Tuesday, November 18, 2014

THE TEN GREATEST MOVIES OF 2008! Historic year, in general, and for movies!

Man, 2008 was a really good year. Yeah, the housing market crashed the country but it was inflated for years, it needed to. A historic year, Barack Obama got elected President of the United States, I still remember all the excitement and glee as seven o'clock came around and the polls closed on the west coast, confirming the news every sane person in America was hoping would happen, but wasn't still afraid it wouldn't. More importantly than that though, the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series, the first time in my lifetime any of the Philadelphia sports teams that I cheer for actually won. I didn't watch most of it, I was in class, really finally finding my voice and way in film school for many of the games, and more than that, every time I watched the Phillies that year they had lost, and after careful consideration, they decided that I shouldn't watch, but eventually, I had to tune in, and I did tune in for that legendary second part of Game 5 that had been rain delayed, when we beat Tampa Bay, and as the late Harry Kalas would say, we finally let the city celebrate. Well, the Phillies finished last place this year, and we're probably gonna start getting rid of many of the players that were the core of that team, and Obama- And, he's done a great job. Screw the critics on that one, no he wasn't perfect, but he's mostly been railroaded from the last grasps of a delusional conservative party, and besides, Obamacare means that I actually have health insurance now, so, he might be not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but slowly but surely, he's climbed over a few mountains that most weren't able to climb, and that's pretty damn good to me.

So, as to movies, in '08, there were a lot of really good ones. I can easily think of about 40 or so films that could've easily made this list. Not to sound like a pro wrestling cliche now, but for those of you wondering what we're talking about here, awhile back, I started a feature where I would go through each year of the naughts decade, and go over the ten greatest films from that year. I started with 2000, and we're almost finished. We're at 2008, and the next time I update this, it will be the last time, and I will, on top of doing a Top ten of '09, will also do a Top Ten of this decade as well. If you haven't caught up until now, here's the lists and links to the appropriate blogposts below with all the other years' lists. .

2007
1. Once
2. Juno
3. No Country for Old Men
4. There Will Be Blood
5. Grindhouse
6. Into the Wild
7. 12
8. Persepolis
9. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
10. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-ten-greatest-movies-of-2007-sorry.html

2006
1. INLAND EMPIRE
2. Children of Men
3. United 93
4. The Departed
5. The Lives of Others
6. The Puffy Chair
7. Babel
8. Sherrybaby
9. Hard Candy
10. An Inconvenient Truth
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-ten-greatest-movies-of-2006-funny.html

2005
1. Munich
2. Good Night, and Good Luck.
3. Brokeback Mountain
4. Mysterious Skin
5. Sin City
6. The Upside of Anger
7. The New World
8. Crash
9. Saraband
10. Capote
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/05/ten-greatest-movies-of-2005-halfway.html

2004
1. Sideways
2. The Incredibles
3. Before Sunset
4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
5. The Aviator
6. Kill Bill: Vol. 2
7. The Five Obstructions
8. A Home at the End of the World
9. Million Dollar Baby
10. Hotel Rwanda
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-ten-greatest-movies-of-2004-man.html

2003
1. Lost in Translation
2. City of God
3. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
4. Love, Actually
5. Monster
6. The Fog of War
7. Dirty Pretty Things
8. The Twilight Samurai
9. The Barbarian Invasions
10. The Shape of Things
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-ten-greatest-movies-of-2003-year.html

2002
1. Adaptation.
2. Minority Report
3. 25th Hour
4. Spirited Away
5. Y Tu Mama Tambien
6. Bowling for Columbine
7. Frida
8. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
9. Lovely & Amazing
10. Far From Heaven
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-ten-greatest-movies-of-year-2002.html

2001
1. Mulholland Dr. 
2. Dinner Rush
3. Waking Life
4. The Royal Tenenbaums
5. Gosford Park
6. Monsters, Inc.
7. Amelie
8. Audition
9. Ghost World
10. Memento
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-ten-greatest-movies-of-year-2001.html

