The Top 10 Films 0f 2008 I Still Want/Need To See

December 6, 2008

I know I’ve been putting (what seems to me) like a lot of lists lately. But this one is a personal one. It’s the top 10 films of 2008 that I still want/need to see. They’re not in any particular order. I pretty much want to see one as much as another, so I just put them in alphabetical order.

The reasons for why Doubt is on the list are obvious, I think. Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour-Hoffman and Amy Adams. Streep and Seymour-Hoffman are, without a doubt, two of the best actors working today. Bring in Amy Adams, someone who’s bound for great things and one has to wonder: how can this combination go wrong? The fact that the film is written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name only makes things more exciting.

Already being touted as a huge Best Picture contender for the Oscars, it seems doubtful that it won’t receive a number of Oscar Nominations. Ron Howard’s directing is being touted as his best, which considering some of his other films, is very high praise indeed. Of course, the acting here is the real key to why I want to see this film so badly. Although Michael Sheen’s turn as David Frost is receiving praise, it’s Frank Langella’s turn as Richard Nixon that’s being hailed as the performance of a lifetime. One of those, “he doesn’t so much imitate _____ as he does embody him” performances. I’d truly love to see it.

Frozen River
Earlier in the year, this small movie was released, and immediately, people were declaring that it was the beginning of Oscar season. Why? Melissa Leo’s performance. This is a movie I wanted to see when it was first released. It’s a film that I still want to see. The fact that my desire to see it is still pervading is enough. The fact that Leo’s performance is still being talked about can only mean one thing: Oscar.

I recently watched Mike Leigh’s film Vera Drake, which received huge praise and admiration. Of course, most of that praise was directly for Imelda Staunton, but Leigh’s directing was subtle, controlled and precise. I immediately wanted to see more of his work (and I know there’s other films of his I probably already should have seen). Of course, besides Mike Leigh behind the helm, it’s a surprise turn by Sally Hawkins that has me curious and excited to see this movie. I’ve heard such great things, including the possibility that she might sneak in a Best Actress nod come time for Oscar Nominations. For me, that seals the deal.

Gus Van Sant is back with something a little more mainstream that most of his recent outings. By “mainstream”, I mean in the sense of Good Will Hunting. From what I’ve heard, the entire cast here shines, but especially Sean Penn, who gives one of his best (if not his best) performance. Very possible. The trailer definitely makes it seem possible in my opinion. There’s so much Oscar buzz surrounding this that it’s impossible not to want to see it. Could it be Van Sant’s first Oscar? Quite possible.

Rachel Getting Married
How could I not want to see Jonathan Demme’s new film, which appears to be his best in years? How could I not want to see what appears to be Anne Hathaway’s best performance? After Brokeback Mountain, I had a feeling she might be doing some really good things in the future, and it appears as if that’s come to fruition. Definitely one I’ve wanted to see since I watched the trailer for it oh so long ago.

Revolutionary Road
Sam Mendes + Leonardo DiCaprio + Kate Winslet = Gold. How else can I describe it? It’s Sam Mendes’ first film since Jarhead back in 2005, and it reunites Kate and Leo for the first time since Titanic. On top of that, it’s supposed to be a very good film. Its trailer certainly suggests that to be true. Leonardo DiCaprio has become one of my favorite actors in recent years, so I look forward to practically everything with him. It’s impossible, given the circumstances, that I wouldn’t want to see this film.

Slumdog Millionaire
It’s hard to pinpoint why I want to see this film so badly. Besides the obvious, being Danny Boyle having directed it, it really comes down to word-of-mouth, reviews and Oscar buzz. It seems more than likely that it’ll be nominated for Best Picture, and probably come out with a few other nominations. It’s received universal acclaim from critics. It also wasn’t widely touted around, didn’t receive a lot of attention upon its release, but since, it’s just gotten a ton of talk and momentum. I want to see it.

Synecdoche, New York
Charlie Kaufman’s latest project. This time, it’s his directorial debut. If I wasn’t excited, I wouldn’t be the film junkie I am. It’s heightened by the fact that Philip Seymour-Hoffman is the leading man, and then even more so by the fact that it’s probably the most debated film of 2008. I’m curious as to why. I’ve heard its bizarre, confusing, an enigma. Really, I just want to know why.

The Wrestler
I’ve heard nothing but good things about this film. In fact, most of the things I’ve heard are wonderful. Darren Aronofsky is one of the most interesting directors working today. This film seems nothing like his previous films. Less visual. More grounded. I’m intrigued. The acting is supposed to be stupendous, especially by Mickey Rourke, who is being hailed as the “comeback kid” of 2008. Even better than Marisa Tomei is supposed to do a fantastic job, with Oscar buzz surrounding her performance as well. What’s most surprising is the praise going to Evan Rachel Wood here. Oscar contender? Possibly. I would love to see it and find out for myself.


Thank you, Roger Ebert!

