*Note: The following is part of the continuing "10 FOR 10" series in celebration of ten years of Jeremy The Critic, in which my choices for the top 10 films of each year from 2006-2015 are revealed. Don't forget to check out my previous posts for 2006 and 2007. This installment will be focusing on 2008. Just a reminder that movies must have a U.S. release date of that particular year in order to qualify.
It's time to put 2008 to bed. If forced to rank, I'd probably name this the second weakest year covered in this series behind 2006. Like '07, I did compile a belated Top 10 list for this year, but very much unlike 07, a disappointed resignation accompanied my choices as I bemoaned their many flaws. Eight years later, few will be shocked at the films that made it, but may be taken aback somewhat at the order, which has changed considerably with time.
The Dark Knight, already an iffy choice for the top spot, loses that position here, dropping to a still respectable number 3. Let's face it: It has issues and the overabundance of superhero movies since has either hurt or helped its cause depending on whether you'd classify it as one. If nothing else, it'll always be remembered for Heath Ledger's posthumous Oscar-winning performance, which far surpasses the film it's in, which is still groundbreaking in many ways, arguably representing the high-water mark for director Christopher Nolan. But count me among the very few who prefer its sequel, The Dark Knight Rises.
Time has been kinder than expected to Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire, in hindsight one of the wiser Academy choices compared to what we've gotten since. Every time it comes on, it's tough to look away. Gran Torino holds steady as possibly the best late-era Eastwood entry while WALL-E becomes the first animated feature to make one of my lists, with few Pixar films measuring up to it since. Its existence as a weird political timepiece/character study and the great work from Josh Brolin and the entire cast surprisingly allows secures Oliver Stone's W. to sneak in.
David Fincher pops up again with Benjamin Button, but even with its incredible final hour I'd still have problems defending it as one of his stronger career efforts, much less worthy of the top spot. Revolutionary Road and Frost/Nixon are both so ridiculously underrated that I actually contemplated sliding them into the top two slots just to make a point. I resisted because neither really get over that hump that takes it to the next level. Still, I'd contend both are near-flawless, representing the best the decade has to offer (especially the latter, which grows more exciting on each rewatch). Roger Ebert's favorite film of the decade, Synecdoche, New York, is certainly challenging and ambitious enough to take top honors, but could I sit down and easily watch it right now? Probably not, as I'd have to be in the right frame of mind, but its standing here may as well be a vote of supreme respect for what director Charlie Kaufman and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (in maybe his greatest role) accomplish.
But almost by process of elimination, it's The Wrestler for the win, a movie that's proven to hold the highest rewatch value for me despite its depressing subject matter and the fact that I initially thought Aronofsky's film arrived too late to open enough eyes to what actually goes on within the pro wrestling world. History has proven that theory wrong and as much as Mickey Rourke's tried (and largely succeeded) at squandering the goodwill of his comeback, there's no taking this performance away. It probably wouldn't my top ten or fifteen films of the decade, but doesn't need to. It just needed to be the best of 2008. Some runners-up that didn't make the list include In Bruges and Pineapple Express (both of which made my previous one) Wendy and Lucy, Son of Rambow, Rachel Gettting Married and The Visitor. Next up is 2009, where my crutch of referencing a previous list to inform these rankings falls by the wayside. From here on, the results get a bit crazier and more unpredictable.
