b1. iThe Dark Knight/i/b
It took a comic book adaptation by director Christopher Nolan to bring about 2008's most telling and bone-chilling allegory about the decrepit state of our nation. Who knew that a Batman movie could be so terrifying, so profound and so mercilessly entertaining, all at the same time? Catapulted by Heath Ledger's galvanizing performance as the Joker, iThe Dark Knight/i is an epic achievement in cinema, bringing entertainment and art together in a way that few blockbuster films have been able to do in quite some time.
b2. iSlumdog Millionaire/i/b
A crowd-pleaser with Dickensian roots, iSlumdog Millionaire/i tells a detailed yet sprawling account of one impoverished boy's rise to fame. Danny Boyle has always been a kinetic director, but never has he made a film with this much heart and soul.
b3. iLet the Right One In/i/b
Vampires and puberty: the two don't seem to go together. Yet Swedish director Tomas Alfredson makes it happen in iLet the Right One In/i, a fang-toothed coming-of-age tale that is as creepy and violent as it is romantic and sweet. This is the most creative melding of genres to come out of any film in 2008.
b4. iHappy Go Lucky/i/b
Mike Leigh's newest film is a testament to happiness in times of widespread despair. Driven by a radiant Sally Hawkins, iHappy Go Lucky/i uses the cheerily optimistic character of Poppy to challenge its audience and ask a direct and important question: Why are people so miserable when they are given so much? Though the film never gives us a straight-forward answer, watching Poppy is enough to put one in a far better mood.
Sean Penn has always been a great-if showy-actor, but nothing quite prepares you for the gentle humanity he brings to his portrayal of San Francisco's prominent gay activist Harvey Milk.