Archive for the '2008 films' Category

Best Movies of 2008

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Now that the Oscars are done, I want to bring last year’s movie-watching towards an end with links to some of my favorite critics’ Best-of-2008 lists.

The Village Voice’s 2008 critic’s film poll is a good source for some of last year’s films that didn’t get wide distribution.

A.O. Scott’s year-end list is notable for its focus on upbeat films, of which there were many last year, though that might not be obvious by those that won awards.

Richard Roeper went beyond a simple Top Ten to Best, Worst and specific categories.

Roger Ebert’s has a similarly long list.

Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune (like Roeper’s, his list was only available reprinted elsewhere) did a nice, pithy list of big and small, movie and documentary.

My 2008, in Movies

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

At Gurulib, I have a record of most of the films I saw last year in my library; just click on 2008 movies.

I can hardly believe I’m writing this, but I think I need to cut back on movies. I saw a lot of middling ones last year, and I’d rather spend time writing. We’ll see how that hope plays out in ‘09. Again, I’d like to watch more from our home library and Tivo, rather than getting them all from the public library.

A few favorites:

Of 2008: Wall E, Dark Knight, Iron Man, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Hellboy II, and Mamma Mia! (critics be damned!)

On DVD from 2007: Across the Universe, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Diving Bell and the Butterfly, In Bruges

“Role Models” (2008)

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

“Surprisingly good,” is what my friend The Big Brain said of Role Models, which I’d intended to see anyway, since it stars and was written by one of my boyfriends, Paul Rudd. What could have been a feather light premise–two aimless 30-somethings get arrested and have to mentor two troubled kids–is given more heft through a clever script and charming performances from Seann William Scott, Rudd, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Elizabeth Banks. And a dramatic reveal at the end was priceless; I howled. A B movie, but well enough acted and made that the pleasure was only mildly guilty.

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

Seeing Bond movies on opening night has become a tradition for my husband G. Grod and me; we saw Goldeneye on our second date, almost exactly thirteen years ago. Quantum of Solace, the newest Bond movie, disappoints, but still entertains. It’s a step down from Casino Royale, but still a reasonable entry in the Bond oeuvre, which was never meant to be high art.

Daniel Craig is handsome and brooding, Judi Dench is classy and stern, Mathieu Amalric as the villain is especially good. He’s all the more scary for not being a cartoon, as are most Bond villains. The Bond girls are by the book, as are the opening song and montage–meh. The action sequences are terrible, perhaps unsurprising given the director’s indie-film experience. As Hollywood learned last year with the Chris Weitz directed Golden Compass, you can’t just slap a small-film director, no matter how talented, on a big-budget action film. The story also suffers in the telling, becoming muddied and even boring.

Complaints about the film, as in this review from the NYT’s A.O. Scott, are that Bond is too brooding, and the film is too Bourne-like–the final scene is an out-and-out homage to the final scene in The Bourne Identity. Based on what happens in QoS, I suspect we’ll see a return to the more charming and urbane Bond in the next film. But Bond is always a reflection of his times. I don’t find it incongruous that he’s more dark and violent. He still looks good in a tux.

“Citizen Kane”, “Magnificent Ambersons”, and Notes to Self #502 and 503

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

I attended the Orson Welles double feature at the Heights of Citizen Kane and Magnificent Ambersons. Kane impressed, again, on so many levels–the back and forth storytelling, the aging of the characters, the sets, the transitions between scenes. It _is_ a masterpiece, and one that’s also enjoyable to watch.

But that brings me to the second film of the double feature, and Note to Self #502: I don’t like Magnificent Ambersons. I find it boring. Perhaps this makes me an unappreciative cretin; so be it. The sets I found stunning in Kane felt precious and overwrought in Ambersons. The characters, save Agnes Moorhead, felt thin and didn’t interest me. (Moorhead did give a delicious cackle at one point that foreshadowed her later work on Bewitched.) I was fighting to stay awake for the saccharine ending. Yes, as the second in a double feature, my attention and energy are going to be compromised. But nothing in Ambersons, which I think I’ve seen once before, made me want to rally.

