My Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2008; or: Your Friendly Alternative to the Oscars

Since I wanted to be the final authority on the most noteworthy films of 2008, I decided to release My Top Ten Favorite Movies list the day after the Academy Awards. Isn't that ingenious?!

I saw more than 100 movies that were released in 2008, so it was tough to narrow them down to ten and even tougher to rank them. But I did it anyway. I wrote new text about the first four films, while I used excerpts from my previous posts (when available) for the rest of the list.

This post is not an attempt to sway public opinion (after all, objectivity was not the goal; rather, subjective adoration), but an effort to point some of you in the direction of films that you may have missed and that you may find great satisfaction in. I love these movies, and I hope that at least a handful of you end up loving them too.

1. The Fall

It is not an exaggeration to say that The Fall generously offers some of the most original, arresting, and rapturous images ever committed to film. Director Tarsem's labor of love—it took four years to make in 18 different countries, in between commercial-directing gigs—tells the epic tale of five mythical, mismatched, anachronistic heroes who travel stunning landscapes and get into fantastical scrapes in order to seek revenge upon the evil Governor Odious.

Those who dismiss the movie see it as over- and self-indulgent, obsessively embracing style over substance. But those who love it see substance dripping off every shot of this beautiful and deeply affecting masterpiece.

The adventure is framed by the smaller story of an American stuntman and a Romanian girl in a 1920s Los Angeles hospital and their tender friendship—he's the one who spins her this epic yarn, and, in exchange, she sneaks him drugs he's not supposed to have.

One broken man's redemption through the love a child is moving and gratifying, sure, but Tarsem (working with cowriters Dan Gilroy and Nico Soultanakis) are getting at something more—an intriguing statement about the art of storytelling (for Tarsem, more specifically, it's about the art of cinema), about the symbiotic relationship between artists and audiences, about artistic ownership, and about how imagination can be more transformative and necessary than truth.

In an age when fake memoirs are the greatest literary controversies of our time, The Fall shuns simplistic questions such as, "Is this story true?" The more apt question, the more timeless question, is, "What is truth?” The Fall is smart enough to ask that question. And it's even smarter to suggest that coming up with an answer is a shared task—between the movie and you.

[Read my original post about The Fall here.]

[See the trailer here.]

2. Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway

At first, I questioned whether or not it was appropriate to include Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway on this list. After all, it's not really a "movie," per se—it's a filmed document of the final Broadway performance of Jonathan Larson's groundbreaking musical, which ran for 12 years and exposed tourists to bohemian artists, drug addicts, gays, lesbians, drag queens, the homeless, and persons with AIDS.

But I finally decided to include it and rank it high for several reasons: I absolutely loved it, I saw it twice in the theater in the same week, and I think that it is so unmistakeably and distinctly cinematic.

Cinematographer Delcan Quinn and director Michael John Warren's 16 cameras swoop in for close-ups and deftly navigate through set pieces, delivering a level of detail that could only be captured on film. Even I, who had seen the show on Broadway twice (once in the third row), experienced Rent in a way that I never had before, and this movie completely reframed my understanding of the show and reaffirmed my love of this musical—in a way that the disappointing 2005 Rent film adaptation never did. (It also helps that the cast of Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway is excellent across the board.)

Sure, the show is dated, but, even as a period piece, the songs are still so alive and present, jolting you into an awareness and appreciation of the power of theater and of cinema.

[Read my original post about Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway here.]

[See the trailer here.]

3. Slumdog Millionaire

Although it's sometimes hip to be contrarian, I'm going to reveal to you my populist heart by embracing Slumdog Millionaire. I know some of you are saying, "Wait a minute—a foreign-language movie set in India with no recognizable stars and a relatively modest budget is populist?!" But this audacious, funny, violent, wildly romantic tale of a boy growing up on the streets of Mumbai and searching for his lost love via Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is so irresistible that I'm even going to take my mother to it because I'm certain she will adore it. And let's face it: Danny Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy and company have fashioned one of the greatest love stories ever.

[Read my original post about Slumdog Millionaire here.]

[See the trailer here.]

4. Love Songs (Les Chansons d'amour)

Although Love Songs (Les Chansons d'amour) is shot on location in Paris (with "extras" in the background who turn to the camera because they don't even know they're in the movie) and although it often displays a documentary aesthetic, the film veers far away from the kind of realism you'd expect, instead opting for an alternate French reality in which characters—entangled in straight, bisexual, and gay love affairs, without the burden of those pesky labels—wear their hearts on their sleeves by expressing exactly how they feel through matter-of-fact dialogue and a dozen or so gorgeous, heartfelt pop songs.

