Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Top Ten Films of 2008 - By Tony Nunes

1) Wall-E - From Pixar, the most consistent production company around, comes this dystopian masterwork. A stand-alone Sci-Fi film in it’s own right, Wall-E mixes charm and satire with doom and gloom in a story even the late George Orwell would appreciate for its social relevance. Heavy themes for a kids movie, Wall-E gets away with its bleak outlook by employing a robotic, Chaplinesque protagonist with more character than most of the human characters presented in other films this year. From the director of the equally amazing Finding Nemo, Wall-E is my pick for the best movie of 2008.

2) Slumdog Millionaire - Never have I seen a movie more in sync with the pulse of a culture than Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. Slumdog reminded me of the 2002 Fernando Meirelles film City of God, in its depiction of poverty amidst a rich cultural backdrop. What Boyle managed to do beyond what Meirelles accomplished was to inject his film with more heart, creating a memorable love story that works off of an exuberant energy enforced by the films editing. This film more than any other this year kept me truly engaged from start to finish.

3) Let the Right One In - Dubbed as a Swedish Romantic Horror Film, Thomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In is the best horror film since 28 Days Later. In a year where teen vampires were all the craze, here is a story about an introverted 12 year old boy who befriends a 12 year old neighbor girl, who subsequently is a vampire. This is no teen popcorn flick like Twilight, but rather a love-story that is gruesome at times, and beautiful at others. Scary through its realism, acting, and quiet snow-covered setting, the film is an oddly wonderful take on young love.

4) Tropic Thunder - Ben Stiller has officially brought back the meaning of satire. While the Cinemas have been plagued with the endless flow of spoof movies the past ten years, the socially satirical genius set by Mel Brooks has long vanished. Here however is a glimmer of hope, a satire that harps on everything from Platoon and Apocalypse Now, to the ever fascinating enigma that is the actor’s ego. Tropic Thunder is by far the funniest film of 2008, and Robert Downey Jr. is sheer genius playing Kirk Lazarus (a dead-on satire of Russell Crowe) playing Captain Lincoln Osiris.

5) The Edge of Heaven - This foreign gem, directed by Turkish-German director Faith Akin, is a fresh take on parallel storytelling. Unlike the many criss-crossing interactions between characters in movies today, Edge of Heaven lets its audience be the only witness to the irony of life and death that tie its wonderfully written ensemble cast unknowingly together.

6) The Wrestler - Mickey Rourke embodies the spirit of a broken man in this film that brought me back to a childhood of watching 80's wrestling stars like Jake the Snake and Macho Man Randy Savage theatrically beat the hell out of one another. Watch the 1999 documentary Beyond the Mat as a companion piece to The Wrestler for some haunting insight on how true Rourke’s depiction really is.

7) Encounters at the End of the World - Werner Herzog has always had a close understanding of the sometimes savage, always spiritual relationship between man and nature. In this doc about scientists living in Antarctica, he captures the subtle, yet poignant philosophy that binds that primitive struggle.

8) The Visitor - Richard Jenkins shines as Walter Vale, in this quiet examination of loneliness, immigration, and self-discovery. Vale, a widowed college professor, is revitalized by a cross-cultural friendship that employs the djembe (African Drum) to act as the figurative heartbeat as Vale once again discovers how to thrive.

9) Milk - Engaging and entertaining, Milk is a timeless story of America’s continual fight for civil rights, this time for gay rights. Both Sean Penn and James Franco are amazing in this sadly relevant film, as the irony of California‘s Proposition 8 casts a shadow over its release.

10) Happy-Go-Lucky - Sally Hawkins gives the best performance by any actress all year as the bright and exuberant Poppy. Happy-Go-Lucky is a film about finding optimism in a world that offers so few reasons to be optimistic. Poppy is the heart, soul and breath of fresh air that the world just might need in these trying times.

Honorable Mention * Wendy and Lucy - Minimalism usually does not impress me, but Michelle Williams performance in this simple tale of love and hardship is quite remarkable. There is an eerie familiarity to the setting and characters in this film, a timely portrayal of unemployment and poverty. It is the love between Wendy and her dog Lucy that really makes us look twice at the tough choices we are forced to make in our own lives.

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