Tuesday, January 06, 2009

My Favorite Films of 2008

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2008 was a very disappointing movie year for me.

For every mildly enjoyable picture that I watched this year, I saw three horrible films. I'm not exactly sure why this year was different than most. I suspect the writer's strike played a part in it. Perhaps it might have been the current bleak political and world climate which have made films seem more frivolous and insignificant this past year.

In any case, until this past week, I couldn't even fill out a top ten list.

To be completely honest, some of these films I found deeply flawed and mediocre.

But I've started a tradition here, so I felt it necessary to keep it up for posterity.

I think it's important to note that I haven't been able to watch the four hour epic Che yet. Considering the subject matter and the presence of Benicio Del Toro, I can pretty much guarantee the film would land on this list. But since I haven't seen it. I can't put it on here....but when I do...I'll be sure to adjust accordingly.

So without further ado.

Honorable Mention: Slumdog Millionaire

This movie is overly sentimental, naively optimistic at points and to be completely honest extremely over-rated. But I did enjoy the sense of escapism and the film's desire to share with the audience a world that we weren't familiar with. I just wish the themes were a little more poignant then just "Love conquers all." Although I admit in this day and age it's not a horrible message to spread. It's just not realistic or believable. Speaking of unbelievable, the final question for the Who wants to be a millionaire? bit in the film...Give me a break. I don't care if the show is a version for the planet Mars and featured Martian contestants...that question was too friggin easy.

10. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

This is a big old fashioned Hollywood film. In some ways it reminded me of the works of Tim Burton. It's refreshing to see David Fincher create a movie like this. Although it mostly works, the film happens to be strange, awkward and also unintentionally creepy in some points. But the twist on the experience of aging is creative and poignant, while the ending is heartbreaking and memorable.

9. Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Fun, breezy and charming, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is both a return to form and a unique film for Woody Allen. I enjoyed the personality test of attraction that Woody Allen presented with the different female characters in the film. But what I found most enjoyable was Javier Bardem's return to romantic lead, which almost makes the viewer forget about his chilling performance in No Country For Old Men....almost.

8. Wall E

The adventures of a little robot and his longing for companionship set in the backdrop of a post apocalyptic earth touches and surprises me every time I watch it. That it can amuse my two children while my wife and I get a little break makes it even more impressive.

7. The Wrestler

The story itself is simple, as well as formulaic and in the end I'm not exactly sure what it wants to say and even if it's worth saying, but as a pure acting piece the movie is an impressive showcase for Mickey Rourke, Evan Rachel Wood and Marisa Tomei. Rourke is fantastic, arguably the best overall performance of the year.

6. Taken

Imagine if Robert De Niro in Ronin or Val Kilmer in Spartan were after someone. Now imagine that the reason why they are after that person....is that they kidnapped his daughter to sell her as a sex slave.

Stand back and watch the fireworks fly.

This was my favorite pure action film of the year. Ironic, since I believe the film failed to earn an American release and most people don't even know it exists. I suspect it's because of the subject matter of sex trafficking and slavery. Pretty much box office poison in this day and age. But I found the movie thrilling, exciting and fulfilling in a way I wasn't expecting. Perhaps it's because I have a daughter now and I sympathized with Liam Neeson's character more than other traditional protagonist in other action films. I know it's an unusual choice but there's no denying I got sucked into the suspenseful story more than most films this year.

5. Revolutionary Road

Emotionally brutal and at times unbearable to watch, the film really captures the dynamics of a volatile marriage in a way which is rarely captured in film. Not only do the moments ring true, there is a strange sense of therapeutic enjoyment in watching the troubled characters naively stumble through their lives. I think this accounts for the comparisons to Sam Mendes previous work American Beauty. But I think this film is more raw than American Beauty and in the end more powerful. Fine performances all around. Kudos to Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet who carry a movie together with their excellent acting instead of with a sinking ship.

4. Milk

Extremely timely, politically charged and featuring a moving sympathetic portrayal by Sean Penn and a chilling, as well as strangely sympathetic performance from Josh Brolin. But what I was most impressed with was Gus Van Sant's excellent direction, which really painted a fascinating and human portrait of the visionary leader. The film also provides an interesting look at the complicated time period and the seeds which were planted that have carried over into the volatile political climate that we have today. Probably the most important film of the year, although I couldn't help thinking while watching the film that it might have been better served with more real gay actors in the film.

3. Gran Torino

This movie was one of the funniest and most thought provoking films of the year. Although the ending is pretentious and a bit out of place, I thought the themes of the film were powerful and moving in a way I wasn't expecting. Issues such as masculinity, family and community are some of the points that the film presents and Clint Eastwood explores them here better than any film has done in a long time. Did I mention how hilarious the film is? What can I say, I'm a sucker for inappropriate humor.

2. Nothing But the Truth

I admit I'm an unabashed Rod Lurie fan.

I just think that he's one of the most underrated writer/directors working today. Nobody is making well made character studies like this in Hollywood anymore and it's a real shame. This film features wonderful performances from the terrific ensemble cast. The movie's story is suspenseful and powerful, while taking the audience on an unpredictable roller coaster ride. It all leads to a thought provoking ending that will have one examining their personal beliefs and debating the themes of the work for days later.

And finally.....

1. The Dark Knight

What can I say....I'm a total geek.

This film had everything I want in a movie. Action, suspense, strong story, fascinating characters, great acting, and excellent direction. Even had a breathtaking IMAX presentation. The fact that the movie is about a guy who refers to himself as Batman shouldn't take away from the accomplishments of the cast, crew and director. Christopher Nolan created an excellent and superior follow up to an already fantastic film. I said this before and a lot of people have called me crazy. But the film was so good that I almost don't want to see a part 3. I honestly think it can't get any better. Why drum up another adventure and try? Besides Heath Ledger's well publicized great performance, I think Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman and my new favorite actor Christian Bale deserve equal credit for delivering my favorite film of 2008.

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