Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Midyear report card: The 10 (well, actually 11) best movies of 2008 (at least so far)

I thought about not doing this because I wasn't sure I'd be able to get to 10 movies I at least mildly liked this year - especially given just how rotten the year started out - but I ended up getting to 14 that were in the running. (UPDATE: I somehow left off Iron Man, which an alert reader brought to my attention, hence the reason this list now goes to 11!)

The biggest surprise was that "Wall-E" didn't end up at or even that near the top, but rest assured that that doesn't mean I love it almost unconditionally. And, yes, the No. 1 spot is held by the movie I've seen most recently, but if you've seen it I'm almost certain you'll agree with me.

So, with only the further proviso that I certainly haven't come close to seeing all the movies that have been released so far this year, here goes:

10. "Hellboy II: The Golden Army"
Just a fun ride from the start, I consider this really to be pulp movie-making, if there is such a thing. Guillermo del Toro clearly just threw at us as many of the magical things he could think of and cooked up a wild story for them, making for a flick almost as good as the original.

9. "Cloverfield"
I almost avoided this one completely because I was so afraid of a "Blair Witch"-style hoax, but I was thankfully wrong (which does seem to happen from time to time.) With a surprisingly steady camera, it really is Godzilla-meets-Youtube, and even though that sounds awful on paper it somehow just works.

8. "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian"
People will surely scoff at me for including this one over, say, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," but I just have a soft spot for the Narnia tales and this one just improves on "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" in almost every facet. The dialogue is smart and funny, and the final battle - while ultimately enough to numb your senses - is just a blast.

7. "Be Kind Rewind"
I wanted to put Michel Gondry's goofy little flick higher on the list, but just couldn't bring myself to do it. If you missed it, you can see it on DVD now, and I think you'll enjoy this silly movie that's all about the love of movies.

6. "The Bank Job"
For once, a heist movie that's at least as much about the characters and the caper as it is the gadgets. This "true" story just keeps getting wilder as it unfolds, and if you like heist flicks, I recommend this one very highly.

5a. "Iron Man"
I don't know how in the world I managed to leave this one off when I first compiled this list, other than that I do it when I first wake up in the morning. Although I loved what Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. did with Iron Man, I'm even more amped to see what happens when the great Terrence Howard dons his own metal suit and Samuel L. Jackson gets in on the action next time.

5. "Wall-E"
Like I said at the outset, I'm surprised this one ended up so low on this list, but looking back it's just been a stronger year thus far for flicks than I thought. Pure magic in its first half hour dedicated to silent robot love, it loses its way just a bit in the middle but still manages to be another Pixar winner (I'd rank it third behind "Ratatouille" and "The Incredibles," respectively, but then I guess I'm just a Brad Bird partisan.)

4. "Son of Rambow"
I really thought this might catch on as the little indie hit of the summer, but it never quite got there. As the titles implies, this is just a smart and funny flick about two English boys who try to create their own version of "Rambo," and it's very well worth a rental when it finally hits DVD (I was surprised to find it wasn't there already.)

3. "The Fall"
Tarsem's second feature film is as much about the power of storytelling as it is about the touchingly odd relationship that develops between an injured stuntman (the great Lee Pace of "Pushing Daisies" fame) and a young girl he meets in the hospital (Catinca Untaru.) It's visually stunning, and even if the story he concocts for her induces some unintended guffaws, this is one I just love.

2. "Under the Same Moon"
Perhaps it's because we had a private screening of this one after it somehow lingered at one of my local multiplexes for six weeks or so, but Patricia Riggen's little movie about immigration and family ties has just lingered with me for a long time. Yes, it's sometimes as sappy as it sounds on paper, but spring for a rental and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

1. "The Dark Knight"
Was there really ever any doubt that this one would clinch the top spot? I've seen it twice in the theater and will surely spring for it one more time before it leaves some time in September. If all the hype has you skeptical, just give in and believe it, because this one is just pretty darn amazing.

So there you have it. And, for the record, here are the four flicks that almost made the 10-movie cut: "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," "Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns," "Kung Fu Panda" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."

With plenty of fun stuff coming later this summer and fall - including new flicks from David Fincher, the Coen brothers and Spike Lee, among others - I'm sure this list will look a lot different when I revise it in January. Please feel free to chime in with anything you might think I've just gotten wrong, and of course let me know if there are any 2008 flicks I just overlooked. Peace out.


