5. Pineapple Express (My review)(Pre-order the DVD)

When this movie was disqualified from my 2007 list (unlike Trick ‘r Treat, I knew Pineapple would hit theaters), I feared that a crowded 2008 and distance would take the shine off. 2008 ended up not being as competitive as I feared, but even if it had, Pineapple Express would have more than held its own. Seeing it a second time a year after my first viewing and laughing just as hard this time around I felt really secure that this wasn’t a pick I would later regret. This movie is, quite simply, fucking awesome. Funny and filled with great, old school action, Pineapple perfectly melds the sensibilities of indie maven David Gordon Green and comedy king Judd Apatow. I’ve been a major fan of Green since George Washington, but I never imagined he had a movie like this in him. But I should have never doubted that he would direct some of the funniest actors today into characters who are fully realized and totally real, no matter how silly things get. It’s the genius of the Green/Rogen/Goldberg/Judd team that even the second string characters, like Craig Robinson and Kevin Corrigan’s hit men, feel like they could carry their own films.

Current rating: 10 out of 10

Contributing factors: A script that doesn’t ape Midnight Run but understands why it works. An amazing performance by James Franco, reminding us all that he’s a funny guy. And Craig Robinson, the killer comedy weapon of 2008 (see Zack & Miri Make a Porno). And LA medical marijuana dispenseries now sell weed called Pineapple Express.

Performance to savor: Danny McBride’s Red may be my favorite movie character of the year. ‘You just got killed by a Daewoo Lanos, motherfucker!’

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “I want to make a BFF locket I can share with Pineapple Express!”

4. Slumdog Millionaire (review coming, I swear!)

A movie can have sentiment without being sentimental. Danny Boyle instinctually understands this, and Slumdog Millionaire – his best film, without a doubt – is where he perfects the inclusion of sentiment without becoming cloying. There’s no doubt that Slumdog is, at its heart, a fairy tale, but it’s a fairy tale that is so grounded in reality that instead of feeling manipulated by the ending you feel levitated by it. Boyle’s film about a poor slum kid who ends up on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire takes us on an almost Dante-like tour of the circles of hell in which some of the poorest people on Earth live. The film never blinks away from the poverty and crime and degradation and exploitation in which its characters live, but it also reminds us that even in these circumstances the best of our human traits can flourish and that we can get beyond our surroundings. The film will leave you outraged and elated. It will also leave you deeply touched.

Current rating: 10 out of 10

Contributing factors: Danny Boyle is a filmmaker who is really coming into his own. This Dickensian tale is given a serious shot of adrenaline with his electric direction and the driving, hip-hop meets bhangra soundtrack. 

Performance to savor: The many child actors in this film will stun you with their lack of preciousness and abundance of talent, but it’s the beauty of Freida Pinto as older Latika that sold me on Jamal’s quest for her. I would go up against a mob boss for Latika too.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “I love this movie. And yes, that’s my final answer!”

3. Man on Wire (My review)(Buy the DVD)

Man on Wire is a documentary, but that word is so limiting. It creates a box in which you place the film before you see it, and that box is simply inadequate to contain this exhilirating, inspiring tale of one man’s mad dream – to walk on a tightrope between the then-tallest buildings in the world, the Twin Towers in New York City. Phillipe Petit is the kind of guy I usually hate – a French artist and street performer who talks in endlessly poncey poetic allusions – but I ended up loving him. It’s because he means it. A wire walker, Petite and his crew did an escalting series of walks leading up to the big moment. Director James Marsh brilliantly frames the story as a heist, since Petite and his crew didn’t get official permission to do their stunt. This device makes the movie one of the most exciting films of the year, and a proposed narrative remake seems superfluous – it’s all right here, and completely accessible and exciting!

Current rating: 10 out of 10

Contributing factors: Petite, a not-so-secret narcissist, recorded himself and his preparations quite extensively. These original films add much flavor to the movie.

Performance to savor: Petite is incredible. In his interviews, which are edited with archival footage and reenactments, he spins the yarn with such passion and beauty that you can almost close your eyes and get the full experience from his words.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: Man on Wire has me balancing between love and adoration!”

2. Let the Right One In (Alex’s review. My shame is that I have not yet reviewed it)(pre-order the DVD)

I almost did a tie for first place. It’s kind of unfair to have to choose between what I’ve ranked as my #2 and my #1; putting art in some kind of order is stupid in the first place, but even worse is that I have to pick between two movies that touched me deeply and that reminded me what film is all about. Maybe I’ll look back and wish I had changed positions, but this is how it shook out.

Let the Right One In is, simply, a masterpiece. Tomas Alfredson has made a movie that will enchant, move and intrigue people for as long as they are watching movies. It is a film that will live forever; at first as a cult item and then, over time, as an accepted member of the canon of great films. Sadly it’s a foreign movie, so it’ll never have a chance to stand alongside the Great Movies that every schoolkid sees, but it’s probably better than half of those. The movie is so carefully constructed it seems like it was put together with tweezers, but it’s a film that utilizes a classic slow burn technique; it begins encased in darkness and ice and ends up in a blaze of light and pools of water. A touching coming of age story and a classic vampire tale all in one without sacrificing any horror for any art, Let the Right One In is the kind of movie that should make every filmmaker working today reconsider what they’re doing. It’s that good.

Current rating: 10 out of 10

Contributing factors: There’s not a single bad moment in this film, and picking out what is better than what else is tough. I will say that the pool scene is one of the few moments in years that satisfied the horror nerd and the film snob in me at the same time.

Performance to savor: Lina Leandersson is haunting as Eli, the vampire girl next door. It’s amazing that a young girl with such an eerily ageless quality was found.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “You should let the right one (you) in (to a theater playing this movie)!”

1. The Wrestler (review almost finished!)

Everybody else in the critical world saw The Wrestler before me. I had read the script a year ago (and marveled that a guy from The Onion could write a little movie as heartfelt as that), so I knew before it played Toronto that the movie would be good, but I was soon deluged with reports of just how good it was. I worried that the endless praise would poison me and the dreaded hypemonster would leave me feeling underwhelmed by the actual movie.

No dice. This is a great movie. I’ve seen it twice now and the impact is in no way lessened by repeat viewings. After Requiem for a Dream Darren Aronofsky earned a rep as a twisted, dark guy, and maybe some of the violent wrestling scenes in this will flash people back to that film’s harrowing passages, but Aronofsky is really a big softie. He’s one of the most earnest filmmakers working today, and he has so much compassion for his characters, even ones as royally fucked as Randy the Ram. Like Danny Boyle he just knows how to give us sentiment without hammering us over the head. Darren Aronofsky is a genius, and in case you didn’t believe it before, he gives you The Wrestler.

Current rating: 10 out of 10

Contributing factors: There’s such a tangible sense of place to this film. Every character is perfectly drawn and feels alive. In the hands of a hackier director, this would have been a big, heavy handed piece of shit Oscar bait. In Aronofsky’s hands it’s a perfect melding of Hollywood and indie.

Performance to savor: Mickey Fucking Rourke. The performance that validates this guy’s whole entire life.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: The Wrestler is a body slam of amazing!”