Obviously I can't make a list of the best movies of 2008, cause lord knows I haven't seen all of them. But I'll certainly share my faves of the year. Also, expect a second list counting down the shittiest movies next week. You gotta have some balance, right?
5. Let the Right One In
This movie really took me by surprise. Made in Sweden, it's about a boy named Oskar who falls in love with a girl, named Eli, who moves in next door. Turns out that she's a vampire. I know that sounds kind of straightforward and not so amazing, but trust me, this movie is unique. It's a pity that it didn't get the hype and recognition as Twilight, because it is a much more interesting take on vampires. I can see how some may be turned off by the movie because the characters are strange, the settings are depressing, and the mood of the film is unsettling, but that why it succeeds as a horror film and a tragic story of adolescent love. There is at least one scene in the film that was over-the-top ridiculous. But those moments are far outnumbered by ones that are shocking, gruesome, and terrifying, including a final scene that is bound to leave you agape. I'd recommend it to any lover of horror films, as it's creative and dark film making, and presents one of the creepiest vampires in years.
4. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
Alright, first off, I know this isn't an amazing movie. It's not going to win awards or change the world, but it was entertaining as hell. With the direction of Del Toro, I found this film to surpass the first one in its vision. The art of the characters and their world is fantastic to look at and it was so refreshing to see so many elaborate costumes and practical special effects used instead of cgi. The last several years have exhausted me with its brief shots of real actors cut together with 20 minutes of a computer animated superheroes participating in elaborate action sequences. With Hellboy, for the most part it was real people interacting with real environments. Just look to the final clockwork battle between Hellboy and Prince Nuada if you don't understand what I mean. Along with the action itself, the characters are all likable (a favourite of mine being Johann Kraus, voiced by Seth MacFarlane). I love how the film is dark and ominous one moment, then humorous and light-hearted the next. All in all it was a genuinely fun film and it left me excited to see how the inevitable third film will play out, as well as any of Del Toro's future projects.
3. Iron Man
Another fantastic comic superhero that hit the big screen with much success. I'll admit that I knew little to nothing about Iron Man before walking into the theatre, but that didn't stop me from being sucked into its world. The casting for the film was fine, but Robert Downey Jr. stole the show as Tony Stark; the rich jerk you can't help but love. It's nice to see a superhero who isn't constantly conflicted with his/her identity, or haunted by a tragic past, or burdened by loved ones who share his/her secret. No, Stark is a man who will fight for a cause with the resources at his disposal, and eat up the spotlight at the same time. Iron Man is a great movie, filled with smart humour, a tight script, and just the right amount of action to set itself apart from the rest.
2. In Bruges
Taking place in... get this... Bruges, this movie tells the story of two Irish hit men, Ken and Ray, who hold up in the city after a job in London goes wrong. With great performances from Ralph Fiennes, Brendon Gleeson, and Colin Farrell the story is filled with tense twist and turns and haunting imagery. Despite being as dark as it is, the film finds a great balance of comedy and drama. There are some really hilarious bits of dialogue, and the interactions between Farrell and Gleeson are great. After some horrendous travesties in the past ("Alexander" for instance), I had almost lost hope in Colin Farrell as an actor, but he gives a funny and moving performance here. The ending builds to some gut-wrenching moments, and this is definitely one of the best films of the year.
1. The Dark Knight
Sorry if it was too obvious that this would be number one, but this is just an awesome movie period, and nothing else comes remotely close to how good it is. Like Hellboy 2, this movie relies more on practical special effects and stunt work and that immediately helps to create a grittier, darker, and more realistic world. So much so, that Gotham is more believable than the New York we see in the Spiderman movies. I know it's weird, but it's true.
The dialogue is sharp, the acting is impressive (Harvey and The Joker in particular), and all the characters are interesting and likable. So it makes more of an impact when things go wrong, and boy do they go wrong. With the pure evil of the Joker, casualties are to be expected. Heath Ledger's role as the Joker was a big deal even before his tragic death, and it only increased the focus on his performance. Despite this, his Joker lives up to all expectations and is a remarkable and nuanced take on one of the greatest villains ever. His presence in the film in accented with ominous sounds and tones that capture the tension perfectly, knowing that anyone he encounters is in danger. Also, I love that we never discover the true origin of the Joker, and it's a great juxtaposition to the fall of Harvey Dent. Which brings us to our next foe.
Dent's transformation into Two-Face is more tragic than any other villain I can think of and it's executed so well alongside the growing fear and hopelessness in Gotham while the Joker spreads his own brand of anarchy. The final look of Two-Face is stunning and proves that Aaron Eckhart was the right man for the job.
In general the film is so great because it captures the right atmosphere, gives us compelling characters, tells a emotionally powerful story, gives us so much to think about, and makes it all believable. Some might say that it's a bad thing for a superhero movie, but the Batman comics are grounded more in a realistic world than most other comics. Gotham is a city where one man's insanity can push him to do unspeakable evils, and another man's will can push him to fight that evil. This film shows us that world and it has proven itself to be a groundbreaking piece of cinema.