The 19 Best Movies That You Didn't See in 2008
by Alex Billington
December 29, 2008
In less than 3 days it'll be 2009 -- but wait, there's at least 19 great movies from this year that you haven't seen yet! Back by popular demand, it's our second annual list of the 19 best movies that you didn't see in 2008 (see last year's list). Featured below is a hand-picked selection of the best independent and mainstream feature films that were either quietly dumped by studios, ignored by audiences, or just not marketed well enough. So to give these films some extra time in the spotlight, and to support some of the best filmmakers out there, we've put together this year end wrap-up for you. I want to encourage everyone to consider watching just one of these that they haven't heard of (or didn't want to see) beforehand.
If you spent the two hours or so that it would take to watch even one of these movies mentioned below, it would mean that much more to the filmmaker. This isn't about getting kudos for mentioning certain films, this is about pointing out movies that don't deserve to be forgotten and are begging to be watched.
Opened on July 25, 2008
Directed by Nanette Burstein
A documentary on seniors at a high school in a small Indiana town and their various cliques.
Why it's on here: At Sundance this year, American Teen became the festival's sleeper hit, fueled by immensely positive buzz coming from everyone who saw it. Despite what you may have heard, it's nothing like "The Hills" and is a fantastic inside look at the life of four American high school teens. If only just to see it once, American Teen is worth your time and money, as Nanette Burstein takes dry documentary storytelling and turns it into something exciting and entertaining.
Opened on November 26, 2008
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Set in northern Australia before World War II, an English aristocrat who inherits a sprawling ranch reluctantly pacts with a stock-man in order to protect her new property from a takeover plot. As the pair drive 2,000 head of cattle over unforgiving landscape, they experience the bombing of Darwin, Australia, by Japanese forces firsthand.
Why it's on here: Despite all the talk about how it's not a movie that audiences want to see anymore, it's actually a wonderfully thrilling epic that only the likes of Baz Luhrmann could bring us. Yes, it's really two movies and that's initially hard to get past, but once you do, you'll find yourself being sucked into a sprawling Australian fairy tale lead by a handful of great actors. Even if you're annoyed by the dual stories in the end, I'm certain you'll at least admire the beauty of this great love story.
Opened on June 13, 2008
Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass
Four struggling actors retreat to a cabin in California in order to write a screenplay that will make them all stars. What happens when their story idea -- a horror flick about a group of friends tormented by a villain with a bag over his head -- starts to come true?
Why it's on here: Sony Picture Classics, who bought this film after its premiere at Sundance, screwed it over badly by dumping it during a crowded summer movie season and not giving it the support it needed. It's a very hard film to sell at first, but all they needed to do was get the right people in the theater. The Duplass Brothers are some of the best up-and-coming flmmakers around that use a refreshingly unique shooting style that plays into Baghead very well. It's a blend of horror and comedy like you've never seen before. You guaranteed to walk out of it with a smile.
Opened on February 22, 2008
Directed by Jon Poll
A rich kid becomes the self-appointed psychiatrist to the student body of his new high school.
Why it's on here: Wait, you didn't know that Robert Downey Jr. was in more movies this year than just Iron Man and Tropic Thunder? Yep, he was in another one called Charlie Bartlett, and it was a great movie and he did a great job in it. But he's not the only highlight -- Anton Yelchin, who also plays Chekov in the upcoming Star Trek, was what made this movie so damn good. It's fun and rebellious and a great coming-of-age movie. And in more than one case, Downey Jr. steals the show, especially in a couple scenes at the end involving the pool in his backyard.
Opened on September 26, 2008
Directed by Clark Gregg
A sex-addicted con-man pays for his mother's hospital bills by playing on the sympathies of those who rescue him from choking to death.
Why it's on here: A devious and fun exercise in adapting the dark musings of the great Chuck Palahniuk, Choke explores the life of a sex addict trying to deal with a mother who is slipping away. With great performances from Sam Rockwell and Brad William Henke combined with twisted humor that can only come from the mind behind Fight Club, Choke is easily one of the most unique and authentically dark comedies of the year. If you dig deviance, this is one you shouldn't let pass by. (Written by Neil of FSR)
City of Ember
Opened on October 10, 2008
Directed by Gil Kenan
For generations, the people of the City of Ember have flourished in an amazing world of glittering lights. But Ember's once powerful generator is failing and the great lamps that illuminate the city are starting to flicker.
Why it's on here: City of Ember was one of the biggest flops this year next to Speed Racer (which is on this list, too). Before it first hit theaters, I really didn't care that much about it. But I eventually saw it and was completely surprised. It reminded me of the kind of movies that I used to love as a kid, just full of wonderment and excitement. As long as you recognize that it is a kid's movie and not much more, it should be easy to sit back and enjoy this adventure just as much as I did.
Not Released in Theaters Yet
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Frank Perry is an institutionalized convict twelve years into a life sentence without parole. When his estranged daughter falls ill, he is determined he make peace with her before it's too late. He develops an ingenious escape plan, and recruits a dysfunctional band of escapists -- misfits with a mutual dislike for one other but united by their desire to escape their hell hole of an existence.
Why it's on here: It was my favorite film from Sundance this year and could've been my favorite film of the entire year if it had ever actually been released in theaters. THINKFilm picked it up at Sundance but that company went under part of the way through the year, so it never hit theaters. It was in theaters in June in the UK and will be out on DVD over there in January. This is one of the best films that no one has ever heard of. It's one of the most intense and thrilling modern escape movies ever made, and that's a huge compliment!
Opened on May 9, 2008
Directed by Tarsem Singh
In a hospital on the outskirts of 1920s Los Angeles, an injured stuntman begins to tell a fellow patient, a little girl with a broken arm, a fantastical story about 5 mythical heroes. Thanks to his fractured state of mind and her vivid imagination, the line between fiction and reality starts to blur as the tale advances.
Why it's on here: This beautiful film took two years to finally hit theaters after premiering at a film fest in 2006. Although a couple of people caught it during its theatrical run, The Fall never turned into a hit despite glowing reviews. I was even surprised to find myself enjoying it, especially because the trailers didn't seem all that interesting. What you'll discover is a gorgeous historic epic built around an ensemble of great performances. The Fall was worth the two year wait to see in theaters and shouldn't be quickly forgotten.
Opened on August 22, 2008
Directed by Andrew Fleming
In this irreverent comedy, a failed actor-turned-worse-high-school-drama-teacher rallies his Tucson, Arizona students as he conceives and stages politically incorrect musical sequel to Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Why it's on here: Whereas Choke was the quintessential dark comedy of the year, Hamlet 2 is the quintessential absurd comedy of the year. Steve Coogan shines like a young Gene Wilder as the whacky drama teacher that just about everyone had in high school. The story benefits from the smart and biting comedic mind of Pam Brady, who co-wrote the South Park movie. You'll get heavy doses of silliness, big scoops of absurdity and one giant musical interlude set to "Rock Me Sexy Jesus." What could possibly be better than that? (Written by Neil of FSR)
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