Grit Blogs > The Open Book

My Favorite Movies of 2008

By Jean Teller, Sr. Assoc. Editor

Tags: movies, Juno, Vantage Point, Young@Heart, The Visitor, WALL-E, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Mamma Mia!, The Dark Knight, Swing Vote, Traitor, Bolt, Australia, Seven Pounds,

Everywhere you turn this time of year you find a Top 10 list or a Best of ... list or some such ranking of someone’s favorite this or that. Guess what? Here’s mine!

My at-a-glance calendar is filled with work deadlines, personal appointments, trip plans and notations for this and that. I also try to write down the movies I see in the theater or those I rent. This year, I’m sad to say, I did not see as many movies as I have in the past. (Or maybe I just forgot to write a bunch down?) Anyway, here are my favorites, in the order they appeared in my calendar:

 Independent darling Juno isn't for children.

Juno : Starring Ellen Page and Michael Cera, this bittersweet comedy was nominated for four Oscars, and won for Best Writing/Original Screenplay. While it’s rated PG-13, the movie carries some strong, adult themes and a heavy message. I liked the performances, and the writing is excellent. I’m just not sure I could watch it again.

 The ending of Vantage Point, starring Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox, is worth the wait.Vantage Point : Using one of the most unique methods of storytelling I’ve seen in a long time, this movie carries a tag line that says it all: “8 Strangers. 8 Points of View. 1 Truth.” The same 15 minutes or so are repeated six times from different people’s perspectives. Your patience will be rewarded, trust me. I found Vantage Point to be innovative, refreshing, thrilling and a joy to watch. Some great performances by Dennis Quaid, Saïd Taghmaoui, Sigourney Weaver, Eduardo Noriega and Matthew Fox. This one has already been added to the DVD collection.

Young@Heart : What a wonderful movie! A documentary, Young@Heart follows the Northampton, Massachusetts, chorus of the same name. It’s an unusual music group, comprised of singers whose average age is 81, and they cover rock music, such as the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated,” Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia” and “James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good).” Some heartbreaking turns happen in the life of this chorus (it’s been in existence for 25 years), so have a tissue box handy. I’ll probably add this to the collection one of these days.   Check out the chorus's website.

The Visitor stars Richard Jenkins.The Visitor : This quiet character study is another wonderful, heartbreaking film. Starring the underrated (and underappreciated) Richard Jenkins as a sad professor, The Visitor gives us a view into a lonely existence and how a chance encounter can change everything. The tag line for the film, “In a world of six billion people, it only takes one to change your life,” gives us hope, while the film’s outcome demonstrates how sad the world can be. Another future addition to my collection.

WALL-E : Rent this one, now! Left behind on a garbage-filled Earth, the robotic WALL-E displays an enviable work ethic and capacity for love. You’ll fall in love with the animated environmental engineer, and you’ll laugh, cry and cheer for WALL-E, the love of his life, Eve, and for the entire human race. It’s also one of the most gorgeous animated films you’ll see. OK, I’m going shopping for this DVD this weekend.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army : Perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love Red and his band of misfits. In The Golden Army, Hellboy and Co. are showcased in an action-filled sight fest, including Red scampering over rooftops, as he holds a tiny tot in his tail during a major fight with a forest god, and a visit to a bazaar filled with bizarre characters who make Hellboy look ordinary. I already own the first Hellboy; this one will follow.

Mamma Mia!: Just plain fun, Mamma Mia! is filled with ABBA tunes, great choreography, gorgeous cinematography and a light-hearted storyline. While there are obvious flaws (a few moments of cover-my-eyes embarrassment), this film kept me smiling the entire time, and that’s a plus in my book. My colleague Jenn says her parents love this film – check out the ABBA video on her latest blog post, then rent Mamma Mia! You won’t regret it. And yes, I'll undoubtedly sneak out of the video store with this one; it's a guilty pleasure for sure!

The Dark Knight is a worthy sequel to Batman Begins.

The Dark Knight: Dark, action and angst filled, The Dark Knight is a worthy successor to Batman Begins. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman reprise their roles, with the addition of Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal to make this film an edge-of-the-seat thriller. Of course, it will join Batman Begins in my collection, no doubt about it.

Swing Vote showcases Kevin Costner.

Swing Vote: Kevin Costner keeps getting better as an actor. In this comedy/drama, he portrays everyman Bud Johnson, struggling to make ends meet, and more, and to raise his precocious daughter Molly. If often seems as if Molly is the parent, though, and when Bud’s promise to vote in the presidential election goes unfulfilled, Molly takes matters in her own hands. The people who needed to see this movie about civic responsibility probably passed it by; for the rest of us, it’s in turn funny and frustrating. Definitely worth the rental; I may add it to the collection eventually.

Traitor: Starring Don Cheadle, Traitor examines the gray areas of today’s world, and proves once again that we can no longer look at events or our world in black and white (The Visitor visits this theme, as well). It also offers another wonderful performance by Saïd Taghmaoui (Vantage Point). Parts of this movie are difficult to watch, so I’m not sure I’ll add it to the DVD collection.

Bolt is a delightful animated treat.

Bolt: Another animated delight, Bolt showcases the voice talents of John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman and Mark Walton. Super-dog Bolt lives a life of danger, at least while the cameras are rolling. Believing his role as a TV star is real, the canine finds himself out in the real world and all the adventure it offers, and all he wants is to get home to his human, Penny. It had me laughing so hard, I cried, and then I cried for real, so I’ll add it to the collection as soon as I can.

The epic Australia stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.

