Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Best and Worst Movies of 2008

Ah, the end of the year Best and Worst lists. Though I hardly dare to consider myself worthy of the title "film critic", I can't resist the urge to get in on this annual practice that the Eberts and...everyone elses of the film criticism world have. Why? Because I dare to think people give a crap what I think. I'm going with three for each category, mainly because I didn't seen enough new movies to do ten of each, but also because damn would twenty entries be a lot to read through.

The Best:

3. Bolt - an unexpected surprise, this Disney CG flick that was sold as the story of a superpowered pup turned out to be an intelligent, funny, and emotional quasi-Truman Show for kids. Bolt, the canine star of a superhero TV show, led all his life to believe that the show is real, is distressed to find he doesn't really have powers when he winds up in the outside world for the first time. Lost and ill-equipped for the real world, he teams up with an abandoned cat and a hyperactive runaway hamster for an adventure that's strongly reminiscent of Homeward Bound, but still feels fresh thanks to some excellent writing that not only brings the laughs but also carefully deals with issues like pet abandonment, the value of telling the truth and the worth of even the most mundane life. With some excellent voice acting, lovely animation, and a nice soundtrack (including a fun country ditty by the great Jenny Lewis, one of my personal favorite musicians), Bolt was a great time to be had. Good to know Disney is back on the right track with digital animation.

2. Cloverfield - when a movie wants to remind you you could die tomorrow, it usually does so with some disease of the week. Kudos to JJ Abrahms and Matt Reeves for being creative enough to do it with a giant monster instead. On one level, Cloverfield was a rip-roaring horror thrill ride that absolutely scared the piss out of me and everyone else in the theater. On another, it's a subtle metaphor for the fragility of all our lives. An inventive twist on the "found footage" gimmick, the film includes video hiccups that give us brief flashbacks to earlier home videos on the camera, in which our main characters are seen having a lovely time at Coney Island. When the action cuts back to present time and we see the hell that has been unleashed upon them and the whole city, the message couldn't be any clearer, and the emotional punch couldn't be any stronger. A devestating and masterfully made film, Cloverfield deserves to be recognized this awards season, but probably won't thanks to an unfortunate early-January release. Here's to hoping, though, that it can pull a Year-Later miracle like The Silence of the Lambs did nearly twenty years ago.

1. W. - Like he did with Nixon back in 1995, Oliver Stone again reaches out to a reviled figure and tries simply to understand them. Though he may never agree with George W. Bush on anything, Stone is not afraid to accept that Bush isn't just some soulless monster, and the film W. shows that. Fascinating and fascinated, W. is a kaleidoscopic portrait of the people and events that made our outgoing president into the wacky man we all know and barely comprehend today. Never mocking or attacking, the film instead scrutinizes and analyzes and offers answers we might not always like, but which are as close to the God's honest truth as we may ever get. The eccentric ensemble cast has great performances all around, notably James Cromwell as the Senior Bush and Josh Brolin as Dubya himself, both of whom deserve Oscar nods, and the writing is just superb. This may be Stone's best film since Nixon, and when it came to picking the best film of 2008, the choice was clear. W. is a masterclass in biographical filmmaking.

The Worst:

3. Funny Games: Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke offers up an American remake of his own crushingly boring film, managing somehow to make it even more crushingly boring in the process. Pitting a family of brainless WASPs against a pair of nefarious home-invading Abercrombie and Fitch models armed with a golf club and half a dozen broken eggs in a battle of the wits with no end in sight (seeing as how nobody in this movie actually has any wits), Funny Games is two horrible hours of talking, talking, talking. Talking about eggs, how to properly trasnport them, how to cook them. Talking about the best golf clubs. Talking about whether it hurts more to be stabbed or shot. But nothing ever actually happens. This tedious bore would put audiences to sleep if only Haneke's sense of self-importance didn't just ooze out of the screen to piss you right the fuck off. This is arthouse pretentiousness at it's rock-bottom worst. Congratulations, Mike. You singlehandedly killed the horror genre.

2. The Spirit - or: how Frank Miller went batshit insane and convinced a major studio to give him money to make it into a movie. Illogical, incoherent, unfunny, ugly, stupid..the only thing The Spirit isn't (aside from "good") is boring: something this unspeakably bad demands your attention. Killing the careers of director Miller and stars Gabriel Macht and Samuel L. Jackson in one fell swoop, this epic disaster is a massive flop and deservedly so. It is so bad as to be unspeakable because words do not exist which could aptly describe it's terribleness. All you need to know is that the central conflict revolves around, and I quote, "the shiny thing to end all shiny things". It's as empty as it sounds.

And the number one worst movie of 2008? What was bad enough to top those two? Well, you'll find out by clicking right here to go to the newest Redunbeck Review~!

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