Critics' Choice: Top Movies of 2008
- Monday, January 26, 2009
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material)
Click here for a full review.
One thing’s for certain: Doubt runs deep with the complexities of the human condition and unadulterated, great performances. As Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the principal of a Catholic school in the Bronx circa 1964, Meryl Streep commands every scene she inhabits. While Philip Seymour Hoffman (as the likeable, albeit unorthodox, Father Flynn) and Amy Adams (as the wide-eyed, innocent Sister James) are worthy and talented thespian counterparts, it is Streep who shines most bright as a nun on a mission to oust a priest suspected of abusing one of his pupils. Based on the play by John Patrick Shanley (he also directs and wrote the screenplay), Doubt is more visually sparse than other contenders—but a welcome addition, nonetheless, for those who love good acting and thought-provoking themes.
This year for our “honorable mentions” category, we’ve asked each of our film panel voters to make the case for one film on their personal list that didn’t get enough votes for the main Crosswalk.com list. Here is what they said ...
Burn After Reading
Stephen McGarvey, Crosswalk.com/Christianity.com Executive Editor
Watch any movie by Oscar-winning directors Joel and Ethan Coen, and you will usually come away with the same message: be sure your sins will find you out. And although this year’s Burn After Reading is heavy on the objectionable content, the sins of these characters are never portrayed positively. Like a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, this film is a poignant and witty look at how uncontrolled greed leads to disaster. The Coen brothers certainly know how to put together an effective cautionary tale, and on that front, Burn After Reading does not disappoint.
Christa Banister, Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
When a hating-his-life dentist named Bertram Pincus (Gervais) dies for seven minutes—and is eventually revived—after a routine colonoscopy, he ends up acquiring a bizarre new skill: seeing dead people. But before the flick can venture into that well-tread M. Night Shyamalan territory, it takes a thoroughly entertaining comedic turn once Frank (Greg Kinnear) arrives on the scene with an intriguing proposition: Break up the upcoming marriage of his ex-wife (Tea Leoni) to a cheesy humanitarian by attempting to make her fall in love with (gasp!) him. While this crazy plot doesn't seem like it should work, it actually does with Bertram learning a thing or two about God's second greatest commandment—loving your fellow man.
Jeffrey Huston, Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
For awhile you may wonder if this character study is going anywhere, and it is—dramatically so—despite the mood mostly reflecting the main character Poppy: relentlessly joyful. She has a gift for brushing aside life’s punches while never evading its challenges, especially regarding her hostile car-driving instructor. The theme is best summed up when Poppy’s best friend tells her, “You can’t make everyone happy,” and Poppy’s innocent reply is simply, “There’s no harm in trying, is there?”
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Laura MacCorkle, Crosswalk.com Senior Editor
It’s certainly not “the best” offering in the Indiana Jones franchise, but there is still much here to entertain a diehard fan in this fourth installment. At 60-plus years of age, Harrison Ford reprises his role as the globe-trotting, fedora-wearing, whip-cracking archaeologist and handles his thrill-ride action scenes and jungle-chase escapades believably well (albeit with some assistance from stunt doubles). Shia LaBeouf adds the perfect amount of comic relief and familial friction as Indy’s son (the constant grooming of his hair with a pocket comb is quite chuckle-inducing), and Cate Blanchett is perfectly cast as the uptight villainess, Irina Spalko. Dare I say that evil has never looked (or acted) this good? With a better story, Crystal Skull could have earned a spot on this year’s list or become more of a fan favorite in the popular Indy series. If there’s a fifth edition, let’s hope it returns to the quest of rescuing less bizarre—and more mainstream or interesting—antiquities.
Kung Fu Panda
Tom Perrault, Vice President of Internet Operations
My pantheon of animated features has a new addition. While Kung Fu Panda doesn’t crack my Top 25 all-time list (or surpass the overall uniqueness of Wall•E), it was a funny and fun ride. The cartoonish Jack Black has a certain future in animated features, but Dustin Hoffman’s turn as Shifu was even better. The movie’s affirming message didn’t go “New Agey” overboard, and the lack of inappropriate innuendo—common among movies like Madagascar 2 and Shrek—was a pleasant surprise. The wow-inspiring animation was suitably incredible, as the latest CG feature off the assembly line usually is.
Marley & Me
Shawn McEvoy, Crosswalk.com Senior Editor
Though improperly marketed as a sort of next-generation Beethoven about a rotten retriever with a heart of gold, John Grogan's book-turned-film is more accurately described as the archetypal history of many an American family who adopted a dog as a test run before having children. Ergo, most people in the audience knew in advance to pack tissues. The direction is a bit uneven; much of the time, like a bad comedy, you wait for the other shoe to drop, but that never happens. Instead, several familiar career and family decisions are illustrated as the memorable moments that changed everything for a couple, for better or worse. But because commitment is such a major theme, the payoff—as in most families—is unilaterally for the better. Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston each have never been better in a serious role.
Rachel Getting Married
Christian Hamaker, Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is getting married, but there’s just one problem: her sister, Kym (Anne Hathaway), who’s just out of rehab and on her way to her sister’s big event. Watch as Rachel, in a supporting performance that catapults DeWitt to the top tier of working actresses, navigates her sister’s narcissism and her dad’s (Bill Irwin, also fantastic) efforts to try to please everyone. Thanks to the on-the-ground immediacy Director Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) brings to the proceedings, the film feels much more alive than a typical dysfunctional family drama. Musical numbers are integrated naturally into a story that centers on a wedding both earthy and, in its multicultural milieu, transcendent. The film is by no means theologically orthodox—you’ll either smile or scoff when Rachel’s mother-in-law to be announces, during a toast, that “this is what it will be like in heaven.” But by the time you watch Kym say she can’t forgive herself for committing a grave sin, your heart will break.
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