Friday, February 6, 2009

She Said: THE BEST OF 2008

K's Top Ten Movies of 2008

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:

10. WALL-E
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.

Runner Up:
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:
Bigger, Stronger, Faster
Seven Pounds 
The Duchess
Iron Man
Burn After Reading
Son of Rambow
Paranoid Park


the WIZARD, fkap said...

Another great list.

As with J.'s list, I haven't seen a few key films. I'm trying to get this accomplished, but, in a couple of cases, my only option is to wait for DVD's.

And, as with J. I disagee with a couple of your choices. I wouldn't include either Doubt or The Dark Knight on my list.

I noted with interest your "honorable mention" of Ironman and it reminded me that I was considerably more impressed with "Wanted" than Ironman. I really need to go back and read the review that you and/or J. posted about Wanted.

I still have some unorthodox ideas to submit to you both when and if I can find the time. I don't think I'll ever have a conventional Top 10, but I find that many "commercial" American films are terribly underrated by critics, but not by audiences.

I tend to agree with the audiences.

the WIZARD, fkap said...

My thought for the day:

Isn't Doubt just The Village without the absurd plot, bad acting and splashes of red paint?

K McKiernan said...

Wizard, are you kidding me?

Did you say you saw Doubt?

No, the Village was all about "now you see it, now you don't"... the whole point was to point a big-- "GOTCHA" at the audience when you realize the villagers do not in fact live in the distant past but in OUR future.

How is that anything like the complexity of not knowing if someone has molested someone or not... or the larger question/metaphor of... can we really BELIEVE in a God.?!?!

And WANTED? Yowsa. That film is such nasty, vulgar violence for violence sake crap. In addition, I could barely stand to look at Jolie's emaciated arms. Seriously, she had to weigh like 80 pounds.

the WIZARD, fkap said...

"now you see it, now you don't"

"not knowing if someone has molested someone or not"

Yes. I think you got my point. And were you really able to overcome the ending (of either film)?

As to Wanted versus Ironman. I seem to remember equal amount of fantasy (comic book/graphic novel) violence in each..... As to Jolie,... well, that is a matter of opinion.

I, for one, was terribly impressed with the character development in Wanted. Ironman was also praised for it's character development.

Violence for violence sake? Not in my opinion. But I promise to go back and watch both very soon.


You two are "pros" or at least "semi-pros" as both critics and reviewers of film. I'm really from a different universe of film enjoyment. My opinions are often terribly different from the mainstream.

For example I feel that 1971's Vanishing Point is one of the great films of all time. Although it doesn't stand up well becuase of it's hippie era (lack of) sensibilities, it is still a stunning film. Cleavon Little's performance is one of the all time greats. And the writing and minimalist plot made for a stunning movie watching experience.

I dare say I'm perhaps the only person to place this movie on an all time great list. In fact, few people today have ever seen it. It is so unknown it isn't even a cult film.

And, while I'm goofing off and having fun, let me bring up another great film that is virtually unknown: 1977's Citizen Band directed by (believe it or not) Jonathan Demme. Held off the market for 20 years or more and never re-released in it's original form (or with the original music) it is a curiousity known today (by all 6 people who ever watched it) as Handle With Care.

Well, back to work.... dammit!

the WIZARD, fkap said...

By the way (just as a point of clarification), on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the highest and 10 the lowest

Doubt is a 3

The Village is a 16 (and dropping)

MadMike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MadMike said...

Wizard I have to ask the question again...Did you see DOUBT?? I see no comparison between it and The Village, the movie that turned me against M.N. Shylaman. Of course the way your phrased your comment might indicate that you also saw no comparison:-) We are alike BTW with respect to what we like. I generally tend to agree with the audience as opposed to the critics (present company excepted).

As to the other selections I agree on every point. I have seen about 6 of them.

I would love to publish your work as a regular feature over at my place. For example a movie review or commentary once or twice a week would be nice. I would, of course give you headline attribution and link directly to your site. Any thoughts? I would never think of publishing your work or any part thereof, even with attribution, without asking your permission.

J McKiernan said...

Hey, Mike...question for ya.

Were you talking to K, or to me, or to both of us? You wrote this on her post, so I weren't sure if you were interested in having her write for your site, or if you were interested in both of us.

Also, you said you've seen about 6 of the movies on the list. Which ones have eluded you?

K McKiernan said...

Yeah, you really should have J write. It just flies out of him so easily. Genius reviewer. Me, I hem and haw and take 5 years and then write a few lines.

What 6 movies did we agree on?

Did you see Frozen River... I have to squeeze it in here somewhere!