Before I start, I want to remind you all that I live in Kansas City, and some notable releases such as The Wrestler haven't open here yet. So this list is simply based off movies in 2008 that actually made it to Middle America and that I was lucky enough to see.
10. TROPIC THUNDER
I know, it's a Ben Stiller movie. It's a comedy. It's not the type of thing you think of as "Best of the Year" quality, but dammit...it was funny. Robert Downey Jr. gave his best performance of the year in this, (sorry, Iron Man) and both Jack Black and Ben Stiller managed to NOT get on my last damn nerves. (which is rare.) The last scene, with Stiller running towards the helicopter while a small child is stabbing his back...pure awful. Awfully funny, that is.
9. GHOST TOWN
Again, not a film you're going to see on a ton of "Best of" lists, but a surprising favorite of mine. I expected a "meh" date movie, but completely underestimated Ricky Gervais' amazing charm...even when he's being a total asshole. The love story is fun and believable and Tea Leoni has real chemistry with Gervais. I was kind of surprised it came and went without making much of a dent at the box office. I suppose Ricky's not "leading man" material quite yet, but I imagine the word of mouth after seeing this must have been positive.
8. MAN ON WIRE
A documentary about a French tightrope walker named Philippe Petit who walked between the World Trade Towers. He did it back in 1974, but you'd think he'd done it last week with the energy and excitement he still has talking about it. Truly a feel-good film about just attempting something for the sake of pure enjoyment.
A tough, sober, and intense performance-driven drama about a priest who may or may not have molested a young boy. You get a feeling you know exactly where this film is headed, who's right and wrong, and it forces you to go back and forth. Filled with incredible actors who all bring their A-game, (including a wide-eyed Amy Adams, caught in the middle of fierce battle of certainty.) I also love the way that numerous people I've talked to have variations of what reeeeeeally happened. In the end, the film leaves you with your own sense of doubt.
6. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
Danny Boyle has now earned the credibility for me to automatically see whatever his next film might be. The man takes chances, does dark horror, (28 Days Later) and follows it up with a kids film, (Millions.) Now he brings us a Bollywood movie that follows 3 orphans through Mumbai and how that leads to the main character in the hot seat on Hindi version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" The lil' indy film that could, Slumdog takes you on a journey of love, the ability to change your life, and rising up above your surroundings. It's a heartwarming film, that will leave you smiling (and perhaps dancing along to the end credits.)
A pseudo-documentary, (along the lines of Borat) that follows Bill Maher on his quest to prove that religion is bullshit. At least, the kind of religion that gets people all over the world to start killing one another. (Here's looking at you, Middle East!) Rasied by a Catholic Father and a Jewish Mother, he wondered why Mom never went to church with them, and why one day they simply stopped going to church all together. It's probably my personal favorite film of the year, but based solely as a "movie" it misses the mark in some spots. If you're like me, not sure what you believe but pretty sure that NO ONE has all the answers, you won't find a more entertaining (or enlightening) film this year.
I had no idea who Harvey Milk was. I had no idea that cops used to bust up gay bars like scenes out of the prohibition era. I had no idea of the incredible transformation of San Francisco in the late 60's early 70's in the Castro district. But after seeing this film, Gus Van Sant opened my eyes. Sure, Sean Penn delivers a knockout performance, but it's Van Sant's direction, his use of actual footage and eye for detail, that brings this movie to life. This happened, this is a part of our history. And the saddest part, is that so little has changed over the past 30 years. Watching footage of Anita Bryant rant and rave against homosexuality and how it destroys families and our morals is timeless. Sure, she was arguing against homosexuals getting rights protecting them for being fired simply for being gay, (including teaching in public schools) but the same tired arguments are now being used to reject them from being able to marry one another. Milk was the most important and poignant film of the year.
3. THE DARK KNIGHT
These next two are just fantastic films that just so happen to be things I was already in love with. Comics and cartoons. The Dark Knight destroyed my expectations of what "comic book" movies could be. This was a film. Period. A classic in cinema that will stand the test of time. From the opening shot, with Joker's goons robbing a bank, then shooting one another in the back, each thinking they're going to be the one actually in on the big haul...Christopher Nolan tosses aside the usual predictable campy notions of what bank heists go like. This is something out of Heat, this feels real, yet somewhat off-putting. And then you have Heath Ledger. Someone forgot to tell him that super hero villains are supposed to be over-the-top and corny. His Joker is destined to become placed aside Hannibal Lecter. If there's any justice, they'll simply give him the Oscar and not even bother getting anyone else's hopes up. This movie made me feel awesome about being a geek.
Ranked above The Dark Knight, simply because I'm a hopeless romantic. WALL*E says it best when it says nothing at all. Who else but Pixar would spend the first 20 minutes of their feature film dialogue-free? On a children's movie, no less. Except this isn't a children's movie. It's powerful enough for anyone and everyone. Young and old, from this side of the planet or the other. Shit, you feel love between two robots for crying out loud! How can you get more timeless than that?! It made me want to go back and watch old silent movies and study how you can get across so much emotion without saying a word. And it's fucking beautiful to look at as well. Makes me glad I gots me a PS3 to enjoy Blu Ray.
1. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
A lot of people say it's too long, a lot of people say there's no emotion, a lot of people say it's too similar to Forest Gump, but I say it was a touching reminder that nothing ever lasts. Loosely based of the short story of the same name, David Fincher has created a film that defines the word "subtly." Brad Pitt plays his cards close to his chest, and never lets his emotions pour out. His "Benjamin Button" is one of little words, and more importantly, a sense of "I wasn't even supposed to live this long." Nothing phases him as he takes most of his life in stride...except for Daisy. He first meets her when she's only a child, when he himself is wrinkly old man, (who is actually only a few years older.) Over the next couple of decades, they're unable to connect, but feel something deep between them. A love unlike any other. And when they finally get together, from that scene up above, they're both in their 30's, living in a small apartment, sleeping on a mattress in the middle of the living room...and happier than ever. That scene and one of the very last, with Daisy walking a 2 year old Benjamin along the sidewalk, bending down to kiss him, made me just cry like a baby. Tears of happiness, tears of sadness...just hoping that I too will be able to live a nice full life before the rest of time passes me by.