The New Classics - The 30 Best Films of 2008

by PopMatters Staff

15 January 2009


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Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Director: Kevin Smith
Cast: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Katie Morgan, Traci Lords

(The Weinstein Company)
US theatrical: 31 Oct 2008 (General release)
UK theatrical: 14 Nov 2008 (General release)

Review [31.Oct.2008]


Zack and Miri Make a Porno Kevin Smith

In a year that’s seen such spry and subversive comedies as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express, and Tropic Thunder, Zack and Miri Make a Porno is the best. It represents yet another triumph for Kevin Smith (after the amazing Clerks II) and showcases a growing maturity for a filmmaking once noted for wallowing in the infantile. Sure, scatology abounds, and no one could accuse Smith of taking his subject too seriously. But when it comes time to deliver the goods, to get past the obvious T&A toilet humor and offer up something sweet and sincere, the king of the ViewAskew Universe literally rules. With its combination of heart and hilarity, bawdy blackouts and cleverly drawn characters, Smith starts out strong and ends up delivering something that’s timeless as well as tasteless. Bill Gibron

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Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Santiago Cabrera, Demián Bichir, Kahlil Mendez, Rodrigo Santoro, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Marisé Alvarez, Carlos Bardem, Franka Potente, Edgar Ramirez, Elvira Minguez, Benjamin Benitez, Victor Rasuk, Yul Vazquez, Julia Ormond, Lou Diamond Phillips, Joaquim de Almeida

(Focus Features)
US theatrical: 12 Dec 2008 (Limited release)
UK theatrical: 20 Feb 2009 (General release)

Review [13.Jan.2009]


Che Steven Soderbergh

There’s a lot wrong with Steven Soderbergh’s two-part epic take on Che Guevara’s revolutionary life, but a lot that’s right. Conceptually it’s many parts naïve hero-worship, turning the bearded one into even more of a superhero guerrilla icon than any number of T-shirts could. But stylistically the films are astringent little masterpieces, mapping the day-to-day campaigns of Che’s victory in Cuba (The Argentine) and his martyred failure in Bolivia (Guerrilla) with astounding attention to tactical detail. Not the best date movie(s) but awesomely appropriate for those looking to launch their own guerrilla campaign. Chris Barsanti

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Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Director: Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Bill Hader, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd

(Universal Pictures)
US theatrical: 18 Apr 2008 (General release)
UK theatrical: 25 Apr 2008 (General release)

Review [18.Apr.2008]


Forgetting Sarah Marshall Nicholas Stoller

I’m not much a fan of the Judd Apatow brand of regressive man-child romantic comedy, and I doubt Forgetting Sarah Marshall will do much to change my mind—not because it’s a failure, but precisely because it’s such a exception. The difference lies somewhere in its reflexive delivery—loose and shambolic, mopey and sporadically hopeful (much like its recently dumped hero, star and writer Jason Segel), the movie feels like what it’s meant to be dumped. But most of its success is due to the accretion of little loopy details along the way—daft secondary characters, throwaway lines, recurring spoofs—which seem entirely inessential and largely unnecessary, but end up making the film so damn agreeable and successful. I was hooked with the dead-on send up of procedural cop dramas with the show within the film Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime; I was sold by Paul Rudd’s scene stealing stoner surfer dude; and my heart was finally won by Segel’s triumphant staging of his life’s work, a vampire puppet musical, A Taste of Blood. Jake Meaney

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Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Amy Ryan, Geoff Pierson, Jeffrey Donovan, Jason Butler Harner, Colm Feore, Michael Kelly

(Universal Pictures)
US theatrical: 24 Oct 2008

Review [18.Feb.2009]
Review [24.Oct.2008]


Changeling Clint Eastwood

Layered beneath the exquisite period detail and painterly compositions, Changeling is among the most strikingly austere films Clint Eastwood has ever delivered. Through in particular its more singled-minded first half, the film plays rather like Clint’s Passion of Joan of Arc, a stark study in the number of ways Eastwood and DP Tom Stern can shoot and frame an iconic, devastated Angelina Jolie. Later, the frame expands to encompass twin narratives running on largely parallel tracks—a shift that Eastwood navigates without seeming to break a sweat. As autumnal masterpieces go, this one’s thoroughly essential. Josh Timmerman

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The Fall

Director: Tarsem
Cast: Catinca Untaru, Justine Waddell, Lee Pace, Marcus Wesley, Kim Uylenbroek, Robin Smith, Jeetu Verma, Leo Bill

