Sunday, February 15, 2009

What I've Been Watching In 2008: The Year In Review(s)

It's that time of year again when all us bloggers tell everyone what we thought about the last 365 days whether you want to hear about it or not. was that time a little over a month ago anyway, but at long last, here it is: my 2008 end of the year post. Yeah, I know it's early February '09, but that's okay. The lateness of this post just means that I've had a chance to catch up on some of the '08 movies that I hadn't gotten the opportunity to see before the end of the year. I already did a Top 10 Movies of the Year list on The Sidetracked Podcast a few weeks ago, but the one I've compiled here will be a different, updated version of that list since, as I mentioned, I've now seen more movies from 2008 than I had when I formed that incarnation of my Top Ten. So what say we look at some stats and then move onto the lists? I say lists because in addition to my Top 10 and Bottom 10 of the year I've also listed the movies from 2008 that I still need to catch up with as well as a comprehensive catalog of every 2008 release I've seen as of this writing. And away we go.

Total number of movies released in 2008 that I have seen as of the writing of this post: 82

Total number of movies released in 2008 which I saw in the theater: 33

Total number of times I went to the theater between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2008: 37

Approximate amount of money I spent at the theater in 2008 (based on a price of $10/ticket): $370.00


10. Rambo
In my opinion, this is the best film in the Rambo/First Blood franchise. This movie knew exactly what it wanted to be and didn't try to hide that fact. It was bloody and violent as hell with plenty of "holy shit" moments, and didn't include a single scene that wasn't necessary to further the plot. It's also short and to the point, which action movies shouldn't (but often seem to) be afraid to be. Stallone proves that he's got what it takes to work behind the camera, and he's still physically and emotionally capable in front of the lens as well. Rambo is an example of clear and concise film making, and although it's very brooding and grotesque, I feel like I could pop it in and watch it anytime because it zips by at 92 minutes and never loses my interest for an instant.

9. Pride & Glory
Based on the trailers, I was expecting this to be the standard Hollywood cop film. Not so. The best word I can think of to describe this movie is "epic". And I don't mean the modern "Epic Fail/Epic Win" internet variety of epic, either. I mean it in the textbook sense: "noting or pertaining to a long poetic composition, usually centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style". Edward Norton is the best he's been since Fight Club, Colin Farrell puts in one of the only truly impressive performances of his career as far as I'm concerned (another being this year's In Bruges), Jon Voight is better than he has been in years, and director Gavin O'Connor has gotten me wondering where he's been all my life. This film is brutally intense with a great mystery and several expertly woven plotlines. I can't wait to see it again, but a week and a half later I'm still reeling from my first viewing.

8. Slumdog Millionaire
I went into this film without a clear idea of what I was going to see, basically just swept up by the positive hype it was getting. The reason for this is likely that while amazing, Slumdog Millionaire's plot is nearly impossible to explain to someone without either ruining the suspense or making absolutely no sense whatsoever. Suffice to say that Danny Boyle has made a movie unlike any other I've seen and I'd love to see more films like it. Easily one of the most heartwarming movies I've ever laid eyes on, Slumdog Millionaire knows how to play to the viewer's emotions in all the right ways, leaving you completely satisfied and in awe upon exiting the theater or turning off your DVD player. Not to mention, it has some of the best child actors I've ever had the pleasure of watching.

7. Cloverfield
When it comes to unsubstantiated hype, Cloverfield takes the cake. This movie was being hailed as a must-see based on rumors alone, and against all odds it managed to deliver on that hype in a big way. Some would call Cloverfield a giant monster film in the vein of Godzilla, but I'd call it a dramatic adventure which takes place in the vicinity of a giant monster. The creature in Cloverfield is far from the main focus, though it does drive the majority of the plot due to it's mere existence. As such, the task of entertaining the audiences who came into film expecting a series of high-flying monster battles falls upon the shoulders of a few young no-name actors and the sheer quality of the script with which they were working. Both succeed in spades and make for a film that, much to my surprise, stands up 100% to repeat viewings. Don't fret though, if you're looking for a badass creature feature, there are certainly worse places to look.

