One thing we at Place to Be Nation like to celebrate is the subjectivity inherent in entertainment — be it in wrestling, comics, music, television or, indeed, film. With that in mind, ten members of the PTBN staff will be picking the movies of the PTB generation. In this series, panel members will collect their five favorite films of each year, beginning with the year in which the oldest writer was born — 1976. The only rule given to each contributor was to provide his or her own criteria. Some writers may go with the most artistic films, while others might side with the most iconic blockbusters. We welcome your lists on Facebook and Twitter. Each staff member has submitted a list of five movies from 2008 ranked 1 through 5. A first-place vote is worth five points, a second-place vote worth four points, and so on. Using that point system, we have identified the top 5 movies of 2008.
2008 saw the release of what many consider to be the greatest superhero movie of all time, as well as the beginnings of a certain cinematic universe. But before we reveal the top 5, let’s see the movies that received votes, but fell short of making our final list.
Milk — 7 points
The Incredible Hulk — 6 points
Rambo — 6 points
Slumdog Millionaire — 5 points
Pineapple Express — 4 points
Let the Right One In — 3 points
Man on Wire — 3 points
Gran Torino — 2 points
In Bruges — 2 points
Twilight — 2 points
Quantum of Solace — 2 points
Doubt — 1 point
Frost/Nixon — 1 point
Step Brothers — 1 point
Tropic Thunder — 1 point
Wanted — 1 point
And now, let’s see the top 5 movies of 2008, as voted by the Place to Be Nation staff.
5. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
8 points, ranked by 2 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Nick Duke and Russell Sellers at No. 2
Nick Duke: There are certain movies that just come around at a time in your life that causes them to be more than the sum of their parts. If any film ever personified that statement for me, it’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall. We’ve all been through a bad breakup or two in our time, and this one found its way to my college dorm room around the same time I was going through one of my own. On the surface, this may seem like a pretty formulaic romantic comedy, what with the idea of a love triangle in the third act and the main character having to choose between the two women in the film. However, there are a few factors that elevate the film above its other romcom counterparts.
First, and most notable, is the presence of Jason Segel. I’d argue he’s one of the more relatable comic actors out there right now, as his ability to play the believable everyman is almost uncanny. He doesn’t have an unattainable level of success, his physique is certainly not that of your typical Hollywood star and he shows a willingness to both embarrass and humiliate himself in numerous scenes. Second, the film has a fantastic ensemble of bit players that each enhance the finished product in their own small ways. Paul Rudd as Kunu, a surf instructor, is hilarious in every scene he’s in. Bill Hader pops up to play Segel’s hilariously overly conservative halfbrother who seems to be the film’s conscience. 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer is there to portray a hotel guest who is having some bedroom difficulties with his new wife. Jonah Hill is there as an obsessed waiter who is borderline stalking the Aldous Snow rock star character. And, even though the role is as tiny as it gets, the Billy Baldwin cameo is also pretty damned hilarious.
Then, there are the other leads. Kristen Bell is able to be hatable, likable and understandable at different times, depending on what the scene calls for. Russell Brand, who can be grating for some in other roles, is used to perfection here. He’s in the film just the right amount, never overstaying his welcome. His Aldous Snow is a fantastic sendup of pretentious rock stars, and is often the scenestealer of the film. Then, there’s Mila Kunis, who is as attractive as ever, yet also gives here character a down-to-earth nature that only serves to make her more of a dream girl.
But, I think the reason I love the movie so much, besides its overwhelming hilarity, is its ability to realistically portray the different stages one goes through after a nuclear-level bad breakup. There’s sadness, blame-laying, attempts to sow wild oats, a little too much drinking, anger, and eventually, acceptance and happiness on the other side.
12 points, ranked by 4 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Glenn Butler at No. 1
Glenn Butler: WALL·E is the cutest, most darling movie ever to take place in a post-apocalyptic hellscape.
Eight hundred years in the future, WALL·E (voiced by Ben Burtt, legendary Star Wars sound designer) is an adorable miniature trash compactor, creating compressed cubes of refuse and making skyscrapers out of them. They dot the landscape, massive spires of humanity’s detritus reaching out of the low-level dump covering the rest of the globe. By the movie’s timeline humanity is set to abandon the earth less than a hundred years from now, so that’s our trash out there. WALL·E develops an affinity for a VHS tape of Hello, Dolly! — perhaps it’s a tape one of us threw out when we got the DVD. It also has optical discs hanging from the ceiling of its home — perhaps a DVD we threw out when we got the Blu-ray. (I say “it” because there’s no reason for a robot to have a gender, but the movie makes it pretty obvious that he’s a “he” and there’s little point in resisting.)
