Saturday, January 31, 2009
But in my Edit II class the discussion about shooting films started, where my teacher said film (as in the stock, not the art form) is a dying breed. Everything's going digital now. Why by a print on film of the new blockbuster when you can download it to your digital projector? Now I have to admit, digital does look amazing and is convenient. The image is incredibly clear and it's cheaper overall. It's allowed epics like Che to even get made. But film? That's what I started on at Columbia and the bond it makes with the person is incredibly personal. Shooting on film is your one-shot. You mess up in any way and your film is destroyed. But that's the beauty of it! It's that love/hate relationship that brought me satisfaction with my finished product. Digital film makes it easy, sure, but you can't deny the depth that using film stock gives an image. I really hope my teacher is wrong and film stays around, at least as another option for filmmakers to use.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
THE UNBORN is the story of a girl named Casey who almost has it all: a loyal best friend, a loyal boyfriend, and a good life ahead of her. She begins to become plagued by strange nightmares and visions of mortal terror.
Her best friend dabbles in mysticism and tells her the dreams could mean anything. A strange incident happens in which a small boy that Casey is babysitting violently strikes her with a mirror in the face and tells her the ominus words "JUMBY wants to be born now."
JUMBY is a dybbuk (Jewish word for demon) that has assumed the form of her unborn twin brother and is using the girl to enter our world via mirrors.
Casey uncovers family secrets and a curse on her bloodline that dates back to the Holocaust. What began before Casey was born, the dybbuk wants to finish. It wants to use Casey to enter the human world and is willing to go through everyone that is close to her to do that.
At times, this movie reminded me of THE REAPING with Hillary Swank. The stories seemed similar to me in that A) a nonbeliever finds faith in the most harshest possible way and B) a young woman is the focal point in which supernatural events are set in motion. It also had hints of THE RING and THE EXCORCIST in it. I won't say whether this ends well or not.
The film itself was enjoyable. It is the perfect date movie for a quiet dark theater. However, I was not in a quiet dark theater. So, my review for this film is somehow skewed by my memory of little tween girls screaming, belching, farting, giggling, talking, yelling, and being absolutely, completely bitch ass ignorant through out the whole film. But, I digress.
The special effects were choice in this movie. People with twisted heads walking backwards on all fours will haunt my nightmares. Or maybe if I concentrate, they can eat the little tweens that made me waste soda on myself.
I can only wonder.
Friday, January 23, 2009
(Note: I've left out a lot of films that I personally loved; this is strictly what I think were the best films of last year. Also, some of these are actually nominated. That's because they deserved it.)
The Dark Knight
Synecdoche, New York
Benicio Del Toro - "Che"
Frank Langella - "Frost/Nixon"
Leonardo DiCaprio - "Revolutionary Road"
Mickey Rourke - "The Wrestler"
Phillip Seymour Hoffman - "Synecdoche, New York"
Angelina Jolie - "Changeling"
Anne Hathaway - "Rachel Getting Married"
Kate Winslet - "Revolutionary Road"
Kristen Scott Thomas - "I've Loved You So Long"
Meryl Streep - "Doubt"
Best Supporting Actor:
James Franco - "Pineapple Express"
Heath Ledger - "The Dark Knight"
Mathieu Almaric - "A Christmas Tale"
Ralph Fiennes - "In Bruges"
Robert Downey Jr. - "Tropic Thunder"
Best Supporting Actress:
Elsa Zylberstein - "I've Loved You So Long"
Penelope Cruz - "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Rosemarie DeWitt - "Rachel Getting Married"
Samantha Morton - "Synecdoche, New York"
Tilda Swinton - "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Encounters At The End Of The World
Gonzo: The Life & Work Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Man On Wire
Young @ Heart
Foreign Language Film:
A Christmas Tale
Don't Look Down (No Mires Para Abajo)
Let The Right One In
Tell No One
Thursday, January 22, 2009
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Sean Penn - MILK
Mickey Rourke - THE WRESTLER
Frank Langella - FROST/NIXON
Brad Pitt - THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Richard Jenkins - THE VISITOR
Meryl Streep - DOUBT
Anne Hathaway - RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
Kate Winslet - THE READER
Melissa Leo - FROZEN RIVER
Angelina Jolie - CHANGELING
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Heath Ledger - THE DARK KNIGHT
Robert Downey, Jr. - TROPIC THUNDER
Philip Seymour Hoffman - DOUBT
Josh Brolin - MILK
Michael Shannon - REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Marisa Tomei - THE WRESTLER
Amy Adams - DOUBT
Penelope Cruz - VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
Taraji P. Henson - THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Viola Davis - DOUBT
BEST ANIMATED FILM
KUNG FU PANDA
Danny Boyle - SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
David Fincher - THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Stephen Daldry - THE READER
Ron Howard - FROST/NIXON
Gus Van Sant - MILK
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Simon Beaufoy - SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
Eric Roth - THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Peter Morgan - FROST/NIXON
John Patrick Shanley - DOUBT
David Hare - THE READER
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Courtney Hunt - FROZEN RIVER
Dustin Lance Black - MILK
Martin McDonough - IN BRUGES
Mike Leigh - HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon - WALL-E
BEST ART DIRECTION
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
THE DARK KNIGHT
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
THE DARK KNIGHT
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD
MAN ON WIRE
TROUBLE THE WATER
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
"The Conscience of Nhem En"
"The Final Inch"
"The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306"
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
THE DARK KNIGHT
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX
WALTZ WITH BASHIR
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
"Down to Earth" - WALL-E
"Jai Ho" - SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
"O Saya" - SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
BEST ANIMATED SHORT
"La Maison de Petits Cubes"
"Lavatory - Lovestory"
"This Way Up"
BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT
"Auf der Strecke (On the Line)"
"Manon on the Asphalt"
BEST SOUND EDITING
THE DARK KNIGHT
BEST SOUND MIXING
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
THE DARK KNIGHT
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
THE DARK KNIGHT
Okay. Now, most of you know how I felt about "The Reader," so let me just say that, in year when "The Dark Knight," "Wall-E," "Doubt," "Gran Torino," "Synecdoche, New York," "Revolutionary Road," "The Wrestler" and "Changeling" could have been in the spot, they picked the most heavy-handed, criminally overrated movie to go in instead. Incredible.
