Mike’s Top Ten of 2008
The years only get better as this decade starts winding up. This year was so good it managed to get the Oscar voting procedure changed so it could include more than five films in the Best Picture category. (Most people assume The Dark Knight is the main reason for that change, but you also forget films like The Wrestler and Doubt and even Wall-E that probably would have made it if they had the spots for them.) It’s an incredible year. Plus there are some straight awesome movies here too. Some of them we all agree on… others are my own personal missions (that I think people might eventually be coming around on).
The tough thing for me about 2008 is, despite having a top ten list that’s top to bottom amazing… I really had trouble picking #1. It was easy to find the ten that I considered my favorite, but past that, actually ranking certain ones over others was incredibly difficult, which is not what I was expecting. And I’ll be honest… #1 did not go the way I’d have expected if you gave past me this list of ten and said, “Which did you put at #1?”
Mike’s Top Ten of 2008
Burn After Reading
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Let the Right One In
11-20: Doubt, The Fall, Iron Man, Milk, Nothing But the Truth, Ponyo, Quantum of Solace, Role Models, Synecdoche New York, Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Tier two: Australia, Bolt, Changeling, Che, Definitely Maybe, The Duchess, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Frost/Nixon, Gran Torino, The Happening, Hunger, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Man on Wire, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Rachel Getting Married, The Reader, Revolutionary Road, Son of Rambow, Shine a Light, Wanted
Tier three: Appaloosa, The Bank Job, Be Kind Rewind, Chop Shop, The Escapist, Frozen River, Ghost Town, Happy-Go-Lucky, Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueberger, The Incredible Hulk, Last Chance Harvey, Leatherheads, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Pineapple Express, Religulous, RocknRolla, Street Kings, The Visitor, W., The Wackness
Tier four: 21, Body of Lies, Choke, Dakota Skye, Death Race, Deception, Defiance, Hancock, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Kung Fu Panda, Semi-Pro, Soul Men, Step Brothers, The Strangers, Swing Vote, Taken, Transporter 3, Two Lovers, Valkyrie
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As much as I want to try to name any of the next three films on this list my favorite of 2008… I just kept coming back to this one.
I’ll need to preface this with my history with Pixar. I saw the first Toy Story at 7 and loved it. I barely remember having seen Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2 growing up, and Monsters Inc I saw through my sister, who was the right age for it when it came out. Finding Nemo I saw through my cousin, who was 3 at the time. But The Incredibles, Cars and Ratatouille? I either missed them or didn’t really care. Granted, part of that is me being at that age of getting into movies and being a teenager who thinks these are “kiddie” movies and wants nothing to do with them. But this is the one that brought me back. Somehow the idea of this movie completely up my alley and I was so all-in to see this. (I actually saw it as a double feature with Wanted, of all things.)
It’s about a robot (named Wall-E) who is commissioned to clean up the garbage on a future Earth that has become uninhabitable due to pollution and overpopulation. Only, humans eventually left the planet to live perpetually on a spaceship, but Wall-E, they left behind. So he’s just going on, doing his job, dreaming of “out there” and the hope of companionship. Which he eventually finds in EVE, who descends from space with a “classified” directive. And the film turns into this beautiful robot romance, before turning into something completely different by its third act.
It’s, to me, possibly the greatest movie Pixar has ever made. The themes they bring up here are unlike those in almost every other film they’ve made. There are real critiques on humanity and what we’re doing to the planet. And you just don’t see that in the other movies. Sure, they’ll have themes, but rarely will you see them done as strong and powerful as here.
2. The Dark Knight
“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
This movie is a bit of a magic trick. Because it’s just another Batman movie, really. It’s not particularly doing so much different than ‘Begins’ or ‘Rises’, but it does have Heath Ledger as The Joker, and I think that performance is so transcendent that it truly overshadows the rest of the movie and elevates it into something poetic. This was really when the world saw that a superhero movie could be about something more and actually not even really feel like a comic book. I mean, this is a genre movie. This is Heat, but with Batman.
Everyone’s seen this movie, so I don’t need to get into too many specifics with it, but I am amazed at how this one continues to hold up for me. The action sequences are spectacular. And also, it needs to be said — every moment Heath Ledger is on screen in this film elevates the film to a complete other level. It’s crazy. It’s rare to have a character who is the ultimate wild card where you truly feel like you have no idea what the actor is going to next.
3. Let the Right One In
“Can we be together?”
“Can’t we just be how we are?”
I am so in love with this movie. I had complete reservations at the time, because it was back when I was in college, before I watched everything, and when I had strong opinions about things. So I thought, “God, the annoying/pretentious people are talking this up. It must be some shitty horror thriller I’m gonna hate.” And then I watched it. And immediately I realized what everyone was talking about.
This isn’t so much a horror movie as a coming-of-age movie with a vampire in it. The fact that it’s not even in English doesn’t matter. It’s about a lonely boy who gets bullied at school and has no friends and the vampire who moves in next door. The vampire (played by a girl, and seemingly a girl, though the movie makes it clear at two points that it’s not a girl) lives with her much older handler, who seems like her father, and becomes friends with the boy. And there’s a sort of romance that goes on, as the boy learns to stand up for himself.
The beauty of this movie is how it’s played for romance and minimizes the vampire stuff. It’s so good. It’s the kind of movie that even the people who can’t stand movies with subtitles can get swept up in, because everyone can feel the emotion of these characters. And it’s also the kind of movie where, when you think about it afterward and watch it multiple times, the events become clearer and you realize all the little things that were going on that you never quite realized at the time.
Honestly, you catch me on the right day, and this has a good shot at #1 for this year, I love it that much.
4. In Bruges
“What’s up there?”
“The view of what? The view of down here? I can see that down here.”
“Ray, you are about the worst tourist in the whole world.”
“Ken, I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.”
Martin McDonagh, baby. This was his first feature (his short, Six Shooter, won an Oscar four years before this). And man, did we all just jump on this one. This is one of those where, it’s on all of our top ten lists because it’s just so goddamn good.
The general plot is about two hitmen taking some time off after a job gone wrong. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are the hitmen. Farrell is wracked with guilt, while Gleeson is there to try to keep him stable. The pair are in Bruges because their boss, Ralph Fiennes, said it’s a beautiful, quiet city that will allow them to take their mind off things. Of course, Farrell fucking hates it and wants nothing to do with it, and Gleeson is there, taking in the sights on his own most of the time. And of course, things progress on their own, and all sorts of side characters pop up, and before you know it, you start putting things together and things start coming back and paying off and you’re just completely in on everything that’s going on.
