The Best Overlooked Movies & Shows of 2008

All the movies here are highly-rated (by both critics and viewers), little-known, and handpicked by our staff.

This list is ordered by most recent good movies, and therefore is not a ranking. Here are the titles considered as the best from the year 2008.

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Stars: Bruno Ganz, Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes
Directed by: Stephen Daldry

The Reader is a German-American drama from 2008, based on the best-selling novel by author Bernhard Schlink. The storyline begins with adult Michael (Ralph Fiennes) reminiscing about his adolescence in post-World War II Berlin and his fateful relationship with an older woman named Hannah (Kate Winslet). 15-year old Michael is beset by Scarlet Fever and helped off the street one day by Hannah. Taken into her care, they soon begin a passionate affair, quickly forsaking family and friends for every opportunity to ensconce themselves in a world of lust and desire. As their time together progresses, Hannah begins urging Michael to read to her daily—to which he draws from many classic novels and delights in their rich interchange.
Hannah suddenly disappears from Michael’s life, however, only reappearing several years later when young law student Michael is stunned to find her facing a World War II war-crimes tribunal. Tied to a real-life series of trials against former Auschwitz employees, The Reader is a strikingly original and exceptionally well-made film that is recommended to those who appreciate sophisticated, emotionally mannered cinema.

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Stars: Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Mickey Rourke
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky delivers yet another unforgettable allegory, starring Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, an aging professional wrestler long past his prime. He is struggling to retain a sense of identity, purpose and dignity. The audience can see in Rourke the story of all men, that we will one day grow old, regret mistakes that it’s too late to fix, and mourn the end of our successes.

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Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Matt Dillon, Vera Farmiga
Directed by: Rod Lurie

Free journalism versus government control is an issue that most of us feel strongly about, but it’s not often that we hear about people fighting with their lives for it. Journalist Rachel Armstrong (Kate Beckinsale) finds herself in the midst of such a fight. After she releases a controversial article where she exposes the president for ignoring the findings of a covert CIA agent (Vera Farmiga), Rachel is instantly put under pressure from the government to name the source of her story, since someone who knows and shares the identity of undercover CIA agents poses a threat to U.S security.

This is a movie about principles and how far one would go to defend them. Rachel loses many things during her fight, and you’re always fearfully waiting for the moment when she would break under the pressure. This one quote from Rachel’s lawyer (Alan Alda) sums up her story perfectly: “…With great people there’s no difference between principle and the person.”

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Stars: Gianfelice Imparato, Salvatore Abbruzzese, Toni Servillo
Directed by: Maurizio Braucci

In the crowded genre of Mafia movies, Gomorrah finds its originality in not romanticizing anything. It’s authentically gripping, violent without being excessively violent, and something that can only be described as a masterpiece of Italian cinema.  It follows different protagonists’ entry into organised crime in Naples, with the two main ones taking their inspiration from American gangster characters.  Just to give you a sense of how well-rooted this movie is, after it was done shooting, many of the characters (including the guy who plays the clan boss in the movie), were arrested. In his case, he was caught trying to collect  “pizzo”, otherwise known as mafia tax.

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Stars: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Siu-Wong Fan
Directed by: Wilson Yip

It’s been acclaimed as one the best Kung Fu movies ever made. You are probably wondering why this contemporary movie made that short list when its genre had its peak decades ago: it is visually striking and at the same time surprisingly story-oriented. As you would expect of course, there is quite a fair amount of action scenes, but the characters are also brilliant which is very uncommon in this type of movie. It is an exciting movie, and worthy of any compliment or good rating it may get.

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Stars: Gwyneth Paltrow, Joaquin Phoenix, Vinessa Shaw
Directed by: James Gray

This is the most practical romantic movie I have seen though many would disagree with its ending. It’s a triangular love story that trades cashable means of storytelling with a much more sensible approach. After a failed relationship, Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix) returns to live with his parents only to find himself torn again between an exciting neighbor and a woman his parents set him up with. Phoenix delivers an impeccable performance as it goes without saying but Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw really steal the show as the two love interests. They both deliver honest and very interesting portrayals. All in all, Two Lovers is a complex and very well-acted film that goes as far as examining the notion of love, and what we look for in people, through seemingly a simple story.

