2008 was definitely no 2007, but there were some solid films in the bunch. I saw 52 films from this year. That's a lot. As I did last year I will list them all along with some superlatives before getting to my top ten. Enjoy!
* denotes I saw on the big screen
*American Teen (Phoenix Film Festival)
Be Kind Rewind
Burn After Reading
*The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
*The Dark Knight
*Felon (film's premiere)
*Finding Kraftland (Phoenix Film Festival)
*Forgetting Sarah Marshall
The House Bunny
Let The Right One In
Kung Fu Panda
Lost Boys: The Tribe
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
*On Broadway (Phoenix Film Festival)
Rachel Getting Married
*Remarkable Power (Phoenix Film Festival)
Repo! The Genetic Opera
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Wendy and Lucy
The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Best Film Viewed at Phoenix Film Festival:
This film really captured the high school life perfectly. One of the best documentaries I've seen in the last couple years.
Best Indie Film You Probably Haven't Seen, but Really Should:
Happy-Go-Lucky and The Visitor (tie)
I'm going to hope most people have seen Rachel Getting Married and In Bruges. If not see those as well. Both these films I listed were ones that I didn't have high hopes for, but thoroughly enjoyed.
Rising Female Star of 2008:
She made four really enjoyable films this year (Definitely, Maybe, Role Models, W., Zack and Miri Make a Porn). She's been around for a couple years, but I finally feel like she's establishing herself as a great working actress and rising star.
Rising Male Star of 2008:
With Milk and Pineapple Express, Franco has finally shown his true talent. On my public access show way back in 2001, I predicted Franco was the best out of any star under 25. I looked like a fool for years, but he's coming into his own.
Best All Around Year for a Male Star:
This is the second year I've given this to him. I couldn't help it. He portrayed two hated politicians from two different eras (Dan White and George W. Bush) with great performances. He really deserves an Oscar for all his hard work. He's one of the best actors today.
Best All Around Year for a Female Star:
This really is Kate's year. Revolutionary Road and The Reader are both great acting displays. If she doesn't win the Oscar tomorrow it will be very disappointing due to her great cumulative year.
Most Surprising Film I Disliked:
The X-Files: I Want to Believe
I really wanted to like this film, but it was a huge disappointment. The X-Files is probably my favorite show ever and they really dropped the ball. I hope they don't try to make another X-Files film anytime soon.
Most Surprising Film I Enjoyed:
This was actually a solid romantic comedy. I really enjoyed it and I was actually interested to see who Ryan Reynolds was going to fall in love with. This is a really good date movie.
Most Fucked Up Film of the Year:
Repo! The Genetic Opera
I'm still trying to figure this movie out. I liked it, but damn. I just have one question for Darren Bousman. How many drugs did you take while writing and directing this?
Worst Film of the Year
The House Bunny
I had hopes that this film would be stupid funny. Well, it was just stupid. I lost interest like 15 minutes in and am surprised I even finished it.
Favorite Line of 2008:
"That's for John Lennon, you Yankee fuckin' cunt!" - Ray (Colin Farrell), In Bruges
I'm going to use that line one day after I kick someone's ass.
Favorite Female Character of 2007:
Poppy from Happy-Go-Lucky
I just want to let Sally Hawkins know that I am available. Poppy is just a plain fun character. She literally is happy-go-lucky. She was enjoyable to watch and actually made me laugh out loud on numerous occasions. I really wish she got nominated for an Oscar.
Favorite Male Character of 2007:
Randy "The Ram" Robinson from The Wrestler
Ram Jam! Ram Jam! Anytime I get excited now I play Quiet Riot and yell out Ram Jam. That's one of the reasons I still hope Rourke participates in WrestleMania. I want to see him actually do that move off the top rope. I wouldn't call Randy a role model, but he really felt like a broken down bum and former professional wrestler. Maybe I have greater appreciation for him since I'm a wrestling fan.
Favorite Scene of 2008:
The Joker Crashes the Party from The Dark Knight
I wouldn't say this is Heath's best scene in the film, but I just love how walks around like a complete psychopath. He eats finger foods and steals a glass of champagne. He tells stories about his hating his father. He even tells one of his many stories of how he got those scars. Rest in Peace, Heath...
10. American Teen
I'm starting this list off with a film I saw back in April at the Phoenix Film Festival. This documentary that followed a small group of high school seniors was full of heart. I've been out of high school five years and it brought me back to both the joy and pain of that experience. I wish it did better as most people I know haven't even heard of this film.
This is the first Mike Leigh movie I've seen and I thought it was fantastic. It really begins with Poppy (Sally Hawkins), who should have been nominated for an Oscar. She's the ultimate optimist and simply full of laughs. Those driving lesson scenes were hilarious at times. This was just an enjoyable indie film from start to finish.
Ah, good ole Dick Nixon. I actually thought this film was going to be horrible. I was wrong. I love the acting in this film. Frank Langella is great of course, but even Michael Sheen as Frost holds his own. I'm fascinated by the whole process of how these interviews went down. Especially, how Nixon basically fell apart. I pitied him at the end.
7. Let the Right One In
This movie is creepy. It's also one of the best horror movies I've seen in a while. Really should have been Sweden's official submission to the Oscars. Plus, it's a vampire movie (the best one this past year, sorry Twilight fans). I loved how this was an unconventional film to since the vampire was a child. How about that pool scene at the end? Damn. Not sure whether this is good or bad, but they are remaking this film in English. I'm a little weary, but that still doesn't take away how great this film was.
