Most movie critics make it an annual tradition to rank their top 10 films of the year.
We think that's way too limiting -- what with instantly classic superhero flicks ('The Dark Knight,' 'Iron Man'), top-notch comedies ('Tropic Thunder,' 'Role Models'), fantastic family fare ('WALL-E,' 'Kung Fu Panda') and must-see Oscar contenders ('Milk,' 'Slumdog Millionaire') all in the running.
Believe it or not, we've got 42 more where those came from ... Presenting our third annual list of the year's 50 best movies.
50. 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull'
The alien-themed plot (not to mention that scene where Shia LaBeouf channels Tarzan) incurred the wrath of some diehard Indy fans -- and earned the flick a hilariously controversial send-up courtesy of 'South Park.' But at its essence, 'Crystal Skull' keeps up with the previous 'Jones'es, delivering a long-awaited, and whip-cracking, fourth dose of our favorite globe-trotting archaeologist. -- Tom DiChiara
49. 'Burn After Reading'
It's no 'No Country for Old Men' -- let's just get that out of the way. But while the Coen Brothers' 'Burn' lacks its predecessor's emotional heft and philosophical depth, it shares its deft knack for black comedy. And with Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand hamming it up as four very different varieties of idiot embroiled in a blackmailing scheme, 'Burn' is, in a word, hilarious. -- TD
48. 'Mamma Mia!'
There's a reason this musical just became the highest-grossing movie in the UK (surpassing 'Titanic'!), and it's right there in the exclamation point of the title. Meryl Streep heads up a fun and nostalgic romp in this flick based on a Broadway show written around the pop songs of Swedish power pop group ABBA. Fans the world over have taken a chance on 'Mamma' -- and they can't all be wrong. -- Angie Argabrite
47. 'The Bank Job'
Jason Statham took a rare break from "high-octane action thrill rides" (some prefer the description "crap") like 'Transporter,' 'Crank' and 'Death Race' for this clever heist film that slipped under the radar this past spring. Taking cues from a real-life 1971 London robbery, the film itself sports a vintage feel, with a deliberately paced first half that tensely builds up to an explosive third act. -- Kevin Polowy
Cute, cuddly and totally loyal ... there's a reason they call it puppy love. Just like the ideal best friend, this animated adventure makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside -- and then there are the adventure bits that leave you wishing you'd taught your little pal to jump through hoops instead of sitting and staying -- but the animal version of the buddy road trip is what wins this one an extra treat and a stomach rub. -- Maggie Furlong
45. 'Son of Rambow'
There was another Rambo movie in 2008, but you can keep your Sylvester Stallone gorefest; we'll take this British indie about a sheltered kid who, after being captivated by 'First Blood' (the first movie he's ever seen), films a remake with his new friend, the class bully. It's a sweet, funny, charming testament to friendship, the magic of moviemaking and even Rambo himself ... and certainly our only opportunity ever to use "charming" and "Rambo" in the same sentence. -- Patricia Chui
Notorious liberal Oliver Stone paints a surprisingly even-handed portrait of our controversial 43rd president -- portraying George W. Bush as a driven, good-hearted man who's just in over his head and more than a bit misguided. Though the film lacks a clear message, it's well-written and funny, and boasts an impeccable performance from Josh Brolin as the continually misunderestimated Dubya. -- TD
43. 'Quantum of Solace'
Unflinchingly brutal and relentlessly entertaining, the sequel to 2006's masterful 'Casino Royale' is lighter on character and plot, and (way) heavier on the action. Daniel Craig once again does 007 proud, somehow humanizing a man whose thirst for revenge has, by all measures, turned him into an uncompromising killing machine. He'll leave you both shaken and stirred. -- TD
Director Edward Zwick ('Glory,' 'The Last Samurai') has never met a battle he couldn't wage (on the big screen), so it was only a matter of time before he tackled WWII. His epic treatment of the Bielski boys (Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell), Jewish brothers who fought back against the Nazis, is exactly what we've come to expect from Zwick: tough, poignant, and totally conventional. -- KP
