19 February 2009
  2008 top 10

it was pretty easy to choose like my five or six favorite movies this year, but getting down to like number nine and ten, i really did struggle with what movies to include. There were definitely a few films that i wish i could have fit in, but they really just barely missed out for me. (sorry, frozen river). so here goes it.

10. changeling. . . i am very glad that clint eastwood has tended to make his films in twos lately, even though it means i will have to go a few years to get more of him. this is probably the lesser of his two films this year, but still an excellent and highly underrated work. it didn't hurt this movie that it reminds me a lot of one of my all time favorite flicks, silence of the lambs, that is if it were made as a period piece. i really think that angelina jolie gives the best performance of her career in this, and john malkovich isn't bad himself. and the compelling story just makes this exciting and engaging to watch.

9. the visitor. . . of the two immigration-ey movies that came out this year, i think that the visitor is the better one, although only by a nose. i read one time in this really terrible review that someone found this film to be racist, but i couldn't disagree more. i think what is remarkable about this work is the masterful and subtle ways it manages to treat the subject of race. this is no small feat considering that this could very easily have been a super simplistic piece about some old white dude learning everything he needs to know from some poor black folk. i really think that you could only accuse this movie of falling into this trap if you only read the description. once you see the actual work, you see that it is a lot more intelligent than that. in short, this is probably the best social-criticism-type film i saw this year (yes, including the reader).

8. doubt. . . one of the best ensemble casts of the year. i think that a lot of the criticism of this movie has come from people who really liked the play, and since i have none of these expectations going into it, i couldn't relate to the problems that other reviewers had with it (e.g. some had problems with streep's portrayal of sister aloysius). for me, i keep going back and forth on what the best thing about this movie is. i am sort of equally awed by philip seymour hoffman's bravado performance and amy adams much more subtle one. both are fantastic. the other thing i thought that john patrick shanley did really well in directing this film was to create a really excellent sense of space. that is, in watching this movie i felt like i had a really strong understanding of the place and time in which these events were taking place. i love that.

7. australia. . . okay, so australia probably isn't baz luhrman's best work (that would obviously be moulin rouge) but there is plenty of excellent stuff going on here. one of the worst oversights of the entire oscar nomination ballot this year i think is this film being left off of the list for best cinematography. sometimes i think that the people voting on cinematography don't really know what it is. the fire scene in this movie where the rovers are trying to corral the cattle is just effing fantastic. for me, this was the single best shot scene of the year. i think i also liked this movie, because i really had a good time watching it. i mean, this year i really did gravitate to movies that weren't total downers. and just because a movie is fun to watch doesn't mean that it isn't well made.

6. rachel getting married. . . this is definitely one of those films that sticks with you long after you've seen it (and an obvious exception to my "i like movies that make me feel good" rule). not much happens in rachel getting married, but it's hard to take your eyes off the screen. the masterful thing about this movie is really the way in which the story is told. events sort of unfurl in a nonlinear way. everything builds on what happens before it, and you can never get a really good grip on what's going on if you don't consider it in context. and in the end, there is so much that is left unsaid, that it really gives you a lot to think about (i mean, what the hell WAS the deal with kym's mother anyway? this definitely jonathan demme's best work since silence of the lambs.

5. prince caspian. . . for some reason, i really took to this movie and obviously take it a lot more seriously than anyone else. it is really a rare treat when a sequel outperforms its predecessor, especially when the book that the predecessor is based on is a far-superior work. it was really watching this film on dvd that convinced me that it deserves a place among the best films of the year. like a lot of movies lately, prince caspian has a really dark tone to it and is overall more violent, more adult, more contemplative than the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe. the christian elements are much more pronounced as well. at the very least i am surprised that nobody seemed to consider this film's special effects for awards recognition. if you are going to compare the effects in prince caspian to those in the dark knight, for example, for me there is really no competition.

4. gran torino. . . clint eastwood is amazing. period. i mean this is an old man we're talking about. (this film proves that). and what was he up to this year? let's see he wrote one movie, directed two, starred in one, wrote scores and even fucking sang the song over the end credits in this one! but there was a lot to love about this movie, even beyond eastwood. the hmong actors did a really fantastic job i think, especially considering that they had largely never acted before. the story itself is really simple, but just so emotional, so compelling. this was a hard movie for me to watch, and it did affect me more than anything else i saw this year, but sometimes that is a good thing. i will definitely be watching this whenever i need a good cry.

3. burn after reading. . . i first saw this movie on dvd and i kind of liked it. then, like a week later i watched it again with john's mom and i was sort of surprised how much i was enjoying it considering i had just seen it a week ago. then i got back home and i was trying to think of a movie to watch and i was like, you know, i think i'd like to watch burn after reading again. in short, this was really a grower for me. but honestly i could watch it over and over again. this is the coen brothers the way i like them. burn after reading is just a fun, escapist sort of movie, but it is also well written, superbly acted, and just damn clever. brad pitt is fantastic. this is the movie he should be getting an oscar nomination for this year (not his turn as computerized forrest gump). with the possible exception of doubt, this is the best ensemble cast of the year. i hope the coens keep making comedies, because i really think it's what they do best.

2. revolutionary road. . . the travesty of the oscar season. why is revolutionary road nowhere to be found? this is a masterful work. sam mendes really must be shocked and dismayed that this movie didn't at least get a screenplay nomination. it makes absolutely no sense. this movie isn't for everyone. it is deep and introspective, full of intense characters, and dialogue where you really have to read between the lines to know what's going on. and obviously it is incredible sad, not the most fun time i had at the movies this year. i really think that all four principal actors in this movie gave like four of the best six or seven performances of the year. in a few years, i hope that people will look back and find this masterpiece and maybe it will have a sort of renaissance, finally getting the respect it deserves. maybe it's just a film ahead of its time.

1. slumdog millionaire. . . there's really not much left to say. far and away the best picture of the year. honestly, anyone that doesn't agree is just being contradictory for the sake of being contradictory. nobody really saw this film coming, and then it was just THERE, and i think a lot of people are still sort of shocked by just how good this movie is, without a doubt one of the best of the decade. i am struck by how many people (*ahem*oscarwatchpeople*ahem*) discount this film as a simple, feel good, happy movie that people have enjoyed because it doesn't make them think too much. in contrast, i think this is really one of the most intelligent works this year. the way that it treats global relationships in particular and the ways in which the U.S. and Europe are connected to the lives of these characters is done really masterfully. in fact, if you watch this movie and it doesn't make you think about globalization, world tourism, development economics, not to mention religion and class inequality, than you are really missing the point.
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