The New Classics – The 30 Best Films of 2008

Director: Kevin Smith
Film: Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Cast: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Katie Morgan, Traci Lords
Website: http://www.zackandmiri.com/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-10-31 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2008-11-14 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/z/zachmiripornposter.jpg

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List number: 30

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

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Film: Che
Studio: Focus Features
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
Website: http://www.cheelargentino.com/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-12-12 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2009-02-20 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/c/cheposter.jpg

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List number: 29

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

Che

Director: Nicholas Stoller
Film: Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Studio: Universal Pictures
Cast: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Bill Hader, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd
Website: http://www.forgettingsarahmarshall.com/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/58/4958/videos/?s=trailers
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-04-18 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2008-04-25 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/f/forgetting-sarah-marshall-poster.jpg

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List number: 28

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

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Director: Clint Eastwood
Film: Changeling
Studio: Universal Pictures
Cast: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Amy Ryan, Geoff Pierson, Jeffrey Donovan, Jason Butler Harner, Colm Feore, Michael Kelly
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2008
Distributor: Universal
US Release Date: 2008-10-24
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/c/changeling-poster.jpg

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List number: 27

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

Changeling

Director: Tarsem
Film: The Fall
Studio: Roadside Attractions
Cast: Catinca Untaru, Justine Waddell, Lee Pace, Marcus Wesley, Kim Uylenbroek, Robin Smith, Jeetu Verma, Leo Bill
Website: http://www.thefallthemovie.com/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/independent/thefall/
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2008-05-09 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/t/the-fall-poster.jpg

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List number: 26

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

The Fall

Director: Ben Stiller
Film: Tropic Thunder
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Cast: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey, Jr., Steve Coogan, Brandon T. Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Nick Nolte
Website: http://www.tropicthunder.com/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-08-13 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2008-09-19 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/t/tropic-thunder-poster.jpg

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List number: 25

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

Tropic Thunder

Director: David Gordon Green
Film: Pineapple Express
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Cast: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Amber Heard, Rosie Perez, Gary Cole, Craig Robinson, Kevin Corrigan, Bill Hader
Website: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/pineappleexpress/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
Distributor: Sony
US Release Date: 2008-08-06 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2008-09-12 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/p/pineapple_express.jpg

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List number: 24

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

Pineapple Express

Display Artist: Andy and Larry Wachowski
Director: Andy
Director: Larry Wachowski
Film: Speed Racer
Studio: Warner Brothers
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
Website: http://speedracerthemovie.warnerbros.com/
MPAA rating: PG
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-05-09 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2008-05-09 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/s/speedracerposter.jpg

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List number: 23

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

Speed Racer

Director: Woody Allen
Film: Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Hall, Joan Pera
MPAA rating: PG-13
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-08-15 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/v/vicky_cristina_barcelona_p.jpg

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List number: 22

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

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Director: Michel Gondry
Film: Be Kind Rewind
Studio: New Line Cinema
Cast: Mos Def, Jack Black, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow, Melonie Diaz, Chandler Parker, Irv Gooch, Arjay Smith
Website: http://www.bekindmovie.com/
MPAA rating: PG-13
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/35/4935/videos/?s=trailers
First date: 2008
Distributor: New Line
US Release Date: 2008-02-22 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2008-02-22 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/b/be-kind-rewind-poster.jpg

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List number: 21

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

Be Kind Rewind

20 – 11

Director: Matt Reeves
Film: Cloverfield
Studio: Paramount
Cast: Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller
Website: http://www.cloverfieldmovie.com/
MPAA rating: PG-13
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/53/5153/videos/?s=trailers
First date: 2008
Distributor: Paramount
US Release Date: 2008-01-18 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2008-02-01 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/c/cloverfield-poster.jpg

