David Blaustein is ABC News Radio's senior entertainment correspondent and movie critic. His reviews can be heard weekly on such radio stations as 1010 WINS and WABC-AM in New York, KGO-AM in San Francisco, WBZ in Boston and KABC in Los Angeles.
Blaustein's Top 10 of 2008
Each one of these films moved me in some profound way. Whether thought-provoking, gripping, informative, idealistic or hilarious, all of them stayed with me long after I left the theater -- which always made for an awkward moment when the projectionist would chase after me and demand the movie back.
Here they are, starting from No. 10:
10. "The Wrestler" Mickey Rourke may Ram Jam his way to an Oscar for this one. Darren Aronofsky's intimate portrait of a washed-up wrestler who is essentially willing to die for his art because it is the only thing that he's a) good at and b) knows how to do, is filled with universal truths. It also body-slams convention and puts a sleeper hold on many of the cliches we've grown to expect from Hollywood fare. Oscar winner Marisa Tomei is so believable as a stripper named Cassidy, you'll try to stuff dollar bills into the movie screen.
9. "Milk" I deal with a lot of conservative talk radio stations and their hosts HATE Sean Penn's politics. But even some of Penn's most vociferous detractors have to admit: Homeboy can act! You don't have to see footage of the real Harvey Milk to know that Penn completely transformed himself to portray one of the first openly gay elected officials and renowned activist. Penn is supported by actors who each deliver indelible performances, including Josh Brolin, James Franco and Emile Hirsch. Like "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (see below), "Milk" could've left some scenes on the cutting-room floor, but there's no denying that it is one of the year's best.
8. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" If it was 45 minutes shorter, this could have been the year's best film. As Benjamin got younger, I could feel myself getting older. That's how long this movie is. But discounting the unnecessary framing technique involving an elderly lady in a New Orleans hospital room, "Benjamin Button" is spell-binding. Yes, there is a "Forrest Gump"-ian element to "Benjamin Button," but because it was written by the same guy who wrote "Forrest Gump," and "Forrest Gump" is an exceptional film, consider that a bonus.
7. "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" At 73, Woody Allen is still a genius. The only movie that made me laugh harder in 2008 was "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," but that movie isn't nearly as clever or as sexy as "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." Forget the snappy dialogue and the beautiful scenery, who could resist Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, the promising Rebecca Hall and Javier Bardem in a bizarre love rectangle?
6. "Iron Man" I remember the first time I saw "Weird Science" with Robert Downey Jr. as the obnoxious, preppie, popular Ian. I thought to myself, "That guy would make a fantastic Aqua Man." Twenty years later, Vinny Chase landed THAT role, while Downey got stuck playing Iron Man. Hey, if I went on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and told that story, would it be more believable? Anyway, up until July 18, the release date of "The Dark Knight" (see below), "Iron Man" was, hands down, the best superhero comic book adaptation ever made.
5. "The Dark Knight" "The Dark Knight" is the BEST superhero comic book adaptation ever made. Need I say more than Heath Ledger? Besides Ledger's portrayal as the Joker, Aaron Eckhart is brilliant as Harvey Dent, and so are the Nolan Brothers for delivering an original, brooding, suspenseful masterpiece.
4. "The Visitor" Who knew the dead dad from the HBO series "Six Feet Under" had it in him? Richard Jenkins is a step above masterful as a miserable, widowed college professor who finds two illegal aliens living, well, illegally in his Manhattan apartment. He develops a unique relationship with one of them, Tarek, and it changes both of their lives. Jenkins' understated performance and writer/director Thomas McCarthy's powerful narrative makes "The Visitor" one of the year's most powerful and unforgettable films.
3. "The Reader" In "The Reader," Kate Winslet gives the better of her two award-worthy performances this year (the other is "Revolutionary Road"). "The Reader" finds this much-nominated actress playing a character unlike any we've seen before. Hanna Schmitz is a 30-something woman who carries on an affair with a 15-year-old boy. Hannah's life is informed by two secrets -- one is embarrassing and the other is so horrific, it wouldn't be a stretch to call Hannah a "monster." Winslet manages to turn this anomaly of a woman into an sympathetic character, and director Stephen Daldry gets great performances out of Ralph Fiennes and a young German actor named David Kross. He barely speaks English, but you wouldn't know it.
2. "WALL-E" I didn't get to see "WALL-E" when it came out because I was busy getting married and honeymooning in Greece (before protesters started burning Athens). One of the first things I did when I got back was purchase a ticket to see an afternoon screening of "WALL-E." After getting over the initial awkwardness of being a 35-year-old man sitting by myself in a suburban movie theater filled with parents and their small children, I settled in and witnessed an instant classic.
I admit, when Pixar started rolling out the marketing campaign for "WALL-E," I thought to myself, "Number Five from 'Short Circuit' is alive -- and being ripped off by Pixar." But it turns out that "WALL-E" is actually a guy's guy. He collects lots of useless things, has a propensity for making piles, is handy, doesn't say much, gets the hot girl and STILL doesn't have to say much. My hero. Oh, there's also all those brilliant metaphors about our consumerist society and the environment and the second best love story of the year.
1. "Slumdog Millionaire" The best love story of the year, "Slumdog Millionaire" isn't just the best movie of the year, it's one of my favorite movies -- ever. Every time I hear the word "Chaiwalla," I smile. OK, I never hear the word chaiwalla except when I'm watching "Slumdog." But if I did hear the word chaiwalla elsewhere, I would definitely smile and think of one of the best movies I'd ever seen.
Unless you follow Bollywood, live in the United Kingdom or the slums of Mumbai, it is extremely unlikely that you've heard of any of the actors in this movie. "Slumdog" is about an 18-year-old chaiwalla, or tea boy, in a Mumbai office who goes on India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" in hopes of finding the girl he loves. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but it should win best picture at the Oscars. Director Danny Boyle is a genius.
Enjoy the movies.