But I digress.
Needless to say, 2008 had a large impact on the current modern big-budget cinema landscape; more specifically, the easily largest uprising of comic book adaptations in nearly two decades for both DC and MARVEL. That's not to say there was a lack of some decent offerings in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but this was the year that, economically, the surge was truly felt and superheroes were here to stay. The year also posted some memorable animation and drama that either put careers in the fast lane for newcomers and peaks for the veteran crowd. However, it did also have a similar feeling from 2009 where the gap between average and great seemed distant in-between, causing the structuring of the list to have a smaller field of nominees of which to choose from.
Before I begin the list, and I do not usually do this, but I will note a few films that I have unfortunately not seen yet that could have made an impact on this list - Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis" and Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler" - both of which I own, but have not gotten around to yet.
Otherwise, here is my Top Ten list of 2008. I hope you enjoy!
10. FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL
Much like "I Love You, Man" in 2009, "Sarah Marshall" had the right balance of heart and humor when it mattered. Before comedies became more monotonous than not, the mid-to-late 2000s had comedies that, while silly at times, were also something you could relate to in terms of heartache and the denial that comes with it. Jason Segel carried this vehicle seemingly without effort, and Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell both made entertaining leading ladies. It also doesn't hurt to have Hawai'i as the film's location backdrop to make it all the more appealing.
There are just as many one-liner gags as there are circumstantial laughs, and this is another comedy that I didn't have trouble putting in my Top Ten because it still to this day makes me laugh out loud. I'm not saying it's a perfect film by any stretch, but it also has a charm that's undeniable.
9. THE STRANGERS
As creepy as it is understated, "The Strangers" plays the kind of horror that can effectively hit home in ways that other horror cannot. I, personally, have a deep-seeded desire to believe that there is a possibility of the paranormal so that isn't to say ghost stories/films aren't without legitimate fright, but monsters, vampires, etc., feed upon a person's imagination more than reality. "Strangers", on the other hand, shows you that, yes, masked creeps can break into your house and terrorize the shit out of you with lethal weapons, and locking your doors and windows and possibly keeping a baseball bat close at hand wouldn't be a terrible idea. What I also enjoyed about the film is that it does not allow itself to become convoluted. Running at a lean, slick pace, "The Strangers" successfully cut out all the access and kept the suspense at front and center. The acting was decent as well considering the most that was asked of the few actors on the bill was too act horrified.
This little horror film does live up to the hype it receives from the horror community and you should definitely check it out if you haven't done so already.
8. TROPIC THUNDER
If "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" was one of the better adult-yet-charming comedies of the year, then "Tropic Thunder" was its evil sibling that was as morally wrong as it was comically right. The film plays off as an action movie in the making with a handful of jaded "actors" that turns out to be a literal hostage situation in foreign territory, except it takes the crew longer than it should to figure it out and have nothing to survive with other than their acting chops. The circumstances alone are funny enough and Downey Jr., Stiller, and Black make for a great combination; however, for me, the best jokes were the more subtle tongue-in-cheek gags aimed directly at big-budget Hollywood. Downey Jr. was also nominated for an Oscar for this film, and while the actual role was cringe-worthy in how politically incorrect it was, the honor was certainly earned. On a final note, "Tropic Thunder" was the first time in a long time that I thoroughly enjoyed watching Tom Cruise.
7. GRAN TORINO
6. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
I will admit up front that when this film first came out, my initial reason for accepting it was "Hey, Stephanie Meyer, these are what vampires look like!" Although, once I got over that brief jubilation and watched the film a few more times, I began to appreciate it for it truly was - a really damn good horror movie. It is difficult to recall a time where a film like this put most of its efforts into the story instead of the monster. Truthfully, the overall effect this movie has is challenging to put into words, because, while it is scary in its own way, the story of the young girl and boy and the strength of their bond is more endearing than anything blood-splattering gore can offer. I was also a big fan of the American remake "Let Me In" due to it being very faithful to the source material and had some familiar faces, though if I had to choose, I would likely go with this feature as the acting by the two young leads are equally as good as their American counterparts, and I feel that giving credit where it is due for the overall concept is just as important.
I know that some movie lovers aren't too big on subtitles, but please, if you've seen the American version, give this one a try!
