As per usual, I haven’t seen enough 2008 releases to be justified making a Best of 2008 list, so here is my much more egocentric list of my favorite movies that I saw during 2008, no matter when they were released. And I threw in books, music, and games, with the same caveat. The links go to my reviews, reactions, or other previous writings about them. The non-linked ones I, uh, didn’t write about. Because I am lazy. So I’ll throw in a line about them, but I may still write about the more in the future. Or not. Because I am lazy.
Oh, and also, don’t even think these are lists of bests. They’re lists of favorites, 100% subjective. And highly subject to change.
Cleo from 5 to 7 (imdb) – A New Wave film from a female director (Agnes Varda). It’s an excellent combination.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Wall-E (imdb) – edit: I managed to forget this one upon publishing this post. BAD JANDY. A breathtakingly beautiful, heartwarming but not maudlin, and prescient sci-fi animated film. Virtually perfect in every way.
Divided We Fall
The Fall (imdb) – A dazzlingly imaginative film set partly in war-torn Spain and partly in the story a dying soldier tells a young girl. Not as cohesive as Pan’s Labyrinth, but very much in the same vein.
Kicking and Screaming
All That Jazz
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Speed Racer (imdb) – One of the most criminally underrated films of the year. A visionary expression of sensory overload and invention. Plus, shiny!
I Walked With a Zombie
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
I’m Not There
Rachel Getting Married (imdb) – Fantastic acting and script. Just misses being in the “Loved” section because I could strangle Jonathan Demme for misusing the shakicam.
Werckmeister Harmonies (imdb) – Director Bela Tarr is known for using reaaaallllly long takes, and he does. But the slow pacing soon becomes mesmerizing and stunningly beautiful.
The Dark Knight (imdb) – I’m sorry, but I have to say I think The Dark Knight is a little overrated. Ledger is fantastic, and the Joker is the best villain the movies have seen in a long time. But I pretty much can’t remember ANY of the scenes without him.
All the President’s Men
Burn After Reading (imdb) – The black humor Coens return in force (and farce) here. It’s nothing like No Country, but it’s an over-the-top great time.
The Innocents (imdb) – This should’ve been in my Month of Horror post; don’t know how I forgot it. Very well-done quiet (maybe) evil kid horror film based on The Turn of the Screw.
Let the Right One In
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (imdb) – Perhaps a movie about hipsters running around New York City in search of an elusive band is just made for me. Granted, it’s slight, but it’s really enjoyable.
Australia (imdb) – There are admittedly a lot of tonal problems with Australia, but I enjoyed watching every second of it.
Tell No One (imdb) – A man’s wife is murdered…or is she? When he starts seeing her and hearing from her years later, it quickly becomes clear there’s much more going on in this twisty French thriller.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Transsiberian (imdb) – A couple travels from China via the Transsiberian Railway, but gets pulled into trouble by a couple of young drifters. A solid thriller with a good twist or two.
Shaft (1971) (imdb) – I saw Samuel L. Jackson’s remake a few years ago. As cool as Sam Jackson is, he WISHES he were as cool as Richard Roundtree, the original iconoclastic black private eye facing off with Harlem and Italian gangsters and the NYPD.
Night of the Living Dead
Saawariya (imdb) – This fairy-tale Bollywood film is extremely stylized and imaginative – one of the more interesting Indian films I’ve seen so far. They’re always visually sumptuous, but this one takes it to a whole new level.
The Flower of My Secret (imdb) – Pedro Almodovar film similar to All About My Mother in tone. Not as good, but still very worthwhile.
Synecdoche, New York (imdb) – I can’t do this one justice in a few sentences. I’m still working out in my head what I think about it. The best quote I’ve seen about it, though, is from Roger Ebert: “a film that should never be seen unless you’ve already seen it at least once.”
Les bonnes femmes
Village of the Damned (imdb) – Evil alien children take over a rural English town. It’s way better than it sounds, a classic old-school British horror flick.
My Blueberry Nights (imdb) – Wong Kar-Wai’s first English-language film is a visually beautiful odyssey following a girl as she tries to find out what she wants. I’m excited to see his other films now, which I’ve heard are better.
Some Came Running (imdb) – Frank Sinatra gets to prove his acting chops again as a cynical soldier returning to his small-town home. Shirley MacLaine is a revelation, and Dean Martin gets probably his best role, as well.
Lars and the Real Girl
Ace in the Hole (imdb) – Reporter Kirk Douglas will do anything to get a good story, even keeping a trapped miner trapped as long as he can to increase the media frenzy. It’s Billy Wilder, so you know it’s going to be solid, and it is.
The Body Snatcher
Wristcutters: A Love Story
Isle of the Dead
Do You Like Hitchcock (imdb) – This Dario Argento film has a film student getting involved with a murder that bears a close resemblance to Strangers on a Train; the overall film also had plenty of Rear Window and I like to think a little Vertigo in there.
