As I've done in the past, I'll give you my 20-11 list, then count down from ten to one, explaining myself along the way.
20. In Bruges
17. Son of Rambow
16. Tropic Thunder
15. Man on Wire
13. Burn After Reading
12. Quantum of Solace
11. Gran Torino
10. Kung Fu Panda - As great as WALL-E is, I find Kung Fu Panda the more purely entertaining film. It's got a gorgeous animation style; it's funny, never resorting to fart jokes or pop culture references; Hans Zimmer's score is one of the most dynamic and engaging scores of the year; Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman sell their characters remarkably well; and the action sequences are simply tremendous. Kung Fu Panda makes my #10 spot because it thoroughly surprised me. I was expecting to love WALL-E; I wasn't expecting anything from Kung Fu Panda.
9. Speed Racer - Perhaps the most misunderstood movie of 2008, I think Speed Racer is destined to reach Blade Runner-like heights of cult cinema. As cartoony as a lot of the movie is, the visual effects are a monster leap forward from anything I've ever seen, and more than sell the world that the Wachowskis set up. It's probably the geekiest movie of the year, really only playing to one particular audience. The people that seem to get the movie absolutely love it, and I proudly count myself among them.
8. Let the Right One In - I've made it pretty clear how little respect I have for the vampire genre. More often than not, vampire stories shirk the rules when it's convenient to the plot, and that never ceases to bug me. Either follow the rules, or don't bother. So when a movie like Let the Right One In comes along, I have to take notice. Even the title follows the rules of the genre. But beyond simply being a successful vampire flick, this is a movie about a surprisingly intense friendship with some potentially dangerous consequences. It's far, far more successful than that other vampire movie from last year. Of course, that was no contest.
7. Milk - Regardless of your personal politics, it's hard to deny Milk as a powerful biography and political success story. Gus Van Sant subdues his more artistic sensibilities to allow Sean Penn all the room he needs for one outstanding performance. Even then, Van Sant does some really unique things with archival footage, and it helps tell Harvey Milk's story remarkably well. Of course, the reason to see the film is for Sean Penn's performance, but Emile Hirsch, James Franco, and Josh Brolin give equally successful turns.
6. Hellboy II: The Golden Army - 2008 was perhaps the best year for comic book films ever, and in the year of Iron Man and The Dark Knight, it's easy to overlook a film like Hellboy II. Everything Guillermo del Toro learned from Pan's Labyrinth is on display here, which includes an extraordinary amount of visual effects (practical and CG), makeup effects, and sheer imagination. Hellboy II really lives and dies by Ron Perlman's performance, and he performs admirably. Along with Speed Racer, this is certainly one of the most creative films in quite some time.
5. Iron Man - Now, The Dark Knight might technically be the better film, but (like Kung Fu Panda) I find Iron Man more purely entertaining. Robert Downey, Jr's turn as Tony Stark is simply one of a number of wonderful performances in 2008, and he goes a long way in making the film watchable. Of course, Jon Favreau's steady direction and knowhow for marrying practical effects with CG also help make Iron Man the popcorn action flick to beat in 2008. Only time will tell if Marvel Studios can parlay Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk into an equally successful franchise, but until then, Iron Man is a better film than we probably deserve.
4. The Dark Knight - And then there was Batman. To me, the success of The Dark Knight always seemed like a foregone conclusion (sorta like my reaction to WALL-E). My expectations were very high, and they were met. That's not to slight the film's achievement. Christopher Nolan deserves a lot of credit for springboarding from the already admirable Batman Begins into a film that's considerably more complex. Heath Ledger's take on The Joker is, indeed, fantastic and disturbing, but it's Aaron Eckhart's turn as Harvey Dent that really breathes life into the film. As a superhero film, I doubt The Dark Knight will ever be topped.
3. The Wrestler - As harshly brutal, gruesome, and starkly realistic as Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler is, you'll be hard pressed to find a more likable film, and the reason for that is Mickey Rourke's performance as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a has-been pro wrestler faced with his own mortality. It's easily the best performance of 2008, and the film is one that you're not likely to forget any time soon. It's bound to be Rourke's signature performance, and it's almost certainly Aronofsky's best film. If you don't shed a tear for Randy at any point during this film, you just might be a robot.
2. WALL-E - As I've pointed out before, my love for WALL-E seemed predestined. I'd been looking forward to it ever since I saw the teaser attached to Ratatouille. A PIXAR sci-fi movie? I'm there. But what I found was not just a great sci-fi story, but a remarkably moving love story as well. The things that Andrew Stanton and his team do with visual storytelling is awe-inspiring, and it's one of the most deft and agile animated films ever made. And as much as I've kinda dumped on it so far in this post, let me make it clear: I absolutely adore WALL-E. It's one of the more life-affirming films of the year, almost as life-affirming as...
1. Slumdog Millionaire - WALL-E may be the most deft and agile animated film ever made, but Danny Boyle's tale of a lovestruck youth competing on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to win the attention of the girl of his dreams is every bit as deft and agile in its storytelling. The way Boyle and his team deal in flashbacks and time jumps is not only astounding, but remarkable in how fluid much of the film ends up being. It's a film that's not always easy to watch, but the ultimate reward in watching Jamal succeed in his journey is like nothing else I saw in 2008.