Marco's Official Top 10 Film Experiences of 2008
by Marco Cerritos
December 31, 2008
Another year at the movies and another list of top ten films. I personally believe the rumors about 2008 are all true -- it has been a bad year for movies. How else can you explain so many mediocre titles ending up on all the top ten lists everywhere? My personal list is just as disjointed. I only gave four stars to my top pick and three-and-a-half to the three other titles below it. The rest of my top ten list is made up of three star movies that moved me in one way or another. That's pretty sad considering I usually have an abundance of four stars movies to choose from. Let's just get right down to it, starting with my honorable mentions.
(In alphabetical order) Baghead, Ballast, Bigger, Stronger, Faster, CJ7, Changeling, Dear Zachary, Funny Games, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Religulous, Sangre De Mi Sangre, Shotgun Stories, Slumdog Millionaire, Towelhead, Tropic Thunder, The Visitor.
#10 - Speed Racer
Completely misunderstood when first released, Speed Racer was the biggest eye orgasm of 2008. The colors and its production design popped off the screen and for all their hard work, the Wachowski Brothers got decimated by critics everywhere. If you have a Blu-Ray player, the best way to experience this gooey cinematic experience is in HD. But don't blaze up before watching it, you might have a seizure.
#9 - The Bank Job
Jason Statham (rightfully) gets a lot of shit for making quick money grabs like Death Race and In the Name of the King, but The Bank Job proved that not only can he carry a film but he can make a great one too. Shot like a '70s film by director Roger Donaldson, this intricate crime caper of stolen money and blackmailed royalty got shafted by audiences when it was first released. Do yourself a favor and seek it out on DVD.
#8 - Redbelt
I've always loved David Mamet and consider him to be one of those unique directors where his worst movies are more entertaining than the best efforts of a studio hack. Redbelt is not his strongest effort, but in a year where most films failed to stand out in any significant way, a good Mamet film is easy to recommend as one of 2008's highlights. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as a martial arts instructor caught in a surreal web of lies, blackmail, and razor sharp dialogue. Joe Mantegna, Rebecca Pidgeon and Ricky Jay are all Mamet regulars, so they know exactly what they're doing. One of the biggest surprises was seeing Tim Allen convincingly act. His small role as a big shot movie star almost made me forget The Santa Clause ever existed.
#7 - Frost/Nixon
Ron Howard is a B-level director with A-level status. A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man and The Da Vinci Code are expendable studio movies that have done nothing to challenge him as a filmmaker. And before you say Apollo 13, let me remind you that was 13 years ago (funny how the math works out). I consider The Missing his best film but it's also his least successful. Frost/Nixon is a return to form for Howard, a way to challenge himself the way he did with The Missing. The verbal grudge match between Richard Nixon and journalist David Frost is nothing short of riveting. The obvious standouts are Michael Sheen and Frank Langella as Frost and Nixon but the film is also carried by great supporting work, primarily Kevin Bacon and Sam Rockwell. Here's hoping Ron Howard stops chasing dollar bills and keeps focusing on good movies.
#6 - Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
Most of my feelings on Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired can be read in my full review, but the short version is this: you owe it to yourself to see this film. If you're a regular on this site you're a film geek just like me. This gripping documentary is an examination of one of the biggest and most talented filmmakers of the last several years. Granted his life story is a backdrop to the larger look at his alleged rape of a minor, but the court proceedings and audience confliction make this a must see. The "Wanted and Desired" of the title refers to the fact that despite his alleged criminal past, Polanski fled to France to avoid charges and is looked upon as an ordinary citizen (desired) wherein the US he is still a "wanted" fugitive.
#5 - The Dark Knight
There is a feeling going around this month that if you are a professional critic and don't include The Dark Knight on your top ten list, something was very wrong with you. I call bullshit on this fanboy bullying but still believe TDK to be a great film on my own volition. Yes, there are problems with the film in terms of logic and suspension of disbelief, but as a piece of entertainment the craftsmanship cannot be ignored.
#4 - The Fall
Visual director Tarsem redeemed himself in a big way this year with The Fall, a whimsical fairytale of a precocious young girl and the suicidal stuntman feeding her imagination. The film was shot over the course of several years while the perfectionist director achieved the exact look he wanted, making the finished product well worth the wait. Fans of Pushing Daisies will recognize actor Lee Pace as the depressed stuntman weaving quixotic stories to his young audience.
#3 - Wall-E
Yes boys and girls, there was a better, geekier film than The Dark Knight this year. The more I see Wall-E, the more I fall in love with it. I agree the first half is stronger than the second, but that doesn't bring the film down in any significant way for me. As an aside, is it just me or is Eve a bitch? In the first half especially, all Wall-E wants to do is impress Eve and she acts like a spoiled bitch in need of a good slap. Case in point, there's a sandstorm coming early in the film and Wall-E wants to protect Eve by bringing her into his lair so she won't get hurt. The moment he touches her she pulls a gun on him. WTF?!? I know I'm just rambling but I couldn't resist. Pixar is officially making adult films that kids can see too.
#2 - In Bruges
Writer/director Martin McDonagh's film is finally starting to get the attention it deserves. In Bruges is an action film written like a play and it makes perfect sense since McDonagh is best known as an acclaimed playwright. Colin Farrell and Brendan Glesson put in the best work of their careers as hitmen hiding out in Bruges, Brussels until the heat from their last job blows over. Mayhem, prostitutes, smoking and midgets are mixed for comedic flavor making In Bruges the most fun of 2008.
#1 - Elegy
I seem to be alone in praising this so highly, but I don't care. While other films were considered safe bets for the top slot, my heart kept going back to this one, which I guess makes sense since it's a love story after all. Ben Kingsley commands the screen as a commitment-phobic college professor who falls in love with one of his students (Penelope Cruz). All the messiness of love and relationships is put under a microscope in director Isabel Coixet's story of insecurity and melancholy. I only fell in love with one film this year -- Elegy made me giddy to be a film geek and also made be believe Ben Kingsley could still make real movies.