The Best Films of 2008

December 21, 2008

changeling

I put off my Best of Films recap for 2008 mainly because I know of a few films that would likely rank high on the list if I had a chance to see them- – “Milk,” “Doubt,” and “Frost/Nixon” primarily. I guess not being able to see “Milk” angers me the most. It’s been fully released for going on two months now and out of a dozen or so theaters within an hour’s driving distance of where I live, none of them are showing it. Since it’s been consistently raved about and applauded for its cast, acting, direction and story I can only assume it’s not in local theaters due to prejudice. Thus far the closest I’ve found it showing is in a fairly large city about two hours driving distance from me, so I’ll see it when I’m there in a couple of weeks. As for “Doubt” and “Frost/Nixon” I’m not sure when I’ll catch them. Anyway, my solid ranking number 1 pick has already been discussed previously in its own article, “The Dark Knight,” so check out my “Plea to the Academy” on this site from a few weeks ago to read more about it if you missed it then. Here’s the best of what’s rest, in my opinion (and un-ranked due to factors discussed above).

* Changeling– – Clint Eastwood is apparently incapable of directing a bad film – – from “Unforgiven,” to “Million Dollar Baby,” “Mystic River,” and now this years “Changeling,” he’s consistently excellent. The scriptwriter, J.Michael Stracynzki, is one of my favorite comic writers. He made his career in television, specifically writing “Babylon 5,” and I guess the reason for the delays on his superb run on “Thor” this year were due to his phenomenal script for this film, based on a true story from the 1920s. “Changeling” showcases a tremendous performance by Angelina Jolie as a mother who’s child goes missing. The LAPD bring back to her a child they swear to her is hers and she swears he is not. John Malkovich is perfect as a minister who devotes his life to outspoken pursuit of justice and reform. The story is troubling, depressing yet often inspiring in its call to act and overcome. A great film.

bolt

*Bolt — “Bolt’ is worth the price of admission for seeing Rhino the hamster, the most hilarious family friendly animated character in years. Add in excellent voice acting by John Travolta and Miley Cyrus, digital 3-D showings complete with glasses and a fun song by Jenny Lewis that fits into the film perfectly? Plus a moving and funny script? Disney’s best work in quite some time, and one in which the whole family actually can enjoy .

*Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Kevin Smith has admittedly not made a film worth critical raving since “Chasing Amy,” and none as hilarious as this since his first effort, “Clerks.” As a Smith and View Askew fan I’ve enjoyed most all of the other efforts but feel this is the first time he’s made a film that reaches beyond his cult of fans in a long time. “Zack and Miri” is raunchy, vulgar and blue as all get out but it really never seeks to offend for the sake of offending. It’s just a fun, dirty adult comedy with heart and story to back up the jokes. Smith casts many of his usual crew, but in open and non-repetitive roles. With Seth Rogen in the lead the casting plays off like a mash-up of Apatow’s crew and Smith’s Askewverse group. The laughs never let up, and the romantic conclusion is given but still appreciated. A more hilarious time at the movies wasn’t’ to be had this year.

*Shine a Light
Scorcese must be a fervent rock and roll fan in addition to being one of the best directors of our time. His “The Last Waltz” is one of the absolute best concert films ever made, his Dylan biopic “No Looking Back” was amazing and this year’s “Shine a Light” gives us the Stones in their late sixties giving it their all. With flashback interviews and current performances inter-mingling, Jagger’s voice a bit aged but his movements scarily agile, Keith Richard’s defiantly awesome undying rock and roll persona, and guest backup by folks like Jack White and Christina Aguilera its the best rock doc all year, and a great precursor to Scorcese’s upcoming George Harrison biopic.

*W
Critics loved Brolin’s performance but weren‘t overly enthusiastic about this film as a whole. All of Stone’s films require at least two viewings and many have been certifiable classics. So, “W” doesn’t live up to Stone’s best work (“Wall Street,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Natural Born Killers”) or even his previous presidential themed films (“Nixon,” “JFK”). But it is a solid film, with great performances. The fact that all actors managed to look, talk, walk and act like the current real life figures they were portraying was amazing. As an audience it seemed we were watching Bush, Cheney, Rice, Powell and Rove on the screen. The story made even the most fervent Bush opponents look at him like an actual person. If Bush is actually like the Bush that Brolin portrayed, he seems like a good man with good intentions yet in the completely wrong job acting in misguided ways, being advised by men that aren’t so good. His character seems on a perpetual mission to live up to his father but unable to do so and the film makes it (plausibly so) seem that he would have been better off working in Major League Baseball. Colin Powell seems to be the only cabinet member with good and accurate intentions and common sense and he is soon silenced into agreement with the others. “W” was notable for dramatically showcasing people and places even handedly as they were still fresh and ongoing in current events.

*Iron Man / Hulk
Though neither of Marvel’s great summer films matched the greatness that was “The Dark Knight” but both were excellent action packed comic book films. Robert Downey Jr. and the entire cast of Iron Man combined with top notch special effects and a realistic yet fantastic sci-fi edge combined to make Marvel Studio’s best work yet. Right behind that was the superb “Hulk” starring Ed Norton which gave us deep personal drama and psychological thrills as well as all out monster battles.

*Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Judd Apatow and his group of young stoner, comic loving, self described “Jew Tang Clan” have been the best thing going from way back on Apatow’s TV series “Freaks and Geeks,” and “Undeclared” through “Knocked Up” “40 year Old Virgin,” and “Superbad.” This years “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” gave Jason Segel a chance to shine and featured a terrific Kristen Bell from “Veronica Mars.”

So, those are just what I thought was best at the cinema this year, at least at the local ones. Some of the absolute best may have to wait for DVD and I can rank all of these accurately by spring next year I suppose.

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