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Looking Back: The Best of 2008

Unlike the year we are in, 2008 was an exceptionally strong year for movies. With The Dark Knight, conquering the world of blockbuster epics, to the quieter films like Doubt or The Reader, the year saw its fair share of strong films. I could easily make a Top 15, but unfortunately, I stick to the conventions of year end reviews, which includes on 10 films cited as the best.

The following is how I would have awarded films, in the top categories (Winner is in bold)

Best Picture:

  1. Doubt
  2. The Dark Knight
  3. The Reader
  4. Milk
  5. The Wrestler
  6. Changeling
  7. Vicky Christina Barcelona
  8. Gran Torino
  9. Rachel Getting Married
  10. Wendy and Lucy

-The selection of Doubt as the best film of 2008 was kind of a difficult choice. It’s a superb film, with some of the finest acting, but was challenged by a much louder and bigger film. The Dark Knight surpassed the superhero genre, and reached heights of great crime epics like, Heat or The Departed. As the year came to a close, I went for the quieter film. Doubt truly packs a punch, that you might not expect before watching it.

Best Director:

  1. Stephen Daldry-The Reader
  2. Clint Eastwood-Changeling
  3. Christopher Nolan-The Dark Knight
  4. John Patrick Shanley-Doubt
  5. Gus Van Sant-Milk

-Clint Eastwood is always a master behind the camera, and his Changeling proves nothing different. Eastwood captured the time period so wonderfully, that I didn’t even think I was watching a 2008 film, but one from the 30s or 40s. That is a sign of a true master, and why Clint Eastwood delivered the best directing effort of 2008.

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

  1. Clint Eastwood-Gran Torino
  2. Colin Farrell-In Bruges
  3. Richard Jenkins-The Visitor
  4. Sean Penn-Milk
  5. Micky Rourke-The Wrestler

-What a tour de force the small film The Wrestler was. With this, director Darren Arronofsky as created two of the best films of this decade (his 2000 film Requiem for a Dream was an unflinching look at drug addiction). Part of The Wrestler‘s greatness can be attributed to the re-defining of Micky Rourke’s career. Some say he is just playing himself, but this is a heartfelt and complex performance, that was equally tough and vulnerable, but consistantly moving.

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

  1. Kate Beckinsale-Nothing But the Truth
  2. Anne Hathaway-Rachel Getting Married
  3. Meryl Streep-Doubt
  4. Michelle Williams-Wendy and Lucy
  5. Kate Winslet-The Reader

-Who wasn’t excited for Kate Winslet when she accepted the Oscar for The Reader? It was such a great performance, and it definitely made it hard to pick a winner. All of these actresses delivered great performances, including two actresses in two great, but little seen movies. My winner is Michelle Williams for the quiet, but effective Wendy and Lucy. There is almost nothing to this film, and yet it is one of the most special pictures I have ever seen. Williams gives her best performance to date as a drifter, and had this film reached a wide distribution, I think she could have contended for an Oscar (same thing goes for Beckinsale).

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

  1. Josh Brolin-Milk
  2. James Franco-Milk
  3. Philip Seymour Hoffman-Doubt
  4. Heath Ledger-The Dark Knight
  5. John Malkovich-Burn After Reading

-This really isn’t a competition. There are four very strong performances, than there is the performance of the year, one of the best performance ever to put onto film. Of course, that is Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. What a shame it is that Ledger passed, because he never got to realize that his performance as the Joker is one of the greatest performances in the cinema (yes, he would have won the Oscar if he was still alive!). His performance goes beyond the gimmicks that the role might have called for, because Ledger created a monster all of his own. It’s a menacing, diabolically funny, and ultimately chilling performance. Again, one of the greatest of all time, in the ranks of Brando or Bogart.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

  1. Amy Adams-Doubt
  2. Penelope Cruz-Vicky Christina Barcelona
  3. Viola Davis-Doubt
  4. Vera Farmiga-Nothing But the Truth
  5. Marisa Tomei-The Wrestler

-Marisa Tomei gave a heartfelt supporting performance in The Wrestler, as she played a stripper, but more importantly, guarding angel to Rourke’s character. She owns every scene she is in, and delivers her best performance yet.

It was a great year in film. There was so much for us film goers to appreciate, from big budget blockbusters, to small independent films that moved us. If you get anything out of this article, let it be to go back and see all of these great films (especially ones that never reached wide distribution like Wendy and Lucy and Nothing but the Truth). Don’t forget some of the years other fine films like Slumdog Millionaire (the Oscar winner), In Bruges, Frozen River, or the underrated teen comedy Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (I still believe Woody Allen would be proud).

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