The Honor Roll: 20 People That Made an Impact in 2008

Forget the Best and the Worst of 2008. These are the actors, directors and producers that made the biggest impact on the world of film and how they might impact us in 2009.
By  · Published on December 30th, 2008

We like to do things differently around here, and with every End of the Year Top Whatever List floating around the internet (which are bound by law to include The Dark Knight) and on our own site (which are bound by editorial edict to include Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo), we thought we’d take a fresh look at a different group of people.

So bust out the pomp and circumstance, because we’re presenting the people that made the biggest noise in 2008, the movers and shakers that either moved up the ladder into the spotlight or blew it up and took the elevator, the industry insiders and outsiders who made such an impact this year, that we’ll be looking for them to do even bigger things in 2009.

Since there’s no way to arbitrarily quantify moving and shaking, here they are in no particular order:

Amy Adams

After shining in supporting roles, Amy Adams had a big year by scoring a role in the forthcoming Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian, and appearing in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Oscar magnet Doubt, and The Little Film About Suicide Clean Up That Could Sunshine Cleaning. Coming off buzz and award nominations for Enchanted, she capitalized in a big way and is moving toward solidifying her leading lady status.

JJ Abrams

Abrams scored big helping to bring Cloverfield – a bright spot in a wasteland beginning to the year – to the masses. The film grossed over $80 million in the US alone. While shepherding his television projects “Lost” and “Fringe” – which you may have heard of – he took the helm of his second feature film, Star Trek, and has since made a job of building buzz like a madman and irritating scientists. After conquering television, Abrams is set to conquer the film world from the director’s chair.

Marvel Studios

With the explosion of superhero and comic book films, Marvel decided to take control of their own cinematic destiny by starting their own studio. The first two films made by that studio? Iron Man – which features a person already on this list – and the relaunching of the Hulk franchise – which some would consider a vast improvement on Ang Lee’s flaccid efforts. They may be a new kid on the block, but they’ve come out swinging, proving that the creators of the characters are the best to adapt them for the screen, and creating anticipation for future films that extends all the way to 2011.

Robert Downey, Jr

In a year of major shifts, RDJ has made the most dramatic move of the year. This time in 2007, no one was quite sure whether Downey, Jr was doing regional theater or doing regional theater completely intoxicated. Now, we’re looking at the meteoric re-rise of a truly talented actor who carried Iron Man on his shoulders, boldly went where no actors since Al Jolson have gone in Tropic Thunder, and is now looking down the barrel of the Oscar Statue Gun (patent pending).

Martin McDonagh

If you don’t recognize the name, you soon will. After winning an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film in 2006, McDonagh took his shot at a feature-length and came out with a quaint little film called In Bruges. The film has the distinction of earning the attention of critics and film fans alike while somehow retaining Sleeper Status. The writer/director has gotten the film world’s attention with three Golden Globe nomination including Best Picture and Best Performance nods for both Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.

Mickey Rourke

Most generic newspapers will be dubbing this “The Year of the Comeback,” and some already have, based on the tandem efforts of Robert Downey, Jr and the Oscar-caliber performance given by Rourke in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. The actor has continued to work steadily, but hasn’t gotten the world’s attention quite like this in decades. Or ever. With his acting pedigree proven, this could be the start of a strong career for the second-comer.

Jason Segel

The comedic actor has been through the same ups and downs that Judd Apatow went through, hitching along for “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared.” Staying along for that ride has paid off, especially this year, where Segel has come out in his own right as the writer and star of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. He’s parlayed that into several new projects including a new Muppets movie, and, we’re hoping, some sort of Dracula/Puppet/Musical.

Kristen Bell

Kristen Bell has been on the radar for a while with geek-goddess status surrounding her “Veronica Mars” and “Heroes” roles. She’s had several appearances in films, including a cool role in Roman, but this year she’s mixed her geekdom with a role in Fanboys with more mainstream fare alongside list-mate Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Here’s where I make an awful pun about “totally not forgetting about” this particular rising star.

Tomas Alfredson

Standing out in the horror genre is a feat in and of itself. Standing out in the vampire/horror genre, especially this year, is even more difficult. Now throw in the added impossibility of being a Swedish filmmaker, and it’s a testament to the strength and talent of this director that he’s made such an impact on the US film scene. Forget about Best Foreign Film nominations, Let the Right One In is reaching the top of Best Of lists up against the best this country has to offer. It’s scheduled for a remake (of course), but we’re hoping that Alfredson has more up his sleeve and that he’ll set up his director’s chair somewhere on this continent.

