Sunday, January 18, 2009

Joe Scott's Top 10 Movies of 2008

I know it's a little late for top 10 lists, but I was waiting for the News and Record to post this on their own site first. That never happened, so I decided to it myself. Below is my top ten list which was printed in the News & Record. Hopefully Mike will follow suit and post his top 100 movies of '08 very soon.


After last summer gave us such rotten fare like Transformers, Spider-Man 3 and that third Pirates of the Caribbean movie, I had given up on major studio blockbusters. The genre as a whole seemed like a giant wild horse incapable of being guided anywhere near the creation of a decent film, let alone one not made in absolute contempt of their intended audiences.

Then July rolled around and Chris Nolan released The Dark Knight, an action-packed but also very thoughtful superhero film that instantly became my favorite summer blockbuster of the last decade. After seeing it five times in a theater, I kept waiting for one of the so-called 'serious Oscar films' to stage a coup and become favorite movie of the year. That coup never happened.

So here it is, my top ten films of 2008. You already know how this list will start, and while it ends with nine other films that never came close, they are still the cream of this year's crop.

1) The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.) - As the jokers in charge send our country spiraling towards potential economic ruin, the question of how "normal" citizens will react when the cards are down is more relevant than ever. Heath Ledger rides at the front of a large ensemble cast devoid of a single weak link, and this depiction of a Batman, who can't keep the vicious dogs of his life at bay, is one for the ages.

2) Revolutionary Road (DreamWorks/Paramount Vantage) – Director Sam Mendes returns to the suburbs and finds a much darker place than the one he created in "American Beauty." Staging an on-screen reunion 11 years after "Titanic," co-stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet play the Wheelers, an idealistic married couple who stage a last-ditch battle against the extinction of their dreams and souls. Supporting actor Michael Shannon was the biggest snub by the Golden Globe nominations this year, and between this film and her work in "The Reader," if Winslet doesn't win an Oscar soon, she'll deservedly become the Stanley Kubrick of actresses.

3) Man on Wire (Magnolia Pictures) – My favorite documentary of the year, this biography of tightrope walker Philippe Petit and his breathtaking 1974 high wire stunt between the two towers of the World Trade Center is a charming cinematic treasure. If "Revolutionary Road" is about the death of a dream, "Man on Wire" is about the life of one, and anyone who watches this film without feeling inspired to attempt something worthwhile is simply not paying attention.

4) Rachel Getting Married (Sony Pictures Classics) – Sure, Anne Hathaway's performance is great, but she's not the only thing to love in this drama about an emotionally frazzled ex-junkie who returns home for her sister's wedding. The entire cast bubbles with familial chemistry and rookie screenwriter Jenny Lumet's script is fraught with landmines of human truth.

5) Let The Right One In (Magnolia Pictures) – Vampires! Romance! Horror! … This Swedish drama is kinda like "Twilight," only good.

6) Milk (Focus Features) – With Proposition 8 in effect, there are those in Hollywood who think this film about openly gay state supervisor Harvey Milk could do our nation's political body good. I, on the other hand, feel this biopic would be no less worthy of celebration regardless of our nation's political situation. As an actor, Sean Penn's range is unparalleled by anyone working today, and his second Oscar statue is the closest thing we have this year to a lock.

7) The Wrestler (Fox Searchlight Pictures) – The plot and overall look and feel of this film cuts awfully close to Ramin Bahrani's "Man Push Cart," but Darren Aronofsky's moving portrait of a has-been professional wrestler is the most realistic on-screen depiction of the profession ever made. Star Mickey Rourke's much hyped career rebound is the real deal as a man who ekes out a living by sitting in tanning beds and lifting weights, only to let another man shove his face through a pane of glass.

8) Doubt (Miramax Films) – Meryl Streep shines yet again as the head nun at a Catholic school who suspects her affable parish priest (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) of attempting to seduce her male students. Based on his own Pulitzer-winning stage play, writer-director John Patrick Shanley weaves an intricate chess game of morality, gender and race that leaves us guessing long after the credits roll.

9) The Wackness (Sony Pictures Classics) – This indie coming of age tale skipped first-run theaters in Greensboro, only to play for a week at the bargain theater in High Point. A shame since former child star Josh Peck had the breakthrough of the year as a Jewish marijuana dealer who befriends his therapist (Ben Kingsley). The 22-year-old actor has all the intensity and nuance of a young Brando, and I am certain we will be seeing him in bigger and better things. Available on DVD.

10) Shotgun Stories (Liberation Entertainment) – Alumni directors from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts were responsible for no less than three other nationally-distributed films this year – Snow Angels, The Foot Fist Way, Pineapple Express – but Shotgun Stories was the best one by far. In his second movie to appear on my list this year, Michael Shannon heads a trio of brothers who face a difficult choice: Quell their long-seething hatred of their late father or be destroyed. Available on DVD.


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