Martin McDonagh is one of our greatest writers. The way he writes characters and scenes is second to almost none. If you’ve seen his plays, you know what I mean. His films are something else. He’s made three so far, and two of them I’d consider masterpieces of writing. (The other is Seven Psychopaths, which is glorious in its own anarchic way.) This movie gets terrific performances out of Farrell, Gleeson and Fiennes, specifically Farrell, who sort of returned from movie exile after the failure of his leading man years and most writing him off as an actor.
I can quote the shit out of this movie, it’s so good. And it’s got that all-important watchability factor that so few films can really claim to have.
5. The Wrestler
“The only place I get hurt is out there. The world don’t give a shit about me.”
Darren Aronofsky. This, I think, is the one that really put him on (or back, depending on your mindset) the map. Requiem for a Dream was an indie darling, and then most people didn’t understand The Fountain. But this — everyone got behind this.
It’s a simple movie about a washed up professional wrestler, who was huge in the 80s, and is now pushing 60 and playing high school gymnasiums for like, $100 a show and working at a supermarket during the day to make ends met. And as he sees the end of the road nearing, he both starts a relationship (of sorts) with a stripper while also trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter.
Mickey Rourke plays the character, a stroke of genius casting that resurrected his career and earned him a well-deserved Oscar nomination. Aronofsky also does an amazing job with a very stripped down look that feels both ‘indie’ but also perfect for the story he’s telling. And also — that Springsteen song at the end, my god should that have won every song award there is.
6. Burn After Reading
“What did we learn, Palmer?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“I don’t fuckin’ know either. I guess we learned not to do it again.”
“I’m fucked if I know what we did.”
“Yes, sir, it’s, uh, hard to say.”
“Jesus Fucking Christ.”
I feel like watching this movie in theaters was what it was like for some people to go see The Big Lebowski after Fargo. Because the Coens had just come off winning all these Oscars for No Country, and here they come back with this completely farcical comedy. Both this and Lebowski had about the same initial reaction, it seems. People didn’t really know what to make of it. People who were looking for “serious” Coens were turned off, and it just got overlooked. But man, is this one of their absolute funniest movies.
John Malkovich plays an alcoholic low level CIA employee who gets fired. And, disgruntled, he decides to write his memoirs, which includes some of his exploits from the company. The disc containing this gets left in a bag at his gym and is found by two gym employees, Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt. And McDormand, seeing an opportunity to get the plastic surgery she’s always wanted, decides to blackmail Malkovich for the information and enlisting Pitt in it as well. It’s insane. But it’s so goddamn funny. George Clooney plays a man McDormand meets on a dating site. Tilda Swinton plays Malkovich’s wife (she gets one of the funniest sight gags in the movie toward the end). Richard Jenkins plays a fellow gym employee who’s harbored an unrequited crush on McDormand for years. And J.K. Simmons plays a CIA director who mainly shows up occasionally as a sort of Greek chorus/voice of reason through all the insanity.
Trust me when I say — just watch it if you haven’t seen it. Pitt absolutely steals the movie with his character, who is just the biggest idiot in the world, but in the funniest possible way. And everyone else is just so good. They all have their moments. Malkovich, especially in that first scene… and then Clooney, with… well, I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it. But he’s got a moment that’s just so perfect and never fails to get a laugh.
I remember watching this in theaters thinking, “People are not gonna get this, are they?” You just saw that everyone came out not knowing how to feel about it. “Yeah, it’s kinda funny, but…” And then, like seemingly every Coen brothers comedy, it’s the second and third watch where people realize just how goddamn good it all is.
7. Speed Racer
“Racing hasn’t changed, and it never will.”
“It doesn’t matter if racing never changes. What matters is if we let racing change us. Every one of us has to find a reason to do this. You don’t climb into a T-180 to be a driver. You do it because you’re driven.”
I feel like I was the only one beating the drum for this movie in 2008.
This felt like one of those movies that everyone decided was a bomb before it came out and then no one else wanted to give it the time of day afterward because they just assumed it was shitty. I think this is an incredible leap forward and quite possibly the greatest Speed Racer movie we could have ever possibly gotten.
The effects of this movie are absolutely astounding, and it has the exact right tone for something like this. I will say, I think they go a little too kiddie at parts (namely the little brother and the monkey. Specifically that weird “Freebird” scene where they’re racing through the building and then that moment right at the very end), but if you take that stuff out, this movie is really good. It’s just pure fun, almost like watching a cartoon.
I’m still saying this movie is, in its way, a masterpiece, and I think people are finally starting to come around on it.
8. Slumdog Millionaire
“So are you ready for the final question for 20 million rupees?”
“No, but maybe it’s written, no?”
This movie is just so damn charming. It’s one of those where it’s really difficult not to like. The amount of energy and heart that’s in this movie is really quite amazing.
It’s a story about a poor boy in India who goes on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and, despite a complete lack of proper education and a really rough childhood, seemingly knows the answer to every question. And as he continues to get questions right, we flash back to his childhood, and all the events that led him to this moment.
It’s… so wonderful. It’s the kind of movie you can’t really pitch to people who haven’t seen it, because it doesn’t sound like something they want to see. But you go, “Trust me,” and then you see it and you realize how great it is. There’s a reason this won Best Picture.
9. Tropic Thunder
“I don’t break character until I do the DVD commentary!”
This is a near-perfect comedy. I remember hearing the set-up for this and going, “In.” And I went to the theater to watch it, hoping it wouldn’t be a let down. And honestly, they had me from the opening fake trailers. That was the most brilliant way to start the movie, with fake trailers for all three actors’ movies. The ridiculous action sequel from Stiller’s character, to the Nutty Professor-nonsense of Jack Black’s character and then the overdrawn gay priest Oscar bait movie from Downey’s character.
And then you get the movie, which is just hilarious. Downey’s in blackface for pretty much the whole thing, and steals every scene he’s in. It’s just memorable moment after memorable moment. And one of the genius concepts out there. Essentially: huge budget war movie being shot, and all the actors are basically out for themselves and the movie is over budget and is a disaster. So the director decides to drop the actors off in the jungle by themselves and shoot from afar. Only… complications ensue.
I love this movie so much. This, to me, is one of the best comedies of the decade and one of those movies I could watch over and over again. Because it just holds up. Funny is funny.
10. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
“Some people were born to sit by a river. Some get struck by lightning. Some have an ear for music. Some are artists. Some swim. Some know buttons. Some know Shakespeare. Some are mothers. And some people, dance.”
I feel like this is somehow the most overlooked movie of David Fincher’s career. You’d think it’s The Game, which it kind of is. But at least that one people go back to and think is awesome and just overlook it amongst the other ones. This one, I feel, just gets completely ignored.