Shorty said...

Where's Iron Man?

Reel Fanatic said...

ACK! ... You're right there, Shorty, and that is truly egregious omission on my part ... I'm going to do an update right away!

illnevertell said...

"Under the Same Moon" was crap on a screen that belongs in nobody's top 10 list. It could have been an insightful movie about immigrant life, but instead was all weepy saccharine melodrama. And you can catch that any day of the week on Univision or Telemundo.

So if you need to get your list from 11 to 10, there you go.

Reel Fanatic said...

Well, we'll just have to disagree on that one, I guess, illnevertell .. I agree it was more than a bit melodramatic, but I still thought it was a very engaging story very well told

Shorty said...

Since I am now your offical editor, is it too much to ask that BADCHOICEMILK be added to the blogroll? It would make my month...thanx!

*By the top 5 Tom Cruise films by decade is now up & running for those who might be interested...

Reel Fanatic said...

Ask and you shall receive .. The blog roll is something I should update far more often, shorty, but I never have the time! I'll take care of your request first thing tomorrow morning when i do my daily update

Cassandra said...

Hmmm... not sure I'd ever include Hellboy II in any top ten list. The Dark Knight was definitely great, though.

J. Marquis said...

Interesting there were two movies (Be Kind Rewind and Son of Rambow)that were about regular people making movies. I'm looking forward to seeing both of them.

Reel Fanatic said...

If I had to pick a subgenre, Mr. Marquis, movies about making movies would probably be my favorite one ... "Be Kind Rewind" was way too silly for me the first time I saw it, but it really grew on me on DVD

J. Marquis said...

Did you ever happen to see "Nickelodeon" with Burt Reynolds and Ryan O'Neal? It came out in the mid-Seventies, fairly entertaining story about early film pioneers.

patrick said...

Hellboy was fun; for sure that director has an amazing imagination, reminded me a lot of his work in Pan's Labyrinth

Reel Fanatic said...

I can't say I did, Mr. Marquis, but I'm gonna check now and see if there's any way that's actually available from My Netflix .. thanks for the recommendation!

jeremy said...

I don't see Dark Knight as the best film this year--and please go see The Wackness if you can.
The Dark Knight's glaring plot holes and lack of characterization leave it behind Iron Man and Hellboy 2 on my list.

jeremy said...

Oh, and one of my favorite movies about making movies? Living in Oblivion (which pokes so much fun at Brad Pitt!!)

Reel Fanatic said...

I do love "Living in Oblivion" too, Jeremy, cause as you said it is just wicked fun! ... and I know you've told me many times to go see The Wackness, but with gas prices as they are, there's no way I can drive 90 minutes just to do so, so I'll just have to wait

Ashok said...

Hey, What happened to "In Bruges" ? But yeah, I got to see "The Fall", "Under the Same Moon" and some more. If you have not checked out "In Bruges" do it right away, it is clever crisp writing from Martin McDonagh.

Reel Fanatic said...

That's one that never played anywhere near me and I haven't managed to catch yet on DVD, Ashok, but I certainly will very soon

Ian said...

So envious that you've seen Hellboy 2 where we Brits have to wait another month for its release.

At least I finally got to see "Dark Knight" tonight (preview screening. It officially opens here tomorrow). In an IMAX no less. Unfortunately the tickets I thought I'd got in the back row were in the front row and I spent the first 10 minutes feeling nauseous.

Anyway, I felt it lived up to all the hype - a very rare thing, and sorry Jeremy but although "Iron Man" was pretty good, "Dark Knight" was a whole different league (and didn't descend into ridiculous Transformers-like nonsense in its closing section).

Can't wait to see it again - either at a decent distance from an IMAX screen, or on a regular screen. Definitely my no.1 film seen so far this year too.

renee said...

I was happy to see Be Kind, Rewind on your list, because I was completely charmed by that film and remember your review being a bit lukewarm.

I've been thinking on my list since the beginning of July, but don't have it down yet. A few that I'm including that you don't have are The Visitor, Young At Heart and In Bruges. If you haven't seen those, I'd really recommend them. I think we'll have the same film sitting up top, though. Amazing film!!

