The Best Films of 2008
by Phil Boatwright

At the end of the year, the studios bring out their big guns; the pictures they hope will garner prestige and award attention.   Most of these are not on my list.  The reason? Though that’s where you usually find the best acting, directing, etc., all too often these films dwell on negative aspects of nature, many containing huge amounts of profane language and excessive everything else.  I chose films I believed uplifted the spirit of man (or children) as well as entertained.  They are in no particular order.  Before viewing, click on the film titles to go to full reviews and the reasons for the ratings.

WALL•E.  The most original film of the summer, WALL•E was both funny and touching.  Despite a rather hypocritical handling of our ecological dilemma (Disney & Pixar – each renown for non-biodegradable excess), the makers of WALL•E gave the public a fascinating, cuddly and humorous adventure.  Both Disney and Pixar remain dedicated to the premise that an involving story is central to a great movie.  These two studios make sure that special effects and CGI sparkle add to interesting characters or thought-provoking narrative rather than replace.  It contains an overall sense of wonder missing in most films aimed at families. G

Honorary mention:  BOLTMany find this film about a TV star dog who discovers he doesn’t really have superpowers more amusing or than WALL•E.  And in my opinion BOLT is a perfect family film.  But that first half hour of WALL•E is adroit craftsmanship.  It harkens back to great episodes of Rod Serling’s TWILIGHT ZONE.  Plus, it has something important to say to the newest generation of filmgoers about our ecological dilemma.

EXPELLED: NO INTELLIGENCE ALLOWED.  I may be the only critic in America with this one on a “best of” list.  It mocks man’s all-knowing, all-seeing intellectual conceit.  The provocative film unnerves by pointing out that our nation’s universities, many of which once embraced a reverence for God, are now helmed by those who don’t.  PG

I.O.U.S.A. This documentary examines the rapidly growing national debt and its consequences for the United States and its citizens. Before attending the screening, I couldn’t imagine a film I’d rather not watch.  So, I suspect that would be your first reaction.  But if there’s a tiger in the room, you need to know it.  This film tells you how big the tiger is. PG

IRON MAN.  Witty writing (considering the genre), involving direction, perhaps the best special effects I’ve seen, and actors doing what good actors do best, make this the most entertaining of the Marvel comics screen adaptations.  True, the last third becomes top heavy with the standard combativeness we’ve seen with the Fantastic Foursome, the mutating Transformers and the go-go Power Rangers, but by then Mr. Downey and the supporting players have cast their spell, drawing us into a mesmerizing action adventure that’s also a morality tale. PG-13

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA:  PRINCE CASPIAN.  Though this sequel is more action driven than the first episode, character development has by no means been abandoned.  Between the many armchair-grabbing battle sequences, the intricate plot and the growth of the main characters will likely serve to open a rewarding dialogue between parent and child.  The Christ-like symbolism found in the pivotal character Aslan and the meaning of God’s silence at times in our lives are addressed with transparency. PG

VALKYRIE.  Based on the true story of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) the film tells of the daring plot to kill Adolph Hitler.  Aided by a sophisticated camera drive, the director’s clever visceral style, and a fine supporting cast, Valkyrie becomes a topnotch action thriller.  It’s a testament to the writer/director that we’re sitting there fully believing the would-be assassins might just achieve their task.  Now, that’s good cinema technique, when it causes us to hope for a new outcome. PG-13

MARLEY & ME. This romantic comedy/drama, based on the true-life adventures of columnist John Grogan, centers around an unruly yellow Labrador who manages to dominate a newlywed couple’s lifestyle.  It’s a smart movie about people finding their way.  Fast paced, with mostly gentle humor, the film celebrates the preciousness of life, while giving a realistic view of a modern marriage.  It’s a film about love, responsibility, a pro-marriage, pro-life film that moves from comedy to drama with the ease of giving Lassie a command.  PG

STEEP is an interesting documentary about men – and women – who live for danger.  Like surfers searching for the tallest wave, extreme mountain skiers attempt to conquer the highest and most inaccessible adversary.  Best moment:  Three skiers are photographed from a helicopter while getting caught in an avalanche.  Not only a thrilling, armrest-grabber of a moment, the aftermath also shows a camaraderie known only to those who risk their lives together.  Now, that’s awesome, dude. PG