41. 'The Duchess'
Awards darling Keira Knightley hasn't been getting the usual raves and nominations for her performance as a poor little rich aristocrat trapped in a loveless marriage to a sublimely stiff-upper-lipped Ralph Fiennes (who has been getting noticed for his role). But critics and voters be damned, this is still a sumptuous story and a worthwhile two-hour diversion. -- AA
Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are laconic best friends and cohorts in laying down the law as the leads in this criminally under-seen and under-appreciated eccentric Western directed by Harris himself. Renee Zellweger is the lady who's not what she seems and Jeremy Irons is all smarm and sinew as the nemesis. Smart dialogue and cool action make this a movie with something for everyone. -- AA
Angelina Jolie in hot-bad-girl mode, where we like her best, geekily sexy James McAvoy as her trainee, super-cool special effects (a car chase scene that'll leave you breathless). Russian director Timur Bekmambetov brings his original vision and style to a story based on a graphic novel, and it all adds up to a killer of an action flick. If you think about it too hard, it's laughable, so just don't think, OK? -- AA
38. 'Zack and Miri Make a Porno'
Pairing director Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen was either going to result in something wildly overrated or sheer genius, and it wound up being the latter. To date, it's Rogen's lowest grossing movie since he hit pay dirt as the face of the slacker generation. But if you think it's all about the money, then you're too cynical for this flick, raunchy and filled with F-bombs, but deep down a warm and fuzzy rom-com with heart. -- Katy Kroll
37. 'Boy A'
This stunning and saddening British import -- about a young man released back into society after serving time for committing a horrific crime as a child -- begs the question, does everyone deserve a second chance at life? It perfectly plays on the sorrows and cruelties of life without resorting to overdramatization or cruel and unusual punishment (we're looking at you, '21 Grams' and 'Babel' director Alejandro González Iñárritu). -- KP
HBO talk show host Bill Maher confirmed his status as Public Enemy No. 1 to the deeply devout (well, next to Satan) with this biting doc on organized religion. Even if Maher takes some easy shots at easy targets (like an amusement park Jesus), you can't blame him for being inquisitive. And above all, 'Religulous' is a comedic routine in the same vein as 'Borat' (and from the same director). It's blasphemy, sure, but it's pretty hilarious blasphemy. -- KP
35. 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall'
Perennial Judd Apatow supporting player Jason Segel wrote himself his first leading-man role in '08, and this surprise comedy hit is the result. We'll remember it fondly for its perfectly cast female leads (Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis), for introducing us to Brit comedian Russell Brand, for its Dracula puppet musical ("And if I see Van Helsing I swear to the Lord I will slay him!") -- and slightly less fondly for the two scenes in which Segel shows off his man celery. -- TD
34. 'American Teen'
Nanette Burstein's doc, in which she followed five high school seniors for a year, at first seems like some slick MTV special. After all, how real could it be when the students fit so neatly into 'Breakfast Club' archetypes like the nerd, the loner, the jock and the princess? But as the seniors are shaken by breakups, depression, pranks and pressure, we come to care about them, root for them to succeed ... and thank heaven we'll never have to live through high school again. -- PC
33. 'Planet B-Boy'
Director Benson Lee delves into the global reach of hip-hop with this exhilarating documentary about an international breakdancing competition. While those nostalgic for the likes of 'Beat Street,' 'Breakin'' and yes, even 'Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo,' will clap the hardest, this is a film with enough jaw-dropping moves to turn anyone's head. The surprisingly suspenseful competition elements don't hurt, either. -- KP
32. 'Horton Hears a Who!'