I'm actually really surprised to see such a snub for "Revolutionary Road" too. I mean, really surprised. I figured that would be one of THE heavy favorites. Apparently, when I said it'd be too depressing to make it in, I was right. I still think it should've been nominated. Not won, but nominated.
Glad to see "Slumdog" in there, I'd say it's the definite favorite out of those five. "Reader" excluded, all the nominees are quality films. I thought "Milk" would suffer from a lack of buzz, so I'm pleasantly surprised to see that it made it through. "Frost/Nixon" was impeccably acted, though Michael Sheen should be up for something. He's onscreen more than Langella is.
The Springsteen song from "The Wrestler" should've been nominated. Like, this is not up for debate. And since when did "Best Original Song" go from five nominations to three? Last year, we sat through three different numbers from "Enchanted."
Also: Not that anybody's going to beat Ledger, but RDJ being nominated for "Tropic Thunder" is fantastic. The definition of a supporting role is a role that stands out despite less screen time, and that movie would've totally blown without him. He carried it, and it's good to see him nominated.
All in all, a mostly decent crop. But "The Reader"? Boo.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
The premise appears to go deeper than it truly does. Michael (David Kross) is a young man living in pre-WWII Germany. One day, he collapses while attempting to return home from school, and a mysterious woman helps him. He returns to her apartment months later to bring her flowers and thank her, but sees her getting dressed. He can't help but watch, and she gets angry. He makes good with her, and they end up having an affair. At the end of their summer together, she disappears. Heartbroken even years later, Michael goes off to law school, where his class goes to observe a Nazi war crimes trial. Lo and behold, Hanna (Winslet) is on trial as a guard at Auschwitz who let 300 Jews die in a burning church. There's also a lot of jumping back to the present, where a grown Michael (Ralph Fiennes) is recalling these events.
The film has an intriguing premise, and starts intrestingly. Kross and Winslet are nude for quite literally the first half of the movie, having sex pretty much the entire time. You can see why the Weinstein Company put the film out; not a lot of other studios would take on a film this sexually charged. The trouble, however, is that there's no eroticism to their sex. It could be argued that this is to illustrate the detachment of Hanna, I understand that completely, but no filmmaker fills half his film with sex purely to make a point. That much onscreen sexuality is designed to shock and tittilate, I'm sorry.
Then, there is The Turn. I've been referring to it with such capital-letter drama ever since I bought it. If ever there was an example of a film's revelation killing the movie instantly, this is it. I actually figured it out about twenty minutes in, but I was dearly hoping I was wrong. The twist, which I'm not going to spoil, is supposed to be a heartbreaking shock designed to connect Michael and Hanna through a lifetime, and a game-changing secret that could save her from going to prison, but instead it's just silly. I mean, laugh-out-loud ridiculous, especially when the film plays it with a completely straight face.
I understand that there is a market for this film, and I know people who have thoroughly enjoyed it. I'll be the first to admit that this isn't my kind of film. Like I said about "Doubt" a few weeks ago, the film is designed to grab at awards and devastate a very specific audience, and just so my words aren't misunderstood, that audience is high-minded filmgoers who don't really attend movies to enjoy them anymore. The truth is that this film isn't aggravating, or provocative, or any other adjective. It's not really memorable enough to warrant such terms.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Was Sally Hawkins drunk when she accepted her award for Best Actress?
For that matter, were Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman as well?
I really wish alcohol was part of the Oscars.
(Oh, and I'm really disappointed Kate Winslet won for "The Reader," not because I don't like her in it. The movie was shit, and I was hoping it'd just fade into obscurity. More on that tomorrow.)
