This isn’t going to be a typical end of the year list, mainly because I’m not a typical critic. I saw five movies in the theater (as opposed to 119 total…I counted) this year, and a few that came out this year that I rented, but for the most part, I was skipping around in time and watching movies from all over the spectrum (like normal).
And in that spirit, I’m not necessarily picking the movies I thought were “the best.” Here are the films that, in one way or another, stuck with me after watching them. Bad and good is a bit easy to determine, especially in the cold light of January, but it’s a bit harder to pin down why a film haunts you, which I will attempt to do now.
So here’s my list, in alphabetical order. Happy reading.
Bus 174 (2002)
Unlike last year, I didn’t watch a lot of documentaries, and I think part of the reason being that this doc showed me what the best of the bunch looks like. “Bus 174,” the deceptively simple premise of a former street kid holding a bus hostage, shows what great journalism can do. “Bus 174″ shows a life gone wrong from every angle and should be required viewing for aspiring filmmakers and journalists alike. The most gut-wrenching film I saw in an entire year.
The Dark Knight (2008)
How is a film both popcorn and not-popcorn simultaneously? The answer is “The Dark Knight,” a thought provoking look at humanity’s heart of darkness dressed up in comic book stylings. That it also boasts good performances, a beating heart and questions of our worthiness of survival … butter.
Don’t Tell (2005)
This one really came down to the performances; the film is mostly melodramatic soapy goodness, and while it succeeds, what makes watching this tale of child abuse worthwhile is the various characters’ journeys toward some kind of happiness. It’s not always a fun journey, but the end is worth the trip.
My favorite 2008 movie and a worthy addition to the Watergate films (“All the Presidents Men” and “Dick” being the other two). Michael Sheen as David Frost vs. Frank Langella as President Nixon is one bout not to be missed. I hope Oscar rewards them both. And for context’s sake, I would recommend a visit to the theater before the inauguration.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
2008 will be the year that I found a Stanley Kubrick film to love. I didn’t think it was possible, but there it is.
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
“Ben Affleck’s impressive directorial debut” is not a sentence I ever thought I would write, but damn, I’m curious to see where he goes from here. He’s got quite the eye for filmmaking, and he certainly knows how to pick a worthy story. If you’ve been an Affleck hater, give this a chance and see another side of the oft-mocked actor. His brother Casey is pretty good too.
Hot Fuzz (2007)
Quite simply, the funniest thing I watched all year.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Robert Downey Jr. has had a stellar year, and if you’re a new fan, I would highly recommend this crime caper. It’s funny, smart, features Val Kilmer as smart-ass named Gay Perry, and knows how to poke fun at a somewhat tired genre.
The Lives of Others (2006)
Before watching the film, the only things I knew about it were 1) it upset “Pan’s Labyrinth” for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, and 2) the lead actor, Ulrich Mhe, died shortly after filming wrapped. What I learned after this surprising tale of friendship and art in East Berlin is that this one deserved the win.
Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)
2008 was also the year I began my great comedy search, and this, “Hot Fuzz” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” were the best of the findings (not counting TV shows), even if this one is not strictly a comedy. It’s more like a light drama, with heartwarming and funny moments sprinkled here and there. There are quite a few outrageous moments, but don’t let them scare you away. This light-touch film is worth it.
No Man’s Land (2001)
Another Oscar upset here, and in this case I couldn’t make up my mind if “No Man’s Land” or “Amelie” deserved it more; “No Man’s Land” gets the drama bonus, and is a ‘big-picture’ film where the final image of a man alone in his death is what will stick with you.
The Official Story (1985)
One scene sold me on this flick, a confession/revelation type scene between two women who haven’t seen each other in years. The rest of the story is a dark journey into a country’s national shame (in this case, Argentina), and while the end left me a bit cold, that one scene is a triumph of filmmaking.
Separate Tables (1958)
There’s nothing extraordinary about “Separate Tables,” except the fact it’s a rich snapshot of real life caught on film. It’s funny, sad, honest and at parts devastating, but always real. And despite its age, it’s not dated; it’s riveting.
Small Soldiers (1998)
I still miss Phil Hartman, and I bet I’m not alone in that thinking. I missed this when it came out, and while his role isn’t big, he’s perfect. The rest of the movie is pretty funny too.
Smiley Face (2007)
Again, another performance-based pick. There isn’t much to recommend outside of Anna Faris, but her turn as a high-out-her-mind actress trying to get to the beach is a total riot. But I would offer one caveat; the film is strictly 4 a.m. funny, to be enjoyed when the viewer is just a bit punchy.
The Weather Underground (2002)
A look back at a troubling time for our country shows how extremism, from both the right and the left, leads to the same place. A sobering thought for 2009.
Honorable Mention: “Battlestar Galactica” (2003-present)
Yes, it’s not technically a movie, but I couldn’t let my year in review go without mentioning a TV show I feel in love with. Brilliant, topical writing, coupled with one of the best casts on television makes for great and compelling viewing and TV show or not, “Battlestar Galactica” will always have a spot on my list.
Happy New Year.