6. Iron Man
Iron Man has always been one of the most obvious choices for a big name superhero worth bringing to the big screen in my opinion, based purely on the fact that his story is more centered around technological sci-fi than it is absurdist sci-fi/fantasy. Apparently Jon Favreau agreed with me completely, and made a high-tech action film that, surprisingly, was very sparse when it came to the action. With so little combat onscreen, Marvel opted for Iron Man to live or die based on it's characters, and really all you need to know is a name: Robert Downey Jr. As Tony Stark, Downey Jr. created an actor/character marriage that I would have never thought of in a million years, and which almost sells the movie on it's own. This is not to say, however, that there is nothing visually worthy in Iron Man, though. Far from it. The effects are incredible whether Stark is battling other characters in giant armored suits or just fiddling around in his basement workshop. While there have certainly been better movies based on comic books, Iron Man is probably the best superhero movie since the Spiderman series.

5. Eagle Eye
How do movies like National Treasure and National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets earn 350 and 470 million dollars respectively and Eagle Eye can hardly break 175? While I despise the former and love the latter, I am willing to admit that they're somewhat similar movies. Both are entirely preposterous in premise, but what National Treasure lacks in noteworthy performances and originality, Eagle Eye delivers en masse. I am totally willing to admit that Eagle Eye's plot and premise are ridiculous, but they do make for one hell of a fun action jaunt. Shia LaBeouf proves once more why I find him to be such a likable, charismatic character actor, Michelle Monaghan gives the most noteworthy performance of her career thus far in my opinion, and Billy Bob Thornton shows once more that he knows how to ham it up in service of the film rather than his ego. D.J. Caruso and Shai LaBeouf, the duo behind 2007's equally fun and mindless romp Disturbia, have done it again.

4. Jumper
Don't believe what you've heard about Jumper. Unless, that is, you've heard that it's a good film, though I seriously doubt you've heard that. Superhero movies are all well and good, but as a comic book reader it was really exciting to see one coming out based on characters I wasn't familiar with. Based on a novel rather than a comic, Jumper took me completely by surprise with it's amazingly original take on a concept as passe among the spandex-clad crowd as teleportation. Hayden Christiansen impressed me here for the first time since Shattered Glass and Samuel L. Jackson once again proves why he's so great at playing characters you love to hate. I won't claim that Jumper is the second coming of the science fiction film, but there are some very cool sci-fi concepts at work here which are expertly countered by the properly executed, fast-paced, shaky camera work of the man who originally perfected that style of action in The Bourne Identity: Doug Liman. I simply can't help but have a smile on my face just about the entire time I'm watching this film, and for that reason it was one of my favorite movies of 2008.

3. Wall-E
Right from the beginning I've loved Pixar. I saw Toy Story in the theater and with just about every subsequent release of one of their films I've wrestled with myself as to whether it were actually better than each of their previous titles or not. Wall-E is no exception. I'm so in awe of this film that I don't know where to begin talking it up because everything about it is great. I guess it's most obvious just to say that the film is beautiful. No one can dispute that. Even if you somehow don't like Pixar's films, you cannot deny that each and every one of their movies raises the bar as far as the eye candy is concerned. In regards to the story, the main thing that Pixar constantly provides which accounts for a lot of why I enjoy their films so much is that the stories, for what are usually considered children's movies, are smart, well thought out, and not dumbed down in any way just to be suitable for kids. They've repeatedly found the perfect balance between what will entertain and delight a child and what will captivate and speak to adults. This is perhaps true moreso of Wall-E than any of Pixar's other films to date, because by the end of this film I was so wrapped up in the plight of the little robot at the center of the plot that I came close to tears. There are plenty of other aspects of Wall-E that I could go into in describing why this movie made it onto, and in fact ranks so high on, this list, but honestly It was probably enough to simply say that it was made by Pixar.