And that brings me to Note to Self #503: A Pumpkin Pie Blizzard for the first movie, and buttered popcorn for the second were, indeed, overkill, even though I bought each in size small. As I’ve said before, I thought it wasn’t a good idea, and I did it anyway.

“Burn After Reading” (2008)

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

I’ve read and watched a lot of tragedies lately, so I was in the mood for a comedy. Burn After Reading, by the Coen Brothers, did the job. Brad Pitt gave an especially funny, physical performance. The film’s aftertaste is bitter–there was a lot of violence, the frequency and vehemence of the cursing began to wear, and John Malkovich was perhaps a little too scary and intense. While Burn After Reading is far from a feel-good comedy, it did make me laugh, many times. That felt good.

Tropic Thunder, and Summer 2008 Movies

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder will probably be the last summer 2008 movie I see, and it was a fine one to finish with. Reviews were mixed, and PC advocates were up in arms (link from Morning News), but I found it a very silly, very funny film. Yes, it was big, loud, and often stupid. I don’t have a problem with that in a summer movie, because it also had sharp clever moments and was a lot of fun.

Stiller is a has-been action hero pining for prestige. Robert Downey, Jr. plays a method actor playing a black man, a double-layered performance that was dizzying to watch. And Tom Cruise is hilarious and mesmerizing as the balding, fat, profane studio head. His over-the-top dance sequence that caps the movie is a simultaneously disgusting and hilarious homage to his star-making scene from Risky Business.

Tropic Thunder
was one of many enjoyable movies this summer, most of which were a good blend of quality and entertainment. Things started strong for me with Iron Man, continued with Wall E, hit a high point with The Dark Knight, and still finished well with Hellboy II, Mamma Mia! and Tropic Thunder. I found all these films worth the price of admission, popcorn and Junior Mints.

Mamma Mia! (2008)

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Mamma Mia!, based on the Abba musical, is not perfect, but it’s enough fun that I didn’t much care. Meryl Streep is Donna, who has raised her daughter by herself on a beautiful Greek island, in a falling-down hotel. The daughter, Sophie, (Amanda Seyfried, Lilly from Veronica Mars) is getting married, and, unbeknownst to Donna, has invited three of her mother’s old boyfriends, one of whom is her biological father. Whoever cast Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan SkarsgÃ¥rd and Colin Firth knew what they were doing. These actors, along with Christine Baranski and Julie Walters as Donna’s friends, steal the show, and seem to have a fine time doing so. The kids are mostly an afterthought. The familiar songs, the enthusiastic renditions of them, and the engaging cast all made this enjoyable. The directing wasn’t strong, with too many cuts, some voices were better than others, and SkarsgÃ¥rd looked oddly grim much of the time, but the overall effect was joyful and fun. It’s a sweet romance for grownups, not teenagers, for a change. According to IMDB, Streep is the oldest of the adults, at 59, then Walters 58, SkarsgÃ¥rd 57, Brosnan 55, Baranski 52, and Firth, the baby of the bunch, 48.

Side note: I took an immediate dislike to Sophie’s betrothed, Sky, and didn’t remember where I’d seen him before. Once I looked him up, I knew why he’d bothered me; he played the oily, dishonest Willoughby in the recent PBS production of Sense and Sensibility.

“Dan in Real Life” (2007)

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Ugh. Saccharine, smarmy, and boring to boot. Neither funny, nor charming. I gave up about halfway through. Instead, I read more of Hamlet.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

Monday, July 28th, 2008

Hellboy II is a crazy visual feast from Guillermo del Toro, who also directed Pan’s Labyrinth. I was mesmerized again and again: the tooth fairies, troll market, the Miyazaki-influenced elemental, and more. The story is fine, if a bit thin. Selma Blair’s Liz has an unfortunate haircut and fashion sense. But the mix of humor, horror, and the fantastic made for a very fun film.

Geekiana: From his bio at IMDB: Doug Jones played Abe Sapien in both Hellboy and Hellboy II. His dialogue was dubbed in the first one by David Hyde Pierce, who declined a credit because he felt it would detract from Jones’ excellent performance. Jones spoke his own dialogue in Golden Army, and played multiple characters, as he did in Pan’s Labyrinth. Jones was the villain in the Emmy-nominated “Hush” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The Dark Knight (2008)

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

It’s not hype if it’s true; Dark Knight is the best new film I’ve seen this year.

