Seven years removed from arguably the most defining moment in modern American History the world was finally starting to recover, though the fingerprints of 9/11 were still all over cinema. The first three pictures on the 2008 list have very political bends, and movies like “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo,” “W.,” and “Standard Operating Procedure” were starting to look at the role of the new U.S. on a global stage. While not all of the movies of the year wore it on their sleeves it was under the surface of others like “Man On Wire,” or “Frost/Nixon.” Things were starting to come back together right before they fell apart once again.
10 BEST FILMS OF 2008
1. BURN AFTER READING – DIR: The Coen Brothers This film won’t be remembered as one of their classics, but it was fun, interesting movie that captures a feeling of post-9/11 paranoia. I could have watched entire films dedicated to Brad Pitt or George Clooney’s characters. Actually the same goes for John Malkovich’s character. Or Francis McDormand’s. They could have a real franchise on their hands.
2. THE DARK KNIGHT – DIR: Christopher Nolan Despite the weird, hawkish message surrounding Bruce Wain’s determination to beat his enemy whatever the cost to his morality, and its tie in to the Patriot Act making me a bit queasy, this is a damn good movie. Usually the first in a series of a Superhero movie has a character arc, an origin story, a coming of age, but the sequel usually runs out of steam (except “Superman 2” which rules). “The Dark Knight” however gives Bruce Wayne one hell of an arc. The other reason I like Nolan’s version of Batman is because behind the mask is a human that is fragile and weak and broken… you know the way all heros should be.
3. GRAN TORINO – DIR: Clint Eastwood Here is one that is an iffy choice for most people, but I really liked it. The young Hmong non-professional actors turned a lot of the audience off, but I looked past that to the script. It is a smooth, tight, simple script that was moving, but pretty hilarious at the same time. The scene with Clint’s son as the white kid with a sideways hat is priceless. Clint is like a wine that gets better and more complex with age, but to the uninitiated they should just buy a bottle of 2008 Yellow Tail, it is easier to swallow if you don’t really want to work for it.
4. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN – DIR: Tomas Alfredson This is one of the best Vampire movies ever made, the anti-“Twilight.” It is eerie and touching, and the parts that are “Horror” are just great -the cats, the woman bursting into flames in the hospital room, and the coup de grace, the scene in the pool. It was a ballsy choice that paid off, and in fact is one of the coolest shots from the whole year. I can’t wait to see how Matt Reeves butchers the remake this year.
5. PINEAPPLE EXPRESS – DIR: David Gordon Green After hating all of David Gordon Green’s previous films I was weary of this. After not really liking James Franco in anything before this is was even more weary. Boy was I surprised by both of them. The super-melodramatic and eye-rollingly annoying directing hand turned in the one of the funniest movie of the year. And Franco goes back to his “Freaks and Geeks” comedy stylings, a role that I did like him in, and he steals the movie. He steals the movie from Danny McBride and Seth Rogan, two very funny men. This makes me have some hope for “Your Highness” later in 2010.
6. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE – DIR: Danny Boyle Finally the Academy got something right. Out of the nominees this was the best picture of the year. For being of the nation that oppressed India for almost a century Danny Boyle seems to really get the culture. Once again Irrfan Khan is amazing, and actually a bit scary as the cop.
7. THE STRANGERS – DIR: Bryan Bertino Such a simple movie, but damn was it effective. This was one of the few films in a long time to really scare the crap out of me. I even forgive Bertino for the moment when Dennis from “Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia” get shot in the face. It was contrived and telegraphed, but it actually kind of worked. And the concept itself is terrifying. Killers that have no reason, no motive, no apparent twisted history that made them into psychos, they are just sociopaths. Brutal.
8. WALL-E – DIR: Eric Stanton Pixar is the best. This was really gutsy to put thirty minutes of a movie with no dialogue following a robot around a world where everything is dead… and make it for kids. Also to make all of the people in the film just fat, automated losers? Hilarious. This is a pretty dark vision of our future to be aiming at the under ten set. Kudos Pixar.
9. THE WRESTLER – DIR: Darren Aronofsky Along with David Gordon Greene I haven’t liked any of Aronofsky’s previous pictures, but again I was really surprised. And as with Franco Mickey Rourke blew me out of the water. This is “Fat City” for a new generation, a generation bred of blood and violence, bred on 8 bit Nintendo, and sugar cereal and steroids. This is “Fat City” for me.
10. YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN – DIR: Dennis Dugan Adam Sandler shows up twice on the Best of the _Decade list? No way! Yes way. This movie is just pure fun and side splitting hilarity, but strangely has some acutely progressive sentiments on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It doesn’t shy away from the complexity of the issue, and while it does dumb it down a little it doesn’t dumb it down much. I guess this is what you would call a thinking man’s Happy Madison production.
