I still have yet to see a few high profile movies, I must admit. The Oscar Nominations are out and they are pretty predictable. Again, many of the best movies of the year got snubbed. Every year I miss a few films that don't get consideration till the next year. Take for example The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Released in 2007. I missed this until 2008 and in hind-sight, it would have easily cracked the top 5. Alas, here we are in 2009 so here is one last look back on the year 2008 and the films it brought us. It wasn't a power house year, to say the least, but it was a year of both decent Hollywood blockbusters and very personal and intimate movies. I look forward to 2009, but let's take one last glance back. Also, rather then go in depth, These will be film mini-views though. Don't want to get too lengthy esp. since I've blogged on a lot of these already.
10. Tropic Thunder - A great send up of Hollywood bravado in the vein of Blazing Saddles, Ben Stiller concocts a a hilariously zany movie poking fun at stardom, big budget movies, Hollywood execs and self centered actors. The best part, some of the cast could easily fall into this category, so it sheds a whole new perspective on people like Tom Cruise and Matthew McConaughey. Robert Downey Jr, who gets my pick for best overall year in acting, carries even some of the duller moments of the film with his ballsy, yet inspired role as Kirk Lazarus, an actor who goes way too far to "get into his character." Much debate about his borderline black face performance buzzed before the movie, but after watching it, you realize that it's much more inspired and brilliant than what it looked like it could have been on the surface. This all goes to the writing, which Stiller teamed up with Justin Theroux. Rain of Madness is also required viewing as it is silly and a great companion to Tropic Thunder. It takes shots at the following films director.
Best Scene: Downey Jr. acts as an Asian rice farmer to distract the attack from his two comrades and when they realize he isn't what he appears to be, he throws off his fake Asian accent for his fake Black accent and screams "I'm a lead farmer, motha fucka!" Action ensues.
9. Encounters at the End of the World - Werner Herzog is constantly drawn to eccentric people and to remote locations of the world and Encounters fills both of his interests. When he flies to Antarctica to study the scientists who live on the bottom of the world in some of the worst weather conditions ever, he meets the type of people who are drawn to such a crazy place. A man who is a decendent of an Aztec king, a man who is utterly depressed by the sight of his research subject--penguins-- and a performance artist who contorts herself into a tote bag. Accompanied by these images of strange yet beautiful people are that of the wild landscape of both above and under the ice of Antarctica. It's a sweeping film of beauty and isolation that really is intriguing. Not necessarily the best of Herzog's worst , but it still a captivating movie especially on the big screen.
Best Scene: Hearing the music of the seals underneath the ice was surreal, yet gorgeous in its high pitched echoes.
8. Iron Man - Again, Robert Downey Jr. had an excellent year. Iron Man may be strictly a popcorn flick, but hell if it wasn't a great one. Jon Favrau directs here and shows off some muscle with some great action set pieces and hilarious dialogue from Tony Stark, the man behind the iron mask. In an age where every superhero movie has the same plot more or less, it was refreshing rooting for Tony Stark, even if he was a womanizing asshole to most of the people around him. It was good to see a hero who isn't perfect and that is why Iron Man stands above movies like Spider-Man or The Incredible Hulk. Marvel Studips first feature may just make it that much harder for anything they produce in the future to have the same punch and luster. A lot of this thanks is to RDJ and his excellent return to form. Many people say he is better now then before, but I think his old ways of drug use just hindered there opinions of one of the best actors of our time.
Best Scene - Tony Stark finally perfects his suit and goes back to Afghanistan to destroy his own weapons. He encounters his armies own aircraft and a great action sequence with well done CGI is born.
7. In Bruges - This is the surprise film of the year. Well, one of them. When I first saw the trailer for this little flick, I was intrigued by it's humor but not totally on board with Colin Farrell. However, after watching, In Bruges is much more than a comedy. It's much darker and has some very interesting characters that are more than just pissed of assassins stuck in a medival fariy tale land. The film packs some excellent laughs and is greatly executed. The end takes some strange turns, but ultimately it ends with a very hauntingly dark message. A bold move for Michael McDonagh's debut as a director. The playwright writes a great story and executes the film with interesting touchs that make it unique. Ralph Fiennes comes in late in the show but steals the screen with a blisteringly scary yet hilarious with a very thick cockney accent. I look forward to McDonagh's next film whenever that may be as In Bruges was a delightful surprise.
Best Scene - Farrell and Gleeson are on a bridge discussing the idea of mortality and of heaven and hell and if what certain situations it is okay to kill. A hilarious dialogue ensues when they bring up that Gleeson killed an old lollipop man who may have known Kung Fu.
6. Slumdog Millionaire - It is written. And so the tale of destiny ensues. Danny Boyle brings his kinetic film making to a heartwarming reality based fairy tale about a young boy from the Mumbai slums who is searching for the love of his life by becoming a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He knows all the answers to the questions, but not because he is smart or cheating but because all of the answers happen to remind him of a moment in his tumultuous life. The acting is authentic, the filming is nothing short of breathtaking, the music is a mixture of classic and new Indian music and the story itself are all masterfully crafted. It's a feast for the eyes, the ears and the heart and is a wonderful story amid a year of heartbreak and social decline. It's a big screen movie delight.
Best Scene - A young Jamal, covered in human excrement, runs to get an autograph from his favorite Bollywood movie star. Later, his brother sells the picture for some rupees breaking Jamal's heart.
