Title Screen Film Genre(s), Title, Year, (Country), Length, Director, Description
Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008)
Two members of Anvil, a little-known Canadian heavy metal rock group that toured the world in the early 1980s, were followed by documentary filmmaker Sacha Gervasi (Anvil's ex-roadie and loyal fan). Although they were regarded as a substantial influence by some of the most successful rock groups at the time (Bon Jovi, Metallica, Anthrax, etc.), the four-member Anvil slumped, never found mainstream stardom or commercial success in the big-time. Anvil's two aging metal-heads (both with dead-end day jobs), lead vocalist/guitarist Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, were blindly determined and persistently optimistic, however, to not let Anvil's R&R dream die. They continued to record songs, play sports bars in strip-malls, plan a major tour (a disastrous five-week European tour in 2006), and cut their comeback 13th album - with their own funding.
The Class (Entre les Murs) (2008, Fr.)
This realistic slice-of-life docu-drama (literally translated "Between the Walls") was the first French film to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 21 years. It was based on the real-life memoirs of François Bégaudeau, a junior-high classroom teacher of French language arts, who was the film's scripter and main actor. He played a semi-autobiographical version of himself as François Marin, a bright young, caring teacher in one of Paris' toughest, multi-cultural, inner-city schools - an urban microcosm. Although the embattled teacher struggled with his many disruptive, unruly 'problem' students, Marin was intent on inspiring and challenging them to think and grow, but some of the rebellious, insolent and strong-headed pupils eventually brought out his own flaws (i.e., slang name-calling in a moment of anger), and fomented a crisis causing the most difficult student to be expelled.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), 167 minutes, D: David Fincher
David Fincher's sweeping, lengthy, big-budget fantasy epic, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1922 jazz age short story, followed the life of 'curious' everyman Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt). The title character was born in his elderly 80s and then began aging in reverse, growing younger rather than older. It deservedly won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, for its miraculous age transformations of Button, who was first seen as a short, frail, bald elderly man with glasses, and eventually died by film's end as an infant in the arms of lover/girlfriend Daisy (Cate Blanchett). The film's twist, seen in flashback, was that Daisy revealed on her New Orleans deathbed that her 40-ish daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond) was fathered by Benjamin and born out of wedlock.
The Dark Knight (2008), 152 minutes, D: Christopher Nolan
See Batman series.
This was the second film of Christopher Nolan's trilogy of Batman superhero epics (Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012)). This violent, action-packed, blockbuster superhero film was based on the decades-old comic-book Caped Crusader figure of Gotham City. Christian Bale reprised his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman (in a sleeker bat-suit), co-starring with Heath Ledger as the villainous, ghoulish, facially-scarred, terrorizing bank robber named the Joker. [Note: Ledger's indelible, diabolical performance was posthumously honored with an Oscar after he tragically died shortly before the film's release.] Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) served as the twinkle-eyed, trustworthy Wayne Enterprises inventor and head of the Applied Sciences Dept. He provided Wayne with the gadgets and equipment (i.e., the Batsuit, the Tumbler, the Batpod) required for his exploits, Batman's version of James Bond's Q. Also, he counseled him as a calm parental surrogate, took over CEO responsibilities, and served as the film's moral or ethical center when he expressed concern over Batman's invasive use of surveillance technology. The popular film topped the box-office charts as the highest grossing (domestic) film of 2008 and the highest-grossing (domestic) Batman movie ever.
Doubt (2008), 104 minutes, D: John Patrick Shanley
Frost/Nixon (2008), 122 minutes, D: Ron Howard
Gomorrah (Gomorra) (2008, It.)
Matteo Garrone's Biblically-titled, grim crime docudrama was about the corruptive influence of gangster-underworld Italian 'Mafia' figures (known as the Camorra). The ensemble film, shot with a Steadi-cam, inter-twined five stories about people's lives as they were drawn into criminal syndicate activities in Naples, Italy that only spread misery and death. It included two Hollywood-enamored, play-acting wanna-be gangster-thugs who over-reached by stealing weapons and crossing the local boss; a haute couture tailor who freelanced as a trainer of Chinese sweatshop garment workers that competed with rival mobsters; a toxic-waste manager who irresponsibly disposed of cancerous garbage for profit in over-populated areas; an innocent grocery delivery boy who became a gang-initiate complicit in drug-dealing and murder; and a middle-aged money-runner for imprisoned mob members.
Gran Torino (2008), 116 minutes, D: Clint Eastwood
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), 122 minutes, D: Steven Spielberg
See Indiana Jones series.