I have to say a couple of things about this movie straight off the top. First — it’s Cajun Forrest Gump. (Don’t believe me? Watch this.) That makes it slightly difficult to love this as unabashedly as I want to. Also, it’s the first time David Fincher felt like he went fully digital with his cinematography. He’d been moving toward it. You can see it in Panic Room, and you can see it more in Zodiac, but this is the first time he developed that look that you’ve seen in all of his movies since. There’s a coldness and almost artificiality to it that stands out at points.
Okay, cool. I had to get those out of the way because they’re the two major sticking points for me with this movie (everything else is minor gripes). Otherwise, I love it. I think it’s a wonderful film with a great lead performance by Brad Pitt that’s just as engaging every successive time you watch it. (Also, do most people know that Mahershala Ali and Jared Harris are both in this? I feel like people forget that.)
I feel like this is one of those movies that you think of respectfully, as a stunning technical achievement and as a really fine piece of work, but never as one of their absolute “favorites” of the year. Which is probably why this gets overlooked on Fincher’s filmography. But it really does hold its own amongst the other stuff even if it’s the most conventional movie he’s made.
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Doubt — An incredible movie. Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley (who wrote Moonstruck) and adapted from his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play. It stars Amy Adams as a young nun who comes to a catholic school that is run by the iron fist of Meryl Streep, an older nun who respects tradition above all else. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the charismatic priest who is trying to do away with tradition in order to actually make people want to join the church. Naturally, he and Streep disagree most of the time. One day, Adams sees some signs from one of the shy, bullied boys at the school that suggest a possible inappropriate relationship between him and Hoffman. She brings her suspicions to Streep, and then it turns into this whole thing, and pretty soon everyone is coming to their own conclusions. It’s an incredible film. One of the best written things you will ever see. And you have three acting powerhouses in the lead roles (all of whom were nominated for their performances, including Viola Davis, who plays the boy’s mother and makes one of the strongest impressions you will ever see despite only appearing in a single scene), which only makes the whole thing better. This movie is incredible and without question one of the absolute best movies of this year. The beauty of the play (and film) is that it never actually tells you whether or not the event happened (hence the title) and leaves it to you to decide how you feel about everything and what it’s trying to see (hence the play’s subtitle: “A Parable”). Honestly, this would be in my top ten if I had the room for it. It’s that amazing.
The Fall — This movie premiered at Toronto in 2006 and took almost two years to be released. And it took both David Fincher and Spike Jonze to present it in order to make that happens. It’s directed by Tarsem Singh, one of the most visual directors working, and that’s the beauty of this one. It is a visual marvel. It is one of the most stunning-looking films you will ever see, and like 95% of the effects of this movie are done practically, with no computer enhancement whatsoever. Which is what really makes the film standout. All of it was actually done. And oh my god. The story itself is just fine. It’s about an American stuntman who gets injured during a film shoot who, while in the hospital, befriends a young girl with a broken arm by telling her this fantastical story (which we, of course, see unfold as he tells it). And as he becomes convinced he’ll never walk again and gets more impressed, and as the girl becomes more invested in the tale as it goes on, the lines between fantasy and reality start to blur a bit. But trust me, the point of this movie is not the story. It’s the visuals. There are at least five times during this movie you’ll see a shot and go, “Oh my god.” Because it’s just so beautiful. And at least twice you’ll go, “There’s no way they actually did that,” and then you’ll realize — they did. That’s what makes this movie so great. Trust me on this. Go watch it immediately and prepare for one of the most incredible sensory experiences you’ve ever had.
Iron Man — This is the one that started it all. This put Marvel on the map. They didn’t know if it was gonna work out when they made this, but it worked out. The success of this movie (and Marvel in general) comes down to two people: Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. Downey as Stark gave us one of the best heroes of all time, and this first film is really the one that made us immediately remember how great a movie star he is (and imagine… he had this and Tropic Thunder within two months of one another. How great must it have been to be that dude, after all he went through, for that summer? And then for the rest of time since then as well). He was the face of the films for a decade, and in a lot of ways, he completely put them on the map. But Favreau is the one that doesn’t get enough of the credit. That dude really did a lot of the heavy lifting on this. There are quotes from Jeff Bridges who said it was like making a $150 million student film. Because they’d walk on set in the morning and just figure out what they were shooting and write dialogue in the trailer and then go out and film it. You might even say… they built this film in a cave, with a bunch of scraps. But that’s the beauty of it. It feels fresh, it feels of the moment, and it feels like a movie that’s not trying to fit any kind of formula. It’s taking its lead character and just running with it. And the groundwork they laid here helped them build a decade’s worth of movies. They got ten years and 23 movies because of this, and what Favreau and Downey set up helped make all of the emotion in Endgame pay off down the line. It’s one of the most impressive achievements you’ll ever see.
Milk — Gus Van Sant’s biopic of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the country. Incredible story, incredible film. Sean Penn deservedly won his second Oscar for his performance, and the film is loaded with great actors giving great performances, most notably Josh Brolin (also nominated for his work here). It’s just an incredible piece of work. Gus Van Sant is ultimately going to be remembered for three films: My Own Private Idaho, Good Will Hunting and this. (Elephant is a second paragraph kind of film, as are all the others. Those three are the ones.) This is a complete home run for him, and remains one of the best biopics of the decade.
Nothing But the Truth — This is a movie I knew little about going in and absolutely loved. This was one of my absolute favorite movies this year and nobody knew about it because they quietly released it without any real fanfare. It’s written and directed by Rod Lurie (who also directed The Contender and The Last Castle) and is loosely based on the Valerie Plame affair. It’s not meant to be factual at all. Fair Game, which came out two years after this with Naomi Watts, is the movie that’s directly about those events. This just takes the general premise and does something else. It stars Kate Beckinsale as a journalist who writes an article outing a CIA agent, which causes a giant shitstorm. Of course, now the agent is burned and all of her missions and contacts are compromised, but also the government wants to know where she got her information and who her source was. And they throw her in prison until she reveals it. Which, as a journalist, you never do. So she’s in prison, refusing to give up her source, and it becomes this legal stalemate. And it’s wonderful. It’s a really affecting film that I recommend very very highly. It’s one of my favorite hidden gems of the entire decade.
Ponyo — This is Miyazaki doing The Little Mermaid. That’s literally the story he’s basing it off, and honestly, it’s fantastic. There isn’t a bad Miyazaki movie, and there isn’t anything he’s made that’s less than great. And this is great. You should never pass up the opportunity to watch one of his films. They are, even the weakest of them, better than 90% of anything Disney or Pixar has ever made.