(Roadside Attractions)
US theatrical: 9 May 2008 (Limited release)

Review [14.May.2008]


The Fall Tarsem Singh

There’s a good reason why The Fall looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before (and likely will never see again): director Tarsem Singh catalogued exotic locations all over the world and then spent four years shooting pieces of the film in 18 different countries while working on international commercials. The result is a mad riot of color and spectacle, and a movie that—like Blade Runner or Metropolis or Brazil—is able to conjure an entire world that’s as convincing as our own. But The Fall isn’t just a jumble of gorgeous imagery. Beneath its surreal surface lies a touching story about friendship between misfits and the power of imagination to overcome despair. See it now, so you can say you were a fan before it became a cult classic. Jack Rodgers

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Tropic Thunder

Director: Ben Stiller
Cast: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey, Jr., Steve Coogan, Brandon T. Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Nick Nolte

(Paramount Pictures)
US theatrical: 13 Aug 2008 (General release)
UK theatrical: 19 Sep 2008 (General release)

Review [13.Aug.2008]


Tropic Thunder Ben Stiller

Yes, Tropic Thunder is very funny with Jack Black spazzing across the screen and Robert Downey Jr. impersonating a black man. However, the humor of the film is eclipsed by its smart ridicule of the Hollywood system and its meditations on generic convention. Amidst a great deal of formidable hamming on the part of the cast, Thunder cuts through questions of cliché, profit-driven filmmaking, and viewership. Its grand move, though, is to not just make a film that parodies a genre—Blazing Saddle’s is a great film, but a poor western—but a film that embraces the genre and excels within it. Erik Hinton

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Pineapple Express

Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Amber Heard, Rosie Perez, Gary Cole, Craig Robinson, Kevin Corrigan, Bill Hader

(Columbia Pictures)
US theatrical: 6 Aug 2008 (General release)
UK theatrical: 12 Sep 2008 (General release)

Review [27.Jan.2009]
Review [6.Aug.2008]


Pineapple Express David Gordon Green

In the year’s most audacious one-two punch, David Gordon Green follows the heartbreaking Snow Angels with an oddly appropriate mélange of stoner comedy and cheesy eighties action picture, with a process server (Seth Rogen) and his addled dealer (James Franco) on the run from low-rent sleazebags. The surprise of the film is not, as some have implied, Franco’s comic dexterity (he and Rogen had plenty of practice with that on Freaks and Geeks, and it pays off here) but the way that Green weaves in moments of lyrical everytown decrepitude. Jesse Hassenger

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Speed Racer

Director: Andy and Larry Wachowski
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox, Roger Allam, Paulie Litt, Benno Fürmann, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rain, Scott Porter, Richard Roundtree, Kick Gurry

(Warner Brothers)
US theatrical: 9 May 2008 (General release)
UK theatrical: 9 May 2008 (General release)

Review [9.May.2008]


Speed Racer Larry & Andy Wachowski

Andy and Larry Wachowski’s iteration of the popular manga and anime series synthesizes the spirit of its source materials with a revolutionary visual world and unexpected narrative complexity. Inaugurating the Sony F23 camera to explore an unprecedented color palette and constant sharp focus, this vision of the Racer family’s adventures is also deeply concerned with the moral universe of its characters. Past, present and future collide around hyperkinetic race sequences and a plot that pits corporate greed against family solidarity. The result is a maturation tale that evokes the theme of the original psychedelic road movie: there’s no place like home. Thomas Britt

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Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Hall, Joan Pera

(The Weinstein Company)
US theatrical: 15 Aug 2008 (Limited release)

Review [15.Aug.2008]


Vicky Cristina Barcelona Woody Allen

“We are meant for each other and not meant for each other. It’s a contradiction,” notes Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) halfway through Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and it’s the best synopsis you’ll find. As always, describing a Woody Allen film by focusing on plot is inherently futile; it’s the characters, stupid! And how rich, funny, moving, and deeply torn these characters are: Scarlet Johansson and Rebecca Hall, namely, as two opposite personalities whose summer trip to Barcelona turns into a bizarrely tangled love triangle. The true star, though, is Allen. What other director defines a genre (romantic comedy), and 30 years later ignores his own rules to craft a minor masterpiece? Zach Schonfeld

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Be Kind Rewind

Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Mos Def, Jack Black, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow, Melonie Diaz, Chandler Parker, Irv Gooch, Arjay Smith

(New Line Cinema)
US theatrical: 22 Feb 2008 (General release)
UK theatrical: 22 Feb 2008 (General release)

