Thursday, February 19, 2009

Best Films of 2008

Here we are. After one long week of cinematic ramblings and pretty pictures, we are finally here to figure out what the hell my top movies of the year are. You may think, “Silly Austin. I’m sure I can figure out your top movies based on those prior lists. It’s probably a list of gay movies anyway.” First off, you’d be wrong. Second off, what? Anywho, here is my list. Now keep in mind there are just a few movies that I wouldn't mind seeing. Namely, A Christmas Tale, The Class, Waltz With Bashir, My Blueberry Nights, Trouble the Water, Wendy & Lucy, and the one I really really really really want to see: Let the Right One In. Do any of them have a chance of entering my top list? How the hell do I know? I haven’t seen them yet. (Though I wouldn’t be surprised if Let the Right One In does. The DVD comes out in March!) God, this intro is getting longer than some movies. Let’s just get into it!

Honorable mentions: Religulous, Iron Man, Doubt, The Wrestler, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

#20—Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood did it once again. He loves making movies under the wire and then releasing them right at awards season. No one even heard of Million Dollar Baby until like November. Then it won Best Picture! Will this win Best Picture? No, because it’s not nominated. That was a stupid question. Yet this movie did surprise me for a number of reasons. First off it’s really really funny. Second off, the character Eastwood creates can easily stand among his most iconic performances. Also the whole movie actually worked for me. Walt (Eastwood) had a very believable relationship with his young minister and the family next door. This is a very good and surprisingly enjoyable movie.

#19—Funny Games

That’s right. I’m putting it on my list. What is this movie? Well I’ve now seen this sucker twice because its crazy/awesome director made a shot-for-shot remake of his film. So is this placement for that film or its remake? Honestly I consider them interchangeable so I may place this one a centimeter ahead of the French version because I like these actors more. Anywho, this entire movie is a criticism of American movie going audience. (Us!) It’s shining a fascinating perspective on what we look for in terms of entertainment, in particular when dealing with violence. It really makes you feel guilty and brings up great questions. That said, my friend Pedro thought it was very awesome and loved the violence.


I have a lot to live up to with this list. If I don’t have obscure foreign films some of you will revolt. So here we have a very cool movie that reminds me of one of my absolute favorite eras of film history, French New Wave. It’s the story of two young authors and the different paths they have at a key part of their lives. The story is interesting, but what I really loved about this film is how it was set up. Its God-like narration, its editing choices, playing with concepts of the future. It was tipping the hat at European movies of the past while still seeming refreshing and new. Very fun stuff.

#17—Rachel Getting Married

Award season is goofy but apparently predictable. There always seems to be a movie that is getting a lot of attention for its lead actress and that’s it. Then I go ahead and like the whole movie more than the performance. This year that movie is Rachel Getting Married. Don’t get me wrong; Anne Hathaway is awesome. She easily has the showiest role, but the weekend the movie shows is really the best thing that happens. For Anne Hathaway does not play “Rachel.” The weekend should not be about Hathaway’s character, but it slowly becomes just that. That really is the conflict of this movie as Kym (Hathaway) and the rest of the families fight for who gets the proper attention. What results is hard to watch at times, but very rewarding.


Man, I really wanted to see this play. I still want to see this play. I’m becoming a big fan of Peter Morgan who wrote the spiffy screenplays for The Last King of Scotland and The Queen. So I had expectations for this movie. It’s going to be a crazy verbal deathmatch between two formidable opponents. Wit and insults will be on rapid speed. Wait, what? That didn’t really happen? Oh, then what is this movie about? A comparison piece between two intelligent men who are using this event to fight for the concept of relevance. Oh, actually that sounds really good. This would be up higher if they didn’t include very terrible mockumentary footage. Seriously, recut this movie and take out ALL OF IT.

#15—Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Yes! I went from a Best Picture nominee of a Tony winning play to Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Man, I’m awesome. Anywho, I loved this movie. This was one of my most anticipated of the year because I’m a big Kevin Smith fan and the buzz for this film was really high. The humor is high and it was nice to see Kevin Smith make a new cast of characters outside of his View Askew universe. Everyone felt real and because of that Smith was able to create some powerful scenes of emotion that you might not expect to see. This and Chasing Amy would be a great double feature.

