Sunday, February 22, 2009

2008 in Review - The Best

Just before I'm completely irrelevant, here's my ten favorite movies from last year (including a couple that are technically 2007 titles, but whatevs).

First, my ten runners-up (#s 11-20):

20. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
19. Be Kind Rewind
18. Encounters at the End of the World
17. Wall-E
16. Ballast
15. Wendy and Lucy
14. Stuck
13. Burn After Reading
12. Tropic Thunder
11. Let the Right One In

And the rest:

10. The Dark Knight. I think it might be a little bit of a mistake to read too deeply into this film as a profound statement on/ investigation of the ethics of a police state or the modern post-9/11 world, because the movie works a hell of a lot better as a finely-crafted state-of-the-art Hollywood blockbuster than as anything else.

9. Waltz with Bashir. The year's great dream/nightmare film, looking back on an intensely personal chapter in the life of the filmmaker (and his nation) in messy, unresolved, but stylish and honest terms.

8. Standard Operating Procedure. My favorite Errol Morris movie in a decade, this one peels back the layers of the Abu Ghraib media spectacle to reveal something deeper and more troubling - along with our own complicity.

7. The Band's Visit. A simple but profound cross-cultural fable, the kind of movie with a tagline that makes you want to barf ("Sometimes getting lost is the best way to find yourself") but in this case the filmmaking actually earns the right to it.

6. The Wrestler. Mickey Rourke gave my favorite performance of the year in this simple, scathing, heartfelt story of a man just trying to get by. Nice to see Darren Aronofsky reinvent himself as a filmmaker.

5. Happy-Go-Lucky. Mike Leigh's movies are always deeper than they look, this time framing a philosophical question about how one should lead their life within a quirky comedic character study.

4. The Class. No film this year had higher stakes - the clash at the center of this movie is for the minds of a classroom full of rowdy multiethnic French kids, to educate them and keep them engaged, as illustrated in the heartbreaking scene at the end of the movie where one girl tells her teacher she doesn't want to wind up at the bottom of society's ladder. The most human, inspirational movie of the year.

3. Synecdoche, New York. If The Class is about nurturing the possibilities of tomorrow, Synecdoche is about strangling the possibilities of today, something that we watch Caden Cotard do over decades of artistic yearning and personal failure - but with humor and pathos as only Charlie Kaufman can manage.

2. Man on Wire. A perfectly rendered caper movie, the artistic crime of the century, exuberantly rendered.

1. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. A nail-biting suspense movie, a scathing political indictment, the movie with the most frightening scene of the year (the final apocalyptic journey) and some of the driest was-that-even-a-joke moments (the lights getting turned on in the boyfriend's room). This movie had it all.

(Happy New Movie Year!)


Sam Juliano said...

This is admittedly an excellent list without a doubt. It seems that 50% of bloggers are considering FOUR MONTHS a 2007 film, and the other 50% a 2008 film. Either way the film rightfully should be at or near the top no matter what year it is placed in. Glad to see (unlike a number of others, including myself) that you did not forget THE BAND'S VISIT, an exceptional film that was released early in the year.
I am a big fan of your Number 2, 3 films, particularly.

Joel E said...

I tend to agree with your take on TDK, Jeff. I think it's difficult to get too deep into whatever political issues the movie may be engaging without tripping all over it because it just doesn't do a great job of staking out coherent themes, but as a film it's a lot of fun.

Great list. I still haven't seen your #4 or 5 but I like what you've included here. Glad to see you continuing to beat the drum for SOP.

Jonas Schulberg said...

Nice list, although I do think both "Pinneapple Express" and "Milk" are two glaring ommisions from your list.

But I guess that's why God gave us the ability to make our own damn lists!?

Jeff McMahon said...

Sam: In a larger sense, 4 Months is indeed a 2007 movie since that's when it came out internationally. So I would therefore rank it as my 2nd favorite movie of 2007 (after There Will Be Blood. But for year-end listmaking, I wanted to include it here as the best new movie I saw in this calendar year.

Joel: My second viewing of The Dark Knight (in IMAX) confirmed what I had been thinking - that as entertaining and seductive as it is, it's also somewhat intellectually inconsistent and garbled.

Jonas: I liked Pineapple Express a lot up to its unfortunate third act, when it changed from a slacker comedy into a misguided action movie. Milk was my favorite of the five Oscar nominees, but I think that its' story structure was predictable and rather unimaginative (so naturally it won Best Original Screenplay). But it would place in my 21-30 list.

Elmira McGillicuddy said...

wow, you have awful taste.

For a non-kowtowing take on 4 Months, see:

Jeff McMahon said...

Thank you for your comment, "Elmira". I have the happy duty to tell you that you are an ass.