2008 YEAR IN REVIEW

page 4

john cribbs

Also had very little to no interest in

Blindness

Body of Lies

The Reader

Revolutionary Road

Towelhead

W. (Too soon!)

The Class, but I'm really just bitter over it being France's official Oscar pick over Christmas Tale.

 

Significantly have not seen

Appaloosa

Bigger Faster Stronger

The Brothers Bloom

Che

Elegy

Flight of the Red Balloon

Frost/Nixon

The Headless Woman

Hunger

Lakeview Terrace

Man on Wire

Operation Filmmaker

Rachel Getting Married

[REC]

Reprise

The Romance of Astree and Celadon

The Secret of the Grain

Summer Hours

Tell No One

Timecrimes

Tokyo Sonata

 

 

The Local Hero Award, for most overrated "underrated" movie: Married Life

The Jeremy Irons in Dungeons and Dragons Award for giving it your best shot even though you probably shouldn't have: Matthew Lillard in In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale

The first annual László Szabó in Parc Award for not giving it much of anything and good thing too cuz this movie isn't really worth it: László Szabó in Parc

Future film that time forgot: Swing Vote

Acceptable sequels: Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Transporter 3 (except the broad)

Most improved sequels: Rambo, Punisher War Zone, Hamlet 2

Unacceptable sequels: X-Files: I Want to Believe, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, Step Up 2: The Streets, High School Musical 3, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, Diary of the Dead, Saw V, Ben X, Chicago 10, Brideshead Revisted, anything Steven Spielberg or George Lucas might have released this year (including Clone Wars)

Sequels to dread: 22, 88 Minutes Later, House II: The Second Story, Sisterhood of the Traveling Striped Pajamas: Shmuel's Revenge

 

Most unfortunate title: Forever Strong

Most awkward groan-worthy pun-title: (tie) Made of Honor, Miss Conception

Most inaccurate title: Flawless

Movie that has every chance of being as bad as the title: The Life Before Her Eyes

Movie that has almost no chance of being anywhere as weird and crazy as its title: Midnight Meat Train

Much better than it deserved to be

Kung Fu Panda. In the Year of Wall-E, it's understandably laughable to expect one of those star-studded, plot-recycling, sub-animated CG epics of the Madagascar/Shrek variety to boast even a scintilla of quality. But here's how Kung Fu Panda gets away with it: it's a kung fu movie! The underdog arriving at the sacred temple...the tortorous yet hilarious training sequences (complete with the young pupil trying to get food away from a kung fu master!)...and the final confrontation with the deadly fighter who's already defeated the best of the best, all the scenes are there and executed with clear appreciation of the greatest martial arts classics. Of course it doesn't hurt that the animation is pretty damn good, the characters are funny and charming, and the celebrities aren't just there for the sake of box office: Ian McShane is terrifying as evil villain Tai Ling, and I didn't even realize that was Dustin Hoffman as the conflicted Shifu until the end of the movie! They even got James Hong! It may not be launching into cinema-redefining new territory like its Pixar brother, but it far surpasses the typical churned-out animated fare.

 

Biggest surprise of the year

Vicky Christina Barcelona. I don't know if I would have enjoyed this nearly as much if I hadn't gone to Spain this year, since a big part of enjoying the film is appreciating the beauty of the city. Unlike Slumdog Millionaire, Woody Allen doesn't use the foreign setting for the sake of having pretty backgrounds: being in Barcelona brings out in the characters a deep sense of who they are and the decisions they're making. It's by long bounds the best effort of Allen's recent European titles, mainly by staying simple with an unpretentious story without a muddled murder plot and featuring Penelope Cruz, who gives the best performance by anybody in an Allen movie in the last ten years. Sure there are things that don't work (the ridiculous materialistic husband character for one) and it's got nothing on Whit Stillman's Barcelona, but it's reassuring to know the Wood-man can still knock out a good one every now and then (looking forward to the next worthy title from him twenty movies or so from now.)

