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Movie Reviews: The best movies of the year

Lisa Miller
Special to the Sun
Courtesy Pixar Animation StudiosWall-E was one of Lisa Miller's top 10 movies of 2008.
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2008 saw two superheroes gross a combined 850 million in the U.S. while a little robot took the country by storm. These were marvelous films, but my top 10 list also includes thrillers, an independent drama, a western, a musical, and comedies.

Three animated family movies appear on the runner-up list as well. Once the domain of Disney and Pixar, studios have caught on and this genre has exploded. Now, if only theaters would drop the price of popcorn and return to the double-feature, a trip to the Cineplex would be perfect.

The Dark Night

Director: Christopher Nolan

Rated: PG-13

Genre: Action

Length: 153 minutes

Christian Bale brings more complexity to the Batman/ Bruce Wayne role. His crime-fighting struggle becomes personal when the diabolical Joker (Heath Ledger) schemes to kill Batman’s friends. Playing Batman’s love interest, talented Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces a horribly miscalculated Katie Holmes. A dream case includes Aaron Eckhart as DA Harvey Dent,- Gary Oldman as police commissioner James Gordon and Michael Caine as the Caped Crusader’s butler. Both poetic and disturbing, Heath Ledger’s Oscar-worthy performance is unforgettable.

Wall-E

Director: Andrew Stanton

Rated: G

Genre: Animation

Length: 98 minutes

When Earth becomes so polluted that mankind must leave, clean up robot Wall-E, is left behind. Hundreds of years later, Wall-E befriends a visiting scout robot known as Eve, falls in love and hitches a ride on her space ship. Pixar’s nonverbal Wall-E communicates his feelings using expressive binocular-eyes. A cautionary tale concerning the fate of mankind, “Wall-E” will be best remembered for its lovable robot.

Iron Man

Director: Jon Favreau

Rated: PG-13

Genre: Action

Length: 126 minutes

American industrial designer, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), travels to Afghanistan where he is kidnapped by local warlords and forced to build them a missile. Instead, Stark assembles a flying Iron Man suit that he dons for a trip home. He becomes Iron Man again after his wicked business partner (Jeff Bridges) steals the technology for himself. Having persuaded the principals to sign-up for a three-picture deal, director John Favreau is the iron man behind “Iron Man.”

Frozen River

Director: Courtney Hunt

Rated: R

Genre: Drama

Length: 97 minutes

This moving portrait follows the efforts of two women to earn money smuggling illegal aliens into the US from Canada. Single mother Ray (Melissa Leo) desperately needs to replace her dilapidated trailer abode while Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham) hopes to make a decent home and regain custody of her young son. The women don’t like delivering helpless immigrants to unscrupulous Americans, but are determined to meet their goals. Taut and thrilling, the film examines exploitation and the luxury of conscience.

Appaloosa

Directer: Ed Harris

Rated: R

Genre: Western

Length: 114 minutes

After a lawless rancher (Jeremy Irons) kills Appaloosa’s sheriff and deputies, a pair of lawmen-for-hire agree to restore order to the small, New Mexican town. Virgil (Ed Harris) and his longtime partner, Everett (Viggo Mortensen) take the job after a contract is signed giving Virgil sole discretion over making and enforcing the law. Everett serves as deputy, watching Sheriff Virgil’s back and finishing his sentences. New arrival Allison French (Renee Zellweger) is a pretty widow winning Virgil’s heart in this character-driven powerhouse.

Mamma Mia!

Directer: Phyllida Lloyd

Rated: PG

Genre: Comedy

Length: 108 minutes

Hoping to meet her father, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) contrives to invite three men to her wedding in the Greek Islands. Meryl Streep plays Sophie’s mom Donna, unaware her daughter has unearthed an old diary in which Donna names the potential papas. Happily, all three men arrive (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard), proving to be perfect foils for Donna and her two fun-loving best friends (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski). Abba’s songs become ensemble musical numbers that reveal each character’s deepest desire.

The Bank Job

Directer: Roger Donaldson

Rated: R

Genre: Action

Length: 110 minutes

Based on a 1971 robbery at Lloyds Bank of London, this story theorizes there was a good reason no one was brought to justice for the crime. Society dame, Martine (Saffron Burrows), recruits Terry Leather (Jason Statham) and his cohorts to execute the heist and boost compromising photos to be used as bargaining chips if the robbers are caught. Three-quarters crime-caper, one-quarter party movie, the film recreates the period to a tee.

Traitor

Directer: Jeffrey Nachmanoff

Rated: PG-13

Genre: Thriller

Length: 114 minutes

This spy thriller casts Don Cheadle as Samir Horn who is either a traitor or a wily double agent. A Muslim American having served in the US Military, Samir is suspected of turning traitor when he participates in terrorist attacks. An FBI agent (Guy Pearce) plots to take Horn down while a CIA contractor (Jeff Daniels) makes use of Samir to pursue his own agenda. Superb characterizations take this espionage flick far beyond the genre stereotypes.

Burn After Reading

Directer: Ethan and Joel Coen

Rated: R

Genre: Comedy

Length: 96 minutes

A vengeful CIA agent (John Malkovich) pens his memoirs, hoping to make a fortune while exacting retribution. Unfortunately for him, the CD containing his biography falls into the hands of two gym employees (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt) with blackmail on their minds. George Clooney appears as a US Federal Marshal and Tilda Swinton plays an uptight wife, but it’s the plastic surgery obsession of McDormand’s character that drives this quirky comedy.

Ghost Town

Directer: David Koepp

Rated: PG-13

Genre: Comedy

Length: 102 minutes

Charmingly caustic Ricky Gervais plays Bertram Pincus, a misanthropic, New York dentist who dies during a routine procedure. After being revived, Bertram discovers he can see and talk to the dead. Frank, (Greg Kinnear) a tuxedo-clad spirit, persuades Bertram to break up a romance between Frank’s widow, Gwen (Tea Leoni) and her new beau (Billy Campbell). Gervais bravely foregoes a Hollywood spray-on tan and is a pasty-white delight.

Runner-ups:

Sex in the city—-

Horton Hears a Who!

Kung Fu Panda

Twilight

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa


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