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Full of humble acceptance speeches, none more so than Kate Winslet's for her supporting actress role in the Reader. It was evident that Sydney Pollock's loss was felt by all who had worked with him. And Winslet also won for her best actress role in Revolutionary Road, upsetting the favorites Meryl Streep and Angelina Jolie. Well, in all fairness, they were happy for her, but in my mind, all awards go to Meryl Streep. I like her that much.
Slum Dog Millionaire, a movie I plan to see, did win for best screenplay and I sense that was a possible upset in that category.
The Cecile B. Demille Honoree for the evening was Steven Speilberg. His career has spanned the whole of my movie watching life and some of his best works (JAWS, BAND OF BROTHERS, ET., AI, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, etc.) are always worth revisiting.
In his acceptance speech, (I am paraphrasing) Spielberg said that while we strive to make movies for broader audiences that Hollywood's elite and non-elite should remember that they are a group of individuals that inspire each other. I automatically remembered those theatre people being labeled as weird in high school and then remembered how proud I was to count myself among them.
The Best director award went to SLUM DOG MILLIONAIRE'S Danny Boyle. (I have really got to see this film). The award that Pineapple Express's James Franco was up for went to Colin Farell for IN BRUGES. Colin stuttered during his rambling speech, but was surprisingly humble and very serious.
Other winners were
Best Film Musical or Comedy: Vicki Christina Barcelona
Best Actor in a Film/Drama: Mickey Rourke (And I hear that no one deserved it more.)
Best Film/Drama: Slum Dog Millionaire
I smell Oscar for some of these. We can only wait and see. I am not an expert. I am just a random blogger with time.
Mad Men won over my beloved True Blood for best tv drama. That sucked. But Anna Paquin won best actress for her role in True Blood, so that makes up for it in a way.
A lot of people say that Anna Paquin can't carry a lead role. I say, how could the Hollywood foriegn press be wrong?
Saturday, January 10, 2009
The film is the story of the Wheelers, April (Kate Winslet) and Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio), and their rapid decline into a profound loathing of each other. They start off like a couple we've all known, talked to, been parented by, etc. They meet, young and idealistic, after locking eyes from across a crowded room. She tells him "You might be the most interesting man I've ever known." Love blossoms, and soon they are married and moving out of the city to raise a family. In one of the film's cruelest touches, we don't get the comfort of seeing them in better times. Soon, the gravity of living in the suburbs and being just like everybody else begins to weigh heavily on both of them.
April has a plan, however. They'll move back to Paris. After all, Paris is where Frank was happiest in his youth, so they can go back. She'll even work as a government secretary so that he can find himself. It's a perfect plan, one that will save their marriage and allow them to be the people that they want to be, instead of the people they've become. Needless to say, not everything goes according to plan. The trouble with reviewing a film of this nature is that it is, above all other things, a character study, and so revealing anymore would tarnish the impact of the performances, which are the center of the film.
As performances go, this film features what may very well be the year's two best. DiCaprio and Winslet are both absolutely brilliant. They are so filled with hope early on that when things go south, we feel every moment of their pain, we are stung by every venomous barb they throw at each other. Winslet is especially impressive; in "The Reader," also in theaters now, she looked like she was sleeping through the film. Here, she is fearless. In her hands, April is sympathetic even as she does increasingly bad things without a hint of repentance. She fell in love with a man for all the things he once was and no longer is, and this has caused a massive upheaval of her existence; after all, we all know what happens when you make one thing your entire life and that single thing fails you in the long run.
Frank, however, is every bit as devastated. Unlike April, he feels as though he has to keep his cards hidden close to the chest. As the man of the family, he must provide and keep a level head. When he begins to feel as though April is emasculating him, he must subsequently find ways to make himself feel truly like a man again. He must also find a way to understand April, but what he cannot see is that she is beyond understanding. They are two people not made for each other, and have been together too long to overcome this.
The casting of these two in particular, I think, is quite cruel. After all, the last film they starred in was "Titanic," the highest-grossing film of all time. More importantly, in that film they played Jack and Rose, possibly the most iconic lovers in cinema history. (I've personally always preferred Rick and Ilsa, but that's just me.) Because of this immediate association with the undying power of true love, watching them rip each other to shreds in this film attains an entirely different level of devastation besides the obvious.
I often have trouble speaking highly of movies like this, because going back to the beginning of this review, it's difficult to say that I enjoyed a movie this depressing. Then, however, I think of something Roger Ebert said when he reviewed "The Weather Man," a criminally underrated film that also serves as a dark character study: "No good movie should ever be called depressing." "Revolutionary Road" is a good film, though not a great one. The sterility of everything around the Wheelers feels a bit forced; though I know Mendes meant to further illustrate the central concept, it's a bit much. It's good enough to deserve the likely Best Picture nomination, I can say that. Will it be relevant years from now? To some, sure, but not to all. I can see the same people who hated "American Beauty" disliking this film, and I personally preferred the former.
