January 3, 2009

Movies of 2008

To echo my friend Sam, 2008 has not been an outstanding year for film. I was uncertain whether I would even be able to comprise a list or not this year. Thankfully, the "let's-get-these-out-in-time-for-awards-consideration" group managed to bulk up an otherwise meager collection. Here are my favorites, this year in order:

1) The Wrestler - Darren Aronofksy's film about a washed-out professional wrestler (played by Mickey Rourke). A more tragic hero you will not find. No romanticizing here. Rourke moves his character through the film like a dying quarter horse. Painful to watch at times, but the story invokes so much empathy without manipulation. The acting is genuine with only a few exceptions of contrivance (oddly enough both of the scenes Rourke was given permission to re-write in his own words).

2) Slumdog Millionaire - A close second for me. High marks for one of the most original stories I've ever come across. Setting, characters, music--everything works together. Danny Boyle (director) works magic in this one...and the child actors are outstanding. The only reason I place it second is because I'm a sucker for pared-down films that feel raw around the edges. This one is more polished than The Wrestler, but probably the best under-dog story since Rocky.

3) In Bruges - Usually I run in the other direction when Colin Farrell is in a film, but with Ralph Fiennes in it I had to check it out. The trailers do not do the film justice. Humor aside, the story works through themes of tragic and grief in a bizarre mix of contrition and violence. Best dialogue in any film this year.

4) Religulous - Not a perfect film by any means, but I admire Maher's tenacity. He puts those unanswerable questions to the major world religions and gets some hilarious results. His conversation with a priest outside of the Vatican made the entire film. To hear the priest concede to so many of Maher's points, in such a funny manner, was a pleasant surprise. Maher shoots himself in the foot a little, sometimes going for the cheap laugh or repeating himself ad nauseum. In some ways he's a bit of a one-trick pony. Still, one of the better films this year.

5) The Bank Job - Bit of a surprise for me. Must have been the impeccable retro 70's setting. No anachronisms that I could find. Great dialogue, good--albeit slightly predictable plot. It's one of those smooth films you don't realize you like so much until the end.

I know I'm supposed to mention Iron Man and The Dark Knight. Whatever. Good, not great, in my mind. Dark Knight actually got dull for me on the last viewing, though I thoroughly enjoyed it the first two times. Iron Man was a bit better, but the whole "battle-of-the-robots" bit was silly and anti-climactic.

Other films I wish I could have watched in time for this post: Doubt, Revolutionary Road, The Reader, The Class, Burn After Reading, Nothing But The Truth.

Sadly, I have to confess falling out of touch with international films this year. Chalk it up to parenthood, I guess. Von Trier was supposed to release Antichrist--a Creation story only with Satan creating the world. I've heard nothing else about it. Frustrating for me as I enjoy foreign films.

There you have it. Agree or not.


Anonymous said...

So glad you listed In Bruges. This is a special film that I was worried would be forgotten since it was released so early in 2008. Hopefully it will at least get a best original screenplay nod for writer/director Martin McDonagh.

(I highly recommend his short film Six Shooter which won the Academy Award: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0425458/)

I also enjoyed Valkyrie. But then again, I don't have a hate on for Tom Cruise, which seems to put me in the minority.

Harry Tournemille said...

I've heard of Six-Shooter. Will definitely check it out now. I don't really dislike Cruise either. His films generally are entertaining, though I never believe his acting...it's always "Tom Cruise playing so and so" rather than the actual character coming forth. Valkyrie looked good to me, so I'll check it out as well.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I wouldn't say he's a great actor (though he's always fully committed) but you have to respect his film choices: Magnolia, Eyes Wide Shut, Vanilla Sky, Collateral, Born on the Fourth of July. And he never 'whores' himself like so many of our great actors do (Nicholas Cage, Morgan Freeman, Al Pacino, etc.). Yes, he does the Mission Impossible films, but he intentionally chooses a different director each time to give each one a unique look. It's hard not to admire the guy.

There's a great podcast here about the writing and making of Valkyrie from the movie's writer and producer, Christopher McQuarrie:

Harry Tournemille said...

Agreed, though Vanilla Sky and Collateral had issues in my books. Bryan Singer is a good director, though. So I don't doubt Valykyrie has its merits.

