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Top 15 Best Films of 2008: 15-10

2008 proved to be another strong year at the movies, beginning with the likes of Oscar heavyweights No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood and ending with another Clint Eastwood masterpiece, Changeling.

In between were feel-good hits such as Juno and, erm, Mamma Mia! (how did that take so much money, money, money), the return of Indiana Jones and Rambo (still young at over 60) and a Lazarus-style career revival from Robert Downey Jr (as Iron Man and, well, Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder).

Batman got to play fast and loose with The Joker in record-breaking blockbuster phenomenon The Dark Knight, while Pixar once again proved themselves to be the champions of animation with Wall-E – even though the high-kicking Kung Fu Panda ran them close.

But which – if any – of those movies make up our top 15 best films of the year? And do you agree with our selections…

The Mist

No.15: The Mist (15)

Starring: Thomas Jane, Nathan Gamble, Toby Jones, Marcia Gay Harden.

What’s the story? Marion and Jack arrive in the French capital after a semi-successful trip to Venice, painfully aware that the spark has gone from their relationship. Over the ensuing two days, they attempt to sort out their feelings for each other in between hanging out with Marion’s challenging parents (Albert Delpy and Marie Pillet) and fending off the unwanted advances of her numerous ex-boyfriends.

Why so good?: The pairing of Frank Darabont and Stephen King is proving to be an irresistible combination when it comes to making movies. Having already given us The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, the duo now deliver The Mist. Put simply, this allegorical chiller is one of the best Hollywood horror films of recent years. It’s butt-clenchingly tense, jump out of your seat scary and fiercely intelligent to boot.

Trivia: Frank Darabont agreed to make the film with Dimension only under the condition that no matter what, they wouldn’t change the scripted ending. They agreed.

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Iron Man

No.14: Iron Man (12A)

Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard

What’s the story? Billionaire businessman and playboy Tony Stark (Downey Jr) is the nonchalant CEO of a major weapons manufacturer, who is forced to reconsider his life when a trip to Afghanistan to unveil his latest WMD goes horrendously wrong. Mortally wounded and held captive by Afghan terrorists, Stark is coerced into recreating his weapons for the enemy but instead hatches a hi-tech escape plan that gives birth to his ironclad alter ego. Once back on home soil, he then vows to continue righting the wrongs that his weapons manufacturing have set into play, only to face challenges from within his own organisation.

Why so good?: Superhero movies are now such a familiar part of the summer blockbuster season that it takes something, well, really Marvellous to make them stand out. Iron Man, based on a character first created in 1963, has learned wisely from past successes and failures to emerge as one of the more enjoyable comic book adventures. Sure, it was restricted by a certain amount of genre convention and the fact that it’s clearly an opening chapter, but it was boosted considerably by a clever director (Jon Favreau) and a brilliant lead actor (Robert Downey Jr) who are really at the top of their game.

Trivia: Jeff Bridges, hearing that Obadiah was a biblical name, researched on the Book of Obadiah in the Bible, and was surprised to learn that a major theme in that particular book is retribution, which Obadiah Stane represents.

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4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

No. 13: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (15)

Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov

What’s the story? It’s Romania, 1987, during the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu, and good-natured Otilia (Marinca) decides to assist her irresponsible roommate Gabita (Vasiliu) in getting an illegal abortion. Otilia is confident and streetwise and takes Gabita under her wing, borrowing money from her own boyfriend to part-fund the termination, and then meeting back-street abortionist Mr Bebe (Ivanov) and guiding him back to the hotel room they have booked to carry out the procedure. But once there, things become complicated. Gabita proves an unreliable patient and Mr Bebe takes advantage, eventually forcing Otilia to make a terrible sacrifice in order to see things through.

What we said: Cristian Mungiu’s harrowing but deeply impressive Romanian abortion drama won the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes last year [2007] and has been picking up accolades ever since. It’s easy to see why. The film offers an intense insight into a dark European corner that’s more terrifying than a dozen Hollywood horror movies by virtue of the fact it’s so real. 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days may not have provided the most comfortable of viewing and retains a grim intensity throughout but it remains essential viewing and was easily one of the best foreign language movies of the year.

Trivia: Incredibly, the film was originally titled Tales from the Golden Age and envisioned as a satire. It is based on a real-life account an old acquaintance told the director.

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Ryan Gosling in Lars & The Real Girl

No.12: Lars & The Real Girl (15)

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Paul Schneider, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson.

What’s the story? Lars (Gosling) is a painfully shy loner who one day surprises brother and sister-in-law next door (Schneider and Mortimer) with the announcement that he’ll be bringing his girlfriend to dinner. When she turns out to be a life-like plastic doll named ‘Bianca’, they’re understandably concerned and immediately call on the help of town psychologist Dagmar (Clarkson). Surprisingly, the townsfolk begin to accept Bianca as one of their own, a response that in turn triggers an awakening in Lars as he begins to deal with his feelings of insecurity and isolation.

Why so good?: Lars & The Real Girl may sound like a difficult pitch for audiences to swallow, given that it’s about a man’s relationship with a blow up sex doll, but those daring enough to see it will be rewarded with one of the standout films of the year. Written by ex-Six Feet Under scribe Nancy Oliver and directed with considerable finesse by Craig Gillespie, it’s an amusing and often quite touching experience that thrives on the originality of its premise.

Trivia: To help Ryan Gosling stay in character, the real doll was treated like an actual person, as is done by the characters in the movie. She was dressed privately in her own trailer and was only present for scenes that she was in.

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No.11: Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead (18)

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney

What’s the story? Two brothers plan a heist at a jewellery store owned by a “mom and dad” in a bid to ease their financial difficulties. Needless to say, the heist goes wrong…

Why so good?: Does the premise above sound familiar? Well, the bungled heist scenario has certainly provided the platform for countless thrillers over the years – some classic, others generic. Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, the latest from veteran director Sidney Lumet, is one of the very best examples of the genre, a tightly wound and relentlessly dark movie that also functions as a searing family drama…. Come the shocking final moments, you’ll be utterly engrossed in the lives of these losers and, quite possibly, thirsting for more.

Trivia: The title of the film is taken from the Irish toast: “May you have food and raiment, a soft pillow for your head; may you be 40 years in heaven, before the devil knows you’re dead.”

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Find out what made 10-5