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List number: 20

Cloverfield

Matt Reeves

Cloverfield was quickly and unfairly maligned by the lightweights (just kidding) who suffered from motion sickness due to the film’s shaky camerawork. It was also dinged for everything from its ramshackle plotline to the believability of the monster. Truth is, both the camera style and the plot should have been givens going in to anyone who had prior knowledge of the premise. Cloverfield sets out to turn the classic giant monster movie on its ear by focusing on a group of everyday civilians caught up in the carnage between monster and military. The terror the characters experience is made palpable by the handheld camera point of view. Drew Goddard’s smart and witty script hits all the right notes without bothering to dwell on contextually inconsequential details like where the creature came from or if it was ultimately defeated. A reinvention, even a successful one, rarely wins over everyone the first time out. But Cloverfield is a great thrill ride of a movie that also has both style and intelligence. Chris Conaton

Cloverfield

Display Artist: Tia Lessin, Carl Deal
Director: Tia Lessin
Director: Carl Deal
Film: Trouble the Water
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
Cast: Kimberly Roberts, Scott Roberts, Brian Nobles, Jerome Baham, Kendall “Wink” Rivers, Larry Simms
Website: http://troublethewaterfilm.com/
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://troublethewaterfilm.com/troublethewater/about_the_film/trailer
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-08-22 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/t/trouble-the-water-poster.jpg

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List number: 19

Trouble the Water

Carl Deal & Tia Lessin

It’s the footage that’s the hook. Trouble the Water takes some amazing material shot by New Orleans resident Kimberly Roberts Rivers during the Hell on Earth that was Hurricane Katrina, and juxtaposes it with documentary footage of her and her husband Scott trying to rebuild their lives. But it’s the horrendous treatment of these refugees by their own government, an uncaring cabal of politicos and bureaucrats incapable of seeing beyond the red tape that really affects. In a year of factual triumphs, where one man was commemorated for literally walking between the Twin Towers of American capitalism, this is the truer example of abject human courage. Bill Gibron

Trouble the Water

Display Artist: Joel and Ethan Coen
Director: Joel
Director: Ethan Coen
Film: Burn After Reading
Studio: Focus Features
Cast: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich, Richard Jenkins, David Rasche, J.K. Simmons
Website: http://www.burnafterreading.com–live.com/#/home
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-09-12 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2008-10-17 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/b/burnafterreadingposter.jpg

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List number: 18

Burn After Reading

Joel & Ethan Coen

Fresh off a Best Picture win for their darkest, most brooding work in years and how do the Coens respond? Another sharp left: Burn After Reading is a raving screwball comedy with a plot like a Rube Goldberg device. It’s a deeply hilarious film — especially Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand as bumbling, clueless fitness instructors who happen upon a disc of “secret CIA shit” — but as the credits roll, I find myself wondering if the biggest joke is on us. The film zigzags absurdly toward… well, two CIA agents struggling to make sense out of senselessness, like a gentle mocking of every film major who’s ever philosophized over hidden meanings in, say, Barton Fink. Self-parody has never felt so right. Zach Schonfeld

Burn After Reading

Director: Gus Van Sant
Film: Paranoid Park
Studio: IFC First Take
Cast: Gabe Nevins, Daniel Liu, Taylor Momsen, Jake Miller, Lauren McKinney
Website: http://www.paranoidpark.co.uk/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/independent/paranoidpark/
First date: 2007
Distributor: Ifc
US Release Date: 2008-03-07 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2007-12-26 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/p/paranoid-park-poster.jpg

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List number: 17

Paranoid Park

Gus Van Sant

Gus Van Sant circles in and around the tragic occurrence in Paranoid Park, but it doesn’t necessarily drive, or finally define, his film. Nor do the would-be teen romances, familial problems, or police inquiries that also contribute to the general storyline. Adapted from a young adult novel, this is that rare innocence-lost yarn that expends real time and thought considering the ephemeral quality of youth. Yet Van Sant doesn’t just ponder this as a vague concept; he expresses it, really gets inside it, through a combination of film and digital photography (no form is better suited to exploring the ephemeral), crafting a picture that feels a lot like riding a skateboard down the sidewalk on a crisp, overcast Fall day. Josh Timmerman

Paranoid Park

Director: David Gordon Green
Film: Snow Angels
Studio: Warner Independent Pictures
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Griffin Dunne, Michael Angarano, Jeanetta Arnette
Website: http://wip.warnerbros.com/snowangels/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/39/5039/videos/?s=trailers
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2008-03-07 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/s/snow-angels-poster.jpg

