Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Best of the Year: 2008

My Picks of the Year
(in alphabetical order)
Burn After Reading
This movie was Fun, with a capital F. I had a great time watching this zany cast of characters bumble their way around love affairs, political intrigue, murder and kinky sex. These are angry, thoughtful characters, always trying to do what's right for themselves. I was more involved with them, their feelings and character arcs, instead of the insanely complicated plot. The perfect cast made the story really easy to follow, even though it didn't make any sense. The final scene with the CIA bosses trying to sort it out was a great clincher. Glad to see the Coens haven't lost their sense of humor.

What an acting powerhouse! Hoffman, Streep, Adams and Davis were all nominated for Oscars for their work here, and they are all equally deserved. The story is simple and spare, and the film is all about tone, mood and nuance. It's a mature, professional, and intensely thought-provoking Hollywood production. It couldn't have been done better.

A supremely entertaining, eye-opening experience. As they have alluded in the film, watching Frost and Nixon on screen is like watching a boxing match. It's not only a film about politics or the Presidency, but also about discovering your worth. Frost had gambled his life and career for this big "get" and had a lot to prove. Meanwhile, Nixon carried this deep regret with him and what a huge cathartic moment for himself and the public alike to own up on what happened and let things go. Nicely done.

Gran Torino
I'm growing more and more obsessed with Clint Eastwood in recent years. He may not be the best filmmaker or actor in Hollywood, but he's a fascinating individual. His movies are always engaging and interesting, always of high quality and merit. I'll be digging through his catalogue for years and years. Even if he may not have the depth to be a great actor, he never fails to have an undeniably mesmerizing screen presence. And as for Gran Torino, it's just a pure delight, from top to bottom. It's tight, thoughtful, funny and endearing, featuring a light touch that I love seeing from Eastwood, the director.

First Secrets & Lies. Then Vera Drake. Now this, the third film from Mike Leigh to show up on my year end list. It's a disarmingly funny, sweet comedy about two very different people who live in their own isolated worlds. One's a cheerful optimist, while the other is a depressing lump of negative energy. And no, they don't end up together. They do, however, connect in surprising and meaningful ways. Sally Hawkins is a breath of fresh air.

In Bruges
When this movie came out earlier in the year, I was blown away by it. It was an original and refreshing buddy/crime movie about two criminals who are forced to hide in a small town while awaiting directions from a crime boss. Colin Farrell (who gets better every year) and Brendan Gleeson are pitch-perfect as the hitmen who pretend to be tourists in an incredibly boring town. Ralph Fiennes, who is having another great year, is smashingly electric as a live wire of a boss who keeps true to his word. Positively brilliant.

Iron Man
A terrific franchise-starter, if there ever was one. Iron Man was never meant to be just one film, so I saw this as the first episode of an entertaining, funny and rollicking action picture series. I love seeing Robert Downey, Jr. enjoy his newfound and well-deserved success. The man has more lives than a cat. Bring on the sequels!

John Adams
I don't consider myself a history buff in any way, shape or form. But this one piqued my interest thanks to the pedigree in front of and behind the camera. I learned quite a bit from this insightful, moving drama that traced the important events of John Adams's life. What really blew my mind was Paul Giamatti's performance, an acting powerhouse truly deserving of his Emmy and Golden Globe. It's the best thing he's ever done. And I can't leave out Laura Linney, stunning in every way as his legendary wife, best friend and supporter, Abigail. A high-class masterpiece.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
A delicious, flaky croissant of a movie. My grin was ear-to-ear from beginning to end as I watched the droll Frances McDormand play a street smart assistant who magically ends up in high places. Amy Adams gets more adorable in every movie she's in, and Cieran Hinds wonderfully plays against type as a love interest for the guarded Miss Pettigrew. The movie may be fluff, but it's really very charming fluff, indeed.

Rachel Getting Married
Everything about this movie clicked. The actors are undoubtedly convincing as a deeply wounded, tightly-knit family celebrating a major life-changing milestone. There's nothing pretentious or fake or staged about this film at all; it's the most electrifying, natural piece of cinema I have seen in many, many years. I know a sequel would be all wrong, a sin committed by the whores of Hollywood but, honestly, I'd kill to see any of these people again.