2000
1. Almost Famous
2. Amores Perros
3. Traffic
4. Requiem for a Dream
5. Chocolat
6. Best in Show
7. Wonder Boys
8. High Fidelity
9. 6ixtynin9
10. Cast Away
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-5-obstructions-blogathon-objective.html

BTW, since I'm not really in the mood to go back or anything, (and besides, these should be reflective of the moment I wrote these anyway) but I recently finally saw "Infernal Affairs", which I count as a 2004 release, that's when it finally hit U.S. theaters, and had I done that list today, I might be prone to finding a place for that film. But, that's the thing, as much as we love making these lists, we're limited by our knowledge, our time, when we can and have time to watch, and so on and so forth, so, oh well. For every top ten I make, (Including my long-delayed one for 2013, which may or may not be coming soon) I usually have twice as many films at number 11, that I wish could've made it anyway. So, 2008, let's jump right into it and start the countdown, here's the TEN GREATEST MOVIES, from 2008!

TEN GREATEST MOVIES OF 2008

10. THE BANK JOB



Based on the famed so-called, Walkie-Talkie Robbery, "The Bank Job" is a dizzying heist movie, filled with numerous double and triple-crosses, and constant scheming and re-scheming. Somebody called it more complicated than "The Sting", and it is, it's also one of those films you really can't stop watching; I'm not gonna pretend I even understand all that happens in the movie, but like "The Big Sleep", it makes sense while you're in the middle of it, but trying to reconstruct the moving parts is worthless, and besides the point anyway. This is a British gangster film, based around a 1971 robbery of a Baker Street Vault, yes, that Baker Street, in London. The movie claims that the actual information about the crime was hidden away under an obscure British law called a D-Notice, or a DA Notice, that keeps a crime out of the media, the crime and the continuing investigation, at least, after the initial publications of the report. That report's probably not true, especially since most of the film and the players involved are so out there, it doesn't really matter, you can barely tell which side anybody's on at any point anyway. Jason Statham gives his best performance as the head bank robber who falls into this perfect crime, that becomes anything but, but who's smart enough to maneuver around that and help out nearly everyone involved. He's more known as an action star than an actor, but he gives some really great work here. Saffron Burrows has a role as a femme fatale, a former that's at least a double agent, and probably much more. This is the rare kind of movie that's just one kinetic thriller after another, and the more you watch, the more intriguing the film gets, The film was directed by Roger Donaldson, who's a bit of an erratic, although he's done top quality work like "The World's Fastest Indian", "Thirteen Days", and "No Way Out". He's good at taking stories that, on the page, might not be as dramatic, and he knows how to tell them in a way that really builds tension, even as everything seems to be going on around the film. "The Bank Job", isn't reinventing too many wheels, but it takes some of that Guy Ritchie-esque energy and quirks in his gangster films, smartens up the gangsters, and places it in a world of mystery and intrigue that would've just as well in any classic film noir. There's a lot going on in "The Bank Job", you'll be damned if you can keep track of it all, but you're have a helluva fun time trying.