Quantum of Solace — Daniel Craig’s second outing as James Bond. They rushed this after the success of Casino Royale, and it was partially the victim of the writer’s strike that happened in late 2007. It’s a direct followup to Casino Royale, which marks the first time a Bond movie directly follows up another. (The closest they really ever came to it was the opening of For Your Eyes Only, where they randomly bring back Blofeld, who hadn’t been featured in the franchise since Connery left, only to have Roger Moore dump him down a smokestack.) It begins, quite literally, just after the events of Casino Royale (with what might actually be one of the greatest action sequences in the history of the franchise) and a big factor into the plot is Bond’s reaction to the death of Vesper Lynd. It’s the shortest Bond movie ever, and the plot feels kinda standard for the franchise. Though the secret weapon of this film (aside from that amazing opening sequence) is the fact that it really furthers the character of Bond along, which helps when you get to a movie like Skyfall. Craig’s Bond is the most fully-formed dramatic character of any of the Bonds, including Connery, and this movie is the backbone of that arc. It’s a great movie, and really the worst thing I can say about it is that it’s just kind of above average for the Bond franchise, which is still better than practically all the Roger Moore films.
Role Models — One of the best comedies of the decade, and one of the few that makes me laugh even now when I watch it. It’s David Wain directing Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott. They’re two guys who end up having to enroll in a Big Brother program as part of their probation after a work incident causes some damage. Each gets paired with a kid nobody wants — Scott with a foul-mouthed ten year old who drove all his other big brothers away with his antics and Rudd with Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who is nerdy to the point of doing LARP games and dressing up in medieval garb and carrying around a fake sword. It’s — just trust me on this, you want to see this movie if you haven’t. It’s one of the funniest things you’ll see this entire decade.
Synecdoche, New York — This is Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut. It is his most ambitious script yet, which, for a guy who wrote Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine, is saying something. Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as playwright who wants to make something true and real. So he buys a warehouse in Manhattan and, inside, decides he’s going to celebrate real life by building a scale model of New York inside the warehouse, and his play will become a living thing, with people going about their daily lives the way they would outside. And of course, a lot of the storylines dovetail in the things going on in his own life, to the point where it’s difficult to figure out where reality ends and the play begins. Eventually, all the actors in the play (who are playing characters) begin to have characters playing them, and the whole thing gets very existential. It’s absolutely wonderful. It might be a bit heady for some viewers, but I think it’s a masterpiece.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno — This is Kevin Smith essentially making a movie about himself. It’s about two platonic friends (Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks) who are in desperate need of money. So they decide, “Let’s make a porno.” And the movie is about them bringing about this motley cast of characters to make this thing. And of course they realize they love each other along the way and all that stuff. But the movie is basically about Smith making Clerks, which adds a sweetness to it. Plus, it’s really funny. There are so many quotable lines and moments from this movie that people forget about. It’s never remembered among Smith’s best, but it really is one of his good ones.
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- Definitely, Maybe
- The Duchess
- Forgetting Sarah Marshall
- Gran Torino
- The Happening
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
- Man on Wire
- Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
- Rachel Getting Married
- The Reader
- Revolutionary Road
- Son of Rambow
- Shine a Light
The Happening is M. Night Shyamalan making a movie that I don’t think he intended to be a comedy. The Wicker Man, I think, was intended to be a comedy. This one… I don’t think so. I think it’s just bad, to the point of being funny. Kind of like how The Room is a comedy. It’s a movie about the environment deciding humans are doing too much damage to it, so all the plants start secreting a certain chemical that, when humans breathe it in, makes them want to kill themselves. So it’s presented like a monster movie… people just start, en masse around the world, start killing themselves. And now everyone else is in panic and just goes on the run because they don’t know what the hell else to do. And the film (allegedly) revolves around Mark Wahlberg, a schoolteacher, and his wife, Zooey Deschanel, who are with this group of ‘survivors’ who are just trying to stay alive. It features some incredibly funny moments, such as the guy who perfectly explains exactly what’s happening about an hour in the film before the rest of the characters figure it out, and then, in order to be discredited so as not to spoil the ending, immediately (and randomly) starts talking about hot dogs and how amazing hot dogs are. It also features Mark Wahlberg (in what might be the worst performance you’ve ever seen an Academy Award-nominated actor ever give on screen. Which I am not even remotely blaming on him) talking to a fake plant to try to ‘calm it down’ so it doesn’t kill him. Not to mention an incredible monologue about cough syrup (if you haven’t seen it, just trust me. The look he gives at the end of the monologue to Zooey Deschanel is one of the funniest things I have ever seen). Not to mention the immortal line, “Why ya eyin’ my lemon drink, boy?” as well as the single greatest response in the history of cinema, after a woman says she knows Wahlberg is planning to kill her:
Rachel Getting Married is a movie I adore. This would have been 11-20 if not for lack of space. I really love this one. It’s an indie that stars Anne Hathaway as a woman who has been in rehab for several months (and on and off for several years) who is allowed to leave for the weekend to attend her sister’s wedding. So we watch her over the course of this weekend interacting with her family members and trying to maintain her sobriety as all the little family secrets start to come out, particularly in terms of what drove her to rehab in the first place. It’s a tremendous performance by Anne Hathaway, who in my mind gives one of the best performances of the year, and should have won an Oscar for it. This movie also features the return of Debra Winger, who had basically been away from cinema for over a decade before being in this. It also has one of the most emotional scenes I have ever seen put on film. It’s one of the most successful pieces of tonal shifts I have ever seen. For those who have seen the film (and even those who haven’t, without spoiling it), I’ll just say ‘the dishwasher scene’. That alone makes this movie one of the absolute best of the year. Hunger is the movie that broke Michael Fassbender. It’s Steve McQueen’s first film and it’s about Irish activist Bobby Sands, who staged a hunger strike while in prison. And that’s the film — Fassbender in prison not eating and slowly dying from it. It’s incredible. The highlight of the film is a ten-minute (or something like that) one-take scene of Fassbender with a priest. And it’s incredible. After Shame, 12 Years a Slave and Widows, I think we all know how masterful a filmmaker Steve McQueen is, so if you haven’t gone back to see this first one of his, do yourself a favor and do so. It’s Michael Fassbender at his best as well.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is one of the great hidden gems of the 2000s. This movie is so good and so charming and so disgustingly underseen. Frances McDormand plays a governess who gets fired from her last job and desperately needs a new one. She ends up working for Amy Adams, a flighty singer looking to make a name for herself by sleeping with Mark Strong, a club owner. And McDormand becomes a confident and eventually friend to Adams, sort of helping her grow up and come into her own. It’s a sort of adult Mary Poppins. And it’s wonderful. McDormand and Adams are both fantastic, and this is just a movie that will make you feel happy. Do not sleep on this one because it’s one of the best movies of this year and this decade. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the fourth one. Made almost twenty years after Lsat Crusade, it’s a welcome, but unnecessary return to one of the great franchises. This one takes place in the 50s, which means its references are Cold War and sci-fi movies. And as such, it includes one of the more contentious elements of aliens, and helped coin the phrase “nuking the fridge.” As an Indy film, it’s subpar (also, that digital cinematography really detracts from the feel of the whole thing), but as a movie, it’s fine. It’s fun. Wanted is a badass action movie. Never gonna hold up as a masterpiece, but fun as shit. James McAvoy plays an office worker who hates his life, only to find out that he’s the son of an assassin who works for a shadowy organization of assassins, and now is gonna train to be one of them. Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp and Common costar, and it’s just fun as hell. Fun fact: I saw this in theaters as a double feature with Wall-E.