Friday, January 9, 2009
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro and Scripted by (none other than) Neil Gaman.
I am so excited.
For those of you that don't know, Dr. Strange is Marvel comics "Sorceror Supreme". All around, he is probably one of the most read Marvel Comic book characters.
I expect a tour de force script with mind bending special effects out the wazoo for this one. But, I have to wait. Damn it.
I hope to all the powers in the Universe that this is not a rumor.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
10. Cloverfield - One of the philosophies of filmmaking that I buy into the most is the idea that any film can be as strange as it wants, as long as it plays by the rules of the universe it's created for itself, so that it all makes some kind of sense when the end credits roll. To this end, "Cloverfield" is absolute genius. Its central conceit is the reason a lot of people hated it: One man's shaky hand-held camera captures their attempts to escape New York City as it's being laid to waste by a gigantic monster of some kind. The characters are human; they crack bad jokes, bicker and worry about seemingly pointless things. Wouldn't you go running to find your significant other in a time of crisis, even if it was a foolish and potentially life-threatening knee-jerk reaction? Because of the nature of the film's narrative, there's no scientist appearing to offer helpful exposition midway through the film; this also helps, as there's no comfort zone to hide within. The film is sheer survival terror for all of its 85 minutes, which in and of itself is novel. When's the last time you saw a major Hollywood release run under an hour and a half and work?
9. Synecdoche, New York - The first time I watched "Synecdoche," my mind was absolutely blown. I knew I'd just watched a frustrating, confounding work of genius that's impossible to process on a single viewing. About three weeks later, I saw it a second time, and this time was deeply aggravated that it hadn't yet revealed all its secrets and explanations to me. Only upon further reflection did I finally understand what Charlie Kaufman said about the film, that it's meant to be felt, rather than explained. If you embrace that idea, it's one of the most haunting films released in the past few years. On the most basic level, it's about a director (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who tries to re-create life itself in a play and fails. Really, it's a tale of the dangers of playing God, the power of lifelong love, the agony of regret, the ability of a single event to be equally comic and tragic, the dangers of becoming consumed with one's art and about a million other things. All these ideas build to the bleakest of climaxes, but for as tragic as this film is, I think the Onion's A.V. Club hit the nail right on the head: "At the least, it's likely to be challenging viewers long after most of this year's Oscar-bait has been forgotten."
8. My Winnipeg - A movie that is beyond strange, "My Winnipeg" is the result of the highly questionable decision of the titular Canadian city's tourism board to ask notoriously strange director Guy Maddin to write and direct a documentary on his hometown. In a sense, it is a documentary, but only if the term can be applied to a movie that's based partly in urban legend, partly in fantasy and occasionally in actual events. As Maddin feverishly narrates the film, imagining the intersection of major rivers as the space between a woman's legs and asserting that all major city streets are named after famous prostitutes, there seems to be nothing but hate on his part towards his hometown. This couldn't be further from the truth. As he tries to fight the town's natural lulling properties long enough to leave, he remembers being born in the old Winnipeg Jets' NHL arena and living above a beauty salon, picnicking on a lake filled with dead, frozen horses and stumbling into a school filled with hazardously beautiful teenage girls. Beneath the bizarre animation sequences and the re-enactments of events that may or may not have actually happened, there's a genuinely moving love letter to not only Maddin's hometown, but to the universal idea that we can go wherever we may in life, but whatever place is home to us exerts an irresistible pull, which for all our hate or disregard cannot ever be escaped.
7. The Wrestler - I'll avoid talking about the genius of Mickey Rourke's performance as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, because every other critic under the sun has been lavishing him with word-jobs ever since this film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. He's phenomenal, as is Marissa Tomei as his pole-dancing love interest (though I have to wonder if she plans on being naked in every film she stars in from now on, not that I have complaints), but the real magic of "The Wrestler" is its unwillingness to judge professional wrestling in the way everybody from Congress to elitists have over the years. The film features a host of actual wrestlers and nails every detail, down to the calling of moves during matches and the verbiage used. It also illustrates Robinson as a representation of several ex-wrestlers I've read about over the years, who so desperately tried to cling onto their prior spotlight that they sunk into various addictions, squandered their riches and either disappeared or up and died. That the film makes a sympathetic, honest character out of Robinson is a near-miracle. That it does the same for wrestling, in a film made for the sort of viewers and critics that have dismissed it as redneck for the past few decades is nothing short of incredible.
