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Favorite films of 2008

According to my 2008 Film Journal, I watched about 130 films last year. Heh. A good portion of those fell in the first part of the year during the Hollywood writer’s strike. I must admit, I didn’t keep very good track during last fall, but I think I got most of them. Anyway, in alphabetical order, here are 20 films I enjoyed the most, the majority of which were released in 2007 and 2008, with a few older ones I saw for the first time. These aren't necessarily the best out there or the most critically acclaimed, but they are the ones that engaged and resonated with me—and brought God-talk into open spaces.

Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, R). Easily, this is by far the best film I saw last year. It is a deep, compelling and haunting film, and each shot seems like a cinematographical masterpiece. The story generates a plethora of God-talk, which isn’t surprising as it is adapted from a novel written by devout Catholic Ron Hansen. For more about my thoughts on this film, go here.

August Rush (2007, PG). While critics basically panned this film, I found it enchanting and engaging. I appreciated the elements in the film that invited us to consider that there is something more to this world than we think. Also, it is another film that presents believers as people who genuinely care about those around them. For more on my thoughts, go here.

Bucket List (2007, PG-13). I enjoyed this film about two men from different spectrums of life who bond over their dismal medical prognosises. When one of them makes a “bucket list”—a list of things he wants to experience before he dies—the two decide to cross as many off the list as they can before they die. As their lists move from more surface experiences to deeper ones, so does the film. The film invites us to ask deeper questions about life and our roles in it—and even made me think about my own bucket list and what would be on it. For a good review, see Christianity Today.

Dan in Real Life (2007, PG-13). Steve Carell was delightful as Dan, a widower and father of three girls who falls in love again—but with his brother’s girlfriend. Life’s not easy for Dan, a newspaper advice columnist who finds applying that advice to his own life is more complicated than his columns suggest. Dan would like life to be easier, but as his mother points out, life and love are messy. Heh, how true—and yet, somehow, love prevails. An entertaining and feel good film. For a good review, see Christianity Today.

The Dark Knight (2008, PG-13). One of the three comic books films I saw this year—all of which were in the theater (an amazing feat for me these days). This one is (as its title suggests) dark but also arguably one of the best. And in spite of its darkness, I think it also reveals the relentlessness of life, hope and goodness—all of which brings God-talk into open spaces. For more of my thoughts on the film, go here.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, NR). I didn’t see this classic until last year, and I really enjoyed it. Heh, I can’t believe I nearly missed all the messianic allusions. The remake didn’t get such great reviews, so I’m hesitant to see it. For more of my thoughts on the film, go here.

Disturbia (2007, PG-13). I’d avoided this film because I thought it was one of those horror-slasher films, but on the recommendation of a friend we finally watched it—and was I delightfully surprised. A modern take on the classic Hitchcock Rear Window, this one follows the teenage Kale who comes to realize a serial killer is living in his neighborhood. While I could have done without some of the language and cruder aspects (it is a movie about teenagers), overall I found it a smart, engaging and entertaining story that should provoke us to think about how we live and interact with our own neighbors. For more on my thought about this film, go here.

Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who (2008, G). Another film I watched with my kids that’s made it onto this list. In addition to an entertaining and thoughtful story, it was another film that illustrated the power and impact of a community that embraces and celebrates each of its members. For more of my thoughts on the film, go here.

Enchanted (2007, PG). I didn’t expect to like this movie, but it thoroughly enchanted me (no pun intended, heh). It isn’t perfect, but I found it smart, funny and entertaining. And I absolutely adored the scene in the park where the musicians pick up on Giselle’s song. For more of my thoughts on this film, go here.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008, PG-13). I’m a big fan of Guillermo Del Toro and his Hellboy franchise, and I thought this second film well worth the wait (the first film was released in 2004). It had its faults, but there were many aspects of the film I enjoyed, especially the mix of myth with modern. For more on my thoughts on this film, go here.

Iron Man (2008, PG-13). One of the three comic book films I saw this year in the theater—and this one was quite the ride. I found it balanced heart, comedy and action in good proportion and, as comic book films tend to do, it generated plenty of God-talk. To read more about my thoughts on the film and the God-talk it brought into open spaces, go here.

Juno (2007, PG-13). I wasn’t sure what to expect with this film, but both my husband and I really enjoyed this one. I particularly appreciated Juno’s father, Mac, a man who readily admits he’s flawed but whose strength and love for Juno and his family helps to bring good out of a challenging situation. I’ve heard some complaints that this film glorifies teen pregnancy, but I don’t agree. No one in the film (including Juno herself) sees Juno’s condition as preferable, but they work together to bring good out of a tough and life-altering situation. Ultimately, I found this film to be affirming of life, love and family. For a good review of the film, see Christianity Today.

Lars and the Real Girl (2007, PG-13). This is a quirky yet moving film about a man who believes a life-size mannequin is a “real girl”—his fiancĂ©, to be exact. While on the surface this seems an outrageous premise for a film, the story is touching and thought-provoking. I especially appreciated the roll a caring community (including a wise local minister and church members) plays in walking with those in turmoil as well as healing. For a good review, see Christianity Today.

Lonesome Dove (1989, NR). A couple of years ago, I read a quote by Robert Duvall in TV Guide, in which he said: “I’d rather play Augustus McCrae than Hamlet or King Lear.” After seeing this mini-series, I now know why. While a film made for the small screen instead of the big, this is by far one of the best westerns I’ve seen, full of less than perfect characters who make both bad and good decisions—and who pay the price for both. Duvall has also said that Westerns are America’s Shakespeare. I think he’s got it right on this one.

No Reservations (2007, PG). I love films about food and cooking. When done well, they really seem to speak about who we are and life in general. While it wasn’t the best of these kinds of film, I enjoyed No Reservations and various aspects of the film—including how the preparation and eating of food brings us together. For more of my thoughts on the film, go here.

P.S. I Love You (2007, PG-13). This was one of my guilty pleasures last year. A romantic, sad yet ultimately affirming film, I cried most of the way through it—the kind of film my husband rolls his eyes at as he escapes upstairs so he doesn’t have to watch it. But I thoroughly enjoyed it and its affirmation that life and light are more powerful than death and darkness. For more on my thought on the film, go here.

Quantum of Solace (2008, PG-13). Another film I actually saw in the theater, and this one was well worth the price of admission. While not as high caliber as the first film in this reboot of the Bond franchise, I am enamored with this earthier and more human Bond. I appreciate the attempts to tackle serious themes among the mind-boggling action. For more on my thought on this film, go here.

Spiderwick Chronicles (2008, PG). This is another one I watched with the kids, and I was enchanted by film—especially in it’s surprises of beauty. And I love films that and stories that reveal another world living right along with us, a world that harbors darkness but even more so, light. For more on my thoughts on the film, go here.

Stranger Than Fiction (2006, PG-13). This 2006 film was on my list for a long time, and I finally got around to seeing it last year. While I wasn’t completely taken with it at first, but then a bit of the way into the film I was struck by how the main character finds understanding not from sages-of-the-day psychologists but with those who know story—and that hooked me. To read more about that and my thoughts on the film, go here.

Wall-E (2008, G). Our whole family enjoyed this film, which I found enchanting and gentle with a really good story full of great moments. Who’d have thought that I’d empathize with and almost immediately adore a small, rickety robot? I was delighted by how almost every robot and human is changed for the better by their interactions with Wall-E, who simply goes sincerely, lovingly and attentively through life. For more on my thoughts about this film, go here.