32 Best Movies & Shows Released in 2008

Staff & contributors

Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 2008. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.

Get ready to cry your eyes out, scream in anger, but also rejoice at the powerful love that exists in our world. We will not spoiler the premise of this documentary and urge you not to do so yourself. Instead, we recommend watching it and prepare to be changed forever. Call it true crime if you will, but this documentary is much more. Hailed as one of the most important documentaries of the 2000s, it is a testament to friendship and love, a real-life thriller, and a political denouncement all in one.

Genre: Crime, Documentary

Actor: Andrew Bagby, Bob Bagby, David Bagby, Dr. Andrew Bagby, Dr. Shirley Turner, Heather Arnold, John Barnard, Jon Atkinson, Kathleen Bagby, Kurt Kuenne, Pat Bagby, Paul Barnard, Zachary Andrew Turner

Director: Kurt Kuenne

Rating: Not Rated

It’s a testament to Agnès Varda’s remarkable ability to glean so much raw beauty and truth from the world that this autobiographical documentary is such a rewarding watch, even for people unfamiliar with her. The Beaches finds the pioneering director in reflective mode as she looks back at her work and life, but her artistic impulses are by no means stagnant: she approaches the past with the same — if not more of the — generous candor and youthful spirit that colored her career.

It’s also a testament to Varda’s inimitable artistic touch that she turns a usually-bleak subject — mortality — into something this life-affirming. The Beaches was made when she was 81, aware of her own ticking clock and still nursing the decades-long loss of so many loved ones (chiefly, husband Jacques Demy). Just as her grief-stricken reflections don’t overwhelm the film with sadness, the whimsical impulses she indulges here — like constructing a beach on the street in front of her office — don’t blunt the sharpness of her candor. The overall effect is bittersweet and profoundly inspiring: as with the mirrors she places in front of the tide in the film's first scene, she’s showing us it’s possible to face the inescapable with a twinkle in your eye.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Agnès Varda, Gérard Depardieu, Harrison Ford, Jane Birkin, Mathieu Demy, Robert De Niro, Rosalie Varda

Director: Agnès Varda

In 2008, legendary and controversial director Darren Aronofsky delivered yet another unforgettable allegory, starring Mickey Rourke as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, an aging professional wrestler long past his prime, who is struggling to retain a sense of identity, purpose, and dignity later in life. Rourke, who worked as a professional boxer in his 90s and, like his protagonist, almost hung his hat at the time the movie was shot, delivers a once-in-a-lifetime performance that rightly earned him a Golden Globe. Everybody talked about this movie when it came out! Marisa Tomei's performance, who plays the mid-40s stripper The Ram pursues a serious relationship with, was also deemed iconic by some critics. Shot on 16mm film, The Wrestler's cinematography, like its acting, feels incredibly raw, intimate, and realistic. It is essentially about bouncing back, making amends, and growing old and features acting performances that will be remembered for a long time. One for the books!

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Abraham Aronofsky, Ajay Naidu, Alex Whybrow, Alyssa Bresnahan, Andrea Langi, Armin Amiri, Ben Van Bergen, Bernadette Penotti, Bill Walters, Brandon DiCamillo, Brian Heffron, Charlotte Aronofsky, Claudio Castagnoli, Cobian, Daniel Healy Solwold Jr., Daniel Solwold Jr., Darnell Kittrell, Donnetta Lavinia Grays, Douglas Crosby, Dustin Howard, Dylan Keith Summers, Dylan Summers, E.J. Carroll, Emmanuel Yarborough, Eric Santamaria, Erika Smith, Ernest Miller, Evan Rachel Wood, Felice Choi, Giovanni Roselli, Gregg Bello, Jamar Shipman, Jeff Chena, Jen Cohn, Jess Liaudin, John Corson, John D'Leo, John Zandig, Jon Trosky, Judah Friedlander, Lloyd Anoa'i, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Marisa Tomei, Mark Margolis, Matt Cannon, Michael Drayer, Mickey Rourke, Mike Miller, Nate Hatred, Nicholas K. Berk, Nick Papagerio, Olivia Baseman, Paul E. Normous, Paul Thornton, Peter Conboy, Rebecca Darke, Rob Strauss, Robert D. Siegel, Robert Oppel, Ron Killings, Ryan Lynn, Ryan Tygh, Sakinah Bingham, Scott Franklin, Steven Haworth, Sylvia Kauders, Todd Barry, Tommy Farra, Vernon Campbell, Wass Stevens

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Rating: R

Koreeda is a master of the tender gaze. He deals so softly, elegantly, and emphatically with the characters in his films, it will make you feel like you're watching life itself in all its complex, emotional splendor. Maybe this is particularly true for this movie because it has been inspired by Koreeda's memories of his own childhood and the passing of his mother. Still Walking is a quietly toned movie spanning a period of 24 hours in the life of the Yokoyama family, as they gather to commemorate the passing of their eldest son. At the center of the story is the father, an emotionally distant man who commands respect both from his family and community. Opposite from him sits the other son, the black sheep, who seeks his father's validation. Directed, written, and edited by Koreeda, this dynamic is one of many in this slice-of-life movie about how families deal with loss. And, however distant the culture or setting in Japan may seem to the outsider, you're bound to recognize either yourself or your family among the tender scenes of this masterful drama.

