Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Top Ten Films Of 2008

I know I suck, I’m trying to get better though. 2008 was a bit of a letdown film wise. Not that it was bad per se but 2006 and 2007 made film fans positively giddy, for awhile there masterpieces where just falling from the freaking sky. 2008 they just seemed a little thin on the ground. I didn’t get to the movies as much as I would have liked to, I’ve probably only seen about 50 or so and have yet to catch The Wrestler, Milk, or Burn After Reading. But there was a lot of solid stuff out there this year, and more then a few masterpieces, the stuff that was good was so good it almost hurt, and the stuff that wasn’t well...

Worst movie of the Year: The Spirit: This movie is bad that I no longer like movies or comic books. This will leave me with considerably less to write about, not that it would make that much of a difference lately. But dear sweet Jesus the pain. This is a movie that consisted largely of Scarlett Johansson and Eva Mendes in fetish gear and I literally got no enjoyment out of it. I’m a Frank Miller apologist of the first water the kind of guy who finds enjoyment in All Star Batman And Robin, but this was just too much.

2008 Southland Tales Award: For Movie I Like For No Discernable Reason:

Speed Racer: Sure every moment involving the child and the monkey is sheer distilled cinematic pain. Sure too many of the races are an indiscernible mess. Sure the movie goes dead for about an hour fifteen minutes in. Sure Susan Surandon looks like she’s on valium. Sure it stars Rain. Sure John Goodman looks drunk and angry. Sure the film often resembles a candy coated hellscape of my nightmares.

But… Still there’s something there. I doubt that there’s a more idiosyncratic big budget film out there. The whole thing is produced so strangely, this is what Blockbuster movies look like on other planets. So many rough edges and such a suprising amount of the Wackowski Kink in play. Whenever I say, watch Racer X battle a rocket powered/launching semi truck filled with tranny gangsters, or relive the saga of the racecar driving Viking Hitmen, tempted from their winter layer with chests of fur, or John Goodman call someone a Nonja, or watch Racer X punch a man in the face, as that man is crashing his car, I get a giddy rush.

Oh and in related news Christina Ricci: Fucking Fine.

Say what you will about it, but I’ve never seen anything quite like Speed Racer, and considering its dismal failure probably never will again.

I love this terrible terrible movie.

10 Hellboy II: Del Toro’s seemingly unstoppable run of kickass films continues unabated. Hellboy II shows Del Toro’s untamed imagination in full force, bringing to life a wondrous tapestry of a world.

9. Shine A Light: To say Shine A Light is a lower tier Scorsese movie is to say that it’s pretty great rather then say absolutely transcendent. The elephant in the room is the fact that Shine A Light has absolutely nothing either on No Direction Home, Scorsese’s definitive Dylan project, or The Last Waltz. However, being as one of those is an already legendary definition of an artist who has made his career by being indefinable, and the other is arguably the greatest concert film ever made, arguably filming the death of rock’s classic era, this is hardly surprising. Slightly more annoying is the slightly corporate air the entire thing had, SCORSESE. THE STONES, ON YOUR IMAX, AS YOU SIP NEW COKE, FROM PARAMOUNT, SPONSERED BY HILARY CLINTON. But despite this all the film is at it’s core a portrait of old professionals having a blast, both on the stage and behind the camera. They love what they do, and they take you along with them.

8. The Strangers: It’s real easy to become jaded as a genre film fan. There’s so much bullshit out there on both ends of the “quality” spectrum that you start to detach yourself from the visercial experience of going to the movies. You need something like The Strangers every once and again to remind you why you go. Why you really go. The Strangers didn’t change my life it didn’t give me any new insight into the human condition, it didn’t revolutionize the genre, what it did was scare the living shit out of me for ninety minutes and then sent me home to lock my doors. It reminded me how much fun it is to sit in the dark.

7. Doomsday: This gets the most fun I had in a theater award. Taking me back to my misspent youth rewatching battered John Carpenter and Walter Hill flicks for the hundreth time. Doomsday was Grindhouse for those films rather then seventies exploitation. Any film that opens with a big boobed blond lady snorting coke in a bathtub and shooting people with a shotgun, and ends in Scottish Castle where Malcolm McDowell leads over the most epic renfair ever, is going to be pretty awesome. Add in exploding bunnies and cows, Epic tank battles, Fine Young Cannibals who do dances choreographed to Fine Young Cannibals, and you have maybe the best movie ever.

6. The Pineapple Express: Pineapple Express made me laugh so hard that I thought I was in serious danger of cracking my ribs. Plus it gave David Gordon Greene some fuck you money. That’s all the justification I need.

5. In Bruges: This is one of those films, that it’s unfair to talk to much about, and since the marketing has already done a nice job of mis direction, trying to make it look like Euro Pulp Fiction, I will not bother to correct it. Suffice to say the film is worth your time.

4. The Fall: Like WALLE The Fall gave me hope for the future of pure cinematic storytelling. If Herzog ever made a fantasy it would look like this. Wonderful and tactile and so real it almost hurts.

3. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Buttons:

“I was just thinking about how nothing lasts and what a shame that is.”

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Buttons is in itself a Curious Case. I’ve been fascinated by the how the film has ended up as something of a Rorsarch blot for critics who have been using it as an opportunity to pick apart any damn thing they want. Depending on who you believe the film is either too obvious, or obtuse, too sentimental, or a case of Fincher draining the warmth from the film like a vampire, It’s a masterpiece and trainwreck, a serious Oscar contender and a debacle and I’ve kind of fallen in love with it. It’s tough to explain why which is strange because Fincher is a filmmaker I’ve always been able to verbalize. I can explain in great detail just why Fight Club, Seven, Zodiac, and The Game, get my cinematic juices flowing and why Panic Room is completely tolerable, and why Alien 3 is fucking awful. But Buttons has simply gotten under my skin, like The man who keeps getting struck by lightening it just is. I could point to Fincher’s magnificent style, or the soulful performances by the entire cast, I could talk about how this is I believe, the most Kubrickian film made since the great master’s death. But that would all be surface, not really getting to the heart of this melancholy, funny, soulful, alive little film.

2. The Dark Knight: There’s something astounding about seeing a myth realized. Not to get too Joseph Campbell but there is a reason some characters last while others fall by the wayside, a resonance that some have and the charge of Dark Knights comes primarily from watching one of those characters realized in full. There’s not much to be said about Ledger’s performance of The Joker that hasn’t already been mentioned (I think the AV Club put it best “that something appears wrong with him on a biological level.”) Suffice to say nothing needs to, it speaks for itself. So does the film.

1. WALLE: Like 2001 made by Buster Keaton. WALLE is at once a gorgeous tone poem, a stunningly funny and heartfelt story, and the most blistering social satire I have seen since Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Taking the “Shit we don’t need for prices we can’t afford.” Mentality to its logical extremes the way WALLE shows how our how culture is infantilizing us was stunning and a little sickening. Yet the film never comes off as mean spirited, only bitter sweet and hopeful, and at the end when mankind’s creations fight to give us one last shot at creating and being again, it becomes a wonderfully cathartic experience shot with Andrew Stanton’s poet’s eye. Benjamin Button’s might have told us nothing lasts but as long as cinema does, WALLE will.