Five Favorites of 2008: Movies
Favorite part of December? Year-end lists. So much gets released in a given year, it’s hard to keep track – even for some anal-retentive bloggers (ahem) who obsessively scan their own Netflix history.
Of the hundreds of films released this year, I managed to catch 21 either in theaters or on DVD, give or take. Which is not that bad, really, considering I know people who are actually happy to catch one lone film a year in theaters.
Less impressive: I’ve managed to miss the vast majority of films that end up on the big top-ten lists, like, say, Roger Ebert or the Onion’s AV Club (and you should go read those, they’re both fantastic). Not because I don’t want to. It’s just hard to justify paying $10.50 to see, say, Frank Langella as Nixon, when it’ll be just as satisfactory on DVD.
So instead of boldly proclaiming which were The Best Movies of the year, I’ll mention my five favorites – not necessarily the greatest movies of 2008, but certainly five that make me smile just thinking of them – in no particular order (links go to my longer reviews).
1) Iron Man: Taking a bold stance and focusing on crafting interesting characters driven by good performances, “Iron Man” gave audiences Robert Downey, Jr. as a hard-living, self-absorbed billionaire weaponeer and made them love him. And it gave picky comics fans like me a superhero film that’s both modern and absolutely in tune with its roots, rather than going for retro style (like the “Spider-Man” series), painful earnestness (see: “Superman Returns”), or a complete lack of focus (“X-Men: The Last Stand”).
2) The Dark Knight: If “Iron Man” represented comics as rock-n-roll, “Dark Knight” is an opera – satisfactorily epic, thematically rich, and tragic as all hell. If the biggest criticisms are “Christian Bale’s Batman voice sounds like it hurts his throat” or “that ten-minute China sequence could’ve been cut,” then my response is: Look at what Heath Ledger got to do as The Joker. If you’ve seen it, can you ever hear the phrase, “Let me show you a magic trick” the same way again?
3) In Bruges: Finally undoing the damage Quentin Tarantino inadvertently did in the mid-90′s (and purposely strived for this decade), “In Bruges” represents the proper way to do a quick-witted, cleverly-dialogued movie about criminals when they’re not doing criminal stuff. Frequently hilarious with well-earned undercurrents of sadness and remorse, playwright Martin McDonagh uses staccato language and pretzel-twist plotting like no other first-time filmmaker. And you will actually believe that Colin Farrell is worth all the hype that was piled on him a few years back.
4) Doomsday: Your mileage may vary, but I found post-apocalyptic Scotland to be a hell of a good time. A knowing cassarole of “Mad Max,” “Escape from New York,” and “28 Days Later,” held together by Rhona Mitra’s unflappably Warren Ellis-esque protagonist. The last 20 minutes become the most bizarre Astin Martin commercial you will ever see. This is not a bad thing.
5) Wall-E: Not at all shocking that a Pixar movie would show up here, but the way the film manages to successfully sell the story of an adorable robot who just wants to hold his crush’s hand while also charting the course of a gluttonous human race that essentially pissed all over its home and genetics is particularly impressive. But I’m biased – I saw it with my 5-year-old niece, who spoke in Wall-E tones (“Jefff-eeee” she called me) on the way home. That made me smile.
Almost, But Not Quite:
“Quantum of Solace” (continuing the tough, relentless rejuvination of James Bond, but the sooner the shakey-cam style of directing action-movies becomes passe, the better.)
“Leatherheads” (a bit minor, but thanks to Clooney’s love of the material, it’s from beginning to end a delightful sports movie, equal parts “Slapshot” and “Bull Durham,” which is nothing to sneeze at.)
“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (Somehow this slipped between the cracks of Apatowe-style comedies, but well worth it – particularly for realizing lead/writer Jason Segal’s dream of an actually pretty awesome Dracula puppet musical.)
“Hellboy 2″ (Too scattered plotwise, but visually, Del Toro outdid himself – the same inventiveness featured in “Pan’s Labyrinth” finds a home in a pulp adventure movie.)
How about you, cats and kitties? What movies topped your list this year?