synechdoche, New York; Waltz With Bashir; Doubt; The Wrestler; Che; Rachel Getting Married; Choke; American Teen; Hamlet 2; Changeling; Rocknrolla; and Son of Rambow.  So if you loved one or more of those films and want to know why on earth they didn’t make my list, now you know.

As with my TV lists, let’s start with some Honorable Mentions:

Honorable Mention #1 — The Foot Fist Way.  If you, like most of America, discovered Danny McBride this past summer in Tropic Thunder (as pyromaniac Cody) and Pineapple Express (as the indestructible Red), then you owe it to yourself to check out this film.  The Foot Fist Way was filmed back in 2006, but only saw a release (and a very small one, at that) in 2008.  It is written and directed by McBride, who also has the starring role as a small town Tae Kwon Do instructor who is, shall we say, a little big for his britches.  This is a dark, dark comedy — not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of McBride’s it is a spectacular showcase for his abilities, and well worth your time.

Honorable Mention #2 — Cloverfield.  For months now I’ve been meaning to watch this film a second time, to find out if it holds up on a repeat viewing.  I don’t know if it does, but I will say that the experience of seeing Cloverfield theatrically was one of  the best times I had in a movie theatre all year.  You either buy the conceit (that one of the kids is able to film their whole adventure) or you don’t.  I did, and had no problem getting swallowed up in this intense thrill ride.  Incredible visuals, great storytelling — this was a ton of fun, and a clever twist on the giant-monster-attacks-New-York sub-genre of movies.

OK, and now here’s the top 10:

10.  Burn After Reading — A disc containing the memoirs of ex-CIA agent Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) are stolen, and they wind up in the hands of a pair of not-that-bright gym employees (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand) who, mistaking them for government secrets, try to ransom the information back to Cox and sell it to the Russians.  Meanwhile, Cox’s wife (Tilda Swinton) is having an affair with State Department official Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney).  Things go downhill from there.  To everyone who preferred last year’s No Country for Old Men, I don’t know what to say.  This clever mish-mash of a political-thriller, wacky comedy, and espionage caper gave me the most enjoyment by far.  And it has one of the best final scenes of any movie I saw this year.  (Click here for my full review.)

9.  Frost/Nixon — Structured like a documentary (complete with “talking-heads” interviews interspersed throughout the drama to handle some of the exposition), director Ron Howard’s adaptation of the hit play by Peter Morgan was gripping from start to finish.  Headlined by the dazzling acting performances of Frank Langella (as Richard Milhous Nixon) and Michael Sheen (as British TV personality David Frost), this is a superb peek behind the scenes of one of the great television showdowns of the 20th century.  Terrific supporting turns by Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt, Matthew Macfadyen, and Kevin Bacon don’t hurt either.  (Click here for my full review.)

8.  Redbelt — Another mind-bender from writer/director David Mamet, Redbelt introduces us to the strictly moral, but broke, jujitsu instructor Mike Terry (the tremendous Chiwetel Ejiofor) who gets drawn into an extraordinarily tangled web of intrigue involving Hollywood celebrity Chet Frank (Tim Allen), Frank’s manager Jerry Weiss (Joe Mantegna), fight promoter Marty Brown (Ricky Jay), traumatized lawyer Laura Black (Emily Mortimer), and the world of Brazilian martial arts.  As usual, Mamet graces us with a number of tough guys spouting rat-a-tat dialogue which attains a level of poetry in its staccato rhythms.  Ejiofor is a terrific addition to Mamet’s ensemble — his Mike Terry is a man of quiet nobility.  Watching how he responds when backed into a corner is one of the film’s great pleasures.  (Click here for my full review.)

7.  Forgetting Sarah Marshall — The world of Peter Bretter (Jason Segal) suffers a complete collapse when he is dumped by his TV-star girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell).  To escape his sorrows he heads off on a Hawaiian vacation, only to discover that Sarah is staying at the same resort along with her new boyfriend, British rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand).  What seems like a silly sitcom premise turns into a terrifically likable (and absolutely hilarious) romp, featuring dynamite comedic turns from Bill Hader, Paul Rudd, Jack McBrayer, Jonah Hill, and a lot of other familiar faces.  Russell Brand’s Aldous Snow is one of the great comedic creations of all time, and the climactic Dracula musical (with puppets!!) is one for the ages.

6.  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — I was completely swept away by the beautiful, sad story of the life of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), cursed to live his life aging backwards.  Stunning, subtle visual effects convey Benjamin’s journey from his birth as a little baby with the body of an old man, down through the years as he de-ages.  His story is paralleled by that of his true love Daisy (Cate Blanchett)’s journey from youth (she and Benjamin meet when she is about 10 years old) through to old age.  This is a fairy tale that is both epic and also intimate.  I was caught off-guard by its power, and I can’t wait to see it again soon.  (Click here for my full review.)

That’s all for today.  Click here for numbers 5 through 1!