As promised, here is a list of my favorite DVD viewings from 2008. Note that these are my "favorite viewings" from the year. So this doesn't mean that all those movies came out in 2008. And it doesn't even mean I think they're the "best". Here we go!
The Lives of Others -- A state agent in 1980s East Germany is ordered to do 24/7 surveillance on a man suspected of treason. As the agent watches and learns more about the suspect's life, he realizes that he has doubts of his own about the system he works for. I got hooked by the characters and moved by the story of grace and of doing the right thing, even when it's small, and even when it's dwarfed by an environment of wrong things.
After Innocence -- A documentary about the American legal/justice/prison system, and how many death row inmates have since been proven innocent through DNA evidence that wasn't available at the time of the original trial. This story was haunting, frustrating and at times beautiful. But after watching it I'm now far less sure about capital punishment, and that's saying something since I live in Texas.
Stardust -- A simple and timeless love story/fantasy tale. Something about it just worked for me. And Robert DeNiro absolutely cracked me up in a way he's never done in his great career, and in a way he'll almost certainly never attempt again!
49 Up -- The latest episode in a running documentary following about a dozen British citizens. It started in the sixties when they were 7 years old, and every 7 years they go back on camera to provide an update about their lives and their dreams. I'm a people-watcher, and this was a mega-dose of it. I could identify with every person in at least some small way, and appreciated their openness in sharing their first five decades with the public.
3:10 to Yuma -- Fairly simple Western film, but I loved the way Russell Crowe and Christian Bale played it. The good guys aren't always good, and the bad guys aren't always bad. Bale had one of the gut-wrenching lines of the year, talking to his wife about their two sons, and why he's risking his life to play the hero:
"I'm tired of the way they look at me. And I'm tired of the way you don't."
Dead Man's Shoes -- On the surface this is just a revenge tale, but the intensity and rawness of the story and cinematography stayed with me for weeks. It may not quite follow the Hollywood formula for endings (and why would it, it wasn't made in the US), but it worked for me. Be aware that this film is quite violent and full of tough language.
God Grew Tired of Us -- A documentary following refugees from Darfur (a.k.a. The Lost Boys) who get the chance to be part of a relocation and job program in America. The story of their childhood and lives in a UN refugee camp is tragic, shocking and enlightening. The story of their new lives in the US is honest, complex and sheds new light on the things our culture cites as vital to the American dream. Nothing can shock us out of our ruts like an outside perspective, and these brave men are about as "outside" as human beings can be.
Other notables: What Would Jesus Buy; No Country for Old Men; Lars and the Real Girl; Mr. Brooks; Black Snake Moan