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List number: 16

Snow Angels

David Gordon Green

It was a year of relocation for David Gordon Green: on the path from the dreamy, post-industrial South of his first three films to the Apatow country of Pineapple Express, he took a brief, beautiful detour into wintry rural Pennsylvania for Snow Angels. But as with the Apatow production, Green keeps his sensibilities intact while serving the story, here an adaptation of a novel that provides just enough narrative momentum to sustain Green’s lovely rhythms. Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell play estranged high-school sweethearts struggling to keep their adult lives together, while Michael Angarano and Olivia Thirlby are sweet teenagers in the beginning of young love — either a hopeful counterpoint or haunting echo, or maybe both. Jesse Hassenger

Snow Angels

Director: Ron Howard
Film: Frost/Nixon
Studio: Universal Pictures
Cast: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, Rebecca Hall
Website: http://www.frostnixon.net/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-12-05 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2009-01-23 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/f/frost-nixon-official-poster.jpg

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List number: 15

Frost/Nixon

Ron Howard

Frank Langella’s Richard Nixon is a variation on the same tragic figure we know from Oliver Stone’s 1995 biopic — bitter, conniving, hunched, desperate to secure his legacy, railing privately against the privilege and charisma of his foes. The difference here? Context. “I am not a crook,” the Checkers speech, the 1960 debates — these classic Tricky moments are so engrained in our cultural consciousness as to render the Frost interviews a mere footnote, a sort of postscript to Watergate. Yet Ron Howard, talented storyteller that he is, chose wisely to cast Langella and Sheen (both veterans from the play); and through this fictionalized rendering the interviews become a career-defining catharsis for the two — a powerful showdown between two men, their dignity, and a TV camera. Stunning. Zach Schonfeld

Frost/Nixon

Director: Courtney Hunt
Film: Frozen River
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Melissa Leo, Misty Upham, Charlie McDermott, Mark Boone Junior, James Reilly
Website: http://www.sonyclassics.com/frozenriver/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1809959635/trailer
First date: 2008
Distributor: Sony
US Release Date: 2008-08-01 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/f/frozen-river-poster1.jpg

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List number: 14

Frozen River

Courtney Hunt

Writer-Director Courtney Hunt, in exploring a fascinating, frigid little corner of the country, manages to tackle so many hot-button topics over Frozen River’s brisk running time that one would think she would be bound to stumble on one of her finer points somewhere. Race relations, prejudice, trust between women, aging, and single motherhood in a time of national financial crisis are a few of the ideas Hunt completely fleshes out with the help of her two leading ladies: the magnificent Melissa Leo as fraught smuggler Ray Eddy and Misty Upham. The newcomer turns in a luminous debut performance as Lila, perhaps the most un-clichéd, best-written Native American female character in American cinema history (yes, she and the role are that good!). With an intellectual, pummeling veracity, Hunt executes a film that is sparse, powerful and assured. Finally, we have a feminist movie, made by a woman, starring women that is about real women’s issues. Yet, because of this, and because of Hollywood’s idiotic bias against films by female directors, Hunt is not getting the kind of awards circuit praise she and her first film truly deserve. Matt Mazur

Frozen River

Director: Jon Favreau
Film: Iron Man
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Studio: Marvel Studios
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Leslie Bibb
Website: http://ironmanmovie.marvel.com/
MPAA rating: PG-13
Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount/ironman/
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-05-02 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2008-05-02 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/i/iron-man-poster1.jpg

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List number: 13

Iron Man

Jon Favreau

Many have claimed that Iron Man outperforms its genre. The fact of the matter, though, is that films like Spiderman and Batman Begins set a pretty high standard for superhero movies in the 21st century. The plot and subject matter of Iron Man are complex and politically relevant, and these are admirable qualities, to be sure, but Jon Favreau’s superhero movie is not the first to display them. So what really sets Iron Man apart? Robert Downey Jr.’s performance. Nobody has ever played a cooler superhero, and, above all else, cool is what a superhero needs to be. David Camak Pratt

Iron Man

Director: Jonathan Demme
Film: Rachel Getting Married
Studio: Sony
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Debra Winger, Bill Irwin, Mather Zickel, Anna Deavere Smith, Tunde Adebimpe
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-10-03 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/r/rachel-getting-married.jpg

