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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It's March 2009..... Time for "Best of 2008"

OK, so I know that it is several months past the end of '08, but I think I am ready to complete my "Top 10 of 2008" list. Because of the late-year Oscar glut, it took me awhile to catch up with movies I would like to see.

These are my (very) personal opinions of what I found most interesting, enjoyable, well-made of 2008's films. Please feel free to comment or argue with my picks! I'm also the kind of person that tends to go back to movies and find very different things (both positive and negative), so I see my top 10 list as a living list that may change.

A few critically-acclaimed films I have not yet seen (and thus, have no chance of making this list):
Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Synecdoche NY, Wendy & Lucy, Waltz with Bashir, Gran Torino.

Runners Up (movies that I felt pained to leave out):

Happy-Go-Lucky: Sally Hawkins gives an absolutely incredible performance in Mike Leigh's highly enjoyable and thought-provoking comedic drama (or dramatic comedy?).

The Visitor: Another movie anchored by a great lead performance (Oscar-nominated Richard Jenkins). A quiet and poignant movie about global connections and finding joy.

The Wrestler: I really wrestled (sorry) with whether to put this movie on the list. Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei were terrific and its a movie I've thought about a lot since I've seen it. If the script had been up to the level of their performances, and the movie had reveled a little less in the violence, it would have made the cut. Still, definitely a powerful film.

And now to the list..... in descending order.

10: Slumdog Millionaire: While I do think this movie was over-awarded, there is no denying its energy and charm. Kudos to director Danny Boyle for creating a moving and enjoyable crowd-pleaser.

9. Chop Shop: In many ways, a response to the energy and color of Slumdog Millionaire. A quiet and realistic account of a young teenager and his sister surviving in a Queens slum. It has the power and truthfulness of a great documentary.

8. The Edge of Heaven: A German-Turkish film about the ways in which we make connections across ages, races, and nationalities. The kind of movie where you come to care about the characters so much, you almost wish for a sequel.

7. Revolutionary Road: Certainly not without its flaws, but its great moments are among the best moments of the year. Leonardo and (especially) Kate give fantastic performances as a 50s couple in a meltdown.

6. Vicky Christina Barcelona: In my mind, Woody's best since Husbands and Wives (1992). I love Woody at his best, and this is both a return to form and a new direction. He takes his camera to Barcelona and comes up with a sexy, breezy, melancholy look at love and desire. Penelope Cruz is rightfully heralded for her great performance. Rebecca Hall, a British actress who I was unfamiliar with, is also wonderful.

5. Trouble the Water: Extremely powerful documentary showing the struggle by Katrina survivors. Once you see this movie, I guarantee you will not forget Kimberly Rivers.

4. Milk: Enthralling biopic chronicling Harvey Milk's political birth and career. Sean Penn justly won the Oscar for his incredible performance.

3. The Class: The French nominee for Best Foreign Film. The documentary-like account of a year with a teacher and his students. Puts almost all American teacher movies to shame.

2. Wall-E: Instant classic. A mix of Chaplin-style slapstick, sweet romance, and sharp satire, it truly creates a world of its own.

1. Rachel Getting Married: This movie was somewhat divisive, and didn't get nearly the awards traction I think it deserved, and if you don't connect with it, it may surprise you to see it as my number 1. I love well-made slice-of-life movies. The kind of movies where the camera wanders, you meet many characters, and there are no easy resolutions. This is one of the best. The ensemble cast does an amazing job of inhabiting very specific characters that you alternately want to hug and slap in the face. With a great script by Jenny Lumet and direction by Jonathan Demme, its truly something special. I can't wait to watch it again.

Hope you enjoyed the list. Give me your thoughts (or your tops of the year) in the comments!

Coming soon- Ben's favorite performances of the year!

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