The Best Films of 2008

Written by Mike Lyon on January 8th, 2009

First the films, then the yattering.

1. A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin, France)

2. Let The Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)

3. Fine, Totally Fine (Yosuke Fujita, Japan)

4. JCVD (Mabrouk El Mechri, France)

5. Be Kind, Rewind (Michel Gondry, United States)

6. Sparrow (Johnnie To, Hong Kong)

7. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, United States)

8. Wall-E (Andrew Stanton, United States)

9. Help Me Eros (Lee Kang-sheng, Taiwan)

10. Rambo (Sylvester Stallone, United States)

* * *

I’ll admit that I was wrong.

All year long, I bemoaned the lack of good films; I prattled on endlessly about how 2008 was a terrible year at the cinema. The writer’s strike seemed to have created a talentless vacuum in American cinema, and much-anticipated European and Asian offerings seemed to yield only failure after failure. I’ll admit it, though: I was watching the wrong films. As 2008 drew to a close and I felt the weight of so many distasteful movies pressing down on me, I finally got my shit together and started piling on the screenings, catching up on the pictures I had missed, some purposefully avoided, some that never made it to theaters in The Great White North.

Certainly there are still films to be seen. And there is no denying that even my top film picks seem a little more… eccentric than usual. I’m surprised by a few choices, especially the inclusion of The Dark Knight, not only because it seems in some ways hard to admit that a film that has already become such a part of the zeitgeist can actually be critically relevant, but particularly because I had considered Batman Begins to be such a failure. To boot, my inclusion of JCVD represents a vote of confidence for Jean-Claude Van Damme who, improbably enough, delivers the performance of the year, Mickey Rourke be damned.

But the most obvious surprise lurks at the very terminus of my list, if you had any trouble spotting it. Rambo is significantly more than the punchline I had envisioned it to be; more a horror film than an action film, Sly channeling Eastwood behind the camera while his granite-faced alter-ego sends a similarly terse nod to the audience. That John Rambo’s facial expressions seem at times to be a direct homage to UHF further confirms my suspicion that Stallone has not only accepted his detractors, he has begun to purposefully channel them in an attempt bring the writer of Rocky back from the dead without pretending to erase the star of Over The Top.

Should I only explain what I perceive to be my Achilles’ heels and ignore the top of the list? How transparent! Upwards!: A Christmas Tale handily took the lead. What at first appeared to be a hasty retread of both The Royal Tenenbaums and Fanny & Alexender ultimately ended up being one of the most powerful meditations on family dynamics since Tokyo Story. Print that! A swirling miasma of emotion with the potent, sexual stillness of Catherine Deneuve at its center, it struck chords in me I was not entirely aware were capable of being played.

Let The Right One In was my top choice for months, and not lightly. I am willing to prematurely declare it the greatest horror film of the oughts, an innocent-seeming twist on the vampire myth that disguises an exploration into a child’s complicity in murder and pedophilia. If that doesn’t pique your interest in this astonishing film, then all is lost. I pray that the architects of the impending American remake are suffocated alive in a vat of wolf semen. Amen.

I should note that, as always, I refuse (don’t I sound self-important?) to consider films originally released in their country of origin in a different year. There’s no shame in retroactively adding an old film to an old year’s list! This almost certainly showcases my OCD to an excessive degree, but hey – the consistency of my ridiculousness is part of my allure! This seems like an opportune time to mention that I definitely consider Help Me Eros to be a 2008 film, IMDb intel notwithstanding; a wide release in the director’s homeland is The Release, not a festival date. The essence of what I’m trying to say here today is, y’know, fuck you, IMDb.

I should mention that a wide variety of my friends, all significantly better-informed than me, have also presented their lists to the world (and in a more timely fashion, to boot). I urge you to visit them and read all about the films I can only hope to view in the months to follow!:

Andrea Janes
Michael J. Anderson
Lisa K. Broad
Pamela Kerpius
R. Emmet Sweeney
Karen Wang
Matt Singer
Alberto Zambenedetti

Peace be with you, but fuck that kid over there.

5 Comments so far ↓

  1. Tim Kern says:

    I guess you didn’t see Synecdoche, New York–or you didn’t like it. Either way, that make me a sad panda. It’s pretty awesome, and not just because I worked on it. 😉

    BTW. I agree about Rambo–it fucking rocked.

  2. Mike Lyon says:

    I have not seen it yet! I anxiously await the DVD release ^_^

  3. Pamela says:

    Fantastic list, Mike! And a great write up on the year that has passed.

    Can’t wait to see JCVD and Let The Right One In!

  4. Rob Sweeney says:

    I really need to see Rambo, at least as a way to whet my appetite for The Expendables, which looks more incredible by the day. And I’m kicking myself for missing Fine, Totally Fine at the New York Asian Film Festival.

    In an unrelated story, have you seen John Woo’s Red Cliff? Is this worth checking out?

  5. James Crawford says:

    JCVD. Rock.

    Lovely list, Mike.

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