 

Movie I'm outright appalled to admit I actually liked

Cloverfield. It easily wins this year's Beowulf award for exhibiting pretty much every thing I hate in a movie yet still managing to be utterly watchable and even a little entertaining. Although the Blair Witch gimmick grows grayer and less appealing with time (especially when you've got at least four of them in the same year), Matt Reeves and Drew Goddard clearly love a good old fashioned giant monster-besieged-city movie, and this has got to be the best one since Q the Winged Serpent (to be fair the only one in between may be the Godzilla remake, I'm not sure.) It's also the first post-9/11 disaster movie that, dumb plot contrivances and all, maintains an atmosphere of sheer hopelessness and dread throughout. Once it gets past the stuff we've all seen in the overplayed teasers, Cloverfield becomes a story about confusion and survival told through the perspective of a handful of kids who are relatable if not entirely convincing. They may not be the most well-drawn characters ever, but at least we're following them instead of a bunch of scientists or politicians trying to figure out what to do (and when a military guy does show up, it's the great Chris Mulkey!) The filmmakers score with good looking monster effects that are purposely obscured so we're not in CG territory and little details to enrich the narrative (apparently you can see the monster landing in the water behind the oblivious lovers during one of the erased video flashbacks – pretty neat!) Also the "South Park" parody was hilarious (not that important but worth mentioning.) Still wish they had changed the title: may I suggest Rob's Shitty Party?

 

Biggest disappointment

Miracle at St Anna. All the ingredients were there. Spike Lee, directing a movie about a handful of Buffalo Soldiers stranded behind enemy lines in war-torn Italy that's clearly influenced by Rossellini and Sam Fuller and brings a long-neglected piece of American history to the screen. Great. So what went wrong? The main problem is that not very much goes right. It's hard to find Spike Lee in this movie: there are plenty of great moments, but overall it could very well have been Spielberg's Letters from Iwo Jima-style companion piece to Saving Private Ryan. I never thought it a question that Lee could handle an ambitious WWII film, but he goes overboard on the production, leaving the characters and story drowned underneath Terence Blanchard's overcooked score and lost in the gorgeous European locations. What's MIA is a sense of place: with its lumpy bookends set in New York and overseas, its awkward battle scenes, flashbacks-within-a-flashback, sidetracks into enemy territory and the partisan's makeshift camps and movement from one shelled-out Italian hut to another, St Anna never establishes a sense of space and time as tangible as that hot summer Bed-Stuy day in Do the Right Thing. That might seem like an unfair comparison, but Lee handled just as many characters and even more complicated ideas in that film (Inside Man too.)

A lot of this is due to James McBride's cluttered screenplay, which wields significance like a sledgehammer while leaving subtext in the shed. Just one example of the over-handedness and wrong-headedness is the Nazi officer who really hates being a Nazi. It's admirable that Lee and McBride want to show a human face on the German side, but literally all this character does is pontificate about how anti-war and anti-fascist he is, ad nauseum: it's his only function in the story. (In a befuddling moment, he hands a gun to a wounded American soldier and says "Defend yourself," then walks away. No soldier in the history of the world, no matter how sympathetic, is going to hand his enemy a loaded weapon and turn his back on him. Absurd.) His presence in the film is meant to counter-act the onslaught of accusations launched in every direction: who is the enemy exactly? The Germans? Traitorous partisans? Ignorant white officers? Tokyo Rose? The NYPD? John Wayne? Spike's not exactly subtle but he's rarely this unfocused. Things like this are incredibly difficult to ignore and mar the overall picture, which is so frustrating when things like gorgeous lighting, the flawless use of English, Italian, German and Spanish languages and occasional glint of Spike Lee greatness belong in a masterpiece.

 

 

Also disappointing (in order of how much I expected them to be good): Standard Operating Procedure, Be Kind Rewind, Mother of Tears, My Blueberry Nights

Best ending: A reunion on the beach; Nejat waiting by the shore of the Black Sea for his father to return. The Edge of Heaven

Worst ending: A reunion on the beach; weepy old man blubbers into the lap of skinny effete seatbelt magnate. Miracle at St Anna

Most offensive theft: I don't know about offensive, but what exactly was Neil Marshall trying to pull with Doomsday?

The Problem Child Award for best movie watched by characters in a movie: Andrew Davis' Above the Law in Step Brothers (the Coens' fictional Coming Up Daisy was too close to an actual movie)

Best villain: Obadiah Stane, Iron Man

Best character name: Obadiah Stane, Iron Man

Worst character name: City Hall, Nobel Son

Best two reasons to sit through a movie: Maria Tomei in The Wrestler (back-to-back wins!)

