I’m a big fan of year-end top ten lists, so I figured here and now was as good a place and time as any to offer my Top Ten Movies of 2008. Here they are in a very specific order.
Can the best film of the year be animated? If it’s made by Pixar—absolutely. No other film offered as much innocent joy this year as the story of Wall-E and Eve.
Best Moment: The scene at the end where Eve saves Wall-E's “life” and for a moment we’re not sure if he will remember her is as heart-breaking as anything I’ve seen two human actors do all year.
2. Rachel Getting Married
This film has everything: tragedy, comedy, great performances, terrific music, the guy from TV on the Radio. Jonathan Demme took all of the skills he acquired making brilliant concert films and applied them to a fictional film that felt and looked like a beautiful home movie.
Best Moment: Anne Hathaway’s awkward toast. All the more amazing when you realize that she is not improvising but rather reciting Jenny Lumet’s script.
Even without the eerie timeliness, it would be the most moving film of the year. Sean Penn delivers a performance unlike any of his recent outings: his character is genuinely happy.
Best Moment: A drunken Josh Brolin shows up at Milk’s birthday party. The scene manages to be both funny and unnerving. A close runner-up is the archival footage at the end of the candle-filled streets.
4. Slumdog Millionaire
The pure energy of this movie really hit me hard. The “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”-based script structure sounds trite on paper, but works better than could be expected.
Best Moment: The opening chase sequence sets the tone for the rest of the film and gives the viewer a tour of the streets of Mumbai, previously unseen by pretty much everyone in this country.
5. The Dark Knight
Despite inducing a couple of anxiety attacks, this movie kept me completely enraptured throughout. I’m currently counting down the days to the re-release in January so I can finally see it in Imax.
Best Moment: The expertly executed bank robbery at the beginning of the film almost makes you forget you’re watching a Batman movie.
6. The Visitor
Easily the most underrated film of the year and in the most danger of being forgotten (that’s what you get for not releasing it in December), The Visitor contains an incredibly nuanced performance from Richard Jenkins. Writer/director Tom McCarthy proves he’s much more than the sketchy, lying reporter from The Wire.
Best Moment: Jenkins closes out the movie playing djembe on the subway platform. The emotion that he is able to inject into the simple action is remarkable.
7. Vicky Christina Barcelona
The first act of Woody Allen’s film is cute and sort of funny. Then Penelope Cruz walks onto the screen and everything explodes.
Best Moment: Penelope and Javier’s screaming match in the kitchen. Woody doesn’t speak Spanish so he just told them to improvise.
Again, Penelope Cruz steals this film based on Philip Roth’s The Dying Animal. Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard and Dennis Hopper aren’t too shabby either.
Best Moment: The final imagined scene between Kingsley and Hopper in the café.
9. The Wrestler
Though not always easy to watch, it’s hard to look away from the damaged face of Mickey Rourke’s The Ram. In another film that feels like a documentary, director Darren Aronofsky and writer Robert Siegel (of The Onion fame) take us places we never knew we wanted to go.
Best Moment: Rourke tries out working the deli counter at the supermarket, and is GREAT at it.
10. Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder (tie)
It’s all about James Franco and Robert Downey, Jr.
“It's like God's vagina!”
“Pump your breaks, kid, that man's a national treasure.”