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Aaron Wallace Presents The Best and Worst of 2008 in Film for DVDizzy.com
The Best (And Worst) of 2008 in Film


By Aaron Wallace

Thank you, 2008! In the annals of film history, 2007 won't be remembered for much. An awards season populated by bleak and relatively unpopular titles, a box office dominated by mediocre "threequels" and Michael Bay, and an Oscars show hosted by Jon Stewart... I don't care how brilliant There Will Be Blood is, 2007 is nobody's 1939. We needed a lift this year, and that's exactly what we got.

In response to the somber months of its preceding year, 2008 threw us a party for life and love. Robots found romance, a slumdog won a million bucks, and an old man grew young.
Each of those turns bestowed upon its audience a new perspective on their own lives, giving new meaning to the phrase "for your consideration." I can't think of anything more to ask of one year of cinema. A little levity even entered the mix in the form of a blockbuster comedy (Simple Jack!) and garnered that oh-so-rare critical respect.

Not everything has been so whimsical but even our darkest turn this year was a movie that draped itself on the national zeitgeist, heralded order over chaos, and became the second highest-grossing motion picture of all time -- not bad for a (why so) serious film.

So in honor of this relatively exciting awards season, I've set out below my top ten list of 2008 films, at least three of which I believe immediately stake their names alongside the greatest of all time. And just for fun, I'll point out a few of the worst too.

The Runners-Up

Okay, so it's more of a top fifteen list, but I'd be remiss not to mention these that made a notable impact...

Burn After Reading movie poster
Burn After Reading - Though its tone is cold, there's a Wonderland quality to the Coen Brothers' follow-up to No Country for Old Men. These ridiculous people fall into a most dire situation and respond in a way that makes anything but sense -- that's a concept I still get a big kick out of.
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Forgetting Sarah Marshall movie poster
Forgetting Sarah Marshall - This uproarious laugh-fest with heart might have been overlooked in a couple of categories but it was unquestionably snubbed in the Original Song department -- "Dracula's Lament" is as nod-worthy as they come.
Buy from Amazon.com: Unrated/R-Rated 1-Disc DVD, Unrated/R-Rated 3-Disc Collector's Edition DVD, Unrated/R-Rated Blu-ray, Ultimate Unrated Comedy DVD Collection, Ultimate Unrated Comedy Blu-ray Collection

Vantage Point movie poster
Vantage Point - Behold, a suspensefully crafted thriller that manages to be about politics without being political. I wanted more to chew on but the nonpartisan feat is worthy of celebration, even if the very same led many critics to point their thumbs down. Read my full review.
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Fireproof movie poster
Fireproof - The script is littered with more corn than I can ignore and Kirk Cameron is the only thing keeping this cast afloat. Still, I won't be surprised if in a few years we look back on this surprise box office success as a major milestone in the advancement of both Christian cinema and small budget moviemaking.
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Wanted movie poster
Wanted - I can't swallow the plot without a chaser but the two parts Fight Club, one part Office Space recipe gives this visual treat just the right tonal bite.
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The Top 10