Runners-up: Valentina Cervi in Miracle at St Anna and a muddy Emanuelle Beart in Vinyon

Best two reasons to stay at home: Steve Coogan's balls in Hamlet 2

Runner-up: Neve Campbell in I Really Hate My Job (This is what us Wild Things fans waited 10 years for?? They should call her "Never Campbell.")

Best death: The Mayans prove they could kill a child (The Ruins)

Worst death: Richard Jenkins shot and hatcheted to death by a raving open-robed John Malkovich in Burn After Reading. Just like the Coens to brutally kill off the only character you actually care about (although to be fair one of the obnoxious characters gets his head blown off – but why can't they all?)

Most shocking death: NPH going down in a hail of buckshot from a brothel queen (Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay)

Standout joke: Satan's Alley trailer at the beginning of Tropic Thunder

Standout lame joke: Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder

Still not entirely sure this movie wasn't a joke: Fireproof

Definitely not the worst film of the year: Babylon AD

 

Standout performances

Hiam Abbas (The Visitor), Mathieu Amalric and Catherine Deneuve (A Christmas Tale), Brian Cox (Red), Penelope Cruz (Vicky Christina Barcelona), Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man), Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Redbelt), Vera Farmiga (Nothing But the Truth), Ralph Fiennes and Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges), James Franco (Milk and Pineapple Express), Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky), Richard Jenkins (Step Brothers and The Visitor), Danny McBride (The Foot Fist Way and Tropic Thunder), Christian McKay (Me and Orson Welles), Sam Rockwell (Snow Angels), Hanna Schygulla (The Edge of Heaven), Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler), JCVD (JCVD)

 

Hands-down best performance of the year: Mickey Rourke as Randy "The Ram" Robinson in The Wrestler

 

Worst performances: The dweeby white kids running around Jet Li in The Forbidden Kingdom and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, the entire supporting cast of Gran Torino, Emile Hirsch (Speed Racer and Milk), Jaden Smith (The Day The Earth Stood Still), Evan Rachel Wood (The Wrestler)

Stinkiest performance of the year: Rachel Weisz as alcoholic Southern trash Sue Lynne in My Blueberry Nights ("Oh you men.")

The Tugg Speedman Award for going Full Retard: Sean Penn as Harvey Milk in Milk

Runner-up: Christian Bale as Batman in The Dark Knight

The Robert Mitchum in Backfire Award for most "so it's come to this" appearance: Treat Williams as Ashton Kutcher's dad in What Happens in Vegas

Most overrated performance: Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight

Genius most in need of a new agent: Michelle Yeoh – no fighting in Babylon AD and slo-mo fighting in Mummy 3?

Best cameo: Samuel L Jackson in Iron Man

Most uselss cameo: Bill Murray in Get Smart

Weirdest cameo: Salman Rushdie as Helen Hunt's gynecologist in Then She Found Me

Most "wait – I thought that was Gus Van Sant" cameo: Christopher Doyle, Paranoid Park

The Ben Affleck Award for most impressive directing by an actor I'm indifferent about at best: Jon Favreau, Iron Man

 

Filmmaker of the year: Arnaud Desplechin, Un conte de Noel

 

Filmfucker of the year: David Fincher, All About the Benjamin

Best bits 

The Touch of Evil-esque opening single shot of JCVD

Joseph Cotton (James Tupper) coming out of the shadows. Me and Orson Welles

The old Italian sees the Sleeping Man. Miracle at St Anna

Wall-E raises his "hat" in imitation of the chorus line

The mute Amish guy breaks out the dynamite. Diary of the Dead

Retard-on-retard fu. Chocolate

"Use his leg! Use his leg!" The Wrestler

"En ra ha!" Happy-Go-Lucky

"Oh no!" The Happening

M-O leaves the line to follow the trail of "FOREIGN CONTAMINANT!" WALL.e

Bond pops the motorcycle right out from under the guy. Quantum of Solace

Liam Neeson ruins dinner with the French police inspector by shooting his wife in the arm. Taken

Kenneth Branagh goes to get the wine back. Valkyrie

"Handgun" redefined. Tokyo Gore Police

"Rejoicing as an integer." Kumar's surprisingly touching "Square Root of 3" poem at the end of Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

"Don't lose your dinosaur." Richard Jenkins' surprisingly heartfelt speech at the end of Step Brothers

Mathieu Amalric's toast in A Christmas Tale

The way Anna Faris remembers names in The House Bunny

SWS takes John C Reilly blotting him out with his thumb as a "thumbs up" and reciprocates. The Promotion

