Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home.
Print Email

Top Ten

The Year in Film

Speed Racer

Top Ten 2008

The Year in News If we had to pick one word to define 2008, it would have to be "crisis." National headlines this y...

The Year in Film Movies went pop this past year, if this list is any evidence to current tastes and predilections. ...

The Year in Television The year began in a writer's strike that threatened to sentence viewers to a spring season of noth...

The Year in Music Yes, the list that follows is staggeringly bent toward indie-rock. Why? It's hard to say--it cou...

The Year in Local Music A nice mix of already heavily lauded records and sleeper gems, this year's local top 10 astounds f...

The Year in Books Publishers recently announced staff cuts. The book itself remains in the digital age's cross hairs...

The Year in Art Baltimore's art community continued to grow in activity and quality in 2008, and it's increasing sc...

The Year in Stage As this list attests, Center Stage had a banner year. From its spry production of an Edward Albee ...

The Year in DVDs 1. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Criterion) Even in an age where you can search up footage of an... | By Lee Gardner and Bret McCabe

The Year in Video Games 1. Fallout 3 Fallout 3 is one of the biggest--if not the biggest--games ever made. It is so loa... | By Benji Anft

Posted 12/10/2008

Movies went pop this past year, if this list is any evidence to current tastes and predilections. Two outright comedies, two comic-book adaptations, an animated dystopian space odyssey, and an steroidal color explosion--all from Hollywood studios, occupy more than half of the top 10 spots below. Given the overall bonkers tenor of the past year in general, perhaps a change is really going to come because, clearly, in an election year when a surprisingly middle-ground Oliver Stone George W. Bush biopic practically tanks at the box office and the movie that features a reefer-toking W. lampoon using hand jobs as an example for hypocritical positions shows up below, anything is possible. The list was determined by weighted lists submitted by critics Rahne Alexander, John Barry, G. Brian Davis, Steve Erickson, Violet Glaze, Cole Haddon, Jess Harvell, Eric Allen Hatch, Geoffrey Himes, Martin L. Johnson, Bret McCabe, Al Shipley, and Wendy Ward. Individual Top 10 lists can be viewed at citypaper.com.

1 The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, USA)

It is a rare year indeed when film critics unite to lionize a massive summer blockbuster as the best movie of the year. That, in a nutshell, encompasses what's most impressive about The Dark Knight: the flawless marriage of entertainment and intelligence, that almost-forgotten ideal that pop culture can be smart and powerful. From the Nolan brothers' taut, complex script to the lead roles' haunting performances--hats off to all, but especially Heath Ledger's terrifying Joker--Christopher Nolan's dark masterpiece explores the foggy moors of morality and violence. In short, you would be hard-pressed to find another recent movie that so rigorously defends Hollywood's artistic potential. (G. Brian Davis)

2 WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, USA)

WALL-E shows a few signs of being a mainstream American family movie: it ends on a note of improbable uplift and forces a pair of genderless robots into a heterosexual couple. Otherwise, it's a rare example of socially conscious work that isn't content to preach to the converted. However, that's not the main reason it's a delight. Its biggest surprise is that it makes silent comedy and post-apocalyptic sci-fi fit together so naturally and comfortably. Sure, its robots are cute, but they're placed in a convincingly imagined grubby dystopian future. After Pixar took an aesthetic swan-dive with Cars, WALL-E suggests the animation studio's best days may be ahead of it. (Steve Erickson)

3 Iron Man (Jon Favreau, USA)

Hollywood directors have been beating their heads against a security wall for years trying to figure out the Bush presidency with nothing to show except a series of box-office bruisings. With Jon Favreau's Iron Man, something finally clicked. Robert Downey Jr. plays a gung-ho tech genius who becomes troubled by his family's weapon-manufacturing business after he learns that their weapons are in enemy hands. While the movie indulges in the usual action-movie braggadocio and the plot distills into a good super-suit v. evil super-suit battle at the end, the movie's moral ambivalence is a refresher from years of summer-movie patriotism. (Martin L. Johnson)

4 The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin, Germany)

Nejat (played with quiet grace by Baki Davrak), a young Turkish-born professor living in Germany, and his father, Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz), occupy a small world shattered by a single, irrational act of violence. Turkish director Fatih Akin concentrates on characters who, at least in this life, wander across Europe and into Turkey in search of one another, and instead of trying to resolve things, his movie creates its own rhythm with a confident, unwavering focus on unvarnished humanity. In an age of instant links, Akin reminds us how achingly painful, and strangely beautiful, the struggle to overcome separation can be. (John Barry)

5 Tropic Thunder (Ben Stiller, USA)

Robert Downey Jr. playing a preposterously pretentious Russell Crowe playing a Southern African-American. Jack Black playing a drug-addled Robert Downey Jr. trying to transcend a career supported by Eddie Murphy-grade fat suits. Ben Stiller playing Tom Cruise playing Sylvester Stallone (or is it Arnold Schwarzenegger?). And Tom Cruise playing Paramount majority owner Sumner Redstone as the galaxy's biggest asshole even though Paramount made the movie. Tropic Thunder is an over-the-top parody of Hollywood's interpretation of war and Hollywood itself. Movies about making movies rarely resonate outside of the industry, but this one never stops making you laugh. (Cole Haddon)