The Reader
This one surprised me. I was expecting a stuffy, sweeping epic with "important" messages about the Holocaust, long lost loves, and revisiting great pain and anguish. Boy, I love it when I'm wrong. It's actually a very quiet, introspective, life-affirming little drama that thrives on very small character moments instead of grand, cinematic gestures. Everyone shines in this worthy Best Picture nominee.

Slumdog Millionaire
It's the first movie in many years where a Best Picture winner never felt more deserving. It's a stirring journey, emotionally stimulating and cinematically electrifying. It's really the perfect mishmash of a typical Hollywood love story infused with dazzling visual beauty and pulsating, jazzy music. The final act is nothing short of invigorating. As the end credits were rolling, I felt like I could walk on water - the equivalent of a cinematic high.

Tropic Thunder
The funniest film of the year, bar none. Not every gag worked, of course, but the laughs were consistent and aplenty. The film looks really fantastic, like a big-budget action film, and the impeccable cast solidly delivers. And what else can I say about Robert Downey, Jr. that hasn't been said already?

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Woody Allen is on a late-career resurgence and it's really a pleasure to watch. I really loved his Match Point a few years back, and this one is just as blistering and enlightening. Penelope Cruz is well-deserving of her Oscar, but I would've love to have seen Rebecca Hall or Javier Bardem get some equal kudos as well. It's funny, absorbing, insightful -- another great work from a tireless and talented filmmaker.

Yet another gem from the folks at Pixar, a refreshingly adult computer-generated marvel that is truly a feast for the eyes on an HD screen. They've been steering away from the strictly-kiddie fare as of late, and I have mixed emotions. I miss the go-for-broke lunacy of Monsters, Inc and Toy Story, but I cannot deny the impeccable craftmanship and emotional resonance of their latest works. Wall-E is just another masterpiece from a long line of masterpieces.

This one came way out of left field. With no desire to see it on the big screen, Wanted languished on my queue for a few months before finally being shipped to my mailbox. I had a blast! It's one of the best-looking movies I've seen in a long time, the plot was so insane that it really worked, the camera-work was astounding and Angelina's lips never looked sexier. The film surprised me from beginning to end.

Honorary Mention
Appaloosa; Australia; Ballast; The Bank Job; Changeling; Chop Shop; The Class; The Dark Knight; Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father;  Defiance; Forgetting Sarah Marshall; Frozen River; Ghost Town; Hancock; The Happening; Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay; The Incredible Hulk; Lakeview Terrace; Let the Right One In; Marley & Me; Milk; Nothing But the Truth; Recount; Religulous; Role Models; Sex and the City; Snow Angels; Tell No One; Traitor; Transsiberian; The Visitor; Wendy and Lucy; The Wrestler; The X-Files: I Want to Believe


Matty V. said...

Great movie blog!

And I'm with you on Eastwood. My affection for his craft has grown immensely, particularly as a Director. Unforgiven and Mystic River are both enormous classics!

Dave said...

Thanks Matty, I appreciate that. And agreed - at his age, Eastwood is clearly unstoppable. I don't know how he does it.

Amir said...

i still can't quite make my mind up on what my favourite from this year is.
i'm always switching back and forth between the wrestler and in bruges.
wall-e comes a close third.
i remember being disappointed in general though that the year wasn't as good as 2007, but to be honest, most years aren't as good as that.
i think in retrospect, i've come to like a lot of these films on your list more than i did when i first watched them.

Dave said...

Amir, I completely agree with you in that at first glance, '08 is a disappointing year. There were only a handful of movies I would call truly *great* while the rest were just really very good. But then I looked at my fat honorable mentions list and realized that I was entertained quite a bit throughout the year. So in that regard, I really can't complain.

BTW - I'll help you decide on the Best Pic of '08: it's In Bruges. :-)

Thanks for writing!


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