1) Lars and the Real Girl
Yet another startlingly good performance from Ryan Gosling, which anchors this original, charming tale of a shy introvert who shocks his family and local community by introducing a silicone “sex doll” as his girlfriend. Striking a fine balance between humour and pathos, this is a world where the innocent yet deluded are tolerated and teach us all a lesson, but in a real way. There is also excellent support from Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson and Paul Schneider.
2) The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
A film told mostly from the physical point of view (ie the camera acting as the single blinking eye) of a post-stroke Jean-Dominique Bauby. Most of which features various people reciting a modified alphabet. In French. It might sound like a tough sell on paper, but Julian Schnabel directed an extremely compelling film which, like its protagonist, doesn’t become bogged down in self-pity or heavy-handedness. A remarkable performance from Mathieu Amalric, and wonderful camera work and lighting from Janusz Kaminski.
3) In Bruges
What’s this? An Irish film that we can all be proud of? You better believe it! Martin McDonagh’s feature debut has a rarely-better Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson playing two hitmen hiding out in the Belgian medieval town of Bruges. Deliciously funny, foul-mouthed and violent, with a fantastic against-type Ralph Fiennes, In Bruges is not for the faint-hearted or easily offended, but provides great entertainment for everyone else.
4) Horton Hears a Who
I am not an 8 year old. My attention span is greater than five minutes. This film is most definitely not aimed at me. And yet I loved it. Funny, adorably cute and with enough of Dr. Seuss’s edge to hold the interest, Horton Hears a Who is a simply told tale with striking animation and voice work that doesn’t overwhelm the story. The random animé sequence halfway through is hilariously inspired!
5) The Other Boleyn Girl
With four strong films taking the top spots, place #5 is almost awarded by default. This adaptation of the Philippa Gregory novel is certainly lovely to look at (beautiful costumes on beautiful people will always please) and there are a lot of decent performances. There was just no ‘wow’ factor. Have we reached saturation point for Henry VIII and his Tudor folk?
1) In Bruges
Tonally all over the place. Offensive to every minority, or anyone with even the slightest sense of moral decency. Not much going on the way of plot and character arcs. But who cares when Farrell, Gleeson and Fiennes look like they’re having this much fun. The funny is very funny, and the violence is very violent, overall one of the best Irish films of all time.
2) Horton Hears A Who
Outside of Pixar, there hasn’t been that much in terms of good comedic animation, and even Pixar is beginning to falter in those terms, with Cars a bit drab, and Ratatouille hardly being laugh-a-minute. But thanks to Jim Carrey, Steve Carrell and some outlandish imaginations, this film has finally matched the best in the field in both visuals and comedic stylings.
3) The Orphanage
While very reminiscent of both The Others and Poltergeist, this stands out on its own by being a horror movie far more concerned with the emotional connections between the characters that setting up situations just for the sake of scaring the audience, whether or not its relative to the progression of the story. A class act in old school horror movie making.
4) The Cottage
So while far from perfect, the three leads in this really did go all out to make this one of the more entertaining horror/comedies of recent times. Two of the hardest genres to nail, and trying to mix them together can sometimes be death, but this pulls it off, if not 100%, then not too far off that mark.
5) Step Up 2: The Streets
Biased it may be, but considering the greatness of the soundtrack (FIVE TIMBALAND SONGS!) that is the constant backdrop to this 90 minute music video, with the rather beautiful Briana Evigan dancing in more rain than clothing, its hard not to love this film for what it is. Which isn’t much. But expect anything more than that, bigger fool you!
Special Mention: 10,000 B.C.
Following Jumper, this is 2008’s second “blockbuster”, and following Jumper, this is 2008’s second crappy-ass “blockbuster”. We’ll have to wait for Iron-Man to come and hopefully change the tide.