The 20 Best Movies Of 2008

This was an absolutely crazy year in movies, and my best list was never such a confused and difficult task.

If I were going for a worst list, I could make it about 50 without any problem, and I could tell you the exact order I’d want them in.  I don’t think I’ll even bother with it this year, but the absolute worst is The Love Guru, followed closely by Indiana Jones and The Triple Dog Dare You To Fit Something Into This Movie That Would Make It More Stupid.

Before I get on to this list, I’ve really got to explain it.

Generally, when I make my top ten list for the year, I start out by making a much too large list of everything I liked during the year.  This usually gives me something like 30-40 movies, because I put in things that even I think are only slightly above-average.  Then I stare at the list for about three straight days until the letters all start dancing around and talking to me.

I go through the list saying to myself, “That absolutely has to be on the list,” and see how close I can get to a list of ten.  I usually get down to 13-15 and then start to really struggle with things like, “why is this movie 10 and this one 11?”  Why is 1 better than 10 is usually pretty easy for anybody, but why is 10 better than 11 is a tricky thing.

When I set forth on the adventure this year, I could only come up with 24 movies.  When I started going through that list, there were only four that I really felt absolutely had to be in the top ten.  Worse still, I found myself pretty well stuck with that list of 24.  I didn’t really have anywhere to go with it, and apart from just going right for a list of the top four, I was having a lot of trouble figuring out what was going to go where.  In the end, as you can tell by the title, I just threw in the towel.  I had four I could convince myself to get rid of, and after that the year just wasn’t worth any further effort.

It was a year that trudged along hopelessly between the big blockbusters, with vast wastelands of time which offered little incentive to get to a theater.  There were some incredibly stupid movies that managed to pull in decent money because they were the choice du jour of the, “we’re just going to show up at the theater and pick something on a weekend night,” crowd, but that doesn’t change the fact that they were incredibly stupid.  There were also movies that were stupid, but in such a way that it was mostly okay that they were stupid.  At the end of the day, a lot of top ten lists are going to be a battle of picking and then justifying your stupid movie.

Tropic Thunder, for example, is really stupid.  It’s fun and funny, and kind of confusing actually, but it’s still stupid.  Stupid by design maybe, but don’t pretend it isn’t stupid just because you like it.

Then the fairly horrible year was drawing to a close, and all the Oscar-bait, over-hyped stuff started flooding the gates, and a handful of movies started getting inked into top tens everywhere before anyone saw them.  This is of course, as per usual.  Movies were being praised beyond their true merits, and I think largely because it had been so long since anyone saw anything interesting.

To top it all off, a lot of the really good things this year were nevertheless flawed in their own way.  Dark Knight was just awesome, but toward the end it just kept happening at me.  Though I really loved it and recommend it very highly, I’m not really moved to see it again.  I cannot say the same for Batman Begins, which I could watch over and over.  Similarly, Wall-E was really brilliant, but it kept saying things too long as well.  It isn’t close to my favorite Pixar movie, and I don’t know that it has a whole lot of rewatchability, which I find rather a flaw for the genre.

So, there we are.

My list of 20 is in completely random order.  I should mention that there are two movies on several top ten lists already which I haven’t seen, but don’t genuinely hold out a lot of hope for.  And, I’m not going to tell you what they are.  If they turn out to be great, I’ll update the list.

Here We Go!!

 

Dark Knight

darkknight

It was brilliant.  It was fun.  It had great acting.  It was wine and roses and seasons in the sun.  It was also discussed quite enough by now.

The thing is, the end broke down a bit for me.  It seemed to keep going on when it didn’t remotely need to, and from what I can tell it was mostly because we were damn well going to work in all the ideas we had somehow, whether it worked for the general flow/pace or not.


Iron Man

iron_man

It was really quite good, and certainly a hell of a good time, but the storytelling actually didn’t work so well for me.  The relations and situations involving good guy vs. bad guy, and good guy vs. Oh, isn’t it just a really bad world after all, were a little more cartoon than comic book.