December 5, 2008

At the top of Roger Ebert’s website today, he announced the following in an article he posted,

“In these hard times, you deserve two “best films” lists for the price of one. It is therefore with joy that I list the 20 best films of 2008, in alphabetical order. I am violating the age-old custom that film critics announce the year’s 10 best films, but after years of such lists, I’ve had it. A best films list should be a celebration of wonderful films, not a chopping process. And 2008 was a great year for movies, even if many of them didn’t receive wide distribution.”

Mr. Ebert, I could hug you. I’m glad you haven’t made a conventional “Top 10” list. I guess you WILL be, but your refusal to comform simply to THAT standard. Why should we rank films in numerical order? As you so astutely observe,

“I can’t evaluate films that way. Nobody can, although we all pretend to. A “best films” list, certainly. But of exactly 10, in marching order? These 20 stood out for me, and I treasure them all.”

I’ve tried to. It’s failed. Miserably. I’ve made top 10 lists for myself before, for previous years. But I always found it, in a sense, wrong, to rank one film above another, when I liked them equally. Certainly, from time to time, the choice is clear as to what the very best film of the year is, as I believed in 2005 with Brokeback Mountain. But usually, and for the rest of those top, or best films, of the year, it’s not as simple as “Oh, this was definitely the FIFTH best film of the year! No, it wasn’t the fourth, or the sixth best. It was the fifth.” Where’s the logic? Where’s the reason?

Here are the top 20 movies (in alphabetical order):


The Band’s Visit


Chop Shop

The Dark Knight


The Fall


Frozen River


Iron Man


Rachel Getting Married

The Reader

Revolutionary Road

Shotgun Stories

Slumdog Millionaire

Synecdoche, New York



Mr. Ebert also awards a “Special Jury Prize”, sort of as an alternate “First Prize”, which this year he’s given to My Winnipeg.

He also has a separate list of the Five Best Documentary films:

Encounters at the End of the World


Man on Wire

Standard Operating Procedure

Trouble the Water

Alternately, you can read the whole article and little summaries of his picks right here.

Note: Some of the films do not contain links to his reviews. He has not yet published reviews for those films.

2008 National Board of Review Winners

December 5, 2008

The winners are as follows,

• Best Film: Slumdog Millionaire

• Best Director: David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

• Best Actor: Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino

• Best Actress: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married

• Best Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin, Milk

• Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

• Best Foreign Foreign Language Film: Mongol

• Best Documentary: Man on Wire

• Best Animated Feature: WALL-E

• Best Ensemble Cast: Doubt

• Breakthrough Performance by an Actor: Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire

• Breakthrough Performance by an Actress: Viola Davis, Doubt

• Best Directorial Debut: Courtney Hunt, Frozen River

• Best Original Screenplay: Nick Schenk, Gran Torino

• Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire and Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

• Spotlight Award: Melissa Leo, Frozen River and Richard Jenkins, The Visitor

• The BVLGARI Award for NBR Freedom of Expression: Trumbo


• Top Five Foreign Language Films: (In alphabetical order) EDGE OF HEAVEN, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, ROMAN DE GUERRE, A SECRET, WALTZ WITH BASHIR


• William K. Everson Film History Award: Molly Haskell and Andrew Sarris

I’ll have commentary to follow later, most likely tomorrow.

Dumbing Down The Expectations On Watchmen

December 4, 2008

In this month’s issue of Rolling Stone, there’s a small snippet concerning Watchmen, titled ‘Watchmen Worry‘. To be blunt, the writer, a Mr. Brian Hiatt, does not paint a very positive picture for the outcome of the film (for its fans). He says that he saw a preview of the first 20 minutes of the movie, and his report?

“…It feels…as if Michael Bay had directed Moby Dick and kicked it off with a slow-mo man-on-whale duel.”

…Ouch! And,

“…it looks like the best parts o the movie come straight from the book, like a visually stunning sequence starring naked, blue-skinned, atomic-powered Dr. Manhattan. And the worst parts may well be everything else – especially since Snyder has admitted to altering the book’s apocalyptic ending.” (emphasis mine)

That sounds, quite frankly, fucked. Changed the ending? That just doesn’t sound right at all. To those of us who have read Watchmen, and have any kind of interest in comic books, it seems quite disgusting that Snyder would change the ending. In practically one fell-swoop, I have lost almost all of my excitement for the film.

Of course, I guess I have to wait and see what happens when the film actually gets released. Spider-Man had numerous changes. The Batman films have changed tons and tons of things. X-Men was butchered. And those were, by one measure or another, decent or better than decent. Yet it’s extremely important to make the note that Spider-Man, X-Men and Batman are all comic series and not a one-shot graphic novel. Watchmen has a clear beginning, middle and end. The others mentioned have existed within many different realities, universes, iterations, and whatever else one can think. Watchmen is simply as it was written and portrayed. No more. No less. Period.

Late Update: You can read the actual article I quoted right here.