Monday, March 9, 2009

Mitch's top movies of 2008

As I sit here on a Monday afternoon watching my favorite movie of 2007, There Will be Blood on Showtime (and realize once again there is not one word of dialogue until 15 minutes into the movie) I realize I have not yet written my favorite movies of 2008. Since I am procrastinating writing a paper, studying for an exam, going to the gym, looking for a job and many other more important things I figure I will write my top 10 of 2008 now so I can feel even worse about myself. As usual, I apologize for the length and I thank anyone for indulging me if they read this. So without further ado:

1) This is a pretty easy one to pick. It had the most heart, the most fun experience I had of being in the theater and was a great story that looked absolutely spectacular on the screen. My number one movie of 2008 is Wall E. I realize that this is the second movie in as many years that gets my number one spot by at times being a silent picture. I have no idea what this says about me, but I must be enjoying the visual side of the medium than the dialogue and sound in my older age. This is not to say Wall E has entirely without fault. The humans near the end bit was just OK and I almost felt like telling the director “I get it, people are fatter and lazier than ever before“ (and I write that as I am not going to the gym and writing instead) but even with those few faults the movie was great. I saw it on a Saturday afternoon and I think seeing it with kids made me enjoy it even a little more. The sheer sounds of delight that came from the 4 year old sitting behind me when Wall E came on screen is as pure as something can be and when he turned to his mother and said in a volume that is not really theater friendly, but also not obnoxious as someone constantly checking their cell phone for an IM “OH BOY IS THAT WALL E?!?” I couldn’t be mad and I enjoyed the movie even with this kid’s asides from time to time. But over all, the animation, the story and the character of Wall E and to a lesser extent Eve made this movie too good to dismiss as simple kids fare. I think everyone should watch it, and if possible watch it with someone under 10 years old.

2) Slumdog Millionaire – This almost feels like a copout since this won all those Oscars a few weeks ago, but Slumdog really is a great movie. Most people have seen this by now and it tells the story of how an uneducated child knew the answers to some difficult trivia by showing his life experience in a series of flashbacks. Again, as one friend especially pointed out to me, there are many problems with the story. Most notably: why did his brother stay behind and get into a bathtub of money besides the simple answer of “it looks cool on camera”. But this is another movie that I left the theater with a great big smile on my face and was very happy with the overall experience. The real star of this movie is Danny Boyle. He’s been around for quite some time and he just gets better with each movie he makes. I will also like to make an amendment to last year’s column (which can be found at my blog and include his film Sunshine on my favorites of last year. I saw it this year and what a powerful, deep, Heart of Darknessy story in space that came out last year and feel it was missed by many.

3) The Dark Knight – Many may be surprised that this is only at number 3, but the biggest deterrent this movie had was a few slow parts and the long run time went against it at times. I will not spend time going over all the same things many other people wrote about Heath Ledger’s performance (which was great) or Christopher Nolan’s direction (again great). Instead I will write about the 1 thing it seems no one else even seems to have noticed in the movie and was the most amazing part to me the sole time I’ve watched it (yes, I have it on BluRay – Thanks Chuck – and have not watched it again yet – which is one of the reasons it is #3 instead of higher, or lower). The thing no one seems to remember about the movie is the music. Most notable, the high pitch buzzing that seems to start up about a minute or two before the Joker did something crazy. The noise puts you on edge and I believe it was this that helped with the Joker’s performance more than anything else. Add in Gary Oldman once again playing Commissioner Gordon to perfection and a very good performance by Two-Face (even though I didn’t quite believe his breakdown). Another great comic book movie has been added to the debate of which is the best and I still think the more the merrier.

4) Iron Man – Speaking of Comic Book movies. This is more generic compared to Batman and I never really cared much for Tony Stark or Iron Man in the comic books, but this movie was fun, and perfectly in the spirit of the original book. The best thing about this movie is Robert Downey Jr. He was born to play this role and he was the perfectly cast to play a rich, alcoholic, playboy genius. I believed that he was Tony Stark and cannot wait for his eventual binging downfall. I hope he has enough of a sense of humor to have Tony Stark wake up in a random neighbor’s guest bedroom after a bender. The only problem with this movie was the weak villain that seemed added on just so there could be a cool fight scene at the end. Again, not a problem, I like big, cool fight scenes as much as the next guy and there is a reason this is the only BluRay that I own that I have watched more than once.