Kat Dennings

The young actress first caught our eye in The 40-Year Old Virgin, and this year she scored critical and commercial hits with Charlie Bartlett, The House Bunny, and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Basically, she’s had a huge year without firing a miss whether in a supporting role or carrying a film on her shoulders.

Christopher Nolan

While not new to the scene in anyway, it’s impossible to overlook the impact that Nolan has made on the world, especially with The Dark Knight poised to make even more money at the box office next January. Whether or not it garners an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, it’s so ubiquitous that when Burger King asked citizens of remote countries whether they preferred the Whopper or Big Mac, everyone said they preferred Batman.

Andrew Stanton

Another established name, Stanton has made some incredibly memorable movies, and done it with astounding consistency. With Wall-E, Stanton has created an animated feature that resonated with a huge amount of fans and may stand amongst its live-action counterparts in contention for a Best Picture Oscar.

Danny McBride

The writer and star of The Foot Fist Way has played a supporting role in a few crappy comedies in the past few years, but he’s exploded into the  public consciousness this year with his role in Tropic Thunder and his Thug Life main role in Pineapple Express – often stealing scenes from James Franco and Seth Rogen. He’s got several projects coming down the pipe, including a role in the new Land of the Lost adaptation.

Steve Coogan

Another veteran who is making his way out of supporting roles and into the spotlight, Coogan hit all the right sacrilicious notes in the musical Hamlet 2, and appeared as the egomaniacal, inexperienced director Damien Cockburn in Tropic Thunder while finding time to appear in the Could Have Been Made in the Mid-90s Indie Film Finding Amanda. He’s reprising his role as Octavius in the sequel to Night in the Museum, and we’re hoping with the talent he displayed playing Sexy Jesus, he’ll garner even more leading role attention in the coming year.

Eran Kolirin

This writer/director had his film The Band’s Visit hit Cannes in 2007, and he earned a limited release back in February. The film also earned 38 wins at festivals, making it a major winner for the year. It’s one of the few foreign films that’s busted through to major acclaim in the US.

Robert Pattinson

Somehow Pattinson transformed a small role in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire into a role in a phenomenon of his very own, starring as Edward in Twilight and winning the hearts of every tween girl in the country. He’s already received some positive buzz for his role as Salvador Dali in Little Ashes and has several projects in development. Some of our readers may scoff his inclusion in this list, but as of publication, he’s ranked #1 on IMDB as the most searched for film entity, and that’s hard to ignore.

Garth Jennings

Casting off the hit-and-miss response to The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Jennings set to work on an intimate story based on his own childhood experiences. That movie, Son of Rambow, rose above the noise to make a major impression on critics, audiences, and The British Independent Film Awards. In a year of blockbusters, his intimate film received an incredible amount of acclaim.

Josh Brolin

An actor that could have made this list last year, Brolin emerged from massive critical acclaim in No Country for Old Men and set to work playing President George Bush in W. and repeating his hobby of garnering massive critical acclaim with his supporting role in Milk. The rumor is that Brolin is set to play Jonah Hex in the forthcoming film adaptation of the comic, and he’s enjoying the buzz around possible Oscar nominations.

Elizabeth Banks

Using the highly scientific Starmeter from IMDB, which I assume was created by NASA, when she appeared in Wet Hot American Summer in 2001, Banks was listed at #9,206. At the release of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, she hit a respectable #68, and hit the top spot at #1 with the release of Role Models. She’s a fantastic comedienne who appeared in six movies this year ranging from the indie Lovely, Still to Oliver Stone’s W. We can’t even hold it against her that she was in Meet Dave. As if that weren’t impressive enough, she’s branching out, Executive Producing for the first time with a project next year titled Surrogates, and continuing to act.

Danny Boyle

Boyle has been making an impact ever since Trainspotting in 1996, but this year he’s come back even stronger than ever with Slumdog Millionaire – a film that’s already taken 20 awards, earned 4 Golden Globe nominations, and is poised to make waves at the Oscars. It’s also featured on a large amount of Best of the Year lists, almost universally loved by every audience lucky enough to see it. His next project is a thriller called Johannesburg that’s tentatively set for 2009.

Read More: 2008 Year in Review

Who do you think made the biggest impact in the world of film this year?

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Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.