No other film this year “blended art and heart as spectacularly” as Pixar’s visionary tale about the last little robot on Earth, said Richard Corliss in Time. The two main characters—the lonely, good-hearted trash compactor Wall-E and his space crush Eve—barely spoke a word, but it didn’t stop them from charming a huge audience. On DVD.
“Forget Julie Andrews’ synthetic cheer,” said Stephen Holden in The New York Times. Sally Hawkins, the star of Happy-Go-Lucky, is the “real thing.” Putting his usual gloom aside, British filmmaker Mike Leigh has created a “sidesplitting and heartbreaking” comedy about an annoyingly chipper teacher who wins over a “repressed, self-loathing, xenophobic driving instructor” with unshakable optimism. In theaters.
Director Gus Van Sant provides something more than just the life story of Harvey Milk, said Lisa Schwarzbaum in Entertainment Weekly. His “inviting and invigorating” biopic about the first openly gay man elected to California public office makes Sean Penn sweet and lovable, even as it serves as a “stirring primer on the participatory political process, and an unspoken exhortation to get involved.” In theaters.
4. The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan’s chilling movie is the “best of all the Batmans,” said Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. The director delves into the comic book’s “deep archetypal currents” to unveil what lies beneath the Caped Crusader and his nemesis the Joker. Despite the shadow of Heath Ledger’s premature death, the “haunted film leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy.” On DVD.
5. Slumdog Millionaire
Danny Boyle’s film takes audiences on an exhilarating, “emotionally overwhelming” ride through Jamal Malik’s past and present, said Kyle Smith in the New York Post. The resourceful youth survives the worst of India’s slums to win Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in this Dickensian tale that’s “thrilling to the eye and the ear.” In theaters.
6. Rachel Getting Married
Rachel Getting Married could be considered the “first Age of Obama movie,” said Owen Gleiberman in Entertainment Weekly. Jonathan Demme returns with an “Altmanesque” family drama that stars Anne Hathaway as a raging narcissist who leaves rehab to attend her sister’s wedding. The film’s deep currents of alienation are “melted away by the rich, teeming jumble of a family trying to make peace with itself.” On DVD.
7. The Wrestler
“All hail Mickey Rourke,” said Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. With the help of director Darren Aronofsky, the nearly forgotten actor made the year’s “mightiest comeback” as a washed-up professional wrestler who does the most damage to himself. The sharp script by Robert Siegel “embraces its conventions, resulting in a modern classic.” In theaters.
Frost/Nixon is the “best movie Ron Howard’s ever made,” said Christy Lemire in the Associated Press. The director keeps things simple and lets Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, who reprise their roles from the stage play, transform the 1977 television interviews between a disgraced President Nixon and David Frost into riveting film. In theaters.
9. Waltz With Bashir
Like Wall-E, Waltz With Bashir “expanded our notions of what animation could achieve,” said David Ansen in Newsweek. In this provocative documentary, Israeli writer-director Ari Folman pairs graphic-novel-like illustrations with classical and rock music to reconstruct his hazy memories of being a young soldier in 1980s Lebanon. In theaters.
10. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Most Hollywood filmmakers would have turned F. Scott Fitzgerald’s clever story about a man born in his 80s who ages backward into just another gimmick, said Leah Rozen in People. But director David Fincher, along with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, made this film a “poignant portrait of how the passage of time indelibly marks its hero, even as he grows younger and more beautiful.” In theaters.
How the films were chosen
Our results weigh the rankings from year-end lists published by: the Associated Press, Entertainment Weekly, MSNBC.com, National Board of Review, New York, The New York Observer, The New York Times, the New York Post, The New Yorker, Newsweek, Paste, People, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Onion, Time, Time Out New York, the London Times, and The Washington Post.