Still, certainly a valiant effort, and a fine role by Downey Jr.


Wall-E

walle

A real treat of a film, and not least because there are really no words at all for something like 25 minutes, and America didn’t get up and walk out.

Though I enjoyed it thoroughly, I don’t know that I need to see it again, and once again the third act just kept happening to no legitimate purpose.  Eventually, what was once a decent enough statement about society turned into rather harping on the subject.

And, though everyone has raved about it, it isn’t even in the top two on my list of Pixar movies.

 

Tropic Thunder

tropic

Now, I’ve seen a lot of people bash the hell out of movies this year for being completely stupid (and we’ll get to the danger zone in just a second) while nevertheless professing to greatly appreciate this movie… which is a nice way of saying they fawn all over it, procalim their love for it, and/or put it in their own top ten.

Sorry, it’s really stupid.  That doesn’t mean that it isn’t pretty funny, and doesn’t do a good job of entertaining.  But, it’s still stupid.


Kung Fu Panda

kungfu

It’s the year of not knowing when to end your movie, and this one took a beating in that department as well.  It is, however, also rather clever, funny, and has some nice moments of adventure.

 


Leatherheads

 

leatherheads

I was incredibly surprised by the way this movie sucked me in.  It was light-hearted, and rather corny, but fun.  It was a throwback to movies of other days, just as it looked back at other days.  Days that were simpler, and without quite so much flashy awesomeness flying around at you, but days that were pretty cool nonetheless.

George Clooney was fantastic, and most everyone involved delivered their roles well.  And, looked to be having fun doing it.  This certainly isn’t among the best things ever, but it was a treat in an empty year, and I had a really good time.

My CinemaBlend review here.

 

Mamma Mia!

 

mamma

So, here we go.  Yes, it’s pretty stupid, and the actors can’t even sing.  And, before anything starts going around that I called this the greatest movie ever, let’s be clear about what I’m saying by having this on this list.  First, I’d probably give this movie about three stars.  But, I’d probably give Tropic Thunder three stars as well.  Either film may vary a half star either direction when I get around to writing them up.

Now, you’re asking yourself, “What the hell is this joker doing putting movies that he admits are only three stars, and that he calls stupid on his best of the year list?”

Fair question.

When you’re in the world of film criticism, there are a lot of theories you have to deal with.  You first have some general “goodness” theory, and you have a theory about ratings, and you have a theory about top movies in a year, and countless others besides.

In this particular case, there are several things going on.  First, musicals are stupid by definition.  People breaking into song at random points during the course of what purports to be an otherwise normal set of circumstances is an idea that resides somewhere in the realm of the ludicrous.  Nevertheless, it is a rather accepted form of entertainment.

Second, no one in this movie can sing worth a damn, and yet, I somehow find that unpersuasive in deciding whether this movie is worth anything.  No one in Sweeney Todd could sing worth a damn either, and no one labeled the movie stupid and worthless as a result.  More to the point, I cannot sing worth a damn, and that seems a relevant fact to this movie.

It definitely is a stupid movie, but I think you have to say something else there.  Tropic Thunder is a stupid movie as well.  And, don’t forget that this year’s Indy release could not be more stupid, but a lot of people liked it.

Sometimes a movie is just a silly sort of good time, and somewhere in the film theories you might be working, you’ve got to make room for the perfectly legitimate question of whether or not a movie is good at doing that.

 


My Brother Is An Only Child

 

mybrother

You may have to let go of strict political/historical viewpoints, but they aren’t really what the story is about anyway.  Two brothers in Italy head in different directions, when one of them decides to become fairly serious about his views on Communism while the other finds himself drawn toward Fascist views.  Though that is what we might call the excuse for the story, nothing to do with politics is actually particularly relevant.

The film showcases relationships wonderfully, and walks us through the struggle of two young men trying to figure out who and what they are, and how they make (or don’t) that work with others.

