The Best films of 2008

The Best Films of 2008

Film article by: Witney Seibold




            Once again, the best part of a critics job: the year-end capper. Once again, a bit late, but, once again, I had a lot of catching up to do. Curse you, Hollywood, for your habit of backending your “prestige” pictures.


            After the banner year in American film of 2007, 2008 seems almost checkered in comparison. When looked at more carefully, however, 2008 seemed to be a year full of some new classics, some stellar performances, one or two amusing films, a number of bold experiments, and some really exciting summer blockbusters. It was, in short, stronger than it looks.


            This is another year, like last year, in which I will attempt to list the best films in order of their quality. Don’t get too anxious about the order, though; each of the films listed are great in their own way, and if I listed your #1 film as, say, #7, well, I did include your #1.


            As for my number one:




1)      The Wrestler. An actor, Mickey Rourke, resurrects himself to portray a hurt and struggling soul, all under a mop of streaked blonde hair, and squeezed into lime-green stretch pants. More than a mere drama of a has-been, and more than a beautiful synthesis of actor and part, but an essaying dissection of masculine myths, and childhood heroes of the 1980s. Darren Aronofsky triumphs.




2)      Rachel Getting Married. At the end of Jonathan Demme’s newest, the viewer feels like they’ve spent a weekend with a wedding party, and have stayed up most of the night drinking with them, celebrating with them, and awkwardly surviving some deep, deep family wounds with them. A young woman, fresh out of rehab, goes to her sister’s wedding, only to resurrect some old memories that most of the family wither resents, or would merely not talk about. Natural and gorgeous.




3)      Happy-Go-Lucky. I’m surprised how often I’ve been thinking of this film since I saw it. Mike Leigh, best known for dour kitchen-sink dramas, makes his first legit comedy with Poppy, a woman who is so infectiously happy that she has passed into the realm of quiet sainthood. Here is a woman who is not put down by anything, and wants, in her heart of hearts, to be good to others. It’s not just a lighthearted comedy; it’s a meditation on the nature of joy.




4)      Milk. In November, proposition 8 was voted the wrong way. Homosexuals in this country are still not getting a fair shake and suffering the injustice of prejudice. Back in 1978, an openly gay man named Harvey Milk saw similar injustice, and fought it by running for office. And winning. In this age, we need a timely film like “Milk” to remind us of where we still need to go. What’s more, “Milk” was beautifully and restrainedly shot by Gus Van Sant, making Milk’s story touching and accessible.




5)      Snow Angels. How many films do you know that can deal with loss, ignorance, murder, death, and being at constant emotional risk, and still come across feeling like a blast of hope? David Gordon Green has made that film in the harrowing and tragic and beautiful and poetic “Snow Angels.” 



6)      Let the Right One In. A 12-year-old boy with revenge fantasies befriends a mysterious 12-year-old girl with a dark secret. It turns out their find a mutual appreciation for one another in their matched bloodlust. The tenderest, most honest, and possibly one of the best vampire films ever made. Ever wonder what happens when a vampire enters your place without being invited? Now you do.




7)      Iron Man and The Dark Knight. Both superhero films. One is colorful, solid, and exuberant. It deals with the difficult part of needing to be a superhero in an understandable way. The other is dark and brooding and tackles, head-on, problems of evil and the moral line one often has to straddle in order to deal with them. Hollywood is finally making great superhero flicks, and 2008 saw two excellent ones.




8)      The Fall. What a beautiful film. What a beautiful, beautiful, film. Director Tarsem uses images the way a Renaissance master uses paints. And, in this film, uses his painterly images to tell a tale about storytelling itself, and the role (and responsibility) the storyteller plays in the imagination of the listener. See it if you can.




9)      Teeth. A film about a young woman who discovers she has teeth in her vagina. White ripe for fratboy-snort humor or obvious Freudian chuckles, “Teeth” is actually a careful and intriguing look at virgin/whore hysterics and adolescent sexuality. What’s more, the director Mitchell Lichtenstein bothered to make all of his characters human, and all of the relationships believable.




10)  Standard Operating Procedure. Errol Morris turns his Interrotron on the soldiers responsible for most of the human rights violations in Abu Ghraib. Why did they do that? And why did they photograph themselves doing it? Morris looks past the hot button issues to look at the youngsters underneath. What he finds is heartbreaking and moving.




11)  Frozen River. A woman smuggles Chinese immigrants across a frozen river from Canada to New York. The people bark at one another, and have a strong hatred for their own lives. They are constantly fighting one thing or another, and their desperation is never far beneath the surface. In this world, Melissa Leo gives one of the year’s best performances as a woman with small dreams that we, the audience, fall completely in love with.


Other great films: “Revolutionary Road,” “Frost/Nixon,” “The Reader,” “Flight of the Red Balloon,” “Funny Games.” And “Repo! The Genetic Opera” deserves a mention for audacity.


            And what list would be complete without the worst films I had seen?

          “88 Minutes.” Oh wow. A drunken Pacino. That’s a good place to start a thriller.

          “The Love Guru.” Please don’t judge me.

          “Smart People.” They were all stupid.

          “Eagle Eye.” As dumb as it sounded.

          “10,000 B.C.” I guess you can domesticate a mammoth.

          “Speed Racer.” I guess you can eat too many SweeTarts.

Published in: on February 23, 2009 at 8:03 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have really been wanting to see Let the Right One In, but have yet to do so.

    And the Fall, oh my goodness. Words cannot express how captivated I was (and still am) by this film. The moment I finished watching it, I logged onto Amazon and bought it. I’ve never done that in my life. Sigh.

  2. […] The Best Films of 2008 […]

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