Unfortunately, star Christian Bale appears to be in some trouble.

Wall E (2008)

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

I took 4yo Drake to Wall E last weekend. I told him if he got scared we could leave; last year we left Ratatouille early on. This year things went much better. He got scared toward the end, but agreed to stay when I promised him Wall E would be OK. He thought Eve the robot was really cute, and he laughed aloud (as I did) many times, during both the short movie about the magician and the feature film.

I loved this film. The visuals and wordless story were so transporting that I often forgot I was in a theater, much less watching an animated film. The two lead robots are charming; the plot about fat/wasteful humans is on the obvious side, but not obnoxiously so.

We saw an afternoon show. There were many families there, and part of what made the experience enjoyable was listening to the kid commentary along the way. One girl summed it up well as the credits began to roll, “That was a GOOD movie!”

Discovered later, from link at The Morning News, a very sweet story about Pixar and Wall E. (Note: link fixed; thanks Becca!)

Iron Man (2008)

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

Woo. Iron Man is a lot of fun. I am a comic-book geek (not redundant, by the way), but I’m not very familiar with the Iron Man story. I still enjoyed this movie a lot. Robert Downey, Jr. is great as Tony Stark, a playboy weapons tycoon who undergoes a crisis of conscience. Paltrow is a good foil. Terrence Howard is strong as the military friend, and Jeff Bridges is over the top, but appropriately so given his role.

Warning for geek boys: my husband G. Grod was very, very disappointed that Black Sabbath’s song Iron Man was not used in the film as it was in the trailer. Instead, it was sampled throughout.

The Whole Town’s Talking (1935)

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

Edward G. Robinson as a gangster? Yes. In a dual role as a sweet romantic? And yet The Whole Town’s Talking makes it work. The zippy dialogue with Jean Arthur and the dark/ light contrasts made this a fun film to watch, even with its surprisingly dark, bitter undertone.

Next week is the last of Take-Up’s Sweet Escapism series at the Parkway, with You Can’t Take it With You.

Now at the Parkway is Touch of Evil (if you haven’t seen it, you must, if only for the opening tracking shot.) and next is Planet of the Apes, which I’ve never seen.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is funny, often painfully so. Like other Apatow movies, the female characters are a little thin, but the males are so deliciously flawed that I’m a bit forgiving on that point.

Wondering: why is it that male actors who show their less than perfect bodies are called out as “brave”?

Favorite moments: “pump the brakes”, Paul Rudd’s surfer, Jonah Hill’s groupie, Jason Segal’s music, and the scene with the chess pieces.

The Bank Job (2008)

Friday, April 18th, 2008

The Bank Job is a good, old-fashioned heist movie. Jason Statham is surprisingly effective and restrained as Terry Southern a decent family man with a vague past who’s in trouble with the local goons. Out of the past pops Saffron Burrows, who was their Jenny from the Block before rising then crashing as a model. She pitches Terry a “one more time” crime that he and his friends know is too good to be true, but they do it anyway. A complicated mishmash ensues that includes corrupt police, MI-5, an angry madame, a porn king, a ham radio enthusiast, a black radical, an undercover agent, and a public figure who got caught, literally, with her pants down. Set in the 70’s, it’s reminded me of movies from that era, like The French Connection. There’s no excess of hand-held camera, tongue-in-cheek humor, or flashy jump cuts. This is a solid, enjoyable crime flick.

Quibbles and bits: Saffron Burrows has a distractingly chiseled and symmetrical face. I can’t find any mention online that she’s had plastic surgery, but her cleft chin and protuberant cheekbones looked suspicious to me. She also reminded me a lot of Padma Lakshmi, a judge on Top Chef. I kept waiting for her to tell recalcitrant gang members to pack their knives and go. Keeley Hawes, formerly of MI-5, does a sympathetic turn as Terry’s wife.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

Monday, March 17th, 2008

Alas, the film, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, is not as wise and funny as the excellent book from Persephone Books, but it is nonetheless entertaining.

