10 Best Films of 2008

by Les Paul Robley
Published January 15, 2009

AMAL: Richie Mehta’s directorial debut is based on his short film, examining the true nature of happiness in a society preoccupied by haste, technology and greed. A dying tycoon, searching for a last glimmer of humanity on the streets of New Delhi while disguised as a vagabond, bequeaths his entire fortune to a humble rickshaw driver named Amal. Following his death, lawyer Ms. Agarwal is charged with finding Amal, while his undeserving sons and deceitful business associates try and thwart her efforts. This feel good movie offers us that rarest of heroes, one whose indefatigable integrity will leave viewers in a state of bliss.
BODY OF LIES: This slick, skillfully-directed adrenaline rush of a movie by Ridley Scott involves terrorism and deceit in the Middle East. Leonardo DiCaprio as a spy in Iraq and Russell Crowe as his indifferent CIA boss bring a contrasting believability to a deceptively hostile environment where nothing is as it seems.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON: The once-thought unfilmable short fantasy by F. Scott Fitzgerald, about a man growing younger through life, has been brought to the screen via a wonderful spellbinding epic departure by action-director David Fincher. Although long in parts, the touching Oscar-worthy performance by Brad Pitt (along with great visual effects makeup) keep one enthralled up to the last emotional moment.
THE DARK KNIGHT: Possibly on everyone’s list as Movie of the Year, Christopher Nolan’s dark follow-up to “Batman Begins” thrusts Gotham City into anarchy as the Caped Crusader faces his most formidable opponent, The Joker (in a brilliant Oscar-Supporting farewell by Heath Ledger), forcing Batman to cross the line from hero to vigilante. Six action sequences were filmed and presented in IMAX, adding to the incredible detail in this astonishing re-visioning of the franchise.
REDBELT: David Mamet’s riveting sleeper slipped by most viewers last spring. It examines the world of Mixed Martial Arts, as Jiu-Jitsu master Mike Terry chooses the honorable life of teaching over that of prize fighting. An accident in his studio triggers a series of events that forces Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) into the ring in order to pay off a friend’s debt and save face.
TWILIGHT: Based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer that harks back to the romanticism of Anne Rice’s Gothic novels, “My Guilty Pleasure” involves a teenage outcast who falls in love with a modern-day vampire amid the perpetual twilight of Washington’s Cascade Mountains. A dreamy, lyrical loveliness captivates throughout, which might leave ardent horror fans more into a “30 Days of Night” type of tale, unprepared for the nuances and arousing overlap of unlikely lovers outside their own kind.
VALKYRIE: An epic tale of honor, vengeance and salvation during Hitler’s reign reunites “Usual Suspects” director Bryan Singer with screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie to tell the true story of a World War II German officer who joins the resistance to kill the Fuehrer. Tom Cruise plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg with a relentless endurance by avenging the deaths of countless lost by risking those he loves in achieving what seems an impossible task.
VANTAGE POINT: Probably forgotten by many since it came out among the quagmire of last February’s titles, this taut first-rate thriller portrays the final moments leading up to the U.S. President’s assassination in Spain through the eyes of several witnesses. It displays how things become skewed and overlooked amid the chaos when seen from various vantage points. Although the climax might seem a bit contrived when everything comes together, the intense plotting and attention to detail make it one of the most intelligent original thrillers to materialize in a long while.
WALL-E: This love story between two robots has everything going for it: Pixar’s unique storytelling ability, “Finding Nemo” director Andrew Stanton, Ben Burtt’s Academy Award-winning sound effects, Dennis Muren’s computer animation expertise and songs from Jerry Herman’s “Hello, Dolly!” I’ve seen and projected this film at least a dozen times and I never grow tired of the adorable main character (especially during the first two reels); perhaps because, at heart, he’s a collector and romantic like me.
WORLDS APART (TO VERDENER): Based on an actual newspaper story about a teenage girl expelled from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, this is Denmark’s contender for Best Foreign Language Oscar. A shy 17-year-old falls for a man outside her faith and faces expulsion from her church. Niels Oplev’s highly nuanced, wonderfully acted film asks many profound questions about faith and fundamentalism in an increasingly non-secular environment. One of these, “Do you love God more than you love me?” she asks her father, which characterizes the central conflict. Even if you disagree with its outcome, the film incites deep debate, never judging any of its characters. As Sara, newcomer Rosalinde Mynster offers a magical portrayal of a sensitive girl transforming with a new awareness about herself, and once glimpsed you simply can’t take your eyes off her. ER