Gran Torino movie poster
10. Gran Torino - Only Clint Eastwood could play this role, and not just because he's a badass. Eastwood is our collective symbol for the Western and the era of false racial and regional dichotomies it represents. Times have changed and like a Paula Cole song come true, the cowboys are all gone, leaving our lone ranger to reconcile his values with his prejudices.
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Frost/Nixon movie poster
9. Frost/Nixon - This presidential portrait isn't exactly flattering or even fair but it's undeniably compelling. Read this movie any way you like -- a character study, a political reenactment, a harsh look at television journalism -- director Ron Howard doesn't limit himself on interesting angles. Frank Langella doesn't hold back either. For a man who doesn't look much like the former president, Langella plays Nixon better than Nixon himself.
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The Wrestler movie poster
8. The Wrestler - I defy you to watch Mickey Rourke's incredible work in this picture and not empathize with his character. Every sport gets its nitty gritty exposed in film at some point; here is professional wrestling's turn. And what an ending this one has!
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Doubt movie poster
7. Doubt - Meryl Streep is too good in this movie, literally. The heart she brings to Sister Aloysius and the conviction with which she makes the Catholic headmistress' case erodes some of the titular ambiguity that I gather we're supposed to wade through. I find that much more satisfying, though, and the stinging indictment she delivers is strong enough to make an important point while sufficiently limited to historical failures in the Church so that it avoids serious accusations of heresy. Performances are the primary reason you'd remember this movie, however, and there is absolutely no doubt as to the remarkable strength of those.
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Tropic Thunder movie poster
6. Tropic Thunder - Hollywood loves a good meta-satire and,
I must say, so do I. Not only is Ben Stiller's over-the-top tour de force one of the most relentlessly hilarious movies I've ever seen, it has a little something to say too! Only in Hollywood could a movie that lampoons the notion that the industry might herald an actor in blackface be rewarded by the industry with a Best Supporting Actor nomination for the actor in blackface... touché, Mr. Stiller, touché!
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Changeling movie poster
5. Changeling - This haunting true story doesn't just put heartbreak and outrage on the screen, it elicits it from the viewer. Watching it, I felt so angry, so indignant, and most remarkably, so unified with my fellow theater patrons in those very same feelings. This is a testament to Clint Eastwood's focused direction, which keeps the conflict anchored in a mother's struggle, but even moreso to Angelina Jolie's masterful performance, perhaps her career best.
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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button movie poster
4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - In this epic tall tale, Button lives life in reverse but for all the sorrows that this most puzzling existence invites, he lives it as an adventure. Three delightfully engaging hours beautifully illustrate that each life is a journey worth taking, no matter the point of departure or the destination.
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The Dark Knight movie poster
3. The Dark Knight - Heath Ledger commands his every scene with an electrifying screen presence that eludes comparison. This parable for how a civil society copes with terror and anarchy is utterly contemporary, and its solution shockingly plausible.
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Slumdog Millionaire movie poster
2. Slumdog Millionaire - A drama about Indian slum life might not have appealed to many people but the ingenious use of the globally familiar "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire" as a framework makes this riveting work instantly accessible. The quiz show makes for one heck of a way to tell a story, too.
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WALL-E movie poster
1. WALL-E - 2008 will be remembered as the year that a genre-bending, near-silent film about robots on a deserted, over-consumed Earth took in well over $200 million in the U.S. alone. That's not an achievement to take lightly, and it says as many good things about the oft-disparaged American audience as it does the creative minds at Pixar. The environmental message harbored inside the screenplay is presented without the slightest hint of partisanship or a guilt trip. Instead, indomitable human innovation triumphs in the end. The film is a heart-filled symphony. WALL-E has elevated its craft just as Fantasia did nearly seventy years ago and I believe that in time it will be celebrated just as fondly. Read my full review.
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Why [Insert Title] Didn't Make It

Man on Wire movie poster
Man on Wire - This excellent documentary informs and inspires but ultimately runs longer than its interest level does.
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The Reader movie poster
The Reader - Kate Winslet has yet to meet a camera she didn't want to flash. Aside from an intriguing courtroom drama component, this surprising Best Picture nominee offers us little more than a dull love story and another two hours with the English star's overexposed bust. Think of it as The Notebook with nudity, Nazis, and a disturbing disparity in the lovers' ages.
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Milk movie poster
Milk - Well-made and brilliantly acted, this biopic is nevertheless an agenda piece, assuming as inspirational values that most viewers simply do not find inspirational.
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Revolutionary Road movie poster
Revolutionary Road - After two solid acts, this otherwise motivational case for carpe diem drives off-course with a befuddling abortion quest and needlessly depressing conclusion.
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Iron Man movie poster
Iron Man - The story entertains and Robert Downey, Jr. creates a very enjoyable, quick-witted tone but too many complaints are raised (making weapons is bad!) with too few solutions (what happens to U.S. troops when the Ten Rings' weapons guy doesn't share Tony Stark's newfound interest in philanthropy? Maybe we'll find out in Iron Man II, but I doubt it).
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The Bottom 5

Mamma Mia! movie poster
5. Mamma Mia! - I never thought I'd find Hell in a theater of all places, but I don't know how else to describe the experience of watching this sloppy hodgepodge of poorly sung ABBA songs while a hundred middle-aged women cheer along. Meryl Streep should be ashamed... good thing she went to confession five months later.
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Jumper movie poster
4. Jumper - All of the drama in this clunky action flick with spotty acting and a weak script rests on the protagonist's relationship with a wholly undefined albeit good-looking girl. Read my full review.
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Bedtime Stories movie poster
3. Bedtime Stories - Fantasy coming to life is en vogue right now, but this Night at the Museum wannabe settles for that simple premise and a big name in the starring role without a dash of originality. Neither funny nor entertaining, this ranks near Little Nicky in Adam Sandler's filmography.
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The Love Guru movie poster
2. The Love Guru - Mike Myers take note: phallic humor is no substitute for a plot. The best thing about this movie is that it still lost over $20 million after its worldwide gross despite a cast that includes big names like Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake, and Ben Kingsley. Read my full review.
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The Happening movie poster
1. The Happening - Spiraling in less than ten years from an obliviously dead psychologist in one of the most acclaimed suspense films ever made to plant zombies in this downright laughable attempt to make something that is either coherent, scary, or meaningful -- M. Night, what is "happening" to you?
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Posted February 9, 2009.