2008 was an odd year for film, and not a good one. The summer blockbusters were uncharacteristically satisfying, but the end-of-the-year awards season was disappointing. Last year, there was no overlap between my ten top movies and the ten top money makers (sorry, Spidey 3); this year, three of the top five earners (Wall-E, The Dark Knight, and, yes, Iron Man) made my list. By contrast, a number of the recently released awards hopefuls (Milk, Doubt, Frost/Nixon) left me relatively cold. A strange case of cinematic seasonal affective disorder? Readers can judge for themselves.
The usual caveat applies: Though I saw a great many movies this year, I did not see all the movies released this year, so if a favorite (or unfavorite) of yours doesn’t appear that may be why. (In particular, there are quite a few documentaries I was not able to catch.) With that, I offer my second annual end-of-the-year awards. Those who missed last year’s debut can find it here.
Pixar (again) outdoes itself. If there was one film this year that will still be watched decades from now, this is it.
A Dickensian tale transposed to the subcontinent, told with delirious panache by director Danny Boyle.
Christopher Nolan’s noir epic has its flaws, but a lack of ambition is not among them. The rare movie that redefines the parameters of its genre.
A dour fantasy, an immersive head trip, and the year’s most fascinating bummer.
5. Revolutionary Road
In an awards season characterized by worthy, capable films that were a touch soft and conventional, this was one of few that bared its teeth. (More on this next week.)
6. The Wrestler
Here’s hoping Mickey Rourke’s comeback is more enduring than Randy “the Ram” Robinson’s.
Beautiful and intermittently moving, but a bit more narrative urgency would have helped drive it to the 160-minute mark.
8. Iron Man
An idle entertainment, yes, but an exceptionally entertaining one, thanks to Robert Downey Jr.’s sly, marvelous performance.
9. Be Kind Rewind
A hokey but heartfelt fable about creation versus commerce and commodification versus community. Like Wall-E, one of the most quietly thoughtful political films of the year.
10. Man on Wire
The story of a transcendent moment in the history of the Twin Towers, which is also, inevitably, the story of their absence today.
Notable mentions (alphabetical): The Bank Job, Bolt, Burn After Reading, Cadillac Records, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, Frozen River, Gomorra, Happy-Go-Lucky, In Bruges, I’ve Loved You So Long, Kung Fu Panda, Milk, The Orphanage, Rachel Getting Married, The Reader, Waltz with Bashir, Wendy and Lucy
Worst Movie (Morally Appalling Category):
Worst Movie (Self-Serious Mess Category):
Worst Movie (Where’s ‘MST3K’ When You Need It Category):
The Damn, I Had a Hell of a Year Award:
Robert Downey, Kate Winslet
The Invisible Man Award:
The Narrowest Typecasting Award:
Steve Coogan, for playing the out-of-his-depth director of a trainwreck Vietnam movie in Tropic Thunder and, one week later, the out-of-his-depth director of a trainwreck school play in Hamlet 2
The Most Believable Dialogue Award:
James McAvoy: “Have you ever thought about being someone else? Someone normal?”
Angelina Jolie: “No.” (Wanted)
Best Politico-Cinematic Observation:
Ezra Klein on Barack Obama and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Worst Politico-Cinematic Observation:
Andrew Klavin on George W. Bush and The Dark Knight
Most Forgivable Ben Kingsley May-December Romance:
Falling into bed, and love, with Penelope Cruz in Elegy
Sticking his tongue down Mary-Kate Olsen's throat in The Wackness
The Bizarro World Award for Superhero Film Criticism:
David Denby, for his takes on Iron Man (“There’s a slightly depressed, going-through-the-motions feel to the entire show”), The Dark Knight (“continue[s] to drain the poetry, fantasy, and comedy out of Tim Burton’s original conception for “Batman”), and Hancock (“by far the most enjoyable big movie of the summer”)
A Special Lifetime Commendation for Publicizing the Human Toll of Tuberculosis:
Baz Luhrmann (Australia)
The Please Can We Finally Give This Guy an Oscar Award:
Cinematographer (and seven-time nominee) Roger Deakins, who followed up his incredible 2007 (No Country for Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, In the Valley of Elah) with an almost-as-remarkable 2008 (Revolutionary Road, The Reader, Doubt, and a stint as “visual consultant” on Wall-E)
The I Still Hate the Suburbs Award:
American Beauty director Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road)
American Beauty screenwriter Alan Ball (Towelhead)
The Perhaps Marx Was Right After All Award:
Sex and the City
The ‘Horribly Efficient’ Award:
Daniel Craig (Quantum of Solace)
Best Superhero Musical You Couldn’t See in Theaters:
Most Pleasant Surprise:
Beyonce Knowles as Etta James in Cadillac Records
Best Southern Accent by an Australian Actor from L.A. Confidential Playing an American Counterterrorism Agent:
Guy Pearce, Traitor
Russell Crowe, Body of Lies
Worst Cinematic Trend of the Year:
Noble Holiday Suicides (Seven Pounds, Gran Torino, The Day the Earth Stood Still)
Stars singing the title themes to films they also produced and directed (Gran Torino, Appaloosa)
Most Horrible Kid (Creepy European Ghost Child Category):
Tomas (Oscar Casas), The Orphanage
Most Horrible Kid (Rude, Troublesome American Moppet Category):
Jacob Benson (Jaden Smith), The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Mental Recession Award:
Disney, for dumping its still-profitable “Narnia” franchise
The Ignorance of History Award:
Embarrassing Nude Viral Video as a Plot Device of the Year:
Rainn Wilson drumming naked in The Rocker
Embarrassing Seminude Viral Video as a Plot Device of the Year:
Elizabeth Banks wearing granny panties in Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Most realistic fiction:
The “S.O.S.” Award for Catastrophic Tone Deafness:
Pierce Brosnan (Mamma Mia!)
Most Predictable Plot Arc:
Least Cliffhangery Cliffhanger:
Anne Boleyn’s will-they-or-won’t-they execution in The Other Boleyn Girl. (Spoiler: They did.)
Worst Commercial Placement:
Showing the famous art-house Stella Artois ad--the one set on a train--before showings of the murderous railway thriller Transsiberian
The French Directors Evidently Recognize Talent Better Than English-Speaking Ones Award:
Kristin Scott Thomas (I’ve Loved You So Long, Tell No One)
The Nicest Use of a Paper Bag Mask Award:
To help teach schoolkids about migratory birds (Happy-Go-Lucky)
The Least Nice Use of a Paper Bag Mask Award:
To mug a random ATM user and cut off his thumb (Nobel Son)
The You Can Actually Make a Whole Movie with Just a Paper Bag Mask Award:
Most Overpraised Film:
Be Kind Rewind
Best Right-Wing Bogeyman Oeuvre:
Josh Brolin (for George W. Bush in W. and Dan White in Milk)
Denis O'Hare (for State Senator Briggs in Milk and Dr. Steele in Changeling)
Comedies Judd Apatow Was Involved in Making:
Comedies Judd Apatow Wasn’t Involved in Making, But Everyone Assumed He Was Anyway:
Role Models, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, Tropic Thunder
Sally Hawkins (HappyGo-Lucky), Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married), Danny R. McBride (Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder), Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road)
For God’s Sake, Enough:
Mike Myers (The Love Guru), Keanu Reeves (The Day the Earth Stood Still), Kate Hudson (Fool’s Gold), M. Night Shyamalan (The Happening)
Christopher Orr is a senior editor of The New Republic.