9. FROST/NIXON



Ron Howard finally won that long-delayed Oscar that he should've won for "Apollo 13" earlier in the decade for "A Beautiful Mind", which was a very good film, especially in a weak Oscar year, (Until Affleck for "Argo", "Apollo 13" was the last time the DGA winner didn't get a Best Director Oscar Nomination) but clearly the best film of his this decade was "Frost/Nixon", the story of one of the more memorable albeit at-the-time, more forgotten sidenotes in recent political and television history. That's the part that's kinda left out, that probably interested Howard as much as anything, that David Frost (Michael Sheen) basically put up most of his wealth to do his fame interviews with Richard Nixon (Oscar-nominee Frank Langella) to create this TV program of him interviewing Richard Nixon. Based on Peter Morgan's famed play, the movie takes an interesting off-kilter perspective at it's subjects, told through interviews of those who were there, all the details of the interviews, and how they came about, and the way they were when they were making the series, the places both Frost and Nixon were at, at the time. The quiet hidden pressures of Frost, needing to get that critical moment with Nixon, and Tricky Dick, trying to restore his reputation and essential defeat David Frost at his own game. I've often said that had Michael Sheen been nominated for Best Supporting Actor, I would've voted for him for this film, even over Heath Ledger's Joker, but really, this is, really a lead performance here and it is about both Nixon and Frost. Frost was talk show host, who produced movies occasionally, and had been on a downturn in his career, which for a Great Britain television star, they had to go down to Australia to reboot their career, and it was him that had to coarse Nixon somehow into hanging himself, while Nixon, had one last shot, to reclaim his integrity, and possibly a spot in the political world landscape. It was almost a contest, this game of chess, Nixon intimidating, knowledgeable, a great talker/debater trying to wear down Frost, (Which, in turn made some of the actual interviews, if you've ever seen them, boring beyond belief) while Frost, spending most of his money for the production and to Nixon for the sitdown, hoping and having to quickly learn how to go blow-for-blow with Nixon. Similar to "The Bank Job" oddly enough, Ron Howard and Peter Morgan's script, managed to do something here that's really difficult, building tension during something that's otherwise rather dull and boring, and has anything but tension in it. Two great performances in the leads, as well as a lot of good supporting work from Rebecca Hall, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon, Toby Jones and others, And we tend to forget how good a filmmaker Ron Howard can be, and he can be inconsistent at times, but with "Frost/Nixon" and recently "Rush" and of course "Apollo 13" among others; we see that he really does belong among those upper tier of Hollywood directors and here, he's take a part of recent history, that's really a footnote, a very forgettable one at that, and elevates it into great drama.


8. THE VISITOR



You know it's a good year, when the 8th best film of that year, is one I've already devoted a Canon of Film entry to. That link to the Canon of Film post is below:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2013/04/canon-of-film-visitor.html

So my appreciation of Tom McCarthy's "The Visitor" is clearly established already, and McCarthy's made three really spectacular films, and he's not a name, we even think much about, even when we think about American independent film too much, we don't think about him and yet, when you happen across his films, and I've rewatched "The Station Agent" once or twice too recently, you get so engrossed in his films, you can't turn away. He embraces these very unusual, almost banal characters, that seem to be rather aimless through their life, but the quiet ways that suddenly they find themselves, discovering more about themselves, and each other,- too many people think, great action, noise, special effects, that that stuff really amazing, when it's really much simpler than it looks, but what Tom McCarthy has done looks really simple, yet it is impossibly much more dfficult to achieve onscreen. Especially in "The Visitor", where there's a lot of major plot developments in a very short amount of time, when you consider the film, and yet it is the subtleness of the acting, and the emotional and moods that he hits, and it's not the actions, it's the relationships between the characters that entrance us the most, at his best he creates this real poetry with film that we just don't see enough of at all, and when we do, it's never done this well. Richard Jenkins, got a surprise Oscar-nomination for the film, and this is one of those movies, that will take people a few viewings to realize how special it is. They'll set it once, maybe twice, they'll like it, and then happen to come across it again and again a few more times, and then watch and appreciate it more and more as they go on. The more times this film gets rediscovered after a few years, the better it's gonna get. It gets richer and more perfect on each viewing.


7. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK



If you go back and check Roger Ebert's Top Ten lists, you'll notice a couple things about 2008. First, he refused to rank the films that year, and secondly he had a Top 20 instead of a Top Ten. (Frankly, I understand perfectly why he did that right now.) He then named "Synecdoche, New York" as the best film of the decade, which, frankly I understand, completely. On some levels, "Synecdoche, New York", seems to exist, outside of the typical realms we think of as film, and it's not bound by any conventional sense of realism or the laws of man, and yet, it's goal seems to be to completely and entirely convey the complexities, subtleties and nuances of life, or at the very minimum, the way our mind has chosen and insisted on approaching it. The title, is not simply a euphemistic homonym pun on Schenectady, if you know your English grammar, it means a term where you're referring the entirety of something, by only referring to a part of it, (The best examples of this, are when people refer to people, usually women, by using only parts of their body.) but the film's story is essentially an attempt by one man, to exceed at creating a piece of art that encompasses his whole life. The man is Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) a playwright who's got a MacArthur Grant, and begins work on a play that involves constructing a lifesize mini-replica of New York City, inside a warehouse, where he will be retelling his life story, and actors are all hired to play the parts of characters from his life, often at different times and ages. The production, which is never-ending, is his representation of his life, or at least, how he may wish it were or want it to be. The movie seems to begin in a reality world, where his wife Adele (Catherine Keener) soon leaves him, along with their 4-year-old to Germany. He's haunted by her leaving, so haunted it still haunts him as he dives into his second marriage to an actress, Claire (Michelle Williams) who's in his play. Sometimes, the rehearsal and construction of the play are real life, sometimes we're in a memory of his, sometimes a fantasy, sometimes real life's separate from the play, sometimes he's changing real life in the play, sometimes memories, like the house that's forever burning down, still haunt his present that they might as well still be happening continuously like they never stopped, while other parts of his laugh, flow right by him, and he barely notices. Trying to explain much more or in any more elaborate detail is rather useless, but once again, Kaufman's journeying deep into the recesses of the mind, and the way it works, the differences between reality and how we channel that reality to help formulate something that makes sense for us, or how lost we get when it's impossible to do that. Kaufman throws almost everything he can think of into "Synecdoche, New York", and maybe that's the point. You can watch the film multiple times over and see something new, or something different and think about it differently on later viewings. It's a rich film that'll grow after each viewing. Kaufman


6. VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA 



Amazingly, this is the first Woody Allen film to make any of Top Ten of the decade lists, and don't confuse that with him not making good movies. He made some clunkers, that's true, but especially the second half of the decade, he really started returning to form, and in some ways giving us some new forms of Woody Allen that we weren't used to, quite frankly. He made a couple great films in '05, with "Match Point" and the underrated "Melinda and Melinda", the former being his first film in London, as he had trouble getting American financing and then for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona", he shot in Spain for the first time, Barcelona, where the engaged Vicky, a Catalonia Studies major is visiting for the first time, along with Christina, her more adventurous friend, who has experiences long enough to know that she doesn't enjoy/want them for herself. On this vacation, they meet a handsome and romantic artist, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) who asks them both out, for a menage-a-trois. Vicky is practically offended, but Cristina is intrigued. They both go on a trip to Oviedo, in northwest Spain (That's an inside joke, that's where a famous Woody Allen statue is, although Woody doesn't show it) What happens there, is hilarity, eroticism and romance, and it effects the three of them as Vicky struggles with her emotions, while her fiance Doug (Chris Messina) is waiting for her in New York, before he himself arrives, and Cristina begins a relationship with Juan Antonio, before his notorious ex-wife, Maria Elena (Oscar-Winner Penelope Cruz) suddenly shows up at their doorstep in the middle of the night, as treacherous and intoxicating as ever. After some initial reluctance, Cristina embraces a three-way relationship, much to the shock and chagrin of others, including Vicky, who's both appalled and jealous. Originally written with the city of San Francisco in mind, (Which Woody would eventually shoot at for last year's "Blue Jasmine") "Vicky Cristina Barcelona", is more fitting in Spain, and is almost like Allen's version of Luis Bunuel's "Belle de Jour", another film where an older director, would examine sexuality and desires late in life through the perspective of a 20-something woman;it's a lot of Allen's inner conflicts and neurotic and quirky stuck in situation they're not sure why they got into or how they got out of, but never has it practically abandoned the intellectual so much, and embraced our more arousing nature so much. It's intriguing actually, how these sudden changes of locations had suddenly opened up Allen to new possibilities with his characters, maybe never moreso with this romantic-comedy. This is really one of Allen's most fun films to watch.


