Monday, January 26, 2009

The Film Babble Blog Top Ten Movies Of 2008

Like last year, I held off making this post earlier because there were several contenders I hadn’t seen yet. It seems my area is the last to get certain movies in current circulation. Also, I still haven’t seen a number of movies I see making other ‘Top Ten’ lists including WALTZ FOR BASHIR, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, and FROZEN RIVER among many others that are filling my NetFlix queue right now. Of course, nobody could see every movie in the running so now is as good a time as any to list my favorites. So here’s my Top Ten:

1. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (Dir. Charlie Kaufman)

It got snubbed by the Academy and many critics dissed on Kaufman’s epic tragicomic (as Wikipedia calls it) but I loved every sad sordid symbolic second. Philip Seymour Hoffman as the literally crumbing playwright Cayden Cotard builds sets inside of sets inside a ginormous warehouse recreating New York with New Yorkers and the actors that play them – including him. Joining him is maybe the best female ensemble cast ever assembled for such a movie - Catherine Keener, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Michelle Williams, and the great Diane Wiest. Maybe it was just too cerebral and complex to catch on but I believe time will lay waste to much of the competition while this beyond meta-masterpiece will still stand strong. My original review is right here.

2. WALL-E (Dir. Andrew Stanton)

Such a dark dystopian premise for such a cute heartwarming movie that plays beautifully like sci-fi Chaplin. Wall-E (I’m sure you well know but I’ll tell you again anyway) is a garbage compacting robot left behind on Earth hundreds of years from now who falls in love with a search probe (who by design looks like a large iPod) sent by the Buy N Large Corporation. It doesn’t sound like the sort of stuff that would make one swoon but Pixar yet again proves they can do anything from making rats lovable (and here that extends to cockroaches) to making us believe robots can love. An animated instant classic as my original review proclaimed.

3. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (Dir. Danny Boyle)

There’s been an odd mini comment war on my original review of this delightful yet edgy Mumbai success story, which goes to show that this was one of the most talked about and vital movies of the year. It’s an amazing spectacle from start to finish with protagonist taking us through his hard knock life by way of a glittery game show – the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. As the comments on my post suggest, some folks couldnt get past the violence or what they thought was an inaccurate cultural depiction but dammit, I thought it was a stone cold blast! I’ll bet (again literally) it’ll win Best Picture at the Oscars.

4. FROST/NIXON (Dir. Ron Howard) Nice to see Opie Cunningham take a break from the dumb DaVinci Codage and revisit his old 70’s stomping ground to take on everybody’s favorite nemesis – Nixon. These were definitely not Happy Days though for the impeached President (played magnificently by Frank Langella) making a $huge$ deal for a series of TV interviews with the slickly ambitious David Frost (Michael Sheen) while in self-imposed exile in California. As riveting as a round in the ring with “The Ram” (see next entry) this showdown scores on every front with ace casting (in addition to the leads – Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, Rebecca Hall,and Oliver Platt mull about entertainingly), a great screenplay by Peter Morgan (THE QUEEN), and Howard’s best direction in ages. My original review? Oh yeah, it’s here.

5. THE WRESTLER (Dir. Darren Aronofsky) Yeah, it’s true – Mickey Rourke is back and I’ll be surprised as Hell if he doesn’t take

home the gold come February because nobody else literally went to the mat like this! Call it a comeback for Randy “The Ram” Robinson who may be washed up and working at a supermarket estranged from his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) while pinning for a stripper (Marisa Tomei) but he’s overdue for redemption even if it means he’s going down for the count. This character is going down in cinema history for sure – read my original review for more gushing about this gritty gutsy grabber of a movie.

6. THE FALL (Dir. Tarsem Singh)

This fantastical visually splendorific film is all the more impressive because it contains no CGI. It’s a colorful joyful ride through fairy tale conventions which, crazily enough, orginates from a tale told in the 1930’s by a injured stuntman (Lee Pace) as a bargaining tool to get a young girl (Catinca Untaru) to break in to their hospital’s sanctuary to steal morphine for him. It’s vivid and emotional in all the right places with folks appearing WIZARD OF OZ style both in real life and the fantasy scenerios. Again you can read my praising review here.

7. THE DARK KNIGHT (Dir. Chris Nolan)

The more you think about it, the more flawed this film is. Batman’s (Christian Bale) exaggerated gravelly voice, ersatz plot elements like ‘hey, what happened to the folks at the skyscraper party after Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhall) was rescued by the caped crusader?’, and the unnecessary Hong Kong subplot (ThePlaylist jabbed some of these complaints funnily enough here). All may rub movie logical minds wrong but what did work here is arguably as good as movies can get. Heath Ledger’s amazing performance as the demented Joker was precision defined while the Gotham grandeur frighteningly filled every frame. Read me clumsily reach for more operatic poetry here.

8. IRON MAN (Dir. Jon Favreau)

Another superhero movie sure, but with Robert Downey Jr. in the metallic title role, Gwyneth Paltrow as the love interest, and Jeff Bridges as his adversary, it’s one Hell of a superhero movie! Downey Jr. is both intense and funny as Tony Stark and the streamlined shiny production surrounding him is perfectly provided by Favreau. Yep, a class action movie as I reported last summer here.

9. THE VISITOR (Dir. Thomas McCarthy) I was elated that Richard Jenkins was nominated for a best actor award for this fine understated Indie movie that many ignored late last Spring (Mind you - I dont think hell win). As a displaced professor who finds 2 illegal immigrants (Haaz Sleiman and Danai Jekesai Gurira) living in his New York apartment and forms an unfortunately brief friendship, Jenkins finds a graceful ingratiating tone and a note that will resonate long after a single viewing. Yep, more here.

10. VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA (Dir. Woody Allen)

More than just a fine return to form, the Woodman gives us a lush and lavish look at the loony intertwined coupling that the ladies of the title encounter on their trip abroad. Javier Bardem woos Scarlet Johansen, Rebecca Hall, and what Allen has before called a “Kamikaze woman” - wife Penélope Cruz (she may yet woo the Academy). Were all woo-ed in the end - well, at least I was. Read all about it here.

Spillover:

Again, the ones that didn't quite make the Top Ten grade but were still good, sometimes great flicks - click on the title for my original review.

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (Dir. David Gordon Green) A great Apatow-appoved comedy that like the next few titles got the Spillover shaft by my silly blog.

FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (Dir. Nicholas Stoller)

TROPIC THUNDER (Dir. Ben Stiller)

MAN ON WIRE (Dir. James Marsh) Great intense doc in which even the re-creations make for great cinema.

4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS

GRAN TORINO (Dir. Clint Eastwood) It got strangely shut out come award season (which is strange because the Academy loves Clint) but its a strong addition to the Eastwood canon.

SHINE A LIGHT (Dir. Martin Scorsese)

One of the worlds greatest directors filming one of the world’s greatest bands - maybe Im just biased because I was blown away by the movie at an IMAX theater last Spring but I still think itll hold up as one of the best concert films ever in years to come.

W. (Dir. Oliver Stone)

BURN AFTER READING (Dirs. Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, 2008) Trivial throw-away Coen Brothers fare still makes for great movie-time in my book - or on my blog that is.

MILK (Dir. Gus Vant Sant) Biopicalicious!

More later...

2 comments:

Anuz said...

slum dog? isn't it way too overrated?

The Cheap-Arse Film Critic said...

Sadly, I think Mickey may have flushed away his Oscar chances by agreeing to appear at "WrestleMania." The Academy may now go with (gah) Sean Penn just to make some kind of political statement, even though right now there's no statement to make. They're very "Rain Man" like that.