I saw over 200 films in 2008, and narrowing a list down to the top ten films is tough. In 2002, I bought a blank book and started writing down every film I saw, making it easier to create a top-ten list each year. Going through my book brought back a lot of memories of films that I hardly remember anything about. For instance, how did the French film Roman de Gare end? I don’t recall. Does that mean it’s forgettable? Not exactly, but the ones that jumped out are denoted with a little star—if anyone asked me about one of those movies, I could tell him or her what I enjoyed about it or why it worked.
As I started putting my list together, I saw a theme develop: loneliness. While watching movies with a packed audience is still as much fun as it was when I was a kid, it has also grown to be a very solitary experience for me. Of the 200+ films I saw in 2008, some I saw in my living room, some I saw at the Sundance Film Festival, but mostly, I saw them in local theaters. While I wish I could have watched some of these in a packed theater, sometimes I’m glad to cherish them alone, think about them, and keep my opinion a secret—until now.
There are a few important 2008 films that I have not seen (including Gran Torino, A Christmas Tale, The Class, Che, and Gomorrah) but I feel that this list represents the best of what I saw in 2008. These films have been in my head for days, weeks, and months. So as I let go of 2008, I’m looking forward to seeing what movies will appear in the Twin Cities and all over the world in 2009. My notebook and pen are in hand, and my eyes are ready for another 400+ hours of enjoyment.
1. Wall-E (Andrew Stanton) Visually stunning animation. Often hilarious, with a poignant story that packs an incredible emotional punch.
2. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson) This Swedish coming-of-age vampire film brings fresh blood to vampire lore and is cementing its place as an original, iconic horror classic.
3. The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin) Delivering the best closing shot in any film this year, Akin’s flawless multi-layered story of six intersecting lives in Germany and Turkey gives us a complex drama that no American film could touch.
4. Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle) Boyle’s best film since Trainspotting is a genuine crowd-pleaser and deserves credit for turning a bland game-show premise into a dizzy narrative spectacle of beauty, intrigue, and suspense.
5. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh) Sally Hawkins dances, drives, and charms everyone around her except Eddie Marsan, making for the most unlikely on-screen chemistry in perhaps the most uplifting film of the year.
6. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan) From its jaw-dropping opening scene (on IMAX, no less), no film this year brought filmgoers more adventure and discussion than this haunting masterpiece.
7. Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Sacha Gervasi) Opening this spring (no Minneapolis date has been announced as of yet), this compelling, amusing, and heartbreaking documentary follows a Canadian heavy-metal band searching for success across the globe with disastrous and incredible results.
8. Milk (Gus Van Sant) Van Sant’s impressive biopic has became more relevant than ever following California’s Proposition 8 law banning same-sex marriages in California. Sean Penn’s astute performance as the legendary politician and gay rights activist is truly inspirational.
9. Revanche (Goetz Spielmann) Opening this spring (no Minneapolis date as of yet), this Austrian film follows a female prostitute and her boyfriend trying to escape their unfulfilling lives, but not before getting mixed up in a botched bank-robbery that intersects with the lives of a police officer and his lonely wife in unexpected and moving fashion. Spielmann’s film could get a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination.
10. Wendy & Lucy (Kelly Reichardt) Opening at Landmark’s Lagoon Cinema on February 6, Reichardt’s follow-up to 2006’s Old Joy is another simple story of Wendy (played beautifully by Michelle Williams) losing Lucy (her dog) in a small Oregon town on the way to find work in Alaska. Williams’s portrayal of Wendy captures the malaise of 21st-century America.
Honorable Mention: Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, Christopher Bell’s Bigger, Stronger, Faster*, Steve McQueen’s Hunger, Azazel Jacobs’s Momma’s Man, Hong-jin Na’s The Chaser, and Jay Roach’s made-for-HBO film Recount.
Biggest Disappointments: Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna and Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche N.Y.
Jim Brunzell III (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes on film for the Daily Planet and hosts KFAI’s Movie Talk.