None of this is drawn out into a lesson or morality tale. This movie isn’t a lecture about environmentalism, or, with the presence of the ubiquitous megacorporation Buy N Large, a lecture about runaway consumerism. It’s the opposite of didactic, leaving these themes squarely in the background while it revels in the quiet beauty of WALL·E listening to songs and gathering stray objects — a bowling pin here, a Rubik’s Cube there — that please him, or whatever the closest equivalent is for a robot who’s been subtly drifting away from his programming for about seven hundred years. There’s a quiet melancholy to it too, with WALL·E roaming his towering trash heaps alone, except for a cockroach (because of course the cockroaches make it), cannibalizing other robots who have broken down over the centuries. With no dialogue, this part of the movie plays like a silent film, and does a wonderful job of setting its mood.
WALL·E’s world is turned upside down, as of course it must be, by the arrival of another automated robot. EVE descends from the heavens like a literal angel and WALL·E is instantly smitten, as of course he must be. EVE seems cold and distant, because her directive is something WALL·E can’t fully understand. This disruption brings WALL·E from the dirt and dust of Earth to a gleaming, sparkling generation ship holding a segment of humanity, which by now is in a state of total complacency. Again WALL·E passes blithely by history and backstory that’s instead communicated only to us in the audience; he’s replaced his directive to arrange trash with a drive to get EVE back from the machines that, in doing their jobs, have taken her away to report the amazing discovery of an actual living plant on Earth. WALL·E tags along to a world he’s entirely unprepared for, but with the aid of the robot equivalent of the Island of Misfit Toys, he manages to help EVE in her mission and bring about the return of humanity from the stars to our ancestral home. Then, after sacrifice and death and rebirth, he finally gets to hold EVE’s hand.
Now, this might still seem like a bleak situation. Humanity is almost completely unprepared, mentally or physically, for the task of continuing WALL·E’s work of cleaning up the planet, let alone reestablishing agriculture and every other facet of human civilization. But this isn’t Idiocracy, and the whole issue is dealt with in a delightful montage over the end credits, with the animation moving through phases of human art from cave paintings to Egyptian reliefs, tile mosaics to Renaissance-style line drawings and paintings, pointillism and expressionism, and ultimately 8-bit graphics. This beautiful montage parallels the rebirth of civilization on Earth, built by humans and robots alike, with the development of art over millennia. The art style in the movie itself, and the animation that conveys it, is brilliant, with the intricate landscape of Earth rendered in exacting (though never distracting) detail, contrasted with the smooth-walled spaces in the spaceship. The design of WALL·E himself is great as well, obviously a machine with parts designed for pragmatic purposes, but at the same time able to express emotion as a character with every moving part. But ultimately what’s remarkable about this movie is just how cynical it could be, and chooses not to be.
17 points, ranked by 6 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Aaron George at No. 1
Aaron George: Let’s immediately get the obvious out of the way: Mickey Rourke was robbed by Sean Penn for best actor. As good as Penn was as Harvey Milk, Rourke carried this film on his wrestler-like shoulders and enhanced the whole film in the process. He imbues the film with a tremendous heart that is both fascinating and gut wrenching as we watch Randy the Ram’s decline and delusions. There isn’t another actor in Hollywood who could have pulled off this role and the genius of his casting is only surpassed by the tremendous power and nuance we’re shown by Rourke. You believe him as a wrestler, you believe him as a boy in love, but most of all, you believe he is a real person in a cartoon world. The believability of his broken life tear your heart out without slipping into melodrama. It’s a beautiful performance.
I’m really glad Darren Aronofsky was at the helm of this one. I could go on and on about the shots and the incredible pacing of the film, but I think it can all be encapsulated in the scene where Randy is heading through the corridors clearly gearing up for a huge match and comes through the curtain and sells meat. A fantastic breathtaking shot which really put you in the mindset of the obviously addicted (to wrestling) Robinson. I’m not a wrestler so I can in no way sit here and preach whether the events of the film are realistic or no, but I can attest that the curtain is pulled back on the wrestling business just enough to add authenticity while inviting the non fan to sympathize with this strange world. We’re as locked into the story as Randy is to his career, and when he takes that final leap, the final breath of the film is a ballsy, albeit fitting end. Sweet Child of Mine has never been sweeter, and that opening riff has never hurt so much.
