Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Hamster-Approved Top 10 Films of 2008!

So it has come to this. I have seen most of the noteworthy films of 2008 and it is time to formulate a list and rank them to reveal which films stand above the rest as the best of 2008. Click "Read More" to... read more.

10. JCVD

JCVD brings "meta" to a whole new glorious level, with perhaps the most surprising performance of the year. Jean-Claude Van Damme is superb playing himself and the film itself is well directed. Van Damme is never the butt of a joke, except to the other characters in the film. He is a real man with real problems. A great examination of the potential pitfalls of stardom, and a fun film to boot.

9. Synecdoche, New York

Did I say that JCVD brings "meta" to a whole new level? Well, I must have meant Synecdoche, New York. This film practically gives "meta" a whole new meaning. Hoffman is fantastic as a man so obsessed with himself and his own impending death that he creates several real-time plays within plays to recreate his life. It's a difficult film to wrap your mind around, but if you at least try to I believe you'll be greatly rewarded.

8. Rachel Getting Married

A film of fantastic performances and realistic family drama. Rachel Getting Married is painful to watch, but it's also real and hopeful and probably the best representation of actual family dynamics I've ever seen on film. These are people who have profound issues communicating with each other, and they often do or say horrible things to one another, but they are family, and seeing a family attempt to pull through their issues with each other is fascinating to watch. It's also quite emotional. Bring Kleenex.

7. My Winnipeg

Guy Maddin: Canadian auteur. It isn't enough for him to play with antiquated silent film style; he has to go a invent a whole new genre of film. And thus we have the "docu-fantasia." My Winnipeg is an ode to a hometown, albeit a strange one in which Maddin tries to find out why he can seem to escape its grasp. I don't know how much of the film's "facts" are actually true, but I just imagine they are both all true and all made up at the same time. The film is delightful and truly brings to mind the love/hate relationship most people have with the city or town they grew up in.

6. In Bruges

A hitman film with heart. In Bruges is riotously funny and also deeply moving; often at the same time. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson share the best screen-chemistry of the year and the script by writer-director Martin McDonagh is fantastic. When a movie that can make jokes about "racist midgets" can also have you on the verge of tears you know you're seeing one of the best films of the year.

5. Wall-E

I think Wall-E is absolutely brilliant. It suffers a bit in the second half, but it remains great and the first half more than makes up the difference anyway. Andrew Stanton shows he is not a director to be taken lightly with this film. He also weaves together the best love story of the year. And you thought a robot romance couldn't make you tear up! Add to that some amazing visuals, and great slapstick comedy in the vein of Keaton and Chaplin and you've got the makings of an animated masterpiece. I don't think it's Pixar's best, but it's definitely up there.

4. Paranoid Park

Gus Van Sant is getting a lot of love for his biopic, Milk, but for my money Paranoid Park is his better film. It's the story of a skater kid who gets involved in the murder of a security guard. It is also so much more. The film is beautifully realized both visually and through the acting efforts by a cast of mostly non-actors an unknowns. The pace is languid and dreamy and the narration is actually one of the better aspects of the film. Few films are able to capture the alienation many kids feel during high-school, but Paranoid Park gets it exactly right. It's not your average film and likely wouldn't appeal to most, but if you can stomach the pacing and don't need much plot in your films you should give Paranoid Park a shot.

3. The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan's sequel to Batman Begins is both an incredible achievement and a damn fine film. The film is an epic crime saga that attempts to subvert, but never ignore, it's humble comic book roots. The acting is great, with Heath Ledger as The Joker stealing the show. The cinematography, including sections filmed on IMAX cameras, is often stunning. But where the film really shines is the depth of the themes it explores. Never has a comic book film delved so deeply into the metaphysical implications of the superhero. It does help that The Dark Knight is extremely entertaining; how about that 18-wheeler flipping!

2. Slumdog Millionaire

I saw Slumdog Millionaire at the Toronto International Film Festival and I've been singing its praises ever since. This hyper-real Dickensian fairy tale is exciting, adventurous, dark, loud, funny, heart-wrenching, lovely and romantic and all in just over two hours. It seems Danny Boyle had to go to the streets of Mumbai to make his best, most personal film. It is full of style, wit and charm and never has a problem following standard convention to suit its needs. Slumdog Millionaire is what going to the movies is all about: transporting us to another world.

1. The Wrestler

What can I really say that I haven't already? The Wrestler is perfection. If Slumdog Millionaire is a demonstration of cinema's ability to transport then The Wrestler is a demonstration in its ability to present raw reality. The Wrestler is an extreme emotional experience and is like shocking jolt to the system. It is real and heartbreaking, but also hopeful and redemptive. I believe that if you take my top three films you can get a good idea of the state of the human consciousness in the year 2008. It is a dark and uncertain time, but there is undeniable hope and The Wrestler presents both sides of that coin to perfection.


  1. Great list! I want to see Synecdoche, New York and My Winnipeg(on dvd but not here).

  2. Woah, Slumdog leaving the driver's seat for the Wrestler.

    A list I can't argue with too much. Those were all fine films, some of them even great I'd say, but I think 7 of the films on your top 10 didn't make it on mine.

  3. Some of these films were no surprise, but there's a good deal of them I've never even heard of till now. Where have you been watching your movies lately Mr. Hamster?

  4. I've been watching my movies in these fancy new places called "movie theatres." DVDs are also a cool newfangled technology.