I should have put these in some sort of actual order, but, yeah, still in alphabetical.
1) Be Kind Rewind
I can understand why people might get annoyed with Michel Gondry. I mean, not everything he does is a homerun, but really nothing anyone does is. Sometimes he might seem oppressively whimsical, and sometimes that might be true. The more whimsical aspects of this can probably be seen that way. I mean it is a weird even that sets the main events of the story in motion. But, here's the thing, I think its a matter of misdirection, particularly in the marketing of the movie. In the end, I think the movie is more about the power of community, of people working together, in this case in a poorer neighborhood, then simply about people making super low budget versions of hollywood movies. Even in that instance, it is as much about people seizing the opportunity to be creative and create their own art instead of relying solely on Hollywood. Its as much about people rising above corporatism and doing themselves. Its funny, I think Jack Black and Mos Def (in a part that was originally supposed to go to Dave Chappelle) end up being a good, mismatched comic pair, and in the end, its moving as well.
2) Burn After Reading
Minor Coen Brothers to be sure, and definitely another in their line showcasing their very dim view of humanity. But there are some good performances here, especially by George Clooney who isn't just playing his usual smarmy self, or even Brad Pitt who is playing dumb-for-laughs instead of sexy. It includes one of the best laugh-out-loud moments of 2008 too. It doesn't really mean anything, in the end, but thats sort of the point. Oh and J.K. Simmons and Richard Jenkins are awesome as usual.
3) The Dark Knight
I'm still of the opinion that people that didn't like this movie are just being contrarian to be contrarian. One of the rare instances where critics and moviegoers actually agreed on something. Christopher Nolan managed to make the best comic book/superhero movie yet, and in some ways redefined the superhero movie. Good and evil battle for the soul of a city. Except that good takes the form of a vigilante with questionable methods, and evil, in the form of the late Heath Ledger’s nightmarish Joker. The action scenes match the grand themes he raises of a corrupt, self-serving political landscape.
This probably could have been unleashed a bit from its theatrical staging. But it seems rare in this day and age that a screenplay would allow so much ambiguity in a story, where it allows the audience to ultimately make up its own mind of what happened within the story and who was right and who was wrong. Its all bolstered by amazing performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Meryl Streep, and even Viola Davis in her small part. I was surprised, really, it ended up being much more powerful and interesting then I thought it was going to be going in, really. It was a the most pleasant kind of surprise.
5) Forgetting Sarah Marshall
I slept on Forgetting Sarah Marshall for a long time, but then I finally caught it and it was as funny and moving as people said it was. I think we can all thank Judd Apatow for leading the way with this sort of comedy, with helping along with the careers of these funny, younger people, and just helping to make this type of comedy, I guess, viable. Jason Segel wrote this, and its an amazing script, and his performance, along with the rest of the cast makes it special. Its just like the best Apatow efforts, funny, but also makes you invested in the characters so you are moved in the end as well.
6) In Bruges
I couldn't believe the rave reviews this was getting until , of course, I actually saw it. The ad campaign made it look like a third rate Tarantino rip-off. But it is so much better than what it seemed like it was going to be. An amazingly written, beautifully shot story of two hitmen who are whisked off to the seeming purgatory of Bruges to hide out for a while. Or so it seems. In turns heartbreaking and very funny, and made me aware of Martin McDonagh. He needs to adapt more of his work.
Milk had the miraculous effect of forgetting how annoying Sean Penn is in his regular life. He made me forget Sean Penn the person and made me think he had transformed himself in Harvey Milk. There were a lot of good actors up for oscars this year I might have preferred that it went to Mickey Rourke or Richard Jenkins, but I have no real problem with it going to Penn. Especially in service to a moving story that should be told. Penn is good, and so is Josh Brolin and James Franco. It falls into some of the traps that biopics tend to, but for the most part it focuses on one specific, important, part of Harvey Milk's life and works well to that end. He was fighting an uphill battle, and it made it even more poignant to know that even with all the strides he helped gay people make, that battle is still being felt. It was powerful, I remember sitting in the dark when we went to see it and just hearing people cry softly as the credits came up. In the end, a moving film that can't be denied.
8) Pineapple Express
I really like Seth Rogen. And, so far, I like what his writing team with Evan Goldberg produces. And this is no exception with a cast that includes Ken Jeong, Rosie Perez, Gary Cole, and Bill Hader-he and James Franco, the main focus sure, are still the standouts. He and Franco have such amazing chemistry, nearly everything they say to eachother made me laugh. Or anything they said in general, really. Sure, its about pot, and male friends as much as it is a send-up of 80s' action movies, and while it doesn't always work 100%, I guess, I found all aspects worked really well together. Your mileage will definitely vary, but I liked it a lot.
9) The Wackness
Not all of this works, but the coming-of-age story of a dorky potdealer coming to terms with growing up in the New York City of early to mid 90's New York City. He befriends insane psychiatrist, Ben Kingsley, who, himself is really funny. This might be one to be bumped off the list when I finally see the likes of Tell No One or Let The Right One In (I know, I know...) but I not only enjoyed their dynamic, and this story, though some parts of it don't work as well. But in the end is really good. Also has an amazing soundtrack as well, which might have helped push it further.
10) The Wrestler
On paper, this sounds likea niche-y jumble of cliches, but in execution it works out to a heartbreaking degree. And you can see why there was all this Oscar/comeback talk as far as Mickey Rourke went-he is amazing and sad as the broken down, former wrestling superstar who can't seem to make the right choices or get his life back on track. He seems to make the same mistakes over and over. This might have hit me differently too, being a fan of professional wrestling growing up. One of the many things they got right was in the art direction-especially in the flyers and magazines shown in the opening credits. Its rich in detail, looks amazing, and the performances match that. It really is an amazing, and really sad, achievement.