1. The Dark Knight: No surprise here. Despite some recent backlash, this blockbuster is still a critical darling. With great performances from all the major players (especially Heath Ledger's magnificent Joker), the steady hand of director Christopher Nolan, and a pretty freaking awesome Batpod (Nolan's updated Batcycle), this is a film that I can watch over and over again. Whether I'm craving popcorn action fluff or a dark examination of vigilantism and human nature, I'm always in the mood for this movie.
2. Slumdog Millionaire: A very close second. This movie was so uplifting and hopeful that I actually found myself thinking, "Maybe I do believe in soulmates. Maybe I do believe in destiny." I mean, I don't really subscribe to any of that stuff. And after the movie ended, I remembered that those ideas contradict a lot of my general philosophy about life and love. But I must say, it was kind of nice while it lasted. Plus, Latika wore a lot of pretty yellow clothes and got me wondering whether I should live my life with a color through line. Other than black.
3. Let the Right One In: I finally got around to seeing this haunting Swedish film last weekend, and it's been on my mind ever since. Based on the novel of the same name, this strange tale of love and friendship is equally moving and disturbing. Although there are moments of intense violence, it never felt cheap or gratuitous. The cinematography is my favorite of 2008, and the film is edited extremely well. Every moment in this movie served a purpose to the story or the mood, a rare accomplishment in modern cinema.
4. Milk: When I first heard that Sean Penn would be playing Harvey Milk (accompanied by rumors that Matt Damon would play Dan White, a role which eventually went to Josh Brolin), I felt pretty ambivalent about the casting. Sure, Sean Penn is one of his generation's finest actors, but I couldn't decide how I felt about Mr. Mystic River channeling the almost mythic figure that is Harvey Milk. When the movie posters were released, the actor's resemblance to the goofy-smiled politician slightly relieved my concerns. And after seeing the movie I can say that my doubts were for naught. Sean Penn embodies this role in a fierce, beautiful and touching way. Watching this film made me feel like I was in the Castro in the 70s, and like I was part of something significant and inspiring.
5. Rachel Getting Married: The little movie that could. Okay, not exactly little. It features some big names (Jonathan Demme, Anne Hathaway, Debra Winger), but this is one of the most intimate stories I've ever watched in a movie theater. Whether they were wallowing in self-pity, overwhelmed by grief, or showing great kindness, the characters felt more real to me than in any other movie this year. I kept thinking, I know these people and I can see myself in these people. The good and the bad. Rachel Getting Married is an unflinching look at family and loss and forgiveness, and I left the theater thinking, if only we could all just be a little more patient and understanding with one another. And this movie made me want to try.
Honorable Mentions: Iron Man, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Tropic Thunder, Doubt