Choosing a top-ten films list is an arbitrary and pointless exercise that fuels the mistaken notion that, where art is concerned, there has to even be a best of the year. But anyone who writes about film seems obligated to jot down a top ten list anyway, as if it means anything. My top ten list reflects the films that stayed with me the most and will likely embed themselves in my memory the longest.
Even though I am favoring the fiction this year, there have been some astounding documentaries, like Man on Wire, Dear Zachary, Polanski: Wanted and Desired, among others.
There are reasons for each of the films I have chosen but the strongest element is story, except where my number one film is concerned. Wall-E, Slumdog Millionaire and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are all great stories well told. They catch you up in them immediately and don’t let you go until the story is done. Of these, Wall-E and Slumdog Millionaire have the best happy endings in memory. In a sense, they are quite similar. They are both about love and they are both about an underdog trash dweller who puts it all on the line for a massive return.
Danny Boyle has to be among the best living film directors. With masterpieces like Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and Millions behind him, Slumdog Millionaire is everything he has ever done and more. It is epic, alive, tragic, celebratory it is all of these things and yet somehow it lacks any deeper meaning beyond the surface poetry it provides. And in the end, that doesn’t seem to matter much, especially in the year Barack Obama was elected to the Presidency.
It is what William Blake once wrote, “exuberance is beauty,” and in this case, it is enough. Wall-E has a bit more to say about our experience here, what we have become and what we are on our way to becoming. It tells us to take back our life and not let it be kidnapped by corporations invested in keeping us docile, immobile, and consuming.
But the number one film of 2008 has to be Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster, The Dark Knight. It is a Batman movie yes, and that is likely to turn people off. Its story is somewhat muddled and it kind of rambles along pointlessly at times, but the film itself is such a dazzler, so giant and overwhelming, that it nonetheless towers over everything else this year.
The closest film that comes to topping it in terms of scope is David Fincher’s beautiful Benjamin Button, which is a technical marvel but is also deeply moving and sad. It is a film for those of us over youth and on our way to the other side, which means it won’t resonate for everyone, but for those for whom the bell tolls, it bangs like a gong.
Top Ten Films of 2008
1. The Dark Knight
3. Slumdog Millionaire
4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
5. The Wrestler
6. Revolutionary Road
9. Frozen River
10. Burn After Reading
Top Ten Performances of 2008
1. Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
2. Melissa Leo, Frozen River
3. Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road
4. Meryl Streep, Doubt
5. Leonardo DiCaprio,
6. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
7. Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire
8. Sean Penn, Milk
9. Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
10. Brad Pitt, The Curious Case
of Benjamin Button