6. In Bruges - The film starts off by posing the question that we all wonder: "Where the fuck is Bruges anyway?" The answer? "It's in Belgium." As it turns out, Bruges is a quiet little medieval town filled with history and nighttime beauty and wonder; basically, hell on earth for Ray (Colin Farrell), as well as Ken (Brendan Gleeson, best known as Mad-Eye Moody in the fourth "Harry Potter" film), who gets the thankless task of trying to corral the petulant, borderline-sociopathic Ray while they lay low on the orders of their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) after an assassination goes horribly wrong. The film, directed by oddball Irish playwright Martin McDonaugh, starts off as a black comedy and ends purely black. As Ray and Ken negotiate an increasingly strange scenario involving some terrifying medieval artwork, a mysterious woman, a dwarf with a penchant for hard drugs and eventually a hilariously pissed-off Harry, the film descends into madness, and never once does it misstep. There's no attempts to make these characters sympathetic, just some explanation for why they are the way they are, and the situation doesn't allow for any epic third-act redemption. The Golden Globes recognized this film, which given its early February release is a shock, but a wholly welcome, and deserved one.
5. Let The Right One In - This Swedish vampire film has unfortunately been reduced to being named the anti-"Twilight" by a lot of people, including me. It's so much more than that. It's at once a touching love story and the year's best horror film, tender and bracingly violent often in the same scene. If you've seen it, I have the final scene in mind while making that claim. A lot of analyses of the film have rendered the story far bleaker than what it really is; boy meets girl, boy finds out girl is a vampire, boy and girl tentatively become close regardless, violence ensues. As a parable about the awkwardness of adolescence, it's great. As a vampire movie, it's even better. The title is derived from the old bit of vampire lore about how they have to be invited into someone's home and cannot enter on their own. We are shown in graphic detail what happens when they break this rule, and it's terrifying. Of any foreign film released this year, this one probably had the best chance to catch on with a wide audience. It never got a fair shake, though, so one can only hope it finds further life based on its DVD release in the wake of all the top 10 lists that it's been featured on.
4. The Dark Knight - What is there to say about this movie that hasn't been said, honestly? I'm not even going to give it a full paragraph, because I could talk all day about how Heath Ledger may have created the greatest screen villain of all time with the Joker, about how it's forever changed the way superhero movies can and should be made, how it's an all-too-timely tale of greed, redemption and the battle between light and darkness, and so on and so forth. I'll just say that you know a film is great when the best argument contrarian critics can bring against it is that it's not as good as everybody says. At this point, it's become an Untouchable on the level of "The Godfather." You see where it ranks on my list. Make of that what you will.
3. Forgetting Sarah Marshall - My biggest issue with last year's "Knocked Up" is that it lacked the timelessness that a comedy needs to be great. "Superbad" was on my top 10 last year, but on repeat viewings, the Tourettes-tastic non-sequiturs wear just a little bit thin. "Sarah Marshall," on the other hand, and I say this next part without the slightest hint of hyperbole, might be one of the single funniest movies I've ever seen. The opening breakup sequence alone is the stuff of immortal comedy, but the film's leisurely pacing allows for us to fall in love with Peter (Jason Segal), understand both why Sarah (Kristin Bell) is so hard to get over and so necessary to do so and become engrossed in what's really a slice-of-life story. Not one supporting performance misses a step, not one joke falls flat. Amidst all the hilarity, though, there's a lot of painful reality to this movie that hits uncomfortably close to home for anybody who's ever had their heart broken. The scene in which a drunken Peter pounds out a garbled, half-cried version of the Muppet Show theme song on a piano in his hotel room might be the loveliest single sequence in any movie released this year, because on one level it's hysterical, and on another we all see somebody we've known or been doing the exact same thing.
2. Wall-E - Back when I did my beginning-of-summer movie release roundup, I said that "Wall-E" had the potential to forever change the way animated films are made and viewed. Even with that level of expectation going in, I was absolutely floored and took about a week to fully process the absolute genius of Pixar's masterpiece. The thing is, Wall-E isn't just a romantic hero, he's every romantic hero. He's the grizzled soldier in every cinematic war epic who fought his way home to be with his beloved, he's the awkward teenager who just wants to be loved, he's the doe-eyed poet who struggles to win over a tough-edged love with sentiment. When he ends up in a futuristic world that hits a "Brazil" level of future-shock terror in its own G-rated way, we cheer for him. No other filmmakers besides the Pixar think tank could get away with releasing a film in which the first third features next to no dialogue. The scene in which EVE's security camera footage kicks on and she sees Wall-E suffering endlessly to protect her is an absolute tearjerker on the highest level.
1. Slumdog Millionaire - Numbers 2 and 3 on this list both came extremely close to being at the top. After thinking heavily about it, and re-watching all three films, there was only one film that I could name the best film of 2008, and that's "Slumdog Millionaire." Danny Boyle's fairy tale about a boy's journey through the life of an impoverished hustler brims with danger and gritty realism around every turn, but it's also a sweeping romance and an ode to the larger-than-life attraction of the world to game shows and any other escape from everyday life. The film is a love letter to both Bollywood filmmaking and India itself, timely when Mumbai is fresh in peoples' minds as the site of fevered violence. It's also a film to be loved by anybody struggling through life; the previous generation had "Scarface," and so I think in time this generation will have this film. The narrative smoothly glides from hilarious to nail-bitingly tense, devastating to standing-ovation-level joyous without ever ringing false. Years from now, when people look back on 2008 as a major year for movies, I'll be proud to say that a little Indian movie about "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" was the most unforgettable of them all.
