2008's Top Ten Films- Dave

The following lists my friend Dave's top ten films of last year. The cinematic year extends to the Oscars, so it's not too late for our lists at all. Not at all.

10. Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Too often comedy is overlooked on a critic’s top-ten list. I think comedy that is poignant, good, and actually makes you laugh should be rewarded. Jason Siegel’s script makes you laugh out loud, cringe at the awkward moments, and sympathize with the characters. The work is never over-the-top or taking itself too seriously.

Siegel’s everyman character caught up with a woman who is out of his league is something that is very relatable. I hope that he continues to develop scripts and – I know I am not alone on this – I would pay money to see Dracula as a stage musical with puppets.

9. The Wrestler

When I read the premise of Darren Arnofsky’s The Wrestler I was skeptical. I thought the film sounded like too much of a cliché and the hype around Mickey Rourke was being blown out of portion.

However, this movie ended up being one of the better surprises of the year for me. The clichés are kept to a minimum, Rourke’s performance is superb, Marisa Tomei is still showing the world that her My Cousin Vinny Oscar was no fluke, and Springsteen delivers a fantastic song for the film.

I felt the most overlooked element of this film though was Arnofsky’s direction. He deftly handles the dramatic scenes with the action scenes, while throwing in a few sequences of awkward, heartbreaking comedy. The other aspect of this film that I felt was ignored by the Academy was Robert Siegel’s compelling script about what people do to hold onto any semblance of glory they once had.


8. Milk

Sean Penn’s embodiment of San Francisco politician/trailblazer Harvey Milk was an acute and stirring performance. The praise for James Franco and Josh Brolin are equally deserved in their supporting roles.

Dustin Lance Black’s script is tender and heartfelt with Gus Van Sant steering the ship do a respectable avenue.

I guess the only thing that surprised me about Milk was how conventional the film was. Duncan described the full-length theatrical trailer (above) as being “grand” in scale and I wholly agree with him. However, that audacious nature of the trailer never materialized in the film, which does not make the film a disappointment by any stretch of the imagination, but I was just expecting something a bit more.

7. Revolutionary Road

One of the grimmest movies of the year, yet I found it stirring in the performances that were delivered from Di Caprio, Winslet, and Shannon.

Yates’ tale of the destruction of the Wheeler family in 1950’s America may lack the subtly and subtext the book possessed, but Mendes is comfortable allowing his actors to take control of the scene and script.

Initially, I thought this was Winslet’s better performance – in comparison with The Reader – however, I realized that her performance is strongly tethered to Di Caprio’s converse one. Though the development of the two primary characters is kind of flat, the magic is based in the realism of the characters. People do not necessarily change and lead minute existences.

Even though I laud the performance delivered by Michael Shannon, it detracts from the overall story because his character, although overtly brash, is a more subtle presence in the novel. I know that sly elements of a book cannot be translated to the big screen sometimes, but I felt that Shannon’s character, though fascinating to watch, was a distraction from the plot at points.

6. Iron Man

The most fun at the movies in 2008. Seriously. It was not heavy entertainment, did not require too much of you, and Downey delivers a charismatic performance that was on par with Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow.

5. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I agree with the sentiment that this movie possesses a lot of flaws. I do not like the framing device utilized in the movie. I found that the movie is a bit slow at certain points, but those are my two complaints. Most reviews followed up the flaw statement with the fact the movie was merely “good,” not “great.”

I disagree. I think the movie was great. I think the direction was spot on, the production value is all there on the screen, and the performances from Pitt and Blanchett are excellent.

More over, I think David Fincher deserves a lot of credit for this movie. A movie with a difficult concept, a long script, and an enormous budget that came with enormous expectations was all packaged together by him. Truly a grand effort from Fincher.

I think that when people review the 2009 Academy Awards in ten years and see that Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture, they will be disturbed. I feel that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button will age better than Slumdog and ten years from now the debate between these two films will replace Titanic vs. L. A. Confidential.

