To echo my friend Sam, 2008 has not been an outstanding year for film. I was uncertain whether I would even be able to comprise a list or not this year. Thankfully, the "let's-get-these-out-in-time-for-awards-consideration" group managed to bulk up an otherwise meager collection. Here are my favorites, this year in order:
1) The Wrestler - Darren Aronofksy's film about a washed-out professional wrestler (played by Mickey Rourke). A more tragic hero you will not find. No romanticizing here. Rourke moves his character through the film like a dying quarter horse. Painful to watch at times, but the story invokes so much empathy without manipulation. The acting is genuine with only a few exceptions of contrivance (oddly enough both of the scenes Rourke was given permission to re-write in his own words).
2) Slumdog Millionaire - A close second for me. High marks for one of the most original stories I've ever come across. Setting, characters, music--everything works together. Danny Boyle (director) works magic in this one...and the child actors are outstanding. The only reason I place it second is because I'm a sucker for pared-down films that feel raw around the edges. This one is more polished than The Wrestler, but probably the best under-dog story since Rocky.
3) In Bruges - Usually I run in the other direction when Colin Farrell is in a film, but with Ralph Fiennes in it I had to check it out. The trailers do not do the film justice. Humor aside, the story works through themes of tragic and grief in a bizarre mix of contrition and violence. Best dialogue in any film this year.
4) Religulous - Not a perfect film by any means, but I admire Maher's tenacity. He puts those unanswerable questions to the major world religions and gets some hilarious results. His conversation with a priest outside of the Vatican made the entire film. To hear the priest concede to so many of Maher's points, in such a funny manner, was a pleasant surprise. Maher shoots himself in the foot a little, sometimes going for the cheap laugh or repeating himself ad nauseum. In some ways he's a bit of a one-trick pony. Still, one of the better films this year.
5) The Bank Job - Bit of a surprise for me. Must have been the impeccable retro 70's setting. No anachronisms that I could find. Great dialogue, good--albeit slightly predictable plot. It's one of those smooth films you don't realize you like so much until the end.
I know I'm supposed to mention Iron Man and The Dark Knight. Whatever. Good, not great, in my mind. Dark Knight actually got dull for me on the last viewing, though I thoroughly enjoyed it the first two times. Iron Man was a bit better, but the whole "battle-of-the-robots" bit was silly and anti-climactic.
Other films I wish I could have watched in time for this post: Doubt, Revolutionary Road, The Reader, The Class, Burn After Reading, Nothing But The Truth.
Sadly, I have to confess falling out of touch with international films this year. Chalk it up to parenthood, I guess. Von Trier was supposed to release Antichrist--a Creation story only with Satan creating the world. I've heard nothing else about it. Frustrating for me as I enjoy foreign films.
There you have it. Agree or not.