Monday, January 5, 2009
20. A Christmas Tale - Arnaud Desplechin's film about a beyond-fractured family reconvening for one final Christmas together when they discover that the matriarch (Catherine Denueve) is dying works on a myriad of levels. It works as a fractured family story in the vein of "The Royal Tenenbaums," as a holiday comedy, a dark comedy and even a meditation on the fragility of all bonds and the power of misguided grudges. Dropping the pretense, though, it's also just an impeccably acted, touching film, with Mathieu Almaric the standout performer in a film full of them, as the manic-depressive oldest son who storms the reunion like a drunken, bug-eyed hurricane. His toast to his dying mother at Christmas dinner is an absolute showstopper.
19. Australia - Even if you didn't like Baz Lurhmann's attempt to direct his own "Gone With The Wind," credit must be given where it's due. Right down to the cheesy dialogue, he absolutely nailed the vibe and style of a Golden Era Hollywood epic, and for the flaws this film has, it's also breathtaking to watch such a passion project come to life. Nicole Kidman is the most likable she's been in any film since Lurhmann's "Moulin Rouge" as the spirited English lady who travels to the savage Australian outback to retrieve her womanizing husband, and Hugh Jackman is the perfect foil, nailing the old-style tough guy role to a T. There's a twinkle in his eye during every scene, which should normally be decried as poor acting, but is authentic to what the film sets out to accomplish. The film was called racist for depicting aboriginal natives as shamen, but it's supposed to not only be a homage, but a testament to the power of fantastical storytelling. When did every movie start having to be taken so damn seriously?
18. Repo! The Genetic Opera - And now, the year's most undeservedly maligned movie. From the moment that Paris Hilton was cast, the writing was on the wall. Critics trashed the film just for her presence (take a look at the incredibly intelligent argument Rolling Stone's Peter Travers makes against the film) and Lionsgate pretty much dumped the movie in theaters. The public took it over from there, and so this delirious acid trip of a musical (or, I'm sorry, rock opera) featuring Alexa Vega from "Spy Kids" as the dying daughter of Anthony Stewart Head (Giles on the "Buffy" TV series) in a future run by an organ-lending corporation found new life. Look for this film on the midnight show circuit for years to come; if the showings I've attended are any indication, "Repo!" might just be this generation's "Rocky Horror Picture Show."
17. Frost/Nixon - Though Ron Howard's dramatic retelling of the famous post-Watergate TV interviews between David Frost (Michael Sheen) and Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) does embellish some facts, so do most biopics. Once you look past this, you find one of the year's best-acted films. Sheen plays Frost as he was, an English fish in American waters who set out to become an international celebrity and ended up delivering one of the most cathartic moments for the American public in history. Langella is stunning as Nixon, imbuing him with the quiet sadness of a man who was forced to cope with being caught red-handed and losing the notoriety associated with being the most powerful man in the world. The phone conversation between the two near the end of the film should be shown to theatre students as an example of dynamic acting that doesn't require theatrics to be memorable.
16. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Rarely does an American film move at such a measured, quiet pace without attempting to slam the audience with awe-inducing plot turns in the third act. David Fincher's last film, "Zodiac," did this, and he does it again here. The story of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), a man who is born elderly and ages in reverse, is reminiscent of "Forrest Gump" in the way that the overarching point of the tale is not where the journey of life leads, but how you spend that journey and the things you learn along the way. Cate Blanchett, as Button's lifelong love, is sad-eyed and beautiful; the film's climax, when they are both aged in their own way, is among the year's most poignant.
15. Gran Torino - Clint Eastwood's rumored last film as an actor is an appropriate swan song for the longtime tough guy, a tale of violent redemption and a musing on the importance of passing the torch to the next generation, the right way. Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski as the 70-year-old version of Dirty Harry Callahan and The Gunslinger combined; he's ornery, racist and refuses to cave to the changing times, even as they threaten to overtake him. Through a pair of Hmong children living next door, Walt finds his means of making an impact on the lives of the young that he never found with his own family. A local priest (Christopher Carley) charged with watching Walt after his wife's death also learns something about the nature of life and death through him.
14. Tell No One - This French thriller about a man being pursued by police after mysterious emails from his long-dead wife begin to surface deserves all the comparisons to the greater works of Alfred Hitchcock that it's recieved. There's a plot turn seemingly every two or three minutes, but at no point does the film allow itself to fall into logical holes; all is explained at the end, and when you leave the theater, all the convolutions make perfect sense. There's also the twenty-minute chase scene on foot, which begins with a man jumping out of a window and ends in a full-blown gang riot, that instantly establishes itself as one of the most compelling action sequences in recent memory. If it seems as though I'm being cryptic in my praise of this film, it's deliberate; the less you know about this film going in, the more satisfying it is.
