The most remarkable films this year are films which speak to human adversity in truthful and beautifully complex ways. The films that grace my top ten list this year are ones in which characters face incredible challenges and have important lessons to learn. Some learn the lessons and others sadly fail to grasp them. In seeing their pain or failures, joys or triumph, we connect to them, learn from them, and grow with them.
The Top Ten:
Wall-E is a sweet, endearing, precious film for the ages and all ages. Some of the tenderness between Wall-E and Eve are among the most moving of all love scenes ever created. Some people did not know what to make of the movie's silences, but to me, those silences were the most beautiful moments to witness in this film or in any other. This film knew when to be quiet. Lovely.
This is one of the most finely acted films I have ever seen. Nominations for the film's main 4 stars show I am not alone. It is very hard for me to say it, but even though Kate Winslet is my favorite actress and she is so overdue for an Oscar, Streep is the one who deserves the Oscar for this one.
Doubt deftly exposes the difficulty in assured knowledge. Doubt is a precious commodity because it allows us to not close down with certainty but rather to always question and explore. The film purposely chooses heart-wrenching subject matter because otherwise the message of how important but painful doubt is would be lost. Doubt opens minds. Certainty closes them.
This movie graces my list because of its complex rendering of humanity. Too often we see things in black and white with no gray, but life is nothing but gray. If anyone would have said a movie would make me feel for an Auschwitz guard, I would have scoffed. But this movie did. The Reader is Hannah's story even though it is told through the book-ends of her "reader." The movie would be even more solid and astounding if the creators had the vision to let Winslet's character be the main protagonist. Still, the deeper layers of who (most often male) decides law, crimes, and punishment was deeply nuanced and appreciated by this viewer.
An important lesson about learning to love and be alive again. This film is incredibly painful for me. It is a beautiful film; the acting is moving, the human truths are revelatory, but the inevitable fact of how our country treats others still angers me to this day. The Visitor is quite the perfect blend of joy and misery. We cannot really embrace and understand one without the other.
Plucky, polite, and ever so perfect, Poppy is a heroine we can be so proud of. She understands the world and why people are the way they are, yet she never flinches in her ability to be optimistic and love herself and the world despite the inevitable flaws. A character like this could too easily become cloying or aggravating, but Sally Hawkins (who deserved an Oscar nomination) weaves vulnerable love and understanding with delicacy.
In the year of the infamous, repugnant passing of Prop 8, Milk sits as a reminder of what all some have sacrificed in order to make our world more humane. This film is a huge biopic filled with many fine actors telling an important story of truth and humanity. It is incredibly sad to be shown how hard people fought in the past to only have us drop the ball today.
Not unlike The Reader in drawing empathy where one would least likely assume to find it, Frost/Nixon entranced me and made me feel for our 37th president. How could a bleeding heart liberal like me care about a grouchy, conservative liar like Nixon? The answer is simple. Ron Howard allows us to hear him and see his humanity. The movies this year reached me because they showed me human failure and self-awareness. We see in Frost/Nixon a man who finally learned his lesson even if it was too late to save the way others would forever view him. I found his awakening tragic and triumphant.
I am quite frankly angered that so many dismiss this massive, dark, artistic splendor. It's rather revolting how so many want to hate on this film. Perhaps because it was adored by too many. Perhaps because it is based off of a comic hero. Or, perhaps because too many were blinded into not seeing the deeper nuances and complexity breeding the war over what is a "hero." The vision of The Dark Knight is behemoth. It is a spectacle. It dazzles the senses. But, the story also has a very true, sincere heart that beats underneath all those beautifully rendered set pieces.
Why does he run? Because he must. The Dark Knight grasps what his fellow humankind needs. Sacrifice of self for love of others. Could there be a more noble awareness?
One of the most touching, emotionally riveting movies I have ever seen. What we do to our bodies, to our souls in an effort to be heard, seen, valued, is astute and piercing. Some of us learn from life and from hardship, and others of us are determined to hammer perpetually to seek approval. Both characters in this film wake up. But both answer that call in different ways. Not unlike Kate Chopin's The Awakening, The Ram decidedly makes his choice because it is all he has ever allowed himself to know. Its part tragedy and part triumph. He chooses his path, but I was left wishing he had chosen a different one.
It was a neck-and-neck fight between my number two and my number one. And although I think Aronofsky does a better job in The Wrestler at connecting the plight that both genders share, Slumdog Millionaire's uncontainable joy ultimately made it win the top spot.
The structure and arc of this story resonates with palpable, kinetic excitement. As I sat in the theater, there was a gleeful momentum, a shared exhilaration that just does not happen that often in cinema. Sure, people love a movie--they laugh, cry, sometimes shout out at the screen, but with Slumdog it was different... without words, there was a soulful, vivid, colorful response emanating from several silent bodies.
To steal the movie's mantra, the movie's fate was written--indelibly, forever destined to be 2008's best film.
11. In Bruges, Wickedly funny and suspenseful, this film is actually far more serious and meaty than its surface humor first lets on.
Other Runners Up:
Other Runners Up:
Bigger, Stronger, Faster
Burn After Reading
Burn After Reading
Son of Rambow
Son of Rambow