5. THE READER
4. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
I had debated on whether or not I should have placed "Benjamin Button" as high on the list as I did because it undoubtedly had its fair share of flaws, but, despite that fact, between the sharp-eye direction of David Fincher and the terrific acting of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, I enjoyed this film entirely too much to keep it out of the Top Five. At first glance, this isn't the type of film that one would think of when it came to exceptional visuals, and yet between the reverse aging of Benjamin Button and the overall cinematography, this film was immersive not only in tale but also has a certain gusto in its display execution. True to form when it comes to most things Fincher, "Benjamin Button" does have a lengthy run at nearly 3 hours, so one's enjoyment level may also depend on level of patience. For those willing to give it a try, I cannot recommend this film enough. The aging process of the titular character is an attention-grabbing mechanism to be sure, but truly it's his adventures around said transformations that make this story as good as it is.
3. IRON MAN
Indeed, my introduction including the rise of comic book adaptations did serve a purpose as I felt that said resurgence was highly earned. MARVEL had attempted to bring their vast arsenal of characters to the big screen in previous years but had often fallen mostly short. When "Iron Man" was first announced, it felt like one I may have typically passed on, mainly due to the fact that I had little working knowledge of who he was outside of a suit of armor. Be that as it may, the trailers leading up to the film offered some promising visual effects and I've had a soft spot for Robert Downey Jr., which, by the way, could not have been a better choice for the role of Tony Stark. I've often reflected on how accepting said role may have been an elbow to the rib at his own expense given his fast and loose rockstar lifestyle in his younger years. I decided to take a gamble and see "Iron Man" in the cinema, and if you've read anything of mine at all, you'll know that I've been hooked on MARVEL ever since. True, the theme of this first entry in the series was just slightly pro-American and gave the Middle East a less-than-flattering light, but thankfully, Jon Favreau focused more on the morally grey Tony and his plight with the sinister Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) than using the film as personal propaganda.
The current MARVEL cinematic universe, and especially this series in general, are not in need of my endorsements at this point, but if you are still on the outside looking in, check this one out!
I would dare anyone to look either myself, or anyone else for that matter, in the eye and say that Disney is incapable of playing a heavy hand; not just in terms of mortality or heartbreak, but bleak scopes of the future. An adorable robot named Wall-E cleaning up garbage on an abandoned and desolate planet Earth - yeah. Wall-E then ventures into outer space, finds the humans that abandoned said destroyed Earth, and have all become so lethargic that they no longer have the muscle or bone mass to walk under their own power - yeah. "Wall-E" could be considered Pixar's biggest gamble to date, and the result is a visually beautiful, yet, dare I say, horrific red flag to a young generation that says "You better take note of this." If it weren't for the titular character being so lovable, this wouldn't even be able to be called a Disney film, and for that, I give them kudos. I have a high appreciation for films that dare to go into this territory knowing that their largest audience do not have the ability to drive and paints a picture vivid enough to make the viewer think outside of the lines.
It's hard for me to choose a favorite Pixar film, although I would have to put "Wall-E" pretty high up on the scale.
Now, my #1 film of 2008 is:
1. THE DARK KNIGHT
I know, slightly anti-climactic considering I probably could not even come close to guessing how many movie lists this beast of a film topped. It was an easy choice for myself as well since this film also lands in my Top Ten Favorite Films. Between Nolan's mastering of Gotham's gritty and realistic atmosphere, to the grandiose performance of Heath Ledger as The Joker, Aaron Eckhart's portrayal of Harvey Dent, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and so on, I will firmly state that I feel this to easily be the best Batman film ever made to date, and possibly best comic book film to date, and that's not praise I often dish out. You can tell that each individual actor were so bought into their roles that it's difficult to find a singular flaw. There are conveniences in the plot, no doubt about it, but how many
billionaires do you know that chase after psychotic clowns in a rubber suit? I fear sometimes audiences become almost too immersed in what they're watching that they forget what they're watching. Rules can be bent in a world outside of reality.
I'm hoping Christopher Nolan will be able to outdo himself in the future, but just in case that doesn't happen, I know I'll have this film (series of films) to lean back on. Again, I don't say this much about any movie, but here it goes - "masterpiece".
Thank you very much for reading! I'll see you next week for my Top Ten of 2007!