With the Academy Awards coming up on Sunday I though that I would weigh in with my best movies of 2008 list. 2008 was an interesting year for the movies. Indie directors helmed summer superhero movies (The Dark Knight, Iron Man), kids' movies cleaned up at the box office (Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, and WALL·E), women finally got summer movies aimed at them (Sex and the City-The Movie and Mamma Mia!), and a few prestige and foreign films made decent money at the box office (Slumdog Millionaire, Gran Torino, and The Curious Case Benjamin Button).
Before we proceed, it should be noted I did not get to watch every significant movie in 2008. Here are few I missed that may or may not have affected my list: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Reader, Revolutionary Road, Milk, Rachel Getting Married, Synecdoche, New York, Doubt, Waltz with Bashir, Man on Wire.
Now, on to the list.
The wizards at Pixar once again deliver a children’s movie that may be even more entertaining for adults. They may be a bit heavy-handed with the themes and morals of the story this time around but that does not diminish the impact of the story. With hardly any dialogue between them, WALL·E tells a love story between two robots – the titular character and EVE. The amazing animation conveys all the personality and emotion of the characters that dialogue usually would. WALL·E somehow makes us care about two robots, their relationship, and root for them to help save humanity.
4. The Dark Knight
This is amazingly ambitious for a superhero movie. It touches on themes most superhero movies do not even bother with. How do we deal with terrorism in this modern age? To what lengths should we go to prevent the terrorists? Do we have to become evil to stop evil? Do we need to sacrifice our privacy for our security? To be honest, the Dark Knight may be trying to touch on too many themes. The movie is overlong and overcrowded with characters. The fact that it tries to comment on our modern world elevates it above other superhero movies. But what makes it a great movie is Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker. Ledger’s Joker is manic, anarchic, and has no discernible plan other than destruction. His Joker is also a comment on the evil we face in the world today. His Joker is one of the only truly terrifying movie superhero villains.
3. Tropic Thunder
Tropic Thunder is a hilarious send-up of American action films. It is one of the first really funny satires in years. What makes is so funny is that it is irreverent; it is not afraid to offend. The “full retard” scene caused quite a stir, but was also one of the funniest parts of the movie. Tom Cruise, Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey Jr. are basically lampooning themselves or their close friends. Movie actors, directors, producers, agents, and even audience members are made to look stupid. The fake trailers for the movies are hilarious because you could see movies like Arctic Thunder, Happy Jack, and The Fatties actually being made. Tropic Thunder may be an exaggeration of Hollywood, but it does not seem like much of one.
2. The Visitor
The Visitor is a realistic portrayal of illegal immigrants in the United States. The movie shows how these people try to live in the country, how they affect more of us than most realize, and how they are treated inhumanely by the government. The movie could have easily been preachy or maudlin. But the characters in the movie react the way real people would react, not like movie characters. There is no grandstanding by the main characters and no arbitrary villains. When Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins), the main character, finally has an outburst of emotion we understand why. The fact that it is meaningless makes the movie even more tragic.
1. Iron Man
A movie should first and foremost entertain. I had no better time at the movies in 2008 than while watching Iron Man. There were many superhero movies this year and it is hard to pinpoint what made this film stand out. The characters and story are never taken too seriously by the filmmakers. There is some light social commentary in the movie, but it is never in your face. The stunts, special effects, and action scenes are top notch. Iron Man’s suit and flight are almost believable. The CG is never noticeable. Unlike most action movies, you can actually tell what is going on during the action sequences. Probably one of the most appealing parts of the movie is Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (Iron Man in civilian life). Instead of an overly-conflicted hero or a boy scout, Downey’s Stark is someone who just wants to be a superhero. When he is having so much fun it is hard for the audience not to as well.
Honorable Mention: Slumdog Millionaire, Gran Torino, The Wrestler, Cassandra’s Dream, Frost/Nixon, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Forgetting Sarah MarshallPowered by Sidelines