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.

manonwire-head09

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. Student. Also, beer.

51 Comments

  1. The Wrestler is the right choice. How many had it at no. 1 of the year? I bet nobody did, but everybody had it in their top 5?

    It is the 5 best movies of the year, nothing else even comes close (though I haven't seen Rachel Getting Married). You got the quote wrong by the way.

    And I think for Revolutionary Road you should have chosen the quote which reveals americans and the shallowness of the movie – the one where DiCaprio says he's only alive when firing a gun, and Winslet says she's only alive when DiCaprio fucks her.

    Reply
  2. that and a year afterwards, and watching the film probably three more times since, I still love Revolutionary Road. No need to rehash the argument again though.

    Reply
    • I should've reiterated in the post that this is not a "top" list of the year. It is not a ranking. It is simply six films that we really really really like. I should never have put numbers next to the titles; simply should've been bullets.

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    • Hey, a couple of us actually did have The Wrestler at #1. I think it was #3 on my list? It's a fab film but sorry, compared to 4,3,2 and RGM (both of which I think you would really like Henrik) it is light years behind.

      Reply
  3. I'm sure I will like RGM as well, I am pumped to see it (it wasn't released in theatres here).

    4,3,2 is also amazing. I'm not sure if I think it's better than The Wrestler. Movies are tough to rank man, but 4,3,2 isn't even an honorable mention on this list, so I think bringing that up is shooting your own site's credibility in the foot. I guess there isn't much to lose at this point.

    Speed Racer was great though, glad to see it mentioned.

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    • 4,3,2 isn't mentioned because few of us saw it and we had some debate about the year of release. But since this isn't a "top" list, it doesn't hurt the credibility in mentioning six great films in the slightest.

      Reply
  4. "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."

    Why is there a defense of Transformers 2 on this list?

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  5. Surprised to see Blindness in there, it was pretty slated when it first came out. At the time I thought it was a lot better than people were making out, but I wouldn't put it in my top 5. The voiceover was one of the most grating aspects for me, it lost the film a mark or two in my books. It's been a while since I saw it though, might need another watch. It's the same with Synecdoche, which again I wasn't blown away with when I first saw it. I did watch that at Cannes though at an early screening with a brutal hangover.

    Love The Wrestler though, that'd be my number 1.

    Reply
    • Blindness is tricky. We mentioned it (very) briefly on the Cinecast last night in relation to the writer and The Red Violin. But what I like most about Blindness is what it gives you to think about in the end; the discussion that is available once all of the pieces are laid out. I don't remember a voice over – was it Ruffalo?

      I'm going to make my girlfriend watch this very soon, so I look forward to a rewatch/reevaluation.

      Reply
  6. I like Voice over. A lot. But when it is bad, it can be really bad. And of course if it is used only to 'patch plot-holes' that is pretty indefensible.

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  7. Voiceovers can be great don't get me wrong, I can just remember this one being really bad. I think it was Danny Glover. I did watch it when it premiered at Cannes though where it didn't go down so well, so maybe it was changed? Probably not though. As I said, it's probably due a re-evaluation, I saw a hell of a lot of films that fortnight!

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  8. Some of my favourite Voice overs:

    The Opposite of Sex

    Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang

    Little Children

    The Informant!

    The Royal Tenenbaums (Baldwin intro)

    Virginia Madsen in Dune (actually, I like the all the wacky 'what they are thinking' voice overs in that one)

    Anything by Terrence Malick

    Guy Pearce in Memento

    Giamatti in American Splendor

    The ensemble voice-overs in Election are great.

    Coen Brothers -> Man Who Wasn't There, The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona…

    Orson Welles in both F for Fake, and Transformers The (animated) Movie (booya!)

    I'm sure there are several more (and yea, Jandy's 'body of noir' is pretty much perfect.

    Reply
  9. Oh yeah, voice over in Noir is usually very effective. You've picked some good ones there Kurt (Tenenbaums, Memento, etc.). I didn't like the Little Children one much even though I understand where Mike and Henrik are coming from as to its intent.

    Of course, the voice over in "Adaptation" was great.

    Where do people stand on the voice over in "Vicki Christina Barcelona"? This may have been discussed to death previously, but I couldn't stand it. I couldn't see how it added anything at all to the film. This wasn't lazy screenwriting to plug gaps or for exposition – it typically was just restating exactly what you were seeing on screen. Granted, maybe it's doing exactly what Woody wanted, but it dropped my opinion of the film by several notches.

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  10. I hated (HATED!) the Vicki Christina Barcelona voice over. Terrible and terribly unfunny, and well, annoying!

    I remember especially pointed it out in my review: http://www.rowthree.com/2008/08/07/review-vicky-c… :

    "The film’s ho-hum first half hour introduces the attractive Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Christina (current muse Scarlett Johansson in her third outing with Allen) as they are arriving in Barcelona for an extended summer stay. This is done in one of the most grating voice-overs in recent memory, the purpose of which seems to exist to either add bits of exposition and flavour that were not organically integrated into the script (perchance a result of Allen popping out a film a year) or simply make the film feel like it is moving forward while Vicky and Christina sit in cabs or take pictures in the various marketplaces"

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  11. I actually enjoyed the Vicky Cristina Barcelona voiceover by the middle of the film (the beginning was pretty annoying). Excerpt from my review:

    "All this is revealed in the first five minutes via voice-over narration, a device you’ll probably have a love-hate relationship with. In the beginning, I wished Woody would show more and tell less, but as the film progressed, the narration took on a very dry, ironic tone that I found delightful." (http://www.the-frame.com/blog/2008/08/14/review-vicky-cristina-barcelona/)

    I'm not sure I'd say delightful anymore, but I also haven't rewatched it. But I did think there was more to the VO than just repeating what was on screen. The narrator gained a personality and distanced, ironic viewpoint that I enjoyed.

