Although I haven't seen all of the big year-end movies (the "Oscar movies") yet, it'll be after the end of the year before I get to see most of them. So I decided to just recap my top 5 movies of the year, and I'll expand it by the time of the Oscars, since most of the big movies will have made their way to me by then. So, without further delay, the best movie of 2008 IS..............
After a first viewing, I wasn't even sure it was my favorite Pixar movie, but after re-watching it, I feel confident in saying that it's the best movie of the year. Sometimes movies grow on you (the great ones do anyway). Last year I wasn't even sure how much I liked No Country for Old Men until I watched it a few times and became convinced that it was one of the best movies of the past decade. Wall-E was much the same experience. It's such a beautiful movie, both in look and in spirit. The love story between Wall-E and Eve is the best one that we've had since Julie Delpy sang Nina Simone songs to Ethan Hawke in Before Sunset. It's the most visually stunning movie of the year (narrowly besting my #5), and filled me with the awe of childhood. It's the best movie of the year, and Pixar will have a hell of a time topping themselves now.
2. The Dark Knight
Chris Nolan directs his best movie yet (which is saying something, the man's already made a number of great movies in his young career). Christian Bale is terrific as Bruce Wayne, and although his deep gravelly Batman voice is a bit annoying, he's still a wonderful Batman. But the story here, as everyone knows, is Heath Ledger's Joker. In his final completed performance Ledger creates a villain who's charismatic, disturbing, depraved, and never less than fascinating. It's the best performance of the year, and will likely go down alongside Hannibal Lecter and Anton Chigurh as the greatest screen villains of recent memory.
3. In Bruges
Colin Farrell reminds us of why he was a star to begin with in the darkly hilarious In Bruges. He and Brendan Gleeson have such terrific chemistry with one another that it's almost a shame when other characters come into play. I say almost, because In Bruges is full of wonderful characters. Clémence Poésy as the slyly sexy drug dealer, Jordan Prentice's drunkenly racist dwarf, and especially Ralph Fiennes as the completely over the top mob boss. The cast is uniformly wonderful, but it's Farrell and Gleeson that stick most in the memory, and I was very happy to see them get some recognition when the Golden Globe nominations came out recently.
4. Iron Man
Who would've ever thought that we'd get 2 great superhero movies in one summer? Not me, but I would've never picked Jon Favreau to direct an Iron Man movie either. To me Favreau was (and always will be) Mikey from 1996's Swingers, the movie he wrote and starred in with his friend Vince Vaughn, propelling them both to stardom. Since then, Favreau directed the buddy dramedy Made in 2001 (also with Vaughn), and followed it with the Will Ferrell vehicle Elf which was a much bigger hit than his next family movie, 2005's Zathura. However, when casting the role of Iron Man, he was smart enough to pick a re-rising star in Robert Downey, Jr. Downey is superb as Tony Stark/Iron Man, keeping a sharp wit about him at all times, while also believably connecting with the other actors in the movie. The action is exciting and the special effects are top notch. Also top notch is the great supporting cast highlighted by Jeff Bridges, Gweneth Paltrow, and Terrence Howard. Still, the movie could not survive without Downey's performance, and if not for his role in Tropic Thunder (he's the only reason to see that one), I'm sure he'd be getting more praise than he is for his performance in Iron Man.
5. Encounters at the End of the World
Since I just recently wrote about this one, I won't say too much here, other than to state that Werner Herzog is a master director, whether he's making fiction films or documentaries. He's one of the true treasures of the cinema, and Encounters is one of the best gifts he's ever given to us. Not an all-time great movie like his masterpiece Aguirre, the Wrath of God, but most definitely one of the best movies of the year.