Sunday, January 18, 2009

The 10 Best Films of 2008 - Part 1

Well, we're well into 2009 now, and I know that most of the critics have already released their top ten lists, but I'm just a lowly blogger with a 7 month old, so it's taken me a little longer to see all the contenders. So, without further ado, here's the first part of my top ten list of 2008.

10 - In Bruges - Martin McDonagh is one of the great playwrights working today, with a masterful command of how to use the blackest of black comedy to great effect. His directorial debut was released earlier in the year and was largely overlooked, which is a shame. It's the story of two hitmen sent by their boss to the flemish city to hide out after a job gone tragically wrong. Ray (Colin Farrell) has nothing but contempt for Bruges, while Ken (Brendan Gleeson) finds himself deeply affected by it and acts like any other tourist would. It's probably the funniest film of the year, but it is still deeply moving and a true original.

9 - Frost/Nixon - I've always had a little antipathy when it comes to Ron Howard. He has certainly made some great movies (A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man, Apollo 13, Parenthood) and also some bad ones (The Da Vinci Code, The Missing, How the Grinch Stole Christmas), but I've rarely detected a point of view, a style, or a passion behind the film making. He's technically great, but his films often feel bloodless. I'm happy to say that Frost/Nixon is one his best films, and also features two great performances by Frank Langella and Michael Sheen. It's a compelling depiction two men, each in possession of large egos, each with everything riding on the outcome of the pivotal interviews. In this case, Howard's detached style helps the audience focus entirely on the performances.

8 - Iron Man - Anchored by Robert Downey Jr.'s fabulously free-form and winning performance, Iron Man is a welcome return to well-crafted, gleeful blockbusters after a decade of trying to insert depth. Jon Favreau directs a cast that seems to be having a great time and oversees a witty, smart, action-packed script. The final battle is a little underwhelming, but it more than leaves you wanting more from Tony Stark, and its post-credits hint at establishing a cinematic version of the Marvel Universe is a novel approach to creating a franchise. The next installment can't come soon enough.

7 - Tell No One - I know that it was released a few years ago in France, but it was only released here in Canada this past year, so I'm counting it. Tell No One is one of the most amazing thrillers to come out in a long time. Francois Cluzet plays a doctor whose supposedly dead wife seems to be alive, and that's just the simple set up for this twisty, perplexing thriller. There are times when the plot contrivances are a little much, but if you meet it halfway, you'll find one of the most satisfying and thrilling films made in years.

6 - Wall-E - Everytime I see a trailer for a Pixar film, I always wonder if this will be the film that misses for the animation giant. Every time, I'm proven wrong. From Toy Story on, Pixar has yet to make a bad film. Some of the films haven't been as amazing as others, but Wall-E stands with the best of their films, alongside Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Wall-E is touching without dipping headlong into sentimentality, it's effortlessly funny and beautiful to look at. As an added wonder, I cannot fathom how such an anti-corporate film got made a major studio, let alone Disney! I know that Pixar's streak can't go on forever, but the care and craft they put into each film is something at which we should marvel.

See you soon for the final five!

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