Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Top Films of 2008

It's that time of year again, when after catching up on DVD releases, I'm ready to rate my film picks from the previous year. The top five were no-brainers, while the others fall in loosely descending order.

1. Doubt. This is the film of the year, no doubt about it. Tightly directed, flawlessly acted, relentlessly ambiguous -- it's hard to heap too many accolades on a drama like this, in which every sentence of dialogue earns its keep. Based on the Broadway play by the same name, about a liberal priest in the '60s who is accused of having an erotic interest in one of his altar boys. Reviewed here.

2. The Dark Knight. The Godfather of superhero films (even superhero-haters like me love it), using Batman as a mythical icon to show how heroes escalate terror in the name of combating it. And if you thought no one could rival Jack Nicholson's act as the Joker, think again. Nicholson is campy next to Ledger's cold-blooded serial killer. What more really needs to be said at this point? If you haven't seen the movie by now, you don't have your priorities straight. Reviewed here.

3. Let the Right One In. It's hard to do right by the vampire, but leave it to the Swedes. Here we have a vampire girl who bonds with a 12-year old boy bullied by his classmates, a love story at heart, and the inverse in every way to the atrocious teen flick Twilight. Ironic that both came out at the same time. I still say that Near Dark is the best vampire film of all time, but this one is a close second.

4. Eden Lake. Just when you'd given up on the horror genre, out comes this piece of terror harking back to the brutal '70s classics. A couple camping in the countryside get tortured and killed by a pack of 12-year olds. I was so unprepared to get slammed by something this authentic that I had trouble picking myself out of my chair when it was over. Nihilistic and thought-provoking, it has a miserably unhappy (but perfect) ending; no third acts of cheap righteous payback. Reviewed here.

5. Martyrs. One of the nastiest films I've ever seen, yet surprisingly transcendent, about a woman's transfiguration to the great beyond by becoming one with pain. The charge of torture porn is unjust, for unlike the Hostel films, Martyrs isn't remotely titillating, and Laugier's purpose is to put us through a truly emotional ordeal, and share in the victims' hopes (however futile) for mental and physical liberty. The premise behind the cult fascinating, as is the idea that only women are receptive to transfiguration.

6. Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist. I almost never watch teen comedies, let alone enjoy them, but this one's an exceptional gem. While on a hunt across New York for an indie rock concert, two kids unwittingly fall in love. Great music, fabulous night shots of the city, and some quirky humor to watch for: "The 12 Gays of Christmas" performed by men in drag, and an omnipresent piece of bubble-gum shared by four characters -- even after being vomited by an endearing drunk.

7. Prince Caspian. Superior to the first film, and probably for that reason so unsuccessful at the box office. (Never underestimate the dangers of quality film making.) It's too bad Adamson won't continue helming the series given how much he's grown, and let's hope the third and fourth films don't suffer too much for his departure. Reviewed here.

8. Quarantine. An apartment complex is quarantined by the government and the poor folks trapped inside aren't given a chance of survival. The threat: a mutant rabies virus that takes over humans in less than an hour. Diseases turning people into zombie-savages are a dime a dozen these days, but this one is more impressive than all the 28 Days Later copycats. The hand-held camera view and claustrophobic atmosphere have a lot to do with it, amounting to a tense nightmare with no happy ending in sight.

9. The Wrestler. Darren Aronofsky's most mature film, about a fake wrestler married to his sport, treats his daughter like shit, but sincerely wants to be a part of her life. When he must retire for medical reasons, he finds himself unable to cope without doing the only thing he cares about. It says something about how compelling a film is when it takes a subject I'm entirely uninterested in (even hostile to) and draws me into its culture.

10. An American Crime. Based on the true story of Sylvia Likens, who was tortured and killed by mentally disturbed woman in 1965. This poor girl was tied up in a basement for weeks -- cut, branded, and and forced to eat filth, while, amazingly, kids in the neighborhood dropped by daily to participate in the "fun". Ellen Page was the only choice for this character, and she plays the role of a tortured innocent as convincingly as she does the tormenting sadist in Hard Candy.

(See also: The Top Films of 2005, The Top Films of 2006, The Top Films of 2007, The Top Films of 2009, The Top Films of 2010, The Top Films of 2012.)


Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

Thanks for the tips, Loren. Downloaded and saw Eden Lake immediately after I read your comments. A good film, but personally I believe the Descent was better. The director of Eden Lake even stole the accidental stabbing scene from the Descent. As well as the horrific, smeared look of the heroine.


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