Films | Matt Newlin

film-thewrestler.jpgThere was no more emotionally powerful or compelling film this year than The Wrestler.







For me, I think 2008 was an amazing year for films. Hollywood turned out some surprisingly good movies and many independent auteurs (Boyle, Kaufman, Aronofsky) reminded us once again how movies are supposed to affect us. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to see many of the films I would most likely otherwise have on my list since they have not yet opened in St. Louis. Specifically I am most looking forward to Doubt, Frost/Nixon, Gran Torino and Revolutionary Road. That being said, here is my list of the best I have seen so far this year.

1. The Wrestler

There was no more emotionally powerful or compelling film this year than The Wrestler. Between Mickey Rourke’s history-making performance and Darren Aronofsky’s subtle and restrained storytelling, there isn’t anything this film is lacking. It’s a heartbreaking portrait of how we have only ourselves to blame for how our lives turn out. The blood and violence of the film isn’t nearly as hard to take as the emotional toll that the film takes on the viewer.

2. Slumdog Millionaire

Unlike anything else you’ll see this year, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire is filmmaking at its best with every camera shot full of activity, depth and importance. The story of a homeless orphan’s experiences from childhood to adulthood is filled with humor, adventure and pain. The film’s story is, at times, hard to watch because of what this young child must endure but ultimately it leaves the audience with a feeling of exuberance without ever feeling false or forced.

3. The Visitor

The second film from writer/director Tom McCarthy, who brought us the magnificent The Station Agent, The Visitor can be enjoyed on so many levels. It is above all else a character study of a man who has withdrawn from life and has become almost completely invisible. When a very chance encounter happens at an apartment from his past, he is pulled into a world totally different from anything else he has ever experienced and finally begins to start his life again. Richard Jenkins gives an unparalleled performance wearing every emotion, mood and thought on his face which, through the course of the film, goes from stoic to happy to angry to content.


What is there left to say about WALL-E that hasn’t already been said? It transcends the animated movie genre, the children’s movie genre and the sci-fi genre: it is a movie for everyone at any age. It is entertaining and funny but also attaches a message that affects everyone who sees it. It is absolutely wonderful and once again raises the expectations of what Hollywood can produce.

5. The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan’s sequel to Batman Begins lived up to and surpassed all the hype that led up to its release. Nothing else needs to be said about Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker. He gives a performance that will be remembered and respected forever. Aside from that performance, the movie is everything comic book movies have been trying to do: it takes the fantastic and brings it into a realistic world we all know. It is dark and scary and perfectly captures the themes that Batman movies have always failed to articulate.

6. Tropic Thunder

Aside from being the funniest movie of the year, Tropic Thunder perfectly captures what how Hollywood continually presents itself: obsessed with awards, money and stars. Ben Stiller, who wrote and directed the movie, has created something that will go down with the great Hollywood satires. Robert Downey, Jr. gave a performance that only he could as an Australian actor playing a black man from the ’60s. When you watch him in the movie, you know you’re watching something completely original that will never be matched.

7. Rachel Getting Married

With a perfect script from Jenny Lumet and wonderful directing from Jonathan Demme, Rachel Getting Married is on the surface a simple film about a big family wedding but at its core is about guilt and forgiveness and the importance of those people who are close to you. Each scene is practically overflowing with people and the camera is frantically trying to catch everything that is going on, just like a member of the party. Demme lets the actors tell the story while using the camera as an intrusive observer of everything that happens.

8. Synecdoche, New York

Charlie Kaufman’s first time directing is everything that one could hope for coming from the most gifted and creative screenwriter working today. With an incredibly moving performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman, the film throws ideas about life and death in the viewer’s face and forces them to contemplate their own mortality and how they see themselves. Hoffman’s character is on a self-obsessed journey to capture real life, which he fails to realize is not possible. He works for decades creating an exhaustingly detailed recreation of the world as he sees it in the hope to discover some great truth. The truth he doesn’t realize is while he is trying to capture what his life is all about is his has passed him by.

9. Seven Pounds

This movie will be accused of cheating the audience and being meandering but in fact the style of the movie could not be executed any other way. One man’s quest to go to every extreme in an attempt to alleviate the pain he is in is a deeply affecting portrait of the unbearable weight of guilt. Will Smith carries his character’s choices on his shoulders and presents himself as we have never seen him before. If there was any doubt before now as to Smith’s abilities as an actor, his performance in Seven Pounds will put them to rest.

10. In Bruges

Equally funny, absurd, dark and tragic, In Bruges is one of the most original films in years. From Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, the film shows how every one of our actions has a consequence no matter how far we run to get away from it. Once again, guilt and an attempt at redemption are major themes throughout the film. However, the film is also funny and is made more so by Colin Farrell’s man-child Ray, who can barely sit still for a glass of beer let alone two weeks in a gothic town like Bruges. The performances and directing come together perfectly in this very dark comedy that feels like a punch to the gut.

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