The Best in 2008

Starring: Some people look forward to this time of year when film critics sort out the cinematic sheep from the goats and summarise the year’s best films. Some of these movies are already out on DVD, others are still on the big screen, but all of them, and especially their classifications, need careful discernment about which ones will be best for you and your family.


The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
Rated PG (frequent battle violence).  140 minutes. One year after the incredible events of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the Kings and Queens of Narnia find themselves back in that faraway wondrous realm, only to discover that more than 1300 years have passed in Narnian time. This take is long and quite violent, but also moving and strong.

The Dark Knight

Rated M (frequent action violence). 152 minutes. This movie is about Batman versus the Joker, representing good versus evil; here, two people pit their psyches against each other. Heath Ledger is darkly brilliant.

Rated M (violence and coarse language). 165 minutes. On an estimated budget of $180m, this film has an incredible line-up of talent behind it. It is very long but is much better than many give it credit for. 

Sei Jee (Lust Caution)
Rated R (strong violence, strong sexual scenes, nudity).  157 minutes. Set during the Japanese occupation of Japan, beginning in 1942, this epic film asks how far anyone will go for a just cause. This is an explicit and tough film on every level.


Animation film. Rated G. 98 minutes. It should be said at the outset that this is not a film for small children. They may well not follow the strong environmental plot and may lose interest despite an initial curiosity about WALL.E and his world.  Rather, this is a film for adults to enjoy and for older children.

Iron Man
Rated M (moderate action violence). 126 minutes. Iron man is one of the many Marvel Comic characters we have had in recent years. This film is darker and more intelligent and better acted than most.

Madagascar Escape 2 Africa

Animation film. Rated PG (Mild animated violence). 85 minutes. This is one of those rare sequels which is better than the original. The zoo animals make a return visit to their roots.



Rated M (teenage pregnancy theme, coarse language). 91 minutes. Juno is young, smart, sassy, cool, sweet and pregnant, but just when you think you know where this story will go, it gives you a very welcome surprise.

In the Valley of Elah

Rated MA15+ (strong themes and violence, nudity). 121 minutes. This is a powerful, realistic snapshot of America at the crossroads, taking stock of everything it stands for. Based on real events, an ex-army man’s son is reported AWOL from his army barracks, a week after having returned from service in Iraq.


Rated MA 15+ (strong coarse language, sex scene, strong themes). 123 minutes. Atonement is based on the novel by Booker Prize winner, Ian McEwan. This film retains the literary quality of the novel. It has a sweeping story, but no sense of redemption.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Rated MA 15+ (strong violence). 160 minutes. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford looks at what a fragile man Jesse James actually was. And it gives us Robert Ford, just nineteen and a member of Jesse’s inner circle, who was able to bring down such a formidable figure when lawmen across ten states had tried and failed.

Across the Universe
Rated M (moderate violence, Infrequent moderate coarse language, Drug references and nudity.) 133 minutes. The title is from a Beatles’ song which features towards the end but surrounding it are more than 30 other Beatles songs, some very well known, others much less well known, but all picked to offer lyrics which explain the characters and the plot.

Rated MA 15+ (strong torture, strong violence).  122 minutes. This is an impressive and alarming film about the ‘unofficial’ and undocumented transferring of individuals suspected to terrorism to overseas countries for ‘interrogation’.

Standard Operating Procedure

Documentary film. Rated MA 15+ (strong themes, graphic images of prisoner abuse) 116 minutes. Here is the shameful story of Abu Ghraib.

The Bank Job

Rated MA 15+ (Strong coarse language and sexual references). 112 minutes. This is an interesting thriller, based on a true story, when a simple bank robbery ends up involving everyone from the Royal Family to drug cartels to MI6.

August Rush
Rated PG (mild themes and infrequent violence) 114 minutes. This is an unashamedly emotional tale in the tradition of W. Somerset Maugham, a modern fairytale full of coincidences of plot that would have made Dickens both tearful and pleased.

Rated M (moderate violence). 123 minutes. For those who are not gambling-informed, 21 is not the age for adulthood but the total for cards to win at blackjack.  This is a film about blackjack, about learning a card system, beating the house and how greed can bring lives undone.


Burn After Reading
Rated MA 15+ (infrequent strong violence, coarse language). 96 minutes.  A Washington DC drama that moves into comedy and revels in spoof. This is a dark tale with a star cast. The Coen Brothers are an acquired taste, and never more than here.

Charlie Wilson's War

97 minutes. Rated M (moderate coarse language and drug references, violence). Charlie Wilson was a bachelor congressman from Texas whose personality masked an astute political mind, deep sense of patriotism and compassion for the underdog.  In the early 1980s he takes up the cause of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. 

Australian films

We have already mentioned Baz Luhrmann’s Australia.

The Black Balloon
Rated M. (moderate theme, moderate coarse language). 97 minutes. Winner of the Australian Film of the Year from the Catholic Film Office, this movie looks at how one boy’s autistism and ADD affects his whole family. A moving but tough film.

The Square
Rated MA15+ (strong violence, coarse language). 105 minutes. A home-grown thriller that creates tension around a professional arsonist whose latest job goes horribly wrong.


Rated PG (civil rights themes). 92 minutes. A fascinating and changeling film about Peter Norman who was on the podium as one of three winners of the 200 metre sprint at the 1968 Mexico Olympics when they gave their iconic salute.

Celebrity: Dominick Dunne
Rated M (drug themes) 85 minutes. Dominick Dunne is a very flawed person, but this film is a strange glimpse into the world of the law, journalism, Hollywood and being a celebrity.

Not Quite Hollywood
Rated MA 15+ (nudity, sex and violence). 103 minutes. The wild, untold story of “Ozploitation” cinema: a time when the Australian film industry explored sex, violence, horror and foot-to-the-floor, full bore road action. This uneven film is for only for aficionados.

Man on Wire
Rated PG (brief nudity and sexual references) 94 minutes. A fascinating film about Philippe Petit, who, as a 23 year old, walked on a wire between the two towers of the World Trace Center on August 7th 1974. 

Completely Escapist

Mamma Mia
Rated PG (mild sexual references and coarse language). 108 minutes. Abba songs, great dance routines, wonderful scenery and a corny story, some could not ask for more.

Happy Holiday Viewing

Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the director of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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