5) Man on Wire – This may be my obligatory documentary of the list, but I really did enjoy it. The image of Petit standing on the wire between the two towers from the street where you cannot see the wire so it looks like he is floating is one of the most beautiful images I saw on screen this year and becomes haunting since it will never be repeated. I also enjoyed the heist feeling that they gave to the break-in of the WTC and Petit is so much fun to listen to. He should be given a TV show where he walks on stuff around the world. It would be one of the most watched shows at least in my house.

6) Forgetting Sarah Marshall – This was just funny. The cast especially Jason Segal who is great in everything I’ve seen him in (he’s come a long way since Freaks and Geeks) and the cameo by Paul Rudd (who can almost do no wrong to me even though I have not seen Role Models yet) who has mad the saying “YOU SOUND LIKE YOU’RE FROM LONDON” into a daily declaration in my home. The music of Dracula’s lament had to be rewound 4 times because of the loud laughter that was coming out of my mouth. On top of that Mila Kunis has officially grown up and it was amazing to see such a pretty girl like Kristen Bell literally pale in comparison. Not that any of these girls will win an Oscar ever for acting, but eye candy is still nice.

7) Burn After Reading – It seems the Coen brothers always make it on my lists. To this movie I have to say welcome back to them. No Country for Old Men was great and deserved all the awards it got. But the Coens are best when they are fun and witty and even silly. Burn After Reading reminded me a lot of the Big Lebowski. Now, it is nowhere near that caliber of awesome, but it has a very similar story and tone. A bunch of people stumble upon a get-rich-quick type of scheme and because of the movies and their culture they feel they can get away with scamming someone out of money and they completely screw everything up on the way. I especially loved the ending of the movie. Everything was tied up in a different way. Instead of showing what happened, one character just summed everything up in a brief update to another character and then the credits rolled. I don’t know why I found this as funny as I did, but I loved it. I look forward to seeing this movie again since Coen Brothers movies (and especially comedies) seem to get better with each viewing.

8) The Fall – Probably not many people have heard of this movie, and according to imdb it came out in 2006, but I saw it this year, so I’m sticking with it on this list. Another visually beautiful movie directed by the guy that did Cell a few years ago. Cell was beautiful to look at and I almost walked out of the theater. The Fall is a good story on top of good looking package. The story follows an injured soldier (Lee Pace – who I already miss in Pushing Daisies) who befriends a little girl as he recuperates in a hospital. In order to use her to steal morphine for his addiction he tells her amazing fantasies that are shown to us the viewer. It is a difficult movie to describe, but I really did enjoy everything about this. It is not as dark as I make it out to sound. It has a slight Dali feel and a very strong old-school Terry Gilliam feel to it. It reminded me a lot of the Adventures of Baron Munchausen and I say that as a huge positive.

9) Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist – Expectations are a huge part of a movie. If you expect a lot and it is just OK, you feel like you hate the movie. If you expect nothing and it is good, or even really good it instead blows you away. This is what happened to me with Nick and Nora. I really enjoyed this movie. It had a Dazed and Confused feel to it (one night and all the things that happen) but by being something I can relate to. Not just relate to thematically or anything but literally since every bar, club or whatever they went to are places I frequented in my 20s. I have been to Mercury Lounge and Bowery Ballroom. I have eaten at 4 AM at Veselka more times than I can count (or remember). I have gotten super excited about seeing a band and getting last minute tickets – even for free once or twice. This was a movie that speaks to any New Yorker that loves or loved music and I was expecting your typical teenage flick I guess.

This year I only have 9 movies to write about. However, that is because I have some extras to write about. I must update from last year all the movies that I have seen that I wanted to see last year, and for the sake of completion I will include all the movies I have seen this year as well:

And other movies I saw in 2009

pineapple express – Funny, action movie. Another movie I enjoyed more than I expected

the curious case of benjamin button - I really liked this. It had a great story arc, and was well done and Brad Pitt carried the movie well. People say it’s Forest Gump, I don’t get that.

the wrestler – Much like Benjamin Button, I liked it but it didn’t deserve a place in the top. Mickey Roarke of course was great, but it was quite too sad for me. But there is nothing wrong with Marissa Tomei. I like where her career has gone with this and Before the Devil Knows Your Dead.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ­- Overall, I liked this movie. It was a fun dumb action movie. As an Indiana Jones movie, I have some problems with it. Indy didn’t shoot his gun once, and he only used his whip once. And Mutt…. Just no. I don’t want to talk about that. The aliens, I was OK with.