13. The Band's Visit - For a quiet film about the unceremonious arrival, occupation and departure of an Egyptian police band from a tiny town in Israel over the course of a day, there's a lot going on here. This doesn't become clear until the film is further reflected upon, but few films this year had a bigger heart. As the inhabitants of the town's local cafe take the band in for a night, the film allows us into their lives, which are filled with banality and melancholy. We see the dreams of both involved parties briefly come alive again through one another, and though we are never told whether this has any real effect, that's not the point. Like a chance meeting on a train or a conversation in a smoky bar, the most unseeming moments in life are sometimes the most memorable.
12. Man On Wire - Watching this film, I couldn't help but wonder how Phillipe Petit isn't dead today. In 1974, he strung a tightrope across the Twin Towers, aided by a motley band of dreamers and burnouts, that wasn't even set up properly, and yet he spent nearly 45 minutes strolling back and forth, even pausing to lie down on it at one point. The film, a wild documentary about the event, is composed of photographs, re-enactments and narration from all those involved. It's also absolutely riveting; so much so, that when we see the first pictures of Petit stepping out onto the wire, we are convinced that he's about to meet his demise, forgetful of the fact that he's been narrating the entire film up to that point.
11. Zach and Miri Make a Porno - Should this film be this high on my list? Maybe, maybe not. Being that such lists are of a subjective nature, I was pressed not to put it even higher. The story of Zach (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks), lifelong platonic friends who shoot a porn film in a coffee shop to bail themselves out of severe debt, is potentially the best film Kevin Smith has ever made, in a long line of them. I might have a soft spot for both "Clerks" and "Chasing Amy," but this film takes the go-for-broke audacity of the former and the genuine heartwrenching realism of the latter and combines the two into something truly beautiful. There are still dick jokes and naked women galore, but "Zach and Miri" manages to do something that few comedies do: Not only does it make you laugh, but it genuinely might teach you a thing or two about life and love.
Coming Tomorrow: #10-1.
Mattel has announced that they would like to produce a movie based on their popular toy Hotwheels. You know, those small-ass cars that are fun for a while but then you just end up stepping on them everywhere? Although no set ideas have been made as far as plot goes, Mattel is starting preproduction soon. I'm not sure how this movie would exactly work. Transformers and G.I. Joe have a built-in plot. There's conflict, villainry, and action. What the fuck to Hotwheels do? Mattel says they don't want the cars to talk a la Knight Rider, so anything cool and robotic like that is out. As far as I remember, I just put the cars on those tracks you could buy and let them flip around and do loops and shit. Is that going to be the movie? Just some handsome fella (I say maybe Zac Efron?) putting cars on elaborate tracks and letting them crash into each other? JoBlo had some good ideas for other toy-based movies that are worth a look.
But regardless, WTF?!
Sunday, January 4, 2009
(Note: Of the major films of the year, I've seen all except for one: "Revolutionary Road," which I'm sure is very good, but didn't have time to get out and see due to its lack of a release in Chicago before this weekend.)
The following films are listed in alphabetical order:
Changeling - Clint Eastwood's "other movie" released this year got ignored due to accusations of melodrama, which is a shame, because being jaded only serves to diminish the raw power and emotional impact of this Angelina Jolie drama. Jolie, more a tabloid foil than an actress at this point, finally reminds us all why she won an Oscar for "Girl, Interrupted" ten years ago. As Christine Collins, the mother of an abducted child who became the victim of a massive LAPD coverup, she conveys every bit of the horrified anguish of a mother who simply wants her son back and is forced to endure absolute hell to get him. I've rarely been filled with so much anger, in the best possible way, as I was while watching this film.
Choke - Clark Gregg's adaptation of the unadaptable Chuck Palahniuk novel is probably as dead-on as it was ever going to be, and this is due to Sam Rockwell's caustically funny performance as Victor Mancini, the sex addict and con man who falls for an off-kilter doctor and figures out he may just be a descendant of the divine. Rockwell manages to pull off the high-wire act of the character, playing him as petulant and exploitative while also making him just charming enough that we cheer for Victor, no matter what horrifying things we do. Kelly MacDonald, as the doctor, plays the antithesis of her weeping widow in "No Country For Old Men," and manages to come off as both adorable and crazy without overacting for a second. The marketing for this film did it very little justice, because it's really not as funny as it was made out to be. It's kind of touching, though, in its own deeply strange way.
Don't Look Down (No Mires Para Abajo) - I caught this film at the Chicago Film Festival in October, mostly because the premise in the guidebook made me laugh and intrigued me simultaneously. It mentioned something about a woman seducing a young man and teaching him how sex could work as a cure for his sleepwalking, but it ended up being something more. The movie is very much about two people having sex, but because it is a foreign film, the sex is not sensational or brutal, but instead legitimately intimate. I'm not quite sure what it was about this film that made it stay in my mind at the end of this year, but I think it has something to do with the fact that a film featuring prominent and frequent graphic sex had more to say about the nature of young love than most anything else I saw this year.
