Are you an awards season junkie? Do you love to be able to sit there and look smart in front of your friends and family, most of whom only make it out to the movies once a year to see the latest Jim Carrey comedy, by being able to talk endlessly about all of the “important” movies of the year? Of course you are. How do I know this? Because we can smell our own — why do you think I run this here movie site? It isn’t for the tail, my friends. It is for the love of film, and more importantly my love of being able to appear smart to people who don’t know any better.
That said, I would like to take you along with me on a journey through the list of the important movies of 2008. These are the 14 films from the past year that become most relevant over the next few months as they will undoubtedly be nominated for — and even sometimes win — awards from critics organizations and industry guilds. These are the 14 Must See Movies of Awards Season, ranked from least important to most important. Consider this your awards season to-do list.
14. The Dark Knight
I know what you are thinking–and no, I didn’t get the order wrong. I’ve placed The Dark Knight so low on my list because well, $970 million at the box office tells me that just about anyone who cares has already seen it at least once. As well, there are only two reasons to see The Dark Knight for awards season: (1) you need to decide whether or not you’re going to be up in arms when it doesn’t win best picture; and (2) it will help you see that Heath Ledger’s acclaim for Best Supporting Actor isn’t just because he died, but because he gave one hell of a performance.
Our first of many films featuring a serious Best Actor contender is Gus Van Sant’s Milk. Sean Penn should earn his fifth Best Actor nom come Oscar time for his portrayal of Harvey Milk, the country’s first ever openly gay elected official. And though the film is littered with other work worth talking about, including a supporting performance from Josh Brolin that could shake up a lot of awards ceremonies, this is Sean Penn’s show. And damn, that guy is still one of the greatest working actors of his generation.
12. Waltz with Bashir
Believe it or not, this is one of only three films on this list that I myself have not yet seen. But don’t worry, I will have them all in the bad before we begin our releasing our Year in Review articles. When that does happen, I suspect that Waltz with Bashir, an animated biography about a man remembering his time in the Lebanon War in the early 80s, could play well in one of three categories — animation, documentary and foreign film. As one of the few triple threats out there, this should be near the top of your To-See list.
11. Rachel Getting Married
As the season wears on, people will continue to talk about Anne Hathaway’s performance as a recovering drug addict returning home for her sister’s wedding in Rachel Getting Married. They’d be right to talk, as Hathaway gives the performance of her career in a movie that is sometimes hilarious, often heartbreaking. The other performance to watch is that of Bill Irwin, who plays the Hathaway’s father in the film, as he could be a serious awards season sleeper.
Set in 1964, Doubt centers on a nun who confronts a priest after suspecting him abusing a black student. He denies the charges, and much of the film’s quick-fire dialogue tackles themes of religion, morality and authority. Based on a play by and directed by John Patrick Shanley, Doubt is the second of three films on this list that I have not yet seen. But with headlining performances from Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams, it is obvious why this film has garnered so much buzz. As well, Doubt has already received Golden Globe nominations for its four principle actors — the aforementioned Streep, Hoffman and Adams as well as Viola Davis. And from what I hear, these are performances that are quite deserving of their nominations.
I’ve already mentioned Waltz with Bashir as a serious contender in the foreign category, but its worth noting that there is another major candidate to bring home some hardware. In fact, Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah already has a truck-load of hardware from its travels in ’08. It was honored with the Grand Prize at Cannes and was named Best Film at the European Film Awards. Cinematical’s James Rocchi called it “a sweeping, stirring film that has the shoot-and-loot tension of the best crime cinema but also has the scope and serious intent of great drama.” It is, without a doubt, the one film that I have not yet seen in 2008 that I am most looking forward to seeing.