5. The Wrestler - Darren Aranofsky, who has grown the greatest creeper stache in all of Hollywood, has finally done a movie that is not epic in scope. Right from the get-go with Pi, Aranofsky slings his craft into some super ambitious projects from the epic Requiem for a Dream to the head spinning, eye meltingly gorgeous The Fountain. In Mickey Rourke, Aranofsky finds a new epic to craft. The remodeling of a star. The Wrestler is a familiar story. A story of a broken down "piece of meat" who is struggling to get by. His fame as a pro wrestler is mostly gone, his addictive personality fails him left and right and his inability to do much else than wrestle is leaving him with close to nothing. Grasping at the last straws of any kind of normal relationship after he finds he will no longer be able to wrestle, Randy "The Ram" is a tragic character who seems to be going nowhere. Rourke, who can be seen as playing himself a tad here, pours every ounce of emotion in his body into this character and proves that he is a great actor. His career may have gotten an injection, but even if it doesn't, his performance is unforgettable, moving and utterly heartbreaking.
Best Scene - Randy "The Ram" struggling to make it through the day at the Deli Counter decides he's ready to be back in the ring and brutally maims himself. The soulless work at the grocery store makes him elicit pain just to feel again.
4. The Dark Knight - The biggest movie of the new millennium just got the shaft from the Academy. That's the problem with the Oscars. Genre films like an action/superhero movie won't get nominated. It's also a shame as although this is an action/superhero genre film, it's more than just that. It hits very close to home. The paranoia in Gotham City definitely echoes the paranoia of today. Things like the Patriot Act, terrorism, the reasons to fight back against something are all ideas that are in everyone's mind. Batman has always been one of the best superheroes and Christian Bale definitely brings a great amount of power and weakness to his Bruce Wayne/Batman character. Not enough cred has been given his way as he is overshadowed by the impossibly brilliant acting of the late Heath Ledger. His portrayal of The Joker is the acting pinnacle of this decade. The entire film, whether The Joker is on the screen or not, you are thinking of him and afraid of him. Even more credit needs to be shown to director Christopher Nolan who has an eye for the dark places of society and an eye for jaw dropping action set pieces that pop with reality.
Best Scene - The Joker and Batman meet face to face in an interrogation that will leave you breathless.
3. JCVD - Jean Claude Van Damme and acting aren't usually used in the same sentence unless the adjective "bad" is before it. But when Mabrouk El Mechri, an up and coming director from France pitched a strange yet intriguing idea to the Muscles from Brussles, born was the film JCVD and with it one of the most unique movies of the year. JCVD follows the muscles through his dull and bedraggled current life. His movies are stuck in straight-to-DVD hell, his abilities as a fighter are weakened by his aging body, he is going through a butal custody battle and he loses roles to Steven Segal. He heads home to Brussels in order to get money for his lawyers fees and get some time with his parents and gets sucked up into a bank heist. At first people think he is responsible but it turns out the robbers are using JCVD for his fame. The movie is less of a great narrative than it is an excellent pos-modern look at stardom. The movie has a strange push and pull of emotions that is utterly fascinating. One minute you are laughing at the ridiculousness of the movie and the next you are feeling bad for JCVD then you realize its not actually about him... but is it? It's a fabulous and original movie.
Best Scene: After a long time of stress during the hostage crisis, Van Damme raises above it all for a single shot soliloquy that brigns him out of the film, but throws you right back into it with self-reflexive hilarity and genuine emotions from the man himself.
2. Rachel Getting Married - Anne Hathaway is not the only great acting in this film. Although it may be the most surprising as most of her movies make her out to be a bubbly dolt. Her portrayal of a tourtured addict trying to come to terms with what she has done to her family and what she has done to herself is convincing, heartbreaking yet somewhat poignant and beautiful. We see the ups and downs she brings to her sisters wedding and how her past actions have changed a family forever. The terrors of addiction are pretty terrible, yet the power of family sometimes has the power to overcome this, even if it's for a short while. Johnathan Demme shows that he is still a force to be reckoned with as a director making many interesting and bold directorial decisions including the usage of handheld cameras, a score that is imbedded into the film and a wonderfully cathartic and joyous wedding scene directly after the massive conflict comes to a head. A definite refreshing film that was quite a surprise.
Best Scene: When Hathaway finally sheds her skin at the 12-Step Program after a series of intense events with her family, she finally comes to terms with what she has done and we learn what the big strain on the family is in full light.
1. Che - A sweeping epic indeed, Che is more than just that. The film picks apart an iconic man who is seen as a terrorist and a hero to others. Benicio del Toro gives the finest performance of his career as a man whose lust for liberation is inspiring yet scary. His tactics are genius, but they sometimes are very destructive. He brings a subtelty to an iconic character that could have easily been more of a caricature but Del Toro nails it with a calm and collected performance. Soderbergh deserves praise for his realistic approach to shooting this film. Shot in the jungles and on the streets, the Cuban Revolution comes alive. It's triumphant during the first half entitled "The Argentine." When the second half begins and Che is in Bolivia, we see the downfall during the segment "Guerilla." Even with it's 4 plus hour runtime, Che is a film that demands your attention and one that is utterly captivating. The cast is perfect and there is not a weak link to the story, the characters and the message that it delivers.
Best Scene: Che's troops, in order to get a better position in a key fight during "The Argentine" literally break through the walls of houses in order to infiltrate a church where Batista's snipers are hiding out.
Onward to 2009. Waiting desperately for The Road.