4. In Bruges

Best original script of the year. Easily quotable, highly funny, outstandingly executed by the actors. Martin McDonagh’s first full-length feature film was a great debut that should be considered one of the best and most original debuts ever.

The acting between the three leads – Farrell, Fiennes, and Gleeson – is probably the second best triumvirate on screen this year. Who knew Farrell and Fiennes could be so funny?

3. Wall-E

When will the Academy realize that animated movies can be the best movies of the year? I think too often that people want to classify animated films as merely cartoons and the audience of these films are strictly children. However, films like Wall-E transcend those elements and achieve a higher level of recognition and appreciation because the audience is broader.

The silent robots have one of the better love stories of the year, even though they may just make sound effects at one another. It is tenderer and touching to see the dancing and love between two animated, non-carbon-based life forms than some of the other love stories movie studios expected audiences to buy into.

I think Pixar is one of the best run movie studios today and a studio – yes, a studio – has achieved a level that I tend to reserve for individuals. Pixar, whatever they produce, beyond a doubt, beyond seeing a trailer, I will sign up for and see in theatres because I know what they are going to deliver.

2. The Reader

Sometimes a movie is made by its little moments. Something that a viewer may not pick up on a first or second viewing, but after multiple viewings or recalling the film from one’s memory. The Reader is that type of film for me. It was the subtle nuances that are expressed throughout the film that make it morally confounding and utterly heartbreaking.

The initial time I saw this film, I was more than reluctant to accept it as anything beyond Oscar baiting drama. However, after the first viewing, I found Winslet’s performance as an ex-SS officer completing hypnotizing. The callousness, the coarseness, and heartbreak she exudes from scene-to-scene was astounding.

Then I became fascinated by Nico Muhly’s compelling score. I have no other parallel to draw to him except for Jonny Greenwood’s work on There Will Be Blood. For a debut score, Muhly delivered magnificently and I find it to be compulsively listenable. I went out and purchased the soundtrack and cannot stop listening to it.

I saw it again, about a week after I initial saw it and began to pick up smaller, tendered moments. The slight nods characters share with one another. The subtly of a character being abandoned. The duality of character’s actions in relation to one another. The interplay of the editing. Deakins admirable job with the camera.

I was more stunned that the movie became better for me after a second time. Usually, after I see a movie for the second time I start to take a part the nuances of a film, critique performances and elements harsher, degrade any plot holes. The Reader was only one of two films this year that I enjoyed more the second time I saw it than the first time.

1. The Dark Knight

This was the other movie that I enjoyed more the second time I saw it.

Recently, I was thinking about the term “comic book” movie and how it applied to The Dark Knight. The phrase most associated with the film is that it is being regarded as the “best comic book movie ever made.” Do we refer to The Godfather as the “best adaptation of a novel ever?” No. Do we refer to Schindler’s List as the “best Holocaust movie ever?” No. Do we refer to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly as the “best western ever?” No. Why? Because these movies transcend their respective genres to ascend to the heights reserved for the greatest movies ever.

So, why do we feel the need to continue to refer to The Dark Knight as the “best comic book movie ever?” People should just drop it and refer to it as it should be:
One of the best movies ever.

I will single out that line: One of the best movies ever.

I have seen many films over the course of my life, but I have seen only a handful that are executed so well in every aspect of the film that movie leaves you stunned. The Dark Knight was that to me this year.

To put it another way, Duncan and I were discussing how in 2007 there were a lot of fantastic movies. We each easily thought of four or five movies that we could easily give four stars to and have no qualms about it. This year, we could only think of two that would merit four stars from the both of us: Wall-E and The Dark Knight.
Entertainment Weekly should consider doing amendments to their “100 Greatest Oscar Snubs” article and place The Dark Knight on the list.

1 Response to "2008's Top Ten Films- Dave"

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