Religulous – Typical Bill Maher obnoxiousness. I’m a fan and he was quite good, but his holier than thou stuff gets tired. That said: I thought this movie was quite funny and I agree with much that he was trying to say.

definitely, maybe - I wrote an entire blog about this, but again a movie being better than its expectations.

Changeling – I hate Clint Eastwood, but this wasn’t bad.

kung fu panda - Fun, animated movie. Jack Blackisms on a Panda are funny too.

zack and miri make a porno – Just OK. It felt very rushed though. Kevin Smith has hit that place where he’s not too edgy anymore and not a very good filmmaker. He is still quite likable though so that helps.

hellboy 2 - Good, solid action movie. Gives good hope to the Hobbit with Guillermo DelToro directing

mamma mia! - I guess I like musicals. A fun movie that you can watch on HBO anytime and you’ll find yourself humming along. Good to watch while other stuff is going on.

the other boleyn girl – I hate period pieces, but Scarlett Johannssen and Natalie Portman can make a movie of them in fat suits taking turns farting on a snare drum and I’d probably watch. That said, this was not very good even if the girls did look pretty.

Wanted - I implore you people. Read the book. Maybe the first 5 minutes are similar, but the story is very different. That said, for mindless action eye-candy this isn’t horrible

the incredible hulk – Fun adaptation much better than Ang lee’s original. This is how you make a better hulk movie. I hope the Leader comes next.

tropic thunder – Five words: Robert Downey Jr. Tom Cruise.

charlie Bartlett - Another great movie with Robert Downey Jr. This was almost my #10 of the year. It is very Ferris Bueller’s day off. I liked the kid that played Charlie Bartlett too.

in bruges - Very different movie. It cannot quite be classified as anything. I guess it’s a dark comedy, but it’s quite violent too.

Cloverfield - Fun action movie

american teen - I hated this movie. But it was good to see how happy I am that I’m not in high school now. If this is the typical American in high school, I’m glad I grew up in the stupid repressed 90s

harold & kumar... – Not as good as the first one, but NPH should be watched all the time whenever possible.

meet the Spartans - Stupid.

prince Caspian - Better than I expected, and probably even better than the first one. Still something is missing from these adaptations.

the strangers - Very scary first hour. After that it becomes more typical horror, but that first hour is a perfect example of minimalist horror.

21 – Worth seeing once. But really, just read the book. If only Hollywood would learn truth is usually better than their stupid formulas.

eagle eye - Speaking of formulas. I saw this on a plane. That was enough.

vantage point ­– I hated this movie. More regular formulas, but I ha to see it from like 8 different angles.

Jumper - One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. It made no sense.

Other 2008 movies:

Sunshine – A, I loved this movie

the Simpsons Movie – B+ . Better than virtually any past episodes.

Assassination of Jesse James – B – Quite good. A little long, but good

Into the Wild – C – I think Sean Penn kind of sucks. This movie was directed like a cheesy 80s music video. That said, it got me to read the book and I loved the book.

Darjeeling Limited – A- I laughed so hard during this movie and I don’t know why. I just really enjoyed it

The Mist – B very good B-movie stuff. With a sick ending.

Juno B really liked it the first time, but on other viewings, it has many problems.

The Bucket List – B-. What can I say, I’m a sucker for these type of movies. Overall I liked it. It didn’t reinvent the wheel or anything, but very good.

Sweeney Todd – C Boring at times, and I couldn’t care less. That said: it was beautiful to look at and much gorier than I expected.

Atonement – D I don’t get it. I couldn’t wait for it to end.

Romance and Cigarettes – C+. Interesting quirky movie. Glad I saw it, never need to see it again

Southland Tales – C-. I would probably give it an even lower grade if I understood what the hell happened. Very disappointed movie from Richard Kelly

Eagle vs. Shark – B-. Forgettable movie from Jermaine from Flight of the Concords, but I enjoyed a lot of it at the time. Think of it as a New Zealand Napoleon Dynamite.

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