The movie year in review: best and worst of 2008

By Roger Moore

‘The Duchess,’ ‘Milk’ and ‘WALL-E’ are on the top films list.

Was it a great 2008 at the movies or what?

Any time you have 20 to 25 films in real contention for a Top 10 list, it’s a good year. Considering the glum economy and $12 movie tickets, the quality had better be there.

The fanboys could celebrate “The Dark Knight” and “Iron Man.” Fangirls could get on board “Sex and the City,” “Mamma Mia!” and “Twilight.” And the “Oscar contenders” this awards season aren’t all arty indie fare; they’re serious, entertaining movies people have seen or are seeing — “Doubt,” “The Reader,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Frost/Nixon.”

We lost Heath Ledger and Bernie Mac, said good-bye to Paul Newman. We saw Taraji P. Henson, Richard Jenkins, Danny McBride and Melissa Leo turn “hot.” We saw Tyler Perry and Seth Rogen cool off.

Three-D animation became all the rage. Judd Apatow achieved “overexposure” and Joaquin Phoenix “retired.”

But ’twas a good vintage, 2008. Let’s savor it.


“Slumdog Millionaire”: The edgy Danny Boyle of “Trainspotting” meets the heartfelt and romantic Danny Boyle of “Millions” in this glorious parable of slums-to-success in modern India.

“Milk”: Recent history recalled, vividly and brilliantly, in a perfectly cast, handsomely mounted biography of an American folk hero, Harvey Milk. Sean Penn could win another Oscar for this.

“WALL-E”: The director disavowed this glorious, mostly dialogue-free cartoon’s anti-consumption message, but audiences didn’t. The best Pixar film since “Finding Nemo” is about love, rediscovering humanity and cleaning up the mess we’ve made on Earth.

“Happy-Go-Lucky”: Two brilliant performances highlight Mike Leigh’s latest, a fiercely upbeat Sally Hawkins matched against the spittle-rage bitterness acted by Eddie Marsan. Disturbing between the giggles.

“The Duchess”: A newfangled old-fashioned 18th-century costume epic that many read as a parallel to the life and death of Princess Diana, this glories in Keira Knightley’s Queen of the Costume Epic status, and Ralph Fiennes’ ability to be unforgettable, even in a small role.

“In Bruges”: Martin McDonagh’s compact, sardonic and abrasive travelogue takes two Irish hit-men to Belgium to atone for their sins. Collin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and yes, Ralph Fiennes are splendid in it.

“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”: Some attacked this film, based on the acclaimed novel, for the very idea behind it. It’s the Holocaust as viewed by a German boy “shielded” from the horrors facing those people his SS daddy has imprisoned, and it’s a metaphor for the degrees of German guilt and denial of the Holocaust. Vera Farmiga is amazing.

“Rachel Getting Married”: Anne Hathaway’s coming-out party was this Jonathan Demme shot-on-the-cheap hand-held (shaky camera) account of a weekend-long wedding in the modern American hip family style. Touching, wrenching and fun, with a dazzling supporting turn by Debra Winger.

“The Visitor”: A subtle, sad but life-affirming tour de force performance by Richard Jenkins makes this timely comedy about coming out of your gloom and meeting the world the warmest picture of the year.

“Trouble the Water”: This is the only Hurricane Katrina documentary that matters, one filmed by the working poor who lived through it.


Bad films? We saw ’em, lots of them. Not just “Saw” sequels and Larry the Cable Guy outhouse outings, either. Some high-minded folks made some awfully lowdown, awfully awful movies this year.

“Hounddog”: The controversy was over Dakota Fanning’s rape scene, but the reason it sat on the shelf for over a year was the ineptitude of writer-director Deborah Kampmeier and her utter ignorance of the South she tried to depict. If she never works again, that’s justice.

“An American Carol”: An angry, unfunny satire that equates liberalism with anti-Americanism, it was made by one of the geniuses still coasting on “Airplane”/”Naked Gun” residuals. This only proves that conservatives need to recruit/convert better actors and filmmakers.

“Cassandra’s Dream”: Woody Allen’s biggest stinker in years was a murder melodrama so badly written he has his two leads, playing brothers, call each other by their name in every single line. As if they’ve forgotten.

“Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”: Ben Stein’s documentary was a cynical attempt to sucker Christian conservatives into thinking they’re losing the “intelligent design” debate because of academic “prejudice.” No, I don’t think Ben Stein believes it either. Fewer than a million suckers fell for his con job.

“Hell Ride”: Larry Bishop, son of the late comic Joey, filmed this biker thriller as a vanity project. Did he set out to make a movie with zero entertainment value and no redeeming qualities? Perhaps.