As a general rule, I don’t change my Top 10 Films of the Year lists. Call me stubborn, uppity, unflinchingly rigid, even snobbish. My response? “Sticks and stones, my friend, sticks and stones.” My year-long project always unfolds thusly: I watch; I love/loathe/don’t care/feel dead inside; I list; I order; I publish. It is a method, and I like to think there is little madness in it (unless you count inflexibility as madness).
This year was no different, except maybe that I got a few movies in — “Doubt,” “Milk” and “Slumdog Millionaire” — BARELY under the wire. In the name of the Great Holy Aardvark, I’d made my list and I was sticking to it.
And then, as it often happens, my own rule came back to bite me in the place I fell on twice playing racquetball today.
You see, I followed my own “10 is the number, no more, and ties are allowed” rule — which, I believe, falls somewhere below “Thou shalt not expect deep meaning in any movie starring Pauly Shore, Rob Schneider or Anna Farris” — but remembered there were four excellent movies that were left in the cold, all sad-eyed and forlorn-like, just waiting for someone to put them on some form of “best of 2008” list.
Cut to the creation of the Four Honorable Mentions of 2008 list. Why just four? Well, you might say I’m throwing caution to the wind. Shield your face, readers; all this caution might just scratch a cornea or two.
And 2008’s Honorable Mentions go to …
1) “The Counterfeiters” — They say a truly great movie (like a truly great book) reveals something new to you every time you watch it. In that case, I can scarcely wait to see IFC’s “The Counterfeiters” again, because the first viewing left me speechless (imagine that) and in tears. Karl Markovics leads a talented German cast as Salomon “Sally” Sorowitsch, a boozy, opportunistic counterfeiter who decides to use his trade to save himself — and his comrades — from certain death in a Nazi concentration camp. As an actor, Markovics is a wonder; he plays it straight, eschewing melodrama, yet somehow expresses a near-unbearable mix of guilt and relief hidden behind his sunken eyes. If Oscar ignores this one the way it ignored “Dark Knight,” I will renounce life and audition for the role of Paris’ new BFFL.
2) “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” — Some will howl in disbelief that “Benjamin Button” didn’t make my Top 10 list. I have my reasons, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy David Fincher’s expansive, beautifully lensed and surprisingly unsappy tale of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), a most unusual New Orleans lad born old who grows younger each day. Quite the opposite: There’s much here to like, even love, here, from the vivid, storybook-like characters (Jared Harris is memorable as drunken, jovial Captain Mike, and Tilda Swinton is impeccable as a woman who’s lost touch with her dreams) to the costumes and stunning make-up to the mind-blowingly awesome CGI effects. “Benjamin Button” is one hell of a fantastic visual experience.
3) “Body of Lies” — It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes Ridley Scott makes a truly intelligent, explosive, well-acted thriller that no one pays much atttention to. Enter “Body of Lies,” perhaps one of the best action films released post-9/11 about American spy ops in the Middle East. Does it get better than Leonardo DiCaprio as a harried spy sent spinning like a demented top by his wily boss (a superb Russell Crowe) and a Jordanian intelligence operative (Mark Strong) who suffers fools violently? When Crowe quips “nobody’s innocent,” expect goosebumps.
4) “The Bank Job” — When it comes to bank robberies, things tend to go wrong even when they go right. And nowhere is that more evident than in Roger Donaldson’s sleek and stylish “The Bank Job.” Based on the true story of the 1971 Baker Street robbery in London, this action-packed caper is tense in all the right places, populated with lesser-known actors that don’t distract by “acting,” with enough twists and double-crosses to make a popcorn refill run a cardinal sin. Top that with a surprising performance by stone-faced actionhound Jason Statham and you’ve got one of the most entertaining movies of 2008.