This was first posted on the film ick Fightback on December 17th, 2008. Since film ick itself is currently offline and The Fightback only has three posts -- all by me -- I'm going to repost it here for the sake of preservation.
I don't know if this is still my top 10 of 2008 (I saw a few more films that aren't included), but I figured I'd save the article anyway. Additionally, my criteria for including a film on a yearly list is that it received its widest US release during that year (which is why The Signal is included, among others).
Obviously, I didn't see every film released in America in 2008, but of the ones I did see, here are my top 20 picks (up from 10) with a little added commentary.
01 The Wrestler (2008)
A tragedy to its very core. Some have criticized that The Wrestler is cliche, but it's the sincerity of the film that's so powerful, and Mickey Rourke is nothing but sincere.
02 Synecdoche, New York (2008)
I only saw this movie once, so I'm not entirely sure what it means. But I do know it features a stellar ensemble cast doing remarkable work in service of something truly, absolutely original.
03 Let the Right One In (2008)
There's something magical about the way kids regard one another, and it's captured perfectly in this Swedish vampire story. A couple strange missteps (including CGI cats) can't deter the charm of the film's two leads.
04 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is getting a lukewarm reaction from American critics because the film doesn't have much of a statement to make, about life or otherwise. It is simply the portrait of two people, and as far as that goes I was enchanted the entire time. The last shot is sorrowful.
05 Funny Games US (2007)
Either you love Funny Games or you hate it. There's not much more to it I can add -- the experience is so subjective, you just can't know anything about it until you've seen it.
06 Doubt (2008)
The acting is uniformly excellent in Doubt, perhaps the best of the year. I'd have ranked it higher, perhaps, but I was struck by how off-putting I found the last minute of the film.
07 The Signal (2007)
Taken by itself, The Signal might seem pretty slight or unremarkable, but it's the first three-director anthology I've seen that really worked (perhaps because this film tells one consecutive story instead of three short ones), had sharp horror-comedy, and was made for less than $50,000. Underrated and highly entertaining.
08 Burn After Reading (2008)
The first time I saw this movie, it just flew way over my head. I thought the Coens had let me down. When I saw it again, I couldn't stop laughing.
09 Gran Torino (2008)
The joys of Clint Eastwood are captured easily by the man himself in this well-acted action thriller that perfectly demonstrates how a film can have dramatic resonance and still be a pure crowd-pleaser.
10 In Bruges (2008)
A perfectly-scripted comedy thriller that contains a surprise gem of a performance from Colin Farrell and very funny, ludicrous gags. Good thing a friend of mine saw it or the bad Lock-Stock style American ads would have kept me away.
11 Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Joyous and exciting, with a great cast.
12 Pineapple Express (2008)
Slightly twisted action film all but stolen by Craig Robinson.
13 The Dark Knight (2008)
See the bottom paragraph.
14 JCVD (2008)
Endearing and funny, with a great performance by Van Damme.
15 City of Ember (2008)
A solid family adventure that features some of the most beautiful production design of the year.
16 Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)
The best film Kevin Smith has made since Dogma, which uses Seth Rogen and a Live song to perfect effect.
17 WALL-E (2008)
A visual masterpiece. Like most, I would have preferred more of the first third of the movie, but still a great film.
18 The Lucky Ones (2008)
All three of the leads are good, but this corny, even TV-level drama is elevated incomparably by Rachel McAdams, who deserves an Oscar nomination she isn't going to get for her work here.
19 Get Smart (2008)
A sharper and wittier action movie than it got credit for. I'm sure of all 20 picks, people will question this the most, but I stand by it.
20 Ghost Town (2008)
The performances make this one, and Ricky Gervais' touches to the writing are excellent.
I (like many) have to disagree with Brendon about The Dark Knight. An unbalanced and overlong film, sure, but also often very exciting and highly entertaining. I can agree to disagree, Brendon, but you said that we've had "the wool pulled over our eyes" -- how can a film dupe us into being entertained?