As we continue to march backwards through the years to fill our Best Movie Bracket, we come to 2008 which was an historic year especially when it comes to Superhero movies. We have had superhero movies for decades all the way back to 1966 with Batman: The Movie, but I believe that the current Superhero craze took hold in the summer of 2008.
This fervor took root 8 years earlier when we saw a team of mutants take form in X-Men, and Spider-Man in 2002 confirmed that audiences were ready for more spandex and secret identities in their summer movie going diets. Both of those franchises had lost some of their steam releasing sub-par sequels in 2006 and 2007. That could have been the end, but two things happened in 2008 that changed what our summer movie seasons have looked like ever since.
First, Christopher Nolan captured the attention of a generation with The Dark Knight in part due to a disturbing performance of the Joker by Heath Ledger who died earlier in 2008 before he could see his creation come to life. The Dark Knight was the highest grossing film of the year by a long shot and Ledger was awarded with a posthumous Oscar for his performance (unheard of for a superhero movie).
The success of The Dark Knight may have been enough to keep the Superhero genre going, but in that same year Marvel Studios created an interconnected cinematic universe which we are still seeing built today. Marvel released Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk about a month apart from each other along with their promise to continue to bring other second and third tier properties to life.
I remember buying tickets in advance to Iron Man and waiting in line with throngs of fans for this comic book property that had never been put to film. It’s hard to remember how big of a gamble this was for Marvel because it has payed off so well. Marvel released the video below just before their 10th film Guardians of the Galaxy, and here we are eagerly awaiting the release of their 14th in Doctor Strange coming November 4th. It is a good glance back at how far we have come since Iron Man stepped out of that cave.
But let’s not pretend that superheroes were the only things that happened on film in 2008. We had the directorial debut of a screenwriting tour de force Charlie Kaufman with Synecdoche, New York. Pixar released its ode to Hollywood musicals and the environment with Wall-E. We were privileged to see two of the best documentaries of the past decade in Man on Wire and Dear Zachary: a Letter to a Son about his Father.
Other honorable mentions from 2008 include, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Burn After Reading, Gran Torino, The Wrestler, and Doubt. But since you are putting a gun to my head, what do I consider the best 3 films of 2008?
3rd – In Bruges
In Bruges is an endlessly rewatchable dark comedy/tragedy. It was the feature directorial debut from Martin McDonagh. The script is one that directors like Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie drool over. Bruges isn’t just the setting of the film. It’s in Belgium. It is a character in the film, all of the catholic imagery adds to the warped sense of morality and supports the idea that Bruges is some sort of purgatory for our characters awaiting their judgement.
Everything works together to create a masterclass of a film. In Bruges is definitely not for everyone with A LOT of language. It has perfect character development, a hilarious script, and beautiful cinematography that brings Bruges to life. It is on Netflix and you should definitely watch it, either for the first time or just because you haven’t seen it in a while.
2nd – Slumdog Millionaire
I feel like a lot of people looked at Slumdog Millionaire after the year was over and asked how a film like this could win 8 Oscars?
- A. Did they cheat?
- B. Was it rigged?
- C. Were they lucky?
- D. Was it destiny?
Well I might not go that far, but it was a very good film by visionary director Danny Boyle. He has a very unique style and feel to his films and it played perfectly to the backdrop of Mumbai. The film was energetic, exciting, entertaining, and other adjectives that start with e. Seriously, it is good, but you will never be able to say the name of that game show the same way again.
1st – The Dark Knight
This should come as no surprise. It really is a great film and it is a shame that the Academy couldn’t be bothered to even nominate it for best picture. However, I do think that it is one of the reasons that they decided to widen the field to up to 10 nominees for the 2010 show. Christopher Nolan is a film genius and he does such amazing things with the camera without all of the CGI tricks that are so popular and often done so poorly.
As I mentioned before, Heath Ledger won the best supporting actor Oscar. The first Posthumous Oscar win since Peter Finch in 1977 for Network. For a movie set in a fictional city full of crazy super villains and possibly crazier super heroes this film felt grounded in reality and the stakes were palpable. It is one of only a handful of films ever to sit atop the illustrious IMDb Top 250 list. It has never been lower than 12th and is currently situated in 4th on that list.
Did I miss one of your favorites from 2008? What Superhero movie do you think opened the floodgates? Let’s talk about it.