#14—The Visitor

How cool was it that Richard Jenkins got nominated for an Oscar for this movie? Answer: Pretty darn. For years now, I have only seen Jenkins as the dead dad on Six Feet Under. (That’s not a spoiler. He dies in the pilot, but he’s on the show for five years. It’s like LOST, except…no that’s the only comparison.) I was looking forward to this movie and had proper expectations because of how good The Station Agent was. Now not all of this movie works for me. I think its politics is a little heavy handed, but that all takes a backseat to the wonderful character development of Jenkins’ character and the scenes he has to get him to where he is at the end of the film.

#13—The Reader

I didn’t really want to see this movie too much. I’m so sick and tired of WWII movies. I’ve bitched about this many times now, so I won’t get into it again here. Yet this movie surprised me. This movie is not about WWII or the Holocaust. That is simply a backdrop into this fantastic character study between two people and how they deal with the constant of shame. It’s very well acted; so much so that I say this has the best performance of Kate Winslet’s career, which is saying a lot. I think that is due to the complexity of the character, which is what drives this movie.

#12—Vicky Cristina Barcelona

I will always see a movie that Woody Allen writes and/or directs. That said, Cassandra’s Dream wasn’t that great. But luckily he had two movies come out this year! I went in knowing very little about this movie besides the fact that Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz kiss in this. So I was happily shocked when the movie really unfolded into this great character study on these individuals with these fascinating themes. Who are we as people? Can we change who we are? We can change our clothes, our hobbies, or even our location, but are we doomed by who we are as people? I found that to be a fascinating story to tell especially because this has been one of the few movies Allen has made outside of New York. With what the movie seems to say, I don’t know if he’ll ever leave the city again. Great film.


Heh, Penelope Cruz is in this movie too. I didn’t even mean to do that. Remember when Ben Kingsley was actually a name that got people to go to movies? You know, before he was in things like The Love Guru, BloodRayne, and You Kill Me. If I was Kingsley’s publicist, I would be pushing this movie to everyone in the world. For it’s really great. It’s based of a Philip Roth story and that is very evident in the intelligent writing and musings that are going on this film. This is a movie that seems like a very tired plotline of a professor and a student having a romantic affair. Yet none of it played out like I expected. Also Dennis Hopper doesn’t play a madman!

#10—Slumdog Millionaire

This is one of the rare crowd pleasers that aren’t automatically being ripped apart by cynical critics. (Except for you, Spout!). The movie has been labeled as a fairy tale, but is it? Are all movies that have an optimistic message to say, fairy tales? I question that label because this movie does not play out like a fairy tale. It shows the gritty realism of Bombay and also has M.I.A. music. The movie treats the audience with respect and a level of intelligence as it takes you through this very clever plot structure.

#9—Tell No One

I was so happy when this movie came out in America when it did. I heard Harlan Coben talk about this movie a few years ago when he was in Indiana. He wrote the original book of Tell No One and shocked a lot of people when the rights were sold to the French to be made into a film. Yet I thrilled to hear that news. For I had more faith in European filmmakers to handle its many plot twists with intelligence and patience with its pacing. The movie was even more rewarding because I saw it with a large group of people who had read the novel and we were able to talk about whether it was a fair adaptation or not. (We all ended up really liking the film and the book). I should probably tell you what it’s about. While at the lake with his wife, Alex Beck was knocked out and his wife was killed. Now several years later he receives an email that not only shows that his wife is alive, but that he must…tell no one. This should be coming on DVD soon. Rent it.


Hellz yeah, Cloverfield. Why can’t the rest of you comprehend how great this movie is? Maybe if I rank it above ALL of the Best Picture nominees, you will begin to understand. Now many have believed that this is just my LOST fandom seeming onto the screen. (Shut up, Mom!). Yet I truly believe this is inventive filmmaking and one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen in theatres for years. I went into the theatre not even knowing what the monster looked like. (SPOILER: Not smoke). I haven’t yet seen this on DVD but I do believe this will hold up well. If for some reason you dismissed this last year, have fun and rent this.