Every year Pixar keeps making better and better films. This is easily their best work. Not only was this quite possibly the best animation of the decade, but a great love story. I can't remember an animation being this good since Walt Disney was still alive. I don't consider myself a huge animation fan, but it's hard not to like this piece of art.
5. The Dark Knight
This film was just awesome. It's even more awesome when you watch it on IMAX. Easily the best comic book film I've seen. The great thing about it is that it's actually just a great film in general. Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker is iconic. The rest of the cast is strong, the story is deep and the action is unbelievable. I still can't believe it made half a billion.
4. Rachel Getting Married
I watched this film the first time and I liked it. I watched it again and I loved it. This film grows on you. I love the simplicity of this film, yet it's full of so much emotion. It really looks at family so accurately. How you love them so much that sometimes it drives you to hate. Then, at the end of the day you're always there for one another. I also look at this film and it gives a struggling filmmaker like myself hope that I can make a feature one day. It's made on a smaller budget and really stresses strong dialogue, story and characters. This should have been nominated for Best Picture. Oh, and here's some trivia for you. Paul Thomas Anderson was originally going to play Sidney. He backed out to film this movie called There Will Be Blood. How awesome would have that been?
3. Revolutionary Road
A lot of people hate this film. I thought it was swell (sorry can't resist 50s dialect). I look at this film and see the reality of 50s suburbia. How people left the city and started a family, yet gave up their dreams in life. They became trapped and frustrated in their own existence. Frank Wheeler works a job he can't stand and longs for the approval of his peers. His wife, April, sits at home all day and lives the same mundane existence day in and day out. Then, there's Michael Shannon who is classified as being sick, yet he's the only one that really knows the truth and speaks his mind. He didn't become conformed by society. To me, this was Winslet's superior performance this year. Her scenes with Leo are intense and leave you shocked at times. The ending was also one of the most depressing endings I've ever seen.
2. The Wrestler
You're not going to find too many people who enjoy wrestling as much as myself. I posed with a Hulk Hogan figure when I was six months old. I cried when Hogan lost the belt to The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VI. I cried again when Shawn Michaels defeated Bret Hart in sudden death in the Iron Man match for the belt at WrestleMania XII. I was speechless for ten minutes after Shawn Michaels lost to Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 21, which is still the best wrestling match I've ever seen in person.
I'll be the first person to say that this film doesn't really shed a positive light on wrestling. It does capture the independent wrestling level right on. Most of those guys are either burnt out or up and comers who probably will never make it to the WWE. Randy "The Ram" Robinson obviously is burnt out. He's a classic example of an 80s wrestling. Most of them lived hard and had nothing when their time was up. That is what works in this film so well. If you really know wrestling, then this film takes on another meaning. It's because you know at least one wrestler who followed The Ram's path to destruction. Some of them have even died going down that path. It's really sad.
As for the film itself, it was amazing. Mickey Rourke was simply The Ram. He was the perfect choice and he nailed it. I don't think he's going to win the Oscar, but if he does I won't complain. He's resurrected his career for now. I think about that line he says to his daughter about being a broken down piece of meat was so poignant. It was almost like he was saying it not only about his character, but about his real life. One of the best lines of the years.
Then, I look at the end. That to me symbolized wrestling. Ram is standing in gorilla position (wrestling slang term for standing right outside the curtain). He has a choice of being with someone who loves him or going out to perform his passion, wrestling. He chooses wrestling even though he could die. As his heart starts to give him problems, he goes for the Ram Jam. That is probably the perfect finishing move for this movie. I loved that choice since the top rope signifies the ability to fly. It's always exciting when a wrestler goes to the top rope. You know something special is about to happen. That is what this movie is all about. Ram looks around crying, leaps off the top rope, and flies away.
This wasn't an easy choice. I debated between this and The Wrestler mostly. Then, I watched both films a second time. Milk still hit the right spots for me. All the emotions held up on a repeated viewing. I found it hard not to tear up a little watching this film. It's an important film and one of the best bio pics of the decade. One of the most effective things about this film for me was how it captured that era. The archival footage was seamlessly edited into this film. The costumes were even so good that this became the first film set in the 70s to be nominated for an Oscar in Costume Design.
Then, there's the cast led by Sean Penn, which was the best ensemble of the year. Josh Brolin, James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna, and company also held their own. The best part of this film was Penn, who was Harvey Milk. Watch The Times of Harvey Milk if you get a chance and it's amazing how good Penn was. He really nailed this role and gave his best performance ever. He really gave a superior performance to anyone this year.
I also look at what this film really stands for. A lot of people think another film this year signifies the state of this country, but I disagree. Milk is all about America today. It's about a maverick politician from a suppressed group of people. One who stood up for what he believed in. One who also gave people hope from all backgrounds.
I finally look at the end of this film with 10,000 people walking in unity down the streets of San Francisco in silence only holding candles. It was very powerful. In California, they recently passed prop 8. Well, this film should be a wake up call for people to start doing something. Not just about Prop 8, but about the current state of this country. Milk is about unity. Most importantly, Milk is about hope.
HARVEY MILKI ask this... If there should be an assassination, I would hope that five, ten, one hundred, a thousand would rise. I would like to see every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out. If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door... And that's all. I ask for the movement to continue. Because it's not about personal gain, not about ego, not about power... it's about the "us's" out there. Not only gays, but the Blacks, the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us’s. Without hope, the us's give up. I know you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. So you, and you, and you... you gotta give em’ hope... you gotta give em' hope.