Not since Waking the Dead has there been a movie that I thought talked about the struggle of relationships in a more accessible and relevant way.  As with Waking the Dead, which conflicting viewpoints we pick doesn’t really matter, but what happens when viewpoints conflict does, and every relationship has to deal with it at some point.


Appaloosa

 

appaloosa

Based on Robert Parker’s novel, it’s a western that serves a purpose in a world that isn’t interested in westerns anymore.  Directed by and starring Ed Harris, the story rolls along easily, and in some crazy way is as comfortable as listening to an episode of A Prairie Home Companion.  Like the Spencer novels, and everything Tom Selleck has starred in recently (which Parker wrote as well), there is a special brand of dialog.

The story is about two law men who are really hired guns… or something, and what happens when they come to town… or something, but it’s rather more character study than most westerns, which all pretend to be character studies.  It is both more and less serious than most things found in the western genre, and mainly because it is trying only to be about the characters.  The plot is just something that happened to happen to them.


Kabluey

 

kabluey

An absolutely bizarre movie that has no right to be on any list of anything, Kabluey is the story of one very odd man in an even more odd set of circumstances.  It is so quirky that it is almost making fun of itself, and the very idea of the thing borders on the surreal.  That a man takes a job that makes no sense at all, and that people are willing to pay him to do something that makes no sense, is at best hyperbole and at worst just plain ridiculous, but the ludicrous unwinding of events nevertheless somehow forces you to say, “Oh my God!  Look!  It was me the whole time!”

And, it doesn’t matter who you are.

My CinemaBlend review here.


Transsiberian

 

transsiberian

This is a movie that creates mood and unnerves the audience in a way that reminds of the great thrillers of a bygone era when… well, when there were thrillers.  Two couples meet on a train and you immediately fall into the role of everyone who has ever felt completely out of their element.

 


Frozen River

 

frozenriver

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and several other awards, Frozen River is one of those rare films that is driven straight to near perfection by incredible performances.

The story is fairly simple, and it lets itself remain so.  Two women on the bad side of the economic scale meet up when one of them is abandoned by her gambling addict husband.  She needs money quick, largely because then her kids can eat something other than Tang, and her desperation leads to (sort of accidentally) smuggling illegal aliens across the U.S./Canada border.

Directed and written by newcomer Courtney Hunt, this is a film that grips and never lets go.

 

The Spiderwick Chronicles

 

spiderwick

I was actually extremely disappointed by the whole bird = deus ex machina bit, but I didn’t read the books, so I suppose it’s just being true to the story.  I’ll hope it works better in book form.  I found it a great adventure for its target audience though, and one that tried to do something with that adventure.

The acting was quite good all things considered, and it was a good deal of fun.  (More on this film later)


Prince Caspian

 

princecaspian

In a similar vein, the continuation of the C.S. Lewis series was a good time, though it didn’t live up to the first one by miles.  Now that it looks like we may not get further installments, at least for a while, Caspian shouldn’t be completely ignored.

A lot of things about this didn’t work for me, but it was certainly above average.  In all honesty, this one probably gets on the list mostly due to the horribleness of the year.

Still, a good adventure is hard to beat, and there was much of it that worked as well.

 


The Fall

 

thefall

In a better world this film would be much closer to the norm, instead of being a drastic diversion from what we see at the theater.   A sensory feast with a wonderful story, and according to official word no hi-tech special effects (and you won’t be able to believe that) will get you about $2 million at the box office.

Once in a while a movie comes along (and forget about whether it is the best movie ever or how many stars it is supposed to have, and all that nonsense) that makes you remember why you think movies are just plain awesome.

 

City of Ember

 

citofember

I have read the book this time, and much like this year’s Delgo, a lot of the problem seemed to be that no one knew it was out until it was gone.  It had the further problem of having quite a lot of things wrong with it.

But, it is a movie that resides in that unfortunate camp of existing only for those that read the book beforehand.  Thousands of questions go unanswered to the uninitiated.  That’s a tough camp to try and set your flagpole in.  Moreover, it has a lot of problems for those who have read the book as well.

