12.04.2008

My Top Ten (15) Movies of 2008

As the year winds down, the top lists are appearing all over the Internet. I decided to compile a list of items I liked in 2008. As with any list, this is my opinion, yours may differ. Leave a comment if moved to do so.

I'll also post My Favorite Books of 2008, My Favorite Websites, My Favorite Albums.

(Just in case you're the curious type, click on the title of each film to watch it's trailer.)

My Top Ten (15)

Movies of 2008

15

The Wackness

It's the summer of 1994, and the streets of New York are pulsing with hip-hop. Set against this backdrop, a lonely teenager named Luke Shapiro spends his last summer before university selling marijuana throughout New York City, trading it with his unorthodox psychotherapist for treatment, while having a crush on his stepdaughter.

14

Vicky Christina Barcelona

Two girlfriends on a summer holiday in Spain become enamored with the same painter, unaware that his ex-wife, with whom he has a tempestuous relationship, is about to re-enter the picture. Directed by Woody Allen

13

Gone Baby Gone

Two Boston area detectives investigate a little girl's kidnapping, which ultimately turns into a crisis both professionally and personally. Based on the Dennis Lehane novel. Directing debut of Ben Affleck (He's a better director than actor, he should stick to it.)

12

Kung Fu Panda

Po the Panda is the laziest animals in all of the Valley of Peace, but unwittingly becomes the chosen one when enemies threaten their way of life. There was so much charm and amusement in this movie. It's without doubt the best animation from Dreamworks since the first Shrek. Voices of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman and Angelina Jolie

11

Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street


The infamous story of Benjamin Barker, a.k.a Sweeney Todd, who sets up a barber shop down in London which is the basis for a sinister partnership with his fellow tenant, Mrs. Lovett. Based on the hit Broadway musical. Get past the musical, get past Johnny Depp talk singing and just enjoy the amazing, sets, costumes, screenplay, direction and acting! Directed by Depp's long time film partner and Helena Bonham Carter's husband, Tim Burton.

10

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Master filmmaker Sidney Lumet directs this absorbing suspense thriller about a family facing the worst enemy of all -- itself. Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Andy, an overextended broker who lures his younger brother, Hank (Ethan Hawke), into a larcenous scheme: the pair will rob a suburban mom-and-pop jewelry store that appears to be the quintessential easy target. The problem is, the store owners are Andy and Hank's actual mom and pop and, when the seemingly perfect crime goes awry, the damage lands right at their doorstep. Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei plays Hoffman's trophy wife, who is having a clandestine affair with Hawke, and the stellar cast also includes Albert Finney as the family patriarch who pursues justice at all costs, completely unaware that the culprits he is hunting are his own sons. A classy, classic heist-gone-wrong drama in the tradition of "The Killing" and Lumet's own "The Anderson Tapes," BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOW YOU'RE DEAD is smart enough to know that we often have the most to fear from those who are near and dear.

9

Cloverfield

Director Matt Reeves (THE PALLBEARER) and producer J. J. Abrams (LOST, ALIAS) turn a mysterious monster loose in Manhattan in the disaster flick CLOVERFIELD. The movie begins at a party for Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who has accepted a promotion that will send him to Japan. Hud (T. J. Miller) is entrusted with the responsibility of videotaping the party--and as the trouble grows, he holds on to the camera, recording everything that happens. In fact, the entire movie is seen through the lens of his camera, reminiscent of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. As terrified people in a post-9/11 New York City take to the streets, Rob decides to head uptown to try to save Beth (Odette Yustman), the woman he loves, though he's afraid to tell her so. Rob is joined by his brother Jason (Mike Vogel), Jason's girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas), Lily's friend Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), and Hud, who has a thing for Marlena. Rob is determined not to give up, even after almost being crushed by the Statue of Liberty's head and as the military shows up to force evacuation of the city.

Reeves and first-time screenwriter Drew Goddard, who previously has written television episodes of such series as BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL, ALIAS, and LOST, focus in on the central aspect of the story: people trying to survive the monster attack. Very little else is explained, since the story is told completely through the video camera. And there is no additional score to heighten the drama; the only music is that which is picked up by Hud and the camera's microphone, including snippets of songs by Kings of Leon, Parliament Funkadelic, Of Montreal, and others. The anticipation of CLOVERFIELD's release was enhanced by a viral marketing campaign that included Web sites built around the main characters and even the fictional drink Slusho.

