With another year off the books, I wanted to start ’09 by taking a look back at some of things that really entertained me in 2008. To that end, I’m planning a three-part series where I will provide you with my choices for My Five Favorite Games of 2008, My Five Favorite Movies of 2008 and then an umbrella topic – My Five Favorite Entertainment Experiences of 2008.
Notice I said Favorite and not Best.
Now, my lists are bound to be different than your and most likely, vastly different than those of the professional critics who get paid for this sort of thing and thus have a larger catalogue of personal experiences to draw from. And since this is my list, my ground rules for the eligibility requirements are bound to be different than yours. That said, I welcome you to add your Top 5’s to the Comments below. I’d love to see them and who knows, maybe you’ll point me in the right direction for my next entertainment fix.
Today, we’ll kick things off with the flicks. The rules are simple. The film had to have been released from October 1, 2007 through December 31, 2008. It doesn’t matter where I saw it – so theater, DVD or LCD above the Men’s Room Urinal are all appropriate viewing options – some more savory than the others. As for that date range, I add the extra 3 months on the front end to account for the fact that I see the majority of flicks on DVD. As studios typically release their Oscar bait at the end of each year, if I didn’t extend the period backward, I’d never catch some of the prestige pics in this net.
Before I hit the top 5, here’s the list of flicks that I’ve seen, that meet my criteria.
No Country for Old Men (October 2007)
Michael Clayton (October 2007)
The Mist (November 2007)
Sweeney Todd (November 2007)
Enchanted (November 2007)
There Will Be Blood (December 2007)
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (December 2007)
Cloverfield (January 2008)
The King of Kong (March 2008)
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (April 2008)
Iron Man (May 2008)
Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (May 2008)
Speed Racer (May 2008)
Wall-E (June 2008)
The Incredible Hulk (June 2008)
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (June 2008)
Wanted (June 2008)
The Dark Knight (July 2008)
The X-Files: I Want to Believe (July 2008)
Step Brothers (July 2008)
Tropic Thunder (August 2008)
Transsiberian (September 2008)
Quantum of Solace (November 2008)
And now, here are My Top 5 Favorite Movies Seen in 2008.
5. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Yeah, that’s right. A documentary about two guys vying for the World Record in Donkey Kong has kicked some Oscar contenders to the curb. That’s why this list is focused on Favorite movies, not necessarily the Best. This film just happened to hit me right in my sweet spot. I love video games and I’m a sucker for David & Goliath tales and King of Kong serves up a good one.
At stake is the Top Score in Donkey Kong, a World Record that has stood unbeaten for 20+ years. The guy who got that score, Billy Mitchell, is this slimy huckster from the Deep South who traded on the minimal popularity that achievement bought him in the early 80’s and has coasted on it for two decades. Over the years, Mitchell set other high scores and as time went on, saw each and every one of them bested – leaving only his old Donkey Kong score standing as testament to his legacy. Along comes Steve Wiebe, a high school chemistry teacher from the Seattle area who after getting laid off from his job, decides to set his sites on the Donkey Kong record. He nails it but that’s only the start as this documentary takes on the guise of a real-life conspiracy thriller with the little man Wiebe out to take on the 800 pound gorilla Mitchell and his posse of hired goons and geeks.
You couldn’t script this stuff.
4. No Country for Old Men
I love the Coen Brothers. Their comedies slay me and their dramas pierce. What I love about their films is they all feel like they take place in the same, slightly askew universe. Here, they take Cormac McCarthy’s blistering novel and film a spot-on translation that carries McCathy’s voice while giving it that Coen cadence.
No Country for Old Men is downright apocalyptic. Usually, the Coens mine comedy from idiocy. Fargo was wall-to-wall with dumb people doing stupid things. No Country flips things – presenting Josh Brolin’s Llewellyn, a simple rancher, as a lot smarter that we, the audience, initially grant him. The Coens tease our expectations by pairing Llewellyn with a child-like wife so when Llewellyn hits the bricks with a satchel of purloined drug money, we sit and wait for his mistakes to catch him. But, the trick is on us as Llewellyn plays things fairly intelligently.
Then there’s Javier Bardem’s monster Anton Chigurh. Bardem is good and deserved that Best Supporting Actor award but I’m not so sure he’s the greatest villain I’ve ever seen dragged from the dark. He does come across as a malevolent force of nature. If anything, Bardem’s success with the Academy bodes well for Heath Ledger next month.
To my surprise, Tommy Lee Jones completely won me over. I thought this was going to be yet another of his grumpy old men renditions (he is the Old Men of the title after all) but his performance conveys immeasurable waves of melancholy. Jones’ character haunts this picture and his performance, particularly the last scene, is the one that really stuck with me long after viewing this.
3. Iron Man
I love comic book flicks and I love the fact the Hollywood is catching on to the notion that the mainstream “gets” them, thus freeing directors to try different takes on these superhero tales. For awhile there, our heroes were always dour, conflicted beings at war with themselves over their burgeoning powers while grappling with the next Big Bad. And that can be entertaining but there’s another facet to these abilities. With great power comes great fun. Flying through the air dressed in only your blue and red underwear has to be somewhat liberating, after all.