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List number: 12

Rachel Getting Married

Jonathan Demme

Opting neither for the easy cynicism of Baumbach nor for cheap Hallmark sap, Rachel Getting Married side-steps categorization and becomes the truest look at family dynamics of recent memory. It’s a joyful party just like the best weddings, but it’s filled out by some of the bleakest familial drama imaginable. The marriage of material is perfectly judged by director Jonathan Demme who adeptly guides us (literally sometimes, via his handheld style) through a brilliantly realized sea of bitterness, tears, music, laughter and, most importantly, love. Because, to quote one of the film’s many toasts: “Without love… just destroy it all.” Aaron Marsh

Rachel Getting Married

Director: Oliver Stone
Film: W.
Studio: Lionsgate
Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, James Cromwell, Ellen Burstyn, Ioan Gruffudd, Richard Dreyfuss, Thandie Newton, Scott Glenn, Jeffrey Wright, Jason Ritter, Toby Jones
Website: http://www.wthefilm.com/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-10-17 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2008-11-07 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/w/w_ver3.jpg

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List number: 11

W.

Oliver Stone

George W. Bush may not be the worst President in the history of the U.S., though he seems to be willing to fight for said slot, and outside of his cavalcade of crazed advisors, one senses he may be a decent enough man. Yet there is something inherently unbalanced about the man, from many of his policy decisions to the unsound company he keeps. This is the angle taken by Oliver Stone in his sensational example of present political theater, W. Witty and wicked, it makes you feel sorry for the sullen Momma’s boy who only wanted his connected DC daddy’s approval. Sadly, the country paid the price for such interpersonal ambitions. Bill Gibron

W.

10 – 1

Director: Mike Leigh
Film: Happy-Go-Lucky
Studio: Miramax
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman, Andrea Riseborough, Sinead Matthews
Website: http://www.happygoluckythemovie.com/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
Distributor: Mirimax
US Release Date: 2008-10-10 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2008-04-18 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/h/happy_go_lucky.jpg

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List number: 10

Happy-Go-Lucky

Mike Leigh

“In some respects, it is of course, different from quite a lot of my films. Of course it also has its dark moments. But yes, I did want to make a film when I started, and call it an “anti-miserablist film”. Its very hard actually, because I’ve been in the habit of saying that, you know, we are making a mess of the world and things, and things are bad, which they are obviously in every kind of way, and there yet people out there getting on with it. I think Poppy [Sally Hawkins] is just such a person. The current news from Gaza is such that just to say, blithely, “but we must all just be positive and not let it bring us down” — because it’s very hard to not be anything other than seriously depressed about it. But, however, people do get on with it. The “Poppys” of this world who are good teachers of the next or future generations and are cherishing and nurturing them are being positive and Poppy is a positive person, really. See, it’s all about that, and I think, and you haven’t said this, of course, but there are people who talk about Poppy as being “relentlessly cheerful” and relentlessly happy. I think that’s rubbish, basically. I don’t think she’s any of those things. I think she’s sensible, serious, committed, intelligent, sophisticated and has a sense of irony. But, she also has this great sense of humor which sometimes gets the better of her.”

— Mike Leigh as told to Matt Mazur on January 5th, 2008 in Manhattan Matt Mazur

Happy-Go-Lucky

Director: James Marsh
Film: Man on Wire
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Cast: Philippe Petit, Jean-Louis Blondeau, Annie Allix, Jim Moore, Mark Lewis, Jean François Heckel, Barry Greenhouse
Website: http://www.manonwire.com/
MPAA rating: PG-13
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/video/V08G14adpuLSUY
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-07-25 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2008-08-01 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/m/man-on-wire-poster.jpg

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List number: 9

Man on Wire

James Marsh

Man on Wire is about more than a fantastic stunt. It is, implicitly, about September 11, 2001. Ultimately, when a police officer speculates that nothing like Philippe Petit’s act would be seen again, his words resonate, even though, in 1974, such poignance could not have been intended. It is also, unexpectedly, about friendship. The film’s interviews and reenactments narrate both the caper and the breaking of personal bonds. Man on Wire, quietly and powerfully, shows that it is possible to ask too much of those who care about you. Shaun Huston