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Haruko Kato, Hiroshi Abe, Hotaru Nomoto, Kazuya Takahashi, Kirin Kiki, Ryoga Hayashi, Shohei Tanaka, Susumu Terajima, Yoshio Harada, You, Yui Natsukawa

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hirokazu Koreeda

Rating: Not Rated

In 2009, Departures surprised everybody by winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, instead of everyone's favourite, Ari Folman's Waltz of Bashir. This is even more surprising since this Japanese comedy almost never saw the light of day because many distributors refused to release it at first for its humorous treatment of a very human, but weirdly taboo subject: what happens when you die. Daigo Kobayashi (played by former boyband member Masahiro Motoki) just bought an expensive cello when he learns that his Tokyo-based symphony orchestra is going bankrupt. Daigo and his wife Mika, played by Ryôko Hirosue, decide to move back to his hometown, where he applies for an opening at what he thinks is a travel agency, hence the departures. You might have guessed by now that what he was applying for was, in fact, the job of an undertaker—a profession considered unclean in Japan. It's one of those rare movies that will make you laugh, to making you cry, and laugh again. It's dead-on!

Genre: Drama

Actor: Justin Lukach, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Kimiko Yo, Maisie Williams, Masahiro Motoki, Nina Dobrev, Ryoko Hirosue, Ryosuke Otani, Sanae Miyata, Scott Wilson, Takashi Sasano, Taro Ishida, Tatsuo Yamada, Tetta Sugimoto, Tōru Minegishi, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Tyler Hoechlin, Yukari Tachibana

Director: Yōjirō Takita

Rating: PG-13

A relevant and deeply entertaining movie that only has the appearance of being about politics. In reality, it is about television, and one brilliant journalist’s pursuit of the perfect interview.  Richard Nixon stepped away from the public eye after the Watergate scandal, and was counting on a series of interviews three years later to redeem himself. His team assigns an unlikely reporter to sit in front of him, a British reality TV host named David Frost. Both men have everything to gain from this interview by going against each other, as Frost tries to extract a confession of wrongdoing in Watergate that Nixon never gave.  Who will win? The master manipulator or the up-and-coming journalist? Frost / Nixon was originally a play, and this adaptation is full of drama and boosts great dialogue.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Andy Milder, Clint Howard, Eloy Casados, Frank Langella, Gabriel Jarret, Gavin Grazer, Geoffrey Blake, Jenn Gotzon Chandler, Jim Meskimen, Kate Jennings Grant, Keith MacKechnie, Kevin Bacon, Mark Simich, Matthew Macfadyen, Max Elliott Slade, Michael Sheen, Oliver Platt, Patty McCormack, Penny L. Moore, Rance Howard, Rebecca Hall, Sam Rockwell, Simon James, Toby Jones, Wil Albert, Yvette Rachelle

Director: Ron Howard

Rating: R

A period comedy set in New York in the summer of 1994, the Wackness is a coming of age story about Luke Shapiro (Joshua Peck), as he deals with family trauma, love, and economic hardship while selling pot to his strange psychologist. Rescued from a somewhat typical bildungsroman plot by sharp character acting, a firm directorial hand and an absolutely fitting soundtrack that evokes the golden age of rap music.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Aaron Yoo, Alexander Flores, Ben Kingsley, Bob Dishy, David Wohl, Famke Janssen, Jane Adams, Joanna Merlin, Josh Peck, Mary-Kate Olsen, Method Man, Olivia Thirlby, Roy Milton Davis, Shannon Briggs, Talia Balsam

Director: Jonathan Levine

Rating: R

This bittersweet film about a father and a daughter marks one of the more tender spots in Claire Denis’ brilliant filmography. Frequent collaborator Alex Descas plays Lionel (the father), while Mati Diop, now a director in her own right, plays Josephine (the daughter.) The film captures the two at a crossroads, with their closely-knit relationship tested as Josephine grows closer to her boyfriend, and Lionel must face the possibility of finally letting her go.

A melancholy lingers in the air as we learn more about their lives and the small community of neighbors and coworkers in their orbit. Meanwhile, the film's climax holds a mesmerizing sequence set to the Commodores’ Nightshift, which has to rank as one of the best needle drops in cinema from a director who already has an all-timer under her belt. (see. Beau Travail)

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adèle Ado, Alex Descas, Djédjé Apali, Ériq Ebouaney, Grégoire Colin, Ingrid Caven, Jean-Christophe Folly, Mati Diop, Nicole Dogué

Director: Claire Denis

Rating: Unrated

You've probably watched and heard about enough Holocaust films to expect a formula, but you might want to put all that aside going into The Boy in Striped Pajamas. Bruno, the son of a WWII Nazi commandant forms an unlikely friendship with a Jewish kid his age in his father's concentration camp. The film is World War II told through Bruno's eyes, and while you might not get why this movie is so highly praised in its first scenes, the twisting and profound second half will have you recommending it to everyone in need of a moving story well executed, or quite simply a good cry.

