1. Synecdoche, New York – Although I saw this months ago, random scenes still pop into my head like I’m trying to piece together a fever-dream from the night before. Charlie Kaufman has yet again outdone himself, this time taking over as director as well. While more somber than anything Kaufman has put out yet, it is truly an incredible experience watching Caden’s bizarro-world and the simply bizarre “reality” of the film drift closer together before climaxing in the most beautiful and touching ending I have seen at the cinema in ages.
2. Rachel Getting Married – Director Jonathan Demme shot this entire film with hand-held cameras, much like you would ask a close friend to do at your own wedding. The difference is, instead of shooting the generic footage of the ceremony and people dancing around afterwards, Demme sticks around for all of it – the fighting, the sadness, the ugliness, the lies, and ultimately the forgiveness. Working with an incredible first script by Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married doesn’t just make you feel like you are attending a wedding, it lets you in so close that you feel like you are a member of the family, whether you want to be or not.
3. Let the Right One In – Since I like vampires so much, few of my friends took my advice of going to see this Swedish vampire film thinking I’m merely a slut for anything with fangs. This might be true, but while they were out wasting their money on Twilight, they missed one of the best films of the year. The film is about the brief relationship between a bullied, young boy and a mysterious girl who moves in next door to him. A series of gruesome murders take place as the two kids become friends, and she slowly starts to open up about certain aspects of her personality.
4. A Christmas Tale – Similar to Royal Tenenbaums in plot, but not at all in character, this French film from director Arnaud Desplechin is the story of a relatives reuniting over Christmas when the matriarch of the family has fallen ill. The ensemble consists of some supremely depressed children, their lives ruined by love and loss, and there extended family of children, aunts, uncles, etc. Featuring an incredible and massive cast including Catherine Deneuve and Mathieu Amalric, we officially have a new Christmas classic.
5. Dark Knight – The most hyped movie of the year (and possibly one of the most hyped ever, due to the death of Heath Ledger and blog-talk) turned out to be just about as good as everyone thought it would be. The sequel to Batman Begins has set a new standard for comic book movies. Seriously though, get Batman some throat lozenges.
6. Wall-E – Every year there’s a new Pixar film to put on this list. While I didn’t like this quite as much as last year’s Ratatouille, you can’t help but marvel at a film that finds so much emotion and amusement in two robots who can barely speak.
7. Shotgun Stories – First time director Jeff Nichols wrote this small tragedy about two sets of sons with the same recently deceased father. One set knows him as an abusive monster, and the other knows him as a loving, born-again Christian. With a focus on the first set of brothers (their names are literally Boy, Kid and Son), Michael Shannon in particular emerges as one of the best male actors working today (he’s also great in Revolutionary Road – too bad the movie wasn’t as good). The film is quiet, and patiently shot in a way that echoes David Gordon Green, which is not surprising as he was one of the film’s producers.
8. Reprise – Time is manipulated in interesting ways in this Norwegian film, where two friends send their novels to publishing companies at the same time with hopes of fame, fortune and women. When we move ahead six months we find that the one who has achieved success has since been hospitalized after a breakdown, and the one who hasn’t achieved success has narcisistically broken up with his girlfriend and is trying to track down his favorite writer and help re-adjust his friend. The film and its narrative shoot back and forth in both real and hypothetical time, using innovative filming techniques to tell a great story.
9. Forgetting Sarah Marshall – Jason Segal wrote this fun Apatow-produced comedy about a guy who is dumped and goes to Hawaii only to find that he is staying at the same resort as his ex-girlfriend. It’s a pretty stupid and entirely unlikely plot, but the film itself is sweet and consistently funny from start to finish. Segal included several moments from his actual life, including being dumped by his girlfriend while naked as well as music from a Dracula musical he was writing. This was easily the funniest movie I saw in 2008.
10. Slumdog Millionaire – There’s always a movie like Juno, or My Big Fat Greek Wedding or Little Miss Sunshine that people label as “the little movie that could.” The movies usually have a pretty small budget and are crowd pleasers that no one expected to be huge hits. Sometimes they are good, sometimes they’re not. This year that movie is Slumdog Millionaire and yes, it was pretty damn good.
Honorable Mention: Paranoid Park, The Band’s Visit, In Bruges, Iron Man, The Fall, Milk, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Right At Your Door, Man On Wire, Pineapple Express, The Wrestler
Some movies I Haven’t Seen Yet so Don’t Get Mad: Wendy and Lucy, Ballast, Che, Happy Go Lucky, Chop Shop, Waltz with Bashir, The Class, My Winnipeg, Momma’s Man, Trouble the Water, Frozen River