"Well the weather outside is weather!" Paul Rudd in Forgetting Sarah Marshall

"You fucking retract that bit about my cunt fucking kids!" Ralph Fiennes in In Bruges

"That old hag hates my ass!" Clint in Gran Torino

"You got any idea where I could buy, like, two acres' worth of weed?" Woody Harrelson in Sleepwalking

"Meditation is terrific and all, but I've never heard of it saving anyone from a gang rape type situation." Danny McBride in The Foot Fist Way

"Say something in Spanish." Gary Cole improvising in Pineapple Express

"I just don't want you to hate me." Rourke in The Wrestler

Scene that most reminded me of a "Mr. Show" sketch: Tom Cruise calls Christian Berkel, who calls Bill Nighy, who calls Terrance Stamp only to be denied the green light for the Hitler assassination ("No, tell him no") in Valkyrie

Bruce Banner scrambling to retrieve a drop of his contaminated blood from a cola bottle on the assembly line in a Brazilian factory. The Incredible Hulk

"I heard you say 'worthless loser' and I didn't come out because I thought you were talking about me!" The son-in-law in Still Walking

Clint makes himself comfortable by fixing the dryer in the basement as Click Clack, Ding Dang, Yum Yum and Charlie Chan look on (Grand Torino)

The boyfriend discovers his cat's dead body, throws it in a garbage bag, tosses all the cat food and toys in with it and announces "I guess I'll move." 35 Rhums

"It's not a movie for me. It's real." JCVD's floating-above-the-set monologue.

Top 10 DVDs

 1. The Films of Budd Boetticher (Sony)

 2. White Dog (Criterion)

 3. Man of the West (MGM)

 4. Pierrot le fou (Criterion)

 5. Georges Melies: The Wizard of Cinema (Flicker Alley)

 6. Wall.e Blu-Ray (Disney)

 7. Mizoguchi's Fallen Women (Criterion/Eclipse)

 8. Vampyr (Criterion)

 9. Easy Living (Universal)

10. Come Drink with Me (TWC/Dragon Dynasty)

 

Best theater-going experiences

 1. TIFF 08

 2. Tatsuya Nakadai at Film Forum

 3. Sang-ok Shin's A Flower in Hell at the Dryden Theater

 4. Nagisa Oshima's Three Resurrected Drunkards at the Freer Gallery

 5. Les Blank's A Well Spent Life at Film Forum

 

Best film writing: Seagalogy by Vern - by far the highlight of the first half of 2008

 

Things to look forward to in 2009

I'll be honest: so far it looks like 2009 wil be 2006 to 2008's 2005, ie not a great year. But all is not bleak. For instance, we've got

FAST AND FURIOUS!

CRANK 2!!

CHRIS EVANS IN PUSH!!! PUSH, CHRIS EVANS, PUSH!

The Bruno movie

Paul Greengrass' Green Zone, Michael Mann's Public Enemies, Terrance Malick's Tree of Life (all three could very well suck, but for now there's hope)

New films from Jim Jarmusch, Gaspar Noe and Michael Haneke (all three – well, you know)

Outlander - You say "Vikings vs..." I say "Stop talking, I'm in." But I should have let you finished talking if you were honestly going to say "Vikings vs ALIENS!"

And of course FINAL DESTINATION: DEATH TRIP 3D!!!!

 

On the fence:

The Road

James Cameron's Avatar

Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones

A Star Trek where Kirk says "Buckle up!"

Where the Wild Things Are: morally opposed to it, but it looks so damn pretty

The Fantastic Mr Fox: morally opposed to it, but...actually that's all I got

Repossession MamboRepo Man meets Millenium Mambo (or Mambo Kings?) Still we got a neat plot, Forest Whitaker, Carice van Houten (hopefully not playing "the wife" this time), Alice Braga JUDE LAW?? Goddammit not again!

 

Things to dread in 2008:

Inglorious Basterds (sic) – I really hope Stallone's Expendables makes this one look like a little pussy imitator.

Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes

Henry Selick butchering Coraline

Tony Scott murdering The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

Robert Zemekis and Jim Carrey raping and bludgeoning A Christmas Carol

Two Lovers - I guess I should be hopeful that he's supposedly retiring forever (yeah right) but every time I see a trailer for a movie starring Joaquin Phoenix I instantly think "hasn't this shit already come and gone?"

- john cribbs, January 2009

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