8

Quantum of Solace

James Bond (Daniel Craig) tries to heed the orders of mentor/Mother figure M (Judi Dench) in this electrifying follow-up to the amazing CASINO ROYALE. The film opens with two gripping, back-to-back chases, as James Bond tries to heed the orders of M and, at the same time, track down the people who blackmailed his love, Vesper. Bond is still struggling with Vesper's death, displaying a new, ferocious violence in his work, and a recklessness that M would very much like to get under control. When Bond discovers a massive, secret organization called Quantum, he believes it might have been a part of the scheme that killed Vesper. Bond knifes, shoots, and kick-boxes his way to the center of the sinister scheme, and discovers that the plot reaches even higher than he imagined, forcing him to abandon M's orders and step out on his own. Where we see the origins of the Lone Wolf Bond we are used to.

Director Marc Forster (STRANGER THAN FICTION) has crafted some truly memorable fight scenes, setting them in the most elegant of locales. Everything is beautifully shot, from Bond racing across the rooftops of Italy, to his showdown at an Austrian opera house. As for Craig, he is once again all cold precision and steely eyes. His 007 is positively riveting. He struts determinedly into every scene, ready to display his near superhuman fight moves, or bed a bombshell with merely a glance. Yet, just as in CASINO ROYALE, Craig never lets us forget Bond's humanity. He may fight like a ninja and smirk like Steve McQueen, but beneath his impeccable wardrobe, Bond is still but an ordinary man, wearily battling his own inner demons.

7

Wal-E


What if mankind had to leave Earth, and somebody forgot to turn the last robot off?

Academy Award-winning writer-director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) and the inventive storytellers and technical geniuses at Pixar Animation Studios (The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille) transport moviegoers to a galaxy not so very far away for a new computer-animated cosmic comedy about a determined robot named WALL•E.

After hundreds of lonely years of doing what he was built for, WALL•E (short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) discovers a new purpose in life (besides collecting knick-knacks) when he meets a sleek search robot named EVE. EVE comes to realize that WALL•E has inadvertently stumbled upon the key to the planet’s future, and races back to space to report her findings to the humans (who have been eagerly awaiting word that it is safe to return home). Meanwhile, WALL•E chases EVE across the galaxy and sets into motion one of the most exciting and imaginative comedy adventures ever brought to the big screen.
Joining WALL•E on his fantastic journey across a universe of never-before-imagined visions of the future, is a hilarious cast of characters including a pet cockroach, and a heroic team of malfunctioning misfit robots.

Filled with surprises, action, humor and most of all - heart, WALL•E was written and directed by Andrew Stanton and features original and innovative sound design by Academy Award-winner Ben Burtt (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial).

6

Hell Boy II: The Golden Army

HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY begs any number of referential mash-ups to be used as description of its outlandish tonal and stylistic qualities. It's a little like a romantic and sophisticated live-action Ninja Turtles movie imbued with a cracked version of H.P. Lovecraft's monster storytelling. It's a feature-length version of STAR WARS's Mos Eisley Cantina mixed with a scrappy, proficient passion for creature design reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen.

It's also kind of director/co-writer Guillermo del Toro's HELLBOY (2004) wrapped in a blanket of his PAN'S LABYRINTH. This sequel is all these things, but none of them can accurately capture the singularity of a movie which, in some ways, stands alone in its ability to capture the crass and literary luridness of reading a comic book. It's filled with gross creatures bursting with humanity, dark poetry, and slapstick comedy; in one scene, an argument between Hellboy and Johann Krauss, a formless gas contained in a mobilized suit, escalates to the point of Tom-&-Jerry-like parody.

As Hellboy himself, a heartfelt anti-hero who regularly eliminates supernatural threat as an agent for the U.S. Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense alongside girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair) and comrade Abe Sapien, Ron Perlman (Beauty and the Beast, Easy Money) again embodies the role with the kind of pathos and humor that one can only expect from a horned, red-skinned Hell-spawn who loves kittens and acts like a hardboiled detective who happens to watch TV and drink a lot of canned beer.

HELLBOY II's rather interesting antagonist, Prince Nuada, isn't just an evil dude. In the mold of the complex villains typically found in Hayao Miyazaki's animated fairy tales, his intentions of restoring control over Earth to an Elvish race by regaining the key to unlock the indestructible Golden Army are at least based on a legitimately noble sentiment before megalomania kicks in, of course.

