1) “The Dark Knight”
Without a question, “The Dark Knight” is the perfect adaptation of a comic book into a movie. It’s rare that a big-budget movie delivers so completely on its promise, all the while serving as a fitting eulogy to the life of an actor that deserves to have his career reevaluated. Heath Ledger’s Joker rates as one of the most chilling villains of all time, and although the movie at times lapses into dimestore, “Fight Club”-esque nihilism, Christopher Nolan finally creates a Batman that every director helming a superhero movie should look to as a model for how to craft a complex character out of a comic book.
2) “Slumdog Millionaire”
Although Danny Boyle’s decision to have this story set in India is almost cheating to gain audience interest, “Slumdog Millionaire” is an entertaining fairytale from the director… and it includes an entire-cast dance number, which is always a winner. I wish that Boyle had drawn more from his rich locations to help inspire the story: “Slumdog Millionaire” is stylistically close to 2005’s breathtaking “City of God,” but while “City of God” was defined by its location, “Slumdog Millionaire” almost struggles against it. Still, the film is an encouraging parable about the power of love, and it manages to keep a tightly focused, highly propulsive story without sacrificing anything in the way of completeness or style.
Apparently, the earth is going to end up populated by only one robot and a cockroach, while humanity bounces around space and becomes too fat even to ambulate. While this is undoubtedly a depressing message, Pixar once again injects life and cuteness into its animated subject. With Jeff Garlin as its biggest star, “Wall-E” is a success based mainly on the cuteness of an animated garbage disposal, as he tries to bring humanity back to its home and find true love along the way. Pixar at this point is playing with house money, and I am constantly surprised at how they surpass themselves.
4) “The Wrestler”
Most Gauchos have probably gotten high while watching Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream,” a melodramatic film about drug addiction. With its trippy, in-your-face editing and score, “Requiem” is mesmerizing. But if you watch a few scenes out-of-context, it can also be unintentionally hilarious. Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler,” on the other hand, is a subtle, well-written character study. The script, penned by the former editor in chief of The Onion, is actually supposed to be funny, though it is also very sad. Mickey Rourke plays an aging professional wrestler with not much of a life outside of the ring; he lives in a trailer park, his daughter hates him and he has a crush on a stripper. The film contrasts the ridiculous aspects of wrestling — the hairdos, the choreographed fighting and the post-fight hugs — with depictions of the brutal toll this fake sport takes on the human body. Rourke’ character, Randy “The Ram” Robinson, is a stupid, tough yet genuinely nice man whose best years, just as in the actor’s real life, were back in the eighties.
Sean Penn delivers what would unequivocally be the best performance any other year, but this year only ranks in at number three, as Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to office in California. Penn and Emile Hirsch both to some degree carry this movie, which manages to be inspirational without being didactic and document a man’s life without going for typical cheap biopic tricks (like “significant” dialogue). My only complaint is that they didn’t adequately show how Twinkies led to Milk’s murder.
6) “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (David Fincher)
Powered by Eric Roth’s tremendously personal screenplay and the vision of director David Fincher (“Fight Club,” “Zodiac”), “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” takes you on a journey through a life reversed. With Roth’s own experience in losing his parents fueling an incredibly emotional storyline, Fincher captivates the mind with each carefully detailed scene of the film. More than just a movie, ” Button” sends audiences from the end of life in a retirement home, across the world, and back again, highlighting the delicate human interactions and uncontrollable events which paint the tapestry of life.
7) “Rachel Getting Married” (Jonathan Demme)
Sitting through Jonathan Demme’s pretty yet supremely prickly “Rachel Getting Married” feels at times as uncomfortable as being trapped for the weekend with your own dysfunctional family. Bucking the feel-good, happily-ever-after conventions of your usual celluloid wedding, the film is filled with deeply scarred characters that never beg to be liked while begging for your attention (much like 2007’s equally impressive “Margot at the Wedding”). Much has been made of Anne Hathaway’s performance as Kym, the self-pitying younger sister and former drug addict and all-around fuck-up who is home for the wedding, but it’s Rosemarie DeWitt’s performance as the titular bride, torn between her bitter animosity and unconditional love for Kym, that adds a touch of much-needed sympathy to the affair before all is through.
8) “Synecdoche, NY” (Charlie Kaufman)
It seems fitting that Charlie Kaufman’s latest film was so little-seen upon its initial release: It’s hard to believe such a whimsical, dreamlike film is anything more than a figment of your overactive imagination. This is no slight to the film: Kaufman’s film depicts the inner workings of the artist, and as such abandons all attempts at spatial, temporal and logical continuity, allowing the audience to unscramble everything being tossed onscreen. Kaufman has always been interested in exploring the strange and bewildering space that is the human mind, but he outdoes himself this time, delving straight into the mind of a stage director played to schlubby perfection by Philip Seymour Hoffman, as he attempts to craft his masterpiece.
9) “In Bruges” (Martin Donaghy)
“In Bruges” set the bar incredibly high for pitch-black comedy last January: After all, a film follows a novice hitman (Colin Ferrell, in a role perfectly suited for him) hiding out in Bruges after a rather horrific kill, and the troubling sense of guilt he feels in the aftermath, has an uphill battle when it comes to scoring laughs. The dark and eerily quiet city of Bruges functions perfectly as a sort of purgatory for Ferrell’s character, as he waits… and waits… and waits to find out what his fate will be, and indulges in a little mindless hedonism to pass the unbearable time. Though the script never takes itself too seriously, it manages to capture some real emotional and philosophical resonance amid the bacchanal of pointed verbal wit, messy gore and endless profanity.
10) “Frost/Nixon” (Ron Howard)
“Frost/Nixon” is so good you’ll almost forget you’re watching a Ron Howard film. Channeling the offbeat sense of humor he brought to the dearly departed “Arrested Development,” rather than the dull and shamelessly mainstream films of his more recent filmography (his last film was “The Da Vinci Code,” after all), Howard has directed what can inarguably be considered one of the year’s best comedies. and political satires The film follows the bizarre-yet-true story of David Frost, a smarmy British talk show host, and his epic showdown with the confident-yet-fallen president who is still convinced in his own mind that he’s done nothing wrong, despite the overwhelming evidence and public consensus against him. Sound familiar? This is the film Oliver Stone tried and failed to make with “W.,” released earlier this year.
–Hetty Forsyth, Steven Ray Morris, Sara Weitz, Niko Kiefer and Aaron Harms also contributed to this article.