A look back at a not quite great 2008
Despite the country’s current economic woes, people still love to go to the movie theater. Box office grosses for the year were almost identical to last year, and few businesses would complain about flat revenues over 2007. We can complain, however, (hey that’s what we critics do best!) about the dearth of great films.
Consider that only weeks before the mighty Oscars and there are literally no best picture frontrunners. One record-breaking film was a giant among midgets, so to speak, among audiences and critics alike. In fact, a case could be made that superheroes and animated films saved the industry this year, both financially and to a lesser degree artistically. But there were a few uniquely memorable films. Given that lists beyond 10 picks or so lose their meaning, I have carefully selected the “10 Best” films of 2008.
Ten is good enough for Moses and for David Letterman, so it’s good enough for me.
“Doubt” This gripping drama about a stern nun who accuses a charismatic priest is also a morality play about the commandment we all regularly break. The performances are across the board unforgettable.
“The Dark Knight”Would this “Batman Begins” follow-up have been as good without the late Heath Ledger? Highly doubtful, but director Christopher Nolan’s Godfather-esque cinematic vision can’t be overestimated either.
“Frost/Nixon”Nearly every film involving politics crashes and burns these days, so how can this slice of seemingly trivial politics be so engrossing, entertaining and informative? A perfect storm of cast and crew that’s how. Here’s hoping director Ron Howard won’t be forgotten come Oscar time.
“Defiance”This truth-based film about refugees from a Holocaust camp surviving in the frigid woods of Belarus lacks originality but makes up for it in drama, storytelling, and humanity. Daniel Craig and Liev Shreiber deliver quietly compelling performances.
“Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”A good example of how period comedies don’t get enough respect. But if wit and style of this level are so easily produced, how come this spirited film—equal parts heartwarming and farcical with Cinderella undertones—is such a rare gem?
“Young @ Heart”How can rock-n-roll save a choir full of octogenarians? You have to see this documentary to believe it. Truth in every note.
“The Secret Life of Bees”Its messages of racial harmony and tolerance have been around awhile, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Just try not to fall in love with this film’s characters and knack for plucking the right heartstrings.
“High School Musical 3”This choice could destroy a critic’s credibility, but this song and dance extravaganza needs no defense. Sometimes highly consumable, cheesy product for the masses equals great art. See also “Mary Poppins” and “Grease.”
“Flash of Genius” You want a real story about a hero who almost sacrifices everything in order to stick to his principles? Watch Greg Kinnear fight Ford in this true saga about windshield wipers and so much more.
“Kung Fu Panda”Conventional wisdom has its robotic competitor as the better film, and certainly “Wall-E’s” first hour or so is near perfect cinema. But this film is the more complete story and a lot funnier. “Ska-doosh!”
Special Acheivement: “U2:3D” A film that elevates both the movie and concert experience to transcendent levels. The technology that may save cinema displaying a performance by the last band that matters.
Just missed the “10 Best” cut: “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Iron Man,” “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Valkyrie,” “Cloverfield,” “The Visitor.”
Great Performances: Sean Penn, “Milk.” Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler.” Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, “Frost/Nixon.” Greg Kinnear, “Flash of Genius.” Phillip Seymour Hoffman, “Doubt. ” Heath Ledger, “Dark Knight.” Meryl Streep, “Doubt.” Frances McDormand, “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.”
Most Valuable Player: Robert Downey Jr.
Guilty Pleasures: “Tropic Thunder,” “Step Brothers.”
Best Comedy You Never Heard Of: “The Hammer.”
Best Date Movies: “Twilight” (Under 30), “Ghost Town” (30-50), “Last Chance Harvey” (50+), “Run, Fatboy, Run” (Nerds of all ages) and “Vicky Christina Barcelona” (for the open-minded).
Best Couple: Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet going at it in “Revolutionary Road.”
Made Us Proud: “Flyboys.”
If You See Only One Foreign Film: “Tell No One.”
Best Sports Film: “Forever Strong.”
Local Hero: Adam Mast, the passionate architect behind the annual “Horror-Fest” and the Guerilla Film Competition which each year inspires amateur filmmakers.
Worst Film of the Year: “Wendy and Lucy.”