idst a year of economic turmoil and political history, the film industry kept a steady hand on America’s imagination. Some of the most creative, innovative and compelling films ever made were released in 2008. RELEVANT staff and writers have compiled this list of the 10 that will be remembered as the year’s definitive films:
The balancing act, both literal and figurative, beheld in Man on Wire stands as triumphant as any documentary in recent memory. The story centers on Frenchman Philippe Petit, whose childlike curiosity and bravery allowed him to tightrope walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Notre Dame de Paris and ultimately between the Twin Towers in NYC. Petit’s great accomplishment occurred 34 years ago, but director James Marshthe’s ability to build suspense and tension is the film’s greatest feat. Ultimately, Petit’s is a story that touches on every emotion and, in the end, presents the viewer with a sense of awe and wonder few films can ever achieve. It’s the best documentary of 2008.
– JM Barrie
It’s a powerful and challenging meta-vision of existentialism. This marvel of Charlie Kaufman will alienate as much as it will amaze. It will madden as much as it will move. To be sure, it is a bizarre film, but there is an intentionality in Synecdoche that cannot be ignored. The feelings you leave with are not emotions. Spiritual perhaps, but ultimately, Synecdoche accomplishes something new altogether. There is truth in this film. It might be beautiful, but it might be devastating as well. It will be hated by many, but it will inspire for years to come.
– Dylan Peterson
People don’t seem to be as in love with Michel Gondry as they were back in 2004 when he directed Charlie Kaufman’s masterpiece, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But those who have shrugged him off as being too silly, or maybe just too French, have missed out on the feel-good film of the year. Jack Black, Mos Def, and Danny Glover are the perfect cast for Gondry’s latest work of mad genius. He has created a whimsical story about the power of community while giving hilarious nods to classics like Robocop, King Kong, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Watch this film with your heart, not your pretension.
– Doug Cook
I’m not usually one for action movies—I figure once you’ve seen one explosion, you’ve seen them all—but when I left the theater after seeing Ironman, I couldn’t stop talking about it. Yes, the special effects were incredibly impressive, but I especially loved the dialogue and acting. Robert Downey, Jr. did a wonderful job as the charismatic, rich inventor, Tony Stark, and Terrence Howard (already one of my favorite actors) was great as Jim Rhodes, Stark’s frustrated yet loyal best friend. All in all, it’s a great movie—even with all the explosions.
Acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky’s best work might just be the most straightforward piece he’s ever taken on. The Wrestler plays just like it sounds, with Mickey Rourke brilliantly capturing a simple, blue-collar role of an old pro wrestler/entertainer who’s lost his purpose and meaning after a major health scare. Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood complete the thespian trinity residing here, but the true star is Aronofsky whose docu-style displays and editing choices dive deep into a shallow life, building true emotion without overplaying a sentimental hand. The Fountain or Requiem for a Dream might be more beautiful or staggering, but none of Aronofsky’s films feel as complete as The Wrestler.
– Matt Conner
Burn After Reading marked a welcome return to humor for the Coen Brothers, following 2007’s intense Oscar-winning drama No Country for Old Men. It follows the interweaving stories of a womanizing State Department employee, a woman desperately seeking plastic surgery to keep her job at a fitness center, and her moronic fellow trainer as they scramble to either sell or prevent the sale of a seemingly mysterious disc of “information.” The film’s well-defined characters, stingingly funny dialogue and endlessly inventive plot twists reward repeat viewings. Be warned, this is a risque movie in some scenes, and no one involved in the escapades seems to have either morals, ethics or common sense – but then, in this case, that’s half the fun.
– Carl Kozlowski
People are starving for hope. Slumdog Millionaire feeds this notion tangibly with colorful storytelling against the haunting backdrop of life in modern-day India. Heightened by the recent attacks in Mumbai, Slumdog managed to poke its head above the other independent films with limited releases this year receiving both critical acclaim and a strong word-of-mouth audience draw. Brilliantly directed by British filmmaker, Danny Boyle, Slumdog marks a turning point for culture-bridging, socially aware films and their significance in American culture. We leave the theatre not only feeling moved and entertained but also with a profound sense of urgency, an awakening to the hopes and struggles of humans residing oceans away from our individual bubbles.
– CJ Casciotta
David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a film about one man’s life, but also life in general—the things we do, the people we love, the things that happen and the things that don’t. It’s an exquisitely rendered, peculiar mediation on the fact that our lives—whether forward or backward—are lived in time. It may be on the long side, but a film like this has to be: it’s about confronting us with the bewitching curiosities of time itself. Beautifully shot, brilliantly acted, whimsically artificial and yet totally resonant, Button is film that, if you can open yourself to it, will touch your soul.”
– Brett McCracken
The best romantic story in film this year didn’t involve a pregnant teenager or a couple of musicians in Ireland or any humans at all. It was between two robots. Wall*E was a surprisingly touching and beautiful film. It could be argued that the first 40 minutes were the most impacting images on a screen this year, with or without dialogue! Pixar continues to produce excellence with each movie but Wall*E makes an argument for their strongest work yet (in almost every aspect). A true contender for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, this is a movie to not be missed by kids of any age.
The Dark Knight is the best superhero movie of all time. It easily sets a new standard for that genre and moreover it will impact action pictures for years to come. Nolan’s operatic masterpiece successfully captures the original comic book source and catapults it into a post-9/11, postmodern era. Sure, it’s a crime story of good versus evil with iconic pop culture characters and smash-up chase scenes, explosions, and time-ticking thrills. Yet woven together, it creates a jaw-dropping spectacle that is both rollercoaster and ballet.
And it’s more than that. It’s a truly thought provoking exploration of evil and corruption, depicting a world spiraling out of control and into anarchy, orchestrated by the personification of pure evil: Heath Ledger’s Joker. With reckless abandon, Ledger’s terrifying performance tempts us to consider how we may all be tainted with, if not culpable of, contributing to our world’s violence. In the midst of overwhelming darkness, this work of art seems to propose that the heroic choice of losing one’s own life for the sake of others may be our only hope.
– Jim Poole
RELEVANT loves lists. If you missed them, here are our picks for the Top 10 Books of 2008 and the Top 20 Albums of 2008.