Why stick with five years of Hindsight Awards when we can also go back ten? 2008 was a big year for comedies and animated movies. Although there were some notable dramas, it was the year that a super villain won an Oscar and Marvel Studios kicked off the MCU with a bang. There were still reverberations of the writers strike from 2007-08 that resulted in some of the worst movies I've ever seen (I'm looking at you, Transformers 2 and GI Joe) that came out the next year. Yet, the Bond movie Quantum of Solace ended up being a well made movie despite the strike.. Here are the actual Academy Award nominees and winners from the 2009 Oscars for reference and the ranked list of all of the 2008 movies I have seen. Instead of deciding between lead and supporting actors and actresses I have awarded two outstanding actors and two outstanding actresses as well as a best ensemble casting.
1. Be Kind Rewind
For years I would say this was my favorite film. It's hard to keep that mantle for a full decade, but it still makes a strong impression on me in each viewing. It doesn't matter if the rest of the movie may not feel as fresh after dozens of viewings, there are always moments that make me laugh every time, and the final scene always has me in tears.
Hindsights: Best Picture
2. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
This sits in rarefied air as far as I'm concerned when it comes to the funniest movies of all time. It's not just funny but well made with beautiful cinematography of Hawaii. Jason Segel shines as the Jason Segel character that he wrote.
3. The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan had already established himself as an interesting director long before with Memento but this pit him on another level of auteur directing. From the use of IMAX cameras for some of the scenes, great overall cinematography, opening on a heist, and Heath Ledger's Oscar winning Joker, it's hard not to have this near the top of the 2008 list. It turns out this is the good DC movie (Okay, okay, Wonder Woman, Batman Begins and 75% of The Dark Knight Rises were also good).
Hindsights: Best Actor Heath Ledger, Best Director Christopher Nolan, Best Cinematography by Wally Pfister
4. Waltz With Bashir
This is one of the most improbable movies ever: an animated Israeli documentary about war and lost memories. Stylization of the animation brings the war to life, making dream-like images seem closer to a representation of realism.
Hindsights: Foreign Language Film, Best Documentary, Best Animated Film
5. Iron Man
Ah yes, the terrorist kidnapping that launched the MCU. Robert Downey, Jr.'s portrayal of Tony Stark was game changing to super hero movies and John Favreau's story telling threw such a monkey wrench into how super heroes could be seen in cinema. It was groundbreaking at the time and now it seems like a small movie with fairly small stakes, however it still holds up as a well-made and entertaining super hero movie.
Somehow this animated movie about a trash robot is one of the best silent films in quite a while. Wall-E brings out the best of what Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin were doing nearly a century before. The segments on Earth are masterful. The segments on the spaceship can be seen as a distraction from the comedic style of the rest of the movie, although it does echo one of the best stories from the very first issue of MAD Magazine from 1952. One of the three articles told the story of two men in the distant future whose lives were made so easy from progressions in technology that they were no longer able to do simple tasks to keep themselves alive when their contraptions failed.
7. Quantum of Solace
After Quantum was released Rolling Stone magazine did a ranking of all 25+ Bond movies to that point and ranked this near the bottom. I strongly disagree. It isn't just a movie with great cinematography and it opens on the best car chase ever on film, it's that the chase ends with a twist tying this movie to the final moments of Casino Royale.
Hindsights: Best Special Effects and Stunts
8. Synecdoche New York
While being one of the most surreal movies of the year, Synechoche tells a very grounded story of growing old. It's a story of a whole lifetime told seemingly through stress dreams. Knowing what I was getting in to made repeat viewing far less emotionally demanding but no lesser of a movie.
Hindsights: Best Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman
9. Tropic Thunder
This was an especially good year for comedies and a whole lot of the humor in all of them hold up really well. Tropic Thunder has an edginess in some jokes that might be considered things that "wouldn't be in a movie today" although I'm not so sure about that. The Downey Jr running gag of his character's inability to understand the inappropriateness of blackface kind of feels more relevant today to portray someone not realizing their own racism than it was ten years ago.