and over the next few years after this one you’d see them return to making some of their best films. The Reader is the movie that will forever be known for two things: the movie that won Kate Winslet her Oscar, and the movie that got them to change Oscar voting so shit like this didn’t make the whole thing feel so boring. Before we get into that, the film itself is directed by Stephen Daldry, who, at this time had directed three movies (Billy Elliott, The Hours, The Reader), all of which earned him a Best Director nomination and the last two of which earned Best Picture nominations. It stars Kate Winslet as a woman who meets a teenage boy when he gets sick in the alleyway near her apartment and nurses him back to health. The two then begin a sexual relationship, and she sort of uses him to help teacher herself how to read. The film is shown in two different time periods, with the boy as a teen and then as an adult (played by Ralph Fiennes), and we find out more about who Winslet is/was before the war (this is Germany) and the implications of her not having been able to read earlier. It’s a solid drama, well made. Not in anyone’s ‘top of the year’ list, but the kind of movie that the Academy always fawns over. Shot by Roger Deakins as well. But the thing with this movie was, in a year with The Dark Knight, which was one of the most acclaimed movies of the year, and also stuff like The Wrestler, when this movie ended up making the final five of the Best Picture list, it just felt like a huge letdown. To the point where they even made a joke at the Oscar ceremony, where Hugh Jackman did an opening number celebrating all the movies. And his part about The Reader was him doing a dance to German techno and talking about how he hadn’t even seen it and didn’t know what it was about. So because of that, they changed the voting so more than five films can get nominated. And really, apart from actually being a solid movie, it feels like that might be this movie’s legacy. That and the Winslet win (which even that, a lot of people, including myself, feel should have gone to her for this next film). Revolutionary Road is Sam Mendes directing a movie about suburban drama in the 50s. Starring Leo and Kate, and also Michael Shannon, getting himself his first Oscar nomination. The film is really well made and well acted. It’s very ‘act-y’, which is to be expected, but Mendes keeps it interesting and Deakins (naturally) shoots the hell out of it. 2008 was the year of Kate Winslet, where she won just about every award there is to win, between this and The Reader.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall is perhaps my favorite of the Judd Apatow produced-but-not directed films. Well… maybe Superbad. So okay, this is second. Still, it’s great. It’s written by Jason Segal and based around a difficult breakup of his. He stars as a guy who just got dumped by his TV Star ex-girlfriend (here played by Kristen Bell). And in his misery, he decides to go to Hawaii as a change of scenery and to clear his mind of her. Of course, he soon finds out that she’s gone there too with her new rockstar boyfriend, and that only makes things way more difficult for him. It’s… so good. It’s hilarious, it’s sweet, it’s just a good, good movie. One of the best of this year. Bolt is the first Disney film in the new Disney era, post them buying Pixar. And you can see the change in quality immediately. This film is about a dog who lives and works in Hollywood as the star of a television show and doesn’t know the difference between the show and reality. The other star of the show is a child actress and he thinks he must constantly be protecting her at all times. So when an episode ends on a cliffhanger and he thinks the girl is actually kidnapped, he escapes from his kennel and embarks on a journey to go save her. And of course the film is about him slowly realizing that he’s just a regular dog and all that. It’s a really enjoyable film and very likable. Man on Wire is a documentary about a French guy who strung a wire between the Twin Towers and walked across it for an hour. Real story, incredible. It’s presented almost like a heist movie. You see that this guy has been doing this for years… putting a wire across famous buildings and bridges and walking across it. And then you watch as he tells the story of how he planned the Trade Center walk and executed it. And it’s one of the most thrilling and engrossing things you will ever see. It rightly won Best Documentary this year and truly one of the best of the decade.
Australia is a Baz Luhrmann epic western. It’s lush and sprawling and almost made to be like a 50s movie. It’s set just before World War II, and Nicole Kidman plays a woman who inherits a ranch and joins up with cattle driver Hugh Jackman to drive a head of cattle across the bush in order to keep her farm from getting sold into the wrong hands. It’s wonderful. I get that people don’t always love this, but it’s big and romantic and looks amazing and is just a really good movie. Give it a chance. You never know. Gran Torino was almost Clint Eastwood’s final screen performance. I think he had intended for it to be, and then he ended up acting in Trouble with the Curve and The Mule. Here, plays an old racist dude who slowly befriends the Vietnamese teenager next door. Kind of a tough movie, in that a lot of the humor comes from an old white dude being crazy racist, but admittedly it does have its moments. If this were Eastwood’s final acting role, this did feel like a fine way for him to have gone out. But instead, it just goes down as a fun little movie he made while he basically couldn’t do anything wrong in the eyes of Hollywood. Which brings us to the other film he made this year, Changeling. It’s based on real life events and stars Angelina Jolie as a woman whose son goes missing. The LAPD returns a child to her, but it’s very clearly not her son. So now she starts fighting with the LAPD, who clearly tried to pass off a fake to make themselves look better, and the film takes on a different tone entirely. Because it ultimately becomes about the mistreatment of women in this era. And it’s really strong. Jolie is fantastic in it and it’s one of those movies that everyone would put fairlly highly on their list of best films of this year.
Son of Rambow is such an adorable movie. I love this so much. Just pull up a trailer for this and you’ll see immediately how much fun it is. It’s one of the real hidden gems of the decade. It’s a movie about a shy boy who befriends another kid (who is kind of a maniac) who is obsessed with Rambo (which had just come out that summer) and wants to remake it. Only, since they’re kids, he’s gonna be (insert title here). And the movie is a coming of age film about two kids making movies together. And it’s wonderful. I can’t recommend this one highly enough. Che is Steven Soderbegh’s biopic of Che Guevara, starring Benicio del Toro. It’s four hours long, and it’s a masterwork. People are gonna find it very difficult to sit through a movie like this, especially since Soderbergh deliberately tries to avoid all the usual biopic tropes one would expect. But man, is this amazing, and Benicio gives one of the best performances most people have never even seen. this movie is great. (Technically the film is two parts, but I’ve put it in as a single film because it’s meant to be seen as a whole.) The Duchess is a period costume drama with Keira Knightley, who spent the better part of a decade basically living in corsets and doing these types of films. It’s a biopic of an 18th-century noblewoman and her tumultuous personal life. Knightley is fantastic in this and it’s also got Ralph Fiennes, Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper and Hayley Atwell. The costumes won an Oscar and it’s just one of those movies that’s really solid, though always gets undersold because it’s not exactly the sexiest thing in the world to talk about how great a period British costume drama is.