Review [18.Jun.2008]
Review [22.Feb.2008]


Be Kind Rewind Michel Gondry

Many films have been made about filmmaking, but few are able to explain to us why we care about filmmaking in the first place. Be Kind Rewind reminds its viewers that movies lie to us, and they are compromised by corporate power structures. But the film also reminds us that we put up with it all because, no matter what the warning at the beginning of the tape may say, movies are ultimately ours to keep, and to change, as part of our lived experience. With Be Kind Rewind, Michel Gondry continues to deliver childlike wonder to adult audiences. David Camak Pratt

Topics: aaron eckhart | alexis zegerman | alison pill | amber heard | amy ryan | andrea riseborough | angelina jolie | anil kapoor | anna deavere smith | anne hathaway | annie allix | arjay smith | barry greenhouse | be kind rewind | ben burtt | ben stiller | benicio del toro | benjamin benitez | benno fürmann | bill hader | bill irwin | brad pitt | brandon t. jackson | brian nobles | burn after reading | carl deal | carlos bardem | catalina sandino moreno | cate blanchett | catherine keener | catinca untaru | chandler parker | changeling | charlie mcdermott | che | christian bale | christina ricci | cloverfield | colm feore | craig robinson | daniel liu | danny boyle | danny glover | danny mcbride | david harbour | david rasche | debra winger | demián bichir | dev patel | dianne weist | diego luna | eddie marsan | edgar ramirez | elias koteas | elissa knight | elizabeth banks | elle fanning | ellen burstyn | elvira minguez | emile hirsch | emily watson | eric roberts | ernest "the cat" miller | ethan coen | evan rachel wood | faran tahir | forgetting sarah marshall | frances mcdormand | frank langella | franka potente | fred willard | freida pinto | frost/nixon | frozen river | gabe nevins | gary cole | gary oldman | geoff pierson | george clooney | griffin dunne | gwyneth paltrow | happy-go-lucky | heath ledger | hiroyuki sanada | hope davis | ioan gruffudd | iron man | irrfan khan | irv gooch | j.k. simmons | jack black | jake miller | james cromwell | james franco | james reilly | jamesw franco | jared harris | jason butler harner | jason flemying | jason mewes | jason ritter | jason segel | javier bardem | jay baruchel | jean françois heckel | jean-louis blondeau | jeanetta arnette | jeetu verma | jeff bridges | jeff garlin | jeffrey donovan | jeffrey wright | jerome baham | jessica lucas | jim moore | joan pera | joaquim de almeida | john goodman | john malkovich | john ratzenberger | jonah hill | josh brolin | jr. | julia ormond | justine waddell | kahlil mendez | kate beckinsale | kate winslet | kathryn hahn | kathy bates | kathy najimy | katie morgan | kendall "wink" rivers | kevin bacon | kevin corrigan | kick gurry | kim uylenbroek | kimberly roberts | kristen bell | larry simms | lauren mckinney | lee pace | leo bill | leonardo dicaprio | leslie bibb | lizzy caplan | lou diamond phillips | loveleen tandan | madhur mittal | maggie gyllenhaal | man on wire | marcus wesley | marisa tomei | mark boone junior | mark lewis | mather zickel | matthew fox | melissa leo | melonie diaz | mia farrow | michael angarano | michael caine | michael kelly | michael shannon | michael sheen | michael stahl-david | michelle williams | mickey rourke | mike vogel | mila kunis | milk | misty upham | morgan freeman | mos def | nick nolte | odette yustman | oliver platt | paranoid park | paul rudd | penélope cruz | philip seymour hoffman | philippe petit | pineapple express | rachel getting married | rain | rebecca hall | revolutionary road | richard dreyfuss | richard jenkins | richard roundtree | robert downey | robert downey jr. | robin smith | rodrigo santoro | rosemarie dewitt | rosie perez | russell brand | sally hawkins | sam rockwell | samantha morton | santiago cabrera | scarlett johansson | scott glenn | scott porter | scott roberts | sean penn | seth rogen | shaun toub | sigourney weaver | sinead matthews | slumdog millionaire | snow angels | speed racer | steve coogan | susan sarandon | synecdoche, new york | t.j. miller | taraji p. henson | taylor momsen | terrence howard | thandie newton | the curious case of benjamin button | the dark knight | the fall | the wrestler | tia lessin | tilda swinton | toby jones | tom noonan | traci lords | tropic thunder | trouble the water | tunde adebimpe | vicky cristina barcelona | victor rasuk | w. | yul vazquez | zack and miri make a porno
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