"Stone paints (Bush) as an underachiever, full of self-doubt and burdened by expectations. In doing that, he sets the stage for the film’s most frightening realization: He’s just like us. And whether we want to admit it or not, there’s no guarantee we could have done a better job in the White House under similar circumstances. But more importantly, in being the first biopic to centered around a current sitting President’s legacy, we’re robbed of time, distance and historical context in examining the film, making for a fascinating character study." - 10/24/08
9. Gran Torino
"It helps that WALL-E, part Charlie Chaplin, part R2D2, is the most adorable onscreen creation since E.T. All the details of his personality and how they’re conveyed onscreen are amazing, like when he shakes uncontrollably and collapses himself into a box to hide when he’s frightened. We recognize his quirks, relate and empathize with him as if he were real, and the story becomes that much more involving because of it." - 7/10/08
7. Slumdog Millionaire
"The flashbacks span years with three different actors playing the characters at various points, tragic circumstances eventually separating them, until all paths lead to the moment Jamal appears on the show. As we’re given each question we’re also given the accompanying story behind it. They range from “Who invented the revolver?” to “Which historical figure is on the $100 bill?” The film constantly astonishes in how the answers show up in his life. One early query involving a Bollywood star, has a payoff that’s both touching, disgusting and hysterical all at the same time. We know the ending but it doesn’t matter. What matters is how Jamal gets to it, and that’s what kept my mouth open in amazement the entire time." - 12/19/08
6. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
"An accident befalls a character and Fincher flashes back, showing us all the little, seemingly meaningless events that had to fall perfectly into place for that event to occur. Had one of those tiny circumstances not happened, there's no accident and the paths of those involved would have been considerably altered. Life is a series of windows, opening and closing at very specific times, which can be a source of both joy and unbearable sadness. We have control over it…and we don’t. That’s life, and this film is rich with every little detail of it." - 2/20/09
"After a while we realize that Nixon’s obsession with “beating” Frost has more to do with him actually wanting to be him. Beyond simply being jealous of his youth and success, in Frost he sees the man he could have been if only he had the people skills. His fixation on every detail of the interviewer's life, from his shoes to his girlfriend, suggest what in Nixon’s personality really caused the Watergate break-in and why he so sloppily covered it up. For Nixon, he and Frost are really two sides of the same coin. Both have accomplished much in their given fields, with neither being taken seriously or respected in the slightest." - 2/12/09
4. Revolutionary Road
"Fans of Titanic who waited over a decade to see the re-teaming of Kate and Leo will probably want to hang themselves by the time the final credits roll. This is not an epic romance, or even a romance at all. Despite the fact it was misleadingly marketed as Titanic 2, there isn't a single romantic element in it. It's closer to a horror movie. Think Pleasantville meets Rosemary's Baby with a side helping of Mad Men thrown in for good measure." - 6/7/09
3. The Dark Knight
"While played by Ledger as a sick hybrid of Clockwork Orange's Alex and Sid Vicious of The Sex Pistols, the Joker still bares no resemblance to any villain previously committed to film. It's truly the definitive portrayal of this iconic character, with the actor making Cesar Romero and even Jack Nicholson look like clowns hired for a children's birthday party. Every moment he's on screen is pure terror and Nolan is smart enough to know the right dose of screen time to give him." - 7/20/08
2. Synecdoche, New York
"Watching, you might be reminded of more films exploring similar themes of mortality, human existence, forgiveness, love, and regret in very unconventional ways. But none like this. My mind immediately turned, in either method or execution, to pictures like Vanilla Sky, Magnolia, Adaptation, Stranger Than Fiction and I Heart Huckabees. It shares its dark humor with Huckabees, as well a similarly whimsical John Brion score, but Like Nicolas Cage's Kaufman doppelganger in Adaptation, Caden seems to represent the filmmakers' perception of himself and his failures. This introduces an intriguing question. Can you criticize Kaufman for self-indulgence when the film is actually ABOUT a director's self-indulgence and how it destroys him?" - 3/11/09
1. The Wrestler
" This isn’t a feel-good movie about redemption, overcoming the odds or even winning the big match. If pushed for comparisons, it comes closest in tone to the gritty Raging Bull, digging so deep and pulling so few punches that the professional wrestling industry as a whole had no choice but to disown it. The accolades and superlatives for that accomplishment belong to Aronofsky, and especially Mickey Rourke, drawing on a well-documented lifetime of pain and suffering to give a performance for the ages." - 1/25/09
Top 10 Films of 2008
1. The Wrestler (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
2. Synecdoche, New York (dir. Charlie Kaufman)
3. The Dark Knight (dir. Christopher Nolan)
4. Revolutionary Road (dir. Sam Mendes)
5. Frost/Nixon (dir. Ron Howard)
6. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (dir. David Fincher)
7. Slumdog Millionaire (dir. Dannny Boyle)
8. WALL-E (dir. Andrew Stanton)
9. Gran Torino (dir. Clint Eastwood)
10. W. (dir. Oliver Stone)