Definitely, Maybe is a lovely little movie. I remember seeing a trailer and thinking it was one of the best premises I’d never seen in a movie. It stars Ryan Reynolds as a soon-to-be single father to Abigail Breslin who gets asked by her how he and her mother met and fell in love. So he tells her, and the story involves him in three different relationships with three different women, with the names changed to allow her to guess which of the three is her mother. The three women are Rachel Weisz, Elizabeth Banks and Isla Fisher. And it’s a really sweet little movie. It doesn’t totally work, but it works enough to be really charming and a very worthwhile rom com with great people involved. Frost/Nixon is Ron Howard’s movie about the famous interview between David Frost and Richard Nixon in the years after Nixon’s resignation. Nixon hadn’t given any interviews at all and was eventually pressured into doing so, choosing Frost as the person to do it because of his tendency to not really ask hard-hitting questions. And we see Frost and his side preparing for these interviews, which will all be centered around particular topics, and eventually become a chess game between him and Nixon, with him trying to get Nixon to talk about Watergate and all his crimes and Nixon obviously trying to talk his way out of doing so. It’s a wonderful piece of writing that was originally a stage play. Frank Langella plays Nixon and Michael Sheen plays Frost. The cast is great, the performances are great, and it’s just one of those really solid movies that just moves and keeps you engrossed all the way through. Shine a Light is a Martin Scorsese/Rolling Stones concert movie. I think that about covers everything you need to know about it. My favorite thing about this movie came during the press junket where Mick said, “This is the only Martin Scorsese movie that doesn’t feature the song ‘Gimme Shelter’.”
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- The Bank Job
- Be Kind Rewind
- Chop Shop
- The Escapist
- Frozen River
- Ghost Town
- Hey, Hey, It’s Esther Blueberger
- The Incredible Hulk
- Last Chance Harvey
- Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
- Pineapple Express
- Two Lovers
- The Visitor
- The Wackness
Hey, Hey, It’s Esther Blueberger is an Australian coming of age comedy that I’m certain almost nobody in America has even heard of. I have no idea how I came across it at the time, but I did, and I love it. It’s about a Jewish girl on the eve of her bar mitzvah who goes to an elite private school where she’s an outcast. She’s miserable and her only friend is a baby duck. Then, she meets a rebel girl from the public school and the two become fast friends. And so she decides to start attending the public school without telling her parents (and pretending to be an exchange student so as not to draw any attention to herself). It’s great. I love this movie. The main actress, Danielle Catanzariti, is great, and it’s also got Keisha Castle-Hughes as her friend and Toni Collette as her friend’s mother. I’m a big fan of this movie and it’s one of those really likable little gems that almost no one is guaranteed to have heard of. The Visitor is very much an indie movie, which earned Richard Jenkins an Oscar nomination. He plays a college professor whose home is New York but works in Connecticut. Though during the school year, he has to attend a conference in New York, so he goes back to his New York apartment, only to find an immigrant family living there. Sympathizing, he decides to let them live with him, and the film is about him growing close to them. It’s a really strong film and really showcases Jenkins, who is so often overlooked for his great work in other films. Chop Shop is a very nice little indie directed by Rhamin Bahrani (who did Man Push Cart, Goodbye Solo and 99 Homes) about an orphaned kid who lives and works in a body shop at a junkyard in Queens with his younger sister. The kid is resourceful, and does what he can to try to help build a better life for him and his sister. It’s really good. I highly recommend this one.
RocknRolla is Guy Ritchie’s return to the crime genre after a few years away. He married Madonna and then made Swept Away (which was a disaster), then came back with Revolver, which is fine, but was heavily influenced by Kabbalah and didn’t fully work. This one felt like a real return to form for him (and helped him make that jump into studio territory with the Sherlock Holmes movies). It stars Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Mark Strong, Idris Elba, Tom Hardy, Jeremy Piven, Toby Kebbell and Ludacris. And it’s awesome. You can pretty much never go wrong with a Guy Ritchie crime movie, and this is one of the really good ones. Though I feel like, for most people, the cast speaks for itself. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is a movie I immediately had an affinity toward because it borrows its character names from my favorite film of all time. So there’s that. But it’s also a sweet little romance on top of that. It plays as a kind of hipster Before Sunrise. Not exactly, but it’s that kind of movie. Romance that takes place in one city over the course of one night. Stars Michael Cera and Kat Dennings, and it’s very charming. The Escapist is Rupert Wyatt’s first film (if the name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, he made Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Gambler and Captive State) and stars Brian Cox as a lifer in prison who, when his daughter gets sick, makes a plan to get out. And that’s the film… him planning his escape with a group of inmates. It’s awesome. Definitely recommend this one. All prison movies are watchable, and this one is really solid. Religulous is Bill Maher’s documentary about the insanity of organized religion and how corrupted and crazy the whole thing has become. It’s great. It’s really funny.
Appaloosa is a western directed by Ed Harris (who also wrote and stars in it). Him and Viggo Mortensen play friends who become deputies of a small town who have to stand up to a rancher (Jeremy Irons) who is starting to disrupt the town with his money and the gang of thugs who work for him. It’s awesome. I’m more partial to westerns than most, but if you’re at all interested in a western, this one’s awesome. The Incredible Hulk is the second Marvel film ever. Released two months after Iron Man, they were still so shocked about how big a hit it was that they tried to capitalize on it by adding Downey to the final scene of the movie to help build their universe. Of course, everyone knows about the internal strife that happened here, where they signed on Edward Norton as Banner under the guise of wanting to make a real drama about the man only to basically turn it into a Marvel movie against his wishes. The result is a relatively fun movie that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the Cinematic Universe. Largely because this and Iron Man were both made as one-offs to see if they would work, and it was everything following this that would help build toward everything they were trying to do in terms of a shared universe. So it tends to be an outlier that most people don’t respect, but honestly it’s a really solid movie. If you just had this as a Hulk movie, you’d be fine with it. It’s only in the context of what Marvel built around it (though, to their credit… they never abandoned it. William Hurt was brought back later on to maintain continuity, despite the recasting of Ruffalo as Banner) that makes people look at it as a failure. Pineapple Express is the stoner comedy hit of this year. People love this movie. I was always tepidly positive on it, since it is fun. Seth Rogen and James Franco play two guys on the run from killers after he sees his boss get murdered. It’s amusing. It’s definitely got its moments.