5

Iron Man


For both comic book fans and those who can't tell the Green Lantern from the Green Arrow, IRON MAN is the type of summer blockbuster whose appeal lasts far beyond the season. Robert Downey Jr. stars as Tony Stark, a billionaire playboy and genius who puts as much effort into chasing skirts as he puts into chasing his next big idea. A trip to Afghanistan to sell weapons quickly devolves into chaos, and Stark finds himself at the mercy of a warlord who wants him to build a missile. Instead, Stark creates a powerful suit of armor, turning him into Iron Man and allowing him to escape. When he returns to America, his assistant Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow), friend Rhodey (Terrence Howard), and right-hand man Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) all marvel at the change in the man they knew. IRON MAN is the first film to be self-financed by Marvel Studios, and they should be proud of their freshman effort. They didn't take any obvious routes with choosing the cast or crew, and it pays off.

Director Jon Favreau, who also has a small role in the film, is best known for directing ELF, but his first action-driven effort is nearly flawless. Casting Downey was gutsy but inspired: this is his first big action picture as well, but the wit he displays in films such as the cult hit KISS KISS, BANG BANG works perfectly for the character of Stark. IRON MAN features nods to its beloved source material, as well as to the classic animated series of the 1960s. But even for the uninitiated, this film provides an interesting entry into the Marvel superhero's universe. Audiences who keep watching after the credits have rolled will be rewarded with a bonus scene!

4

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly

Celebrated and controversial painter and filmmaker Julian Schnabel's third feature finds him reaching new artistic heights with this audacious and personal biopic, based on the best-selling memoir of the same name. The film tells the remarkable tale of Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), the world-renowned editor of French ELLE magazine, who suffered a stroke and was paralyzed by the inexplicable "locked in" syndrome at the age of 43.

Bauby's only way of communicating with the outside world was by blinking with one eye, and after several dedicated helpers--a string of impossibly beautiful women (Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josee Croze, Olatz Lopez Garamendia, Anne Consigny)--helped him to speak through this seemingly irrelevant gesture, he began to produce the words that would form his memoir. Along the way, as he swam in and out of consciousness, memories from his past swelled into the present, resulting in a cinematic experience that is at once heartbreaking and hopeful. Schnabel somehow manages to convey Bauby's internal life with remarkable clarity, employing first-person perspective, striking cinematography (by the always great Janusz Kaminski), and Amalric's pained, life-affirming monologues. The result is a wholly original experience, a painful and tender portrait of a life that is made all the more exhilarating because of its close proximity to death.

3

In Bruges


Martin McDonagh makes his directorial debut on the film, from his own original screenplay. His plays (which include The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Pillowman) have brought him two Olivier Awards and four Tony Award nominations.

In Bruges was filmed on location; Bruges (pronounced "broozh"), the most well-preserved medieval city in the whole of Belgium, is a welcoming destination for travelers from all over the world. But for hit men Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), it could be their final destination; a difficult job has resulted in the pair being ordered right before Christmas by their London boss Harry (two-time Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes) to go and cool their heels in the storybook Flemish city for a couple of weeks. Very much out of place amidst the gothic architecture, canals, and cobbled streets, the two hit men fill their days living the lives of tourists. Ray, still haunted by the bloodshed in London, hates the place, while Ken, even as he keeps a fatherly eye on Ray's often profanely funny exploits, finds his mind and soul being expanded by the beauty and serenity of the city. But the longer they stay waiting for Harry's call, the more surreal their experience becomes, as they find themselves in weird encounters with locals, tourists, violent medieval art, an hedonistic American dwarf actor (Jordan Prentice) shooting a European art film, Dutch prostitutes, and a potential romance for Ray in the form of Chloë (Clémence Poésy), who has some dark secrets of her own. When the call from Harry does finally come, Ken and Ray's vacation becomes a life-and-death struggle of darkly comic proportions and surprisingly, deeply emotional consequences.