5. MAN ON WIRE



One of the most thrilling documentaries in recent years, was James Marsh's Oscar-winning film "Man on Wire". And when I say thriller, this really was an intense thriller of a film, I was on the edge of my seat watching this, and I know a lot of people who don't like documentaries that have often said the same thing. In 1974, Magician and tightrope walker Philip Petit, and his amazing crime, of constructing an illegal tightrope across the Twin Towers and then walk across. Oh, he didn't just walk across it once, he went back and forth multiple times, even lying down on it. Using original video footage from Petit himself, interviews as well as reenacted footage, Marsh shows us, much of the preparation of the act itself, including many of the ins and outs of tightrope walking, but more importantly than that, was how to plan and then pull this off. Simulating the conditions on one end, trying to figure out how to sneak into both towers, to the top level and then be able to construct a tightrope, appropriately across a large street..., and these are just some of the initial problems, not to mention the dozens of things that could go wrong that they can't plan or prepare for. There's no mention of 9/11, or each really a mention that the towers aren't there anymore, in fact, the opening sequences beautifully shows old footage of the towers being constructed, and how it was then, that Petit thought this would be his latest challenge. (He was already famous for less daring feats including walking across the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, and across Notre Dame Cathedral) This wasn't just the best documentary of the year, "Man on Wire" was one of the most entertaining films of the year, and really put James Marsh on the map as a director, who's gone back and forth between great documentaries like "Project Nim" and quality features like "Shadow Dancer", and co-directing the "Red Riding Trilogy". This is really one of the premiere docs of the decade, and just as a movie, it's enthralling.


4. THE DARK KNIGHT



Probably the least surprising piece of news you can find from me about 2008 in film is that, "The Dark Knight" was pretty damn great, and it was. I don't know who's idea it was to put Christopher Nolan in charge of rebooting Batman originally but after the failures of the original films, back in the '80s and '90s that I grew up with that stressed the more comical nature of the character, Nolan, who had at the time, only directed a few features and was most known for the critically-acclaimed indy, "Memento", he took this trend of returning comic book favorites to the big screen and gave them a serious darker edge, that truly captured the true essence of Batman. I didn't have "Batman Begins" on my Top Ten list for the year that came out, but it easily could've been on it, and I frankly would've been satisfied with just that, but he decided not to leave it just at that, and created the best superhero movie of all-time (And if some asshole comments about Batman not being a superhero, I swear to God- just shut up!) Starting where we left off from that film, "The Dark Knight"'s most famous success is Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning portrayal of The Joker, in some ways Batman's most cartoony villain, but such a true villain like that, would've cheapened this franchise, and instead Ledger created a shockingly realistic and menacing villain, one who's capable of the most dastardly and evil schemes and plans, often for little more than the joy of committing his heinous crimes, and using the unpredictable as a stronghold for creating menacing fear, all while holding that knifed-in smile, that even he tells two different stories about how he got them, and there's no way of telling which, if either is even remotely true. We have had some memorable depiction of pure evil in this decade, including two of the greatest the year before with Anton Chigurh in "No Country for Old Men", and Daniel Plainview in "There Will Be Blood", but Ledger's Joker will not only exceeds in many ways compared to those two, but gives us added dimensions to an already familiar character that nobody really was there. That alone is worth the price of admission, but Nolan also brings us Two-Face, in Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent, Batman's most conflicted villain, who starts as a hero cop, hellbent on ending crime in the city, and then through the fates of both Bruce Wayne, (Christian Bale) and the Joker, he loses that trust in the city. In some ways Nolan's is giving Batman and Joker, two vigilantes one of pure good, one of pure evil, and then, stuck in the middle, Two-Face, who's evil and good is out of his control in both his creation and his actions. Maggie Gyllenhaal replaced Katie Holmes in this sequel, which was an upgrade from the original and the way he ends it, just like the first one, no cliffhanger, no extra information, the franchise could've ended right then and there and it would've been satisfying as a complete story. It's not only that he made these great films, he made these films, and they were so much better than they ever really needed to be; that's why they're so special. I mean, there's clearing the bar by an inch and clearing it by a foot, and he cleared it by a mile, and that's what really makes these films, especially "The Dark Knight" such great cinematic accomplishments.