The rest of the actors acquit themselves admirably. Evan Rachel Wood is subtly wonderful but it’s Marissa Tomei who surprises in a fantastic performance. I also get a kick out of Ernest The Cat Miller portraying the evil Ayatollah.
The Wrestler is my favorite film from 2008. Obviously my opinion may be a bit slanted being a wrestling fan myself. I think anyone though can relate to this story of a broken man, struggling to make things right while clinging to his dreams. There’s a certain beauty and romanticism to the tired warrior giving it his last shot in both the ring and at life. A beauty personified by Mickey Rourke and woven perfectly by Aronofsky.
24 points, ranked by 7 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Andrew Woltman at No. 1
Andrew Woltman: The one movie that changed my life…is Raiders of the Lost Ark. But if there is another that had a profound effect on me, it would be Iron Man. It kickstarted several aspects of my life. It cemented Robert Downey Jr. as one of my favorite actors, it introduced me to the world of reading comics before I saw the movie, it got me to actually want to find out how they achieved certain effects in movies.
I went into this film not knowing anything. Literally nothing. For all I knew it was a Jack Black comedy about a mystical clothes ironsmith set to the classic Black Sabbath song. But I went in, and to the opening strains of AC/DC,Tony Stark rides in his ill-fated Humvee and wise cracks with military men. I was sold within the first 5 minutes. Little did anyone outside the loop know, Kevin Feige was building towards something even bigger.
1. The Dark Knight
41 points, ranked by 9 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Nick Duke, Anthony Estrada, Greg Phillips, Kati Price, Andrew Riche and Russell Sellers at No. 1
Russell Sellers: When Christopher Nolan co-wrote/directed Batman Begins in 2005, it was a much better step for the Batman franchise, especially considering it hadn’t had a live action film since 1997’s Batman and Robin.
Everyone remembered that debacle and, at the time, didn’t think Batman Begins could bring the character back to prominence…until they watched it. While flawed, Batman Begins was a step in the absolute right direction.
Fast forward to 2008 and the sequel, The Dark Knight, comes out to massive fanfare and huge critical reception, becoming the highest-grossing movie that year. Worldwide, it made $1 billion and is still in the Top 10 highest-grossing movies of all-time. More than that, it’s the first superhero film to win an Oscar for something other than sound editing or special effects, with Heath Ledger winning a posthumous award for Best Supporting Actor. His portrayal of The Joker was equal parts chilling and hilarious with a good splash of absolute brilliance. Even if he hadn’t died prior to the film’s release, he was still absolutely deserving of the award.
The power of this film transcended the superhero genre and became one of the greatest crime epics ever filmed. Put this one up there with The Godfather Part II and Heat for its vision and execution. You won’t find a better modern crime noir, with the exception of maybe Nolan’s other heist masterpiece, Inception.
What really sells this one though is the deep character moments. From the little emotional touches of Alfred’s facial reactions (played brilliantly by Michael Caine) to Aaron Eckhart’s psychotic break as Harvey Dent, this movie is packed to the brim with superb performances. And the theme of dying a hero or living long enough to become the villain plays out in spectacular fashion on three fronts as we see the often harrowing emotional journeys of Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent, and James Gordon.
Speaking of Gordon, if anyone else in this film deserved Academy consideration, it was Gary Oldman. His second turn as Lt. (and then Commissioner) Jim Gordon is as iconic as it gets. Feel sorry for whoever has to follow that next on the big screen. They have some impossible shoes to fill. How hard can it be? Take a look at this and then watch Gotham on Fox. You’ll get it then.
While everyone else has gotten a ton of spotlight in this review, it wouldn’t be prudent to skip mentioning how great Christian Bale was, too. He had a great handle on the character in Batman Begins, but it’s here that he truly makes the character his own. And while the movie’s overly serious tone dominates much of the screen time, there are some fantastic lighter moments courtesy of the electric chemistry between Bale and Caine.
The ending is especially moving, and doubly so if you think of it as a standalone movie rather than the middle chapter of a trilogy. You won’t find a better Batman movie anywhere. Guaranteed.
That does it for 2008. To see the full breakdown of all 10 ballots, click here. Check back soon to see the staff’s top 5 movies of 2009!