2. The Dark Knight
Well what is there to say about The Dark Knight that hasn't already been said, really? It's a great movie. As a non-Batman fan, this film is just about as good as it can get. While I admit that the movie isn't perfect, it is a spectacle to behold. Much like Pride & Glory, which I reviewed farther down this list, The Dark Knight is best described as an epic. Bruce Wayne's world is flipped upside down during the course of this film and we, the audience, are helpless but to sit, glued to our seats, as some of the best writing, directing, and acting yet to come out of a superhero movie plays out before our widened eyes. Everything else about this film takes a back seat to Heath Ledger's performance, though. Believe the hype. Ledger is mystifying to watch. I think that the perfect combination of wardrobe and make-up, ingenuity, great writing, and mystery all added up to what was probably the best performance of the year. I say mystery because, like myself, I think that a lot of people just didn't know what to expect from The Joker. Not only because Christopher Nolan and company created their own unique vision of the character, but because whether or not you liked Heath Ledger before seeing The Dark Knight, or even knew who he was for that matter, I doubt that there's a person on the planet who could have predicted what he was going to (and indeed capable of) bring(ing) to the table. There are plenty of aspects of The Dark Knight which I'm skipping over here, Aaron Eckhart's performance being one of the more notable ones, but if I were pressed to suggest one reason to go watch The Dark Knight, based on this review I think you know what that one thing would be. And it's almost single-handedly the reason that the film lies so high on this list.

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The best movie of the year. Sometimes this decision is as easy as leaving the theater happy (i.e. my choice of Grind House last year). Sometimes however, it takes a bit more thought than that. I did love The Curious Case of Benjamin Button immediately, but while it is visually amazing, expertly directed, beautifully written, and full of inspired acting, it is still somehow the most reserved film on this list. It's one of only three (what I would call) straight dramas on my Top 10, and of those three it is decidedly less in your face than the others. I think that's why this decision took so much thought. Could such a stoic, sentimental film really be more epic than the The Dark Knight? Could it really be more heart-warming than Wall-E? Could it honestly leave me more delighted than I was exiting my screening of Jumper? Yes, yes, and yes. It would be pretty bold to call this film flawless, but it's certainly closer to deserving that distinction than any of the other films I saw this year, which is why it made #1 on this list. David Fincher still hasn't made a bad film in opinion, which is a bit surprising considering that he took an astonishing leap away from his comfort zone of the highly stylized thriller with Benjamin Button. I'm no longer sure that I can truly define what a "David Fincher movie" is, and that's very exciting. I have no idea what he'll do next or what his take on his next subject will be, but one thing's for sure: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button set the bar high for not only Fincher's upcoming projects, but every theatrical release of the foreseeable future as well.

Runners-Up (in alphabetical order)

The Bank Job

Gran Torino

In Bruges


The Wrestler


10. Hancock
Good premise, poor execution. Somebody over-thought this plot a little bit. The first half of the movie isn't gold, but it's fun. The second half, seemingly written by a different (and incompetent) writer altogether, is way too bogged down by poor plot development, a weak, over-complicated concept, and an ill-informed decision on someone's behalf that the film needed some extra, unnecessary action.

9. Step Brothers
Will Ferrell can only shout in that oafish "I think I know what I'm talking about, but I'm really a bewildered idiot" voice so many times before I become tired of it. When you add John C. Reilly simply aping that very same character back at him, you've essentially got an imbecile blurting non sequiturs at himself in the mirror. Maybe I'd have liked this movie a few years ago before I'd seen the same type of film from Ferrell so many times, but I was bored and annoyed by it more than anything.

8. The Love Guru
Take a movie that was original and funny a decade ago, change it slightly because you have no new ideas, and pray to God that it still works. Fail.

7. Starship Troopers 3: Marauder
Completely changing the plot and tone of the franchise for the first sequel didn't work like it did for Aliens, so why not just try to clone the original movie for this one? Oh, wait...horrible acting, writing, and special effects? This film's tagline should have been "No budget? No problem!"

6. Joyride 2: Dead Ahead
Most horror movie franchises begin with a somewhat original, suspenseful, and entertaining first film and quickly devolve into a repetitive, faceless, blood-soaked mess. Often this occurs as as early as the second installment of the series. Why should Joyride be any different?