Last Chance Harvey is a wonderful adult drama that I still bring up to people as one of the great hidden gems of this decade. It stars Dustin Hoffman as a workaholic man who travels to London for his daughter’s wedding. He’s never had time for his family, so his being there is basically a courtesy. And on top of that, his job is about to push him out because he’s getting too old. But then he meets Emma Thompson, lonely single woman, and suddenly he starts to feel a new purpose in life that he hasn’t felt in a long time. And it’s ultimately a movie of two lonely people finding one another, but also a great romance film for adults. Which there are far too few of out there. Happy-Go-Lucky is a Mike Leigh film. And it might be my favorite Mike Leigh film. Leigh, for those who don’t know from his other films, is a filmmaker who tends to have a story and a character but then creates the bulk of his movie through long rehearsal processes with his actors. And some of them can be really heavy dramas (like Vera Drake or Secrets & Lies), but this one’s a sort of comedy, in a way. Sally Hawkins plays an ever-cheerful teacher whose outlook is optimistic even when it probably shouldn’t be. And it’s just a character study about her, and I think it’s wonderful. Hawkins gives an incredible performance that helped break her as an actor, and it’s just a lovely movie. Frozen River is an indie darling from this year that won Sundance and got Melissa Leo nominated for an Oscar. She plays a single mother in desperate need of money who decides to help smuggle people into the country from a little-known border crossing along a frozen lake on a nearby reservation. It’s a really solid drama in the vein of a later and more well-known film, Winter’s Bone. Very much a gritty look about people living on the fringes of society (and essentially in the woods) facing desperate circumstances.
The Wackness is Jonathan Levine’s directorial debut. I feel like this tends to be forgotten against his higher profile stuff like 50/50, The Night Before and Long Shot, but this one’s really solid too. It takes place in the 90s, and it’s about a kid about to go into college who makes money by selling weed. The main story involves him selling weed to Ben Kingsley, a therapist, in exchange for treatment, and him having a crush on Olivia Thirlby, Kingsley’s stepdaughter. It’s a really solid coming of age movie. 21 is a movie about the college students who became expert card counters. A book was written about them by the guy who wrote the book that became The Social Network. It’s fun. Got that kind of a Goodfellas kinda vibe to it. Not the greatest movie ever, but it’s definitely fun, and the actual story is pretty great. Leatherheads is probably the least known movie that George Clooney has directed. Then again I feel like people forget a lot of the stuff he’s actually gone behind the camera for. This one’s a straight up comedy about football in the 20s, back before they wore helmets. And it’s written and structured like a 40s romantic comedy. Clooney plays a football star who wants his failing league to go national. So he recruits John Krasinski, a big college star, to play for him. And then of course the two become rivals, and both start vying for Renee Zellweger, a local reporter… you get the idea. It’s a lot of fun. It’s not a serious movie in any way, but is a very fun piece of entertainment
Street Kings is David Ayer making another cop drama. This one feels more mainstream than his other stuff around this time (namely Harsh Times and End of Watch), but it’s still solid. Keanu Reeves plays a racist and brutal LAPD officer who becomes the target of Internal Affairs after a particularly violent arrest and then gets involved in some real corrupt cop shit. It’s a really solid movie. The cast is awesome — Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans, Terry Crews, Jay Mohr, Naomie Harris, Common — it’s Ayer. When David Ayer makes a cop movie (that doesn’t involve orcs), you know it’s gonna be good. Ghost Town is a really nice little adult comedy with Ricky Gervais as a man who undergoes a colonoscopy and wakes up to find out that he died for several minutes during the procedure. And as a result, he can now see ghosts. Which annoys him to no end. And, like the movie Ghost, it’s about him dealing with one in particular (Greg Kinnear) who wants him to help him tidy up some unfinished business. I really liked this movie. It’s never gonna be thought of as a masterpiece, but it’s a nice little forgotten gem that’s very much worth seeing.
The Bank Job is an awesome heist movie directed by Roger Donaldson and starring Jason Statham as the leader of a crew breaking into the safety deposit box room of a bank, which they think is gonna contain money and jewels and things, but instead has a not of dirty secrets that a lot of powerful people want to keep quiet, which puts him and his team in some real danger. It’s a lot of fun. It’s more action-heavy than the film I’m about to reference, but in terms of a tone, it’s got that Ocean’s Eleven sense of fun to it. Picture Ocean’s Eleven meets a Guy Ritchie movie. That’s the kind of tone this one has. It’s very much worth seeing. W. is Oliver Stone’s biopic of George W. Bush. What’s most interesting is that it’s the only presidential biopic to be made while the president was still in office (and maybe even the only one made while they were alive… though I guess technically PT109 could count for that). Josh Brolin stars as W, with Richard Dreyfuss as Cheney, Thandie Newton as Condoleeza Rice, Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell, Scott Glenn as Rumsfeld, Toby Jones as Karl Rove, James Cromwell as H.W., Ellen Burstyn as Barbara and Elizabeth Banks as Laura. The casting is pretty spot on. The movie itself is pretty good, but it doesn’t quite hit as well as Stone’s other ‘president’ movies. It’s definitely worth seeing though. It’s a really solid film. Be Kind Rewind is a Michel Gondry movie about two guys who work at a video store (Jack Black and Mos Def) who accidentally erase all the footage from the tapes in their store. So in order to keep the business going, they decide to reshoot all the movies by themselves. So they make all the props and costumes from homemade equipment (boxes and things) and make movies with literally no budget. It’s a very likable movie. It’s mostly about people making movies together and the ingenuity of the visuals and how they do it really shines through. It’s hard not to like this movie.
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- Body of Lies
- Cadillac Records
- Dakota Skye
- Death Race
- Hellboy II: The Golden Army
- Kung Fu Panda
- Soul Men
- Step Brothers
- The Strangers
- Swing Vote
- Transporter 3
- Two Lovers
Cadillac Records is a biopic of Chess Records, a very famous record company from the 50s and 60s. Stars Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, Beyonce as Etta James, Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Mos Def as Chuck Berry. It’s that kinda movie. Great music, great performances, just really solid as far as music biopics go. Hellboy II: The Golden Army is the sequel. It’s also fun, like the first one. Mostly I just like seeing Guillermo Del Toro make movies. If anyone else directed it (which we found out with that reboot they did of this franchise), it doesn’t work. He makes these movies work with his brilliant visual style. Choke is based on a Chuck Palahniuk novel and is written and directed by Clark Gregg. It stars Sam Rockwell as a sex addict, and that’s really all you need to know about it. It’s a dark comedy about a sex addict. And it’s fun. Not for everyone, but for those it’s for, you’ll get something out of it. Deception is a movie… okay, here’s the history. I saw that it was gonna star Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams and Ewan McGregor. I was a huge Jackman fan growing up and I’ve always loved Michelle Williams. So I was interested in this. Then it got terrible reviews. Absolutely atrocious reviews. And so most people wrote it off and it had the stink of failure all over it. And then I caught it randomly a year or two later on HBO or something and as I watched it I thought, “This isn’t so bad.” I think it almost felt a bit campy to me? I forget. It’s been years since I’ve seen it, but I do remember thinking, “That wasn’t so bad.” So I felt it belonged here because of that. It’s got a bit of ‘The Firm’ in it, with McGregor as an accountant who meets with Jackman and ends up discovering that he’s involved in a high end sex ring among powerful people, who anonymously go to hotels and sleep together. He decides to show up at one of these encounters and meets Michelle Williams, who he eventually falls in love with. But then she disappears, and he’s trying to find her, and there’s a whole of of shady stuff going on and… you get the idea. It’s a thriller. Like I said, I didn’t think it was so bad when I saw it, and I like the people involved.