6 Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, USA)

After years of enduring the whiny, whitey midlife crises of Woody Allens and Michael Douglases, it's actually refreshing to have Charlie Kaufman assume the voice of authority in the Department of Privileged Neurosis. While some may champion the neo-surrealist achievements of past directors of Kaufman scripts, it's in Synecdoche that Kaufman finally directs himself, and in so doing reveals something more substantial about what he's been driving at all these years. This is absolutely not a universal story; in fact, that's precisely the tragic, alienating point of the movie. Put this in a triple-feature with The Savages and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and you may never follow Philip Seymour Hoffman down a dark alley again. (Rahne Alexander)

7 Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, USA)

Yes, it was funnier than Pineapple Express. And Pineapple Express was very, very funny. (In fact, if Harold and Kumar 3 features the strip-mall tough-guy Zen of Pineapple Express' Danny McBride, it may destroy comedy as we know it.) It's also unashamedly corny and unflaggingly crude, milking bong-friendly yuks from questionably juvenile material like overgrown pubic hair, prison rape, and unruly ejaculate. Should grownups who've packed away their one-hitters feel bad for laughing at some--or all--of this movie? Probably. But where else can we enjoy a drugged-out, priapic Doogie Howser taming mythological animals and facing down a bordello's worth of pissed-off hookers? (Jess Harvell)

8 Chop Shop (Ramin Bahrani, USA)

Hollywood may have had quite a year, but so did American independent cinema. Case in point, Chop Shop, a low-budget movie populated by first-time, teenaged actors and set against a dismal, post-industrial backdrop of auto-body shops on the outskirts of Queens that cannibalize dying vehicles so that others might live. The aesthetic here is reminiscent of Italian neo-realism to be sure, but even more so of the modern Iranian cinema, of which director Ramin Bahrani clearly has a master's familiarity. If this sometimes bleak story of survival on the economic margins ultimately manages to strike hopeful notes, it more than earns them with its 84 minutes of direct, unflinching, and unpretentious cinematic honesty. (Eric Allen Hatch)

9 Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, USA)

What happens when adults tackle shopworn clichés with impudent enthusiasm. Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married plunges into that old yarn about family drama at a major event--the titular wedding--and even embraces a few of that storyline's familiar notes. Slyly, though, these characters--spearheaded by the myopically hostile rehab-recovery sister Kym (Anne Hathaway), bride-to-be Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt), and the absentee mother (an ass-kicking, name-taking Debra Winger)--and cinematographer Declan Quinn elevate the movie into an improvisational précis on not dealing with loss, love, and life itself. Everything and nothing happens here: It's like a mumblecore movie, only with committed acting, a visual idea, and a narrative purpose--you know, as made by a filmmaker. (Bret McCabe)

10 Speed Racer (Andy and Larry Wachowski, USA)

A pachinko parlor explosion of light and delight that is destined for home-theater cult status after being unfairly overlooked in the summer movie stampede. The Wachowski Brothers prove they're more than cyberfetishists by abandoning the grim and grown-up world of The Matrix to plunge into a presexualized fantasy of Crayola colors and maximum velocity, where the chastest expression of joy can be found in working at the top of your craft, and where a pure-hearted ars gratia artis manifesto is cleverly folded into the shock and awe. An art film, for artists, masquerading as a blockbuster. (Violet Glaze)


Rahne Alexander

  1. Man on Wire (James Marsh, UK)
  2. Kabluey (Scott Prendergast, USA)
  3. Savage Grace (Tom Kalin, Spain)
  4. Derek (Isaac Julien, UK)
  5. Standard Operating Procedure (Errol Morris, USA)
  6. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, USA)
  7. Frozen River (Courtney Hunt, USA)
  8. Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan, UK)
  9. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)
  10. Turn the River (Chris Eigeman, USA)

John Barry

  1. The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin, Germany)
  2. Standard Operating Procedure (Errol Morris, USA)
  3. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, USA)
  4. I Served the King of England (Jirí Menzel, Czech Republic)
  5. Man on Wire (James Marsh, UK)
  6. Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan, UK)
  7. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK)
  8. Trouble the Water (Carl Dean and Tia Lessin, USA)

G. Brian Davis

  1. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, USA)
  2. Baghead (Jay and Mark Duplass, USA)
  3. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, USA)
  4. Transsiberian (Brad Anderson, UK)
  5. Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Alex Gibney, USA)
  6. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Nicholas Stoller, USA)
  7. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen, USA)
  8. Iron Man (Jon Favreau, USA)
  9. The Visitor (Thomas McCarthy, USA)
  10. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK)

Steve Erickson

  1. La France (Serge Bozon, France)
  2. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico)
  3. Before I Forget (Jacques Nolot, France)
  4. Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, France)
  5. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, USA)
  6. Still Life (Jia Zhang Ke, China)
  7. My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, Canada)
  8. Frownland (Ronald Bronstein, USA)
  9. Waltz With Bashir (Ari Folman, Israel)
  10. The Duchess of Langeais (Jacques Rivette, France)