Be Kind, Rewind
Shadows (imdb) – John Cassavetes’ first film, and often hailed as the beginning of American independent film. Touches on show business, youth, and sibling rivalry, but the tough look at 1960s racial issues is the most interesting aspect.
In Bruges (imdb) – I expected a comic action film, and it is that sometimes, but it’s also got a huge dose of thoughtful philosophy in there, as two hitmen go to Bruges (read: Purgatory) to wait out a botched job.
Hannah Takes the Stairs
Lacombe, Lucien (imdb) – A young German boy falls into working with the Nazis during WWII, but finds his loyalties divided when he befriends a Jewish family – and falls in love with the family’s daughter. It’s a big tough at first to relate to the implacable boy, but there’s more here than meets the eye.
The Seventh Victim (imdb) – Val Lewton, occultism, missing sisters, overall creepiness – what more do you want?
Made in USA
The Blue Angel
Lola Montes (imdb) – Max Ophuls’ only widescreen, color feature about the rise and fall of a the title character in the courts of Europe is sumptuous, but a little distancing. Perhaps purposefully.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
The Cool World (imdb) – Another early independent film, this is the story of a young Harlem boy who thinks everything in his life would be better if he just had a gun, and thus some power and authority. Hard to see due to rights issues, so if you get the chance, jump on it.
I Am Legend
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James – First thing I’ve read by James, and I was highly impressed. His mastery of depicting the interior life is a great foreshadowing of Modernism.
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons – Proof that graphic novels can be just as complex and well-written as traditional novels.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway – The basis for my current revaluation of Hemingway, who I used to not like. But this one is great.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins – A Victorian mystery, and with my general dislike of Victorian lit, I was shocked at how much I liked it. It’s perfectly written, and so much more than *just* a mystery.
Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers – Similarly here, as this is technically a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, but the mystery is almost secondary to Sayers’ exploration of life at an Oxford women’s college, with side notes on feminism, class, and academia.
Good Night Mr. Holmes by Carol Nelson Douglas – Douglas rewrites Sherlock Holmes from a woman’s point of view, making Irene Adler, the only person to outwit Holmes (in A Scandal in Bohemia), the heroine.
Alias Grace Margaret Atwood – Grace is a convicted murderess, shuttled between prison and mental institution; she tells her story to a sympathetic doctor who hopes to absolve her. But the truth of the matter is elusive, even to the reader.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Ichebe – A leader in an African tribe struggles with pride and the conflict between tribal customs and the incoming Christian missionaries. Achebe is known for being among the first to bring a truly African voice into English-language literature, and his minimalist style suits the story perfectly.
Spook Country by William Gibson
With music it’s more “these are what I’ve been listening to the most in 2008.” Although I think I did acquire all of these albums in 2008, even though several of them are from earlier. All 2006-2008, though, I think. I linked Music Monday or concert coverage posts where I had them; otherwise tacked on a MySpace link so you can hear them yourself.
Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue
The Submarines – Honeysuckle Weeks
Babyshambles – Shotters Nation (MySpace)
Mates of State – Rearrange Us
Los Campesinos! – We Are Beautiful, We are Doomed / Hold On Now, Youngster
Metric – Live It Out (MySpace)
Army Navy – Army Navy
Silversun Pickups – Carnavas
The Apples in Stereo – New Magnetic Wonder (MySpace)
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible (MySpace)
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (MySpace)
We are Scientists – Brain Thrust Mastery (MySpace)
She & Him – Volume One (MySpace)
I’m From Barcelona – Who Killed Harry Houdini / Let Me Introduce My Friends (MySpace)
The Rosebuds – Life Like
Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
The Fratellis – Here We Stand
Bioshock – One of the most amazing stories and art direction in any game ever.
Bully – Like GTA, but at a boarding school. :) Not particularly innovative, but a blast to play.
Portal – The only problem with Portal is it’s too short! Fantastic puzzle game with a fun story to boot.
Fallout 3 – I’ve only played a few hours of this, but I can already tell it’s headed to the “loved” category. Looks fantastic and plays like Oblivion (aka, my fave game of all time).
Rock Band 2 – Not much different than Rock Band, but don’t fix what ain’t broken, and the improvements made are good. I just keeping coming back for more.
Fable 2 – Does a nice job of improving on the first Fable, which was already good. The difficulty’s not perfect, though – I found I got through the whole main quest with very little leveling.
Guitar Hero: World Tour – The first Guitar Hero game that remotely gives Rock Band any competition, to my mind. I actually think the gameplay is a bit better, but the overall experience was less enjoyable.
Assassin’s Creed – Climbing up every building in town and running over rooftops never got old. The gameplay here is spectacular, but it’s not one I’d ever play again. Looking forward to seeing what the sequels do with the story, though.
Mirror’s Edge – Again, groundbreaking gameplay, once you get the hang of it. But I’m about halfway through and I’m already bored with the story and missions. Still, paves the way for potentially stupendous games in the future.