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Stars: Alexis Zegerman, Sally Hawkins, Samuel Roukin
Directed by: Mike Leigh

Happy-Go-Lucky is a Mike Leigh feel-good movie tells the story of Poppy, a North London teacher, whose story we follow through a number of different situations: driving lessons, solving work issues, having fun with friends, all while trying not to lose her optimism. The acting is superb, Sally Hawkins is a gem as Poppy, and one cannot describe it, one simply has to see it and enjoy it, because it leaves you smiling 🙂

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Stars: Asa Butterfield, David Thewlis, Rupert Friend
Directed by: Mark Herman

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.

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Stars: Maisie Williams, Nina Dobrev, Tyler Hoechlin
Directed by: Yōjirō Takita

Death is a weird and scary concept. Ironically, the only way movies have been successful in covering it is through humor (Sunshine Cleaning and Beginners are other great examples). Departures gives this trend a new home, Japan. This film almost never saw the light of day, since at first many distributors refused to release it given the taboos against people who deal with death. Eventually, it received the credit it was due, including an Academy Award. It’s one of those rare movies that will take you on a journey through all of your emotions: it will move from making you laugh, to making you cry, then happy, and finally highly engaged in its subject matter. It’s a beautiful, funny, and compelling movie.

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Stars: Alan Arkin, Amy Adams, Emily Blunt
Directed by: Christine Jeffs

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.

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Stars: Elisabeth Harnois, Jesse McCartney, Margo Harshman
Directed by: Todd Kessler

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this film. I’ll be honest and say I did not really expect much given that it starred Jesse McCartney in the title role. Nevertheless, he managed to really surprise me. McCartney and Harnois have excellent chemistry as Keith and Natalie and you find yourself rooting for them to end up together. The film does a great job at building up their relationship and emotional connection, and it will definitely succeed in pulling at your heartstrings. If you enjoy films in the vein of A Walk to Remember, you should check this one out!

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Stars: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson

Somehow an art house film, horror, and romance all in one, Let the Right One In explores the boundaries of its genres with unprecedented finesse, and offers a stunning alternative for those disappointed with recent vampire love stories. From its haunting minimalist imagery to its incredible score, it is persistently beautiful. The film follows twelve-year-old Oskar and Eli, drawing on numerous aspects of traditional undead lore, and still manages an impressive feat in feeling entirely fresh and devoid of cliche. Those in search of a terrifying movie might need to look elsewhere, but if what you’re looking for is simply a great watch, don’t pass this one up.

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Stars: Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, Stephen Campbell Moore
Directed by: Roger Donaldson

A thrilling and fun film about a British working class bunch who find themselves in confrontation with the rich and powerful. This happens when their once-in -a-lifetime job lands them not on ly the expected money and jewelry, but documents with big secrets. The phrase “the good version of Jason Statham” applies not only to the actor but to the whole film – as it is enjoyable like all similar heist movies but adds that sadly forgotten thing called character. If you liked The Italian Job, The Town, or even films like Argo; you will love The Bank Job.

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Stars: Andrew Bagby, David Bagby, Kurt Kuenne
Directed by: Kurt Kuenne

You will not come out of this movie the same person you were going into it. Get ready to cry your eyes out, scream in anger, and rejoice that such a powerful love can exist in our world. DO NOT READ ANY SPOILERS OR SUMMARIES BEFORE VIEWING! This loving documentary about the father of a young boy is one of the best movies of this decade! We can’t recommend this film enough!

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Stars: George W. Bush, Julie Chen, Michael Brown
Directed by: Carl Deal, Tia Lessin.

Nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary feature. On the day before Hurricane Katrina, a young aspiring rap singer in the 9th Ward turns her new video camera on herself and her neighbors. She keeps shooting as the water rises, neighbors struggle to rescue each other, people panic and flee. Weeks later she returns to her neighborhood and records the death and decay left behind. Raw and real, worth watching.

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Stars: Brendan Gleeson, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Farrell
Directed by: Martin McDonagh

In Bruges is a dark comedy about two Irish assassins in a ‘boring’ continental European city. The dark crimes that haunt them and their ineffably vulgar manner of speech contrast gloriously with the quiet beauty of the Flemish architecture and order, like a knife fight in a dollhouse. More endearingly, the relationship between the two killers constantly swings between endearment and distaste. If you liked Four lions or dark comedies in general, then you will love In Bruges.