Man on Wire

Director: David Fincher
Film: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Tilda Swinton, Elle Fanning, Julia Ormond, Jason Flemying, Elias Koteas, Jared Harris
Website: http://www.benjaminbutton.com/
MPAA rating: PG-13
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-12-25 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2009-02-06 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/b/benjamin-button-poster.jpg

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List number: 8

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

David Fincher

Even with the lashings of southern cornpone and the hard-to-swallow plot machinations — courtesy of writer Eric “Forrest Gump” Roth — David Fincher’s darkly gorgeous romance just about takes your breath away. Brad Pitt does his best acting in years as the eternal innocent, a foundling abandoned in New Orleans at the end of World War I who gets younger as he gets older, while Cate Blanchett glows as his naturally-aging beloved. When the two meet in the middle of their lives, for those few perfect years, the film takes on the shimmer of fable. Chris Barsanti

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Director: Sam Mendes
Film: Revolutionary Road
Studio: Paramount Vantage
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Michael Shannon, David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-12-26 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2009-01-30 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/r/revolutionary-road-poster.jpg

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List number: 7

Revolutionary Road

Sam Mendes

Unless you enjoy marital boxing matches, lots of cheating and suburban suffocation, you’re probably going to find Revolutionary Road anything but entertainment. Then again, that’s much of the point, especially considering the flawless casting of our very own icons of romance from the towering Titanic. Seeing those two slip into a familiar, venomous routine hits on a gut level harder than any other couple could. It’s frequently unpleasant, but as a cautionary tale on the fading of romance and the death of the suburban soul, few films have cut this deep. Aaron Marsh

Revolutionary Road

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Film: The Wrestler
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Ernest “The Cat” Miller
Website: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/thewrestler/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://video.aol.com/video/the-wrestler-trailer-no-1/2343224
First date: 2008
Distributor: Fox
US Release Date: 2008-12-17 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2009-01-16 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/w/wrestler-poster.jpg

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List number: 6

The Wrestler

Darren Aronofsky

Sometimes an actor and a character are fated to meet on film. In even rarer cases, these dueling personalities are opposite sides of the same coin. In the case of has-been actor Mickey Rourke and the role of washed-up professional wrestler Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, there was quite simply no other actor capable of embodying such a flawed yet emotionally sympathetic character. Each frayed relationship depicted in The Wrestler is written in the crevices of Rourke’s subtly expressive face — a lifetime of professional miscues bubbling just beneath the surface. And yet this isn’t just an exorcism of a careers-worth of demons, but also the performance that Rourke has been building towards over the course of a decade spent in exile. Jordan Cronk

The Wrestler

Director: Christopher Nolan
Film: The Dark Knight
Studio: Warner Brothers
Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Eric Roberts, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman
Website: http://thedarkknight.warnerbros.com/
MPAA rating: PG-13
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-07-18 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2008-07-21 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/d/dark_knight.jpg

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List number: 5

The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan’s Batman epic runs 152 minutes long, and 100 percent of that running time feels like climax — the audience is afforded no setup, no catharsis, no dénouement in which to catch its breath. Propelling the story forward at this breakneck speed is a quartet of stellar performances — Heath Ledger’s Joker being the most celebrated, though not the only one worth watching — each of which embodies a character that lives on a spectrum of morality that doesn’t quite fit into the easy “good” and “evil” dichotomy of most comic-book films. And, unlike Nolan’s non-Batman pictures, no narrative trickery is employed; the characters are set in motion, and we get to watch as they race to the film’s dark conclusion. The result is as thought-provoking as it is pulse-pounding. Marisa LaScala

The Dark Knight

Director: Andrew Stanton
Film: WALL∙E
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Cast: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy, Sigourney Weaver
Website: http://disney.go.com/disneypictures/wall-e/
MPAA rating: G
Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/disney/walle/hd/
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-06-27 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2008-07-18 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/w/wall-eposter.jpg