Australia: The critics have not been kind to Baz Luhrmann’s epic tale of his land down under, but I adore this visually stunning, action-packed love story starring Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman and delightful newcomer Brandon Walters. Filled with images of a country I know little about, Australia also has a heart-wrenching story I’m still thinking about. This one will take a few viewings, so it will find its way into my collection.
Starring Will Smith and Rosario Dawson, Seven Pounds is dark and messy. 

Seven Pounds: The latest offering from Will Smith left me stunned and bit depressed, and it’s such an interesting film, I had to include it. Difficult to watch, Seven Pounds can be a confusing and chaotic mess, while it’s also a roller coaster ride of a man crippled by emotion and trying to make his life count for something. Wonderful performances by Smith and Rosario Dawson bring this film into sharp focus, and somehow make the chaos worth the ride. I’ll consider adding it to the collection, although I’m a bit leery of watching it again.

So that’s my two-cents worth on the movies of 2008. What films would you recommend I add to my to-rent list?

cindy murphy
1/2/2009 2:11:50 PM

Iron Man...thanks for the tip, Jean; I'll have to keep that in mind. If you noticed, most of the movies I mentioned are action movies - "Wanted", "Hancock", "I Am Legend", and "Death Proof", (You'll have to rent that one for the "just because" reason. It's one of those bizarre films with a cult following that you watch, and think "why?" Why was such a movie made? Why did I watch the entire thing? And why did I find it entertaining). It's not particularly that I adore action movies....I don't need shoot 'em up scenes, car chases, and accompanying general mayhem and destruction. Blame it on Hubs - if I want to watch a movie and have him stay awake through the entire thing, it's got to have some action. So I pick movies with the above criteria in mind, and hopefully it'll have some mystery and a bit of romance to suit my tastes also. If I left it entirely up to him, we'd be watching nothing but westerns and old war movies! The Jane Austen Book Club is one I've wanted to see, but for the above reason, haven't yet - I'd rather watch something together, than have Keith snoring halfway through a movie. Neither of us would enjoy it that way! I'll have to rent it some weekday when he's got work the next morning, and I can stay up late by myself. Oh, and I forgot to comment on "Juno". I didn't care for it. Smart dialogue, funny and sweetly sad at the same time, but by the time I watched it, I had heard so much raving that my expectations were probably too high and I felt let down. That, and the fact that my co-worker played the soundtrack endlessly at work for about two weeks, and after hearing it all day, came home to my daughter playing the same. In my alternative metal world, this particular kind of music drove me nuts.

jean teller
1/2/2009 9:50:29 AM

Hi, Cindy! I enjoyed Becoming Jane, I Am Legend and Hancock as well. (The Jane Austen Book Club is another good one from 2007.) Didn't see Horton or Death Proof, and while I rented Wanted just recently, I didn't enjoy that one as much as I thought I might. Oh, and yes, Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd - fantastic! I missed The Women - will add that to my to-rent list! Thanks! Another good one I failed to mention was Iron Man - excellent casting with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Oh, and watch through the end of the credits - a cameo appearance you don't want to miss! Obviously, my calendar movie listings were incomplete!

cindy murphy
1/1/2009 8:27:58 AM

Oops, I did it again - got too long-winded for the comment section, and got cut off. Last paragraph... "The Women" I saw in the theater with a bunch of my girlfriends. My old-movie buff friend saw it first; he said it followed the 1939 version starring Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, and Norma Shearer pretty closely. He liked the original, but didn't care for this one starring Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mender, Chloris Leachman, Candice Bergen and Bette Midler. I've heard comments that it was a waste of time. It's definitely a chick-flick - not a single male actor; not even a taxi-driver, doorman or even a guy walking down New York's streets was seen. The theater was full of only women. Not thought-provoking, didn't contain a moment of having some kind of hidden-below-the-surface deeper meaning, but I liked it. It was enjoyable to just sit back and watch without thinking, and have a few good laughs....even made more enjoyable by sharing them with a room full of women.

cindy murphy
1/1/2009 8:24:07 AM

Hi, Jean. I have to admit that I don't go to the movie theater often; I've only been a handful of times in the past year, and most of those were attending children's movies with my youngest. "Horton Hears a Who" was a cute one that comes to mind that you didn't mention. Most of the movies I watch are rented, and thinking back, most of the films I saw that I liked were actually released in 2007. "Becoming Jane", and "I Am Legend" are a couple I liked well enough to remember the titles. Grindhouse's "Death Proof" for just off-the-wall Quentin Tarantino humor. Another Will Smith film - this one released in 2008 - that we saw was "Hancock". Good action-packed movie with a don't-have-to-think-to-watch plot; kinda fun mindless entertainment for those evenings when you're too tired to really pay close attention to what's going on on the screen...except Will Smith, one of my favorites that I watched grow up from the days of Fresh Prince. In the same action-packed genre is "Wanted" with Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman. Less than realistic car-chases, lots of Matrix-style fighting and shooting, some gore, and a smidgen of graphic sex - but it had a plot. I liked this one. "Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street". Johnny Depp; need I say more? Just in case I do, it's a Tim Burton film, and I don't think I've ever watched any of his films that I didn't like. My oldest loves this movie, and much to her horror, I dressed as "Sweeney Cod: Demon Fisherman" for Halloween. Hey - it fit the season. "The Women" I saw in the theater with a bunch of my girlfriends. My old-movie buff friend saw it first; he said it followed the 1939 version starring Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, and Norma Shearer pretty closely. He liked the original, but didn't care for this one starring Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Ev