Speed Racer: Another unpopular choice, but this is definitely one I'll defend until I die. The Wachowski's succeeded in creating a fun kid's movie that is almost as enjoyable as playing Mario Kart on the Nintendo 64. I'll admit the story was cheesy (that was the point!), and the kid and his monkey were almost enough to kick this movie from the list, but the madcap races reminiscent of old Penelope Pitstop cartoons were enough to keep my attention and keep a smile on my face. The visuals were insane in this movie, and I loved almost every minute of it.
Cloverfield: Not quite my favorite movie of the year, but this one came out of nowhere and surprised the hell out of me by actually turning out to be a great film. The monster movie genre is a bit old and worn out, but J.J. Abrams and director Matt Reeves breathed new life into it with their allegory of September 11th masked in a story of a destructive creature who tears New York City apart. The main reason why this movie worked? The characters. Hmm...maybe Hollywood should catch on to this pattern for their next big budget spectacle.
The Fall: This is another one you might not have seen, but since it's on this list, you'll rightly assume that I'd recommend checking it out. A whimsical story of adventure told featuring a "story within a story" structure, Tarsem's follow-up to The Cell is much more visually striking and emotionally satisfying. This movie conjures images of strange lands and wild and weird fairy tales, shot in 20 countries over four years. The characters are likable, the story is well-written, and the costume design (something I almost never mention) will blow your mind.
Slumdog Millionaire: Like 2003's City of God, this movie swept me into a world I'd never seen and I loved every second of it. The writing is freaking brilliant: the main character Jamal is playing Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and each time he answers a question, the film flashes back to the point in his life when he learned the answer. Powerful, visually arresting, and extraordinarily directed by Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire had me reeling for weeks after I saw it. This is a fairy tale love story of the best kind.
In Bruges: Colin Farrell delivers the best performance of his career in this black comedy/action thriller set in Bruges, Belgium. One of the most original movies I've ever seen, I really hope writer/director Martin McDonagh gets behind the camera again soon. This movie almost defies explanation, so I'd urge you to see it for yourself if you haven't had the chance.
Iron Man: Talk about coming out of nowhere. Jon Favreau made the most seamless transition I've ever seen from indie to huge budget movies, and did it with style and class. Iron Man caught almost everyone by surprise, and ushered in the Era of Downey. Perfectly capturing the tone and essence of the comics, this movie was one of the few origin stories that didn't seem like they were simply going through the motions because they were required to. The story was fun, the characters felt like real people, and the all-star cast was clearly having a great time making the movie. It's hard to define that kind of feeling on a set, but it certainly translated into a fantastic final product for the rest of us to enjoy. And, while I'm usually wary of sequels, I'm excited about this one.
The Dark Knight: Like almost everyone else, I'd put this at my favorite movie of the year. You all know the drill - Heath was awe-inspiring, Bale's Bat-voice was the only real flaw, and Nolan freaking dominates. This is one of those movies where if I catch a few minutes of it on TV, I have to finish the whole thing. And you know what? I'm never disappointed. The only real crime is that Aaron Eckhart gets so little credit for his portrayal of Harvey Dent, which I legitimately think was award-worthy.