    But really, guys, no one in this thread has spelled it right yet – no "h" in Cristina.

    Reply
  12. I find it kind of odd that you guys pretty much ignored the comic book films on these lists. I mean I don't really consider myself a fanboy, but they were a major part of this decade in cinema.

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  13. Well, drew, Rom-coms and frat-boy humour were also a major part of the decade, it doesn't mean they are anything beyond 'good' in most cases. There are a couple of 'great comic book movie' movies: The Dark Knight, A History of Violence, American Splendor, Spidey 2…but really do we need another list with a shit-tonne of blockbusters in the top 10?

    I'll leave that to FirstShowing.net and /Film. Thanks.

    ;)

    Reply
  14. "do we need another list with a shit-tonne of blockbusters in the top 10?"

    I just want peoples top 10s to be honest in the face of any and all possible criticism.

    for better or worse thats what we've tried to do with the FJ lists, and thats what i expect from R3

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  15. Apparently, I was the only one with The Dark Knight in his top five, so it hadn't a chance on this list. Then again, I also had Slumdog Millionaire on there and think Blindness, while ambitious, was mediocre at best, so what do I know.

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  16. ^never made it through Primer. I just found it boring. Yeah its complex, don't care, give me someone or something to care about.

    Bah I complain but I may give it another go one day.

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  17. I agree with Goon (on the blockbuster point), if you like a blockbuster or two you shouldn't be ashamed of it. I love a bit of trash alongside more classier films.

    I thought Dark Knight was a bit overrated though, very good, but not the masterpiece everyone made it out to be.

    Good call on American Splendor for great comic book movies though, I love that film. I class it as my favourite biopic too, a genre that I generally struggle to appreciate.

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  18. I totally see what your saying Kurt, and I respect that. Still I do have 2 comic book movies on my top 20. Spider Man 1 and 2. Even with the first ones flaws I really love it, and seeing that I basically grew up in this decade, i have some sort of nostalgic connection with it. :D

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  19. As with my nostalgic connection to

    Raiders of the Lost Ark, Dragonslayer, Ghostbusters and Empire Strikes Back. The 'comic book movies' of my childhood. As any true nostaligist (if that is a word) would say, mine were better than yours! ;) ;) ;)

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  20. I'm hoping the next generation will all be LOTR geeks instead of Star Wars geeks. I think we're well passed "Peak Oil" with shitty Star Wars merchandise.

    Bring on the Gandalf Mr. Potato Head

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  21. Yea, as trilogies go, I'm far more satisfied with the package of LoTR compared to Star Wars Saga, they both have weaker (relatively) third chapters though.

    Movie Merchandise in this day and age is rather soul-sucking.

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  22. @Goon,

    Dragon Slayer (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082288/) came out around the same time as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Empire Strikes Back. It has an awesome poster that was up in video store windows in 1981-2 everywhere, and while I've not watched in in some years now, it was one of those films that didn't play it safe with scarring children. Which of course makes it awesome.

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  23. Dragonslayer! That's a film that I never saw as a youngster but I remember the poster looking cool. It was just before my time though, I got into Star Wars and Raiders later on VHS, but this wasn't popular enough to hang around as long as they did. Thinking back it was probably Jurassic Park that had the biggest impact on me, because I saw that at the cinema when I was 11 and the effects just blew me away. I've still got a soft spot for it now…

    Ah nostalgia, I'm getting all dewy-eyed….

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  24. "it was one of those films that didn’t play it safe with scarring children."

    Seriously. I was probably six or seven when I first saw Dragonslayer. SPOILERS When the Princess is being eaten by the dragons END SPOILERS HOLY SHIT. That was deeply disturbing to me, because something like that NEVER happened in movies I watched at that age. I still recall vividly watching that movie for the first time and my jaw-drop and sickness in the pit of my stomach at that scene.

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  25. There is also some odds and ends sexuality in the film that doesn't make it into that type of film anymore. The 70s to mid 80s were good for this.

    Heck, even The Monster Squad has smoking and swearing in it.

    Reply
  26. And if those odds and ends were in Up, you would have been disturbed because you brought your kids to it!

    I think the Star Wars universe is way more interesting than Lord of the Rings, and the movies are incalculably better.

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  27. It kind of blows my mind actually the more I think about it. At the start of this decade I was 6 years old, now i'm 16. Within these 10 years I have developed an entire appreciation and taste in cinema, it's fucked. I went from being 6 and only caring about Pokemon: The Movie, to being well versed enough to write a top 100 list of my favorite movies. Decades are insane, so much happens within them. Just think about it, the first iPod came out in 2001, now we have iPhones and iPod Touches. I wonder whats going to happen in this new decade, for cinema and reality in general.

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