Best Movies of 2008

I might have called it the worst year in movie history or claimed the Oscars should get cancelled. Of course they didn't. And I -with hard work- found ten movies that tried to break the rules and that didn't suck. It was harder than you think. Never in my 10 years of reviewing movies on a weekly basis have I had a harder time to find diamonds in the ruff.

(1) The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky)

Director Aronofsky's pitch perfect masterpiece is about the limits an artist can push himself in order to achieve his artistic goal. A breathtakingly intense drama that features Mickey Rourke's best performance in years -or of his career?- and another great turn by Marissa Tomei (looking good naked as usual). Rourke's wrestler is a man that has hit he lowest of lows in life, a man that has shunned off family for drugs and a sickening work habit in the ring. We feel for him and wish him the best comeback possible, even though in the back of our heads we know there's no chance. One of the great endings of the last 10 years in cinema.

(2) WALL-E (Andrew Stanton)

It isn't far off to call Andrew Stanton's WALL-E -along with Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away- the best animated movie of the past 10 years. This rule breaking cinematic dreamscape starts off with its first half hour without dialogue, evoking a mix of prime Chaplin and hell, even Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey. It's the riskiest thing I've seen animation do since probably Fantasia's trippiness close to 60 years ago. Which isn't to say the other hour of the film isn't as good, it's actually quite spectacular and moving in its portrayal of a harmless robot that is earth's only chance at survival. A masterpiece.

3) Hunger (Steve Mcqueen)

Now this is one of hell of a feature directing debut and rightfully won the New York Film Critics Best First Film award in 2009. Recounting the events that led to IRA prisoners going on a Hunger Strike during the 70' and 80's- it is an immensely powerful experience of the limits one can do to its body just to prove a point or political purpose. Watch out for Mcqueen's next movie, especially if it's half as good as this one. Reviewed right here & featured in a double review with -of all films- Antichrist.

(4) The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan)

If you haven't heard of Christopher Nolan's superhero classic then you don't live in this planet. Nolan along with an A list cast headed by Christian Bale as Batman and the late Heath Ledger as a Joker to haunt your dreams triumph in this blockbuster. Many have evoked the film as a post 9/11 depiction of a world going to hell, they might not be far off as a caped crusader does bad in order for good to triumph. Ledger's joker is so real and so intense but it's Nolan's eye for detail that puts this film over the mountain. This is his dark, twisted take on a misunderstood superhero.

(5) Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood)

As conventional as Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino might be, it evokes classic shades of a cinematic genre long gone dead in the woods. Here Eastwood is the racist neighbour next door who can't help but assist a Vietnamese kid in his neighbourhood who has problems with local gangs. It's a sentimental film but one with such big heart and flair that it had me at hello from it's very first frame. It's sense of humor is also dead on and a sort of relief to the dark corners Eastwood has built her. You think you know where Gran Torino is going but you really don't and it's with this unpredictability that Eastwood triumphs with his sleeper hit.

(6) Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle)

Like almost every Danny Boyle movie, a mess .. but one that is so damn entertaining and visually appealing. Slumdog Mllionaire is the epitome of a crowd pleaser and the pure and exhilarating nature of cinema. Its haters refuse to admit to its entertainment value and instead keep focusing on the film's plot holes and flaws. Easy to do guys but try to look closer and let yourself be transported into a rural India full of darkness but shot with real light and colors and maybe just maybe you will understand the true value of this movie. It is no Best Picture deserving film but what it is instead might knock you for a loop.

(7) Changeling (Clint Eastwood)

Clint Eastwood keeps churning out one great movie after another that people keep shunning off some of the smaller, more intimate fare he seems to be an expert at delivering. Gran Torino was one, Changeling is the other. One was male driven, this one is female driven as Angelina Jolie plays a woman unfairly institutionalized after her son disappears by a corrupt LAPD in the 1930's. Intense doesn't even begin to describe what Eastwood has in store for us in this picture. Jolie, looking ever so frightful behind the beauty, gives the kind of performance that is so good it doesn't even get nominated for an Oscar.

(8) Funny Games (Michael Haneke)

I was such a big fan of Michael Haneke's last movie -Cache/Hidden- that I was somewhat disappointed he decided that his followup would be a remake of his own 1998 film ! No worries, Funny Games is as resonant and provocative as ever. If the first film revealed gruesome, almost unwatchable violence this one is no exception as a family gets taken hostage in their own home by masochistic, young, preppy murderers. It's not an easy ride to take but if taken results in one of the most memorable experiences of 2008. Not to be missed and highly underrated. Michael Pitt scares as one of the psychopaths.

(9) Christmas Tale (Arnaud Deplechin)

Family dysfunction done the French way. Arnaud Deplechin's sprawling family dramedy is a focused effort that has so many characters and so many storylines in its hands that it threatens to derail. It doesn't. Instead what we get is a memorable family sketch that makes us think about our own life and sets the pace for a long but highly entertaining gem which features quite possibly the best cast of the entire year. Did I already mention it's French?

(10) 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu)

Excellent, engrossing movie. Shot, as far as I could tell, with one skillfully deployed camera, every composition had to have that camera perfectly placed. It's no mean achievement to have risen to this challenge so well. There's one scene in particular, set at a birthday dinner, which is breathtakingly well done with the camera static and the actors brilliantly positioned around it managing in spite of this limitation to not only give all the necessary information, but also to do so with the maximum emotional intensity.

11) Doubt, John Patrick Shanley

12) Tell No One, Guillaume Canet

13) JCVD, Mabrouk El Mechri

14) Iron Man, Jon Favreau

15) Ip Man, Wilson Yip

16) Wendy And Lucy, Kelly Reichardt

17) The Flight Of The Red Balloon, Hsiao-Hsien Hou

18) Lakeview Terrace, Neil Labute