Iron Man (2008), 126 minutes, D: Jon Favreau
Let the Right One In (Låt den Rätte Komma In) (2008, Sweden)
The title of this coming-of-age romantic horror film, about close friendship between two alienated, societal misfits, referred to a bit of vampire lore. One had to specifically invite a vampire to cross the threshold to enter one's home. Although the word "vampire" was mentioned only once, this Swedish import by director Tomas Alfredson was a vampirish tale set in the 1980s about two 12 year-old neighbors: blond, albinoid, remotely-passive schoolboy Oskar and enigmatic, androgynous, dark-haired vampire Eli. Oskar lived with his divorced mother near Stockholm, and was badly tormented by bullies at school. Next door was Eli, living with her older "father" figure Hakan who provided her with blood from recent kills. Both threatened pre-teens gave each other comfort and friendship after connecting and "going steady": Eli counseled Oskar to find strength and take revenge on the bullies, while Oskar provided Eli with acceptance of her fated plight.
Mamma Mia! (2008, US/UK), 108 minutes, D: Phyllida Lloyd
Milk (2008), 127 minutes, D: Gus Van Sant
The Reader (2008), 123 minutes, D: Stephen Daldry
Revolutionary Road (2008, US/UK), 119 minutes, D: Sam Mendes
Adapted from Richard Yates' 1961 debut novel, this romantic drama captured the life-draining zeitgeist of the mid-1950s (close to the 1960s era of Mad Men) in its story of a disintegrating marriage. It told about husband Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) in an unrewarding, tedious, humdrum NYC business machine position - and trapped in an unhappy, bleak and miserable marriage with April (Kate Winslet) and two children, who also felt destined to a life of domestic servitude. In addition to engaging in an affair with co-worker Maureen (Zoe Kazan), Frank took the long train trip each workday to the city where he passed through a sea of gray-flannel-clad workers in Grand Central Station. In a wild fantasy, they hoped to leave behind their hopeless, conformist and empty suburban life by selling their picture-perfect western Connecticut house (on Revolutionary Road) and moving to Paris at the end of summer. Reality set in, however, when Frank was about to be promoted (with a larger salary) and April became pregnant again. She also turned to a fling with neighbor Shep Campbell (David Harbour), and a subsequent attempt at self-abortion became deadly.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008, UK), 116 minutes, D: Danny Boyle
Best Director-winning Danny Boyle's dark horse, low-budget crowd-pleasing Bollywood-Hollywood hybrid had no American superstars, lots of foreign-language dialogue, and exhibited the extreme poverty of Bombay (Mumbai) India. It followed the tale of impoverished, 18 year-old orphaned "slumdog" thief Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) who was arrested for cheating (presumably due to his unsavory, lower-class background), when only one question away from winning the top prize of 20 million rupees in the Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" Its Best Picture win was tied to its 'feel-good' theme, romantic sub-plot, and Oscar-winning song/dance "Jai Ho" finale.
Twilight (2008), 121 minutes, D: Catherine Hardwicke
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), 96 minutes, D: Woody Allen
WALL-E (2008), 97 minutes, D: Andrew Stanton
Pixar's and Disney's animated, almost dialogue-free, Oscar-winning science-fiction story was set in the year 2805. WALL-E (short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class) (voice of Ben Burtt) was the last lone garbage-compacting robot on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where for seven centuries, the industrious, ecological robot had been cleaning up Earth's harmful trash (and collecting treasures) after everyone had been evacuated to a giant orbiting spaceship AXIOM. In the odd-couple love story, WALL•E fell in love with EVE (short for Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) (voice of Elissa Knight), a sleek, initially-cold, white-shelled probe droid-robot that was sent to check on the progress of the clean-up and to locate plant life. In the tear-jerking conclusion, she brought the crushed, emotionless and seemingly-'dead' WALL-E back to life.
The Wrestler (2008), 109 minutes, D: Darren Aronofsky
Darren Aronofsky's sports drama starred 56 year-old Mickey Rourke in a comeback role as Randy "The Ram" Robinson. Although a broken-down, has-been, formerly-famous 1980s headliner pro wrestler, he had returned to fight in the small circuit ring 20 years later to gain respect and integrity. He had formed a close bond with Pam/Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a middle-aged, tattooed exotic stripper and single mother, and struggled to reconcile with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). Before fighting in his sure-to-be last and fatal match against the formidable "The Ayatollah," Randy delivered an inspiring closing speech ("I'm still standing here and I'm The Ram").