News Release: Arts and Humanities, Faculty Experts, University News

Dec. 30,  2008

Film Studies Experts Select Top Movies of 2008

After much debate, faculty in Emory University's Department of Film Studies have made their picks for the top films of 2008.

The diverse list (minus a couple of major releases in mid-December) includes a mix of blockbusters, documentaries, international works and smaller films that are definitely worth a look. Faculty include: Matthew Bernstein, chair of film studies, along with William Brown, Karla Oeler, David B. Pratt, Michele Schreiber and Eddy Von Mueller.

Best Films of 2008

The Boy In the Striped Pajamas (Mark Hellman, 2008)

This movie solves the basic Holocaust story problem - how to engage an audience in a film subject that invites revulsion. Bruno, the 8-year-old son of the Auschwitz commandant, befriends a boy on the other side of the fence, and enters a world beyond his innocent comprehension. (WB)

The Dark Knight
(Christopher Nolan, 2008)

The less sanguine, but bloodier, sequel to “Batman Begins” sets the late Heath Ledger’s colorful, seductive, vicious Joker loose on a cold, dim, blue Gotham City. (KO)

Frozen River (Courtney Hunt, 2008)

This Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner is a fascinating report from a people and place completely undocumented by Hollywood—the intersection of the competitively impoverished Mohawk and rural White communities at the New York state/Canadian border. (DBP)

Iron Man
(Jon Favreau, 2008)

Lean and surprisingly smart, "Iron Man" is substantially better than a franchise-friendly summer superhero movie has any reasonable expectation of being, thanks in large part to crackerjack digital effects, a timely script and unusually canny casting – Robert Downey Jr.’s performance makes the character of the comic book’s boozy billionaire-turned-Armored Avenger almost complex. (EVM)

Man on Wire  (James Marsh, 2008)

This documentary recounting of Philippe Petit’s famous August 1974 tightrope walk across the twin towers of the World Trade Center features interviews with the man himself and his partners in crime. It plays like a heist film, and Marsh’s treatment is admiring but also candid and often funny. By the time we watch photos of the notorious deed, it's an incredibly moving tribute to someone who was finally able to realize his dreams. (MHB)

Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, 2008)

With its interminably long scenes (the rehearsal dinner almost feels like it is captured in real time), use of jumpy hand-held camera and multiple emotional melt-downs, watching this film can feel like you are attending your most uncomfortable family function and can’t escape…for three days.  But a sense of beauty emerges in the film’s unflinchingly truthful depiction of life’s messiness and its lack of a cathartic Hollywood-style resolution. In short, Rachel Getting Married achieves no small feat…and manages to reinforce your faith in the power of love, atonement and human connection.  (MS)

Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, 2008)

This exhilarating modern day fairytale about a slum orphan who happens to know the answer to all the questions in a Mumbai-version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" grabs you with an unusual combination of gritty realism and suffering, and an exhilarating sense of adventure and hope. The underdog tale has an immensely likeable cast and amazingly resilient characters. Cameras move at breakneck speed and terrific editing alternates between the past and the present and ultimately delivers you to a soaring (dancing) romantic finish. It is also something of a love letter to a city to which we now feel so sadly connected. (MHB)

Standard Operating Procedure  (Errol Morris, 2008)

Errol Morris continues to ignore the distinctions between documentary and fictional filmmaking in this powerful meditation not only on Abu Ghraib, but the true value of the photographic image. (DBP)

Wall-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

This visually stunning story is perhaps the digital "Pinocchio": not the first computer-animated feature but rather the first great computer-animated feature, with a tone, a style and a story perfectly matched to Pixar’s virtuoso handling of the medium. (EVM)

Best Foreign Films of 2008

Tell No One (Guillaume Canet, 2006)

This year’s winner for the best Hollywood film that Hollywood didn’t make goes to this French thriller. To reveal too much about the plot would take away from its fun, but essentially, a pediatrician widower whose wife was brutally murdered eight years earlier starts to suspect that she is still alive. Wildly implausible?  Sure.  But you tend not to care as you watch François Cluzet, with his matinee-idol good looks, interact with a host of unsavory characters and navigate his way through Paris’s underbelly and upper-class society to solve this convoluted puzzle of a mystery. (MS)  

The Year My Parents Went On Vacation (Cao Hamburger, 2006)

Set in 1970 Brazil during a political crackdown on the left, this low-key comedy-drama is about a boy left to fend for himself in the unfamiliar land of Sao Paulo’s Jewish community. (DBP)

I Served the King of England (Jiri Menzel, 2006)

Forty years after the release of his Academy-Award winning "Closely Watched Trains," Czech director Jiri Menzel once again achieves a masterful balance of comedy and pathos in a return look at his nation’s response to wartime occupation. (DBP)


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