#7—The Band’s Visit

Hazzah! Another obscure foreign film that I haven’t mentioned at all this week sneaking its way onto my top list. Ah, you know you love it. So this movie was insanely critically praised. It’s about an Egyptian police band who are stuck in a small town in Israel. So from that sentence I figured this was going to be a political movie. Yet once again, the critics have backed a very optimistic enjoyable movie. This is truly one of the most charming movies I’ve seen in a while. If you’re disappointed by this movie, you’re soulless. (That should be the quote on the DVD box)

#6—Man on Wire

Typically documentaries don’t appeal to that many people. Sometimes it’s because the subject matter really only interests a select group of people. Some people can’t connect with talking heads. Yet this one is different. This one is truly thrilling. It plays off like a classic heist movie as Philipe Petit planned to set up a tightrope between New York’s twin towers and walk across. Not only is this illegal, but it is INSANELY dangerous. Yet this is a wonderful movie about finding what you’re passionate about and living life on the wire. Petit was a wonderful person to listen to and his insights on the whole adventure. Yes, it was an adventure because it’s truly unbelievable about what went down.

#5—In Bruges

Man, I love this movie. This was my first exposure to Martin McDonagh. J.C. has forced me to read his most famous play The Pillowman, which I also recommend. What was great about this movie is that he feels very theatrical in nature, but I don’t see this working on the stage. It starts off with the simple story of two hit men are sent to Bruges. One hates it there and one is enjoying himself. Yet it gets deeper as we learn more about these characters and why they are there. What I haven’t mentioned yet is that this movie is hysterical. It’s my nod for the funniest movie of the year and it’s all about the fantastic combination of cast and script. Oh, and racist midgets.

#4—Encounters at the End of the World

I’ve been a Werner Herzog fan for a few years now. I love his position on nature, because he truly hates it. Almost all of his movies are about how nature ultimately destroys man. So when I heard he was doing a movie on Antarctica, I laughed. Yet he swears early on that he is not going to make a stupid penguin movie. In fact he only has one segment about penguins and it involves one going mad and dying. He also brings up the question of gay penguins. The movie is filled with truly fascinating scenes like there where he finds the most interesting people and questions why are they are the bottom of the bottom. The answers are undeniably memorable.

#3—Synecdoche, New York

Another curveball, bitches! So I’m a Charlie Kaufman fanboy but this movie didn’t draw me in on its premise alone unlike Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, or Being John Malkovich. So why did this work? For it got me to be invested in the main character’s problems. It’s amazing that he’s able to do this. He invents these incredibly complex and original scenarios. Here we have a man who is having a miserable life. He wife doesn’t love him and he is on the verge of dying. Maybe. He desperately is trying to understand life. He receives a genius grant where he can make whatever play he wants. So he thinks he can understand life if it puts it on the stage raw. So he gets an old airport hanger and makes a life size model of New York with actors playing everyone he knows including him. The movie is surreal, bizarre, and ultimately a very sad tale. I love movies that make you think and this one is worth the thoughts.

#2—The Dark Knight

I was the only person in the world who really didn’t want to see this movie. I really didn’t like Batman Begins and wasn’t that interested in Batman. Yet I went at midnight mostly out of curiosity. From the first ten minutes, I was truly shocked. This movie was intelligent…really intelligent. It treated all of its characters and audience with a lot of respect. But what it really succeed at was break down the entire concept of a superhero in such a powerful way that I feel sorry for any superhero movie to come after it. The movie questions everything about the concept and places everything in a realistic setting, even down to the look of Gotham. The movie succeeds at being an action movie, but the movie triumphs at being an actual character study.


HELLZ YEAH, WALL-E! Up until a few weks ago The Dark Knight was my #1 movie and WALL-E was my #2. Yet I’ve now rewatched this movie a few times. I have seen this now three times and it each and every beat still works. There is truly nothing to change about this movie. It’s easily the ballziest movie to come out of Hollywood in quite a long time, but audiences truly embraced it. Hopefully this will serve as an encouragement for studios to take more chances. Some people have dismissed this movie for being too political (Shut up, Dad!) but it really isn’t. It’s not about global warming, but about people and the concept of truly living. The movie is beautiful and has many layers to it. Pixar has always been a studio that has made movies for kids but never ever talks down to them. That is why they succeed and always strive to make the absolute best movie they can with new stories and concepts that aren’t brought up usually in children’s films. The movie is a marvel and if you haven’t seen it…I’m sorry. If I didn’t have English class, I would put this the DVD in again. It’s that good.

That's my Top 20. Please tell me all of the many places I went wrong. I love to discuss movies almost as much as the movies themselves. Was there anything that I really need to see? What shouldn't I have left off? Why did I include Cloverfield? Let me know!

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