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Top Movies of 2008

Here it is, folks. The concluding best of 2008 post (besides my overly sprawling Top 100 Songs list, which will go on for approximately seven years...#s 90-86 below this btw) is a doozy. Why do we save movies for last? As our moronic/brilliant local news anchor Don Shelby here in Minneapolis might say, "good question." Well the real answer is we just naturally schedule the countdowns so movies come last and no one questions the non-decision. But the real answer is boring, so here's my probably over-reaching analysis: TV, despite its prowess as of late, is still the idiot box. Albums, well everyone loves music, but only the music geeks (the term has intesified since the Internet too) with no lives map out that stuff with such precision. And the rest (celebrities, pop jamz, etc.) is pretty self-explanatory. But MOVIES - my stars, it's the silver screen. It's classy, humongous, and still equally mystifying and universally powerful after all its years as a pop culture force. Sure blockbuster culture has ruined this to some degree, but in some ways it has also made it more uniting, as can be proved (along with the power of indie modesty) by our list below...

10. My Winnipeg

The question "where are you from?" is such a weird question. If someone from Minnesota asks me where I'm "from", the answer that they are expecting is along the lines of "You live in Minneapolis/St. Paul now, but where did you grow up?" Sure, I might have grown up in the southeastern corner of Minnesota, La Crescent, but I consider myself "from" Minneapolis since I've lived here for seven years. That being said, my definition of where I'm "from" has changed drastically since seeing Guy Maddin's "docu-fantasia", My Winnipeg. Alternately documentary, re-filmed personal history, and flat-out brain-dumping, Maddin himself narrates the historical relevence of the events and locations of Winnipeg, Manitoba, while also re-creating his own memories growing up in the city. Despite the pretentious-sounding set-up, the film is hilarious, touching, and entirely comforting in its message that "home" really resides in our own memories. Although throughout the film Maddin says he's going to leave "once and for all", it's obvious that he can't escape, and maybe that escaping isn't what he wants to do. Our state of "home" is, after all, how we all make it, and Maddin makes a convincing case that no matter where you "grew up", you can make that place in your mind a restful, welcoming place. -Qualler

9. Revolutionary Road

Kate and Leo have done it again! This haunting, bleak portrait of an American couple living the suburban dream in the 1950s leaves the viewer feeling more defeated and conflicted than "My Heart Will Go On." It raises societal concerns relevant not only for the film's time period, but for today's middle class American society as well. The film chronicles a young couple, April and Frank Wheeler (Winslet and DiCaprio) struggling to maintain their identity while raising two children in the suburbs. Through flashbacks, we get to see how the couple went from young, ambitious, full of dreams, to the squabbling and depressed portrait of marriage that they've become. Their plans to leave their "hopeless emptiness" behind and start over in Paris are complicated by circumstance. This film was one of the more hauting and lovely ones of 2008, and the more I think about it the more I can't wait to see it again. It's really a movie that seems to be made "just for me" and anyone who has ever struggled with feeling "special" or "just like everyone else" can relate to these timeless characters and their depressing, but ernest, struggle. -Brigitte

8. Paranoid Park

Gus Van Sant's haunting young-adult novel adaptation was even better than his also-great but not-quite-as-great Milk. Shot in a similar style to Van Sant's other three independent films of the decade (Gerry, Elephant, and Last Days), this film also holds more narrative weight than those films combined. Yet, it maintains the dreamy feel of the three films by interspersing the narrative action with grainy 8mm-filmed skateboarding action set to ambient electronic music [Editor's Note -- done by Ethan Rose, who RULZ]. Casting for the film was done partially through a MySpace ad, which shows in the lack of movie-like actors. 16-year-old first-time actor Gabe Nevins portrays the lead character Alex with the type of loneliness you'd expect from a 16-year-old in a broken home; his scenes with his parents, who remain softly out of focus in each of their scenes, are heartbreaking. When the near-final scene comes, set to Elliott Smith's "Angeles", one knows that Van Sant is an expert film director. A great movie. -Qualler

7. Role Models

I'm going to level with you--Paul Rudd's a favesie. Not just of mine, but of the entire world's. I don't know a single person who doesn't like Paul Rudd. I think if aliens came to this planet and asked to speak to the president and they asked the president, "Who's your favorite actor?" he would say "Paul Rudd" and then the alien king or whatever would say, "NO WAY ME TOO!" And then there would be peace throughout the universe. What I'm saying is Paul Rudd is the best. You know who's not the best? Sean William Scott. Except, in this movie, he's hilarious and likeable. I would venture to say (please don't kill me with your lasers, hypothetical Paul-Rudd-loving alien species) that he's funnier than Paul Rudd in this movie. He's outgrown the Stiffler legacy and managed to become an interesting comedic actor who doesn't rely exclusively on raunchiness to wring a laugh out of somebody (I say exclusively because, you know, he's still Sean William Scott and that's what he most obviously brings to the table). Of course, the kid Scott acts off of, Bobb'e J. Thompson, is a dream, a foul-mouthed braggadocio whose every whipsmart comeback is uttered at precisely at the right time. Which is fine, because Paul Rudd gets the sweetness, anyway, paired with the really quite wonderful Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin' in Superbad), who plays a lovable weirdo in need of someone to accept him. I didn't really care too much about Rudd's character's relationship with Elizabeth Banks, simply because I don't care very much about her, but it managed not to be cloying so I give it a pass. Role Models is a fantastic buddy movie that manages to subvert many of the cliches of that genre while still being hilarious and heartwarming. And it has Paul Rudd in it. If I didn't mention that before. -OHD

6. Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche refers to a part representing a whole, and so the life of one man is really the life of every human being ever born. This beautifully shot Beckettian look at an individual's life is truly Kauffman's masterpiece. His directorial debut makes Being John Malcovich and Eternal Sunshine seem almost depressingly accessible. Plot is really overrated, I've always said, and when you turn yourself over to the poignant emotions and just FEEL your way through this film, it's really an incredible experience. It's movies like this one that remind us that film really is art. See picture. -Brigitte

5. Slumdog Millionaire

This is the story of Dev, a young Indian man who grew up in the humblest of circumstances, works at a demeaning job (as a tea-boy), and yet finds himself a character of national interest as a winning contestant on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" How is a man from the slums of Mumbai able to answer such difficult questions?- wonders the host of the show. The movie opens with scenes of torture, with two policemen trying to get the truth out of Dev, to find out how he cheated. The plot goes on from there using his further answers as guideposts, each one leading to a flashback, a vignette that shows how he aquired the knowledge, proving his innocence. In the tropes of a rags-to-riches tale, this film goes further to expose the underbelly of Indian society (especially for children), the despair of which shows us why a nation rife with similar stories would rally behind a success story such as his. The romantic narrative is underdeveloped, however, the villians seem one-note and overplayed, and the plot loses some steam as it continues. Still, the pace of the film is kept alive through brilliant cinematography and score, woven together so that beats are shot from different angles and the glorious colors of the clothing seem to sing. It may not be the best film of the year, but it is beautiful, hopeful, and unique, which just may be enough to win an Oscar. -Nicole

4. Rachel Getting Married

I fell in love with this movie at an odd part, just as Anne Hathaway's character Kym rolls in the driveway of her family's home. She says something to the effect of "empty chairs for tribes of people" as she sees white wedding seats stacked underneath a tarp on the lawn. It's not even in the shooting script, which I just spent five minutes digging up online, which now makes it even more special. The film operates on two levels: remarkably simple and astoundingly poetic. Until this film I thought the handheld camera shtick had officially overstayed its welcome. Turns out you just need a heartfelt intimate script to make it fresh and overwhelmingly affecting again. The loneliness and awkwardness that often comes with being in a disconnected family is communicated 110%, almost as powerfully as the unconditional love that both begets and is a result of the drama. As often as the heartwrenching conflict simmers underneath the unfolding of a marriage, no one can leave the theater without remembering the positive and touching moments either: the integral role of music (so much so that it often feels like a private concert in a movie theater) in these people's lives, the charismatic quirks of dishwasher contests and planning seating arrangments using knick-knacks with tags, and even the never-let-you-go glances that come with an angry burst of tears. The emptiness in those chairs was filled, and tribes of people celebrated, despite the gashes they had to endure to get there. -Chris

3. The Dark Knight

I've never felt stupider trying to write about a movie before in my life. I hate the rhetorical "what hasn't already been said?" and yet I can't help but feel myself agreeing with it when covering the greatest comic book movie ever made (not counting Howard The Duck, of course). So I will go back to the beginning, just as opening day began at 12 a.m. - slightly before the cinema world was forever changed by a sequel to a superhero movie, and certainly before such a thing would be considered for year-end accolades from nerds and professional film organizations alike. Sold out showings were held nationwide on this night during the twilight hours - the theater I went to for it, one of the least popular theaters in the Twin Cities, was so crowded with business that the staff eventually gave up trying to control the chaos and just announced "it's playing on every screen; go wherever you want." I shrugged my shoulders with slushee in hand and walked in the nearest door. Scary-looking people in Joker outfits and freaks en generale lined the stadium seating and I felt strangely at home. When they finally got the reel turning at 1 a.m., I became seduced and sucked in like everyone else. While it wasn't the best movie ever by any means, the experience of being a part of that mania alone is unforgettable enough to love The Dark Knight for what it is: an intelligent and hyper-entertaining film that cornily enough, brought America together. Turns out it's possible to make one that does all three. -Chris

2. Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Vicky Christina Barcelona is like your college summer of experimentation put into film. You know, that summer you hooked up with the sensitive European artist who convinced you to engage a polygamous live-in relationship with him and his violent, but super hot, ex-wife only to figure out that you're not really f*&#ed up enough to live that lifestyle? It's like that. Resembling the beginning of a classy porno at times and a thoughtful artsy film at other times, Woody Allen really hit a home run this time around. Between Javier Bardem's constant seduction of women (and the camera) and a steamy darkroom lesbian make-out session between two of the sexiest women in Hollywood (Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johanson), you're sure to walk away from this film all hot and bloggered. -Lady Amy

1. WALL-E

I don't cry much at the movies. I'm a very serious person and I think crying is for wimps. Cartoons, it can be said, are even less likely to make me feel wimpy emotions and cry. But, guess what, Wall-E made me cry. Big time. Tears of sadness and joy. This film truly moved me. The romancing robots stirred something inside me and rejuvenated my hope for mankind. The visuals were stunning. The first act's minimal dialogue was refreshing. And what about those "performances".. Wall-E had some of the most emotive characters on screen this year and those characters weren't even human, they were robots. Is this a dig against most actors? Probably yes. But as long as there are more cartoons like Wall-E, there will not be reason to worry (or cry). Okay, maybe I'll cry. But come on! :::robot voice::: WaaAALL-Eeeeee! -Sean

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  1. Anonymous OHD | 12:28 PM |  

    So am I the only stone-hearted person who didn't love WALL-E? I mean, I appreciated it, but I would never watch it again and also I wish I had waited to Netflix it instead of spending $85 on a ticket to see it in the theater. That's what movie tickets in New York cost now.

  2. Blogger chris | 12:37 PM |  

    I loved it the first time I saw it but I didn't Top 10 it. The 2nd time I was lukewarm to a lot of it, except any scene with Eva and/or the rogue robots.

    The thing that REALLY bugged me: Fred Willard as a live-action human from the past and the fat future people discrepancy. So when we all get obese and ruin the planet, we'll all become cartoons? CONSISTENCY! Fred Willard would have been just as entertaining in cartoon form.

  3. Blogger qualler | 12:45 PM |  

    I totally agree with Chris on fat=animated person. That bothered me a lot, too!

    Watching it on the big screen vs. watching it at home to me brings it down, and the whole "Whoa we're an action movie now" near the end of the movie still kind of pisses me off. But the simple messages and totes emotional robots (yes, I shed a couple tears too, Sean) outweighed the annoying aspects. I had it on my Top 10, around #7 or 8, I believe. To me, a movie in the second-tier of goodness in 2008 (right above Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which I really liked but couldn't outright love because it would somehow be blasphemous in my mind to place it alongside other Woody Allen flicks like Crimes and Misdemeanors or Hannah & Her Sisters...)

  4. Blogger Sean | 1:26 PM |  

    VCB was rather mediocre in my mind. sure, it was mile's beyond cassandra's dream, but so is just about anything. i did appreciate the narrator's voice though. who was that? it was very unnarratorly. i'm too accustomed to morgan freeman.

    wall-e is no. 1? that shocks me, i think. wait, did i put wall-e at no. 1 on my ballot? shit, i can't remember. 2008 was a loooooong year.

  5. Blogger DoktorPeace | 1:33 PM |  

    I had Wall-E as my number 1, but I only saw like 10 movies this year, half of which were excuses to masturbate in public.

    The movie takes a serious turn for the worse once the humans start getting involved, but the first half deserves all the praise it gets; and for me, that first half was better than any whole I saw this year.

    Is that like comparing oranges to half-eaten apples? Maybe, but I don't know how to quantify the core and the peels anyway.

  6. Anonymous LQ | 3:43 PM |  

    Well you know what, I think you made a good choice putting Wall-E that far up. The only thing that this movie lacks, in my opinion, is the letter R. AMIRITE MARK!? High five!

    Personally I'd put The Dark Knight as #1. Yes, it's cliche, but it really honestly seriously is probably one of the best action movies I've ever seen, if not one of the best movies I've ever seen. I was literally terrified during that boat bomb scene.

    But #2? Definitely Wall-E. It's a simple concept, but it was masterfully used to say so much. Eve was a symbol of power and technological advancement, who initially thought one-dimensionally and focused only on her mundane task before falling in love, which transformed her into a softer, more kind-hearted soul who could use that power for good. Wall-E himself was a character you initially feel sorry for, seeing as how he's been left behind, but when he joins the new society, you realize that this allows him to maintain his character and doesn't stop him from getting what he wants and needs, which is Eve. He makes all kinds of stuff go wrong on the ship because he doesn't understand how things work, but he's still better off than all of them. And of course, there are all the symbols of destruction to the environment, social laziness and greed, etc. I think it was summed up best when the ship captain was told not to go back to Earth so that he could survive, and he replied with "I don't want to survive, I want to live!" And by the way, even with all the symbolism and strong themes, it's still a really adorable movie that's so much fun to watch. And the cinematography, of the barren wasteland of Earth, the overly commercial human community, and Eve and Wall-E dancing in space are all magnificent.

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