That’s what I love about Iron Man. This is a whiz-bang adventure that plays fast and loose with the normal genre conventions. Credit director John Favreau (Swingers) for that. His playful, inventive touch on the proceedings makes Iron Man so money, it doesn’t even know it.
Of course, Favreau is aided by Robert Downey Jr.’s expert essay of Tony Stark – a breezy, boozy billionaire who requires a massive blast to his heart to realize he still has one. Downey is a great talent and this role fits him like a glove. Word is that Favreau effortlessly lobbied the studio to plant Downey Jr. in the part (they were a bit nervous citing Downey’s prior struggles with drug addiction). The effort paid off as not only does Downey Jr. do a great job breathing life to this Iron Man but the baggage he carries with him from his personal life does a fine job of coloring in the corners of this larger than life character who is brought down a few pegs before he realizes what is most important in life.
2. The Dark Knight
Yeah, I know. This surprised me too. Going into this year, I was absolutely convinced The Dark Knight would be my favorite movie of the year. Aftter all, I am a huge Batman fan, I crave any project that director Christopher Nolan attaches himself to and his take on the Dark Knight mythos really reinvigorated this franchise (and the superhero genre) in immeasurable ways with the 2004 release of Batman Begins.
And don’t get me wrong. This flick is so close to being my favorite film of 2008. It’s an important milestone for comic book flicks – a brawling, brawny piece of entertainment and the ultimate Batman flick. I LOVE THIS MOVIE. The problem is, 2008 saw the release of two films that worked their magic on me. It’s almost a tie but in my heart I had to give the edge to the other film. But again – it’s almost a tie.
In the days following this film’s release, I’d seen some comments from people praising Heath Ledger’s performance and wondering where that level of craftsmanship had been before. I think it was there all along. Just take a look at Brokeback Mountain and compare that to A Knight’s Tale. Ledger is a great talent and he was following in the mode of Johnny Depp – shirking that cover-boy coat that Access Hollywood wanted him to wear and chasing more complicated and interesting roles. He may not have had the same breadth of eccentric film choices that Depp has enjoyed but there was no mistake that Ledger was really ramping things up. Like his Joker, he was just getting started.
His Joker is a villain for the ages. I guess if one is to leave a legacy, you can’t top this. Let the record show that when Ledger was first cast, I declared that news as a solid WIN on these pages. I Believe in Heath Ledger. And the guy didn’t disappoint.
As for the film, this is a spectacular piece of entertainment that also works as a mirror unto our troubled times. The Joker is a grim specter, a devil whose greatest trick is convincing us he doesn’t exist – or shouldn’t. An engine of chaos, as he describes himself, who descends upon Gotham to do one thing only – watch the world burn.
And it’s that villain, one without a concrete endgame, that proves far more frightening. He’s the terrorist as malicious trickster. And in the end, he wins.
And so does Christopher Nolan, who in two films, has made comic book flicks serious, relevant and important. In the final moments of Batman Begins, Nolan set the stage for what was to come – providing a literal depiction of where Batman’s beginning would eventually escalate. I wanted to see that next film immediately.
As this sequel comes to a close, and Batman is chased into the shadows, Nolan sends me out into the light, once again wanting to see that next flick immediately.
I’m anxiously awaiting The Dark Knight Returns.
One of these years, PIXAR is going to stumble and I only hope I’m not here to see it. Year after year, these geniuses (no other word for them) gift us with tales we’ll keep with us our entire lives. The shear wellspring of creativity housed in their offices is apparently boundless and the world is bettered every time these braniacs take to their pixels and whip us up another living, breathing enchantment. They take computer animation, an art form that once was pilloried as soulless, and give it a heart 10 times too big.
And they do it with some of the unlikeliest heroes you can imagine. When they can coax a tear from my eye with the notion that a glorified trash compactor needs a reboot, you know there’s some dark magic at work.
Wall-E is breathtaking. It’s cliché to say that the film works on multiple levels but that’s part of their genius. I saw this film on summer vacation with my family and it was the first film that kept Colin and Aria completely still for 90 minutes. No bathroom breaks. No trips for more popcorn. They just took it all in. Now, at the time, I don’t remember much laughter from them but ever since Wall-E made his way into our home at Christmas – and the film has been on permanent play – they laugh and tense up at all the right parts. And the deeper messages of good ecology – of taking care of that we cherish most – has really started to sink in. Colin has been mining the depths of the story and has taken to schooling me on what we need to do to “green” ourselves and take care of our planet. And Aria warmed my hear when she announced the other day, “I care for everything and everyone.”
Now, Wall-E is entertaining as hell but it’s a cautionary tale too and a pretty mature piece of sci-fi storytelling to boot. The opening 40-minute stretch on a desolate Earth echoes the haunting introductory passage in I Am Legend. Seeing that in a Disney animated flick is chilling and those wide-open vistas of a trashed Earth really sink in.
It took a robot to make me want to be a better person.