A lot of things are not to the plus for the flick then.  But, it is a pretty decent adventure that the legitimate demographic will enjoy, and I had a good time.  There was some decent acting in it, and the youngish audience is pretty likely to get sucked into the way the story plays out.

This one, and Spiderwick I suppose, get on the list mainly because even if this is my list I am not the only demographic in town, and I can very much appreciate where they go and what they’re trying to do.  They aren’t even close to the greatest things ever.  They aren’t even all that good in some grand scheme of things, so I suppose it is a qualified “best.”  On the other hand, few people who are far removed from the appropriate demographic shy away from calling the Harry Potter books the best things ever, and without the slightest thought about the extent to which they are thusly calling themselves functionally illiterate.  A bit of support for movies playing the same game doesn’t seem too much to me.

I highly recommend catching these two films on DVD, screening them with and for the people they actually aim at, and enjoying the ride.

 

Choke

 

choke

Speaking of stupid movies.  It’s hard to come up with anything to say about this movie that doesn’t eventually get around to calling it stupid in way or another.  I put it on this list because at some point being able to do certain things with movies is worthy of note.  This is a movie that, based purely on any summary anyone could come up with, I would never choose to watch.  There is nothing that sounds interesting about it, and a sufficiently thorough summary would convince me that there are really no redeeming qualities to the thing at all.

But, like the film version of driving past a car accident, it is inexplicably difficult to turn away from.  It’s a movie that made me think of Roger Ebert’s 8 minute review with a decidedly suspicious grin on my face.  In the end, you don’t even get anywhere.  You’ll think that surely you are going to wind up in a place where something has happened, and that might drag you through to the end, but it turns out you’re wrong.

It’s a film that eerily resembles reading a psychology text, and there are very good reasons behind the fact that they do not often get adapted for the screen.  I can’t say it was “good” with a straight face.  It wasn’t anything like fun or enjoyable.  And, I’ll absolutely never watch it again.  But, I’ll be damned if I could stop watching it the first time.

I suppose there’s also a good reason people rarely circle around and take another pass at car accidents.

 

 

Smart People

 

smartpeople

This could almost get on the list based purely on the fact that it is actually about smart people, and does not begin by saying to the audience –

“Hello there American, if your lucky your IQ is your body temperature, viewing public!  This movie is about pretty smart people… Wait!  We are going to mock them and show you what bastards they all are!  There you go… take your seats again.  Does a have a wummy popcorn?”

It’s an engaging look into the lives of rather intelligent people, and hey look they’re actually people.  It also has several of the best acting performances of the year.  I would say that it is directed quite well, but I wonder a little about making such claims when you have first time writers pairing up with first time directors, and throwing them at not-at-all first time actors and not-at-all first time people shoving the money around.

 


Rachel Getting Married

 

rachel

Jonathan Demme returns to… well, I’m not sure exactly, but to some time in the past when I used to like his movies.  This is a movie filled with beautifully crafted scenes of conversations, and emotions that are not forced on you, but exist as they actually exist in life… they’re there, but mostly people try to pretend they aren’t.

It’s the story of the day pass out of drug treatment to attend a wedding.  Like there isn’t one of those at every wedding.  It’s family and relationships and dealing with people, and a lot of other stupid junk that gets in the way all the time.

If I was really pushed to it, I might pick this as best film of the year.  I might not though.  I’m like that.


Let The Right One In

 

lettherightone1

The best things you find in the sci-fi/fantasy section are in that section “accidentally.”  They are stories about people, and some of them happen to be wizards, or starship captains… or vampires, but it isn’t actually relevant to anything.

This is a movie about two people who look very young, but are rather old.  It’s about how lonely they are, how messed up they are, how much life seems like really a weird sort of mess and who came up with that idea anyway.  It’s largely about how everything sucks, and yet some things don’t suck, but I’m not sure that changes my mind about what a weird sort of mess this all is.