10 WORST FILMS OF 2008
1. THE FOOT-FIST WAY – DIR: Jody Hill Where “Pineapple Express” soars to new highs, this mines new lows. Danny McBride has the capacity to be hilarious as seen in PE and “Tropic Thunder,” but the brand of comedy that he, Jody Hill, and Ben Best are selling I just don’t have any interest in buying. “East Bound and Down,” and “Observe and Report” have some really funny moments, but as a whole they are hard to get behind their brutally cynical message. Here I didn’t even think it was funny. Maybe they were sharpening their knives for later work, but this one is just dull.
2. THE HAPPENING – DIR: M. Night Shyamalan I ask again how does this guy continue to make movies?! Though I will give him the fact that Mark Walberg has about two funny lines in the movie overall it is unwatchable. It just keeps repeating the same scene over and over and over and over and over. The plot seems like it was a reject in the writers’ room of the 1980’s “Twilight Zone” show. It wasn’t even good enough to make it on to “Friday the 13th: The Series.”
3. JUMPER – DIR: Doug Liman Sam Jackson needs to stop with the hair. He says he finds his characters through the hair they wear. That’s just stupid. His blond mini-fro in this picture is so ridiculous it almost makes the rest of the horrible movie look good. The concept has real legs, but it is edited with a lawnmower. There are huge chunks of exposition missing so the film makes absolutely no sense.
4. LOST BOYS 2: THE TRIBE – DIR: P.J. Pesce I never thought I’d write this sentence, but Joel Schumacher did it right the first time. This movie isn’t even good for a laugh. Cory Feldman is so sad it his performance makes this movie a real tear jerker. The script is so bad, the film making so lame, it hardly even registers as a real movie, thus not tarnishing the legend of the original.
5. MAX PAYNE – DIR: John Moore Another film that looks like the editor was about as sensory deprived as Helen Kellar. I don’t know why Mila Kunis’ character was in the movie. I spent the entire time trying to figure it out. It was like skipping a reel because the parts that explained why anything was happening in this miserable film were excised in favor of more poorly done action.
6. QUARANTINE – DIR: John Ericke Dowdle Saw this in a double feature with “Max Payne,” and it was a bad day. The fist person, found footage thing is pretty annoying, but this takes it to new…um… mediums. Nothing interesting, nothing fun, boring, and stupid. And the trailer ruins the ending anyway so what is the point. If “The Strangers” is an mountain of horror quality, this is a valley.
7. RIGHTEOUS KILL – DIR: John Avnet Finally another movie with Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino! Wait, why are those Muppets playing DeNiro and Pacino? They look similar, they sound similar, but they are just inflated, over blown caricatures of the real thing. This is no “Heat.” If you want to see them on the same screen YouTube a window of the dancing scene from “Cruising,” and one of the Louis Cypher scenes from “Angel Heart,” put them side by side and you’ll be way better off.
8. SEX AND THE CITY: THE MOVIE – DIR: Michael Patrick King This movie isn’t a movie. It is a two and a half hour advertisement for a lifestyle that doesn’t exist directed toward sad Mid-Western housewives.
9. TWILIGHT – DIR: Catherine Hardwicke The book is simpering drivel, but for some reason it captures the hearts and minds of Twi-Hards everywhere, I don’t pretend to understand. I do know that this is just a piss poor adaptation from page to screen. It looks like a Lifetime movie and Kristen Stewart is more melodramatic than a Douglas Sirk movie on gay steroids. But then again there is R.Patz. Love the hair. But going forward let it be known I’m on Team Charlie.
10. X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE – DIR: Chris Carter I wanted to believe too, but this movie made a cynic out of me. 2008 was the year movies figured they didn’t have to explain what was going on to the audience. And I’m not talking about ambiguity, this goes way beyond. “Max Payne,” “Jumper,” this movie all skip over major portions of the explanation. I don’t know what happens in this movie, I don’t know what the mystery actually was, or why it was an X-File in the first place. Chris Carter should have quit while he was already behind. Seriously, did you watch the last couple seasons of that show?
MOST OVER RATED FILM OF 2008
IRON MAN – DIR: Jon Favraeu Don’t get me wrong, this movie is much better than a lot of the entries into the genre, but it isn’t as good as everyone says. It hovers above the mediocre mark, but nowhere near “The Dark Knight.” Sure Robert Downey Jr. is fun, and the effects are cool, and the movie is exciting, but the third act falls apart. Was he fighting a Transformer?
MOST UNDER RATED FILM OF 2008
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL – DIR: Steven Speilberg Don’t get me wrong, this movie is a lot worse than any of the others in the series, but it isn’t as bad as everyone says. It hovers below the mediocre mark, but nowhere near “The Happening.” Sure Mutt sucks, but the effects are cool, and the movie is kind of exciting, it is just the second half of the second act gets too cartoonish. Had they stuck to the script Frank Darabont had written this film would have been amazing, but they didn’t, so there is a greaser swinging through the trees with monkeys and a quicksand scene with a snake for a rope. It is dumb, but it is still Indiana Jones so I love it – even though inside I cried.
These lists are almost done. 2009 on the way.
By Paul S. Myers