Genre: Drama, Family, History, War

Actor: Amber Beattie, Asa Butterfield, Béla Fesztbaum, Cara Horgan, Charlie Baker, David Hayman, David Thewlis, Domonkos Nemeth, Gábor Harsai, Henry Kingsmill, Iván Verebély, Jack Scanlon, Jim Norton, Julia Papp, László Áron, Mihály Szabados, Richard Johnson, Rupert Friend, Sheila Hancock, Vera Farmiga, Zac Mattoon O'Brien, Zsolt Sáfár Kovács, Zsuzsa Holl

Director: Mark Herman

Rating: PG-13

Known for his horror films, Kiyoshi Kurosawa shifts gears and presents a family drama in Tokyo Sonata. In the film, father Ryuhei, who’s expected to be the breadwinner, loses his prestigious job and chooses to hide his firing from his family. While this premise isn't overtly scary, the film understands the terror of being unable to maintain the current comforts of your family. And the consequences: lose your status (at best) or your life (at worst). Teruyuki Kagawa’s performance crystallizes that sense of losing control, as each expression on his face betrays how secretly afraid Ryuhei feels. The disasters that this family faces threaten to never stop, and Kurosawa executes them perfectly through excellent story structure and performance.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ayako Sugiyama, Denden, Hajime Inoue, Haruka Igawa, Kai Inowaki, Kanji Tsuda, Kazuki Namioka, Kazuya Kojima, Kenji Kawahara, Kōji Yakusho, Kyoko Koizumi, Masayuki Itô, Takashi Kodama, Tao Tsuchiya, Teruyuki Kagawa, Toshiyuki Kitami, Yū Koyanagi, Yuya Takagawa

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Rating: PG-13

Wendy (Michelle Williams) is a drifter driving up to Alaska in hopes of finding work. When her car breaks down, she and her dog Lucy are stranded and forced to scrounge for food and repairs, hitting one roadblock after another on her path to an uncertain dream. This sympathetic and solemn look at poverty from director Kelly Reichardt serves as a reminder of how easy it is to fall through the fragile American safety net.   

Reichardt’s uncompromising approach paired with Williams’s restrained performance makes the experience authentic and intense, recalling the work of Ken Loach. This natural sharpness makes for an engrossing watch that builds in power until the emotional release of the film’s heartbreaking conclusion. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ayanna Berkshire, David Koppell, Deirdre OConnell, Gabe Nevins, Greg Schmitt, Jeanine Jackson, John Breen, John Robinson, Larry Fessenden, M. Blash, Marilyn Faith Hickey, Michelle Williams, Roger D. Faires, Tanya Smith, Wally Dalton, Will Oldham, Will Patton

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Rating: R

Sunshine Cleaning is a great addition to that unidentified genre of grown-up comedies populated by other great entries like Your Sister's Sister and Enough Said. It is however, less of a comedy than it is a heart-warming emotional tale. Powered by outstanding performances from Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, it ultimately evolves into a character study of failed potential and validation seeking. Sunshine Cleaning is enjoyable, satisfying to a fault, and provides an interesting peak into the lives of its characters.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alan Arkin, Amber Midthunder, Amy Adams, Amy Redford, Angelique Midthunder, Clifton Collins Jr., Emily Blunt, Eric Christian Olsen, Ivan Brutsche, Jason Spevack, Judith Jones, Kathy Lamkin, Kevin Chapman, Lois Geary, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Paul Dooley, Steve Zahn, Susie Yip, Vic Browder

Director: Christine Jeffs

Rating: R

Summer Hours centers on three siblings tasked with sorting the valuable pieces their mother left behind. Frédéric (Charles Berling), the eldest, has different ideas about inheritance than his overseas siblings. Will their beloved house stay or go? Will the art? The furniture? Can they afford to keep all these for sentimental reasons or would it be wiser to sell them? They go back and forth on these questions, rarely agreeing but always keeping in mind the life these seemingly inanimate objects occupy, as well as the memories they evoke, which are beyond priceless.  

Summer Hours resists melodrama, opting instead for the simple power of restraint—of unspoken words and charged glances. And the result is a quietly affecting movie that basks in the details to paint a wonderful, overall picture of home and family.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Alice de Lencquesaing, Charles Berling, Dominique Reymond, Edith Scob, Émile Berling, Eric Elmosnino, Gilles Arbona, Isabelle Sadoyan, Jean-Baptiste Malartre, Jérémie Renier, Juliette Binoche, Kyle Eastwood, Philippe Paimblanc, Sara Martins, Valérie Bonneton

Director: Olivier Assayas

Rating: Not Rated

Man on Wire is a true technical masterpiece. You can almost feel the director telling the cameraman what angle to choose, or thinking about the questions that will generate the most resounding answers. However, this does not diminish the story this documentary tells one bit. It’s one that is glorious, riveting, and fun. It’s one where you feel like an insider to a world lived on and below wires, with high-stake risks. Hopefully the edge of your seat is comfortable, because this is where the movie will keep you till the very end.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Annie Allix, David Forman, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau, Mark Lewis, Philippe Petit

Director: James Marsh

Rating: PG-13