In Search Of A Midnight Kiss - I'm a sucker for talky indie romances, and this one might be the best since "Before Sunrise," which pioneered the genre. The story of an awkward young man who wants nothing more than to cloister away on New Year's Eve in Los Angeles until he can forget that the past year ever happened, "Midnight Kiss" becomes a love story for the internet age when a Craigslist posting for companionship leads to a strange, sweet night-long odyessy through the city with a deeply strange young woman with her own crosses to bear. The film's black and white photography allows their strolls through urban sprawl to take on a romantic quality that I doubt they possess in real life. The ending is one of the most honest I've ever seen in a romantic comedy, and possibly one of the most magical, in its own way.
Milk - It took me two viewings to really appreciate Gus Van Sant's film about Harvey Milk, the slain San Francisco city supervisor who became one of the first and most iconic faces of the gay rights movement. At first, it came off like a typical Oscar bait biopic, which is a claim that wholly cheapens the resonance of Sean Penn's work as Milk, which he lends both the proper humanity and lust for power to elevate the character above the status of a caricature. The film itself is also deeply refreshing in one regard; gay love is depicted for what is the first time I've observed in the film as it is, without melodrama or heartbreak. In the scenes between Penn and James Franco, playing Milk's longtime lover, there is real tenderness and affection, with even a bit of playfulness, which is wonderful. The film itself uses a haunting mixture of re-enactments and actual footage to drive the point home, but the most deeply moving sequence of the film comes when Milk and his advisors celebrate the failing of a proposition to ban gays from working in schools, because it's uncanny to think that essentially the same struggle is still going on today. Sad, isn't it?
Pineapple Express - It's hard to call this movie a stoner comedy, considering that it exists as virtually every genre at one point or another during the film. Romantic comedy? Just look at the sweet, stumbling loyalty between dedicated burnout Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) and his dealer Saul Silver (James Franco), that eventually elevates itself to the highest form of hetero man-love. Action movie? Hell yes. The last half hour of this movie is, of anything, way more violent than any comedy needs to be. Drama? At times, it's oddly serious and even attains a level of pathos that it really has no business having. The real stroke of genius, however, (excluding Franco's deliciously whacked performance) is the film's last scene, which answers the question of what all action movie characters do after the shootout/car chase/violent climax is over. The answer is pretty damned funny, as it turns out.
Rachel Getting Married - Jonathan Demme's film about a rehab-fresh young woman attending her sister's wedding left me feeling like I need to revisit it in five to ten years, once I've been immersed in the mid-twenties wedding boom and lived through it, so that I could better appreciate it. As it stands now, it's still the best performance Anne Hathaway has ever given. As Kym, she's unrepentantly manipulative, fighting wildly for attention at the same time she simply wants to be left alone. It's incredibly affecting and memorable without falling into award-grabbing territory. There is a twenty-minute scene, featuring a multitude of wedding rehearsal dinner speeches, that critics have either loved or considered overindulgent, that I think falls somewhere in between. It's likely incredibly realistic, because it overstays its welcome, but all is forgiven the moment Kym takes the mic and refers to herself as Shiva, the god of death and destruction before sarcastically thanking both families for putting up with her substance abuse.
Sex Drive - For a low-budget teen sex comedy, this was shockingly hilarious. In fact, it might be the funniest movie out of the genre since "American Pie," at least as far as sex comedies with gratuitous sight gags go. The more memorable part of the film, though, is the final half hour, in which it takes the inevitable turn into sweetness, but does so with a surprisingly deft touch. The film is the story of three friends, two guys and a girl, heading from Chicago to Tennessee to facilitate one guy's loss of his virginity, but along the way, the girl in the picture becomes involved, and where the film goes from there is surprisingly romantic.
Speed Racer/The Spirit - Why did I lump these two films together? I think there are enough similarities in place that comparisons have to be made. Both were major box office duds, both were practically made for a cult audience and both were absolutely slaughtered for critics as the result of foregone prejudices against them. The most important thing? They were both fantastic with respect to what they were trying to do. With "Speed Racer," the Wachowski brothers directly re-created the cult 1960s cartoon, in live action and in acid trip-level Technicolor. In the case of "The Spirit," Frank Miller used the "Sin City" visual style to create a gloriously campy ode to all things action movie-badass. With both films, I think the real audience will be found on DVD and at midnight showings years from now.
The Wackness - It's not often that a seemingly unremarkable movie becomes one of the year's most indelible, but so it goes with "The Wackness." Josh Peck plays a naive young pot dealer who befriends his therapist (Ben Kingsley) and falls in love with his therapist's stepdaughter, who's not all she seems to be. The writing starts off awkward, but soon hits its stride. The exchange between Peck and Kingsley at the end, after Kingsley takes a full bottle of prescription tranquilizers, is one of the most tender scenes of the year. It's a shame that a perfect movie for teenagers couldn't find a wide release.