This wasn't just the year that science fiction dominated the movies — it also featured an amazing diversity of SF stories. Here's our list of the greatest — and most horrendous — films of 2008.
Okay, so here are the movies that blew us away and horrified us this year:
10. Let The Right One In. This intense, beautiful Swedish movie about a 12-year-old boy's relationship with a vampire did the near-impossible: it almost made us forget the blah Twilight. It's a parable of the world-destroying power of adolescence, that stays with you long afterwards.
9. Teeth. This year saw a boomlet in feminist horror movies, between this film and Zombie Strippers. But the raw satire of vagina-dentata movie Teeth was sharper, and the story of how Dawn comes to realize her toothy mutant pussy is a superpower rather than a curse is a beautiful spin on adolescence.
8. Speed Racer. Pretty much everyone hates this movie except us — Entertainment Weekly listed it twice on its year's worst lists, even as the mag praised the bland Benjamin Button. But we really did love this film, for its crazy, surreal CG vistas and fun follow-your-heart storyline. Racer was the last thing you'd expect from the Wachowskis: a film about family values, in which Speed learns that love for family trumps everything else. (And Susan Sarandon and John Goodman, as Speed's parents, pretty much run away with the film.) This movie is a cult classic waiting to happen.
7. Cloverfield. Of all the movies on this year's "best" list, this is the one I can least imagine wanting to watch more than once. But that's okay, because the one time you watch it, you'll be blown away. At least in the theater, the movie's shaky-camcorder gimmick actually works: it's totally immersive, and you really follow these yuppie dorks as they fight their way through pubic lice and monster debris to save their friend.
6. Sleep Dealer. One of the best small-budget science fiction movies in years, in our review back in October. Set in a future where Mexicans do menial labor in the U.S. via telepresence, Dealer is a commentary on immigration and racism. But it's also a brilliant thought experiment and a character piece. And it has the hottest cyberpunk node-installation scene since the flawed-but-fun Existenz.
5. Iron Man. This movie exceeded our expectations, delivering a mind-expanding story of the military-industrial complex instead of just a superhero punch-em-up.
4. City Of Ember. It could have been just another young-people-discover-their-world-is-a-lie movie, but instead it becomes a post-apocalyptic masterpiece. Thanks to Martin Laing's gigantic sets and Gil Kenan's beautiful direction, the subterreanean city becomes a real place. You can actually feel the terror and claustrophobia when the lights start going out. And Bill Murray is in rare form as the corrupt, short-sighted mayor.
3. Synecdoche, NY. Charlie Kaufman gave us Being John Malkovitch and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, but this is probably his weirdest movie.
Caden (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is suffering from a weird, nonsensical
ailment that is making his autonomic functions shut down, and meanwhile
his daughter is turning into an anemic fetish model. So he creates an
ambitious, incomprehensible work of art — a recursive model of New York inside a New York warehouse, complete with actors playing real people. And it's a comedy. I laughed so hard at the stuff about Caden's therapist, and his attempts to make himself cry when his tearducts have shut down, I nearly choked on my popcorn.
2. The Dark Knight. This movie got us so worked up. Sure, it was too long — and did the Joker really have to put explosives in the hospital and the boats? — but its ambition pays off, in the end. The story of Harvey Dent's fall from grace is epic enough to support all of the movie's endless incidents and action set pieces. And we're still debating the movie's politics (Pro-torture? Pro-surveillance? Anti-hero? Nihilistic or just anarchic?) months later.
1. Wall-E The only movie in years that I've wanted to watch again, right away. If I hadn't been starving and late for dinner, I would have watched it two or three times in one sitting. The first half hour, featuring the cute-bot in the post-apocalyptic abandoned Earth, is poetic and slapsticky. But then Wall-E gets a moving robot love story.
Even though 2008 was a pretty awesome year for movies, I still ended up with way more candidates for the "worst" list than the "best" list, sadly.
1. Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. This is one of those movies that I was so-so about at the time, but it's gotten worse in my mind since then. Too much Shia, especially Shia of the Jungle. Criminally underused Karen Allen. Mostly, too much boring retreading of past Indy movies, and CG ants, and a totally crap alien head-melting ending.
2. Hancock. All we could think about were ways it could have sucked less. Like if it was really a comedy instead of a bland romp that turns melodramatic halfway through. It had one joke, and ran it into the ground like... like a drunken superhero who smashes into the asphalt when he flies. A couple of funny moments couldn't rescue this dud.
3. Doomsday. Actually, this one belongs on a special so-bad-it's-great list. You'll be getting drunk/stoned and watching this one on DVD long after most "good" movies are forgotten. Just for the cannibals who dance to Fine Young Cannibals, and Malcolm McDowell's SCA kingdom. Yes, it's pretty terrible, but in a wonderful way.
4. X-Files: I Want To Believe. Wasn't this a show about people who investigate things? Apparently not, or at least the movie turned into a dull relationship drama. Bleh.
5. Jumper. I liked the clips of the "jumpscar" special effect and the whole bus-attack thing, but it didn't make for much of a movie. Even with a script by David Goyer, the whole thing is underwhelming. You keep waiting and waiting for David (Hayden Christensen) to step up and become a hero — or at least become interesting to watch — and it never happens.
6. The Day The Earth Stood Still It starts out great, but then Keanu goes on a boring road trip while droning about the environment and eating at Mickey D's. Giant robot Gort shows up here and there, but he can't stop the movie from standing still.
7. The Happening could have been an interesting film — people start killing themselves in horrible ways, for no reason. But then it had to turn into a horror film about trees trying to destroy us, until they change their minds. People stare in horror and despair — at trees. Ohh kay.
8. Meet Dave. With a script by MST3K's Bill Corbett and a cool concept (a tiny guy lands on Earth in a human-sized spaceship that looks like him), this could have been a fun ride. Instead, it's a showcase for Eddie Murphy doing funny voices.
9. Space Chimps We got one great animated science fiction movie, so of course Hollywood had to punish us with an avalanche of drek. Including this horrific Andy Samberg vehicle about monkeys in space. Probably Fly Me To The Moon belongs on this "worst movies" list too, but none of us saw it. It was too soon after Chimps, and it just looked like pure torture.
10.The Spirit could have been sorta great too — we love Will Eisner, and Frank Miller used to be one of the greats, 20 years ago. But Miller has turned into a self-parody, and he decided to go all-out with the crazy camp in this film. Weirdly, even though this film is a visual maelstrom and features an eyelinered Samuel L. Jackson dressing as a Nazi and torturing cats, the film's biggest problem is that it's boring.
And then there were a lot of movies that were neither "best" nor "worst," they just were. Like, say, Incredible Hulk. It wasn't a great movie, it wasn't a terrible movie, it was just adequate. Call it "the credible Hulk." Or Death Race, which I couldn't bring myself to hate despite the lackluster third reel. Or Wanted, which was as dumb as ten piles of rocks but looked purty. Or Star Wars: Clone Wars, which was a fun, if forgettable, TV show, which got put on the big screen due to George Lucas' hubris.
It’s hard to find a person who didn’t like 2012’s Dredd, a film that stands alongside RoboCop as the ultra-violent, dystopic film fans needed at the time, but a sequel to the movie hasn’t been forthcoming; in fact, over the past few years, the likelihood of a second outing for Olivia Thirlby and Karl Urban’s chin has hovered around zero. Read more