The shorthand take on Button is that it’s a technical knockout, atmospherically sublime, emotionally poignant, and yet — a key distinction — fundamentally a Gump thing. Artier, more elegant and far less mawkish and chewy than what Robert Zemeckis delivered 14 years ago, but essentially drawn from the Gumpian well. It is therefore not, in my head, as fully fresh and stand-alone bold as Steven Soderbergh‘s Che — a film that doesn’t play the movie game but is stellar and studly in that it owes nothing to anyone or anything else, and the fact that it is all muscle and fat-free.

Che is still and will remain my Best Film of ’08 choice, and if the will of the Movie Gods carried any kind of clout with the mortals scrambling around on terra firma it would be at the top of a lot more lists. The hell with “emotional delivery” in this instance. The hell with “movie moments.” No film has the balls, the clarity and the take-it-or-leave-it honesty of Che.

As I wrote last week, “Soderbergh’s lack of interest in even beginning to attempt to ‘entertain’ the popcorn-munchers is not a plus sign in and of itself, but critics and smart industry viewers should at least be able to see what’s going on here and at least give credit where due. Che is the pure and even made majestic, the telling of a two-act story that could only have been lessened by being shaped into ‘drama.’ It is naturalism in the rough, unpretentious verite magnificence, poetry in the details, a form of truth both literal and eternal.”

Revolutionary Road is my #2 for ’08. A movie about a glum situation and doomed characters that isn’t itself glum or doomed, but tight and true and searing. A film that reflects some aspect of the real grit out there. A film that says “this could be about you” and in fact is about you, suckah. The strongest heavyweight drama I’ve seen all year so far. A corrosive and heartbreaking masterwork.

My third-place favorite is Benjamin Button, fourth is Doubt and fifth is Slumdog Millionaire, followed by Milk, Frost/Nixon, The Visitor, The Wrestler and Nothing But the Truth. Forget The Dark Knight as far as the Academy is concerned — it’s not gonna happen.