Fortunately I have written either a full review or at least a film festival recap on nine of the 10 films in my list, so I don’t have to cover old ground. Those reviews exist on CraveOnline. This could have been my chance to talk about how awesome Premium Rush and Safe were or remind everybody about Headhunters, but I had to edge them out of the top ten. Even Life of Pi and Cloud Atlas didn’t make the cut, and I so wanted to make a joke about “Cloud Fatlas.” For the record, they were still behind Rush. So, here it is folks, and there’s not an important movie in the bunch. Well, I guess Wallflower and The Sessions are, so you see I do have a heart.
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (dir. John Hyams)
I guess this was a pretty awesome year if there were so many thrillers vying for this spot. In the end, I had to hand it to Universal Soldier for just delivering so much in a more limited arena. They may have had a bit more creative freedom, and a little budget boost from the success of the previous straight-to-video sequel, but they didn’t slack off in any aspect. I went into depth in my Fantastic Fest review and I know not everyone was on this movie’s page, but it worked excessively for me.
The Dark Knight Rises (dir. Christopher Nolan)
The one movie on this list I did not get to review in full, so let me give you a little context. Both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were my favorite movies of their respective years, and I thought Dark Knight was way better so 2008 must have been a phenomenal year all around. The final part is lower on my top ten list but I still love everything about it. I love that it was a Batman movie without Batman. I love that it was a slow burn Batman. I love that it was more a sequel to Begins than Dark Knight and I love John Blake’s real name. There’s nothing I don’t love about it, I just love it a little bit less than Begins and Dark Knight.
Paranorman (dirs. Chris Butler & Sam Fell)
Wow, thank God this came out on Blu-ray before the end of the year or I may have missed it. I’m always drawn to the kids’ movies with the existential crises. Toy Story 2, The NeverEnding Story, and now here’s a real doozy to add to my philosophical entertainment rotation. Give a stop-motion kid the same power Cate Blanchett had in The Gift and Haley Joel Osment had in The Sixth Sense, and not only does he have the burden of each ghost’s personal tragedy, but he’s got to bring a consciousness shift to the living.
A Late Quartet (dir. Yaron Zilberman)
My biggest surprise of the Toronto International Film Festival, a powerful drama with some of our favorite performers getting to give full, rich performances. It’s just the essence of drama when characters are forced to make decisions and held responsible for bad ones.
Perks of Being a Wallflower (dir. Stephen Chbosky)
One of the best teen dramas I can remember seeing in the last decade. It articulates feelings that it has taken me into my ‘30s to realize. Of course, a comforting, relatable message isn’t all, although that’s pretty significant. It’s a beautifully written and performed film too.
The Sessions (dir. Ben Lewin)
A beautiful, beautiful movie. It makes sex a beautiful thing, which having experienced some real life sex, it can be messy and gross, let alone how it’s portrayed in glamorized heavy breathing close-ups. So that’s a win, and it takes triumph over adversity to the next level. You think it was hard for that slumdog to win a million dollars? Try having sex in an iron lung. The Sessions has great spirit, heart, humor, poetic language, and finally the right name after burning through The Surrogate and Six Sessions.
Holy Motors (dir. Leos Carax)
I know Holy Motors means something but I’m less interested in what it means. It’s enough to me that it’s out there. I’m more interested in the use of cinema as a collage of artistic ideas. Each vignette in Holy Motors is awesome, and my number one rule of movies is they should be awesome. Mainstream movies fall into a sort of formula of rules, and that’s fine. Narrative story is important too. See my three picks below. I’m a bit hungry for abstract or at least nonlinear experience though and Holy Motors is the ultimate.
Looper (dir. Rian Johnson)
In another year, Looper could have been my favorite movie. It’s the greatest sci-fi movie not inspired by a Philip K. Dick short story. Take this world where time travel exists. It just does. It’s normal, people use it criminally, like anything else that’s common. What’s the one thing that would shake the whole system? A hit man facing his own future self. That’s some minority report sh** right there. So the premise, exploring it beautifully (thirty year flashback/forward, hello?) and just frankly having kick-ass action makes Looper a perennial in the Fred Topel rotation. I’ll be re-reviewing it again on Blu-ray.
Indie Game: The Movie (dirs. Lisanne Pajot & James Swirsky)
This documentary just had everything I want a movie to be. I haven’t played video games in years but the story of individual artists was universal. Perhaps the filmmakers lucked out that their subjects experienced every emotion inherent in the greatest narratives, the fleeting victories, the paralyzing frustrations and the spell a passion project puts over you. I think the material was there but Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky knew what to capture and how to present it compassionately. Compassion is the key because some of the subjects’ behaviors could come across as selfish, but instead you just empathize with them.
Detention (dir. Joseph Kahn)
Oh, my beloved Detention. I have followed you for two years and touted your every nuance. It would be enough if you were a slasher teen comedy with time travel, but you’re even more awesome than that. Detention speaks to every level on which I want to enjoy a film: visceral, intellectual, emotional, satirical. It doesn’t take itself seriously, but it follows through on all of its promise with integrity. It may be hard to explain exactly what Detention is, but Detention makes it easier to explain who I am. What are your standards for what a movie should be, Fred? Answer: Detention.
Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.