Jean-Claude Van Damme and the melancholy meta movie about him kicked the most ass in 08.
This was not a particularly strong year for cinema. There were some great performances (Frank Langella's Nixon, Josh Brolin's Dubya, Sean Penn's Milk) in some not-great films, but finding 10 best was not easy.
In other words, there's no 11th fighting to be included.
Mabrouk El Mechri
Washed-up action star Jean-Claude Van Damme as washed-up action star Jean-Claude Van Damme? It's meta, it's existential, it's a child custody drama, a melancholy heist movie, an indictment of celebrity culture, a cautionary tale about the dangers of ego, avarice and too much cocaine, and just plain kick-ass.
2. Man On Wire
In 1974, Philippe Petit tiptoed across a tightrope between the tops of the World Trade Center towers. This doc about his daring stunt (and his equally daring WTC break-in) is filled with foreboding and nerve-rattling tension, especially given its post-9/11 resonance, and evokes the feeling of working without a net.
3. The Wrestler
Mickey Rourke delivers a piledriver of a performance as a 'roided-up bottle-blond bruiser struggling to make ends meet. The wrestling scenes bleed authenticity, while the quiet moments between Rourke's Randy "The Ram" Robinson and his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and stripper girlfriend (Marisa Tomei) pack the biggest wallop. As with JCVD, knowing how the story parallels Rourke's own fucked-up life deepens the impact.
4. Let The Right One In
While tweeners swooned at Twilight's toothless treacle, this brilliant Swedish vampire flick delivered a romance worth sinking your teeth into. The story's simple - a bullied 12-year-old discovers the girl he's crushing on is a bloodsucker - but the execution astoundingly strange, stunning and surprisingly sweet.
Set in a dystopian future where robots rule while fat people drool, this thrilling sci-fi adventure owes as much to Short Circuit, Stanley Kubrick, Buster Keaton and Broadway musicals as it does to anything in Pixar's catalogue. The year's most exuberant entertainment and the best rom-com in aeons. It just happens to be a cartoon.
6. Battle In Seattle
Written and directed by a first-timer best-known as Charlize Theron's boyfriend, this near-documentary/not-quite-drama blends passion, principle and politics in an amazing ensemble piece set amid the chaos of the 1999 WTO protests. Makes you want to slap on a gas mask, grab a placard and join the fight.
7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Fincher directed the best film of 07 (Zodiac), and Brad Pitt starred in the second-best (The Assassination Of Jesse James). The sum of those parts is nearly as sublime and certainly as mesmerizing. Button has been dismissed by some as too Forrest Gumpish (a shared screenwriter and snowglobe approach to magic realism), but beneath the groundbreaking special effects that age Pitt backwards is a lyrical ode to life's frailties. Bold, beautiful, entirely unsentimental filmmaking with an old-Hollywood feel.
Mamet, moral murkiness (natch!) and mixed martial arts. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a righteous jiu-jitsu master dragged into a shady fight game. Tim Allen is a less than honourable action star. Toss in a few real martial arts experts and you get a samurai parable that cuts deeply.
9. The Visitor
The second film from writer-director McCarthy (The Station Agent) is a gentle middle-aged love story that strikes every note perfectly and never tries too hard. Richard Jenkins gives a simple, elegant performance as a sad, lonely New Yorker untethered from life who finds himself re-engaging thanks to some unexpected roommates.
10. In Bruges
A dreamy farce about hit men that marries violence and comedy without feeling like just another Tarantino wannabe. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson make a superb Mutt and Jeff, the dialogue is sharp and the conclusion quite unexpected.3