Saturday, December 27, 2008

Only SOME of the Best Films of 2008

by Jason Pyles / December 27, 2008

2008 was a great year for the cinema and a momentous year for my family. I only make mention of my life’s personal events to emphasize that after having our first baby, a college graduation, a move across the country and working one and a half new jobs, I’ve only been able to see 101 of this year’s films (in contrast to my 176 reviews in 2007). And unfortunately, many films that are receiving the most critical acclaim are, as of yet, unseen by me.* (see list below)

So again, the following 11 films are only some of the best films of 2008.

1.) The Dark Knight (PG-13)
Some people have said “Iron Man” is a superhero movie for those who don’t like superhero movies. OK, maybe, but it’s still a superhero movie, an excellent one. But “The Dark Knight” transcends the genre. And not to be technical, but Batman never really was a superhero in the truest sense: He’s just a rich guy with the means to have slick, crime-fighting gadgets. But let me be clear here: Yes, Christopher Nolan is a superb director whose contributions cannot be diminished; Christian Bale successfully pulls off the bat man with a straight face; in fact, all the film’s actors have become their characters. Yet it is Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker that makes “The Dark Knight” so lofty. Ledger deserves the Oscar — and not as a consolation prize for being deceased. A good villain is just as important as having a good hero. Among the films I’ve seen in 2008, “The Dark Knight” is the best of the year.

2.) The Orphanage (R)
“The Orphanage” is a truly creepy film and perhaps more impressive, one of the few effective haunted house movies. Filmed in Spanish with English subtitles, this non-slasher, spine-tingler is rated R but not for the usual reasons: Its rating is solely due to “disturbing content.” I might have termed it “troubling” content.

3.) Cloverfield (PG-13)
Everybody plays the “what if” game. And because of that, “Cloverfield” is pure cinematic delight because it allows the “what if” game to unfold before our eyes. What if a real monster attacked New York City? This is no King Kong or Godzilla monster mash; “Cloverfield” endeavors, as realistically as possible, to portray such a horrific event. Best of all, the movie pulls us up onto the screen, into the action, because we identify with a character videographer’s subjective point of view through his camera lens, a trick that “Quarantine” later attempted in October but with much less success.

4.) Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (PG)
Highly controversial and arguably slanted unfairly, “Expelled” is a documentary for “the believers,” meaning, those who believe “Genesis” over “The Origin of the Species.” Ben Stein is the gadfly of the scientific community as he observes that it seems to have closed its mind to ideas like Creationism and wholly accepted Evolution. “Expelled” is a showdown that is much more engaging than it sounds.

5.) Snow Angels (R)
Some films can carefully portray with lifelike verisimilitude the sad dramas that play out in the lives of regular, everyday people. “Snow Angels” is one such film, and its magnificence is matched only by its pensiveness.

6.) Run Fatboy Run (PG-13)
Because its director is David Schwimmer and its title is “Run Fatboy Run,” you may doubt my judgment on this surprising comedy. But Schwimmer shows considerable promise as a director, and the movie’s title is likely a marketing design, even though it is somewhat fitting. “Run Fatboy Run” is funny, but it’s also inspiring. This movie is a banner and a beacon for anyone who’s tired of being a loser and wants to stop sucking.

7.) Rambo (R)
I know. Sy Stallone is like 62 years old and “Rambo,” like most of the “Rocky” movies, is a thing of the ‘80s. But who goes to see a “Rambo” movie? Someone expecting a Merchant Ivory Production? No. Someone who wants to see “Rambo” blow everybody away. Done. But that’s not what makes this movie excellent: Reportedly, in this time of war, Stallone wanted to try to depict the true horrors of warfare, and it appears he has succeeded with a film that approaches the graphic violence of “Saving Private Ryan” (1998). And though it’s difficult to make a war film that doesn’t ultimately glorify war (which I suppose “Rambo” still does), it still paints a vividly grotesque picture.

8.) Iron Man (PG-13)
As mentioned above, “Iron Man” is a fine example of a comic book movie. It’s a well made, summer-fun, big-budget, popcorn blockbuster that is wonderfully entertaining. But as Heath Ledger is to “The Dark Knight,” so is Robert Downey Jr. to “Iron Man.” He makes the movie worth seeing on the merits of his humorous performance alone.

9.) Tropic Thunder (R)
Speaking of Robert Downey Jr., when an actor can convincingly perform in layers, piling character upon character within a role, then you know he or she has a remarkable gift. I don’t care if this is a comedy, he still should be nominated for his performance. Not only is “Tropic Thunder” hilarious, it savagely cannibalizes and ridicules the Hollywood from whence it sprang. It has an updated variation of the “Three Amigos!” (1986) plot that’s both smarter and funnier.

10.) The Ruins (R)
Many people will disagree with my ranking “The Ruins” among this list, but I don’t care. This is an excellent horror movie, which is nearly an oxymoron. While watching this film, imagine that you have fallen into this scenario. Yes, the vines (which are not the point) are ridiculous, but this is no “Little Shop of Horrors” (1986). Setting the vines aside, which are merely a plot device, the true horrors of “The Ruins” could happen. What is scarier than being marooned in another country and watching those who are with you — the only people you thought you could trust — make dreadful decisions out of fear? It is what the characters do to one another (and it’s typically not meant to be mean-spirited) in this midst of their crisis that makes “The Ruins” an effective horror movie.

11.) U2 3D (G)
I’m not even a U2 fan, per se. But I like their music, and besides, who doesn’t enjoy concerts? “U2 3D” is comprised of incredible footage from several U2 concerts that puts the viewer up on the stage with the performers. And even without the 3-D glasses, this would still be an enjoyable experience for any music lover — especially a true U2 fan.

Honorable Mention of 2008:
4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
Charlie Bartlett
Definitely, Maybe
The Happening
Horton Hears a Who!
The Incredible Hulk
Lakeview Terrace
The Other Boleyn Girl
Pride and Glory
Quantum of Solace
Righteous Kill
Smart People
Under the Same Moon


* These are the films from 2008 that I haven’t seen yet that are supposed to be exceptional:

The Band’s Visit
A Christmas Tale
Chop Shop
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Duchess of Langeais
The Edge of Heaven
Encounters at the End of the World
The Fall
Frozen River
A Girl Cut in Two
Gran Torino
In Bruges
I’ve Loved You So Long
The Last Mistress
Let the Right One In
Man on Wire
My Winnipeg
Rachel Getting Married
The Reader
Revolutionary Road
Shotgun Stories
Slumdog Millionaire
Standard Operating Procedure
Synecdoche, New York
Tell No One
Trouble the Water
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The Wrestler


And for what it’s worth (which isn’t much), these are the 10 worst movies of 2008, with the absolute most terrible one listed at the bottom.

Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay
Vantage Point
The Eye
How She Move
Superhero Movie
First Sunday
Witless Protection
One Missed Call
Meet the Spartans

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