Tuesday, January 6, 2009

2008 in Movies: A Top Ten Adventure

This is the one I'm expecting to cause the most disagreement.

10. Burn After Reading

Even the Coen Brothers' B-game is better than most directors' A-game. The sloppy, confusing plot and a conclusion basically say that life is sloppy and confusing and why should movies be any different. Even though it is basically a cinematic "Eff You," an ensemble of stellar knock-out performances make this movie a must-see.

9. Tropic Thunder

This is the funniest comedy of 2008.

Sure, there may be other movies that are considered comedies higher up on the list, but "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" also has some heavy elements of tragedy, and "WALL-E" holds a heavy message, and plays more for emotional resonance than guffaws.

As far as movies designed to make you chuckle, "Pineapple Express," "Role Models," and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" have nothing on "Tropic Thunder."

Biting, offensive, violent and intelligent, "Thunder" is Ben Stiller's best movie since "Zoolander," and features two of the best comedic performances of the decade, courtesy of Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise. This is the movie to be quoting with your friends for the next three years or so.

8. Iron Man

Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. brought something to this movie that has been desperately missing from superhero action movies--intelligence.

Although its comic book smarts would be topped later in the summer by a certain other superhero film, its fun-loving vibe, quotable quips and super-likable lead man remained tops.

7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

A heartbreaking look at the 20th Century brought to life with stellar performances by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchette in the leads.

Allowing a few of his strange choices in handling this story, director David Fincher constructed this film elegantly, and it was probably the best Christmas release, if not the highest grossing.

6. Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Woody Allen found his niche years ago, and has spent decades carving it out. Possibly his best film in years, it features a stellar performance by Javier Bardem, who is decidedly much more charming and much less creepy than in "No Country for Old Men."

5. Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood is so manly that his sweat is 80 proof.

This movie about a crotchety, racist war vet (who may be wearing Dirty Harry's underpants) protecting his neighbors from gang violence shows not only that Clint Eastwood is a skilled director, but he's still got the charisma to carry a movie and the ability to do action. It doesn't reach the bar of "Million Dollar Baby," but it comes darn close.

4. Frost/Nixon

Before seeing this, I wasn't sold on Frank Langella as Richard Nixon, and the trailers didn't win me over.

But oh man, do not count this guy out. It is an astounding performance that gets in the head of the former President, and embodies him in the way no other actor has. Ron Howard doesn't let the movie get carried on this performance, however, and turns in his best film since "Apollo 13."

3. The Wrestler
Mount Pleasant isn't getting "The Wrestler," so I'm writing this based on what others have said, because I don't want a repeat of last year where I named "Grindhouse" movie of the year because I had yet to see "No Country for Old Men" or "There Will Be Blood."

Mickey Rourke won a Golden Globe for this last night, and it's easy to see why. He may be a difficult-to-work-with man-diva, but when he commits to a role, he puts his blood, guts and soul into it. That, along with a killer supporting cast, brand new song by Bruce Springsteen, and sublime direction from the superb Darren Aronofsky will almost certainly have me driving to Lansing to see this movie because Celebration Cinemas of Mount Pleasant seems to actively avoid showing awards-season movies.

2. WALL-E

This movie has heart, soul, charm, intelligence, and a message. Oh, and it's freaking GORGEOUS to look at.

How Pixar keeps picking folks out of their animation department that have never directed before and keep turning out gems like this is beyond me, but I hope they continue. Andrew Stanton makes magic with this movie, making some of the most expressive, emotive, relatable robot characters ever in a movie, and telling an amazing story where the main characters almost NEVER talk.

Also, any director of an animated movie who decides the only live-action character in the film should be played by Fred Willard is absolutely on the right track.

1. The Dark Knight

Call me a fanboy. Call me a nerd. I can take it. This was the best movie of the year.

Comic nerds will always talk about the psychology of Batman in great depth, as a reaction to the mainstream public who see him as a childish character with homosexual undertones. This movie outdoes even the most fervent Batman fan in terms of asserting the character's depth and assertiveness, and fictional value.

This film takes a character that has been a part of the public consciousness in one form or another for 70 years, and boils him down to the core of his character in a fascinatingly twisted, noirish moral tale.

At times Batman has been a hero, a detective, a martial artist, a father figure, a violent loner, and so many other things, but that's not the true character. The true character is the one seen here: The man who wants to play God, who goes to the depths of hell to win, because he believes with every ounce of his being that he can not afford to lose. He is whatever Gotham City needs him to be, even if it's not what anybody wants him to be.

The mentality of the character has some fascinating political parallels, but there is so much more to this story than that. The movie is an outstanding crime film, a moral drama, a dark comedy, a rather traditional noir film, and the best superhero movie to ever come out, all wrapped in one package.

So much could be said about Christopher Nolan--who may very well be the Fritz Lang of this generation--for his directing ability, his supernaturally good script, and capability to handle this insanely, obscenely huge production with grace.

Let us not forget Heath Ledger. The last few years have given us a string of fantastically iconic villains. 2006 had Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello in "The Departed." 2007 had Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in "No Country for Old Men." However, I don't think 2009, 2010, or 2011 will give us a villain as haunting, nuanced, or scary as Heath Ledger's Joker.

I'm not one of those guys that thinks nobody should ever play the character again. I would love to see a talented actor put another original spin on it. However, I don't think anybody will EVER top Ledger. This performance was lightning in a bottle. It was his 7th Symphony.

Every performance, every crewmember, every word on the script, came together to make this movie magical. This is the are genre film that transcends its genre to become a bona fide classic. This is what Silence of the Lambs was to horror.

So that's my stand on 2008 in movies. Now argue with me.

1 comment:

Holly said...
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