These are the ten best movies I've seen in 2008.
10) IRON MAN
A thrilling roller coaster ride, led by Robert Downey Jr., who deftly plays the title character with a frantic blitz of smarts, wit, charm and, most importantly, heart. Director Jon Favreau proves that all the special effects and explosions in the world won't make a superhero blockbuster entertaining (I'm talking to you Spiderman 3.) In the end, it's about character.
Gran Torino was the more heralded of the movies Clint Eastwood directed this year, but Changeling is actually a much bolder and more mature film. Angelina Jolie's brilliant turn as a desperate mother is quietly heartbreaking, and Eastwood's deliberate pacing masterfully builds a horrifying sense of dread throughout.
8) THE READER
For a long time I struggled with this film, but in the end I realized that struggle was the very reason the movie was so important. Unlike other Nazis we've grown accustomed to seeing onscreen, Kate Winslet's character of Hannah Schmitz isn’t inherently evil. Rather, she is someone who did many evil things, which becomes the agonizing moral conflict that stirs in the heart of its characters.
Like all great David Mamet films, this story twists and turns until the moment you think you've figured it out, when it takes one unexpected final turn. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a revelation playing Mike Terry, a mixed martial arts instructor struggling to maintain his moral code in a world without one. As Terry falls deeper into a sordid web of greed and lies, he is saved by the only thing in the world he can trust, his honor.
Sean Penn's gives yet another remarkable performance as Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States. Director Gus Van Sant cleverly allows Penn to explore this rich character, flaws and all, and in return we get a stirring and inspiring story of a man who had one dream, and that was to matter. The film is a beautiful testament to his life and to that fully realized dream.
5) THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
David Fincher's backwards tale of life and death is visually stunning and overly ambitious, almost to a fault. But what could have been overwrought with melodrama and tired sentiment instead becomes a sobering and poignant look at the simple beauty of growing old… or young.
4) THE DARK KNIGHT
Simply put, Christopher Nolan's Batman sequel is nothing short of a masterwork that redefines the superhero genre. Filled with a depth largely unseen in past comic book films, Nolan's sweeping epic becomes a sordid and twisted portrait of the fragile nature of good and evil. Relentlessly exhilarating and mercilessly ambitious, Nolan never settles for easy answers, instead choking the audience with unsettling fear.
3) THE WRESTLER
The performance of the year, if not the decade, belongs to Mickey Rourke in this devastatingly raw story of a broken man longing for one last shot at redemption. Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a former wrestling star reduced to living off the faded glory of his past. With each genuine and honest moment, Rourke exudes an aching loneliness that will gently break your heart. But by the final moment, you can’t help but stand and cheer as a soul is reborn.
2) DEAR ZACHARY
Nothing can really prepare you for this true life and death story of filmmaker Kurt Kueene's childhood friend, Andrew Bagbay. Facing the darkest evil and the most profound sadness, Andrew Bagbay's parents remind us what true strength and courage are. At once disturbing and overwhelmingly heartbreaking, ultimately this is a story about the incomparable power of the human spirit.
1) SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
There are moments in life when everything can change.
One minute you're coasting on one path, spiraling towards one life, and then suddenly, that life vanishes, and you're faced with an entirely different path. When this moment strikes, some will turn their backs, afraid of taking that risk, fearful of letting go of their former life.
This is a story about someone who didn't.
Danny Boyle's masterpiece will take you on a journey that will leave you numb, breathless, uplifted and inspired. By the film's closing moments, even the most bitter cynic won't be able to resist succumbing to this stirring and heartfelt celebration of life.
Slumdog Millionare is a fairy tale about a boy from the slums of India who gets a chance to play for millions on a game show. But this isn't a film about winning money on a game show. Instead, this is a film about resilience. This is a film about determination. This is a film about hope. And yes, this is most certainly a film about love.
Life can be a struggle. There are times when it's filled with pain, sorrow and loss. There are times when losing hope seems so simple, when losing faith seems so easy. It's in these moments when you might feel that fate is against you. That destiny is not on your side.
But I think you'd be wrong.
I can't tell you that fate and destiny are real. I don't think anyone can. But what I do know is real are the people who lead you on that second path, without ever looking back. They're the ones who make everything worth it.
Someone taught me that once. This film reminded me.