8. Revolutionary Road
Revolutionary Road seems to me to be in the same that Letters from Iwo Jima was in during 2006. It’s not a war movie. In fact it is quite the opposite, telling the story of a young couple being consumed in their normal suburban lives by their own personal desires to break free. It is fully deserving of a shot at the Best Picture award, but will likely be steamrolled by films with way more momentum. Taking limited release on December 26th will do that to a film. And no measure of Sam Mendes, Leo DiCaprio or Kate Winslet star power is going to be able to save it. Though, for the purposes of discussion, this is definitely a film to see.
7. Tropic Thunder
Though there are plenty of other films that contributed more to the film world this year than Ben Stiller’s assault on the personas of Hollywood, but it is undeniable that everyone is talking about the performances from Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr. Both nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe award, these are two of the most ridiculous and memorable performances in all of 2008. They’re not likely to win, but you just never know. That, and with all of the depressing movies that populate the rest of this list, you’ll need a good laugh at some point.
For the first time since the creation of the Best Animated Feature Oscar in 2001, an animated film is being seriously considered as a Best Picture contender. And though my gut tells me that the Academy will put Pixar’s Wall-E into the “cartoons” category and let the adult movies play for Best Pic, I can’t argue that it is among the best films of the year. A truly masterful work, in which Pixar’s Andrew Stanton brings a machine to life with the precision and grace that few real life actors can achieve. It isn’t just about beautiful animation — though there’s plenty of that — Wall-E tells a wonderful love story and speaks volumes about humanity, paying homage in blips to some of the most famous science fiction films of all-time. All this from a movie created on a computer — who knew it was possible?
5. Man on Wire
In almost every category this year it is going to be a tight race. And documentary feature won’t be any different, though in my opinion it should be. James Marsch’s fascinating doc about Philippe Petit, a tight rope walker and dreamer who walked a tight rope between the towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. By himself Petit is an incredibly engaging subject, his accomplishments and their subsequently stunning photos only adding to the experience. Many pundits still call the Best Doc race a two horse race between this and Encounters at the End of the World, therefore you might to want to see both before the heavy hardware is handed out.
Ron Howard’s latest film may not be as politically charged as you might expect from a film about Richard Nixon in an election year, but that doesn’t make it any less explosive. Like two prize fighters laying it all on the line, British talkshow host David Frost (Michael Sheen) and former President Richard M. Nixon (Frank Langella) battled it out in a series of interviews in the late 1970s. A faithful adaptation of Peter Morgan’s famous stage play, Frost/Nixon builds out the world around the interviews, and through two stellar performances from its leading men it delivers some of the most intense drama seen on screen all year. Langella is a favorite in the Best Actor category, one that is jam-packed with contenders.
3. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
David Fincher’s fantastic and inventive Gumpian tale of a man born old and forced to live life backwards is not only one of the most interesting films of 2008, it will also be one of the most talked about. Its captivating visual effects — which will likely bring in quite a few awards — are only the tip of the iceberg. Brad Pitt’s performance is noteworthy — though also snubworthy — as is Cate Blanchett’s. Above all, many believe that director David Fincher was really snubbed from nomination and award last year with Zodiac, and Benjamin Button is a more awards accessible film, leading me to believe that he’s got a shot at bringing home some serious acclaim.
2. The Wrestler
The resurrection of Mickey Rourke. Marisa Tomei very nude, very often. A gritty, incredibly well-crafted story of redemption and life’s hard lessons. These are just a few reasons why The Wrestler easily makes this list. Most importantly, this film is home to the leading actor performance (by Mickey Rourke) that will likely bring home Oscar gold in February. I know just as well as the rest of you that nothing is certain, but once you see the incredible work of Rourke in this one, you too will have little problem making such a prediction.
1. Slumdog Millionaire
It’s always a unique moment when you can walk out of a movie and know that what you just saw will be one of the definitive movies of the entire year. That is the feeling that so many audiences have been left with after seeing Danny Boyle’s Hollywood/Bollywood hybrid love story Slumdog Millionaire. Sad and real, yet energetic and full of life, Slumdog is a film that reminds us what great storytelling is all about. If you see any of the films on this list, make sure that this one is among the first.