So what if it paints kangaroos in an unfairly harsh light (cocky marsupials!); this Seuss adaptation is funny, heartfelt and beautifully rendered. And Steve Carell and Jim Carrey make a dynamic comic duo as the teeny-tiny mayor of Whoville and the giant-hearted elephant who team up to prove that "a person's a person, no matter how small." -- TD
31. 'Rachel Getting Married'
Beneath the music-filled, bohemian, Indian-inspired nuptials of Rachel (a hugely underappreciated performance by Rosemarie DeWitt) lies the biggest problem of an otherwise perfectly offbeat wedding weekend: the bride's sister, Kym. Anne Hathaway nails her role as a recovering addict on the edge -- her problems and pain feel so real, in fact, you wonder how she's ever pulled off comedy. -- MF
30. 'Dear Zachary'
A documentary as seemingly "tiny" as 'Dear Zachary' normally wouldn't get much national attention. But this is no ordinary doc. What begins as a highly personal tribute to director Kurt Kuenne's slain friend's young son morphs into a shocking, incredibly hard-hitting tale of human trauma after a sudden "plot twist." 'Zachary' is one of the most emotionally wrenching documentaries you'll ever see. -- KP
29. 'Let the Right One In'
'Twilight' may have been all the rage at the multiplex, but the best vampire movie of the year is this supremely chilling Swedish import. Set in the outskirts of Stockholm, it centers on a quiet young boy who discovers the girl next door (and his new BFF) is a real live bloodsucker. What it has in common with 'Twilight'? A sympathetic portrayal of vampires. What it doesn't? That awful, awful makeup. -- KP
28. 'Pineapple Express'
Ever wonder what an action comedy centering on two stoners would look like? Well, wonder no more, because Seth Rogen is here to show you. Hope the writer-producer-star doesn't mind having scenes stolen out from under him, because they are, by a lovably loopy James Franco, who should try comedy more often, and the outrageously hilarious Danny McBride as a friendly drug dealer who just won't die. -- AA
27. 'The Wackness'
A hip-hop coming-of-age story set in mid-'90s Manhattan, Jonathan Levine's poignantly funny film about a pot-dealing slacker (Josh Peck, of 'Drake and Josh') and the girl he falls for (Olivia Thirlby) feels fresh and vibrant among a sea of stale Sundance-friendly indies. The fact that Sir Ben Kingsley -- the man who once played Gandhi -- co-stars as a bong-hitting shrink is just icing on the cake. -- KP
26. '4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days'
This 1980s-set drama of a Romanian girl helping her roommate get an illegal abortion is really an illustration of how existing in a totalitarian state is soul-killing. Just buying cigarettes is a task fraught with danger here, and the naturalistic style of the film and the performances are just right to convey the hopelessness of the population of an entire country. Not feel-good by any means, it should at least make one feel lucky for freedoms that many can only dream of. -- AA
25. 'Gran Torino'
It's a film that has its flaws, no doubt. Clint Eastwood's character growls like a dog, for one. His relentless use of ethnic slurs (for comedic effect?!) goes overboard, too. But the fact that Eastwood turns the year's most miserable SOB on screen (he plays a racist Korean War vet) into an unlikely hero worthy of tears shed (standing up for his Asian immigrant neighbors) is a stunning accomplishment. This IS Dirty Harry, 35-odd years later. -- KP
24. 'Happy Go Lucky'
In the latest from the improv stylings of Mike Leigh ('Secrets & Lies,' 'Vera Drake'), Sally Hawkins (in a bravura performance) stars as Poppy, a London schoolteacher who may possibly be the shiniest, happiest person on Earth. You, on the other hand, have two choices: You can hate her for it (it's possible), or you can indulge in this witty comedy that could double as the Optimist's Handbook to Life. -- KP
23. 'Taxi to the Dark Side'
Documentaries about the current conflicts in the Middle East have come in swarms over the past few years, but this expose on prisons and U.S. torture practices is far more urgent -- and angrier -- than most. Director Alex Gibney ('Enron') may very well be preaching to the choir (who wants to hear about Abu Ghraib when 'Dancing With the Stars' is on?), but the sermon is still sorely needed. -- KP
22. 'Shine a Light'
"What a drag it is getting old," sang Mick Jagger, but you wouldn't know it from Martin Scorsese's concert doc of the Rolling Stones' 2006 gig at New York's Beacon Theatre. Vibrant and intimate (enlivened by guest appearances from Jack White, Buddy Guy and Christina Aguilera), the film pulses with life and rock 'n' roll, reminding us that after all these years, the Stones are just a bunch of guys who love playing together -- and kick ass at it, too. -- PC
21. 'Revolutionary Road'