The film starts off hyperkinetic, and only when it settled down about twenty minutes in did I begin to enjoy myself. Adams is charming as the American “actress” in London with three boyfriends, and McDormand is utterly sympathetic as a down and out governess who shows up for the wrong job. The sets and costumes are pretty and fun, but I think the director was a bit too enamored of them. There were far too many circling shots; take some Dramamine if you are prone to motion sickness. And there is a decidedly naughty homoerotic subtext for the women. But the quiet performances by McDormand and Ciaran Hinds, plus the hints of the looming war, provide an anchor that doesn’t let this fluffy film completely float away.

Definitely, Maybe (2008)

Monday, March 10th, 2008

My husband and I tag teamed to the movies this weekend. This meant avoiding the cost of a sitter, both getting matinee prices, and that we didn’t have to agree on movies. He saw The Bank Job, which he liked a lot, and I saw Definitely, Maybe. It was pretty good.

Ryan Reynolds is about to get a divorce from the mother of his 8yo daughter. She demands the story of how her parents met. Disguising the details, he tells her about the three different women in his life, and has her guess which is her mom. Reynolds, though good looking, is a bit stiff in the lead. Abigail Breslin is sweet but not cloying as the daughter. Rachel Weisz and Elizabeth Banks do fine jobs, Kevin Kline steals every scene he’s in, but Isla Fisher as April is the standout, along with her subplot about a copy of Jane Eyre. Definitely, Maybe is good, not great, with a bit more substance, style and skill than most romantic comedies.

When I was in NYC last fall, my friend N and I passed Reynolds leaving Banana Republic. He had thick, very reddish hair, and a very full beard. He looked quite different from the clean cut Will Hayes in this movie.

No Country for Old Men (2007)

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

I saw No Country for Old Men a few hours before the Oscars began. My husband G. Grod and I tag teamed to the theater. He went to the early matinee, I went to the later. Not only does this save on babysitting, but really–how important is it that you see the movie at the same time? G. didn’t care for it; I thought it was great. It had strong performances all around, and was visually engaging, with its many blurred reflections and shadows. It’s not a feel-good film, and the last twenty minutes are hard to understand, much less enjoy. But the bitter humor, the beautiful visuals, the crisp storytelling and the great acting combine for an impressive whole. I saw four of the five films nominated for Best Film this year. I not only think it was the best of the five; I think it likely WAS the best film of last year.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

Monday, February 25th, 2008

There Will Be Blood was part of my pre-2008-Oscar shortlist of films to see before the show. It’s a stunning character study of Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview, a self-proclaimed family man and oil man. It’s beautifully shot, in bleak desert sets. There’s fire, gushing oil, danger, death, lies, and betrayal. As impressive as the acting and the visuals are though, the music takes the film to even more impressive heights. There are long stretches with no dialogue, and the music, composed by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, is almost a character as it advances the plot and the film. That the music was disqualified for an Oscar is a travesty. The whole, brought together by director Paul Thomas Anderson, goes over the top at times, but is such a compelling work that I wouldn’t do without it.

Watching the film, though, was a mixed experience. I had a couple in front of me and another beside me that whispered continually, until I asked both at separate times to please stop talking. Both couples did stop talking. As the fifty-ish woman in front of me exited at the end of the film, she hissed, “Bitch!” at me, which took me aback. I know it is off-putting to be shushed, but I paid $7.25 for a matinee, and I asked her politely to stop talking. A reminder, from New York magazine:

Can I talk during the movie? We’d like to say, “No, no, never, no, absolutely not.” But the days of respectful silence are gone. During the pre-film ads, speak as much and as loudly as you like. Whispers and derisive yelps are permissible during trailers. During the feature, you must limit yourself to the occasional whisper. Silence is preferred, but a hushed “Wait–didn’t she die in that car wreck back there?” is okay. There is one exception to these rules: the brilliant, brave comment in the terrible movie. For us, it was at I Know What You Did Last Summer, in a particularly histrionic scene of Jennifer Love Hewitt’s emoting that a guy shouted out “Oscar clip!” and provided the high point of the night.