5. Punisher: War Zone
Over the top violence and gore needs to be either accompanied by a good, meaningful story or completely devoid of any noteworthy plot to bog it down. Punisher: War Zone fits snugly into the large gray area between those two extremes. It's story is far from perfect, but tries it's best to be something it's not. Also, a parkour runner is disintegrated by a rocket during mid-rooftop-to-rooftop jump. Need I say more?

4. The Eye
The Ring had Naomi Watts. Even The Grudge had Sarah Michelle Gellar. The Eye has Jessica Alba. Who should we get to play our blind, emotional lead? Probably the most beautiful, yet worst actress we can get our hands on. Even if someone of Naomi Watts' caliber had been in this though, it still would have been boring as shit.

3. Righteous Kill
Neither Robert DeNiro nor Al Pacino have been very good in the past ten years or so in my opinion. However, I'm willing to bet that if this movie were made in the 70's or early eighties when both of those guys were in their prime and it had been directed by Martin Scorcese, this script still wouldn't come close to being able to inspire a passable film. What a terrible, terrible waste of talent and money.

2. Max Payne
For a movie based on a video game, the point of which is entirely centered around shooting every single character you see onscreen, Max Payne somehow managed to have less action than Air Bud. It should be illegal to make movies this bad.

1. Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds
This film is the definition of the term "fall from grace". Along with The Mist, Cloverfield, The Host, and Slither, I would include the original Feast among the very short list of the best monster movies made since the turn of the millennium. Admittedly, that's a pretty high bar for a horror sequel to live up to, but if I were to type out everything that was wrong with this movie here I would probably break the internet. Suffice to say that if you respect me, yourself, or the art of film at all, you will quietly look away whenever this film catches your eye and pray nightly to whichever god you believe in to strike down everyone involved with the production of Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds in the most painful and disgraceful way imaginable.

Runners-Up (in alphabetical order)

Baby Mama

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Midnight Meat Train


The Strangers

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Let The Right One In
Sukiyaki Western Django


- Movies I saw in the theater
- Movies I downloaded or watched on DVD
- Movies that came out Direct To DVD (more or less)
- Movies I saw in IMAX
- Movies I saw in the theater twice
- Movies from 2008 which I didn't see until 2009

The Bank Job
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Eagle Eye
Gran Torino
In Bruges
Iron Man
Lakeview Terrace
Pride & Glory
Slumdog Millionaire
The Wrestler

Bangkok Dangerous
Be Kind, Rewind
Burn After Reading
The Day The Earth Stood Still
The Forbidden Kingdom
Futurama: The Beast With A Billion Backs
Futurama: Bender's Game
Get Smart
The Incredible Hulk
Kung-Fu Panda
The Promotion
Quantum Of Solace
The Ruins
Speed Racer
Tropic Thunder
Zack & Miri Make A Porno

10,000 B.C.
Batman: Gotham Knight
Drillbit Taylor
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Ghost Town
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
How To Lose Friends And Alienate People
Pineapple Express
Role Models
Run, Fat Boy, Run
The Signal
Street Kings
Vantage Point
You Don't Mess With The Zohan

Baby Mama
Babylon A.D.
Dead Space: Downfall
Death Race
The Happening
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Man On Wire
Midnight Meat Train
Step Brothers
The Strangers
X-Files: I Want To Believe

The Eye
Feast II: Sloppy Seconds
Joyride 2: Dead Ahead
The Love Guru
Max Payne
Punisher: War Zone
Righteous Kill
Starship Troopers 3: Marauder

Click Here to read my Top 10 Movies of 2007.

***All of the information in this post is only accurate through February 15, 2009, after which time my opinions may change due to subsequent viewings.


ross said...

jeez, i can't even NAME 82 movies that came out last year, much less name, like... 10!!!! holy crap.

good to see Rambo and Jumper on your list. i think i'm in the minority with my best/worst of 2008 list, but i didn't see that much so i don't know if i'm qualified.

Anonymous said...

My husband doesn't go to movies a lot but I made him take me to see Jumper on Valentine's Day 2008. He really like it and when he saw something on tv about it recently(it's been on cable) he had this to say:

"That really was a good movie. Good clean fun. They don't make a lot of movies like that anymore."