2008's Best DVDs


Published: Thursday, January 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 31, 2008 at 11:22 a.m.

These are the best DVDs 2008 had to offer. It is a solid set, but overall this wasn't a great year for great movies. The normal Nateflix Top 10 list has been pared down to a Top 5 for quality control purposes.

First, however, here's a look at the some of the best films of various categories.

Documentary of the Year - "The King of Kong": You might think I was joking if I told you a movie about the life of a professional Donkey Kong player was fascinating. But I assure you, I'm serious. This quirky little documentary follows a man who plays old-school arcade games on the video game circuit. There is even a villain - almost too good to be true, a B-movie nerd bad guy who is the rival to our hero. A fun, interesting film that was one of my personal faves this year.

Mockumentary of the Year and Funniest Movie of the Year - "Trailer Park Boys: The Movie": This homegrown film from the exotic land of Canada finally got a wide American release. And quite frankly, America is better for it. This greasy, grimy, low-budget comedy about a couple of ex-cons pulling off "one last big score" is a marvel of sophisticated yet sophomoric humor. Instead of being a stupid comedy, this is a smart comedy about stupid people. And like all of the best comedies, the more times you watch it, the funnier it gets.

Family Film of the Year - "Horton Hears a Who": As a movie critic, I know I'm supposed to pick "Wall-E." That's what all the older boys are doing at the cool kid's table. But I've always been a huge fan of the books of Dr. Seuss, and "Horton" is the best visualization of his artwork that I've ever seen. The loopy architecture of Whoville is simply perfect. Of course, the voice cast helps as well, with such notable talents as Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Carol Burnett, Will Arnett and Seth Rogan, to name but a few.

Manson Family Film of the Year - "Frontiers": Admittedly, 2008 was a weak year for horror but "Frontiers" is a solid, stomach-churning effort. In the last couple of years, there has been a boom of violent, intense horror films in France. Where "High Tension" put a new twist on the American slasher film, "Frontiers" puts a disturbing new spin on the American 'cannibal hillbilly' movie. This movie is uneven, but contains many memorably horrific moments. Enough to make it the best of a bad year.

This year's Honorable Mentions are "The Darjeeling Limited," "There Will be Blood," "Sweeney Todd," and "The Visitor." As my old man would say, however, "Close, but no cigar."

And the Top 5 are:

5. "In Bruges": Ruthless and snarky in equal measure, this movie reminds us why no one makes crime movies like the Brits. Filled to the brim with drinking, smoking, swearing and jokes of a decidedly un-PC nature, "In Bruges" uses strong characters and a brazen attitude to take something that could have been generic and make it into something special.

4. "Gone Baby Gone": Say what you will about Ben Affleck (lord knows I do), but the guy is a natural born director. This is the first movie he directed, and he is as smooth and polished as any veteran. The story unfolds gradually, and you are never quite sure which way it is going to break.

When I first reviewed "Gone Baby Gone" I gave it a favorable review, but over the last few months my admiration of this movie - and its amazing cast of actors - has grown by leaps and bounds. This is a crime movie, yes, but moreover it is a powerful drama that will leave you thinking about it for days afterward.

3. "Iron Man": Oh boy, another superhero movie. This summer it seemed like every other movie in the theater was based on a comic book. And yet, based chiefly on the performance of Robert Downey Jr, "Iron Man" outshone all the rest. There is action, fighting, chase scenes, a big showdown with a villain - everything you would expect from a superhero movie. It all takes a back seat to small, character-based moments and an overwhelming sense of FUN, however. For most of us, having fun is the main reason we want to watch movies. "Iron Man" delivers in spades, and is guaranteed to be a good time at the movies, even if you don't ordinarily like superhero flicks.

2. "The Dark Knight": On the other hand, no one could accuse this movie of being fun. Batman isn't the type of guy who wants you to like him - he is grim and scary, intense and brooding. Writer/director Christopher Nolan has reinterpreted the comic book superhero with tremendous respect, creating a cinematic vision strong enough to blow away any previous Bat-movies. By remaining so true to the gritty source material, Nolan overshadows the neat but dull Tim Burton movies, and the spectacularly atrocious Joel Schumacher films.

In short, this is the ultimate Batman movie and the ultimate Joker movie. "The Dark Knight" is an amazing film, and a worthy addition to any movie collection.

1. "No Country for Old Men": This is the Big One. When I first saw this movie a year ago, it instantly became the standard by which other movies were judged ("Sure, it's good, but is it as good as 'No Country'?").

In March of this year, when I watched it again (and again) on DVD, it was even better than I remembered. This is a perfectly executed thriller, a masterfully crafted crime drama and a quirky character study all rolled into one.

The three main actors - Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin - are all unforgettable in their performances. And the bare-bones feel of the movie gives it a lean, compelling quality that make it entirely absorbing, even in long stretches with no dialogue. "No Country for Old Men" is a masterpiece.

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