Director Christophe Honore and composer Alex Beaupain's beguiling film is populated by characters who seem emotionally schizophrenic, navigating scenes that wildly shift moods at the drop of a tune. It's like watching a bipolar musical. And the fact that it doesn't collapse under the weight of its own naivete and its French New Wave conceits is a wonder. How can a movie mired in melancholy (after all, the entire story hinges on an unexpected tragedy in the first act) also enchant you with its charm, its sense of play, and its thirst for passion? In every way imaginable, Love Songs defies logic—as demonstrated by its audaciously romantic final shot. And that's why I love the film as much as the film loves me.

[Read my original post about Love Songs here.]

[See the trailer here.]

5. Man on Wire

Excerpt from previous post: "Filmmaker James Marsh primarily structures his documentary as a heist film, by having the very animated, talented, and obsessive French tightrope walker Philippe Petit narrate his incredible story and by staging beautifully shot dramatic recreations that trace the motley crew's 'crime,' from its complicated planning stages to its suspenseful execution."

[Read my complete original post about Man on Wire here.]

[See the trailer here.]

6. Redbelt

Excerpt from previous post: "The Mamet-rigged cons and double crosses in Redbelt may not be as complicated and elegant as the ones in, say, The Spanish Prisoner, Spartan, or, my favorite David Mamet film, the criminally underrated (and unavailable-on-DVD) Homicide, but Redbelt towers over those films in terms of emotional resonance and giving the audience a hero that it can not only sympathize with but also root for."

[Read my complete original post about Redbelt here.]

[See the trailer here.]

7. Vicky Christina Barcelona

Excerpt from previous post: "Penelope Cruz is hysterically fierce; everybody else is uniformly terrific and real; and, despite its good spirits, Woody Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona is somewhat of a tragedy, a sad meditation on the complexities (and impossibilities?) of romantic love."

[Read my complete original post about Vicky Christina Barcelona here.]

[See the trailer here.]

8. Son of Rambow

I don't know why I didn't write about Garth Jennings's fantastic movie when I first saw it last summer. But this story about two boys who bond while attempting to shoot a sequel to First Blood is very funny and perfectly sweet.

[See the trailer here.]

9. Milk

Excerpt from previous post: "I think Milk is Gus Van Sant's best movie since 1989's terrific Drugstore Cowboy—and that's saying a lot, considering he's made ten features since. Arty types like to complain about the schematic nature of biopics, but I have never minded their predictable structure. For me, it's all about learning more about the person being profiled, and this film certainly delivers, filling in my gaps of knowledge about Milk, the gay rights movement in the 1970s, the inner workings of city politics, and the early days of the Castro, San Francisco's gay district, where I used to live and love.... But the movie—well-written by Dustin Lance Black—also boasts Van Sant's artful vision, combining actual news reports, archival footage, recreated photographs, and documentary-like filmmaking, a collage of styles that suggests the delirious nature of memory."

[Read my complete original post about Milk here.]

[See the trailer here.]

10. The Strangers

Excerpt from previous post: "The Strangers has its share of good scares (I don't think I've ever heard so many terrified girls screaming repeatedly in a theater), but it's the movie's expertly taut atmosphere and its unrelenting commitment to dread that makes it deeply, deeply unsettling. You see, first-time filmmaker Bryan Bertino (someone give that man a cigar or a blow job or some kind of reward) eschews such pesky cinematic notions as plot and character, opting instead for a simple structure (our two lone heroes fend against three bloodthirsty motherfuckers in the middle of nowhere) and sticking to that with an obsessive glee. Sick bastard."

[Read my complete original post about The Strangers here.]

[See the trailer here.]

Lastly, I have chosen ten movies to designate as Honorable Mentions (listed in alphabetical order):

American Teen
[See the trailer here.]

Baby Mama
[Read my original post about Baby Mama here.]
[See the trailer here.]

The Incredible Hulk
[Read my original post about The Incredible Hulk here.]
[See the trailer here.]

Iron Man
[Read my original post about Iron Man here.]
[See the trailer here.]

Let the Right One In
[See the trailer here.]

[See the trailer here.]

Run, Fat Boy, Run
[See the trailer here.]

Saving Marriage
[Read my original post about Saving Marriage here.]
[See the trailer here.]

[Read my original post about Wanted here.]
[See the trailer here.]

[Read my original post about Wanted here.]
[See the trailer here.]


  1. I can't believe this post didn't mention Zach Efron performing at the Oscars

  2. That should keep me busy for a while. Thank you.

  3. Will, have you seen Son of Rambow yet? It's about kids making a movie, guerrilla-style--sort of like you and Jake but younger! :)