The Dark Knight - A comic book adaptation with genuine moral complexity. I HATED Batman Begins and fully expected to hate this one as well, but instead, I was absolutely blown away. Heath Ledger was every bit as phenomenal as they say.
Cloverfield - Totally underappreciated, but in my opinion, a brilliant exploration of form and narrative in monster movies. Though many will complain that there weren't enough shots of the monster, in my mind, that was half the point, and anyhow, I was on the edge of my seat for the entire film.
Happy-go-lucky - This movie is absolute genius. A fascinating meditation on happiness. I meant to blog about it awhile ago - what's amazing about the film is that it shows, quite simply, a happy woman. One (or at least I, jaded cynic that I am) would be tempted to assume that anyone who is happy all the time must be either somewhat crazy or somewhat stupid - at very least, out of touch with reality. It turns out to be far more simple.
Close Encounters at the End of the World - I really like Herzog, and Antarctica is pretty much fascinating, so it's hardly surprising that I adored this movie.
Mamma Mia! - Straight up delightful.
The Band's Visit - I have to admit that I don't remember it as well as I do some of the others on the list, aside from isolated scenes that I'll never forget, but I am nonetheless confident that it belongs on this list.
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired - Really, a remarkable documentary, both a fascinating story in and of itself and a really interesting commentary on the legal system and American moral hypocrisy.
Pineapple Express - Yes, it's a stoner comedy, but it's a hilarious one. Also one of those fantastic half parody-half serious films that I'm a complete sucker for. James Franco was marvelous. And yes, it's much, much better than Tropic Thunder.
Frost/Nixon - Riveting, hilarious, and very timely. A great movie, even if it is somewhat Oscarbating.
A Christmas Tale - A very well done French movie about a family getting together for the holidays. It might seem cliche, but I assure you, the French can do it like no one else. Darkly hilarious and filled with a strange blend of despair and joie de vivre. I loved it.
Movies that were considered but didn't make the cut:
The Reader - This got edged out by The Band's Visit. It's a good movie, a worthy adaptation of the book, and very well played, but it didn't quite make it to the top 10.
Slumdog Millionaire - It's a great movie, but I dunno, it just didn't quite grab me as much as the aforementioned ones did. That said, it was a great film, and restored my faith that a Western director can make a movie set in India that isn't racist and essentializing (ahem Wes Anderson ahem).
Doubt - Although I appreciated the subtlety, and the acting was fantastic, ultimately it just didn't quite wow me.
Iron Man - This wasn't actually considered, I mention it only to say that despite what many critics might tell you, it was most certainly NOT one of the best movies of 2008.
Rachel Getting Married - Although there are a lot of good things about this movie, it nonetheless fails to actually be a good movie.