Remembering a Decade…2008

(prologue) As we can begin to hear the death rattle of the oughts, we in the third row decided to start on this continuing series throughout 2009 that will look back at our favorite films of each of the past ten years (2000-2009). This will ultimately culminate in a “ten best/favorites of the oughts” piece sometime in early 2010.

Well, this is just about it. Until our annual best of the year list arrives in early January that will account for all of the greatness that was 2009, this is pretty much the end of the decade. As we’ve looked back over the past 10 years it’s been fun to reminisce, discuss, bicker and compare. While this was maybe the easiest year in this series for all of the contributors to come to a consensus on, we had a little bit of trouble deciding between which of two films should be our fifth title on this list and which should be left off. In the end we decided that there is no absolute “rule” that says we have to have just five movies when remembering a year. So for our final bit of nostalgia (until our culminated list of top ten of the decade arrives), we give you six films from last year that really took our breath away – or at least gave us something to think about and remember. These six titles are how we remember 2008 taking shape.

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Before getting started, a few honorable mentions that barely missed the cut, but on any other day could have easily worked their way into this list:
Waltz with Bashir, My Blueberry Nights, Speed Racer, Pontypool, Anvil! The Story of Anvil

6) Revolutionary Road
– Amidst the familiar terrain of bored housewife suffocating in a world of unrelenting conformity, Revolutionary Road slows down the clock to allow every inflection of this implosion reveal itself. The result is a haunting vision of life draining out of people as they succumb to their scripted lives. Director Sam Mendes gave lip-service to suburban malaise in American Beauty, but here he nails it; getting a lot of help from the cinematography of Roger Deakins, the performances of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, and the foreboding score of Thomas Newman. Very, very close to being my number one film of the year. – Rot
– – “The hopeless emptiness? Now, you’ve said it. Plenty of people are on to the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.”

5) Blindness
– Despite the movie going public’s general apathy towards Blindness, in the third row we were all pretty big fans. It has loads to say and what it allows its viewers to ponder on their own is incredibly engaging and thought provoking. The cinematography is a style seldom seen (no pun intended) and the coldness of the clinical whiteout of everything is an innovative way to think about blindness rather than the more standard blackness. Superb performances all around (especially Danny Glover and Julianne Moore) that help bring that ringing sense of frustration and helplessness to a realism unparalleled in most films. The post-apocalyptic aspect of the film just brings about even more of a sense of wonder of the world at large and challenges our current set of beliefs and etiquette. Not to mention how a simple (arguably gimmicky) concept can be stratospherically successful and pondersome if done correctly.
– – “The only thing more terrifying than blindness is being the only one who can see.”

4) Synecdoche, NY
– Sure to batter folks around on an intellectual level as well as (by the end) an emotional level. This is clearly screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s 8 1/2. A large ensemble of the best actors working today give the heady stuff the emotional and human resonance the picture needs. And one of the most stunning graduations of screenwriter to director, the film is akin to starting at the dark center of those Russian dolls and peeling your way out, shell by shell. Most everyone who has seen the film appears to have the same impression: unsure if they liked it after it was finished, only to feel a momentum to their reflections that give it near masterpiece-level status in retrospect. There are probably flaws, there are things that do not make a whole lot of sense if you think too deeply about what they mean, but much like one of those 3-D illusions, once you let go of the interest in the details and let the whole overwhelm your senses, something truly magical appears. – Kurt/Rot
– – “There are nearly thirteen million people in the world. None of those people is an extra. They’re all the leads of their own stories. They have to be given their due.”

3) Let the Right One In
Let the Right One In spreads several layers of all our favorite elements over quite an enjoyable 2 hours. Vampires are an obvious favorite in the third row; as are nice, slow-burning, art house pictures with beauty, emotion, heart, a bit of blood and even a few laughs. Yes, Let the Right One In truly has a bit of everything mixed in and it unequivocally manages to do it without being messy or clumsy. Going beyond a simple “Buffy/Angel” relationship story, Let the Right One In gives its viewers far more to chew on than a simple vampire story. School bullies, parental authority and loneliness are all cornerstones to the idea behind the film. The film creates a subtle creepiness that is very effective, but is also touching at the same time of which “beauty” doesn’t even begin to describe.
– – “Are you really twelve?”
– -“Yes. It’s just I’ve been twelve for a very long time.”

2) Rachel Getting Married
– Almost a unanimous love for Kym and Rachel and their extended family swept threw the third row in 2008. An utterly perfect film of drama, heartache, joy, revelry, music and sadness, everyone I’ve shown Rachel Getting Married to is completely captivated and emotionally overwhelmed. Ted Demme and first time screen writer Jenny Lumet bring about a film that is so touching and almost mysterious in the way that the layers are slowly peeled back to give us just a little more information every few minutes to give us the depth behind these characters that we need to truly feel like we know them. The obvious bits of improv, the hand held camera work and the live music in lieu of a score all contributes to this compelling and beautiful movie. All of this is equaled (maybe even trumped) by the unbelievably stellar performances from our three leads. All three of which should have big huge trophies on their shelves at home for these performances. You’ve never seen Anne Hathaway like this before. Rachel Getting Married. Truly brilliant.
– – “Who do I have to be now? I mean, I could be Mother Teresa and it wouldn’t make a difference, what I did. Did I sacrifice every bit of love I’m allowed for this life…?”

1) The Wrestler
– Why in the name of God’s green earth that this film wasn’t nominated for an Oscar is something we’ll never even begin to fathom. This is the “little indie that could”, break-out movie of 2008 and is every bit as good as you’ve heard it is. Despite big names and a high profile director at the reins, The Wrestler is the film that looks like it was made for about three hundred dollars but rewards its audience a million fold that amount in joy and entertainment. Besides the obviously wonderful performances by its two leads, this is a movie that is extra special and poignant for its star Mickey Rourke. “The Ram” is a character that is instantly likable and audiences were captured and never let go of. The film isn’t flashy, the story is a bit cliché, but the honesty and raw emotion in the film is completely earned and was enough to leave me sitting in the theater staring at the screen long after the credits were done rolling. Just the thought of the entire package and remembering specific scenes makes me choke up a bit with a mixture of both joy and tragic sadness.
– – “I don’t hear as good as I used to, and I ain’t as pretty as I used to be. But I’m still here – I’m the Ram.”

We’ll see you in a couple weeks with our picks for 2009.

THE COMPLETE SERIES (so far):
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008

Andrew James
Podcaster. Tech junkie. Movie lover. Also games and guitar. I dig music.