10. In Bruges
It's easy to remember this as a movie with shocking dialogue and dark comedy, but where it succeeds over the follow up movie Seven Psychopaths is in the straight drama of the plot that makes it a great movie regardless of the humor.
Hindsights: Best Writing
11. Che Part One
It's the set up to the Soderbergh Cuban two-part-er that is just a bit more engrossing. It was not exactly what I expected when this came out. I had been getting into a groove of watching almost all of the Soderbergh movies recently and that really acclimated for the realism and pacing for this war movie.
12. Burn After Reading
In the context of expectations from the Coen Brothers' career Burn After Reading was a bit of an oddity. It came the year after No Country For Old Men, probably the best movie of the century, and the year before A Serious Man, another of the best movies of the decade. This isn't quite a drama like those two movies and is more of a dark yet goofy comedy.
Hindsights: Best Actress Frances McDormand
The basketball version of Slapshot, Semi-Pro is in the pantheon of the best Will Farrell movies. Ultimately, this out-Slapshots Slapshot, although there is no Hanson Brothers equivalent. Semi-Pro is one of the most rewatchable movies, over and over again, after all of these years.
14. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist
A touching romp that earns a lot of capital for its resemblance to Scott Pilgrim vs The World from two years in the future. Kat Dennings and Michael Cera make a charming couple and their adventures through New York City give me just enough nostalgia from college trips into Boston or Providence to see shows.
15. Slumdog Millionaire
I enjoy Danny Boyle, but I had been avoiding this movie for almost a decade because it seemed to be a punchline in a pop culture joke from 2009 award season. This was a much more enjoyable viewing experience than I had expected and it reminded me at times of another orphan story from India that won awards, Lion, a movie that I really loved from not that long ago.
16. Che Part Two
Slower and bleaker than Part One, the conclusion gives a tragic punch. While Part One is about the optimism of revolution, Part Two is about the impending, unavoidable failure of a movement.
This movie could have had almost any plot at all and still been amazing. The cast is like loading up a cannon with greatness and firing directly at the audience. I was hoping that the story didn't involve clergy abuse because that has sadly become a bit of a trope when a white collared clergyman hits the screen.
Hindsights: Best Actress Meryl Streep, Best Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, Best Ensemble Acting
18. Kung Fu Panda
This creates a genre. It's crazy to say, but Kung Fu Panda created a genre that unfortunately only lives in the Kung Fu Panda series of movies and apparently TV shows. It's a colorfully epic explosion of Chinese mythology with humorous animal characters and it's delightful.
19. Standard Operating Procedure
When this came out it almost felt like it was just a rehash of the news with a few insights peppered in. Ten years later, it's a reminder of why the situation in Iraq and the general region around it is in the state that it is in today. It has a different meaning now that perhaps what was intended, although I think that Errol Morris was using it as a message of caution for the people of the near future to heed. Much like the fallout of the financial crisis of 2008, lessons were probably ignored by policy-makers that needed to receive them because only people at the bottom of the totem pole suffered any consequences.
20. Futurama: The Beast With a Billion Backs
Futurama is perhaps my favorite TV show of all time and between 2007 and 2009 they put out four movies instead of a season. None of the movies are perfect, but they are packed with plot, jokes and the animation has moved into a higher quality than the original run of the show. Initially, this installment (the second movie) was the most unsettling and weirdest of the movies, but now it feels so creative, edgy and is especially funny to the point that it squeezes into my top 20 from 2008.
I saw many of these movies through odd hours of the night after my son was born and my wife was back at work and I have a soft spot for a lot of these movies for capturing my attention as I would wait for the little guy to settle into sleep long enough to be moved. Unrelated viewing materials from that time were the Winter Olympics as well as Olympic documentaries and a serious watch list of sitcoms to lighten my mood at four in the morning. Some of the highlights out of the top 20 from these middle of the night viewings are Milk, Speed Racer from the Wachowskis, Pineapple Express, Happy Go Lucky from Mike Leigh, Wim Wenders' Palermo Shooting and Paranoid Park from Gus Van Sant. It's possibly my sleepless mental state made other movies not seem as good as they might have been, but I'm pretty sure my worst movie of the year, Sex and the City would have been painful to sit through no matter what.