'Titanic' soulmates Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet make their much-ballyhooed on-screen reunion in this drama directed by Winslet's husband, Sam Mendes. If Jack had survived the shipwreck and gone on to wed his true love Rose ... we can only hope they wouldn't have ended up as bitter and miserable as the Wheelers, Frank and April, whose '50s suburban existence is not what they'd envisioned. -- AA
20. 'Kung Fu Panda'
Jack Black as Po, the slacker panda who's inexplicably chosen as the One to save his homeland, elevates this action-packed 'toon to a first-rate family comedy. His confederates in martial artistry, though none can match his heartwarming buffoonery, include Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Dustin Hoffman, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, David Cross and -- as the most menacing animated villain since 'Lion King''s Scar -- Ian McShane. -- AA
19. 'In Bruges'
Colin Farrell heads up this under-the-radar fast-paced black comedy about two assassins who're laying low after Farrell mistakenly kills a young boy instead of his mark. Brendon Gleeson's his fellow killer, who's really a good bloke, while Ralph Fiennes is his silky-voiced and coldhearted boss who wants him "taken care of." We can't even explain how a drug- and hooker-loving midget actor plays in -- you'll just have to see for yourself. -- AA
Adapted from stage to screen with very little pageantry, 'Doubt' maintains the story's chilling effects that, until now, could only be known by Catholic school detention alums. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams all turn in terrifically understated performances; and if Viola Davis' monologue doesn't bring a tear to your eye, say two Hail Marys and an Our Father for forgiveness. -- MF
Most people wrote Jean-Claude Van Damme off years ago. But he rises from the ashes to prove he still has some fight left in him, and even some real acting chops. No one is more perfectly suited to play a washed-up action star who's seen better days. He's been there, which makes his earnest portrayal both funny and moving. Unlike some of his past roles, he's in on the joke. The only question is: Who's laughing now? -- KK
16. 'Role Models'
Telltale sign of a golden comedy? You laugh your head off the first time you see it, and know it'll only get better with repeat viewings (it does). There's not a weak link in this gut-buster about a Big Brother-like program. Paul Rudd (who rewrote the script) leaves his dry, sardonic prints everywhere, Seann William Scott (aka Stifler) and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (aka McLovin) diversify, and Bobb'e J. Thompson earns the title of funniest foulmouthed tike of all time. -- KP
How do you become "the first family of surfing"? Forgoing your nine children's education and raising them in a camper while moving from wave to wave is a good start. Doug Pray documents the incredible story of the Paskowitz family in this sensational doc, which turns more and more dramatic as the kids age. In a weird and unexpected way, it'll make you thankful for the youthful independence you never knew you had. -- KP
14. 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona'
The characters in 'Barcelona' are as gorgeous, mesmerizing and complex as the city itself -- they engage in questionable but entertaining behavior (adultery, menage a trois, attempted murder!), all while keeping things light and bantering as only Woody Allen characters can. And did we mention there's a Penelope Cruz-Scarlett Johansson makeout session? Well, there is. -- TD
13. 'The Counterfeiters'
With a wide crop of Holocaust movies demanding attention this fall, one of the year's best remains this What-would-you-do-drama about Jews who stayed alive by aiding Nazis in a concentration camp counterfeiting scheme. Winner of 2008's Best Foreign Film Oscar (not released in theaters until February), it's pensive and heartbreaking, and well worth your dime. -- KP
12. 'The Reader'
Kate Winslet's picked up well-deserved awards noms -- and scads of press about her copious nude scenes -- for her role in this post-Holocaust drama. In the semiautobiographical tale, a German boy has a passionate fling with a woman he later learns was an SS guard. Ralph Fiennes plays the adult version; he's haunted by the affair all his life. The romance at the movie's core lingers after you've left the cineplex. -- AA
11. 'The Visitor'
If you found someone squatting in your apartment, you'd call the cops, but watching Walter Vale (an excellent Richard Jenkins) seize an opportunity to step outside his very small comfort zone and absorb the diverse culture of his uninvited houseguests sort of makes you think twice. He eats exotic foods! Learns to play the drums! Has to fight to get someone out of illegal immigrant jail! OK, so the last one's not so exciting, but it's certainly an eye opener. -- MF
