Monday, December 29, 2008

The Good Stuff: Favorite Movies of 2008

Ask people to name the best of anything and they’ll dither, and think about the weight of history, and draft a lengthy list of possibilities to winnow down. I don’t have that kind of time. But ask for favorites and the answers come quick and can be counted on the fingers of one hand. These are movies that spoke to me personally. The marketing workups for these movies identify their target audiences in terms of oddly specific categories (“Copy Shop Employees Who Eat Sack Lunches and Have Never Seen Seinfeld”) and my name. This year, there are five of them, listed in the order seen.

In Bruges. Martin McDonagh’s scabrous and soulful comedy about a pair of hit men awaiting further instructions.

The Bank Job. A heist movie like they used to make.

Man on Wire. The documentary about Philippe Petit’s “coup” of walking a tightrope between the towers of the World Trade Center. It’s structured like a caper, and is a poem to possibility and to New York.

The Fall. Tarsem’s fantasia on the power of storytelling.

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies. Sublime silliness, with many of the laughs coming from the flawless recreation of ‘60s spy movies.

Here’s how far out of the Oscar loop I am: not only are none of these films year-end prestige releases, all five are already on video. You could watch ‘em tonight if you wanted. In fact, you should.

This is where I’m supposed to name all the movies that came thisclose to making the cut. Instead, here’s A Half Dozen Thrillers That More People Should Have Seen, again in the order I saw them.

Married Life. Calling this a thriller is stretching the definition a bit. Consider it a small, arch marital noir, and proof that Pierce Brosnan should narrate every movie he’s in.

Jar City. A spare, haunting adaptation of Arnaldur Indridason’s Icelandic crime novel.

Tell No One. Some plot contrivances from the book remain, but you won’t notice thanks to Guillaume Canet’s breathless pacing and focus on the emotional underpinnings of the story. That this became a summer arthouse hit is one of 2008’s nicest surprises.

Transsiberian. Brad Anderson’s train-set drama takes its time getting started, but never goes where you’d expect. Emily Mortimer delivers one of my favorite performances of the year.

Body of Lies. And here I thought it had everything: two big stars operating at their peak, exotic locales, a smart script, and energy to burn.

JCVD. I described this to my video game colleagues as “a Charlie Kaufman movie with kickboxing.” I stand by that summation.