Body of Lies is Ridley Scott directing Leo and Russell Crowe. Which would make most people go, “I’m in.” I remember being very excited for it, post-American Gangster, and then seeing it and being very disappointed in it. Then I saw it again later and liked it a lot more. It’s a CIA thriller with Leo as an agent trying to hunt down a terrorist while not being totally sure about the motivations of everyone higher up the food chain. The real MVP of this movie is Mark Strong, who is incredible as the Jordanian head of security. Oh, and Oscar Isaac is in this too. It’s a really solid thriller. Not ever gonna be considered one of Ridley Scott’s best, but one of those movies that makes you realize the dude never makes anything below solid. Transporter 3. They got three movies out of this franchise, which is pretty great. At this point, the plot doesn’t matter – you know the setup, you know it’s Statham, and you know you’re gonna get fun action. It’s a total gimme of a franchise. Defiance is Ed Zwick making a movie about Jewish men who join the Russian resistance to the Nazis. Stars Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell. Like all Ed Zwick movies up until… this one, really… it’s a solid drama and just a worthwhile movie. (After this it’s more hit and miss, but everything between Glory… solid.) Kung Fu Panda is one of the few non-Disney/Pixar animated movies that’s actually quite good. This one’s a lot of fun. It’s about, as one can imagine, a Panda who wants to become a kung fu master. And there’s a whole team of animals who are kung fu masters and he idolizes them and wants to join. It’s good. It spawned lesser sequels (as all these movies do), but this one still holds up as a solid piece of work.
Two Lovers is James Gray’s romance with Joaquin Phoenix and Vinessa Shaw. It’s a romance about a guy torn between the woman his family wants him to marry versus the woman who lives next door. It’s lovely little film that unfortunately got overshadowed upon release by the infamous Joaquin ‘Letterman’ interview when he was doing his bit for I’m Still Here. But it’s very much worth seeing, which you should know by now is the case with every James Gray movie. Death Race is a remake of Death Race 2000. A lot more story based than the original, which is more of a campy, grindhouse kind of movie. That one’s about a cross country car race, this one’s kind of like Rollerball meets Gladiator. The car race is still there, but it’s a dystopian future where prisoners are put in this race for mass entertainment. It’s fun. Jason Statham stars. His movies are typically worthwhile. Swing Vote is a movie with a great premise: what if the presidential election came down to just one vote? And that vote, is Kevin Costner’s. And the movie is about this one guy who holds the fate of an election on his shoulders and the candidates on both sides desperately trying to get his vote. The movie, while of course implausible, is just okay, since it tries to play it down the middle without espousing a philosophy on either side of the aisle. It’s watchable, since Costner generally picks good material, and the premise is great, which is what makes it worth giving a chance. Step Brothers is the last Will Ferrell movie where people would say, “Yeah, that one’s good.” It’s him and John C. Reilly playing overgrown man-children whose single parents decide to get married, forcing them to have to live with one another. And of course it’s just utterly ridiculous in every way. But the movie is so stupid that it occasionally veers into some really funny stuff. And I really didn’t care for this movie that much when it came out, and still don’t love it, but I do like the small sections that I find really funny. Those are worth the rest of the film to me.
Valkyrie is a movie about the plot to assassinate Hitler. Tom Cruise stars as Claus von Stauffenberg, and you’ve a shit ton of other famous people here — Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Carice Van Houten, Terrence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann, Eddie Izzard, Tom Hollander. It’s a fantastic story. The movie itself is very solid. Directed by Bryan Singer, written by Chris McQuarrie. Just a classy piece of material. Dakota Skye is a nice little coming of age movie. It’s about a girl with a bit of a superpower — she’s able to see when people are lying to her and know exactly what the truth is they’re not saying. Which makes her pretty jaded. Only she then meets a boy who, for the first time ever, doesn’t lie to her. It’s a solid little gem that almost no one knows about. Semi-Pro is a Will Ferrell basketball movie that, at the time, I thought, “This is stupid, and I’m gonna hate it,” and never watched it. So I finally saw it almost a decade later and went, “Damn, this is stupid, but it’s fun as hell.” It’s a movie set during the ABA-NBA merger. Ferrell plays a player-coach who wants a shot at glory, so he tries to take his last place team into first place so they can become an NBA franchise. It’s fun. It’s got Woody Harrelson, Andre 3000 and a lot of other famous faces. It’s dumb fun, but it is fun.
Soul Men is Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac. Forget everything else about this movie, just having the chance to see these two do comedy together on screen, you want to take it. Taken is Liam Neeson changing the direction of his career, with his ‘particular set of skills’. Simple premise: his daughter gets kidnapped, and he’s gonna get her back. The movie spawned a trilogy of films and turned Neeson into an action star for a decade. Hancock is a movie that I have a difficult history with. Because I remember when it was announced and I remember hearing the original premise of the script, which was a lot darker than the movie turned out to be. And I loved that concept. It was almost Bad Superhero instead of this. A drunk and depressed hero who slowly starts to get his shit together with the help of a child. But then Will Smith got cast, and it became lighter, more funny, and they did the whole thing where it became a regular superhero movie by the end of it. And it’s fine. It’s a fun movie. But that original idea was so great to me that I wanted it to be that. So I have trouble when watching this movie finding it as appealing as some others do. Still, it’s a great idea and the movie’s got a lot of fun moments in it. The Strangers is one of the more unique horror movies in recent years. Very simple premise — Liv Tyler and her husband are on vacation. Someone knocks at the door. Then people in masks come in and attack them and try to kill them. Why? “Because you were home.” Simple, effective. This is a pure theater type of movie, best seen with an audience. Especially in a theater where people will yell at the screen in scary moments, specifically to tell Liv Tyler “That is a paring knife! You’re not gonna kill him with that!”
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