Happy New Year’s Eve!
Twenty-five films vie for my top ten of 2008, which I’ll announce tomorrow. Normally, I cull my top ten from my "must-sees" but since that number is sadly just seven, I'll have to pull from the eighteen "recommended" to make the final list. I’ve viewed 66 films theatrically this year; below are my one-line commentaries on each:
Must See 
1. Cloverfield. Great special effects and clever ideas: felt like being on a ride.
2. Frost/Nixon. Highly compelling piece is equal parts drama and character study; leads superb.
3. In Bruges. Perhaps just one coincidence too many plotwise, but this film succeeds where the former GROSSE POINT BLANK failed in capturing, brilliantly, the humor in a horrible world.
4. JCVD. Tarantinoesque stylistics detract, but concept and deliverly-- with a career-defining dramatic turn by Van Damme-- make for a one-of-a-kind experience.
5. My Winnipeg. Sleepinducing, but in a good way-- lulling the viewer into accepting its weird, wild ride.
6. Synecdoche, New York. Everything they're saying pro and con; a study of existence in the absence of hope, that has enough humor and style so as not to be depressing, but oddly comforting.
7. Wrestler, The. Some unoriginality in the relationships with the female characters does not dim the irrestible characterizations and performances.
1. Changeling. Solid and engrossing: it's driven mainly by it's basis in fact-- cold, but it stays with you.
2. Dark Knight, The. Great camerawork and a dramatically memorable performance by Heath Ledger keep you watching this relentless actioner
3. Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Will never be confused for a documentary, but not a dull moment laughwise; halfway between SUPERBAD and KNOCKED UP.
4. Gran Torino. A solid star turn by Eastwood is never outstanding but hardly dull (beware some poor acting by amateur ensemble players, particularly during the last [critical] section of the film).
5. Happy-Go-Lucky. Offbeat and fresh, if a bit random at times; hits the ring just outside of the bulleseye.
6. Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Eye-pleasing fantasy has a collection of appealing characters that make it worth forgiving the film's significant and frequent leaps of logic.
7. Iron Man. Outrageously unrealistic and light on set pieces, but has a solid cast and the Iron Man suit is way cool.
8. Milk. Engrossing and informative, although should have delved even deeper into the personal life of Milk.
9. Mother of Tears, The/La Terza Madre. Energetic and ambitious film delivers crowd-pleasing (albeit frequently misogynistic) shocks and suspense and a journey narrative that taps into our innermost desire for the horror image; not for the Dario Argento uninitiated, however.
10. Quantum of Solace. Movies are novels and this film is the equivalent of a short story-- but a helluva short story; solid performances all around to boot.
11. Rachel Getting Married. Despite the fact that it offers an experience that most moviegoers go to the movies to escape from, it's a well-mounted actors showcase, if it suffers a bit from familiar plot devices.
12. Religulous. Comicdoc that paints in broad strokes, but, after all, the canvas is vast.
13. Revolutionary Road. Distant to some extent, but many individual scenes are reminiscent of the work of the old cinema masters.
14. Shine A Light. Not a novel approach per se but it captures the energy of the Stones: great stuff.
15. Slumdog Millionaire. Visually stunning film is compelling, but fails to entirely convince in its central love story.
16. Tropic Thunder. Funny, funny, funny; not deep, but funny.
17. Twilight. TVish, but intriguing and defty cast.
18. Valkyrie. Eschews full-on character development to tell it's fascinating, exciting, and disturbing slice of history.
1. 10,000 B.C. Patently mainstream entertainment hits its cliched marks well and offers a few exciting set pieces.
2. Bank Job, The. Fast-paced and compelling plot is devoid of characterization.
3. Be Kind Rewind. Sweetly oddball, but unforgivably flighty.
4. Bolt. Very cute, with sharp voice work by the entire ensemble-- but can we finally retire the "lost animal has to get home" animation plotline that we've seem umpteen times?
5. Burn After Reading. People do the funniest things!
6. Cassandra's Dream. Good casting to nicely set-up genre piece, solves itself far too "mathematically" to be satisfying.
7. Choke. Mild filmization of the Palahniuk novel, may have been, despite its advertising, too tame to capture the spirit of the book.
8. Christmas Tale, A. Meandering tale is not without its cadeaux.
9. Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, The. Lengthy, overambitious adventure is a crowd-pleasing popcorner, but much ado about nothing.
10. Class, The. Vivid storytelling that could have been great, but was desparately missing sweep.
11. Counterfeiters, The. Compelling plot lacks enough interesting dramatic beats and character depth to put it over the top.
12. Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The. Pleasant.
13. Doubt. Old-fashioned Oscar material, with above average story and ensemble.
14. Eagle Eye. First half is nothing; second half, following the "reveal" works OK as a (preposterous) no- brainer.
15. Get Smart. Everyone was game and it got better as it went along, but wasn't funny enough.
16. Hancock. Comedy and action are melded perfectly in opening, but last section of the movie isn't half as fun.
17. Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. Missing that extra something that put the original over the top, this entry is nonetheless funny and has its inspired moments.
18. Horton Hears A Who! Good voice work but story is padded by about an hour.
19. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. A nostalgic trip best seen as it was entered in at the Cannes Film Festival-- "out of competition."
20. Jumper. As if the screenplay was shaken and a few dozens pages fell out (including the ending), but they filmed it anyway; Bilson way cute though.
21. Kung Fu Panda. Visually sumptuous and enjoyable, but thematically trite.
22. Leatherheads. Benign, pleasant; the gals got MISS PETTIGREW the guys got LEATHERHEADS, but truth be told I think the gals got both.
23. Man on Wire. Compelling story and reasonably well done execution makes it easily worthwhile, but needed a shot-in-the-arm stylistically.
24. Pineapple Express. Live-action cartoon delivers what it advertises.
25. Reader, The. Glossy despite subject matter.
26. Role Models. Peaks at "average" on the laugh meter.
27. Smart People. I can honestly say I loved all the parts my mind didn't wander during.
28. Son of Rambow. Well-intentioned, but scattershot in all departments.
29. Speed Racer. Pumped-up, but going in a million directions; second half is best, but it seems this film will only truly connect with fans of the original show.
30. Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Unjustly maligned, if minor, Saturday morning-cartoonesque outing, suffers only from "franchise fatigue," but never lags, and fills in an interesting gap with many references to the other features.
31. Step Brothers. F-bomb ladden comedy does manage, admirably, to create enough laughs to sustain a feature length film from a one-joke premise.
32. Stop-Loss. Standard and amateurish, and takes far too long to make it's point.
33. Tell No One. Slow beginning and a final third that has you completely over it-- but a riveting middle section: so what does that leave?
34. Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Imperfect comedy-drama benefits from great cast-- in particular Penelope Cruz, who steals the show.
35. Visitor, The. Something to admire in central characterization of dull professor, but no real story.
36. W. Maddeningly odd character study can't decide what it wants to be; James Cromwell and Josh Brolin both deliver, however, as Bushes Sr. and Jr.
37. WALL-E. Paperthin plot is buoyed by imaginative visuals and sweet moments between lead characters.
38. Wanted. Takes every action film from the last decade and blends it up for a splashy and not-quite-completely formulaic ride.
39. You Don't Mess With the Zohan. Odd premise and some good laughs throughout will get you through this amuser, which is about a half hour too long.
1. Ghost Town. Tired premise and jokes make for a dull and unfunny movie-- go figure.
2. I've Loved You So Long. Couldn't wait to see what "happened" next; pointless, with a copout ending.