I know, I know. It’s May and I’m five months late after every other person in the world submitted their Top 10 list. Well, better late than never, right?
10. Wendy and Lucy
Here’s a film that I bet the majority of the public hasn’t even heard of. Starring Michelle Williams in an extremely raw and emotional performance, Wendy and Lucy tells the story of a poor woman who only has three things in her life: her broken down car, her dog, and hope. Two of those things are taken away from her and she spends the whole movie trying to get those things back solely from retaining her hope. Williams’ performance was Oscar worthy and the film, though stripped of dramatics and a complex plot, addresses the economic hardships of the nation on a very small scale. The ability to evoke emotion from such an independent film is remarkable.
I never thought that a historical retelling of a set of TV interviews from the 1970’s could be so thrilling. Credit the filmmakers and the actors for an excellent job at recreating the tension and what was at stake for Richard Nixon and David Frost. Based on a play, Frost/Nixon was adapted to the screen brilliantly by Ron Howard’s direction and Peter Morgan’s screenplay. Frank Langella shines in the role of Richard Nixon and Michael Sheen does a respectable job going head-to-head with the giant. This is surely a docu-drama for the ages.
Mike Leigh’s most recent film is probably his lightest, but by no means does that make this any less painfully intriguing than the rest of his collection. Starring the lovely Sally Hawkins as Poppy, a woman who lives everyday without much worry and puts a positive spin on everything, Happy-Go-Lucky is a dramedy that addresses the perception of happiness. The most memorable scenes are of Poppy taking driving lessons with Scott (the hilarious Eddie Marsan), which results in the film’s incredible climax. I love almost all of Mike Leigh’s work because they all contain so much depth inside the main characters and plot. This is a movie about much, much more than just a woman who smiles and laughs a lot. But Leigh expresses his messages in the most intelligent methods that makes his movies a true delight to witness.
7. The Wrestler
Darren Aronofsky strips away all that you knew of him from his past films for this doc-style insight on pro wrestling. Probably the most talked about performance of the year went to Mickey Rourke for his truthful portrayal of Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, who tries to amend his relationship with his daughter as his wrestling career is coming to an end. He also sparks up a relationship with Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), an aging stripper. Their lives and conflicts parallel each other in a beautiful story about doing things in your life for reasons other people might not fully understand. It’s the priorities of the characters’ actions that shape their personality. Randy ‘The Ram’ is easily one of the characters from 2008 I cared the most about.
6. The Dark Knight
I’ve never doubted Christopher Nolan’s ability to make truly stunning films, but I honestly never expected a film like The Dark Knight. Plagued with the high expectations from fans and critics all over the world, The Dark Knight shattered all the adversity and words like “masterpiece” were thrown around this super-hero film. On top of the film grossing over $533 million domestically and making box office records drop like flies, the side story was Heath Ledger’s memorable performance as The Joker. It is surely a performance that will go down as legendary. He picked up a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor as the evil villain opposite of Batman. Everyone who has seen it will probably say two things: One, Heath Ledger was amazing. Two, The Dark Knight is a lot more than just any other super-hero movie.
Arguably Gus Van Sant’s best film (imo, second-best behind Good Will Hunting), it’s undeniably an important film to see. The true life story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in history, is quite a tale. This movie will surely bring out a variety of feelings from aggression to disbelief to the inevitable sadness from Milk’s murder. Sean Penn’s portrayal of Harvey Milk won him the Oscar, which was more than deserving. Boasting an incredible supporting cast including Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, and James Franco, Milk is one of the best executed movies of the year.
4. Revolutionary Road
Sam Mendes returns to form since his 1999 masterpiece, American Beauty, with the adaptation of Justin Haythe’s novel Revolutionary Road. Reteaming the duo from Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet give riveting performances as a young couple who experience the ups and (mostly) downs of marriage. In this very intense drama, everything is so tightly wound-up between the couple that you’re on the edge of your seat waiting for them to explode. There is deception, cheating, depression, and plenty of fighting during this “hard to watch” flick. It’s painful to watch the couple try their best to save the downfalling marriage, only to shoot themselves in the foot time and time again. All in all, Revolutionary Road is a near masterpiece. Everything, from the pace of a walk, the glare of disappointment, to the lighting of the set is carefully done. This is truly a movie I cannot wait to watch again, and possibly again after that.
3. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
If there’s a director I adore as much as (or possibly even more) Christopher Nolan, it’s David Fincher. His sweeping epic was the talk of Oscar gold a year before the film was even released. It’s almost impossible to deal with that kind of scrutiny and the fact that it was nominated for 13 Oscars (only 3 wins) was an incredible feat. Brad Pitt starred as the titled character who ages backwards. Pitt gave quite a convincing performance, though many complimented the special effects more than his acting. The chemistry between Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett (Daisy) was what lifted this movie off the screen and into the audience’s heart. There have been a lot of comparisons to Forrest Gump and I admit, both films have their similarities (including the same screenwriter Eric Roth). But first of all, they’re not the same movie. They might deal with similar themes, but the path from A to B is completely different… rightfully so from a bizarre premise of a man who ages backwards. And secondly, if there is any movie in history that is worth retelling, that movie should be Forrest Gump (my favorite film of all-time).
2. Slumdog Millionaire
Is Jai-Ho still stuck in your head, too? Slumdog Millionaire does something exceptional… it succeeds in every aspect a movie tries to do. The plot is engaging, you care immensely for the characters, the suspense is heart-pounding, the romance is heart-melting, the music is catchy, and the ending is crowd-pleasing. What else could you ask for in a film? Danny Boyle was able to take a relatively unknown cast and bring out spectacular performances by everyone from the hard-edged gangsters to the mischievous youngsters. And the success this film received at the Oscars was well-deserved. This was easily one of the best films of the year, but in my opinion it wasn’t as good as…
I don’t even know where to start with this animated masterpiece. I know I’ve said this dozens of times but to reiterate, I absolutely love Pixar studios and the magic and high standard they bring to cinema. They’re definitely the best studio in the business right now and have been for the past decade. I don’t know how it’s possible, but they keep outdoing themselves time after time again. After thinking Finding Nemo would never be topped, Pixar released Ratatouille. Then after thinking Ratatouille would never be topped, WALL-E stunned me to no end. The risks this movie took must be addressed to explain its excellence. Who would’ve thought that with almost half the movie as a silent film, combined with a post-apocalyptic world as the setting would be a film for children? Not me. There were plenty of people with doubts that WALL-E could appeal to kids and adults the way Ratatouille did, and boy were they wrong.
The brilliance of WALL-E was how it had so many layers of storylines to fulfill everyone’s needs. For the kids, they saw this goofy and funny robot who fell in love with a much better looking robot and followed her around the universe just to get her. Basically, it was a romantic comedy. To the mature audience, WALL-E was a film that alerted you of the harsh and glum future the planet will turn into if you don’t take care of it now. In a time when it seems that everything has been done before, WALL-E is incredibly unique. There simply aren’t enough things I can say to recommend this movie for people of all ages to see. The robots contain more human charactistics than a lot of mainstream movies that are plagued with cliches. The story is as strong as one can be and packs meaning and heart. In my opinion, WALL-E is Pixar’s best film to date, and believe me… that means a lot.