It’s about how people learn who other people are, what it means to know who someone else is, and what relationships are and how we can actually have them, when it doesn’t seem all that possible really.  It’s about being self-aware enough to realize that there is this bizarre hole inside you that you know you can’t fill, and how we all pretend that there are ways to fill it.  And, it’s about meeting someone who seems to get you, or get what you think about getting people, or anyway doesn’t kick your ass all the time and helps you out with this weird sort of mess.

One of them is a vampire.

So that’s it.

There are no honorable mentions in a list that’s already 20, so that’s as good as it gets.

I’m really not going to tell you those two movies I haven’t seen, and I’m not going to tell you those four movies I cut either.  Whatever movie you’re about to bitch about because it isn’t on this list, it’s one of those four.  Sorry, it was really close.  And, your right, that movie was really awesome too!  It was a near thing really!


Are You Screening?

Written by
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.
  • I'm sorry to say this, but I liked Tropic Thunder. Yes, sometimes it was a little bit goofy, but all in all I've laughed a lot.

    Highlight: The Dark Knight

  • I'm sorry to say this, but I liked Tropic Thunder. Yes, sometimes it was a little bit goofy, but all in all I've laughed a lot.

    Highlight: The Dark Knight

  • I'm sorry to say this, but I liked Tropic Thunder. Yes, sometimes it was a little bit goofy, but all in all I've laughed a lot.

    Highlight: The Dark Knight

  • I'm sorry to say this, but I liked Tropic Thunder. Yes, sometimes it was a little bit goofy, but all in all I've laughed a lot.

    Highlight: The Dark Knight

  • I'm sorry to say this, but I liked Tropic Thunder. Yes, sometimes it was a little bit goofy, but all in all I've laughed a lot.

    Highlight: The Dark Knight

  • areyouscreening

    I know how you feel. I somehow feel a little sorry putting on this list, but it was pretty funny, and it was somewhat different. It was stupid, but it wasn't just the same old stupid we've seen over and over.

    And, as I tried to explain, just because you can describe something as stupid does not automatically mean it isn't good.

    Monty Python's Holy Grail is stupid, and so is Caddyshack.

    Cheers.

  • areyouscreening

    I know how you feel. I somehow feel a little sorry putting on this list, but it was pretty funny, and it was somewhat different. It was stupid, but it wasn't just the same old stupid we've seen over and over.

    And, as I tried to explain, just because you can describe something as stupid does not automatically mean it isn't good.

    Monty Python's Holy Grail is stupid, and so is Caddyshack.

    Cheers.

  • areyouscreening

    I know how you feel. I somehow feel a little sorry putting on this list, but it was pretty funny, and it was somewhat different. It was stupid, but it wasn't just the same old stupid we've seen over and over.

    And, as I tried to explain, just because you can describe something as stupid does not automatically mean it isn't good.

    Monty Python's Holy Grail is stupid, and so is Caddyshack.

    Cheers.

  • areyouscreening

    I know how you feel. I somehow feel a little sorry putting on this list, but it was pretty funny, and it was somewhat different. It was stupid, but it wasn't just the same old stupid we've seen over and over.

    And, as I tried to explain, just because you can describe something as stupid does not automatically mean it isn't good.

    Monty Python's Holy Grail is stupid, and so is Caddyshack.

    Cheers.

  • areyouscreening

    I know how you feel. I somehow feel a little sorry putting on this list, but it was pretty funny, and it was somewhat different. It was stupid, but it wasn't just the same old stupid we've seen over and over.

    And, as I tried to explain, just because you can describe something as stupid does not automatically mean it isn't good.

    Monty Python's Holy Grail is stupid, and so is Caddyshack.

    Cheers.

  • I'm sorry to say this, but I liked Tropic Thunder. Yes, sometimes it was a little bit goofy, but all in all I've laughed a lot.

    Highlight: The Dark Knight

  • areyouscreening

    I know how you feel. I somehow feel a little sorry putting on this list, but it was pretty funny, and it was somewhat different. It was stupid, but it wasn't just the same old stupid we've seen over and over.

