Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My Year in Film: 2008 (Volume One, Issue One)

As with my Top 10 music list, this is a repost. I've made a few more changes to this one, though. Particularly, I've clarified my thoughts on Gran Torino.

So, without further adieu, my top-ten films of 2008 are:

1. Che – Fantastic. The first half of the film was the best cinema I’ve seen since There Will Be Blood. The second half was a bit of a disappointment (compared to how incredibly perfect the first half was), but I still can’t decide if that’s a bad thing. After all, the first half of the film illustrated the Cuban Revolution and Guevara’s success as a military leader, while the second half is about his failure and eventual execution in Bolivia. For its sheer grandness in scale and vision, Soderbergh deserved a nomination for Best Director. This film should have won Best Picture. Oh wait, it wasn’t even nominated. What the fuck, Oscar?

2. JCVD – The closest “second place” possible. I almost put JCVD first, and maybe it should be. It’s certainly the most entertaining film I’ve seen in a long time – more than any of the “big studio” films that came out this year, certainly. Should have won Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, if not Best Picture, as well. Oh wait, like the film above, it wasn’t even nominated.

3. Vicky Christina Barcelona – Woody Allen’s best film since Small Time Crooks. Better than Match Point. Way better than anything else he’s done this decade (except maybe for Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, which I haven’t seen). Barcelona depends upon the performances of its lead actors. Bardem is fantastic, and Scarlett Johansson is pretty and confused, like her character is supposed to be. Rebecca Hall, who plays Vicky, delivers an even better performance than Johansson. And then there’s Penelope Cruz. OmigodPenelope. What can I say? Beautiful, manic, crazy - an amazing performance.

4. Slumdog Millionaire – So what if it’s derivative? So what if it is basically a bunch of clich├ęs? Danny Boyle pulls it all off without any of the (rather unsurprising) plot points seeming tired. And how ‘bout that Dev Patel? What a guy. The soundtrack was pretty cool too.

5. Waltz With Bashir – Not as amazing as all the reviews led me to believe, but still very affecting. It’s a documentary about the 1982 Lebanon-Israeli war. More specifically, it’s about the director’s experience as an Israeli soldier who witnessed (and it could be argued was complicit in) the Sabra and Shatila massacre of Palestinian refugees. Rather than simply document his travels and interviews on film, the director (Ari Folman) animates the stories that are told. Every time a “character” tells his story, the audience sees the memories interpreted through flash animation. I was constantly reminded that even though I was watching a “documentary” and the people talking were supposedly telling “true stories,” everything was colored by the perspective of the person being interviewed.

6. WALL-E – Ahh! Global Warming! The first half or so, the part that was almost entirely devoid of dialogue, was great. This is a children’s film? Oh yeah.

7. W. – Imperfect, just like its subject. Josh Brolin’s performance was marvelous, though. He didn’t attempt to “play” Bush; he created a character that was informed by Bush’s personality and actions, and then made a new, and yet very similar, person.

8. Gran Torino – I recently re-watched A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More. As I watched Clint Eastwood's seminal performances in these two films, I kept thinking back to his most recent film. Seen in contrast to the "bad boy" persona with which Eastwood established himself in Hollywood, I began to appreciate his characterization in Torino even more. I don’t care what people say about some of the other performances (and many of them were bad – the Priest? Blech.), Gran Torino was just Clint bein’ Clint. Part "The Man With No Name" and part "The Thoughtful Director of Such Films As..." Eastwood married his two personas - the badass and the auteur - into one character. And I'll see a movie like that any day.

9. Milk – Not as great as everyone seems to think. I was actually a little disappointed in Sean Penn’s performance. It was certainly good, and from everything I’ve seen and read a very good impersonation of Harvey Milk, but it just seemed so… routine. Don’t get me wrong, I liked his performance, I just wasn’t wowed. I thought Brolin, who was fantastic, upstaged Penn. What a year Brolin had, huh?

10. Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D – The second most fun I had at the movies all year (behind JCVD). Tyrannosaurs! Lava! Brendan Fraser! God I love 3D movies. Almost as much as I love Brendan Fraser.

Honorable Mention:

Iron Man – Robert Downey, Jr made this film (I mean that in the metaphorical sense, not that he actually directed it or anything).

Tropic Thunder – Robert Downey, Jr also made this film (once again, metaphorical). Also, I think this may be my favorite Matthew McConaughey performance ever. And Tom Cruise was pretty funny, too.

Pineapple Express – What can I say? Made me want to get high. One might say it was highlarious. Sorry. Couldn't resist.

Most Overrated:

The Wrestler – Mickey Rourke gave a good performance, but the film itself is pretty terrible. The camerawork is lazy, it just looks bad, and none of the other performances are inspired or even good. Also, it pisses me off to see Rourke get all the accolades for a really personal, honest, and brave performance when Jean Claude Van Damme did the same fucking thing (and did it better) with JCVD. Too bad there isn’t a big studio pushing Van Damme’s performance, or maybe he’d be winning the Oscar tonight. Props to Marisa Tomei for looking damn good, though.

Burn After Reading – Oh surprise! The Coen brothers made another overrated movie! Pardon me, I’ll be watching Fargo, or O Brother, Where Art Thou?, or Lebowski again, and remembering how good they used to be.

Wish I’d Seen Them Because They’d Probably Be on My List Somewhere:

Man On Wire
Revolutionary Road
Synecdoche, New York
A Girl Cut In Two

And Finally – The Most Overrated, Ridiculously Popular and Critically Acclaimed, I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-The-Second-Highest-Grossing-Film-In-American-History:

The Dark Knight – Okay, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this movie. I really did. I had fun. But it was A) too long and B) pretty amateurishly directed for an action movie and C) not the best superhero movie of the last decade (*cough* Spider-Man 2 *cough*) and D) was so frustratingly and insanely popular! The one thing that Oscar got right this year was not nominating TDK for Best Picture or Best Director. Yes, Heath Ledger’s performance was phenomenal. But that was the only phenomenal thing about the movie.

So there’ya have it. My quickly-put-together thoughts on the year 2008 in movies. Hopefully now that the writer’s strike is well behind us, we’ll start seeing an upswing in the general quality of movies. Though if the first quarter of 2009 is any measure, that’s too much to ask.

Oh, and before I go:

Best Male Actor – Benicio del Toro OR Jean Claude Van Damme. I can’t choose between the two. Del Toro for his sheer brilliance in recreating Mr Ernesto, and Van Damme for an incredibly personal and moving performance. Too bad neither of them are even nominated.

Best Female Actor – Penelope Fucking Cruz. See my above comments on Vicky Christina Barcelona. And she won an Oscar this year. So - see! I agree with the Academy on one thing!