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List number: 4

WALL-E

Andrew Stanton

What I love most about Wall-E, Pixar’s triumphant masterpiece and the best film of 2008, is the sheer audacity of it. Imagine the pitch for this: “We, Pixar, propose a for all intents and purposes wordless romantic comedy about a cute little sentient trash compactor and his intergalactic courtship with a sleek alien probe shaped like an Ipod earbud (or an egg), set on a bleak post-apocalyptic Planet Earth among the heaping detritus of long-since-fled humanity. With this promising set up, we, Pixar, resolve to take audiences’ breath repeatedly away; deliver a high level of physical comedy and sight gags; deliver a cautionary environmental message; and make grown men cry.” That they proposed this at all is a testament to Pixar’s perennial nerviness and ambition. That they succeeded so brilliantly, is testament to their undisputed genius. Jake Meaney

WALL∙E

Director: Charlie Kaufman
Film: Synecdoche, New York
Studio: Sony Classics
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, Hope Davis, Emily Watson, Dianne Weist, Tom Noonan
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2008
Distributor: Sony
US Release Date: 2008-10-24
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/s/synecdochenewyorkposter.jpg

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List number: 3

Synecdoche, New York

Charlie Kaufman

Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York is a landmark film in the history of artistic overreaching. The premise is almost inexplicable: a talented theatre director, Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is awarded a MacArthur genius with which he attempts to reconcile his depression, failing marriage and general angst by creating a replica of his world inside an enormous warehouse in New York City. A cast of characters in his piece parallels those of the film until the effect begins to double and nest and there are more cities inside cities. However, the film becomes absolutely beautiful right about the time you realize this microcosmic effect will never succeed. The shortcomings of the film’s conceit become the shortcoming of Cotard and, in a deft metafilmic turn, the film itself becomes the paragon mirror of life that Cotard tries to create in his warehouse. This is brilliant and insane film at its best. Erik Hinton

Synecdoche, New York

Display Artist: Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan
Director: Danny Boyle
Director: Loveleen Tandan
Film: Slumdog Millionaire
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Cast: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan
Website: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/slumdogmillionaire/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/fox_searchlight/slumdogmillionaire/
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-11-12 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2009-01-09 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/s/slumdog-millionaire-poster.jpg

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List number: 2

Slumdog Millionaire

Danny Boyle

There ought to be a law against Danny Boyle and his undeniable moviemaking brilliance. After all, if every film threatened to take your breath away as often and as intensely as this Englishman’s many cinematic masterworks, the government should at least step in and find a way to stick a warning label on it. After the serious sci-fi stunner Sunshine, Boyle’s trip into the darkened heart of impoverished India is the perfect illustration of celluloid as avant-art. From landscapes that literally look alien in nature and creation, to a simple love story spread out among elements both tragic and electric, this is perhaps the best film of Boyle’s already illustrious career — and this is the man who gave us Trainspotting, Millions, and 28 Days Later, mind you. Bill Gibron

Slumdog Millionaire

Director: Gus Van Sant
Film: Milk
Studio: Focus Features
Cast: Sean Penn, Jamesw Franco, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Alison Pill, Diego Luna
Website: http://filminfocus.com/focus-movies/milk/movie-splash.php
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-11-26 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2009-01-16 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/m/milk-poster.jpg

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List number: 1

Milk

Gus Van Sant

Harvey Milk was more than just a crusader. He was much more than a civil rights icon struck down by an unhinged, unhappy assassin. He was more than a symbol of gay pride, or growing minority power, or of community organization and activism. First and foremost, he was a man — a complicated, sometimes incomplete man… and it’s within all these conflicting and shifting paradigms that Gus Van Sant delivers the year’s most devastating personal portrait. Fueled by the best work of Sean Penn’s career, and a supporting cast that each provides their own individual knock out blows, the rise and horrific fall of this middle aged maverick is not the story of some martyr. Milk may have indeed died for what he believed in, but it’s clear that in this battle between right and wrong, everyone shares some blame. Sadly, we as a society have learned very little in the last 30 years. Indeed, in addition to its artistic merits, it is the importance of the subject matter and its relevance to the issue of GLBT rights in America now that makes this film PopMatters’ #1 pick for 2008. Bill Gibron

Milk

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