    And, as I tried to explain, just because you can describe something as stupid does not automatically mean it isn't good.

    Monty Python's Holy Grail is stupid, and so is Caddyshack.

    Cheers.

  • I'm afraid looking at this list mostly told me what a sad year it was. Except for absolutely adoring “Wall-E” (and I'm a huge Pixar fan, but this was my favorite), I can see what you were saying here – (and I can see what you're saying for Wall-E, too but I loved it anyway). Unfortunately for things like “Mama Mia” to be on the list (and I'm an ABBA fan, too), it's really a reflection of what choices were available.

  • I'm afraid looking at this list mostly told me what a sad year it was. Except for absolutely adoring “Wall-E” (and I'm a huge Pixar fan, but this was my favorite), I can see what you were saying here – (and I can see what you're saying for Wall-E, too but I loved it anyway). Unfortunately for things like “Mama Mia” to be on the list (and I'm an ABBA fan, too), it's really a reflection of what choices were available.

  • I'm afraid looking at this list mostly told me what a sad year it was. Except for absolutely adoring “Wall-E” (and I'm a huge Pixar fan, but this was my favorite), I can see what you were saying here – (and I can see what you're saying for Wall-E, too but I loved it anyway). Unfortunately for things like “Mama Mia” to be on the list (and I'm an ABBA fan, too), it's really a reflection of what choices were available.

  • I'm afraid looking at this list mostly told me what a sad year it was. Except for absolutely adoring “Wall-E” (and I'm a huge Pixar fan, but this was my favorite), I can see what you were saying here – (and I can see what you're saying for Wall-E, too but I loved it anyway). Unfortunately for things like “Mama Mia” to be on the list (and I'm an ABBA fan, too), it's really a reflection of what choices were available.

  • I'm afraid looking at this list mostly told me what a sad year it was. Except for absolutely adoring “Wall-E” (and I'm a huge Pixar fan, but this was my favorite), I can see what you were saying here – (and I can see what you're saying for Wall-E, too but I loved it anyway). Unfortunately for things like “Mama Mia” to be on the list (and I'm an ABBA fan, too), it's really a reflection of what choices were available.

  • I'm afraid looking at this list mostly told me what a sad year it was. Except for absolutely adoring “Wall-E” (and I'm a huge Pixar fan, but this was my favorite), I can see what you were saying here – (and I can see what you're saying for Wall-E, too but I loved it anyway). Unfortunately for things like “Mama Mia” to be on the list (and I'm an ABBA fan, too), it's really a reflection of what choices were available.

  • supermanz

    Well , dont get me Wrong , some of the review you give does not-even make sense , or say have you even seen some of the movies you are talking about, i guess not than please dont make those movies look bad some have got real good stories, few movies in the list…..

  • areyouscreening

    I have to admit to having no idea what you're talking about. Sorry.

  • supermanz

    Well , dont get me Wrong , some of the review you give does not-even make sense , or say have you even seen some of the movies you are talking about, i guess not than please dont make those movies look bad some have got real good stories, few movies in the list…..

  • areyouscreening

    I have to admit to having no idea what you're talking about. Sorry.

  • kalkidan

    nice job 10q for ur information

  • Buzzbuzz

    Pretty good list I supose, although I haven’t seen a few of these movies.

    I really think think Prince Caspian was a big improvement on the first Narnia installment. As you mentioned it just had that adventure vibe and the action and fighting scenes were much improved. The first was kept two child friendly and it suffered in my book as a result. Definately C.S. Lewis’ best book for mine also.

    Not much of a fan of tropic thunder, this kind of stupid commedy can get old fast. However, Jack Black was absolute hilarious and made this movie acceptable. His scene where he was tied to the tree had me on the floor. Ben Stiller let me down on this one, I am a fan though – his best movie is Dodgeball.

    Dark Knight was ground breaking and Heath Ledger was brillant. Not as good the second time you watch it though. Iron Man was also good. Mamma Mia should be on a very different list for mine, but I supose there is always gonna be differences.

    I enjoyed this good work!

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