My Favorite Movies of 2008

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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:

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.

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
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: 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: 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: 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.

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.

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?