Violet Glaze

  1. Speed Racer (Andy and Larry Wachowski, USA)
  2. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, USA)
  3. Funny Games (U.S.) (Michael Haneke, USA)
  4. Ballast (Lance Hammer, USA)
  5. The Secret Life of Bees (Gina Prince-Bythewood, USA)
  6. Gonzo: The Life And Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Alex Gibney, USA)
  7. Iron Man (Jon Favreau, USA)
  8. Caramel (Nadine Labaki, Lebanon/France)
  9. Pineapple Express (David Gordon Green, USA)
  10. Stop-Loss (Kimberly Peirce, USA)

Cole Haddon

  1. Milk (Gus Van Sant, USA)
  2. Iron Man (Jon Favreau, USA)
  3. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nola, USA)
  4. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, USA)
  5. Tropic Thunder (Ben Stiller, USA)
  6. Funny Games (U.S.) (Michael Haneke, USA)
  7. Speed Racer (Andy and Larry Wachowski, USA)
  8. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Nicholas Stoller, USA)
  9. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen, USA)
  10. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (Kurt Kuenne, USA)

Jess Harvell

  1. Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, USA)
  2. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, USA)
  3. Tropic Thunder (Ben Stiller, USA)
  4. Pineapple Express (David Gordon Green, USA)
  5. Iron Man (Jon Favreau, USA)
  6. Sukiyaki Western Django (Takashi Miike, Japan)
  7. Building a Broken Mousetrap (Jem Cohen, USA)
  8. Burn After Reading (Ethan and Joel Coen, USA)
  9. Teeth (Mitchell Lichtenstein, USA)
  10. Beer for My Horses (Michael Salomon, USA)

Eric Allen Hatch

  1. Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina)
  2. Medicine for Melancholy (Barry Jenkins, USA)
  3. Falkenberg Farewell (Jesper Ganslandt, Sweden)
  4. Chop Shop (Ramin Bahrani, USA)
  5. Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, USA)
  6. Reprise (Joachim Trier, Norway)
  7. 35 Rhums (Claire Denis, France)
  8. Up the Yangtze (Yung Chang, Canada/China)
  9. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, USA)
  10. Ballast (Lance Hammer, USA)

Geoffrey Himes

  1. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, USA)
  2. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, Romania)
  3. The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin, Germany)
  4. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK)
  5. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, USA)
  6. Hard Times at Douglass High (Alan and Susan Raymond, USA)
  7. Man on Wire (James Marsh, UK)
  8. I Served the King of England (Jirí Menzel, Czech Republic)
  9. Tell No One (Guillaume Canet, France)
  10. Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan, UK)

Martin L. Johnson

  1. The Visitor (Thomas McCarthy, USA)
  2. The Duchess of Langeais (Jacques Rivette, France)
  3. Sita Sings the Blues (Nina Paley, USA)
  4. Mister Lonely (Harmony Korine, UK)
  5. Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, USA)
  6. Somers Town (Shane Meadows, UK)
  7. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, USA)
  8. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, USA)
  9. Iron Man (Jon Favreau, USA)
  10. Baghead (Jay and Mark Duplass, USA)

Bret McCabe

  1. Hunger (Steve McQueen, UK)
  2. Tell No One (Guillaume Canet, France)
  3. Chop Shop (Ramin Bahrani, USA)
  4. The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin, Germany)
  5. Roman de Gare (Claude Lelouch, France)
  6. Chris and Don: A Love Story (Tina Mascara and Guido Santi, USA)
  7. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, USA)
  8. Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant, USA/France)
  9. Gomorra (Matteo Garrone, Italy)
  10. The Last Mistress (Catherine Breillat, France)

Al Shipley

  1. Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, USA)
  2. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, USA)
  3. In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, UK)
  4. Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster, UK)
  5. Tropic Thunder (Ben Stiller, USA)
  6. Iron Man (Jon Favreau, USA)
  7. Miracle at St. Anna (Spike Lee, USA)
  8. Transsiberian (Brad Anderson, UK)
  9. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Nicholas Stoller, USA)
  10. Vantage Point (Pete Travis, USA)

Wendy Ward

  1. Elegy (Isabel Coixet, Canada)
  2. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, USA)
  3. The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, USA)
  4. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen, USA)
  5. Burn After Reading (Ethan and Joel Coen, USA)
  6. Then She Found Me (Helen Hunt, USA)
  7. The Secret Life of Bees (Gina Prince-Bythewood, USA)
  8. Wanted (Timur Bekmambetov, USA)
  9. Mamma Mia! (Phyllida Lloyd, UK)
  10. Nim's Island (Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin, USA)
Related stories

Top Ten archives

More Stories

The Year In Tracks (12/15/2009)
. . . just in the case the album really is dead.

The Year in News (12/9/2009)

The Year in Movies (12/9/2009)

Comments powered by Disqus
Calendar
CP on Facebook
CP on Twitter