Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Films Of 2008 - A Review, Part I

Looking back at the films I watched in 2008, it's easy to draw a conclusion that it was not a very good year. Just like 2007 was a really good year for music, it was also a great year for film. Two of my favorites from '07 were There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men. But I also enjoyed Zodiac, Michael Clayton, Juno, Knocked Up, Superbad, The Savages, and the documentaries The King of Kong and My Kid Could Paint That.

This post is Part I of my review of 2008, because there are a number of movies that have just recently been released or will be released that I want to see and haven't had the time yet to do so. Part II will probably come in a couple of months after I've had the chance to see some of the more "prestigious" films that are always released in a bunch at the end of every year.

So here are the grades of the nine films from 2008 that I've seen so far (also, POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT):

D- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Steven Spielberg)

This is easily the most disappointing movie of the year for me. I even went into it with very low expectations and the movie still was a huge letdown. It was so bad that I've decided that I will stubbornly refuse to acknowledge it ever existed, starting now.

D Baby Mama (Michael McCullers)

Tina Fey may be the star of 2008, but her first starring role in a movie was a complete dud. The one thing that can be said in Fey's defense is that neither her nor her screen partner, Amy Poehler, wrote the script for this supposed comedy. Fey and the rest of the cast sleepwalk through this comedy-by-numbers, and not even a cameo by Steve Martin as an eccentric millionaire was able to save it.

C Hancock (Peter Berg)

Here is a movie that seemingly could not fail. It had Will Smith in the lead, was released in the summer, and it had a really smart idea at its center. Smith plays a drunk, ill-behaved superhuman, whose superpowers routinely bring super-destruction and little thanks from the common man. Hancock's main problem is that it isn't able to effectively blend the comic and serious aspects of the plot together, and the result is a schizophrenic movie that leaves little impression.

C Pineapple Express (David Gordon Green)

When you strip this movie down to its essential state, it is just a stoner comedy with almost nothing new to say. I was hoping for something in the vein of Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead, two movies that satirized while paying homage to their genres. There are some laughs here, but not enough to justify calling this movie anything but average.

C+ Step Brothers (Adam McKay)

Unlike Pineapple Express, this movie does not try to be anything more than a stupid comedy. And it is very stupid. The plot isn't very plausible and the movie is filled with absurdist moments that have come to define the work of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. Some of the bits are pretty funny though, and even though Ferrell's shtick may be running thin, he and co-star John C. Reilly make a good comedy duo and now how to deliver quote-ready lines.

B+ Iron Man (Jon Favreau)

Comic book movies have become arguably the most popular genre in the past 10 years, and as such, there exists a basic formula for how the first film in a planned series should introduce audiences to the main character(s). Iron Man treads a delicate line because in a lot of ways, it is quite formulaic. For that reason, a lot of credit should be given to director Jon Favreau and star Robert Downey Jr., for providing enough twists and humor to keep the audience fully engaged and entertained.

B+ The Visitor (Thomas McCarthy)

Before I watched The Visitor, I fully expected a critique of the policies and institutions that have developed in the post-9/11 world. That is definitely a major theme of the film, however the director explores these ideas in a subtle and complex manner, and only in the overall context of the human relationships that are explored. There are two main things that struck me afterwards: the great performance by Richard Jenkins in the lead, and the use of music by the filmmaker. The final scene is among the best I've seen all year.

A- Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Nicholas Stoller)

Another product of the Apatow machine, Forgetting Sarah Marshall follows in the tradition of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, which means it is full of vulgar (and funny) humor, while at the same time attempting to interject some serious message. The second part doesn't always work, but the film is filled with memorable comedic bits. Jason Segel does a good job in delivering some of the more original moments, including an unforgettable ending with puppets.

A The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan)

It's been a while since a film has both garnered widespread critical acclaim and captured the imagination of a large segment of the public. Currently The Dark Knight trails only Titanic when it comes to the box-office (and the movie is being re-released in January). On IMDB.com, the film has been ranked the fourth best all-time (trailing The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather, and The Godfather: Part II). Out of the 262 reviews collected on RottenTomatoes.com, only 16 are negative.

The Dark Knight is both a comic book movie and a crime-drama, but the story takes a back seat to the gritty and enthralling performances. When I first saw the movie I wrote that Heath Ledger's performance was comparable to Daniel Day Lewis' work in There Will Be Blood, because of the powerful energy that inhabits the character. Every scene with The Joker is mesmerizing and chilling.

The Dark Knight is the type of film that reminds you how magical and exciting going to the movies can be, and it truly captivates, entertains, and transcends the usual film-watching experience.

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