Reel Fanatic said...

I'd have to say that misjudging Be Kind Rewind initially was the biggest movie mistake I've made this year, Renee, so I'm gonna keep doing my best to get people to watch it on DVD ... And thanks for the recommendations, because sadly I haven't seen any of those others!

jeremy said...

@Ian -- I like The Dark Knight, for sure. Yes, The Dark Knight is in a different league than Iron Man. The production values and money that went into were almost 4 times more than Iron Man. However, I never felt any of Batman or Bruce Wayne's motivation--which is why I guess the Joker was a cardboard cutout. Harvery Dent and Rachel's relationship wasn't believable to me which made his transformation even less believable.
Then there were the plot holes--like where did the Joker go after the Penthouse scene? (A single shot of him running away would have remedied that.)
Then the whole prisoner/populus thing on the ferries at the end felt really contrived. It was such a plot device that built story around it that the writers had to use a lame news anchor reporting on what was happening to catch the audience up to speed.
Then, of course, is the run time. My tush was gettin' sore!
And how are you supposed to root for George Bush/Batman?
I mean, he tortures, surveills everyday citizens, and destroys a lot of the city all to catch one terrorist.
It all just felt overwrought for me which is why I preferred the succint Iron Man and the visually arresting Hellboy 2.

Shorty said...

After the first 20 minutes of Be Kind Rewind, I nearly turned off the DVD player. It did get better from that point, but I was disappointed overall to be completely honest...

Reel Fanatic said...

You make your points well, Jeremy, even if I can't manage to agree with them except for that the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman was a bit static, but I totally bought into the journey of Harvey Dent and of course just loved what the late Mr. Ledger did with the Joker

And I'm with you Shorty on the opening of "Be Kind Rewind," but for me it just keeps getting better from there, building to that sappy ending that, if you're willing to buy into it, is more than a little magical

Ian said...

@Jeremy. Not sure where you got your figures for "Iron Man" from. BoxOfficeMojo lists the production budget for Iron Man as 140 million vs 185 million for The Dark Knight. That's hardly "four times" the production budget!?!! I have a horrible suspicion the extra budget was wasted on getting overly familiar character actors (OK, I'll name names - Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman) to sleep-walk through parts that unknowns could have done just as well for a lot less money.

Budget comparisons aside, you make some good points - none of which personally impacted my experience of the film. A good friend (professional film critic) said he had no sympathy for any of the characters which made it weak (or "so-so" as he put it). Ordinarily I'd agree with him, but so much of the film had me on the edge of my seat (I loved the drama of the boat scene, although many seem to think this was over-egging the moral ambiguity pudding) and I could happily have sat through another hour or more of it (indeed I suspect given one or two rather confusing disjointed edits quite a lot had to be cut to get the film down to 2.5 hours). I didn't like the silly "video wall listening for the joker through a patented sonar device" gimmick, but these are small criticisms given that I generally prefer to watch my films on shiny disc, but this film got me out into a theatre and was so enjoyable that I'm tempted to go back and see it a second time - something I rarely do.

As for the whole "Be Kind Rewind" debate, I'm afraid I wouldn't put it in my Top 20. Admittedly I'm prejudiced by my in-built aversion to Jack Black (although at least he was slightly less irritating in this than he has been in most of his other films) but even putting that to one side this was a meandering mess of a film, with a ridiculously saccharine ending shoddily tacked on the end almost as a last minute attempt to make it a "proper Hollywood film with an ending and all". Alright to catch on the TV on a Saturday night maybe, but not anything anybody is likely to remember in a few years time (in my opinion).

Jess said...

I just watched "Under the Same Moon" last night and was totally charmed! The little boy is wonderful and I thought all the characters were terrific. Glad you included it.

My favorite so far has to be Iron Man.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm glad to see someone speak up for "Under the Same Moon," Jess ... I don't usually fall for movies that are that sappy in nature, but you're right that this one was just thoroughly charming

And I felt just about exactly the same way you did about "Be Kind Rewind" the first time I saw it, Ian, and even by the end I found Jack Black to be almost as annoying as you did, but upon second viewing I just caught its goofy vibe and I thought Mos Def (who I like in just about anything) and Melonie Diaz were both great in it