3. THE WRESTLER



Probably the two films that most people were upset in 2008 that didn't get Best Picture nominations were "The Dark Knight" on the Hollywood blockbuster end, and on the Independent cinematic end, was Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler". Aronofsky didn't have that much clout at that time, after the mess that his previous film "The Fountain" had been, but it's still hard to call "The Wrestler" a return to form, this was unlike any film we'd previously seen from him. Bare, stripped down, a character profile of a man, we're literally often just following, as he beats down, overuses and destroys his broken down body, after years of professional wrestling. Mickey Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, who's twenty years past his prime, still working any local pro wrestling shows in whatever bingo hall or college gymnasium that some second-rate promoted can find and put his body through beatings, steroids, alcohol, self-inflicted and non-self-inflected cuts and bruises, all to retain that last piece of fame and glory he once had. All 'cause that's the only thing he knows how to do. This was Rourke's comeback performance, and few performances really just get to me like this one. Not just the physical transformation that Rourke's achieved, through many of the same methods as wrestlers (He once quite acting to pursue a failed boxing career, completely disfiguring his face from the '80s) and it's almost like he's trained for this part for a lifetime. A sudden heart attack causes him a forced retirement, and the films shows his desperate struggle to formulate himself into the real world. Trying to make up with his daughter, trying to have a relationship, with a stripper, Pamela (Oscar-nominee Marisa Tomei) who's also been doing her profession way too long, trying to hold down a regular job. The writing of the film, didn't get enough, Robert D. Seigel's script could be taught in screenplay classes. Aronofsky's best films are "Requiem for a Dream", "The Wrestler" and "Black Swan", and the thing all three have in common is a look as the obsessive nature of it's character, how that takes over them. "Requiem..." made my Ten Best of 2000, but I think "The Wrestler" it finally clicked with him that the key was to solely focus on one character, and one character only, let that person's fate be the thing we are most interested in, let us grow to care about what happens to a washed-up broken down man like Randy. I've been a pro wrestling fan, I've written on once in a while, I even briefly wrote for another website on it, so I have a familiarity with the subject matter, (I would not call myself an expert) but this film makes you care about the character, it doesn't need to show or teach us all the ins and outs about the "sport", it shows what we need, that doing this to yourself for a very long time, is a hazardous and life-threatening choice, but that some people, like Randy, can't help themselves but to keep doing it.


2. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE



You know, I won't discuss, how I happen to come about the scenario in which I happened to have seen "Slumdog Millionaire" before it hit American theaters after it's stunning debut at the Toronto Film Festival, but I did end up being able to see it before most people, and I came out of that viewing, telling everybody that "Slumdog..." was gonna win the Best Picture Oscar. Indeed, this is the highest ranking I've place a Best Picture winner on any of these lists, and it absolutely deserves it. This was one of the few films where I truly found myself crying tears of joy at the end, this was modern Charles Dickens by way of Mumbai, and it tore through every critical blockade I could possibly mount up. It's contrived, it's a feel-good story, it's all that, but it legitimately earns it. Jamal (Dev Patel as a grown-up) is an orphan who goes through some incredible life experiences, like Oliver Twist before him, new eccentric characters come in and out and he schemes and manuevers his way through the world while still madly in love with his childhood crush Latika (Frieda Pinto) who as he's constantly struggling to relocate, is constantly drifting farther and farther away from him. I mentioned Dickens a lot, but this really is a British sensibility with Manchester-born Danny Boyle's incredible directing with the help of the handheld digital camerawork of the great Danish cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, there's such a vibrancy to this film, it's constantly going forward and pushing us in many different directions, from comedy to horrific nightmarish drama to romance, it's a "Rocky"-story for fuck's sake;  it is this sprawling epic of emotions, that we see in life and all in this one life. Boyle was always a good director, who was known for shooting in almost any genre, although was most famous for the overrated but god "Trainspotting" beforehand, but I think with this film, he finally found an appropriate subject for his directing style, one that's constantly on the move, and giving us something new to look at all the time; this was the first time I got Danny Boyle as a great modern director, and especially with this film, sentimentality is such a tightrope to walk for a filmmaker, 99/100 it falls flat on your face, the one time, you get it right it's a masterpiece. An in a year of masterpieces, really, looking over this year, 2008, this was one of those really great years in cinema, were there were too many great, great films to name, and it was still beyond clear, how good "Slumdog Millionaire" was compared to the others, it's really an accomplishment, just how powerful and great "Slumdog Millionaire". And the fact that I'm still only ranking it 2nd, it makes me shake my head in disbelief at how great this year was, and how great this film is.


1. WALL-E




From a filmmaking standpoint, when I think back on what film really blew me away, looking at everything that was accomplished with the film, how much great work went into it, the most daring of films from this year, the most cinematic experience, in terms of combining the past and present of technique and storytelling in ways that we haven't seen done, and done so beautifully and funny and smart ways; the true best film of 2008, was Disney/Pixar's "WALL-E".  Famously the last film after "A Bug's Life", "Finding Nemo" and "Monsters, Inc." that was outlined from the infamous '94 lunch between John Lasseter, Pete Doctor and Joe Ranft, and directed by Andrew Stanton,  Wall-E is a robot. He's alone, very bored, with his job of cleaning up and compartmentalizing the trash on what's left of an abandoned Earth. We're informed eventually that he's been there, doing this for 700 years, enough time to create some assemblage of a personality. Then suddenly, another, more slicker robot, EVE, a slicker female robot, send down to search for signs of life. So many are involved in this film. For one thing, it's an incredible science-fiction film, one that has numerous references to other great sci-fi films and works of the past, while telling a fairly new story. From a storytelling side of filmmaking, "Wall-E", was a lot riskier and bolder than anything Pixar had done before. Using Ben Burtt to raid Disney's old sound effects literally out of storage, there's no dialogue for a good first half of the film. No art form of filmmaking is more visually inclined than animation, but this was a huge gamble. Hardly any human characters, most of the robot characters express themselves through beeps and other sounds and for much of that time, the only real character is WALL-E himself. They also found a way to use live action for the first, including a well-cast Fred Willard in old footage as an obviously conniving president of a United States that's been taken over buy a company called BuyNLarge, and "Hello, Dolly", another reference to film, is even used on an old dying, VHS tape that WALL-E covets. And then, the animation itself, this seems to be doing everything. From remnants of the past, to the Earth world of "WALL-E", compacting and compiling trash day in, day out for years, to the point where he's composed giant skyscrapers of them, to the Axiom ship in the sky that houses the world's humans, who've become monstrous flabby baby-like forms of their former selves, all this technical work, and oddly enough, one of the most beautiful sequences, is the dance in space with EVE and WALL-E with a fire hydrant, one of the most touching sequences of any movie I've ever seen. And every little detail in "WALL-E" was needed to create this film, there's a lot here, but it all tells the story, and it all really works. The most detail, the most filmmaking risk, probably the most technique used, a tribute to all forms of filmmaking and animation and from Pixar, who rarely does anything less than spectacular, "WALL-E" literally goes through the stratosphere. It was a great year for film, and in general, but the best movie goes to "WALL-E".

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