2

The Visitor

In a world of six billion people, it only takes one to change your life. In actor and filmmaker Tom McCarthy’s follow-up to his award winning directorial debut The Station Agent, Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) stars as a disillusioned Connecticut economics professor whose life is transformed by a chance encounter in New York City. Walter Vale (Jenkins) is sleepwalking through his life. Having lost his passion for teaching and writing, he fills the void by unsuccessfully trying to learn to play classical piano. When his college sends him to Manhattan to attend a conference, Walter is surprised to find a young couple has taken up residence in his apartment. Victims of a real estate scam, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), a Syrian man, and Zainab (Danai Gurira), his Senegalese girlfriend, have nowhere else to go. In the first of a series of tests of the heart, Walter reluctantly allows the couple to stay with him.

Touched by his kindness, Tarek, a gifted musician, insists on teaching the aging academic to play the African drum. The instrument’s exuberant rhythms revitalize Walter’s faltering spirit and open his eyes to a vibrant world of local jazz clubs and Central Park drum circles. As the friendship between the two men deepens, the differences in culture, age and temperament fall away.

After being stopped by police in the subway, Tarek is arrested as an undocumented citizen and held for deportation. As his situation turns desperate, Walter finds himself compelled to help his new friend with a passion he thought he had long ago lost. When Tarek’s beautiful mother Mouna (Hiam Abbass) arrives unexpectedly in search of her son, the professor’s personal commitment develops into an unlikely romance. it’s through these new found connections with these virtual strangers that Walter is awakened to a new world and a new life.

This film deeply and profoundly moved me in ways much too personal to share here. Please rent or buy this wonderful film.

1

The Dark Knight

To say that Christopher Nolan's THE DARK KNIGHT is the best comic book adaptation does the film a bit of a disservice. It may be a Batman film, but this isn't a kid-friendly action movie full of the bams and pows of the original series. This is a pitch-black thriller with enough drama and tragedy to please even William Shakespeare, that keeps both comics fans and uninitiated audiences equally happy.

THE DARK KNIGHT starts in the wake of BATMAN BEGINS with the appearance of Batman (Christian Bale), Gotham City's criminal underworld becomes unnerved. They're also plagued by the new D.A., Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who, in his quest for justice, remains incorruptible. Enter a new costumed villain, the Joker (The Amazing Heath Ledger), who wants to unite the criminals for a common purpose: to kill Batman.

THE DARK KNIGHT is one of the most hyped movies to date, and a lesser film would be crushed under the weight of all that expectation. Some of the publicity stems from the early death of Ledger, who turns in an excellent Oscar-worthy performance. He provides moments of humor, but this Joker is terrifying, sharing more with classic villains such as Hannibal Lechter than with his comic book predecessors. Eckhart is equally good as Dent, and Maggie Gyllenhaal deserves praise for taking over the role of Rachel Dawes from Katie Holmes.

Ledger’s Joker, giggling with delight over the mayhem he causes with a perfect indifference over the outcome is such an overwhelmingly dynamic performance that it overshadows everyone else, despite excellent work, including Christian Bale, who is wonderfully tortured, dark and achingly vulnerable. Joker is the Trickster in the archetypal sense. It’s my prediction that when Heath Ledger is nominated for an OSCAR, it’s as Best Actor, not Supporting.

Though there's more emphasis on plot and character development than in most comic book adaptations, that doesn't mean Nolan has skimped on any of the action sequences. Each set piece is done perfectly, leaving the audience breathless. THE DARK KNIGHT is filmmaking at its best; its subject matter may be dark and depressing, but it's tough not to feel exhilarated by its artistry when the credits begin to roll. In short, this was a great film - period! Completely deserving a Best Picture Nomination.

The blog post I wrote for my geek blog, ab initio. ab intra.:

The Dark Knight’s Joker Is A Mystical Trickster Not Mad Super-Villain

As an afterthought I wanted to mention that the very funny and very wrong, Forgetting Sarah Marshall was a very very close #16. Nearly a tie for 15th place.

Movies coming out this month that may unseat one or more on this list include:

Seven Pounds
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Slumdog Millionaire
Wrestler
and Clint Eastwoods' Gran Torino

2 comments:

  1. For some reason Blogger is having trouble posting comments on my blog. I've written a troubleshooting note to them. In the mean time, I've removed all moderation, capta's etc but nothing works. My e-mail is in the about me tab (by my pic). You can e-mail your comment and I'll post it with your name or alias to the appropriate blog post. Thanks for the reads and twitter comments!

    David

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  2. Keep trying though. I appreciate any and (almost) all comments.

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