10. 'Tropic Thunder'
This hilarious comedy will go down in history as the movie that made people forget Tom Cruise's couch-jumping antics. Well, at least momentarily. With a string of flawless Hollywood cameos and A-list stars like Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black (not to mention triple threat Ben Stiller who co-wrote, directed and starred), it pulled in more than $187 million worldwide and could land Downey Jr. a rare Oscar nomination for a comedic performance. -- MF
What was already an affecting story -- that of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to U.S. public office, who was shot to death by a fellow supervisor -- takes on greater power, and near-heartbreaking poignancy, in the face of recent political initiatives against gay marriage. But what ultimately carries the movie is Milk himself, whose outsized charisma and passion get their due in Sean Penn's fiery, feisty performance. -- PC
8. 'Man on Wire'
The best-reviewed film of all time, according to RottenTomatoes, James Marsh's documentary replays the amazing story of Frenchman Philippe Petit, who made it his life's mission to tightrope walk between World Trade Center towers, and succeeded in 1974. Without a mention of 9/11, this breathtaking account is an affirmation of both the remarkable splendor of the WTC and the power of human determination. -- KP
The gorgeous, wordless first half has the comic grandeur of a Chaplin film; the second half is a biting satire of commercialism that's far more effective than Michael Moore ever was. And yet at its root this is simply a romance, achingly tender and true, about a lonely little robot and his search for love. Breathtaking in its beauty, scope, intelligence and charm, 'WALL-E' isn't just a Pixar masterpiece -- it's a masterpiece, period. -- PC
A Hollywood rendering of British journalist David Frost's (Michael Sheen) breakthrough interviews with impeached prez Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) has no right being so entertaining. But director Ron Howard knows how to work his wand, employing genre conventions (Frost gets his crack team) without actually getting too conventional, and stages the one-on-one showdowns like an intense 12-round boxing match. It helps, too, that Langella is brilliant. -- KP
5. 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'
The award-winning streak has already begun for 'Benjamin Button,' but it's not due to the high wattage of star power alone. This sweeping epic follows a life lived with love, romance, dying and death. But yes, we can't deny it: from the small bespectacled octogenarian and the graying adult, to the sexy James Dean-esque 20-something, Brad Pitt is extremely watchable -- no matter which way he ages. -- MF
4. 'The Wrestler'
Mickey Rourke, award nominee (and those awards aren't Razzies)? Call it the year of the comeback. There's not a single misstep in Darren Aronofsky's drama about an over-the-hill pro wrestler who just can't get it right. Randy "the Ram" Robinson shows flashes of warmth and empathy, but then just as quickly sabotages his own efforts to turn things around. Marisa Tomei, as a stripper and his sort-of girlfriend, and Evan Rachel Wood as the daughter who's been burned one too many times, round out the incredible performances. -- AA
3. 'The Dark Knight'
Good and evil, peace and chaos, Batman and the Joker are two sides of the same coin -- with their fates just a wrist-flick away -- in director Christopher Nolan's grim, glorious sequel to 'Batman Begins.' While the action comes fast and plentifully, it's Christian Bale's tortured turn as the demon-knight and Heath Ledger's unsettling, unforgettable performance as his clown-faced nemesis that will haunt you long after the credits roll. This is the 'Godfather 2' of superhero flicks -- no joke. -- TD
2. 'Slumdog Millionaire'
On paper it sounds gimmicky. A poor and uneducated Mumbai teen accused of cheating on 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?' recounts how he was able to answer each question via a flashback to his hard-knock childhood. On screen it's nothing short of magnificent, a completely unique movie-going experience that's like 'Quiz Show' meets 'City of God' set in India. It's also one of the best-made crowd-pleasers in years. -- KP
1. 'Iron Man'
It may have been overshadowed by that other superhero movie this year, but pound-for-metal-alloy-clad-pound, 'Iron Man' is 2008's most unequivocal cinematic triumph. While 'The Dark Knight' probed the bleaker realms of the superhero psyche, Robert Downey Jr.'s captivating turn as Tony Stark kicked off a stunning career comeback for the once-troubled actor and proved that heroes can be complex and edgy without taking themselves too seriously. Put simply, 'Iron Man' is golden. -- TD
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