As for the whoring, he may not do so in his films...but do you think he might when it comes to PR?

Anonymous said...

Well, the quality of the film to me ends with the director, not the actor. I'm only saying that he clearly takes his choices seriously and isn't afraid to take risks. I don't like Collateral myself - there's something about Michael Mann films that just don't land with me (including Heat, though The Insider wasn't bad.). But I did like Vanilla Sky. I think it's a very good and substantial film. Besides seeing it a number of times, I spent a day comparing it scene by scene with the original and think it's actually much better. (But I happen to really like Cameron Crowe films, Singles not withstanding.)

To me, both choices are risky on his part: one plays against his good looks, and one turns him into a graying, lonely man who dies on a train.

In terms of PR, I think he probably regrets the Oprah incident more than anyone else. I mean the guy's only human. I can't imagine what I would do if I was in his shoes. I'd screw up regularly. He's done something really dumb once. And all it was was letting his guard down too much - being too transparent. The rest of the publicity is not of his doing (paparazzi, etc.). I think we are remiss to judge a guy based on what US magazine says about him.

Harry Tournemille said...

Good Lord, you sound like his biggest fan...ha ha. Funny how Cruise's embarrassing antics come directly after his firing of his long-time PR agent. He strikes me as a carefully-orchestrated celebrity...who just happens to believe in aliens inhabiting our bodies and living in space for 80 trillion years.

I don't know him, so I can only make the most superficial of comments to his person. But if letting your guard down results in really bizarre behaviour...hmm. And I've never read US Magazine.

I don't disagree with your assessment of Vanilla Sky (and I recall your affection for Crowe--Singles as a great soundtrack). In fact, I was loving the film right up until the last twenty minutes or so. There, it fell into the sphere of over-explanation for the audience. There's a scene earlier on, the "realization", that would have been the ideal ending.

Mann films don't work for me either. Very little substance to them. Miami Vice was utter garbage.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I am coming off as one of his apologists, aren't I?! LOL!

Vanilla Sky ending: that's interesting. My favourite part is the jump and the memories and images that fly through his mind.

Glad we agree on Mann. I avoided Miami Vice. (I've got a copy of The Celebration on my shelf right now that I'm looking to watch in the next week. I'm sure you'd approve...)

Harry Tournemille said...

Why are you still typing when you could be watching The Celebration?


Sam said...


I'm glad to see someone else likes Tom Cruise. I agree that he's not the most believable of actors, but he makes good films. He's like a slightly upgraded Keanu Reeves.

I think Michael Mann is a terrific director, going back to Manhunter (the original Red Dragon with William Peterson). I love the look of his films--that bleached bypass effect he uses is gorgeous.

Miami Vice isn't great--it's not like The Insider or Heat--and the first time I watched it I turned it off twenty minutes in. Later I gave it another shot and really enjoyed it. The actions scenes were very downplayed and the tactics seemed quite realistic, especially when compared with boneheads like Michael Bay. It's a better film than it's given credit for.

I'm sure In Bruges is a brilliant film, but Colin Farrell AND a midget? That's a lot to ask me to stomach, Harry. I'm surprised that you picked the Bank Job--the cover has a "direct to video" stink to it, though on your recommendation I'll give it a shot.

It's funny how watching 4 straight seasons of NYPD Blue can drain your interest in watching movies, even really good ones. I'm going through Sipowicz withdrawal.

I can't wait for the Wrestler. And Valkyrie. And Gran Torino.

Harry Tournemille said...

I never said I didn't like Tom Cruise. Shit, I dug The Last Samurai when it came out, Collateral too. He's just not up there with the greats.

I loved Heat when it first came out. Watched it at least twenty times. Now, when I catch it on TV or something, I find it vacant. You're right about the look of Mann's films though. Collateral was cool.

Yeah, Bank Job is a pick a lot of people may not agree with. But I really dug it for some reason. Might have been the perfect day for such films.

The success of Gran Torino rests solely on Eastwood's shoulders, I'd say. The acting from the rest of the cast is horrific...and I mean truly awful. But Eastwood is pure menace and anger and when he threatens a hoodlum...well, I think I peed a little.

I'd like to see Valkyrie too.

Sam said...


Harry Tournemille said...

Oh my. Too good.