Favorite Films of 2008
Although not a banner year for quality films, 2008 provided its share of treats for movie addicts like me. My top ten list represents a diverse genre of offerings -- even a Western! Below are the films in order of preference, plus a brief explanation concerning why I picked each one.
MAMMA MIA! As the world’s most avid movie musical fan, I’m happy to place this lively film adaptation of the popular Broadway show at the top of my list. Filled with great ABBA songs, exuberant dance numbers, gorgeous scenery and unforgettable performances, it’s a joyous celebration of love and friendship. Portraying a mother and daughter, Meryl Steep and Amanda Seyfried are perfectly cast. Seyfried wowed me with her lovely voice, and Streep belts out showstoppers as if she were born to be a musical star. What fun!
APPALOOSA. In this compelling Western, Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen simply transform themselves into a pair of lawmen-for-hire plying their dangerous trade in 1882 New Mexico. Their characters have worked together so long they seem to know what the other one is thinking even before he speaks. Both actors are absolutely terrific here. And Renee Zellweger adds a romantic twist to this most surprisng depiction of unconditional love ever seen on screen.
WALL-E. Here’s an animated feature that excels not only in storytelling and character development but also in music, cinematography and CG animation. After seeing so much trash on the big screen during 2008, this Walt Disney/Pixar offering about a lonely robot who helps save humanity ends up as a treasure to savor. Miraculously, Wall-E seems to project more emotion than many live actors in the films of 2008.
CHANGELING. Clint Eastwood gave meticulous attention to period detail while directing this mystery thriller, and Angelina Jolie delivers an outstanding performance as a distraught single mother whose young son is missing. Although its lengthy running time bothered some viewers, I found the movie so riveting I wanted it to last even longer.
BURN AFTER READING. The Coen Brothers created this hilarious and goofy dark comedy about a ridiculous attempt to blackmail a CIA analyst -- and I, for one, am glad they’re back where they belong after giving us their depressing No Country for Old Men Oscar-winner in 2007. Despite its reliance on too much offensive language, this is a wildly entertaining movie and features a marvelous star-studded cast including Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich and George Clooney.
LAST CHANCE HARVEY. Who would expect Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson to be the most fascinating on-screen couple during 2008? They certainly surprised me in this excellent dramedy about two middle-aged people who find each other when Hoffman’s character travels to London to attend his daughter’s wedding. Both believe they are losers and that love has passed them by. Subtle humor, witty dialogue and unusual chemistry between its co-stars help make this movie an absolute joy to watch.
DEAR ZACHARY. This disturbing documentary about a treacherous murder and its aftermath is more suspenseful than most of the thrillers released during 2008. It evokes strong feelings of anger toward the culprit in the Dr. Andrew Bagby killing and the justice system involved. But it also gave me two new real-life heroes: Andrew’s parents, whose remarkable dedication and perseverance are unmatched even in fictional movies.
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. From its exciting opening sequence to its clever closing scene, Crystal Skull made me grateful to Steven Spielberg for deciding to film another Indiana Jones adventure. Spielberg definitely knows what viewers enjoy seeing on the big screen: humor, action, suspense and characters we care about. This movie, however, belongs to 64-year-old Harrison Ford. His Indiana Jones may be older now, but he looks terrific. Also, his ability to project a wonderful wry humor hasn’t dimmed one bit.
TROPIC THUNDER. Massive explosions, bloody battle scenes -- both fake and real -- plus lots of firepower fill the screen in this outrageous comedy as it pokes fun at some of Hollywood’s most offensive practices, including phoniness and those awful trailers. It’s a dirty job, I know, but someone had to do it! Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr. stand out for their portrayals of two very different types of actors working together on the same film.
WENDY AND LUCY. Starring Michelle Williams as a young woman facing poverty and the possible loss of her beloved dog, this poignant film stretched my heartstrings to the breaking point. And, because of her riveting performance, Williams earned a spot on my short list of nominees for Best Lead Actress of the year. In fact, I forgot she was acting and began to think I was watching a real person, one I desperately wanted to help. The movie may be a downer, but it’s a powerful reminder to count our blessings and to offer assistance to individuals going through hard times. With our declining economy, we have lots of opportunities to do just that.
HONORABLE MENTION (in alphabetical order): Australia, Bolt, Ballet Shoes, Definitely Maybe, Gran Torino, High School Musical 3, Iron Man, Leatherheads, Let the Right One In, Slumdog Millionaire, Smart People.
(Listen to Betty Jo, Adam Hakari, Jazz Shaw and Nikki Starr discuss the Best and Worst Movies of 2008 by clicking here on or after Tuesday, December 30. Selections of ReelTalk critics Jeffrey Chen, Donald Levit, John P. McCarthy, Diana Saenger and Frank Wilkins will also be revealed on this BlogTalkRadio show.)