The best movies from the past year
The 2008 moviegoing season provided a lot of intelligent action movies, intriguing art-house fare, and a ton of Oscar-hunting end-of-the-year releases. Here is my list of favorite films from the past year. A 10-best list is always going to be subjective, so feel free to disagree. I've heard from plenty of Iron Man fans that weren't happy with my negative assessment of that popular film. To those fans, I will confess that a second viewing on DVD softened my stance, but not enough to put it on this list. In alphabetical order, my favorites were:
A terrific heist movie, with a brain as well as some brawn, based on true events, and featuring a nice side order of government cover-up dirty tricks. Busy British action star Jason Statham is terrific in the lead role, and veteran Australian director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out) keeps the action tense and thrilling.
Writer-director Christopher Nolan and his co-screenwriter, brother Jonathan Nolan, present both a brilliantly nihilistic, incredibly dark and richly layered filmgoing experience, and a painful reminder of what the film world lost with the senseless death of Heath Ledger. His death is a shadow that permeates every inch of celluloid in this tour de force. From the ends of his expressive fingers to his posture and body language, to his gentle yet chilling voice, Ledger has created a movie icon for the ages.
Clint Eastwood stars in and directs this bitter -- and bitterly funny -- look at a seemingly unrepentant racist, who is hiding his compassion behind a veneer of anger and frustration. Eastwood is a tough old coot whose bitter fa�ade is worn away as he comes to respect the Asian family next door.
Director Peter Berg is known for movies with an edgy quality (Very Bad Things). In an era when playing it safe and satisfying audience expectations is the norm, a movie that confounds expectations must be treasured. Will Smith is the biggest box-office draw on the planet right now. He and Berg -- along with major contributions from Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron -- take the superhero movie into unexpected places.
Writer-director John Sayles, after 27 years and 16 films, is the ancient mariner of independent cinema, navigating the constantly swirling waters of the genre with passion and skill. In this blues-infused period piece about a man trying to save his roadhouse (played by Danny Glover), Sayles' trademark style is front and center: a collection of characters within a political or societal context. Sayles doesn't make commercial movies; he makes movies that move his soul.
Steven Spielberg gave us Saving Private Ryan. Clint Eastwood delivered Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. Now Spike Lee has presented his take on World War II. It is a vision every bit as moving and as brutal as war should be presented. It's a thought-provoking, emotionally engaging and entertaining drama.
Jonathan Demme's latest work is a wonderful and touching look at a family trying to celebrate the joy of the impending wedding of the title while swimming in the dangerous emotional waters of a past tragedy. The film features a brilliant performance by Anne Hathaway as the "black sheep" of the family.
It is time to look at the summer movie schedule in July and August. 'The Avengers' got us off to terrific superhero start.
This time around, we've assembled our top 10 lists of the best and worst that holiday-themed movies have to offer.